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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Top Five Apps, with bonus features

I have more than 200 books in my house on my to-read pile. Thus, I often think about Winston Churchill talking about the pleasure of unread books, and I finally tracked down the quotation I had in mind, from his book Painting as a Pastime, which I guess I have to put on my to-read list (ie 100 or so more books not yet on my pile):

'What shall I do with all my books?' was the question, and the answer, 'Read them,' sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at the very least handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open as they will. Read on from the first sentence that turns the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.

I especially love the idea: "Arrange them with your own plan...". Is your to-read pile arranged in some personal order? Mine is. It helps me to know where they are, if not what is in them. Churchill was a smart guy. How thrilling to have something in common with him.

I take the same attitude toward iPhone apps. I love scanning over what is available, following up tips from friends or magazine writers, tracing thoughts through to possible apps, and I love downloading them. I love the idea of having research tools available in my pocket when I might need them. I find it all to be a dream-library of potential.

So, when someone asks me what I recommend on an iPhone, I have many pages to scroll through. Finally,  after a couple of discussions with the iPhone users around me, I thought it would be fun to list my top five apps, and have them conveniently arranged to offer people who ask, so here's the list:


#1 - Of course - Evernote - free

It holds all your information, and has a desktop and mobile version, and you can also access your information from anywhere via the Internet. It can store lists and text, but also photos and voice and best of all, if you have it on your desktop, under any print menu you can choose the option "save as pdf to Evernote". The pdf document will be OCR-searchable in Evernote, so you can find info in long documents by words that appear in them. Fantastically useful. (And, in fact, I will paste the Churchill quotation above into my "happiness" document on Evernote, so I can read it reassuringly to any other person who worries about buying books faster than they can be read.) PS Thanks K.

#2 - My favourite game - Rat on a Scooter XL (Donut Games) - The best $0.99 you will ever spend.

 It's a great way to kill a few minutes in a waiting room or a parked car. As addictive as they say it is. And I am not a gamer (in case you didn't know that). PS Thanks J.

#3 - Nike +iPod

Totally worth the price of the sensor in the shoe - links to music, history of runs or walks, gives distance and time elapsed, and calories burned AND Lance Armstrong calls you up to tell you when you've completed your personal best mile ever! Sort of.

#4  - The free Kindle Reader app

Possibly better on an iPad, but still, apart from the many free-content readers that help you pass time in an airport lounge while carrying only your phone, the idea of getting the content you want to read right now while you are waiting in an airport lounge while carrying only your phone is too compelling to resist.

 #5 - App Miner -  free

Searches through apps on a number of categories, in a slightly different way than the app store, but the best is it tells you apps that are on sale, for free or at a discount, and that lets you try things that you would never search for, or know about, or want to pay for to find out about, and it can lead you to other things that you then know about to search for, so it becomes like following your nose through a library.


LibraryThing Mobile -  Free, just like on-line - I can look up my library from a bookstore to see if I already own a book I find interesting. It happens a lot. Also good for giving an exact title and author recommendation to someone no matter where you are. Also good for tracking down a title or author you are trying to think of no matter where you are.

App Box Pro - $0.99 - full of little useful utilities that you would otherwise be downloading separately, and paying for separately, and cluttering up your menu with separately. Some that I have used on the fly: tip calculator, currency converter, level and ruler. They have just added a password keeper and I see it has a translator too, although I like specialty programs for that.

Yorkdale - free and I refer to it weekly. No more need be said.

24/7  - free - language tutors and my kids like them too.

Flood-It 2 - free - my favourite of the LAB PIXIES games (just for a break from Rat on a Scooter)


Dragon - free - audio search/audio dictation

Ted - free - the Technology, Entertainment, Design video website, mobile version

Canon wireless printer app! Yes! Just bought one of the printers. Can't wait to print wirelessly from my iPhone and iPad.


Birding version of Shazam. Caveat: I have never yet managed to get Shazam to identify a song, so it might be the same bust for bird song. Plus I am been trying other ways around it - recording birds I hear to my phone - usually too far away to be captured by the mike. Now I have loaded my birding identification Cd's into my phone, so maybe I can go to my best guess in iTunes while in the field and see if it matches. Haven't had a a chance to test it yet. Still trying to decide on which (expensive) birding app to buy. Which provider? How big an area? All in one or multiple for different areas?

I have more than 10 pages of apps (that's a little over 150) but you don't need to know everything I have. Find your own. Make your own list. Send it to me.

The marigold does wonder nervously:
Am I really going to need 130,000 of the 148,000 available apps, as someone has estimated? How many are free? (I try to constrain myself to free, unless it is something of great importance to me. Otherwise, we'd only be eating macaroni at my house. Plain. Would that be good for the children?)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Negative Side

Well, we do live in interesting times.

The G8 and G20 are coming to a Canadian city. Darn it. Vastly inconvenient, and probably somewhat dangerous, too. Not to mention expensive.

Here's is one interesting and negative technology angle: I heard on the the radio that our government - federal? provincial? - is considering jamming cell phone signals in the downtown area during the meetings. Not enough to ask people who work in business dress to dress casually instead so they do not become targets of violent anti-business protesters. No...cell phone communications will be disrupted so violent anti-business protesters (or worse) can't set off bombs. And the upside of hosting these conferences is...?

Next item on the weird side: The World Cup starts tomorrow (or so). I heard on the radio that Twitter is trying to gear up for the onslaught of people cheering on Twitter in real time...the figure I heard is 65 million of them. Is that expected TV viewers? Fans? Twitterers? All at once? Talk about jamming! How will the system handle that? And the network of systems? How does that compare, I wonder, to regular volume? Maybe the government won't have to do anything because Twitter traffic alone will impede cell phone communications (or smart phone communication at least) during the G8 thingy. I guess it will force a kind of rush on improving the technology once the problems are revealed, and that will at least be interesting.

The marigold says nervously:
The more I hear the news, the more I want to read...hmmm. Dickens? No. Austen? No, not quite. Tolstoy? Noooo. Thackeray. Yes!

Responses from the Future

What a lot of cool conversations I have had as a result of my last post.

First cool thing: I was out with a friend who is an iphone adept. This is the person who sort of lobbied for me to get an iphone, and finally convinced me to get one by showing me the birding app possibilities. Not a birder, but someone knows how to connect with my buttons. We were walking in a park, and I stopped to listen to a bird, whose song I could not recognize. I was saying how someone thought I had been describing a birding app that worked like Shazam: you let it hear the bird, and it identifies it. That would be WAY cool, but sadly I know of no such app. I had only been talking about the birding app having recordings that you can play to identify or even call birds. Cool enough.  "Why don't you just record this one?" this friend said. "Doh!" I said.  I never thought of holding out the phone to record a birdsong, and then playing it next to my birdsong identification CDs. What an awesome idea! What an opportunity missed that day! (Bonus: you can save recordings to Evernote (see my sidebar to check out this super cool shareware program with an on-line+mobile app. I could put them right in my Evernote nature journal. OMG.) (Also: feel free to develop such an app, or to tell me about one if it exists.)

Second cool thing: a visual artist and teacher that I am friends with told me she loves dance and music more even than visual art. She also told me she plays tennis HARD. Then my thoughts came around to the practice of art as a kinetic activity, too. I love the idea of "the gesture of the artist", and consider it one way of defining something as art. Of course, as she pointed out, ballet is an archaic form (like opera). She proposed Cirque du Soleil as the newest form of dance. What a provocative thought that was! I had had vague thoughts in that general area, like about figure skating, but never actually managed to define it so clearly. It makes perfect sense. Cirque has taken out many of the circus-y parts, and kept the physical parts and the music. Some related thoughts: there is a continuum of athletic activity that runs from dance to, shall we say, football. In my view, anything where there is a judgment of artistic merit - leave it outside competition. Scores or times are the hallmarks of the athletic activities suitable for competition; artistic merit is for the arts - all about personal response. So despite an identical level of athletic demand on the body, I think gymnastics and figure skating do not belong in the Olympics any more than ballet does. To come back to the starting point, figure skating is hugely popular in a way ballet is not - really it is another new dance form, too.  More thought required. (PS I am interested in the current, but I love the archaic.)

Third cool thing: I have been thinking about how my friends act as a digest for the internet, previewing content, and sending me the most interesting stuff. So much better than me trolling around for hours getting tangled in the marginally interesting, and then one of my friends sent me this link to Seth Godin's blog entry "Are you an Elite?" Now here's a guy who understands me, and my friends, and my blog-readers. We just have fun exploring ideas and technology and information and culture, and we love to share that, and just as Seth says, there is a remarkable modern ability for us to access each other and all that stuff we love. The other point he makes that strikes me as key is this:

"The challenge of our time may be to build organizations and platforms that  engage and coordinate the elites, wherever they are. After all, this is where change and productivity come from."

Selfishly, I want organizations to build platforms that engage me, (hello iphone) but I also want that for my kids to enjoy and for the happy future of humankind on planet earth.

He also wrote a blog post about post-secondary education and what it means now and going forward, an article we have discussed in our family quite a bit, called THE COMING MELT-DOWN IN HIGHER EDUCATION which is a very clear statement of something I worry about for when my children get there. Here is the key point he gets to on this:

"The solutions are obvious... there are tons of ways to get a cheap, liberal education, one that exposes you to the world, permits you to have significant interactions with people who matter and to learn to make a difference... "

Read: allows them to access organizations with platforms that engage them as elites. He refers his readers on to a book: DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz. This is a book to get on for the Kindle reader app on my iphone, for sure. Yours too? If you  haven't read it already, it is also time for you to read A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. You can search my blog for my review of the book, or use the hot link under Links to Writers in my sidebar. Seth Godin and Anya Kamenetz are there now too.

Now the marigold wonders nervously:
What about the negative side of the technology that allows us to live in the future? That calls for another post.