The lost art of using reference books

snakes“Can you look it up?”

I hear that a lot, from my 7-year-old son, especially when it comes to questions about snakes.

And by “look it up,” he doesn’t mean open a book: He means talk to my phone (in the form of a Google search) or type a query into Google (and find something online, typically at Wikipedia).

Now we’re able to “look it up”—to find the answer to just about any question, or so it sometimes seems—from anywhere.

I wrote about this in a recent column:

It’s the most ordinary thing in the world now to view online videos, search engines and Wikipedia as the keys to the world’s knowledge. That’s especially true for kids growing up without ever really knowing a time before laptop computers and handheld smart phones made so much information available with so much ease. Yet as kids are returning to school, I’d like to urge us to examine — to question — what we’re teaching our kids with our wholesale, don’t-look-back rejection of books as the sine qua non of knowledge.

Check out what I have to say about the lost art of using reference books.

Stop-motion tribute to Steve Jobs (via the Foldify app)

Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford, from 2005, has been quoted again and again. But here, with an app called Foldify, is a new take on it. The 14-year-old filmmaker produced this with stop-motion video and figures created with the Foldify app, which lets you create printable, 3D figures with an iPad.


I really love the Paper app for the iPad

I’m into sketching, but I don’t do it as much as I’d like, and I’ve had a tough time making the transition from traditional tools (like a pencil or watercolor paints) to digital art tools.

Until now, that is.

A new app for the iPad, Paper, makes it very, very easy to keep sketchbooks and use its relatively streamlined tools. Rather than giving you lots and lots of options, like many other drawing and painting apps for the iPad and iPhone, Paper keeps things exceptionally simple. Here’s a video to check out.

Is the iPad the new “board” for Monopoly and other board games?

Is Monopoly doomed? Sometimes it seems like it, with our attention shifting to the Wii, smartphone games, and all of the entertainment available on the iPad and tablet computers. But maybe, just maybe, tablet computers will become the board for a whole new generation of board games (as well as new versions of all-time faves). That’s what seems to be happening, as I wrote in a recent column.

The iPad isn’t out to destroy traditional board games, but it is appropriating them—and reinventing what a board game can be. A generation from now, that standard feature of many homes — shelves stacked with board games in tattered cardboard boxes — may be a relic of the past. All of your faves will still be available, just in a super-charged form, and on the same device, a tablet computer.

I see this happening in my own home. I love the traditional Scrabble set, but why use it when you can have the iPad on the table and just put it away for a bit if you want to take a break from the game. Tablet games, after all, have a number of advantages: They keep score for you, there’s no cleanup, and you don’t have to worry about losing tiles or game pieces.

Creative agency brings together Instagram and holiday greetings

The social media agency Carrot Creative has a holiday card that’s a lot of fun. It combines a live feed of Instagram photos with a holiday background (snowflakes, snowmen, snow scene with trees and the like).

You’re able to control the feed of photos to your liking with a pull-down menu of Instagram hashtags, such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and whatnot. It’s lots of fun.

Check it out at

Maybe it’s not too late to send a holiday card

Another year, another set of holiday cards. Actually, judging from our mail, lots of people are scaling back on traditional, USPS holiday greetings. (Uh, I guess it could also be we’re just not that popular.) Certainly the zeitgeist argues against going over-the-top with a lavish, expensive card. But here’s the great thing: With e-cards, you can still send out your holiday cards, without a lot of hassle, even if you haven’t given them much thought. And there are other options, too, like creating a quick holiday video to send to friends. I wrote a column last year about alternatives to holiday greetings. It puts the spotlight on Animoto, a really great tool for creating MTV-style videos without spending a whole lot of time on them.

Learning to play “Hallelujah” from a YouTube tutorial

I’m a fan of YouTube tutorials for all sorts of learning, for everything from fishing to caring for a fire-bellied toad (yes, my son’s got one as a pet). And lately, I’ve been realizing how much fun it can be to learn (or try to learn) how to play songs with the help of YouTube tutors. Here’s a tutorial about learning Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on the piano. The last time I checked, it had been viewed a whopping 1,840,196 times. Wow!

If you’re looking for more info on this trend, check out my column about YouTube tutorials.

Twitter 100 list now at Web100

As I’ve written in my column for the Star-Ledger, Twitter is a vast ecosystem extending far beyond the Twitter website:

Although the concept of Twitter is straightforward enough, the reality is increasingly complex. Once you start using Twitter, especially if you’re using it for professional reasons — to promote yourself or your business, say, even as you’re communicating with friends and colleagues — you’re confronted with any number of issues. How do you decide who to follow? How do you track multiple Twitter accounts? Are there ways to have assorted underlings post to your organization’s account? And how do you make sense of all of this crazy lingo, like “follow” and “tweet” (and a bunch of other terms)?

Well, Web100 has launched a new top 100 list, the Twitter 100, and it’s a great guide to making sense of Twitter and social media. The list ranks Twitter-related websites, people, and tools, and it’s a quick way to get up to speed on Twitter—or extend your knowledge of the Twitterverse. It explains Twitter lingo, directs you to people worth following, suggests the best Twitter tools, and and helps you find the best books about Twitter. Even better, the list will continue to evolve, with new items added as Twitter grows and morphs into new arenas.


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