10 iPhone Apps to Help You Survive the Holidays

As you settle down with family and friends this holiday season, be prepared: load up your iPhone (or iPod Touch) with applications to get through common holiday disasters. We've got a complete roundup here -- from fun photo moments to actual medical emergencies, these apps will get you through the holiday season intact...but your journey will be perilous. Read on, if you dare!

1. Save Grandpa's Life

The family is settled in for a feast. The wine is flowing, there's a large bird to be consumed, and kids are rampaging in the next room. All of a sudden, Grandpa's choking on a mouthful of turkey! What to do?!

Well, first you should just call 911. But let's further extend the story: the phones are out due to a holiday ice storm! No one is trained in the Heimlich Maneuver! The kids are forming their own proto-society and electing a leader in the next room, while Grandpa is turning blue! What are you gonna do?

Simple: pull out your iPhone and launch Pocket First Aid & CPR Guide ($1.99). This app contains dozens of articles on first aid procedures, including how to do the Heimlich Maneuver, perform emergency CPR, deal with bites and stings, treat someone who's having a seizure, and more. While the app isn't designed to be used during an emergency -- the authors suggest you use it as a research aid before Grandpa's choking -- the articles are clear a simple, and might just save Grandpa's life.

Pocket First Aid & CPR Guide also includes a "My Info" feature which helps you store your own medical information (including allergies) right on your phone. You'll need this when you accidentally gobble a shrimp cocktail, activating your terrible shellfish allergy. Just wave frantically at the iPhone as your throat closes; the paramedics will know what to do.


2. Shop Using Amazon's Army of Freelancers

Grandpa's throat has been cleared, he's breathing normally, but everybody's a little freaked out. Your sister suggests that the family take a break and quiet down for a while. She pulls out a book you've been meaning to read, and cracks it open. "Sis, let me look at that," you say. She hands you the book and you hold your iPhone up to it, fire up Amazon Mobile (free), and snap a picture using the "Amazon Remembers" feature.

While you sit back and enjoy a glass of wine, Amazon saves the photo, sends the photo through Amazon's Mechanical Turk system (a way of offering very small tasks for very small bits of pay), and tries to find the book for you. You have paid nothing for this convenience...yet. Within minutes (assuming Amazon's army of freelancers can read the title in the photo), Amazon identifies the book and offers to sell it to you. Pretty neat, huh?

As you linger within the Amazon Mobile app, you'll notice that it helpfully offers to sell you things from within your own Amazon Wish List. Use with caution -- excessive browsing may lead to impulse buys. Might as well move on to the next iPhone app.


3. Give to Charity

You've just spent a few bucks on a new book, and you're feeling guilty about turning the holiday season into a commercial free-for-all. Why not give something back? Share your wealth? After all, you've got a nice phone and your Grandpa is still alive and kicking. Lots of people don't have it so good. So you start up Songs of Love (free), an application devoted to the Songs of Love charity.

Songs of Love (the charity, not the app) creates personalized, inspirational songs for kids who are sick. The songs are professionally produced, and are based on the child's favorite things -- they're even produced in the genre the child's favorite genre. The Songs of Love app includes lots of sample songs (ranging from Country to R&B), videos about the charity (including a clip of the organization recording the 10,000th Song of Love at a Black Eyed Peas concert -- including a chorus by the audience), a simple puzzle game, and of course links to donate to the charity.

You give to charity, and your heart swells with good cheer...or is that the shellfish allergy? No, no, everything's fine. You just need to finish your wine and everything will work out.


4. Make Silly Old-Timey Photos

You're feeling pretty good -- you've saved a life, bought a book, and given to charity today. Take it a step further with OldBooth (currently $1.99), a photo booth application that puts your family's faces inside old photos. It's a hoot. You turn the phone around and take a photo of yourself. OldBooth inserts it into an old-timey photo, with this awesome result pictured below. (See the original here.)

(See also: Steve Jobs made over with OldBooth.)


5. Read Great Books (On Your iPhone)

Remember when your sister started reading her book? Well, she's deep into it now, and things are getting quiet. You want to read the thriller/romance/techno-thriller you bought at the airport, but you find that it's missing. Stolen by the kids? Yes, that must be it. They've taken your book and used it for kindling, to fuel the terrible fires that have started to overtake your family's back yard. As you look out over the lovely holiday bonfire, you launch Classics (currently $0.99), a fantastic app that includes the full text of A Christmas Carol, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and many more.

Flipping through the beautifully illustrated pages, you feel simultaneously erudite (after all, these are Great Books) and stingy (you got them all for less than a dollar). It's a great moment for you, as you watch the kids dance around their pagan fires. What are they doing out there? Oh well, who cares, you've got Robinson Crusoe to get through.


6. Play God

The kids' new society seems to be growing. They've taken over not only several rooms inside the house, but they have firm control over the back yard, and their territory might soon invade the front yard! Something nags at you...their society is growing, it's changing, it's...evolving! In order to take your mind off the terrifying implications of the kids' aggressive land grabs, you fire up Spore™ Origins ($7.99 or free demo).

Spore™ is the latest hit game from Will Wright, the man behind SimCity, The Sims, SimEarth, and other great simulation games. (Read more about the game's inception.) Spore™ is sort of a primitive life simulator, in which you create a "spore," a simple multicellular organism, and shepherd that organism through multiple games as it evolves. You play the intelligent designer, as your spore evolves into a larger creature, gaining powers. Spore™ is available for PC and Mac, but Spore™ Origins is a limited version that you can play on the go. It covers the first levels of the game, in which you control a tiny organism fighting for survival in the sea.

You manage to kill a half hour with Spore™, eating other creatures and evolving new bits (spikes, mouths, fins, and so on) to make your create the ultimate killing machine. Perhaps this can compete with the kids? "Don't be silly," you think. "Those kids are no danger to me." Sure they aren't. Suuuuure.


7. Listen to Weather Radio

The weather is getting worse, as the snow turns heavy. It's starting to stick. The kids' fires in the back yard are sputtering, but still roaring on the strength of several old tires -- hey, wait, those are tires from your car! -- oh well, you can't stop them. They've become too powerful. You'll just have to hope they leave the adults alone, or perhaps worship you as some kind of god (after all, you just got through a full game of Spore™).

You decide to turn on the trusty weather radio...but its battery is long-dead, or perhaps has been removed by the kids in an effort to prevent you from communicating with the outside world. But wait! You have Wunder Radio ($5.99), which allows you to tune into live radio streams from across the nation -- including local weather stations, in addition to the typical FM and AM stations. Using the iPhone's built-in GPS, Wunder Radio locates your local stations, you choose one, and it starts playing. The news is grim: you'll be snowed in tonight. Your car is disabled due to lack of tires, but at least you still have your precious iPhone. Perhaps its heat will keep you alive through the night.


8. Soothe the Savage Beast

One of the kids is in the room! You must be careful, lest you spook him...or her? It's hard to tell. In their new society, the kids have all adopted a strange haircut that obscures their features. The kid is growling. This is getting bad. So you slowly...so slowly...soooo slowly...launch Bloom ($3.99), an innovative music-generation app created by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers. Tapping the screen gently, you create a musical composition on the fly -- without having to know anything about music. Tap high on the screen, you make a high note, tap low, get a bass note. Bloom then uses your taps to create ambient music. You hit the Preferences screen and change the "Mood," in an attempt to chill out the feral kid who's looking hungrily at you.

And it works! The kid calms down and loses interest. Responding to gutteral cries from another room, he/she retreats and you're left in peace. For now. You didn't even have time to explain to the kid why Brian Eno is awesome. You consider getting out your Remain in Light LP, but it'll have to wait. You're tired, and adrenaline has made you weak.


9. Play a Trivia Game

It's been a long day. It's time to unwind with a quick game of trivia. You check your bags, but realize -- horrors! -- you've left all your mental_floss games at home! And Grandpa's board games are all missing half the pieces. (You suspect that the kids in the next room are using the pieces to fashion a crude idol, but you don't want to risk your life in the investigation.) So you pull out your iPhone one last time and fire up Big Fat Lies ($2.99) from mental_floss.

Big Fat Lies challenges you to spot the lie. You're given two bits of trivia: one is true, the other is not. Can you spot the Big Fat Lie? Your family is pretty smart, so you sit down to start a game. Because your sister hates Sports, you turn off Sports & Games questions. Grandpa doesn't believe in Science, so you turn off that category too. You select a 3-person game, and laugh your way through an assortment of great trivia -- and some lies -- proving that truth is stranger than fiction.


10. Soothe Yourself With White Noise

As your evening winds down, it's time for bed. You settle down in the guest room, which conveniently has your old stereo still sitting in it. Plugging the iPhone into the stereo, you load up Ambiance ($0.99) and set it to play soothing sounds. Choose from dozens of nicely-recorded ambient sounds, including waves at the beach, many flavors of rain, whale song, waterfalls, and so on. Set the included sleep timer to fade out the sound after an hour -- by which time you'll be blissfully asleep.


Sleep, dear reader, and dream of more iPhone apps. Because in just a short time, the holidays will be over, your iPhone will be recharging, and you'll need even more apps to survive January.

The Hidden Benefits of Your Health Insurance Plan

When we talk about health insurance, it’s usually in the context of a complaint. While it’s true that insurance companies often fight tooth and nail to keep their financial exposure limited, they’re also making moves to offer benefits beyond standard health care—and you might not even know about these perks.

A prime example is the recent trend for companies to offer a discount savings card on groceries. United Healthcare, Humana, and Medica are just a few of the insurers who have issued cards that can be used for an instant price reduction when checking out at participating stores. The catch? The programs typically cover healthy or organic foods. Along with discounted gym memberships, the benefit is an effort to keep policy holders fit and—at least theoretically—to reduce the need for medical interventions.

If you’re surprised to hear about it, you’re not alone. Here are some other programs offered by the nation's largest insurance companies that you might be missing out on. (Bear in mind that each company has various tiers of coverage and not all perks may apply to all levels.)


The company’s Healthy Savings program for groceries allows shoppers to save on select items that change on a weekly basis. Each Sunday, the cards will recognize between $40 and $50 in deals on healthier grocery options. It’s only good at participating retailers, including Shop ‘n’ Save, Giant, and others. You can search for locations on their website.

Through UnitedHealth Allies, the company also offers discounts on weight loss programs like NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, as well as gym memberships and even active footwear [PDF].


The Northeast-based insurance company provides an umbrella discount service, Healthy Rewards, that offers savings on eye exams and up to 25 percent off alternative health therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage appointments [PDF]. They also offer fitness membership discounts. More information can be found at MyCigna.com.


It’s hard to know what the pending acquisition of Aetna by pharmacy giant CVS will mean for health care perks moving forward. Currently, the company offers discounted memberships and trial passes to more than 10,000 gyms nationally, as well as discounts on home fitness equipment like treadmills [PDF]. You can also find discounts on meal home delivery subscriptions. Logged-in members can go to the Aetna website and select “Health Programs” then “Discounts” to determine your eligibility.


In addition to savings on groceries, gym memberships, and weight loss programs, Anthem BlueCross offers savings for members on DNA ancestry kits, pet insurance, and even baby-proofing.


Humana offers an impressive array of “lifestyle discounts” that range from basic wellness perks to teeth whitening, identity theft services, and 15 percent off in-network LASIK procedures. They also offer discounts on over-the-counter medications like Claritin and Advil. You can register at MyHumana.com to find out more.

Bose's New 'Sleepbuds' Are Designed to Help You Doze Off Faster

If you’re the kind of person who can’t fall asleep without the whir of a fan or some other ambient noise in the background, then Bose has a product for you. As spotted by The Verge, the audio equipment company’s new wireless noise-masking Sleepbuds are designed to fit comfortably into your ears and help you doze off faster.

The Bose sleepbuds

Unlike other Bose earbuds—and, well, most headphones in general—the Sleepbuds don’t actually play music or allow audio to be streamed from external devices. Instead, they come equipped with 10 soothing audio tracks, including brown noise, rain, ocean waves, a running stream, and more.

The earbuds aren’t noise-canceling, but their audio tracks are specifically engineered to mask certain outside sounds like traffic and, perhaps most impressively, your partner’s snoring. The rechargeable battery lasts for 16 hours, and at just 1 centimeter in width and height, they’re Bose’s tiniest product yet.

For early risers whose partners like to sleep in, the Bose Sleep app can sound off an alarm in your ear that only you can hear. The app can also be used to adjust your sleep settings, including your noise of choice, volume levels, and how long you want the sound to play for.

Bose spent a couple of years developing the product and raised over $450,000 in an Indiegogo campaign to help improve the Sleepbuds by getting backers to test them out and provide feedback. The Sleepbuds are now available for purchase on Amazon for $249.

[h/t The Verge]


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