The Prize Inside Updated

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 8.28.43 PMWhen a burger is a burger, and fries make no difference, choose your fast food by The Prize Inside!

The Prize Inside received a major update last week. Completely rebuilt from the ground up with a much more efficient UI and all-new commenting system. As always, The Prize Inside tracks fast food restaurants by their kids’ meal premiums. Nearby locations are now provided in a list view, as well as the usual map view. Prizes now have a comments section for users to post their prizes. Recent comments are featured on the homepage of the site.

The mobile app has been completely redesigned as well. Built with PhoneGap it still shares the same codebase as the web version, but is now much faster. It also features an all-new sharing system to post comments and pictures of your prizes in the app and on the website. You can now link your Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare accounts to automatically share your comments within those networks.

Follow one of the links below and choose your fast food by The Prize Inside:

Posted in Facebook, Portfolio, Twitter, Updates, Web Development | Leave a comment

5 Great Chromecast Apps That (Mostly) Go Beyond Video

jamesycastWith the Chromecast dev kit well out of beta, app development for the platform is exploding. Early on we saw lots of support for video streaming services. Plex, YouTube and Netflix (in that order) are still my most often used Chromecast apps. I use them daily. But what I find interesting are the apps that take Chromecast beyond movies. Back in December I wrote about Google’s use of Chromecast as a peripheral, with their Santa Tracker app. Many developers are following suit and using Chromecast for a wide range of applications. Here’s a list of my favorites amongst the first wave of Chromecast apps:


CastStore

A catalog of all Android apps which have Chromecast support. It isn’t a specifically a Chromecast app but it’s the most comprehensive listing of apps available. The developer seems to be doing a good job keeping it up to date, the list has grown every time I’ve checked. With development exploding this app will become invaluable to all Chromecast owners.

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CastPad

Draw on your phone/tablet and mirror it on your TV in real-time. This app is so simple and yet incredibly great. It functions like a digital whiteboard. You get one brush style and your choice of Black or Blue Ink. My kids have been having a blast with this one. I found a good use for it helping my son study with makeshift flashcards. You can unlock more colors with a one time in-app-purchase upgrade to “premium” and the developer promises more features in the future. I recommend paying for premium now to show support and keep them going.

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Dehumanize Your Friends!

A derivative of the party game Cards Against Humanity, the party game for horrible people. If you haven’t played this game before, head over to the website because any description I give won’t do it justice. Dehumanize Your Friends! takes the Cards Against Humanity concept to your television. This one requires at least 3 players and the more the better. It’s also a great example of multiple devices linking to a single Chromecast at the same time, something I didn’t realize is possible. There’s great potential for party games on Chromecast and this is a great start.

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TwitCast

Stream the TWiT network with your Chromecast. I watch a few TWiT shows regularly and this app brings them to my Chromecast. Navigation is simple and video controls work as any other Chromecast video app.

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BeyondPod

BeyondPod is by far my most often used app. I consider it the best podcast client for Android. It was amongst the earliest adopters of Chromecast support. When I’m doing work around the house I often push my podcasts to the television for better sound. It’s also less clumsy than flailing around earbud wires.

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Honorable Mention: GamingCast

I love the concept of this app, using ChromeCast as a game console. GamingCast has its own take on 4 very simple games: Tetris, Pong, Snake & Qix, with a promise of more to come. However the execution is very poor, especially for a $1.99 app. The games themselves don’t over-promise and perform exactly as expected. Where GameCast falls short is its control implementation. Gamecast turns your phone into a nintendo-style controller, A & B buttons with a D-Pad. The problem here is the tactile-less touch screen makes it nigh impossible to press the buttons while looking up at your television. A simpler control scheme using halves or quarters of the screen as buttons, or a slower-paced game like an RPG, would make for a great Chromecast app.

GamingCast

Posted in Media Server, Retro Gaming, Reviews | Leave a comment

Santa Tracker: A Glimpse of Chromecast’s Potential as a Peripheral

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It’s Christmas time, and Google is in the business of Santa Tracking. The Santa tracking app has a few new features this year, but my favorite is Chromecast support. The feature is simple, hit the Chromecast button and see Santa’s progress on your TV.

I’ve already praised Chromecast as a YouTube and Netflix device. Since then, quite a few more apps have jumped on board. Among them is Plex, my preferred media server. But Google’s Santa Tracker serves as the best example of what Chromecast has to offer as a peripheral for every multimedia app.

Santa Tracker illustrates how easy it is to move to the television with Chromecast. Set-top box and Smart TV solutions are overwhelming. All require their own separate development and promotion efforts. Currently there’s no dominant platform, so gaining widespread exposure means supporting all of them. Chromecast allows you to forget all of that and leverage your existing mobile app. Simply add a little extra functionality. And with a price tag of $35, it’s an easy sell.

We’re having a Christmas Eve party with lots of kids at my house this year. I’ll have Santa Tracker casting to the television most of the night. I expect to see many more apps like this in 2014.

Posted in Media Server, Reviews, Tech Tip | 1 Comment

Deck The Halls: Creating Artwork With A Tablet

Ever since my short career as an art student, I’ve wanted a completely digital drawing environment as good as pencil and paper. While my 4×5 Wacom Art Pad II was fun at the time, it wasn’t the dream setup people like Bert Monroy use. I’ve revisited the concept with things like a Palm Pilot and a Nintendo DS. All were limited by screen resolution, or no screen at all. While not a perfect solution, a modern tablet with the right stylus and the right software comes pretty damn close.

The experiment was simple: Create some sort of holiday themed artwork using nothing but a tablet. I wanted to see how far I could go with the tablet, and how long it took me to bail to the desktop. I already had an image of my trademark Green Zeta with a fish-eye lens effect and thought about using it as a reflection in a Christmas ornament. I did some photographing of my tree with the tablet and was set with all my image assets.

The first key to drawing on a tablet is finding the right stylus. The finer the point the better. There are plenty of pro versions out there for $100 or more but, being Christmas time, I had to do this on a shoestring budget. I settled on a mini-stylus, around the width of a pencil eraser, that I found at a dollar store. It’s not as precise as a pencil point, but I was surprised to find that it worked really well.

The other key to drawing on a tablet is finding the right software. I had been eyeing Adobe Photoshop Touch for months now and I finally had an excuse to pay the $9.99 for it. For the price, PhotoShop Touch is amazing. You get a ton of features, very close to the functionality you’d find in PhotoShop Elements on the desktop. I was able to import my background and add the GreenZeta head reflection in the ornament.

I found PhotoShop Touch to be lacking when it came to freehand drawing. Switching between tools, like brush and eraser, is a multi-step process and the brush and color selection palettes are cumbersome. Fortunately I had a copy of Autodesk SketchBook I picked up as an Amazon Free App of the Day. SketchBook is a great drawing app with a full compliment of pencil and brush tools. I was able to export my background from PhotoShop Touch and import into Sketchbook to draw in the green hand.

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The result is the image above. Just for the hell of it I added the animated snow using Google’s Auto-Awesome effect. Total time to create was about 2 hours.

As I said, tablets still aren’t a perfect solution. One of the biggest problems I had was learning to keep the side of my hand off the screen while using the stylus. One trick I learned was to constantly move canvas over to the edge of the screen and use the besel as a hand rest. PhotoShop Touch is also lacking a lot of minor features that make it difficult to use. For example, there are no layer masks so there’s no way to non-destructively remove part of an image. If you move a layer off the edge of the canvas, it gets cropped and you cannot choose to move it back later. This was very frustrating as I tried to get the positioning of the hand correct. You cannot lock layers and move them as a group. The selection tool is also missing a proportion lock making it next to impossible to select a perfect circle.

All of the major problems I found were software issues that will likely be fixed over time. If you have a tablet already it’s a very viable option for graphic art. Since there are some changes workflow, it’s worth becoming familiar with the medium. I’ll still use pad and pencil for quick sketching, but I’ve begun to reconsider the pencil as my starting point for final artwork. I may try going all-tablet in 2014 to see how far I can take it.

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War of the Worlds Broadcast

On the night of October 30th, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air presented a dramatization of the HG Wells Classic “The War of the Worlds”. Their play took the form of a series of news bulletins portraying a realistic-sounding fictional Martian invasion. Those who tuned in late missed the introduction of the play, taking them out of their fictitious context. Many mistook its realistic presentation for actual reports of an imminent invasion. Whether is was thought to be Martians, or humans disguised as Martians, people believed their homes were under attack by a foreign enemy. For forty minutes Welles’ broadcast horrified the minds of his growing audience, until an intermission revealed the reality of the drama.

War of the Worlds Broadcast is an experiment in HTML5 Audio and Animation. It presents a recording of the actual 1938 broadcast, accompanied by visual embellishment. There are several animated scenes depicting events from the play, with more to come. If you’re not already acquainted with the broadcast, it’s well worth your time to visit the site for the full hour-long presentation. Even if you’ve heard it already, prop up your tablet and let WaroftheWorldsBroadcast.com run in the background while you work.

The Martians are right outside your house! Relive the night of October 30, 1938 and listen to the War of the Worlds Broadcast!


WaroftheWorldsBroadcast.com

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