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Tech Review: Christmas-themed apps to keep the kids entertained

For 60 years NORAD — the North American

For 60 years NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — has whimsically used its expertise on Christmas Eve to “track” Santa's sled as it makes its way from the North Pole loaded with gifts. Photo Credit: Google Play

Do you have a houseful of children who just can't wait until Christmas? These apps will keep kids and their parents entertained and occupied until Santa shows up later this week.

NORAD Tracks Santa

(iOS, Android; free)

For 60 years NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — has whimsically used its expertise on Christmas Eve to “track” Santa's sled as it makes its way from the North Pole loaded with gifts. As the app counts down the days until Santa's yearly sojourn, there are games and puzzles that will put children in the Christmas spirit. The app also explains NORAD's more serious mission when the agency is not tracking Santa.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

(iOS, $5.99; Android, $4.99)

Another holiday tradition gets an electronic makeover with this version of the TV classic, first telecast in 1965. As in the TV show, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang are trying to find the true meaning of Christmas. The app features original scenes from the TV show and adds interactive features such as the ability for kids to play Schroeder's piano or to join Charlie Brown and friends as they go a-caroling.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

(iOS, Android; $4.99)

This app version of the 1957 Dr. Seuss classic offers all the charm of the original book, including the iconic artwork, and adds some 21st-century bells and whistles. You can use “narration mode” and have the app read the book aloud, or your kids can read it themselves the old-fashioned way. There is also an interactive feature where your child touches a picture and words associated with it are spoken aloud.

Talking Santa

(iOS, Android; free)

From the developers who brought the world the wildly popular “Talking Tom Cat” comes a similar app with a Christmas theme. Speak some words into your mobile device's microphone, and Santa will repeat them in Santa's baritone. You can offer Santa some cookies or see what's in his bag of gifts. Those feeling more naughty than nice can throw a giant snowball at Santa.

Tech bytes

Twitter's year in review

As 2014 winds down, Twitter has assembled a month-by-month collection of the year's most memorable tweets cataloged by events and subjects (2014.twitter.com). Among the wide-ranging topics that drew the most tweets are the Super Bowl, the Sochi Olympics, Robin Williams and the Oscars.-- PETER KING

Rough surf

Students who surreptitiously check their Facebook page or send email during class may learn a hard lesson when they receive their grades. A Michigan State University study found that students who surfed the Internet for nonacademic purposes during class performed worse on exams. Even so, students did not think their Internet use hurt their academic performance, which researchers said showed “poor awareness of how their smartphones and laptops affect learning." -- PETER KING

Trash talk

An “E.T.” Atari game cartridge unearthed from a heap of garbage has been added to the video game history collection at the Smithsonian. The game, which had the reputation of being the worst ever, was one of hundreds of “E.T.” cartridges dumped by Atari in a New Mexico landfill decades ago. The Smithsonian called the game an artifact of “the darkest days” of the early 1980s when the video game industry crashed. -- AP

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