Saturday, June 14, 2014

23 Mobile Things #23: Evaluate 23 Mobile Things

And here we are at the end of the program, looking back over the whole five-month odyssey. What comes to mind?

  • The app world is no more stable than any other bit of the Internet. Since I blogged about Cloud On, Zite, and Springpad, Microsoft Office has come up with an app of their own, Zite has been absorbed by Flipboard, and Springpad went bankrupt, leaving people to export their stuff to Evernote. (See? I said it wasn't all that much different than Evernote!)
  • I can't say as my attitudes towards mobile devices and apps have changed all that much. I liked them in January; I like them now. Only I like a few more apps than I used to, and now I know I don't like Pinterest.
  • For all that blogging has a social aspect to it, I found it difficult to connect with others during this program, except for the friends I have in real life who were also participating. Even looking over just the blogs listed in Metronet, the number was overwhelming. Except for the people who chose to use badges, there was no way to tell by looking who was thoroughly participating in the program and who had petered out after the first few Things. And even if I'd known, I didn't feel like I had a lot of time and energy to look at other people's blogs. Once I'd gotten an app, worked with it, and written it up, I was all 23-Mobile-Thinged out and wanted to go do something else, not read more stuff about it. Plus, well, the posts one writes about an app aren't really the kind that provoke discussion and socializing.
  • The only thing that surprised me was that I ended up liking Instagram enough that I'm still using it. I'm not completely used to it yet, but that takes time.
  • Favorite Things: Hobbies (absolutely no pressure to think of a professional use for the apps, and I think I'll like that knitting app I found), Sharing Photos (Instagram, for the reasons I've already mentioned), Discovering Apps (more!).
  • Not-so-favorite Things: Content Saving and Sharing (Pinterest is so darn scattered), Audio, and Keeping Up (it results in information overload).
  • I'm not sure how the program could be improved. Heck, I would never have managed to come up with a program this good on my own. Maybe some way to both encourage reading other people's blogs and making doing so easier. No, I don't know how that would work, although the badges were a good start, because they let me know of blogs that were being kept up. But there are people who were fully participating who didn't want to bother with the badges, so that's not a perfect solution.
  • Yes, I'd be likely to participate in another program like this.
  • A one-word summary of the experience? Stimulating.
It was a good program overall, although again, I left most of the posts until the last minute and then nearly burned out working on them (Procrastination R Us). I learned a lot and generally enjoyed myself, that last bit of which can't be said for all continuing education programs. Thank you, program organizers!

Friday, June 13, 2014

23 Mobile Things #22: Discovering Apps

Ah, "discovering apps." Because what I need after this program is more apps. ;) Unable to decide, I looked at both Quixey and Apps Gone Free. It was clear pretty soon in that while they're both intended to help you find new apps, they go about that in two different ways.


Quixey greets you with a search box. If you can't think of what to put in it, it has sample searches to get you started, ranging from pretty general to pretty specific ("prepare for fishing"), or you can browse through several categories. You can also just take your chances and see what's trending. This is the site you want to visit when you know what you want—or at least have a general idea of what that would be—and need a better way to search for it than Apple. I thought the interface was attractive and pretty easy to navigate (although searching and browsing looked an awful lot alike), but after 21 Things worth of apps, I was having trouble thinking of anything new to get, so even with their sample searches, it was a bit hard to find anything I wanted to try. But I eventually thought to look at calendar/task apps and happily ran off with another two—Schedule Planner and Planner Plus—to try, in addition to the one I already use. Whee!

Apps Gone Free

Use this app when you're in the mood for spontaneity and surprise. I installed this app and looked at today's free apps. Nothing called. Okay, I was safe. I'd just look at yesterday's selection…well, one thing led to another, and I came out of that with a curious app called Strange Rain that just, um, rains in your device, accompanied by music and sometimes words, plus Spendbook, a finance tracking app for my iPhone that I'll probably use for three days and then forget about. This app promises to help me overload both my tablet and my phone with interesting but not terribly useful apps ("app glut"). But I'll have fun the entire time!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

23 Mobile Things #21: Free-for-all

Okay, Planets may not be the most super-spiffy fantasticalest app ever, but it's pretty good for what it is: a introductory astronomy app. Planets' main feature is to show you the sky in 2D and 3D versions. In Sky 2D, you see the sky as it appears above you at your time and location. The planets above the horizon are shown against a background of constellations, and the moon is shown in whatever phase it's in.

It's the Sky 3D view where Planets really comes into its own. It starts out just showing you the 3D version of the 2D view, as seen facing south.

But then you can drag the view around to look in any direction, including below the horizon. Click the "Visibility" button in the upper right corner, and you'll see the sky as if you could see X-rays, microwave radiation, radio waves, gamma rays, or hydrogen ɑ (whatever that is).

You can also look at a chart of which planets are visible when, or see each planet close up and revolving (watch Venus and Uranus revolve east-to-west!).

The app doesn't explain much: you'll have to research the planets on your own (perhaps at your library!) to learn more about what it is you're seeing. But for some good interactive visuals about what the solar system looks like from here, Planets is a great introductory app.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

23 Mobile Things #20: Games

I was working my way down the list, beginning to wonder if I'd have to go and find a game app I liked, and then I got to W, which is where the word games were hanging out: Word Abacus, WordCollapse, and Word Wrap. This is the kind of game I like…so I took all three.

Word Abacus

It has a pleasant-looking interface, and the game is easy to understand. But I got bored within a couple of minutes. There's no pressure here, not until you get to Level 3 and the "red letters," and even so, they're not that much of a challenge. Plus, there seem to be some problems with the app itself. One reviewer complained that some of the letters didn't respond when they touched them unless they practically pounded on their iPad, and I found the same to be true of my copy. Not worth the effort, and I've already deleted it.


I liked this one more. It's more challenging knowing there's a right way to work the puzzle and having to figure out what that is. However, word searches don't hold my interest long, so I can only play a few games, and then I go off to see what other games I have loaded onto the iPad. I'm annoyed that when you finish a game, the app goes straight into the next game instead of pausing and letting you okay the next game. I don't want to play it all afternoon!

Word Warp

My favorite of the three. I've met variations of this one before: it's kind of like Boggle. I could wish I had longer than two minutes to find all the words, but then, the pressure does make the game more interesting. And with each game limited to two minutes, you can play one or two when you have a tiny bit of spare time, but each game has a definite stopping point to it, unlike the other two. This is the one most likely to stay on my iPad after I finish this post.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

23 Mobile Things #19: Hobbies

I figured this was a week to go off and find an app on my own. I just don't know enough about any of the hobbies for the suggested apps to know if the apps are any good or not. And since it had been a while since I'd looked for knitting apps, this seemed a good opportunity. I limited myself to free apps, since that's what we've been looking at so far, and I found a promising one called knitCompanion. (Which would work well for crochet too.)

For the past several years, I've been using PDF patterns rather than print copies. I've usually uploaded them to Evernote, which lets me write notes around my pattern and is available through all my devices and my desktop computer. But to annotate the pattern itself in Evernote, I'd have to subscribe to their premium service, which I wouldn't use enough to justify the expense. So I was happy to try a more knit-centric app.

I'm impressed by how much knitCompanion offers, even with the limited, free version. It connects to Dropbox, so that you can access patterns that aren't stored on your tablet to save space. There's a basic annotation ability: I can highlight text or add comments in a pop-up note. The highlighting is a bit awkward to do—I'd prefer just to swipe a finger along the desired text, but knitCompanion makes me shrink a box around it. But at least I can highlight text. (Take that, Evernote!) 

Those features are still pretty generic and would work for any PDF, but knitCompanion also had knitting-specific features. I was thrilled to see multiple knit counters, useful for when your pattern instructs you to "inc 1 st each end of every 4th row 18 times." The app lets you highlight the row you're working on, whether it's in a chart or written out. If you knit or crochet, you know how valuable this is. If you don't, let me just say that rows of pattern shorthand begin to look an awful lot alike after a while. I can see that upgrading would add more useful tools (and take away the ads), but unlike many free apps, this one isn't so limited as to be essentially useless. This app is definitely worth a closer look from knitters and crocheters.

Monday, June 9, 2014

23 Mobile Things #18: Education

As the description promised, there were more apps than usual for this Thing, so I looked at two of them: Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus and artCircles.

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus

I've been meaning to get a thesaurus app for a while now, so this app called out to me. I was glad to see that it could be used offline; if it could only be used online, there was no point in installing it because I could just look words up through Google or something. The dictionary part is serviceable enough. Whoever designed this app seems to have been more interested in breadth of vocabulary rather than depth, though. There are many obscure terms included, and it'll be a great vocabulary builder for me, but the definitions I read were pretty basic. There were no discussions of usage either, so if you don't already know a certain term is considered offensive, this app isn't going to warn you.

I thought this was less successful as a thesaurus app. For each word, AEDT lists hyponyms, hypernyms, and meronyms, if any. First, I had to find out what hyponyms, hypernyms, and meronyms were—gee, good thing it's a dictionary app—and I got the feeling the makers of the app were showing off their vocabulary more than making a user-friendly tool. But as someone raised on the classic Roget's Thesaurus, with its emphasis on the subtleties of meaning, I didn't find this useful. I suppose the AEDT is giving me synonyms, but a good thesaurus gives you antonyms as well, and I wasn't having much luck finding them in this app.

I should mention the games. This app plays a mean game of hangman; I may keep it around just for that feature. I have no innate skill at Word Scramble, it seems. The word of the day is "Malpighia glabra," the botanical name for the barbados cherry, which I cannot imagine using again after I finish this sentence, but it was interesting. You know, as long as I use this app for everything except what it says it was designed for, I'll be fine. But I still want a decent thesaurus app.


I got a bad feeling about this app when the splash screen announced, "Take a spin through artCircles to discover and shop a world of art." Shop?

The organizational scheme for the art is based on what will sell it. I don't know all that much about paintings, but cataloging and classification are my favorite library skills, so seeing how this was put together had interest for me in its own right. For instance, it would never have occurred to me to group paintings by what will look good in the nursery, the living room, the kitchen. Or by adjectives: quirky, mysterious, understated, ethereal. (They do have a scheme based on art movements, just in case you like to look at art organized in a traditional fashion.) But whoever designed the app wants to sell paintings, not give you an art education, so there isn't much help in taking what you see in this app and applying it to a painting you might see in a friend's house or at a museum. It's a fun app for a few minutes amusement, and it may be useful if you like their stock and are interested in buying something, but it's not generally useful.

Friday, June 6, 2014

23 Mobile Things #17: Connecting to Community

I glanced through the long list of possible apps for this Thing and latched onto Saint Paul Connect because it was the only one centered on St. Paul. I'm delighted this was listed, because it was exactly what I was looking for without knowing I was looking for it.

I spend a lot of time waiting at bus stops and walking around St. Paul, which puts me in a good position to notice burned out streetlights, walk/don't walk lights, and so on. (Admittedly, I don't tend to notice potholes unless they're in the middle of a pedestrian crosswalk.) But reporting them has always been a bit tricky because I have to remember to do so when I'm at a computer, and then remember where the problem was and how best to describe it. With this app, I can report a problem right then and there, and even take a picture of it, if that would help, and I bet the phone can tell the city exactly where the problem is. Majorly cool.

Apparently some things get fixed more quickly than others. I know that in the past, when I've reported a burned-out streetlight, it's been fixed within 24 hours. Judging from this app, though, the potholes are going to be with us for a while. But it won't be from ignorance of their existence: there are some dedicated pothole observers in this area. I tapped on every red pin you see here, and each one of them is a complaint about a pothole, some confirmed by as many as eight people (who all have this app? am I the last person in St. Paul to have heard of it?). I think some of these potholes have been fixed by now, though, so I'm wondering how often the city updates its information.

I foresee getting a lot of use out of this app. Although I probably still won't be much good at noticing potholes.