BeeTrainer in Grade 5

BeeTrainer is an app I created in 2013, when my son was entered in a spelling bee. The organizers provided a long word list that included all the words that he might be asked to spell. I wanted a way to track which words we'd practiced, and wanted to be able to practice words while we were out and about. I didn't want to carry the paper list with me everywhere, so I created BeeTrainer.

Fast forward three years, and my son is now in grade 5, and is bringing home weekly lists of spelling words. BeeTrainer is great for this.

I recently updated BeeTrainer for iOS 10, and in doing so, was reminded how much work I put into this app. It's designed specifically for the parent or teacher to use to drill the spelling words, keeping track of correct and incorrect answer counts.

You can add a list of words by typing them all in, but it's much easier to use Siri dictation to simply read the word list aloud and have it transcribed into the app. 

Once the words are in the app, you can tap 'Next Word' to have the app pick the next word to drill, based on some simple criteria:  It chooses the next word in order from the word list that has not been Completed.  BeeTrainer keeps statistics for each word, and words progress from Not Practiced to Practiced to Complete. A word moves from Practiced to Complete once it's been successfully practiced 3 times.

If the student spells the word incorrectly, this resets the Practiced count, and the word must be spelled successfully 3 times to move to Complete. 

You can see the counts in the word list, and even a pie-chart view of the statistics for the current word list. You can copy the word list to the clipboard, or even get a printable PDF.

SimpleSay for Mac

SimpleSay is a new Mac app that does one thing: It makes it easy to type in text and have your computer speak it out loud, using the built-in speech synthesis and the great voices that Apple includes.

If you're a Mac nerd you probably know already that you can open a Terminal window and type "say hello" and your Mac will speak this out loud. However, if you frequently need to ask your computer to say something, you will find it's much easier in SimpleSay.

There are quite a few reasons people might need to have their computer speak typed-in text out loud. If you've found this post you are probably already looking for a solution, so you know why you need it, but the reasons I've encountered are:

  • Announcements, especially to be made to an English audience by someone who is not a native English speaker.
  • Paging.  "Bob Smith, please come to the front desk!"
  • Delivering audio clues to players in an escape room game.
  • Just for fun!

The app also keeps a list of recently-spoken phrases, so if there are some phrases that you use often, you can access them here. The keyboard shortcut for this is Ctrl-Space, and you can use the arrow keys to pick the phrase to speak and hit Enter to replace the text in the text box.

There is one non-obvious advanced feature in SimpleSay. If you have your Mac connected to more than one USB audio device, and you use Audio Midi Setup to create an aggregate audio device so you can play sounds to all these devices at once, the volume control in the app no longer has any effect. To work around this, the app can speak the sound into a file at a lower volume, and then play back this file, to speak the text at the volume you pick. To enable this, open a Terminal window, and paste in this text:

defaults write com.falldaysoftware.SimpleSay fileBasedVolume true

If you're using SimpleSay for something unique, or have any questions or suggestions, please drop me a line and let me know. I'd love to hear from you. 


MealPlan 2

MealPlan has been in the App Store now for over two years, and has been at the top of its category for much of that time. Customers have been very happy with it, but there are two requests I heard over and over.  Is this available for iPhone?  And, how can I sync my grocery list?

MealPlan 2.0 is a significant update to MealPlan that adds both these things.

The iPhone version is essentially a whole new app, built using the iOS 7 design style with a clean user interface, but it preserves what makes MealPlan unique, which is the streamlined efficiency of getting your weekly meal planning done.

I've been using MealPlan 2.0 for months now and having MealPlan with me in the grocery store has been great. Going to the store with your grocery list automatically generated from your planned meals is convenience, but being able to tweak your meal plan based on what you see in the store, and have the grocery list update in real-time, kicks it up a notch (to use a food metaphor).

Sync is based on iCloud, with some help from Drew McCormack and the Ensembles project. If your phone and iPad are both on the same iCloud account, you can simply turn on sync in both apps. There are no accounts to set up or configure, and your data stays in your own account (although this does mean all the devices sharing your data must be using the same iCloud account - in the future MealPlan will allow sync through other services so that you can share data between different accounts).

This is a major change to MealPlan and I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback.  Please drop me a note at if you have any problems or suggestions.  Thanks.

Adding a Recipe to MealPlan from your Computer

Here's a MealPlan tip.  You're on your computer and you find a recipe that looks good, so you want to add it to your MealPlan database for use in a future meal.

MealPlan is an iOS app, so you need to get the URL over to your iPad. One way to do this would be to copy the URL into an email and email it to yourself. Then on the iPad, copy the URL out of the email and paste it into the address bar in MealPlan.

If your computer is a Mac running Safari then there's an easier way, that can save a few steps, using the iCloud Tabs feature.

On your iPad, open Safari and tap the button that shows the list of tabs. Scroll down to the bottom of the list of tabs, and you should start to see the tabs that are open on your other devices, including your computer.  Tap the recipe when you see it, and it will open on your device.

Now you copy the URL from Safari and paste it into MealPlan's browser.

Here's an article that shows how to access iCloud Tabs in more detail.

I just did this to queue up some great looking cinnamon buns.  Now that's a meal.