Kids shows that won’t drive you insane

All of these are on Netflix as of 03/21/2015.

  • Bo on the Go – Has a lot of Ska music. A Canadian import that tries to get your kid to exercise. Good animation.
  • Ruby Gloom. Goths who live in a haunted mansion. Refreshingly, the title character has a sunny disposition. There is a depressed character named Misery, but she is the only really stereotypical cast member. The music is a high point — many songs are strongly remininiscent of The Cure and other bands like that. Lots of references and jokes for adults.
  • Daniel Tiger. PBS show – Cartoon set in the Mr. Roger universe. A lot of emotional intelligence lessons. Music is OK if occasionally clunky.
  • Leapfrog series. Especially the CGI animation reboot. Good production values. There is a lot of merchandise Leapfrog puts out but it’s not pushed in the show.
  • Curious George. PBS Show – Newer version of Curious George. Theme song is a bouncy jazz number, with lots of jazz in the show.


I gave the Kindle Android app 1 star and rage quit

Here’s why:

  • The See in Store buttons has failed for over two weeks as of 08/19/2014 (including the version before full screen was added).  All I get is a blank gray screen.  I call it the Gray Screen of death.
  • The button that appears when you buy a book  (I think it’s “Read Now”) has never worked.  I always have to go the Libary page and Sync to get my book.  I think it’s like those walk buttons in New York that are not connected to anything.
  • About 20% of the time, Syncing to get a book looks like it works, then, when I open the book, Kindle crashes because it wasn’t really done downloading, even though the indicator bar filled all the way up.
  • No wishlist support at all in the app
  • Twice, my app lost all access to its books and had to be re-installed before it could do anything.
  • It took six months for the full screen mode to show up on my Nexus 7. My other book reader had it almost as soon as that feature was available.
  • One click ordering is bad – I prefer the enter password every time approach.  If I didn’t lock my tablet, I’m pretty sure my 2 year old toddler would have bought some books or apps on Kindle.
  • The recommendations keep on getting worse and worse.  I get a bunch of mainstream books recommended when I’ve bought 98% science fiction and fantasy – which Amazon knows. I have to switch to the more specific recommendations tab every time – it doesn’t remember that I never buy anything.  The old layout showed the recommendations immediately, even if they were mediocre.

I’ve decided to try Google Play books for the heck of it.  Here are my initial impressions:

  • The reader is minimalist with a nice page animation
  • Page turning is much faster
  • I have not been able to figure out how to send a sample from the website, only while in the reader
  • I like full screen mode (although Kindle has this now)
  • DRM still stucks

Update the first:  I don’t like the way the Google Play books reader sometimes highlights stuff in books (like Geographical place names). Very distracting.

Update the second (08/29/2014):  You have to “pin” a book for it to stay.  This makes no sense for eBooks, which are usually less than 1 Meg, and not for a tablet with Wifi only.  It make more sense for videos.

Also, I have found some books not on Google play, and bought a Kindle book that was much cheaper (around 50%) and read it without using the Android app; recently, I was willing to pay $0.50 more for The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks to read in Google play.

RTD Ecopass Usability Studied, Found Wanting


The good folks at my employer CommerceKitchen have set up its employees EcoPasses from RTD, aka the Regional Transportation District here in Denver. Since I recently moved to within walking distance of the light rail, I have only driven into work once in the last two months, and having a pass so I don’t have to think about it is both a money-saver. Having grown up in Albuquerque, I have a very long tolerance for traffic, so the light rail is a good fit. Overall, I like riding the light rail quite a bit.

However, the usability of the new RTD EcoPass, started in January of 2013, could be much better.  The first problem is that you have to scan your pass at all, which is a bummer when you’re trying to catch a train.

The screen is a larger version of those horrible 90s style LED screens last seen on crappy Casio watches that are hard to read in daylight, and the trip options of Local, Express and so on default to different settings depending on the station.  The buttons are the kind with horrible feedback, so even when you see the screen change, you feel like you haven’t pushed them.

I actively despise the EcoPass beep that happened when you scan your EcoPass. When it works, it makes a double fart. When it fails, it makes a single fart. I apologize to perfectly respectable farts everywhere for that slight. Both sound like scanning didn’t work.

ecopass-smart-card-message-wrongI had encountered the single fart noise once or twice before without realizing what it meant, but recently I was accosted by two RTD badge checkers who were loitering 15 feet behind the EcoPass scanner and informed me that the single beep meant that the pass had not registered.  There is a sign, as seen in this paragraph, that says to ‘wait for a beep.”

How am I supposed to know that when the message flashes up for only an instant, I asked? As someone who used to, in his misspent youth, blip through all 99 analog cable channels, I can register changes pretty fast.  After many tries, I have determined that the success message is ECOPASS 12/13/2013. Very helpful.

Getting back to the conversation, I pointed out how horrible it was, and with bad “you can’t make this up” customer service instincts, they told me to call the RTD Customer Service number.

Not really an update:  There is now a sign telling anyone who has problems to call this number now, lest one might think that suggestion is an anomaly.

My suggestions.

  • Make the success message display longer.  —  1 second would be an improvement. This should be cheap.
  • Fix the sign so it says two beeps.  Recently, of the three people that used an EcoPass to get on the train only one person (me) got it right – the other two got one beep.  I blame the system, not the people.
  • Make the screens more legible —  Probably not cheap, so never going to happen.
  • Make the buttons easier to push — See above.
  • Fix the software that crashed for 3 or 4 days at the Southmoor station, and 1 or 2 days at the Broadway station. I’m not holding my breath on this one.  See the “NOT INITIALIZED” image below.

ecopass-not-initializedFor the record, I have used the normal ticket system, and it’s nearly as bad. The screens are more legible, but then you get change in those dollar coins, which is very annoying, and the layout is wonky.