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...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.

New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety

Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'

The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]


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