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Bryan and Jean's Blog - from Bryan Lee and Jean Higaki
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Special deal - free PRO accounts at Knowledge Mouse - through early Sept.

Right now, there's a special promotional deal at Knowledge Mouse - all new accounts created in the next few weeks will have PRO status for free ... forever.  Regularly $29 / year.

Sign up at!


Posted by bryanandjean at 5:03 PM PDT
Tuesday, 24 July 2012
Knowledge Mouse - Fun Learning Activities

Have you ever wanted to learn something - a new language, or a new skill - but avoided it because the process of learning is so difficult and painful?

Learning becomes much easier if there are activities that make it fun.  And that is the goal of my latest project, Knowledge Mouse.  It will be a place for various activities and games, for kids and for grownups, from learning a foreign language to math to science. All designed to make it so fun and easy that you learn without even trying.

And to start off, the first activity is a free printable word search puzzle creator, great for parents or teachers or anyone.  You can enter your own words, or choose from pre-defined lists, and customize the puzzles with different colors, fonts, and background images.

You can also make a question-and-answer or "quiz"-style word search, where instead of listing the words in the puzzle, you list questions or hints.  The puzzle solver then needs to answer the question to figure out what word to look for in the puzzle.  This is great for quizzes or for foreign language translations / ESL learning.

Enjoy, and as always, please let me know what you'd like to see on the site.  You can use the feedback form at the bottom of each page.

Here are some free printable word find puzzles already created.


And on an unrelated note, if you are renting your house and you see an email response to your Craigslist posting coming from a James Paige from the UK, you probably want to ignore it.  From some google-ing it looks like it's probably a Craigslist scam.  Several people have received email with the exact same text as I did: from James and Sarah Paige (his "wonderful wife"), how he's a Civil Engineer with Chubb Fire and Security Company in Leeds, West Yorkshire, and how he'll be working with United States Environmental Services and the contact is Lee Wiley at Helena Chemical.  I checked out the last two and they don't seem to have any offices near the San Francisco Bay Area where we are, and the phone number listed seems to be a New York number.  Oh yes and a request for pictures viewing the living room and bedrooms.

It's quite well done and even had me searching on the web for how to do a credit check on someone from the UK.  It wasn't until I saw other people had received the exact same message that I noticed the "required informations" with the "s" at the end.  There's always a typo, misspelling, or grammatical error in these things.

I also got an email from someone claiming to be Réka Kovács which may also be a scam.  They claim to be a "young international couple" employed as "NASA Research Consultants".  Now it is possible this one is real - I did find someone on linkedin by that name listing NASA Ames Research Center and that location is in the Bay Area.  The suspicious part is that the email talks about a "flat" and "apartment" whereas the Craigslist ad clearly states that it is a house for rent, and the pictures show that as well.  Doesn't quite seem like the sort of mistake a NASA Research Consultant would make, but who knows?

Posted by bryanandjean at 10:50 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2012 9:52 PM PDT
Thursday, 7 June 2012
Info on How to Plan Group Travel from Your Coconut

If you've been nominated to be the one to plan a group travel event, you might want to take a look at the Your Coconut guide to planning a group trip.

It will help you plan the trip as well as give advice on how to use Your Coconut to organize the information for your group travel and invite your fellow travelers.

Happy Travels!

Posted by bryanandjean at 2:17 PM PDT
Monday, 5 March 2012
Your Coconut, a website for family and class reunions

Have you ever been part of an event such as a family gathering or mini class reunion, and had a hard time finding a particular piece of information for that event?  Often the relevant information will be scattered through many email messages, or maybe someone told you something over the phone.  Was it Bob who sent that information, or was it Jane?  Was it a month ago, or three months ago?  Finding the information you need in email can be a challenge.

My latest project is an attempt to make organizing and retrieving that information easier.  It's a website for a class or family reunion or other gathering called Your Coconut.

It's a place to organize and hold all your information needed for the reunion or other event and share it with your guests.  They can view whatever has been placed there and edit and contribute as well if you choose.

Here's how it works: The organizer of the reunion or gathering can use Your Coconut to set up a page for the gathering.  They can add events and activities, as well as lodging information, flights, rental car, and other miscellaneous information.  They can also invite people.  The invitees will receive an email with a link, and they can click the link to view the page with the information.  They don't even need to sign up for an account.  They can let everone know whether they're planning or attending or not, and you can choose to allow your invitees to contribute and edit the information there.

Your Coconut is still 'alpha', so you might find some missing features, but please feel free to try it out and let me know of your thoughts or comments - you can use the quickie Feedback form at the bottom of the pages at Your Coconut.




Posted by bryanandjean at 11:40 AM PST
Updated: Monday, 5 March 2012 11:42 AM PST
Saturday, 25 February 2012
Life with a Kindle Fire

Last Christmas, we received a Kindle Fire.  This was our first tablet device, and in fact we still don't own a smartphone.  After hearing all the talk about the post-PC world and iPad hype, now was our chance to try out the tablet life.

So how has it gone?

The biggest benefit of tablet devices is, of course, portability.  Compared with a traditional laptop, it's very easy to slip it into a bag or toss it into the car.  We usually think twice about whether to bring a laptop on a trip with us, but with the Kindle Fire we can toss it into our travel bag without thinking.

At home, the Kindle Fire lives in the kitchen for the most part.  Jean discovered that the touchscreen still works even when covered with plastic, and so made a cover for the device.  And this way we can still use the device even if we have a bit of flour or oil on our fingers.  Not surprisingly, it's used mostly for looking up recipes, at least when it's not being used for Hangman.

But the other day, Jean actually got up from the table where the Kindle Fire was sitting, walked out of the kitchen and into the office and looked up something on our desktop Windows machine.  Why?

1. Instant On - the Kindle Fire starts up pretty quickly.  It would start up even quicker if we didn't shut the thing completely off all the time.  However my desktop machine is usually on during the day.  Which means all you have to do it move the mouse or hit a key and it's ready to go.  It might even have Google loaded up in a web browser already.

2. Big screen - and then of course, the screen is much larger on the desktop.  You can actually read all the text if you bring up a normal webpage without zooming in. 

3. Usability - the touch screen is neat, but typing anything on a tablet is a big pain.  Even for web browsing, entering in a search string or log in information or a URL is painful.  If you make a typo it's even worse.  On a desktop machine you just click near your typo, hit an arrow key or two to go to the right place, and hit Del or Backspace.  On a tablet you tap with your fat finger near the URL, and then ...  Well, there are no arrow keys, so you either have to pinch-zoom-in and tap more accurately, or tap & hold to bring up a selection dragger thing, at least on the Kindle Fire.  Selecting text is awkward.  And there is no "hover", which means you often have to click on something just to find out what it does.  There are also a number of things that just don't work, like the slider controls on  If you try to drag them, it just drags the whole screen around as is normal for tablets, so I'm not sure how to actually use the drag-slider controls there, if in fact there is a way.

The conclusion?

The tablet is certainly a neat gimmick, and useful for traveling.  It was useful for looking up random things at the hotel.  For me, I think a smartphone would actually be even more generally useful, just because I would be more likely to be carrying it while walking around, and the Kindle Fire needs Wi-Fi for internet access.

The idea, however, that PCs are obsolete and will be replaced by these devices is just laughable.  I can't imagine doing anything that requires even a moderate amount of typing (like creating this blog entry) on a tablet.  The ergonomics of laptops are not great compared to a properly set-up desktop machine, and a tablet is even worse.  And the Kindle Fire's incompatibility with our other Windows-based machines doesn't help things either.

So I think this is not so much a post-PC era, but more of a PC-plus era, as somebody put it.  The tablet has its niche for travel and for carrying it around the house and tossing it onto a crowded kitchen table.  For pretty much anything else though, it doesn't even come close to matching the power and convenience of the trusty ol' desktop machine.


Posted by bryanandjean at 11:24 PM PST
Updated: Saturday, 25 February 2012 11:29 PM PST
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
New Blog for Bryan and Jean

Here is the new blog for Bryan and Jean.  Now isn't that exciting?


Posted by bryanandjean at 11:00 AM PST

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