Advice for the mature or befuddled...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Habla Español Con Tech

Since I'm in the public relations business, it makes good business sense to brush up on my Spanish. After all, Latinos are a fast-growing population here and many of my prospective clients serve this community.

But first, a confession, “brush up” is inaccurate as that implies my language skills simply need refreshing. Alas, I’ve got un largo viaje ahead.

Thanks to technology, I can turn to a number of iTunes podcasts, iPhone apps and Websites to guide me as I learn. The advantages of tech-study appeal because I can do it in the comfort of my home and at low or minimum cost. Care to join me as I immerse?

iTunes Podcasts
More than two dozen podcasts, priced at free to $19.95, are offered. My favorite is Coffee Break Spanish distributed by Radio Lingua Network. Instructor Mark and his student Kara, are native Scots, so their conversations have an interesting twist. According to their site, Coffee Break Spanish “brings language-learning with your latte. Aimed at total beginners, it will help you get to grips with the Spanish language.”

Another podcast, “guides you step-by-step to speaking and understanding Spanish. Each lesson uses images and charts to visually introduce new vocabulary and concepts."

iPhone Apps
Spanish! is a $0.99 app that offers “A learning tool similar to flashcards, but with audio and an intelligent progress tracking system that helps you learn faster. After you 'flip' to the answer, you pick if you were Right or Wrong."

iSpeak Spanish is priced at $1.99 and bills itself as "the best selling translation solution on the App Store."

Spanish Anywhere is pricier at $9.99, but I've enjoyed this app since I purchased it several years ago. Its description touts, "Learn and communicate in Spanish anytime. It's perfect for travelers, students, business people, and anyone who wants to speak, read, study, pronounce, or translate Spanish."

Many Spanish language websites claim they are free, but often there is a subscription service attached. That's why I like's Spanish for beginners despite an abundance of ads on its site. Here's their commercial, "This series of lessons is designed to help beginning Spanish students or any one else learning the language with the fundamentals needed for further learning and study. It requires no supplementary material other than perhaps a dictionary for reinforcing vocabulary."

At, the Chicago link points you to several brick-and-mortar schools, including two I've attended. And although I’m currently focusing on home-based study on my tech toys, I recommend both places.

Dígame is located at 2504 N. California in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. According to its web site, "Dígame Language Instruction is a private, student-focused language learning center offering Spanish, French and German classes for adults. Our recipe for success combines a friendly, safe atmosphere with serious learning goals." Call 773-235-1499 or write to:

Instituto Cervantes de Chicago is downtown at 31 W. Ohio St. between State and Dearborn Streets. It's a worldwide non-profit organization created by the Spanish government in 1991 and the largest organization in the world concerned with the teaching of Spanish. Call 312-335-1996 or write to for information.

Now that I've got you interested in the language, you might also want to combine vocabulary with footwork. Check out Flamenco Chicago at 2914 W. Belmont. It's owned by my friend, Rosetta Magdalen and "offers a fun, but serious, learning environment with the Chicago area's greatest number of flamenco dance classes under one roof."

Rosetta adds "You will meet a friendly, welcoming, and very interesting group of students here, ranging in age from teens through 60s, with most students in their 20s and 30s. Class sizes are limited to ensure supportive, personal attention to each student.” To begin, contact

Usted es muy agradable por estos consejos.

I think.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tech Tools Take the Tension Out of Travel

Annoyed by the alliteration? Sorry, but I’m trying to create the typical state of irritation many of us experience when traveling.

Before you transfer your mood to me, be my seatmate (I’ll take the aisle) while we explore some iPhone apps and websites designed to lesson anxiety.

iPhone and other Smarties

For fliers, Airfare Pro at $4.99 searches nearly 10,000 airports, hundreds of airlines and over 200 travel sites around the world to find the cheapest flights possible.

TripIt Travel Organizer is a free app that puts your travel plans on your iPhone. To use the app, you email your flight, hotel and rental confirmation to The website will then create itineraries for each trip.

Currency is a free app that provides up-to-date exchange rates for over 100 currencies and countries.

FlightTrack Pro, at $9.99 imports flight data automatically and sends alerts with real-time changes to your flight.

Next Flight 
provides a list of available nonstop flights from all airlines for the day. Its great if you miss a flight, get bumped or decide to leave early. The $2.99 app tracks scheduled departures from more than 4,200 airports and 1,100 airlines.

Urbanspoon is a free restaurant finder that uses GPS to locate a restaurant near you. You can filter by neighborhood, cuisine, or price. Ratings and reviews are available, too.

Yelp is a free app that helps you find nearby bars, restaurants, and other businesses. You can read reviews from Yelp’s community of locals.

Websites is considered the best resource for finding the cheapest air, hotel, cruise and car-rental prices. Sites such as and search only their own databases, but includes more than 400 airline websites, online travel agencies and other travel sites, including some international ones, in its search for the best fares and fees. tracks your itinerary and alerts you when the price drops. Better than that, tracks flights after the tickets have been purchased. If a price drops enough to cover any re-ticketing or cancellation fees, sends out an alert. figures out the price of a cab ride in cities throughout the U.S. For example, if I declined your plea to pick you up at O’Hare, the 10.9 mile cab ride to my house would cost about $24.46 or $28 with a 15% tip, plus a $1.00 surcharge for trips from O'Hare Airport. provides a cheaper alternative to my place. $2.25 for a 44 minute door-to-door trip via the CTA's Blue Line.

What’s that I hear? You’ve canceled plans to visit because I’m too lazy to pick you up at the airport? Oh well. Remember, though, this post is about reducing tension related to traveling. And since I’m its author, my serenity trumps yours.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Turning to Tech for Homework Help

Have you seen my Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume EVA to FRA? I’ve been searching for that reference book since 1948.

Back-to-school stories have sparked my memory of those glossy pages and the frantic hunts that took place the night before a homework assignment was due.

Nowadays, missing volumes, or your lack of calculus acumen needn't challenge. To the rescue, come Google References, Mac OS X, iPhones, and the Internet.

Turn to your Google search button for these aides:

1. Calculator. To use Google's built-in calculator, enter the calculation you'd like done into the search box. Let's say, $2.87 (my last gas price) x 5.13 (gallons purchased). Do the math and you'll learn how much I paid for a half a tank. (1990 Honda Civic)

2. Unit Conversion. You can use Google to convert between many different units of measurement of height, weight, and volume among many others. Just enter your desired conversion into the search box and the site will do the rest. Their example, 10.5 cm in inches. (Answer: 4.13385827 inches. See how easy that was?)

3. Public Data. This feature is more useful for high school and college students. It provides trends for population and unemployment rates of U.S. states and counties. Type "population" or "unemployment rate" followed by a state or county, and you’ll get your answer.

4. Fill in the Blank. Sometimes the best way to ask a question is to get Google to ‘fill in the blank.’ Add an asterisk (*) at the part of the sentence or question that you want finished into the Google search box. (FYI. George Clooney was born May 6, 1961.)

Mac OS X

1. Dictionary Definitions. To see a definition for a word or phrase, type the word into the Spotlight at the very upper right hand corner of your screen. A definition, as well as Mac's built-in Dictionary application, pops up. You'll find the word's meaning, as well as a Thesaurus. (My example, since I used "searching" in paragraph one, I wanted to avoid a repeat in two. Hence: "hunts.")

iPhone users can turn to a variety of free apps for their homework buddy.

1. The free app, My Homework, is one popular example and it's currently the no. 2 most downloaded education app in the App Store. It lets students keep track of their classes, homework assignments, projects, and tests, with a simple (the developer's description) user interface.

2. College students may be interested in iStudiez Pro, which is more tailored to university studies. This app helps you keep track of lecture and lab sessions, tasks, homework, scheduling, etc. At $2.99, it's currently the no. 1 most popular paid education app in the App Store.

No smart phone? No problem. Go to the Internet and check out these websites:

1. provides everything a student or parent needs to know about Basic Math, Everyday Math, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Statistics, and Calculus. It even offers math tutoring.
2. At, students are taught how to learn. This site’s curriculum developers "are experienced classroom teachers who help students understand concepts, not just memorize them."

3. Point your mouse to, submit a question and offer an optional commission. The question will be automatically emailed to all the tutors, instantly alerting and giving them an incentive to give you homework help (non-commissioned questions are only posted).

Now that I’ve helped you out, you can do me a favor. Check your closet, bookshelf, and under the sofa cushions. Did I happen to leave my EVA to FRA at your house?