Archive for the 'Apple' Category

Shakespeare Anagram: King Lear

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

From King Lear:

O! reason not the need; our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous:

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

The suggestion of a gold iPhone enraptures snobs, but stores near here are out.

Top Ten Shakespeare Audio Productions

Monday, August 29th, 2011

In Shakespeare’s time, people did not go to “see” a play; they went to “hear” a play. Which Shakespeare play would you like to hear?

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my Shakespeare addiction that referenced the Caedmon audio production of As You Like It. Regular readers of the blog know well the extent of this addiction, but what they may not know is the degree to which that addiction includes audio productions of Shakespeare. Most people organize their mp3 playlists with different genres of music plus one “Spoken Word” category. My iPhone has a “Music” playlist, with various Spoken Word sub-genres, including several playlists of performances of Shakespeare. Given the hours upon hours I have spent listening to these productions, I am now pleased to share with you my ten very favorite selections.

Now, if this is your thing, you really need to get The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare. This is a breathtaking collection of top-quality productions of each of Shakespeare’s plays, directed by Clive Brill and with original music by Dominique Le Gendre. The advantage of buying the set is that you will then have the option to listen to any title you choose. But if you’re not ready to make that kind of investment into the eclectic world of Shakespeare audio, I can give you my own top picks so you can get your feet wet before diving into the deep end of the pool.

Standard disclaimers apply. These are based on my own preferences, which are always subject to change. I based my rankings on writing, acting, directing, production, and music. I limited myself to modern productions only, so you won’t find Paul Robeson or Orson Welles on the list. And I’m sure there are many excellent productions I haven’t listened to. Basically, these are the ten audio productions of Shakespeare I find myself returning to again and again.

And, in keeping with tradition, my top ten list will have twenty entries. Enjoy!

1. King Lear (BBC)

Directed by Glyn Dearman; Starring Sir John Gielgud (Lear), Kenneth Branagh (Edmund), Emma Thompson (Cordelia), Derek Jacobi (France), Bob Hoskins (Oswald), Judi Dench (Goneril), Michael Williams (Fool), and Richard Briers (Gloucester).

This, to me, is the definitive audio Lear. Gielgud takes a larger-than-life character and truly brings out his humanity. An all-star cast delivers solid performances across the ensemble. This is Shakespeare the way it was meant to be performed.

2. As You Like It (Caedmon)

Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind gives one of the greatest audio performances I’ve ever heard. If you’re a fan of the play, or even if you’re not, you owe it to yourself to hear this amazing production.

3. Richard III (Cambridge)

Starring Kenneth Branagh (Richard III), Celia Imrie (Queen Elizabeth), Bruce Alexander (Edward IV), Michael Maloney (Clarence), John Shrapnel (Hastings), Stella Gonet (Anne), Jamie Glover (Richmond), and Nicholas Farrell (Buckingham).

I wouldn’t really have thought of Branagh for the hunchbacked villain, but he does a great job leading a top-notch cast in performing Shakespeare’s classic history play. I never really knew how much was going on in this play until I heard this production.

4. Julius Caesar (Arkangel)

Starring Michael Feast (Julius Caesar), John Bowe (Brutus), Adrian Lester (Mark Antony), Geoffrey Whitehead (Cassius), Estelle Kohler (Portia), and Jonathan Tayler (Octavius).

I can listen to this one again and again. The exchanges between Bowe’s Brutus and Whitehead’s Cassius are electric, and Marc Antony’s powerful monologues are explosive in Lester’s more-than-capable hands.

5. The Comedy of Errors (Arkangel)

Starring David Tennant (Antipholus of Syracuse), Brendan Coyle (Antipholus of Ephesus), Alan Cox (Dromio of Syracuse), Jason O’Mara (Dromio of Ephesus), Niamh Cusack (Adriana), Sorcha Cusack (Luciana), and Trevor Peacock (Egeon).

Along his path to directing the canon, Clive Brill has a lot of fun with Shakespeare’s only slapstick comedy. Silly sound effects and comical music underscore fantastic comic performances by a brilliant cast. Remember, dying is easy; Comedy’s hard.

6. King John (Arkangel)

Starring Michael Feast (King John), Eileen Atkins (Constance), Michael Maloney (Bastard), Geoffrey Whitehead (Phillip), Trevor Peacock (Hubert), Bill Nighy (Pandulph), and Margaret Robertson (Elinor).

Michael Maloney steals this particular show, as the Bastard often does in King John. But strong performances across the cast have the power to churn the blood and tug a few heartstrings as well.

7. Macbeth (Caedmon)

There are a number of audio Macbeths to choose from, but I give Anthony Quayle pride of place. Mood-enhancing sound effects and strong performances across the board make this production the Macbeth of choice.

8. Othello (Cambridge)

Starring Hugh Quarshie (Othello), Anton Lesser (Iago), Emma Fielding (Desdemona).

Lesser’s edgy voice creates a dangerous Iago, who provokes a genuine sense of menace. Quarshie’s passionate Othello makes for a worthy tragic figure. Together, the two performances leave us with an unforgettable audio experience.

9. Henry V (Cambridge)

Directed by David Timson; Starring Samuel West as Henry V.

This is a stirring and creative production of Henry V. Vibrant interpretations of even the minor characters make for a consistently interesting and entertaining presentation of the well-beloved history.

10. As You Like It (Arkangel)

Starring Niamh Cusak (Rosalind), Stephen Mangan (Orlando), Gerard Murphy (Jaques), Clarence Smith (Touchstone), and Victoria Hamilton (Celia).

This is a really great audio production of the play. I rated the other version much higher, but I actually prefer Dominique Le Gendre’s music in this one. And for As You Like It, the music is no insignificant character.

11. Measure for Measure (Arkangel)

Starring Roger Allan (Duke), Simon Russell Beale (Angelo), Stella Gonet (Isabella), Jonathan Firth (Claudio), and Stephen Mangan (Lucio).

Here’s another one I keep revisiting. Beale and Gonet create sparks as Angelo and Isabella, Mangan is brilliant as Lucio, and Allan’s Duke never lets you forget who’s in charge. I think I want to go listen to this one right now.

12. King Lear (Naxos)

Starring Paul Scofield (Lear), Alec McCowen (Gloucester), Kenneth Branagh (Fool), David Burke (Kent), Harriet Walter (Goneril), Emilia Fox (Cordelia), Sara Kestelman (Regan), Richard McCabe (Edgar), and Toby Stephens (Edmund).

Okay, so Paul Scofield as Lear should be enough, right? But he is supported by a great ensemble cast in a well-directed version of one of the greatest plays ever written. Check it out!

13. The Tempest (Naxos)

Starring Ian McKellen (Prospero), Scott Handy (Ariel), Emilia Fox (Miranda), Neville Jason (Antonio), Benedict Cumberbatch (Ferdinand), and Ben Onwukwe (Caliban).

Okay, so Ian McKellen as Prospero should be enough, right? But this is another high-quality Naxos masterpiece – a must-have for Shakespeare audio collectors.

14. Henry IV, Part One (Arkangel)

Starring Jamie Glover (Hal), Julian Glover (Henry IV), Alan Cox (Hotspur), and Richard Griffiths (Falstaff).

I really love this play, and the Arkangel production does it great justice. Griffiths creates a Falstaff with his voice that has the power to rival his stage counterparts. Each scene in this production is like a little gift-wrapped present.

15. Hamlet (Cambridge)

Anton Lesser is the man! This time, he lends his distinctive voice to the Melancholy Dane, striking just the right balance between contemplative and bitter, between witty and mad. There are certainly other audio Hamlets, but Lesser is greater!

16. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Naxos)

Starring Warren Mitchell (Bottom), Michael Maloney (Oberon), Sarah Woodward (Titania), Jack Ellis (Theseus), Benjamin Soames (Lysander), Jamie Glover (Demetrius), Cathy Sara (Hermia), Emily Raymond (Helena), and Ian Hughes (Puck).

Again, I have several versions of the Dream to choose from, but I think I’ll take Naxos for the win. I’ve heard these words so many times, it’s an impressive production that can still make me laugh at them.

17. Richard II (Arkangel)

Starring Rupert Graves (Richard II), Julian Glover (Bolingbroke), and John Wood (John of Gaunt).

Let’s talk of Graves. (See what I did there?) He gives an outstanding performance as Richard, which is important, because – let’s face it – he does tend to go on a little.

18. Henry VI, Part Three (Arkangel)

Starring David Tennant (Henry VI), Kelly Hunter (Margaret), Clive Merrison (York), Stephen Boxer (Edward), John Bowe (Warwick), and David Troughton (Richard).

This is the beauty of the Arkangel series. You can listen to any play, any act, any scene you like. And sometimes, you just really need to hear the “paper crown” scene. When that day comes for you, this is the recording you’ll want to have.

19. Romeo and Juliet (Arkangel)

Starring Joseph Fiennes (Romeo), Maria Miles (Juliet), and Elizabeth Spriggs (Nurse).

Dominique Le Gendre’s love theme for this production becomes the theme song for the entire Arkangel series. Fiennes and Miles are wonderful, as you knew they would be. When you want to hear this play, hear this version.

20. Twelfth Night (Cambridge)

Starring Stella Gonet (Viola), Jonathan Keeble (Orsino), Jane Whittenshaw (Maria), Malcolm Sinclair (Andrew), David Timson (Feste), Lucy Whybrow (Olivia), Christopher Godwin (Malvolio), and Gerard Murphy (Toby).

Well, what can I say, this is my twentieth favorite. But it’s the best of all of the Twelfth Night productions I own, and it’s a great presentation of a fun play, so why not give it a listen?

It’s a Poor Workman Who Blames Yogi Berra: Artificial Intelligence and Jeopardy!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Last week, an IBM computer named Watson beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the two greatest Jeopardy! players of all time, in a nationally televised event. The Man vs. Machine construct is a powerful one (I’ve even used it myself), as these contests have always captured progressive imaginations. Are humans powerful enough to build a rock so heavy, not even we can lift it?

Watson was named for Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s first president. But he could just as easily have been named after John B. Watson, the American psychologist who is considered to be the father of behaviorism. Behaviorism is a view of psychology that disregards the inner workings of the mind and focuses only on stimuli and responses. This input leads to that output. Watson was heavily influenced by the salivating dog experiments of Ivan Pavlov, and was himself influential in the operant conditioning experiments of B.F. Skinner. Though there are few strict behaviorists today, the movement was quite dominant in the early 20th century.

The behaviorists would have loved the idea of a computer playing Jeopardy! as well as a human. They would have considered it a validation of their theory that the mind could be viewed as merely generating a series of predictable outputs when given a specific set of inputs. Playing Jeopardy! is qualitatively different from playing chess. The rules of chess are discrete and unambiguous, and the possibilities are ultimately finite. As Noam Chomsky argues, language possibilities are infinite. Chess may one day be solved, but Jeopardy! never will be. So Watson’s victory here is a significant milestone.

Much has been made of whether or not the contest was “fair.” Well, of course it wasn’t fair. How could that word possibly have any meaning in this context. There are things computers naturally do much better than humans, and vice versa. The question instead should have been in which direction would the unfairness be decisive. Some complained that the computer’s superior buzzer speed gave it the advantage, but buzzer speed is the whole point.

Watson has to do three things before buzzing in: 1) understand what question the clue is asking, 2) retrieve that information from its database, and 3) develop a sufficient confidence level for its top answer. In order to achieve a win, IBM had to build a machine that could do those things fast enough to beat the humans to the buzzer. Quick reflexes are an important part of the game to be sure, but if that were the whole story, computers would have dominated quiz shows decades ago.

To my way of thinking, it’s actually the comprehensive database of information that gives Watson the real edge. We may think of Ken and Brad as walking encyclopedias, but that status was hard earned. Think of the hours upon hours they must have spent studying classical composers, vice-presidential nicknames, and foods that start with the letter Q. Even a prepared human might temporarily forget the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1959 when the moment comes, but Watson never will. (It was Ben-Hur.)

In fact, given what I could see, Watson’s biggest challenge seemed to be understanding what the clue was asking. To avoid the complications introduced by Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiement, we’ll adopt a behaviorist, pragmatic definition of “understanding” and take it to mean that Watson is able to give the correct response to a clue, or at least a reasonable guess. (After all, you can understand a question and still get it wrong.) Watching the show on television, we are able to see Watson’s top three responses, and his confidence level for each. This gives us remarkable insight into the machine’s process, allowing us a deeper level of analysis.

A lot of my own work lately has been in training school-based data inquiry teams how to examine testing data to learn where students need extra help, and that work involves examining individual testing items. So naturally, when I see three responses to a prompt, I want to figure out what they mean. In this case, Watson was generating the choices rather than simply choosing among them, but that actually makes them more helpful in sifting through his method.

One problem I see a lot in schools is that students are often unable to correctly identify what kind of answer the question is asking for. In as much as Watson has what we would call a student learning problem, this is it. When a human is asked to come up with three responses to a clue, all of the responses would presumably be of the correct answer type. See if you can come up with three possible responses to this clue:

Category: Hedgehog-Pogde
Clue: Hedgehogs are covered with quills or spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff by this protein

Watson correctly answered Keratin with a confidence rating of 99%, but his other two answers were Porcupine (36%) and Fur (8%). I would have expected all three candidate answers to be proteins, especially since the words “this protein” ended the clue. In many cases, the three potential responses seemed to reflect three possible questions being asked rather than three possible answers to a correct question, for example:

Category: One Buck or Less
Clue: In 2002, Eminem signed this rapper to a 7-figure deal, obviously worth a lot more than his name implies

Ken was first to the buzzer on this one and Alex confirmed the correct response, both men pronouncing 50 Cent as “Fiddy Cent” to the delight of humans everywhere. Watson’s top three responses were 50 Cent (39%), Marshall Mathers (20%), and Dr. Dre (14%). This time, the words “this rapper” prompted Watson to consider three rappers, but not three potential rappers that could have been signed by Eminem in 2002. It was Dr. Dre who signed Eminem, and Marshall Mathers is Eminem’s real name. So again, Watson wasn’t considering three possible answers to a question; he was considering three possible questions. And alas, we will never know if Watson would have said “Fiddy.”

It seemed as though the more confident Watson was in his first guess, the more likely the second and third guesses would be way off base:

Category: Familiar Sayings
Clue: It’s a poor workman who blames these

Watson’s first answer Tools (84%) was correct, but his other answer candidates were Yogi Berra (10%) and Explorer (3%). However Watson is processing these clues, it isn’t the way humans do it. The confidence levels seemed to be a pretty good predictor of whether or not a response was correct, which is why we can forgive Watson his occassional lapses into the bizarre. Yeah, he put down Toronto when the category was US Cities, but it was a Final Jeopardy, where answers are forced, and his multiple question marks were an indicator that his confidence was low. Similarly cornered in a Daily Double, he prefaced his answer with “I’ll take a guess.” That time, he got it right. I’m just looking into how the program works, not making excuses for Watson. After all, it’s a poor workman who blames Yogi Berra.

But the fact that Watson interpreted so many clues accurately was impressive, especially since Jeopardy! clues sometimes contain so much wordplay that even the sharpest of humans need an extra moment to unpack what’s being asked, and understanding language is our thing. Watson can’t hear the the other players, which means he can’t eliminate their incorrect responses when he buzzes in second. It also means that he doesn’t learn the correct answer unless he gives it, which makes it difficult for him to catch on to category themes. He managed it pretty well, though. After stumbling blindly through the category “Also on Your Computer Keys,” Watson finally caught on for the last clue:

Category: Also on Your Computer Keys
Clue: Proverbially, it’s “where the heart is”

Watson’s answers were Home is where the heart is (20%), Delete Key (11%), and Elvis Presley quickly changed to Encryption (8%). The fact that Watson was considering “Delete Key” as an option means that he was starting to understand that all of the correct responses in the category were also names of keys on the keyboard.

Watson also is not emotionally affected by game play. After giving the embarrassingly wrong answer “Dorothy Parker” when the Daily Double clue was clearly asking for the title of a book, Watson just jumped right back in like nothing had happened. A human would likely have been thrown by that. And while Alex and the audience may have laughed at Watson’s precise wagers, that was a cultural expectation on their part. There’s no reason a wager needs to be rounded off to the nearest hundred, other than the limitations of human mental calculation under pressure. This wasn’t a Turing test. Watson was trying to beat the humans, not emulate them. And he did.

So where does that leave us? Computers that can understand natural language requests and retrieve information accurately could make for a very interesting decade to come. As speech recognition improves, we might start to see computers who can hold up their end of a conversation. Watson wasn’t hooked up to the Internet, but developing technologies could be. The day may come when I have a bluetooth headset hooked up to my smart phone and I can just ask it questions like the computer on Star Trek. As programs get smarter about interpreting language, it may be easier to make connections across ideas, creating a new kind of Web. One day, we may even say “Thank you, Autocorrect.”

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that these will be human achievements. Humans are amazing. Humans can organize into complex societies. Humans can form research teams and develop awesome technologies. Humans can program computers to understand natural language clues and access a comprehensive database of knowledge. Who won here? Humanity did.

Ken Jennings can do things beyond any computer’s ability. He can tie his shoes, ride a bicycle, develop a witty blog post comparing Proust translations, appreciate a sunset, write a trivia book, raise two children, and so on. At the end of the tournament, he walked behind Watson and waved his arms around to make it look like they were Watson’s arms. That still takes a human.

UPDATE: I’m told (by no less of an authority than Millionaire winner Ed Toutant) that Watson was given the correct answer at the end of every clue, after it was out of play. I had been going crazy wondering where “Delete Key” came from, and now it makes a lot more sense. Thanks, Ed!

Can You Explain What Internet Is?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Here’s a video that can be enjoyed both by younger viewers and older viewers, but in very different ways.

This clip of The Today Show is apparently from January 1994. The hosts ponder over a new entity that seems to be cropping up all over the place, the strange and magical new Internet. If it’s not obvious, the person on the left is Katie Couric, the current anchor of The CBS Evening News.

The point of this is not to make fun of the hosts who, 17 years ago, could hardly have been expected to understand how ubiquitous the Internet would become in our lives. But the clip is intriguing as a frozen moment in time, recalling the days when you had to check the newspaper for movie listings and you had to buy stamps to mail a letter. Back then, the thought of someone like me writing something like this and having someone like you come here and read it would have been unthinkable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going outside to do a video chat on my mobile phone.

Fifty Apps for the iPad

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Last year, I wrote that I didn’t need an iPad, because I had an iPhone and a Macbook Air. I still have them both, and they are still working out great. But my nephews got iPads for the holidays, and this is how I bond with them, so I had to get an iPad too. How’s that for a rationalization?

But now that I’ve bought one, I’m glad I did, because it’s adding value in ways I hadn’t anticipated. True, it is basically an iPod Touch with a larger screen, but that larger screen makes a big difference. There are a lot of things I can technically do with my iPhone, but usually don’t because the screen size is too small. And I’m finding it easier to do those things on the iPad.

So here are the top ten things you can do on an iPhone or iPod Touch that you can do better on an iPad:

1. Watch: I’ve been carrying around movies and TV shows on my iPhone for years, but I’ve watched more on the iPad in the last couple of months than I ever watched on the little screen. The Videos app (Included) is the very first app on my iPad. But I’ve also signed up for accounts with Netflix (Free app + $7.99/mo.) and Hulu Plus (Free app + $7.99/mo.) that let me stream video content from their impressive libraries. The combined monthly cost is far, far less than the Cable TV I’m canceling. And apps for YouTube (Included) and ABC Player (Free) help establish the iPad as a truly flexible video viewer you can take anywhere.

2. Connect: The power of social media has risen incredibly in the past year, and the App Store (Included) has kept pace. There are a variety of apps to help keep you connected, but I use Reeder ($4.99) as my Google Reader client, Friendly (Free) as my Facebook client, and Twitter (Free) as my client to access the Twitter account I finally broke down and created so that I could follow the national conversation where it seems to have gone. You can also consolidate the three, and much more, in one app called Flipboard (Free), which formats the content into a friendly magazine layout for casual browsing. There is also a WordPress app (Free), which allows me to blog on the go, and Yahoo! Messenger (Free) – actually an iPhone app – which lets users exchange text messages and participate in voice chat. And the iPad Mail interface (Included), designed for the larger screen, is much easier to use than its iPhone counterpart.

3. Read: The biggest surprise for me on the iPad is how much I love my Kindle app (Free), which lets me download books from Amazon and read them on the iPad. And these are real books that I actually want to read, not the limited eBook selection available through Apple. However, there are a lot of places online to get free books in ePub format, which can then be imported into your iTunes library and read on iBooks (Free), so you should definitely get it. I’m a fan of Offline Pages ($4.99), which allows you to save websites (from the iPad or from your home computer) and read them on the iPad, even after you’re no longer connected to the Internet. I also highly recommend the Shakespeare Pro app ($9.99) if Shakespeare’s your thing, and the Newspapers app ($2.99), which lets you access local newspapers from across the country on a daily basis.

4. Play: Any game you can play on the iPhone, you can play on the iPad, either in the original size, or expanded to fit the screen (sometimes with the expected loss of quality). But the expanded real estate has given developers something to code about, so there is a whole spate of new games and revamped versions of old games at the ready. Plants vs. Zombies is the absolute best game to ever grace the iPhone, and Plants vs. Zombies HD ($6.99) is even better on the iPad. Games like Cover Orange HD ($0.99) and Cut the Rope HD ($1.99), which combine tricky puzzles with engaging animations, demonstrate a new level of what is possible in portable gaming. Even the simple games, like Saving Seeds HD ($0.99) or Aces Traffic Pack HD ($2.99), really make you feel like you’re using a next generation device. I was able to play GT Racing: Motor Academy ($0.99) with my two nephews, each of us on our own iPads, racing each other on the same track. This was cool on a level they could not possibly appreciate.

5. View: I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss how viewing photos is better on the larger screen, obvious as it may be. The iPad has a built-in Picture Frame feature, which lets the device function as a digital picture frame when it’s not otherwise in use. There are also apps that take advantage of the view, like Beautiful Planet HD ($0.99) that shows high-quality images from across the globe, and The Guardian Eyewitness (Free), which shows a different news photo every day. And The Elements ($13.99), the flagship app of the iPad, is everything it’s hyped to be: an interactive periodic table in which you can rotate high-quality 3D images of each of the elements. But it does take up almost 2GB of storage space, so don’t even bother with it if you’re only working with 16GB.

6. Work: The iPad is expensive to begin with, so it seems worth it to me to invest just a bit more in the iWork suite – Pages ($9.99), Numbers ($9.99), and Keynote ($9.99) – to add value to your device. I’ve also become fond of GoodReader ($2.99), which reads PDF files, and Teleprompt+ ($9.99), which allows you to load up text documents from your desktop and use the iPad as your own portable teleprompter. Try that with an iPhone.

7. Organize: I’ve actually not had a problem with the Calendar app on the iPhone, but the iPad’s Calendar interface (Included) makes it possible to see my whole month at a glance, which is a useful feature. As a MobileMe user, I like to use iDisk (Free app + $99/yr. for MobileMe) to coordinate between my desktop, laptop, iPhone, and iPad, but if you’re not a member, I’ve heard good things about Dropbox (Free app + Dropbox account). And I have to mention the Delivery Status app ($4.99), which lets you follow multiple packages from FedEx, UPS, etc. as they are tracked through the system.

8. Browse: The fact that the iPhone had a fully functioning web browser was a major breakthrough, but the iPad takes it a step further. It’s not only that the screen is larger, but also the fact that it allows you to view the full versions of your favorite websites, as opposed to the version optimized for mobile devices. Safari (Included) also syncs your bookmarks bar from its desktop counterpart (via MobileMe, I think), which I have found very convenient. It’s worth checking to see if the websites you frequent have their own apps as well. I recommend Google (Free), WolframAlpha ($1.99), and Articles ($4.99), which is a sharp-looking Wikipedia client.

9. Explore: Here’s how you know you are living in the future. Download GoSkyWatch Planetarium (Free) to your iPad. Then point it at the sky at night. It will display for you the same stars at which you are gazing, along with their names and even the constellations drawn in. Move the iPad around and the display will adjust. It’s also worth getting Solar Walk ($2.99), which gives you more freedom to move around the solar system and see what’s going on, including watching our own artificial satellites as they orbit around the Earth. The more expansive interface also breathes new life into old favorites such as Maps (Included) and Google Earth (Free).

10. Distract: So you’ve bought your iPad and now the kids want to play with it. What can you download to keep them out of your online banking app? The boys have their favorites, but Elena, who is now almost two, can work the icons along with the best of them, even knowing to hit the menu button when she’s bored with one app and wants to switch to another. Voting with her fingers, she recommends Sound Touch ($2.99), Art in Motion ($2.99), Tesla Toy ($1.99), and Drawing Pad ($0.99). Ian (age six) is really into roller coasters, so he enjoys games like New York 3D Rollercoaster Rush HD ($4.99) and Underground 3D Rollercoaster Rush HD ($4.99). But he really loves an app called Coaster Physics ($0.99), which lets him design his own roller coaster and then ride on it as he learns about kinetic and potential energy. He also likes to practice his Dolch sight words with All Sight Words ($0.99) and play Math Bingo ($0.99), while his older brother Jason (age eight) prefers MathBoard ($3.99) to hone his arithmetic skills. I highly recommend the BrainPOP Featured Movie (Free) and PBS’s SUPER WHY! ($3.99), two excellent educational apps by sources from whom we’d expect no less. And there are a whole host of apps that simulate baking different sugary confections, but Cupcakes! XL ($0.99) makes the best use of the iPad’s capabilities.

I certainly mean no disrespect to the iPhone. It’s still, hands down, the coolest thing I’ve ever owned, including the iPad. It has a phone and a camera and it fits in my pocket, so the new kid is really no threat. The iPhone is also better for listening to audio, recording voice memos, MusicID, and playing Doodle Jump or Catan. Most of the things I do with the iPad are things I wasn’t really doing with the iPhone anyway. So the iPad did add value after all.

And now all of my portable digital requirements really are met, and I therefore have no need for any new thing that should happen to be introduced by Apple or anyone else.

Do I?

Back to the Future: The Remake!

Monday, July 5th, 2010

According to my sister, there’s a scene in Back to the Future where Doc Brown sets the clock in the DeLorean to a day 25 years in the future. Today. And today, probably not coincidentally, also marks the 25th anniversary of the US premiere of the film.

Of course, the real target year for the franchise will be 2015, when we can see how the future as depicted in Back to the Future II compares to the real thing. Until then, I invite you to enjoy this very funny song from Tom Wilson, who played Biff in the trilogy:

Back to the Future IV, not happening? I guess that makes sense. You can’t really do another BTTF movie without Michael J. Fox, and he is more or less retired from acting due to his illness. But do we really need a Back to the Future IV? Or is what we really need a remake of the original movie? Follow along with me, as I imagine what that might look like. And as this is a rough sketch, I invite readers to contribute to the vision, or even modify it as needed.

The film would star today’s version of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly. I don’t know who that would be, but that’s kind of the point. The movie isn’t for me, it’s for today’s teenagers.

The year is 2015, and Marty McFly is a teenager who is an aspiring video game designer. He gets a call from his friend, Doc Brown, and goes to meet him. Marty learns that Doc Brown has created a time machine out of a Prius, and has bought some enriched yellowcake uranium in order to generate the 1.21 gigawatts needed to fuel it. Doc Brown pronounces “gigawatts” correctly this time. Homeland Security shows up and arrests the Doc, while Marty escapes in the Prius to the year 1985.

At first, he’s not sure what’s going on. He can’t get a signal on his iPhone, so he goes into a restaurant and asks where he can get online. The manager tells him he’s the only customer waiting, so there’s no need to get on line. Marty shows him his phone and asks where he can get reception. The manager tells him there’s a reception in the back. Marty asks how many bars he can get, and the manager asks him for ID.

Leaving the restaurant, Marty sees his young father, George, and follows him. Marty sees that George is about to be hit by a car, and pushes him out of the way. Marty is hit by the car instead. He wakes up to find a teenage version of his mother, Lorraine, who keeps calling him Isaac Mizrahi. He joins the rest of the family for dinner, which they eat while watching Family Ties. After dinner, they play Super Mario Brothers on the family’s new Nintendo Entertainment System. Marty quickly gets bored and wanders off.

Marty looks up Doc Brown, who points out that to send Marty back, they need to generate the 1.21 gigawatts (pronouncing it wrong this time) to power the time machine. Marty looks on his iPhone to find the next thunderstorm. He can’t connect, of course, but Doc Brown notices that Marty’s iPhone wallpaper is a digital picture of himself with his brother and sister, and his brother’s image is starting to pixelate. They realize that Marty prevented his parents from meeting, and he has to get them back together, so they can have their first kiss at the Pac Man Fever dance hosted by the school.

Marty tries to befriend George, but ends up crossing Biff, the local bully. To escape Biff, Marty borrows a skateboard from a local kid, and sticks a broom handle on the end to fashion a makeshift scooter, which he’s more experienced riding. Think about that for a second.

At first, George doesn’t want to go along with the plan. But Marty, knowing George is into science fiction, shows him a video clip of Avatar on the iPhone and George is so freaked out that he’s willing to trust Marty. He’s supposed to punch out Marty to protect Lorraine, but he ends up punching out Biff instead and the rest is history.

At the Pac Man Fever dance, Marty rolls his eyes at the primitive video game technology, and describes in great detail for those in attendance about his favorite video game, Grand Theft Auto. At the end of his description, he finds everyone staring at him slack-jawed. He realizes they may not be ready for a video game where you drive around stealing cars and beating up prostitutes, “but your kids are gonna love it.”

Your move, Robert Zemekis.

Googleplex – 2/7/10

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

It’s time once again to check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought people to this site in the past week.

shakespeare palindrome

I had considered this as a weekly feature after I finished with the lipogram experiment, but how much potential is there here, really?


To blat droll Lord Talbot.

No mites use Timon.

Madam, I’m Adam.

You know, Adam. From As You Like It. If you can think of any good Shakespeare palindromes, feel free to post them here, but I’m done.

But if you’re looking for some Shakespeare-spelled-backwards fun, check out this still-unsolved puzzle from the archives. And feel free to solve it!

cymbeline queen age characters

I think of the Queen as much younger than Cymbeline, and very beautiful, which is why she has so much power over him. But she needs to be old enough to have a grown son, Cloten. The play roughly takes place around the first century AD, when mothers would have been young. I’ll say late-thirties/early-forties for the Queen.

let the games begin shakespeare

The expression “Let the games begin” does not appear in Shakespeare, and actually goes back much further than his time. But I deduce that the expression you’re thinking of is “The game’s afoot,” which comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Elementary, my dear searcher.

shakespeare glossary ipod

I have now had a chance to use the “Shakespeare Pro” app that I discussed here, and I’m ready to recommend it. The text is hyperlinked to a glossary, so you can look up specific words in context. There are still some issues to be worked out, but it’s definitely a good app to have. I have one minor quibble: when you click on a word, it gives you every definition of that word in Shakespeare, and not the specific way it is used where you clicked it. The two-volume Schmidt lexicon breaks down where the different words are used for each meaning. But, hey, for three bucks, this is a pretty cool thing to be able to carry around with you.

underused shakespeare monologue women

I really like Queen Margaret’s speech in Henry VI, Part Three. Margaret has captured the Duke of York, who has fought to claim his right to the throne. She tells him that she has had his young son Rutland killed, and gives him a napkin stained with the boy’s blood to dry his tears. She then taunts him by placing a paper crown on his head and ordering his death. Off with his head!

rap songs relating to the tudors

I’m not entirely certain about this, but I’m pretty sure that the Run DMC song “Mary, Mary” is about Queen Mary I of England. The lyric “Mary, Mary, why you buggin’?” means “Your royal highness, why are you executing so many Protestants?” Rather than wait to be burned at the stake, many Protestants chose to leave England, many of them no doubt exclaiming “I worry ’bout Mary, ’cause Mary is scary!”

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:


why teach shakespeare

what was england and denmarks relationship during shakespeares lifetime

song playing when tudors is being advertised

shakespeare and eustachian tube

shakespeare’s language gin

i need to dress like mary tudor for a class play

Ten Kiddie Apps

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Last week, I posted a list of my ten favorite iPhone apps. Recently, I helped my young nephews (ages 5 and 7) load up their iPod Touches with some fun apps for them. I had to do some research to find the best apps, and I’m pleased to share my experiences with the Shakespeare Teacher community.

Here, then, are my top ten recommendations for iPhone apps for kids, presented this time as a countdown:

10. Cookie Doodle ($0.99) – You can select the type of dough, roll it with a roller, choose your favorite cookie cutter, bake the cookie, and decorate it with a variety of icings and candies. In the end, you eat your cookie, of course. A similar app named More Pizza! allows you to prepare a different kind of treat.

9. MiniPiano (FREE) – This is just a single-octave piano keyboard, but probably better to allow the little one to explore this free app than on your expensive baby grand. There’s also a Drum Kit that has a free “lite” version.

8. TeachMe: Kindergarten ($0.99) – This is a great little drill-and-skill app for your youngster to practice word and number skills. Correct answers earn stickers which can be placed on provided backgrounds. There is also a version for toddlers.

7. Skee-Ball ($0.99) – Flick your finger to roll the ball up the ramp and score points in this digital version of the classic arcade game. It’s fun for kids who know the real thing. There is also an Arcade Hoops app to simulate the timed basketball shooting game.

6. SpongeBob Tickler ($1.99) – If your kids are into SpongeBob, they’ll love this opportunity to poke and prod him to hear his different catchphrases. They can also explore different underwater environments, and play some fun games they’ll find there. There’s also a Phineas and Ferb Arcade for kids who like the cartoon.

5. TappyTunes ($1.99) - Select from a variety of songs from diverse categories, such as Children’s, Classical, Devotional (contains religious imagery), Holiday, Patriotic, and Traditional. The notes are pre-programmed, but they’ll only play when you tap the screen, so timing is still in the hands of the user. I would have thought this better for the younger ones, but I spent more time playing with this app than I’m ready to admit.

4. Feed Me! (FREE) - This is a fun educational game where kids drag the correct answer to a hungry monster, who makes entertaining sounds when fed. Some of the questions require some critical thinking skills. I don’t know how long this will stay free.

3. iSteam ($0.99) – Don’t let the “Hot and Steamy Entertainment” part scare you; this app is as clean as your shower door. If you like wiping steam off of glass, this app is for you. You can even import your own photos… and then wipe steam off of them! The kids love this one.

2. Treat Street ($0.99) – Mix and match parts of Halloween costumes, and then hit the street! Pick a house, knock on the door (or ring the bell), and see what you get. Most treats are good, but every now and then a mean neighbor gives you a bug. Good treats go into the bag, where they can be sorted and moved around. The little one once spent over an hour solid on this one, laughing the whole time.

1. Scoops ($1.99) - This is a great kids game, but I’ve been having way too much fun with it myself. You have an ice cream cone, and have to tilt the device to catch scoops of ice cream as they fall. Avoid the onions and tomatoes, though, because if you catch three vegetables, you’re out. As you build your cone, you eventually slip the surly bonds of earth and can pass by the moon, Mars, Jupiter, etc., which is extra fun for planet-loving children.

Actually, my nephews’ favorite app is Monopoly, but I left it off the list because you probably already know what that is. They also enjoy the Game of Life. If there are any good board games or card games you already play with them, you might check to see if there’s an app. I also left off The Moron Test (which they love) because it was on last week’s list. I also gave them a few fun apps on the presidents. I left this off the list because I don’t know if your kids are into the presidents. But whatever they’re into, check out the App Store. There may be an app for that!

And as I was typing this list, it may have already become obsolete. The iPad, basically an iPod Touch with a larger screen, has been released. It looks pretty cool, but I doubt I will buy one. I have an iPhone and Macbook Air, so all of my mobile information needs have currently been met. But I have started to think of the device, starting at $499, as a low-cost computing option for schools. But if you’re planning to get an iPad for your family, all of the iPhone and iPod Touch apps will run on it, and the device is certain to spawn a new generation of app development. So the conversation continues…

Googleplex – 1/24/10

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

It’s time once again to check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought people to this site in the past week.

do the tudors trace their ancestry to antony and cleopatra

Probably not. Antony and Cleopatra did have three children, two boys and a girl. Cleopatra also had a child, Caesarion, from Julius Caesar. (”He plough’d her, and she cropp’d.” See how classy you sound when you quote Shakespeare?) Antony also had children from four of his wives.

After Octavius Caesar conquered Egypt (the events depicted in Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra) he executed Caesarion, and gave the three children of Antony and Cleopatra to his sister Octavia. Remember (from the play) that Octavia was Antony’s last wife, so she’s now raising the children of her husband and his mistress. Little is known of the two boys, and if they had lived to adulthood, they would probably have been mentioned in sources of the time because of their parentage. It is possible they may have secretly been killed to avoid a later challenge to Octavius. But it’s also possible that they lived on and had children of their own. There’s no way to know.

The daughter of Antony and Cleopatra, named Cleopatra Selene, was married to an African king, and they had – at least – great grandchildren. Zenobia, a third century Syrian queen, claimed to be descended from this line. So it’s certainly possible that the descendants of Antony and Cleopatra are among us today. And if so, the opportunities to multiply between the 1st century and the 15th century would be massive. Therefore, we cannot rule out definitively that the Tudors are descended from Antony and Cleopatra. But could they know this for sure, let alone trace it? No. Those 1400 years weren’t exactly known for their record keeping, and there is too much motivation for people to invent a famous lineage along the way.

king henry the eighth sister margaret

Margaret Tudor was Henry VIII’s older sister. She married James IV of Scotland in 1503, and a hundred years later, her great-grandson would become King of England (after Henry VIII’s line died out).

However, if you are asking about the character played by Gabrielle Anwar in The Tudors, you’re really looking for younger sister Mary Tudor. Another Mary would have probably been too confusing, so they conflated the two women into one character. Mary Tudor was the one who married an aging king only to be widowed three months later. Mary was the one who married Charles Brandon. I’ve only seen the first season of the show, so I don’t know what the character would later become, but in the first season, Margaret’s story is that of Mary Tudor.

good shakespearean pranks

Shakespeare had a lot of plots that centered around practical jokes. Often, they would blur the line between harmless prank and vicious revenge, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, am I right? Without any further ado, then, is my Top Ten list of Shakespearean pranks. Drum roll, please!

10. The Merry Wives of Windsor – I’m not a fan of this play, and I’m loathe to include it on the list of Top Ten anything. But a list of Shakespearean pranks would be incomplete without it, so here it is at #10. Suffice it to say, there are a number of pranks in this play. I’d list them, but I can’t be bothered.

9. Henry IV, Part Two – Hal and Poins disguise themselves as drawers and listen in on Falstaff’s bragging. They reveal themselves, but not before Falstaff has a chance to badmouth the Prince behind his back. The fun comes when Falstaff tries to talk his way out of it.

8. Measure for Measure – The “bed trick” and the “head trick” are serious deceptions and can hardly be considered a prank. But what about what I like to call the “fled trick”? The Duke pretends to leave Vienna, but instead stays back disguised as a friar. I guess the joke’s on Angelo. Busted!

7. Twelfth Night – Malvolio, imprisoned in darkness, recieves a visit from Sir Topas the curate. Actually, it’s Feste the jester disguising his voice. Playing both parts, Feste drives the supposed madman one step closer to real madness.

6. Much Ado about Nothing – Beatrice and Benedick’s merry war takes a surprising turn when their friends allow them to overhear conversations to make each believe the other is in love. The prank becomes self-fulfilling. “Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.”

5. Henry IV, Part One – Hal and Poins pretend to go along with Falstaff’s plan to rob some travellers. But they enter in disguise after the fact and rob the robbers! They reveal their prank after Falstaff has been boasting about his encounter with the unknown thieves.

4. The Tempest – Prospero uses his magic to get revenge on those who have wronged him. But the havoc only lasts the afternoon and there’s no real damage done. The whole play is one big prank.

3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Puck changes Bottom into an ass. And Titania, having been spiked with a love potion by Oberon, falls in love with the creature. Hilarity ensues.

2. Twelfth Night – Maria forges a letter from Olivia to Malvolio, hinting that she is in love with him. Toby, Andrew, and Fabian spy on Malvolio as he reads the letter, which tells him to come to her in an outlandish manner… and he does.

1. Othello – Iago tricks Othello into believing that his wife has been unfaithful, so he kills her. Not really a prank, you say? Check out this video.

famous monologues from king lear

There are a lot of good monologues for men from King Lear. To start with, you can find monologues from Lear here, from Edmund here, and Edgar here. The female characters in the play have some great speeches, but nothing I would particularly pull out as a monologue.

shakespeare animation

You may be looking for Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, a series of half-hour condensed animated versions of Shakespeare plays. But I’ve also done a lot of work with students creating animated versions of Macbeth, As You Like It, and The Tempest. And since this is Shakespeare Teacher, I’ll offer some information about how to do it.

When I did these animation projects, the students did the artwork in HyperStudio, they recorded the sound in SoundEffects, and they aligned the two in iMovie. It was frame-by-frame, which is time consuming, but HyperStudio had a card-and-stack interface that made it go much more quickly. That was quite a few years ago, though, and I do mostly video projects now. I don’t know if HyperStudio is even still around, and people use Audacity for sound recordings today. iMovie is still the best game in town if you want to coordinate frame animation.

I know a lot of people who like to use the website Scratch for student animations. The one problem with Scratch is that you can only view the animations from the Scratch website. You cannot download the movie file and post it to YouTube.

I’ve heard, particularly from Shakespeare teachers, a lot of enthusiasm surrounding Kar2ouche. I looked at it once, a long time ago, and I dismissed it because there are a lot of pre-made templates, and I wanted my students to visually interpret the characters themselves. But time being a factor, I would probably recommend it, and I’ve seen some Shakespeare projects that look really sharp. Every so often, someone asks me if I’ve heard of Kar2ouche.

Of course, if your kids are into Second Life, there has been some animated Shakespeare coming from that quarter as well. There is also stop motion photography, which can be done with a digital camera, iMovie, and a lot of patience.

was queen elizabeth illegitimate child shakespeare

I can interpret this in four ways:

1. Was Queen Elizabeth the illegitimate child of Shakespeare?
2. Was Queen Elizabeth’s illegitimate child Shakespeare?
3. Did Queen Elizabeth’s illegitimate child actually write the plays of Shakespeare?
4. Was Queen Elizabeth an illegitimate child according to Shakespeare?

Elizabeth was older than Shakespeare, so #1 is a clear No. I don’t know of any illegitimate children of Elizabeth. This seems to me to be something easier for a king to pull off than a queen. If she had gone through a pregnancy, I doubt she’d have kept the nickname “the Virgin Queen” for very long. So we can answer a No for #2 and #3 as well.

As for whether Elizabeth herself was illegitimate, that’s a fair question. It all depends on how legitimate you consider the annulment of Henry VIII and his first wife. But Shakespeare certainly wouldn’t have painted her as illegitimate. When she was alive, he wrote plays that glorified her ancestors, and long after she died, his play Henry VIII treated her birth as a moment of great hope for the future of England.

So I’m not sure what you’re asking, but the answer is probably No.

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:


shakespeare reading list

headline tell us that macbeth saves Scotland

theme of religion in shakespeare’s “as you like it”

what inspired shakespeare to write king lear

how people were killed when shakespear was alive

madrid in april 2010 literature teachers

Ten Killer Apps

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I’ve noticed a lot of people I know have new iPhones lately, possibly because of the holidays. The iPhone is a fantastic device right out of the box: a phone, an iPod, a web browser, a voice recorder… what more could you want? Well, there’s plenty more you could want, and you can get quite a bit of it at the App Store online.

The iPhone is basically a mini-computer, and a computer’s nothing without software. I’ve been making the same set of recommendations to my friends, and I’m pleased to share them with the Shakespeare Teacher community.

And if you’re one of those “I don’t pay for apps” people, you really need to get over that. The ten apps I am recommending total less than sixteen dollars. If you think of the hundreds of dollars you paid for your iPhone, the marginal cost of upgrading it with a few apps is laughable.

These are listed in the order they appear on my iPhone:

1. Gorillacam (FREE) – Gives you a range of additional options when taking pictures with the iPhone. My favorite feature is that you can make the whole screen the camera button, so you don’t have to find that little button while you’re trying to catch the baby’s attention.

2. AppBox Pro ($0.99) – A collection of useful utilities, including a currency exchange calculator, random number generator, unit exchange calculator, and even a translator!

3. RedLaser ($1.99) – Use the camera to scan a barcode, and compare prices for the product online. I mostly use this to capture book titles when someone shows me something that looks good, as the results remain saved in memory.

4. Unblock Me ($0.99) – There are a number of iPhone apps in the “Rush Hour” family of sliding block games. This is a good one, because it has a lot of levels, so if you get hooked, it will last you a long time. There is also a FREE version if you want to try before you buy. I also like Blocked and Parking Lot, which are basically the exact same game.

5. Electric Box ($1.99) – This is my hands-down favorite game on the iPhone. You have to use a combination of logic and insight to place a variety of components on a grid to carry electricity from a power source to the Electric Box. It’s a very fun, addictive puzzle game.

6. Phase 10 ($2.99) - This is a card game, kind of a cross between Uno and Gin Rummy. I resisted the buzz on this one for a long time, but now that I have it I CANNOT STOP playing it.

7. 200 Great Books ($1.99) - If you want to read on your iPhone, this is a really convenient way to carry around a library of the classics. The interface allows you to change the font, size, and color of the text, and to auto-scroll, and tilt the device to adjust the speed! (There is also a Kindle reader for the iPhone if that’s more to your liking.)

8. U.S. Historical Documents ($0.99) – An amazing collection of U.S. Historical Documents for your browsing pleasure.

9. MyPhone+ for Facebook ($2.99) – You can sync your phone contacts with your Facebook friends. The most fun part of this is that when one of my Facebook friends calls me (if he or she is already in my address book), the Facebook photo comes up on my screen! (There now seem to be cheaper alternatives to do this, but this is what I have.)

10. The Moron Test ($0.99) - This is very silly, but a lot of fun. Follow the directions, but watch out for tricks. The latest version includes three different tests.

For this list, I avoided the official apps for well-known Internet services like Google, Wikipedia and Facebook, since you probably already know if you want them. And you’ll probably notice the Readdle Shakespeare app is not listed above. This is a fantastic app, but not everyone is a Shakespeare fan, so it’s not usually one of the apps I recommend. But if you do love Shakespeare, you should have this. There is also a new paid upgrade, which I’m planning to get. Among other features, it links specific words to a Shakespearean glossary. It looks great, but I haven’t used it, so I can’t recommend it yet. Stay tuned, loyal readers.