Ditch your whiteboard for Bamboo Paper by Wacom, FREE until end of June

We used to hoard scratch paper for writing visual / written cues for our kid and adult clients.  Then we went green and shifted to folder-sized whiteboards and a bunch of whiteboard markers. Sure, they were light and were easy to erase.  These boards were our original, low-cost, unbreakable iPads!  But there was always the danger of decorating your own clothes with the marker, or accidentally erasing what you’ve just written on the whiteboard (if your kid client hasn’t done so yet).  Oh yes, we love our whiteboards so much, we’re letting them go on leave now that Bamboo Paper by Wacom has finally made its way to the iPad.

We are SO pushing this app to you iPad owners.  We’ve tried out several drawing and doodling apps, but so far we haven’t come across anything that was as responsive and as intuitive as Bamboo Paper.  We’ve seen Bamboo Tablets used by graphic artists (and many of them attest to its ease of use).  That was why we were tickled pink when its iPad version came out.  Start the app, and you are greeted by a sketchbook cover.  Change the title of the notebook if you so wish.  You can customize your sketchbook by

  • changing the cover’s color:  blue, green, yellow, purple
  • changing the ‘paper’s’ design:  plain, lined, or graphed

Tap on the cover and it flips open.  Your Bamboo Paper sketchbook can accommodate several pages (we suppose that for as long as you keep swiping for a new page, you’ll get a new page).  The screen’s upper border contains minimalist icons for:

  • closing your sketchbook and returning you to the cover
  • exporting your page via email, saving it to your iPad’s Photo Library, or by printing it
  • undoing an action
  • redoing an action
  • drawing pen:  with
    • three options for stroke thickness
    • six color options
  • eraser
  • clear page
  • bookmark

Look hard enough at the lower right and left corners of the screen and you’ll see faint arrow icons that allows you to flip through your three allotted pages.  We’ve tried to turn the pages by swiping at them, resulting to drawn strokes on the paper instead.

If you want to send the entire sketchbook off to someone, you can always tap on the upper left button to return to the sketchbook cover, tap on the Export button at the bottom of the sketchbook, and decide whether to email the sketchbook as a PDF, or print it out.

For serious graphic artists, they may find the Bamboo Paper seriously lacking in color, stroke, and drawing options.  But for basic drawing needs such as drawing a basic map when giving someone directions, sketching out an idea, or for instances when one is put on voice rest following the removal of vocal fold nodules, this app is a very indispensable tool.  We even use this as a tally board for our competitive young clients, as a drawing tool for Pictionary, or even as a simple reward for a job well done at therapy.

Use the Bamboo Paper with your fingers or with a Bamboo Stylus for iPad.  We weren’t able to find a Bamboo Stylus in the shops here, so we used a Targus iPad Stylus and it worked just as well.

FREE until the end of June! Grab this one now.  Usefulness guaranteed.


Comprehension TherAppy: perfect for working on auditory and written comprehension

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month!  To celebrate this, we collaborated with Tactus Therapy Solutions and checked out their first app: Comprehension TherAppy.  However, before we start talking about the app, here’s letting everyone know that iSPeak App is giving Tactus Therapy Solutions not two but THREE thumbs up (!) for taking up the task of creating apps specifically designed for individuals with aphasia and brain injury.

Comprehension TherAppy was designed to target auditory and written comprehension of single words.  The app fires up fast and straightaway shows the main screen with three modes to choose from:  Listen (for auditory comprehension), Read (for written comprehension), and Listen and Read (for both auditory and written comprehension). The Settings button is located on the upper right hand corner of the main screen and provides quick customization options:

  • Difficulty:  Easy, Medium, Hard
  • Field Size: Auto, 2, 3, 4, 6
  • Number of Trials: 10, 25, 50, 100, infinity
  • Default Email Address for Results: (to be specified by the user)

Picture stimuli are shown in the first two modes (Listen mode, and Read mode).  The third mode (Listen and Read mode) offers word stimuli only.

We decided to field-test the app with a client right away.  Since the app uses landscape view, using the Smart Cover as a stand would have been a good choice, but not a practical one.  We instead used a Belkin Flipblade iPad stand and this suited our client well enough since it gave her an optimal viewing angle of the screen.  Our chosen settings were Easy, Auto, and 50 Trials.

Here are our impressions after spending some time using the app during an actual therapy session:

What makes this app truly awesome:

  • light on memory space, fast on its feet: only 10.3 MB!  Fires up fast, no lag when a fresh set of stimulus pictures appears (on the iPad 2)
  • a very clean interface: no animations, no complicated patterns nor colors.  The pictures and words are set against a white background.  On top of the screen is a blue strip containing
    • the Home button
    • Correct responses indicator
    • Incorrect responses indicator
    • Progress bar
  • pictures are realistic: the stimuli are definitely appropriate for adults, with most of them being clear and sharp.
  • sounds are appropriate and low-key: no clapping, music or “good job” voice-ins that are often present in apps for kids. This app’s sounds are presented by a male, North American accented voice in the Listen and Listen and Read modes. The correct and incorrect response feedback sounds are nondistracting dings and beeps.
  • adequate spacing between pictures
  • appropriately ‘dated’ pictures: several pictures appeared to be carefully chosen with older adults in mind.  None of those modernistic or futuristically-designed toasters, ovens or microwave ovens.  The toaster was visually recognizable as a toaster.  The microwave oven’s door was slightly ajar.
  • differentiated pictures: some picture stimuli could have easily looked similar to each other, and this would have been a problem if, say, a pickle occurred in the same set as a cucumber.  While this would have been good for working on a client’s attention to details, the app’s developers appeared to be considerate enough to differentiate the picture of a pickle from a cucumber by presenting the latter as sliced and whole (in one picture).
  • community workers were presented in context: a nurse is shown working with a patient, a pilot at his cockpit, a secretary in the office
  • stimulus words are written in big, bold text: not overwhelmingly huge, but big enough to be read

These are our impressions about the app’s visual aspects.  Here is what we found when we went on hyperfocus mode:

What makes this app AWESOMER:

  • HUGE selection! over 500 pictured nouns in 10 categories
  • expansion packs are available: for a reasonable price, one can purchase add-ons such as
    • Verbs: containing over 100 progressive verbs
    • Adjectives: over 100 words, includes numbers attributes and colors
  • app adjusts field size basing on performance: if your settings are on Auto, the app starts by presenting 3 stimuli pictures/words.  Three consecutive correct responses increases the field size to 4, and three more correct responses bumps it up to 6 choices.  The reverse happens when three consecutive incorrect responses are made: if the client makes mistakes given 4 choices, the app makes it easier by bringing the selection a notch down to 3.
  • level of difficulty is presented in semantic foils (and some phonemic foils): After a few minutes of consistently-correct responses, we observed that semantically-related stimuli occurred in the same set, such as pictures of a set dentures and a toothbrush.  In another instance, phonemic foils appeared (a picture of salsa and a picture of pasta in the Listen mode).  We needed to clarify this observation with Megan Sutton, Tactus Therapy’s app designer and director.  According to Ms. Sutton:

“On Easy Mode, all foils are from different categories.  On Medium, there is one foil from the same category and one that begins with the same initial phoneme.  On the Hard setting, there is at least one foil from the same subcategory as the target and the rest are from the same category.”

Similarly-shaped pictures also occurred together in some instances (bracelets vs. ball).  Ms. Sutton clarified that this consideration fell under the app’s intent to present semantic foils, given that semantic foils (same category) on occasion provides visual foils.

  • accurate tallying of responses: each picture gets either 1 correct point or 1 incorrect point.  If the client makes an incorrect response in, say, a field of 4 pictures, it counts it as 1 but won’t change the selection until the client selects the correct picture/word.  But once the correct response is made, no points are awarded.  If the client made more incorrect responses in that same array, these responses are not counted either.
  • performance summary is displayed: at the end of the activity, the app provides a summary of the client’s performance by number of correct responses over total items and is categorized by field of 3, 4, and 6.
  • option to email performance summary: the email does not just contain a bulleted summary, it even includes a narrative template describing what the client had achieved in what task.  Just edit the text, put in the recipient’s email address, sign with your name, and hit Send.

There were some instances when our client slowed down and even squinted at the pictures. We took careful note of these and figured that…

This app could use some tweaking on the following:

  • white pictures against a white background: several pictures were hard to distinguish against the app’s white background, such as rice, a white cup and saucer, a pillow, a refrigerator, a map, a notebook.  The egg was more distinguishable since this was depicted as cracked open with the yolk showing.
  • the REPEAT button (Listen mode) was placed in the same area as the stimulus word (Read mode): this unsettled our client a bit since we used the Read mode first and she had gotten used to seeing the word on the bottom of the screen.  When we shifted to the Listen mode, she was confused by the presence of the Repeat button in the same place where the written words had been.
  • soft auditory stimulus: the voice that played back for the Listen and Listen and Read modes was soft, considering that we maxed out the iPad 2’s volume settings for this.  We have not tried using our X-Mini II Capsule speakers for playback, however, nor have we tried using the app with headphones.  We received news that this issue will be addressed on the app’s upcoming free update.

Heads up on other details, such as:

  • some pictures required higher processing: it was understood that the app’s pictures varied across levels of difficulty and some of these tasked visual recognition and attention more than the others.  A few examples are:
    • the sun was depicted as how one would see it with the appropriate filters (sunspots and all)
    • the concept of science was represented by test tubes and a microscope
    • a policeman was shown to be wearing a uniform, a small badge, no identifying policeman’s hat
    • the concept of wedding was shown as two hands holding each other in the foreground, with a blurred celebrant’s image in the background
  • target words appear randomly: we also clarified this observation with Ms. Sutton.  She specified that the stimulus words and pictures were selected for their frequency, imageability, usefulness, and membership in target categories, not by word length.

Overall, Comprehension TherAppy is a very, VERY useful app, and definitely one that we will be using with our clients on a constant basis.  The special introductory price of $19.99 will last only for the month of June, so we highly suggest you purchase the app very soon.  The expansion packs are a bargain and we also recommend you to get them in order to maximize the app’s potential.

And just in case we haven’t mentioned it before, we’re showering this one a lot of “likes” =)

Price: $19.99 (special introductory price for June only)
Weight: 10.3 MB
Updated: 16 June 2011
Version: 1
Compatible with: optimized for both the iPhone (and iPod Touch) and iPad
Seller: Tactus Therapy Solutions LLC
Target Population: adults
Awesome if you want to work on:
  • auditory comprehension
  • reading comprehension
  • alexia
  • attention
  • auditory processing
  • receptive language
Customer Ratings (iTunes): no ratings yet as of this article’s date
iSPeak App says: 5 out of 5 smileys

 

 

 

4,000 PDF books are now FREE for download, thanks to the National Academies Press (NAP)

 

When a big company announces that it has made the PDF versions of its books free for download, researchers, academicians and students feel as if they’ve hit an e-gold mine. That’s exactly how WE felt here at iSPeak App.

Last June 2, 2011, the National Academies, comprised by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council made several thousands of their books’ PDF versions available for download–free of charge–to all Web visitors via the National Academies Press homepage. The NAP releases over 200 books per year that explores crucial issues in the fields of engineering, science, and health.

We’ve explored NAP’s homepage and came up with these gems, to name a few:

Each of the linked titles above brings you to the book’s information page.  Look for the button to get your own ebook (NOTE:  You may be asked to either sign in if you are a Registered User, or continue as a Guest).  Fire up iTunes, sync your iDevice, do a little magic and sync it to your iBooks, GoodReader, Stanza or Bookman (even PDF Notes if you’re the type who likes to make annotations on your PDFs), sync again, and enjoy the lightness of the once-several-pounds-heavy book in your gadget.

Share this news on Facebook and retweet on Twitter.  Forward our article and links to anybody whom you think can benefit from these ebooks.  Remember, 4,000 FREE titles on engineering, medicine, healthcare, and research is too good NOT to share.



Skill Game: You versus your cognitive and fine motor skills

Warning:  game is insanely addictive!

We downloaded Skill Game and Skill Game Arcade into the iPad 2 hoping it may be used as an app for cognitive rehabilitation.  We’ll talk about its (possible) usability in the work setting.  Right now, let us tell you what this app is all about.

Up front, Skill Game may look like your ordinary connect-the-dots app.  Play it and you see that the rules makes this game difficulty and frustrating (in a funny sort of way).  Just four rules to adhere to while you’re using your finger to connect the dots:

  • connect the dots in the correct order (makes a lot of sense of course)
  • you can’t draw across or cross any lines, whether pre-drawn lines or lines you have already drawn.  No can do.
  • you can’t go off the page’s edge
  • you may, however, go through the numbers you have already connected

It’s the no-crossing-lines that makes the game challenging and frustrating.  We put this to a test with our own colleagues at the clinic.  It highly depends on how one copes with the challenges Skill Game presents.  It appeared like the (frustrated) worst in us were brought out by the game.  One of our occupational therapists was positively growling in utter exasperation. But we had to give her credit for her frustration tolerance.  She stuck to the game until she finished a few pages.

Great pluses for Skill Game:

  • on the iPad 2 (no, we haven’t tested this on the iPhone nor iPod Touch), the nice big screen gives a fair amount of maneuverability (until you fail to plan ahead and find yourself drawing very very carefully to avoid touching other lines
  • beautiful paper patterns: does not wash out the numbers nor the lines
  • varying challenges:  your skill meter rises for each challenge you managed to finish.  It dips when you decide to skip a page, merely because it assumes you cannot (or would not) finish that particular challenge
  • the app adjusts itself to your skill level:  that way, if you can’t finish a challenge, it makes the next challenge slightly easier for you (thus making the app addictive)
  • magnifying glass on the upper left corner for extremely hard drawing:  this is where one’s visual perceptual skills are put to a test:  you want to cross a number but that number is bordered by two ominous lines.  You need to carefully maneuver your finger between those lines, draw carefully, and cross the target number safely so you can reach your next number
  • comes with a Magic Pen option:  if you’re stuck, tap on the Magic Pen and it allows you to cross lines only once.  You have to buy an add-on to refill the Magic Pen
  • unlimited, random levels! The challenges stretch on and on.

Of course, you CAN use this app for therapy, either as a game or as a way of working at your client’s cognitive skills.  One thing’s for sure, using Skill Game will inadvertently work on (and test) anybody’s frustration tolerance.

It is apparent, though, that Skill Game was not designed with the challenged population in mind.  As we mentioned earlier, we hoped to use this with our clients for cognitive rehabilitation, particularly our dementia clients.  Here’s hoping that the app developers may be able to come up with a stripped down version (without the no-crossing-lines rule).

Price: FREE (Skill Game Arcade is $0.99)
Weight: 18.5 MB
Updated: 13 May 2011
Version: 1.4
Compatible with: universal! Compatible with both the iPhone / iPod Touch and iPad
Seller: Good Apps UG
Target Population: clients and clinicians with good fine-motor skills and a lot of patience
Awesome if you want to work on:
  • fine motor skills
  • visual perceptual skills
  • visual attention skills
  • eye-hand coordination
Customer Ratings (iTunes): 4 out of 5 smileys
iSPeak App says: 4 out of 5 smileys

Free-Time: An app for the busy SLP

There are several apps out there that tweak your iDevice’s calendar one way or another.  And while it usually takes only one look at your carefully updated Calendar to see what available time you can squeeze out of an otherwise busy day, the app Free-Time makes this search easier for you.

What Free-Time does is that it pulls out information from your Calendar and tags your blank hours with the “free time” label.  Of course, just so the app understands that many of us (and not just therapists) work weird hours, it is necessary to customize the app before properly making it work.  Before using it for the first time, the app lets you:

  • specify what time you wake up and what time you go to bed
  • what and how long are your mealtimes
  • length of blocks you prefer for your free times (whole, 1-hour, 2-hour)
  • put in your name, email address, phone number (optional, but might be needed if you want to share info with others)

Free-Time has also thrown in a few more nice features, such as letting you:

  • filter days in which you are free
    • by meal:  breakfast, lunch, dinner
    • by time block: 30mins, 1 hour, 2 hours
    • by time range: adjustable using a slide
    • by day: select which days in a week
  • send information as a text message as to what day  and time blocks you are free
  • bump phones to a fellow Free-Time user to exchange information

An optional upgrade (for $0.99) allows the user to get Free-Time Premium in order to send unlimited emails and texts, make unlimited bumpings, and get rid of ads.  The upgrade does not seem to be available on iTunes but can be accessed from the Free-Time app itself.

The app itself uses muted blues and grays in most of the screens, and in the calendar other pale pastel colors with white font. The big fonts on the active week definitely work, but the white fonts on grays and greens may be a challenge to some discerning eyes.

There are some important tweakings that the app should have included (and hopefully will, in the future), most particularly:

  • customizing what day each week starts:  the app by default starts on a Monday, and many people, I included, would prefer if the week starts on a Sunday
  • a more flexible way of specifying work hours and sleep hours:  a lot of professionals out there work night shifts, and many too sleep during the day
  • options to customize font and time block colors:  if one is used to the colors in Calendar, it would be nice to associate specific colors to work versus free time.  The white font on washed-out block colors is less readable than if it were a darker color

It still is a worthwhile app to check out =)

Price: FREE (with optional upgrade for $0.99)
Weight: 9.2 MB
Updated: 3 June 2011
Version: 1.02
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad (Needs iOS 4.0 up)
Seller: Ben Johnson @ Two Fourteen Software LLC
Target Population: clinicians, professionals
Awesome if you want to work on:
  • time management
Customer Ratings (iTunes): 3 out of 5 smileys
iSPeak App says: 4 out of 5 smileys