Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Pop!

This post is a birthday tribute to my dad, aka Jon and Pop.

Not everyone knows this, but he is as much of a gadget fan as I am.  He even had an iPad before we bought one!

I've been dreaming of a post about "apps for grownups" and this seems like the perfect occasion.  Here's my list for him, and anyone else who would like to join him.  He already has some of these, but I'm making a few more suggestions in his honor.  Tap on the links to be taken to the app in the app store.

Media basics:

It is fun to watch and listen with the iPad.  Netflix and Pandora are must-haves, for the traditional media brought over to the iPad.  In addition, however, the iPad supports new forms of media browsing (I'll call it, for lack of a better word).  TED is full of brilliant people giving engaging, big-picture talks that are wonderful, intelligent diversions and inspiration.  Aweditorium is a visual treat that blends the old "pop up video" experience with music discovery.  VLC media player is a port of the application for Mac that plays almost any media file that other things won't do.  Dropbox allows for cloud-based synching of media and other files across gadgets effortlessly.


"Browsing" might be a better word for some of these apps, too.  The iBooks app is doing well, alongside the Kindle app (they are free, so why not have both?).  Stanza is a really nice reader that serves the smaller ebook outlets.  Flipboard is a favorite of Apple's, which turns the media links from social media into a readable electronic magazine-like experience.  Pulse (which I mentioned recently) does a similar thing with RSS feeds from websites and blogs, similar to what one might use feedburner or google reader for.  Andrew says it doesn't handle his 500+ feeds very well, but for most of us mortals it is a pleasant way to keep up with things.   Instapaper is an eternal favorite of mine, I have mentioned it on this blog before.  It takes those long-form posts from anywhere that you discover but don't have time to read, and strips out all the gaudy gee-gaws that hurt your eyes when you try to read real stuff on the web.  In addition, the NY Times and NPR both have apps that provide their high-quality content in a new form.  Both have had stability problems over time, but I think they are tuned up and their editorial quality can't be matched.  If I can pick on Dad's age just once, I bet he'll remember a lot of the photos in the Life Magazine photo archive app :-)


Andrew's recommendation of Art Studio is a great one, Jonas and I have used it some now and it really shines.  Particularly when you master the functions of using multiple layers and importing photos (that got your attention, didn't it, Pop?).  Another good recommendation from Andrew is Beatwave, which allows even musical newbies to make fun compositions in a pentatonic scale environment (which means almost any combinations of notes sounds good).  I would put synthPond in there with it, which is really made for the iPhone but is fun on the iPad, too.  It is a crazy mix of bell choir, astronomy, and pebbles in a pond. iThoughts HD is a *great* mindmapping tool, for those of us who like to organize our thoughts that way.

Reference and research:

The internet movie database (imdb for those in the know) is a great reference when one is watching something and thinking "who the hell is that actor?".  WolframAlpha has a very cool app which is like a google search plus artificial intelligence (as inspired by Wolfram's TED talk, try asking it "am I drunk?").   Zillow is great for you real estate junkies, although the pictures aren't very hi-res.  Kayak HD is excellent for researching travel (those last two are beginning to look like a list for Jodie for a moment!).  

A sub category of reference and research would be "cooking".  Dad's birthday dinner is coming out of the Wholefoods app, which I used to compose a shopping list and email the list and recipe to Sam's iphone while she was on her way to the store.  Epicurious also has a gorgeous iPad-specific app which is a treat.

Guilty pleasures:

Dad, you know all those fast little cars we dream about?  Real Racing HD is as close as we'll get to test driving many of them.  It makes riding a recumbent on a wind trainer positively exhilirating (which is saying something, isn't it?).  And we can compare time trials online ;-)

Happy birthday, Pop!  Thanks for all that you do, and all that you are!

the Cameras

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This looks interesting!

I haven't had time to read all the way through this yet, but it looks like a really interesting resource for folks who want to understand the internet more thoroughly.  Tell me what you think in the comments, if you care to :-)


New news reader!

I'm really enjoying Pulse as a way to pull together feeds from various news outlets and blogs.  It is OK on the ipods and iphones, but it really shines on the iPad.  You may not like the feeds that are pre-loaded into it but if you fill it up with your favorite news sources, it is pretty shiny!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Things I like to do on the Marauder's Map (our iPad)

The iPad is better for some things than any other gadget we have.  And that is saying something.

My "todo" app, which I have mentioned previously, is *great*.  I would much rather manage my tasks on that than on my iPhone or my laptop.

Evernote is similarly excellent.  Both of these examples do a good job of providing all the speed and efficiency of an electronic system with a UI (user interface) that has a nice correlation to the analog world.

Podcasts are much more appealing to me on the iPad than on other devices.  The great thing is that the screen is big enough so that you can really read about podcasts that you might like, but then it is portable enough to carry with you to listen in the car or while doing dishes.  I have never really been willing to read up on podcasts, select which episodes I want, load them onto my ipod or phone, then remember to listen to them later.  By the time I get back to them, I'm in the mood to listen to something else.  Radiolab from WNYC is just awesome.

My favorite newspaper on the iPad?  NPR.  Yes, I know.  Not a newspaper.  Well, it is now.  Better, even, than the NYT app, although that is improving.

The NPR app is really cool.  You can read through the short stories that interest you, then put the longer ones in an audio playlist which you can play back like a podcast.  You just have to try it, if you are like me.  By which I mean you are a serious NPR junky who can't listen normally right now because the current political situation makes you feel ill.

Surfing the web on it is great.  It is as if one is holding the disembodied web.  Similarly, streaming netflix is like holding a moving in one's hand.  Yes, Mr. Jobs, this time I agree with many of those extreme adjectives you like to throw around.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let's have a big, warm, welcome for the "Maurader's Map"

That is what our iPad is called when you plug it into the mac mini that supports all our iOS devices.  Which number three iphones (one functioning as Julian's ipod), one ipod touch, and now, an iPad.

So I will be offering my thoughts on all these devices, which isn't too hard as they share an operating system.

First, though, I would like to present the suggestions of my friend Andrew (Campbell), a very skilled programer and developer (and designer, and photographer...) in his own right.  He sent me the following suggestions when I wrote to him about our new acquisition:

My favorite iPad apps

GoodReader (pdf viewer)
Instapaper (which you have and is even more awesome on the iPad)

I'd like to recommend a text editor too but there is no Vim on the iPad =/
There have been a ton of editors that sync through dropbox recently. If you end up using one I'd be happy to get your recommendation

That link is from a collection of best of category reviews from AppAdvice that are all pretty well done

I think I'd like an outliner, and I'm kind of waiting for OmniOutliner. On the otherhand I'm really enjoying notetaking in the red moleskin notebooks you showed me.

Fun stuff
Harbor Master HD (line drawing that works well with multiple people)
Beatwave (music sequencer toy)
Marble Mixer (multiplayer marbles)
ArtStudio (cheapest of the big paint apps and just as good)
AirVideo (stream video from your mac. no need to copy it to the iPad or convert divx to mp4)
Math Bingo (good add/sub/multiply practice game that rewards with little bugs to collect)
LIne Art (visual toy. no instructions.  the effects change depending on the number of fingers you are using)
Diner Dash GG (order processing game that works great with two people)
Virtuoso - (best free piano app I've found. nicest part is that you can set it to show two keyboards facing opposite sides so two people can play at once)

iphone stuff
Pocket Frogs (frog collecting, the kids love it)
Sushi Cat (pachinko with a fat cat. very funny. I got it free, just the right price)
Helsing's Fire (my favorite puzzle game - good for grownups, hard for kids)

I've been working my way through these suggestions, and find that Andrew's assessments and suggestions are spot-on.  I hope you find them to be, too. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Link about the mix up as to who the customer is

John Gruber posts a link to a ZD net story in which a telco claims to be Apple's biggest customer in Australia. What about the person left holding the phone?   Reminds me of healthcare, when the employers act like the customers of the insurance companies, instead of the insured patient.  Things aren't going to get better until such confusion is cleared up, in either case.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why to use OS X

This is a great article, although old by web standards.  It still applies.  It still describes why OS X is a great platform.

My additional comments?  First, even OS X isn't totally bombproof.  I have had network problems on OS X that have driven me bonkers, for instance.  It is a matter of degree -- I have had many more of those on Windows than on OS X over the years.

Second, I would offer the real reason I use OS X.  The best "power users" (dumb term, but you know what I mean) that I can turn to for help use it.   My friends and relations (you know who you are) that know the most about computers are OS X and linux users.  And I like OS X better than linux (so far).

Why do they use it?  There are two choices in computing.  One is that the software designers anticipate what you want, and build it into the software.  Apple does this much more accurately than Microsoft (ever had Word do things it thought you wanted? It was wrong, wasn't it?).  The other choice is that you go "under the hood" and write programs or scripts that tell it exactly what you want.  Because it is built on Unix, OS X also does this better than Windows, again according to the folks I ask about such things. I am not good at that part, yet.

If you really can't live without Windows, an Apple computer can do that, too.  Quite well, if one is to believe the benchmarks.

What has changed in the years since Marco Arment wrote the above post?  iOS, running on the iPad, iPhone, and other gadgets.  I would say that in terms of "just working", it is even better than OS X.  Particularly because the other barrier -- learning to use it -- is so low.  If you just want your computer to work, to do the every day stuff (email, watching movies, surfing the web, playing games, making music, editing photos), go take a hard look at an iPad.  I think it passes the "just works" test better than android, which isn't even out on a tablet yet, and on phones isn't as stable and reliable.

Yes, windows and android will do what you want, and you can be happy using them.  But they don't do as well at the "just works" test.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beautiful webapp linked from Daring Fireball

This is a fabulous drawing application.  I tried it on my macbook, Mr. Gruber of Daring Fireball says it works well on the iphone/ipod touch as well.  So simple, so fun.  Might make me want to draw!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Using an iPhone for Real Fun

Ever since I was a kid, electronic fun and real fun have been distinct in my mind.  Computers, and video games, were something that pulled us away from the rest of our lives.  They didn't interact with the rest of the world in any satisfying way, and so time in the electronic world was "stolen" from real life.  

More recently, computers could at least chronicle other parts of life in a more vibrant way.  As processing speed and storage capacity have increased, we have moved from using computers to store and manage words and numbers to bringing home sounds, pictures, and video clips and stashing them in our digital nests.  This is the "digital hub" concept that has served Apple so well in recent years.  Notice, though, that in this model we still go out into the real world, capture it with minds and cameras and recorders, and bring it back to the computer, like a crow would collect bits of ribbon and thread.  

Now, the iPhone has taken that processing power and digital capacity and shrunk it to such a small size that we can take it out into the world *with* us.  The computer has shrunk to the point where we can carry it in our pockets, so we can now mix and match computing and real life the way most of us already mix and and match printed text and pictures into our lives.  The best applications, in fact, are those that have surpassed the role of "paper analog" and are really adding features that dead tree resources can't match.  This is only fair, given the expense and complication of buying and charging and learning to use an electronic gadget.  If it is higher maintenance than a book (which it certainly is) we should get something back for our troubles!

Perhaps the most obvious way that at iPhone can mix computing with the real world is in navigation.  The "maps" program that Apple built for the iPhone is really pretty awesome, for instance.  You can search for things on it, and zoom in and out, and switch from "map" view to "satellite image" or a combination of the two.  Those of us carrying the iPhone 3GS even have a compass to go with our maps, which (to those of us who are old-school navigators) is really mind-boggling.  

There are apps that have gone beyond this one, of course.  There is the whole category of dashboard turn-by-turn direction applications.  I'm not going there in this posting, however. Those aren't about play, they are about work.

Motion-X GPS uses the same basic technology as the Maps app, but adds cool things like bearings, and speed, and waypoints that you can place on the map like digital pins (or digital breadcrumbs that the birds can't eat).  

I would also mention Accuterra, which I downloaded last summer and have been pretty pleased by.  We were camping in Vermont, where we don't always get a good connection.  So, I needed something that would load all the requisite maps onto the phone itself, rather than just pulling the required tiles across the 3G connection like the Maps app does.  Accuterra does just that.  You are still relying on the signal from the GPS satellites, which can be a bit dicey in the woods and valleys of Vermont, as well as the natural magnetic waves that the compass relies upon, but those are more reliable in the wilds of Vermont than line-of-sight to an AT&T tower.

Third in the category of navigation, I would include the Geocaching application.  Geocaching is an activity that uses the accuracy of GPS navigation to allow folks to hide little containers in the woods. The person who creates the cache then posts coordinates and other info about their cache online, and the rest of us can look up that information, go out hunting the cache, and celebrate when we find it by exchanging little trinkets and signing logbooks.  A rather simple game of hide-and-seek when you get right down to it, but I have been amazed at how many hikes we have taken our boys on where we didn't hear even one bit of complaining because the thrill of the hunt so thoroughly drowned out the "how much longer" refrain in their experience (and, therefore, in ours as well).  One can use any GPS device to do this, but having the dedicated app on a phone integrates the multiple steps of researching, selecting, navigating to, and logging the cache.  

Outside of the category of navigation, there are many apps that serve to educate us in skills that seem far from the realm of space invaders and Facebook.  "Knots and Splices" is a "port" of an honest-to-goodness book about tying knots and splicing ropes.  The creators went out of their way to maintain the look of the original book, and that adds to the pleasure of using it (in my experience).  

iBird, on the other hand, was created by someone who shares my frustration with traditional birding field guides.  "If I don't know how to spell it, how can I look it up in the dictionary" I have heard people say about words, and I feel the same way when faced with even the glossiest and well-researched paper field guides.  Instead, this app serves as a multimedia database, which you can query using such variables as your location, the type of terrain you found the bird in, and (of course) the size, shape, and color of the bird you are watching.  Once you have a suspect identified, you can play its call or song and see if it matches.  Awesome!

I'm sure there are many more things we can add to this -- I hope to post more as we go.  In the mean time, I hope this list dispels the myth that there must be a barrier between electrons and "real life".  

BTW -- if anyone suggests a way for your iPhone to help you start a fire, say "no" :-)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


This is not a post about an app I've been using. This is a second hand review.

On facebook recently I posted about father-son iPhone time which allowed me to get some exercise.  Part way through that little spinning session Julian put down Jonas' iPod touch and asked me for my iPhone. Luckily I had put it down in favor of a magazine of the dead-tree variety.I asked him why he wanted my phone, and he answered that he wanted to write his letters. By this he meant "iWriteWords".  This is remarkable because both my phone and jonas' iPod are loaded with engaging games that have little in the way of redeeming features. Instead of "bounce on" or "spy bot", he wants to trace a little crab around the screen, following numbers on the way to writing letters.

I think he really enjoys the sounds that it plays.  It also includes a voice offering enthusiastic congratulations when he completes a task.  I think it is fascinating for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that this app is only possible because of the handy little high quality touchscreen that is currently widely available. The second reason is that it is one of those rare times that something intended to be educational is more attractive to him than stuff intended purely for amusement.

I don't have any real data about whether this app is helping him to learn his letters, except for one recent example. Yesterday we were working on a light brite (remember those?) pattern, and he was very good at finding particular letters to signify pegs of a given color. Seem promising...

How fun to watch his agile young brain work through these ideas on such different platforms! 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Vendor-Specific Apps

So there are several apps on my "frequently used" list that are dedicated to particular vendors or brands.  On the list I published earlier, I included amazon, netflix, and comcast.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that Phone Flicks is a third-party app, but it only connects to my netflix account, so for my purposes it isn't much different than the other two.  Here's why I like each of these, and why I use them.

The amazon app is useful because amazon is my most likely source for purchases that I can't make locally.  It is very handy to have them "in my pocket", because I can purchase something on the spot.  In other words, I can go to Hastings Stationer, or Cowls Lumber, or Food for Thought books (my three favorite examples at the moment), and check for whatever widget or volume I need. If I can't get it from them, I pull out my iPhone, and purchase it that way.  It is still off my To Do list (see earlier post) at that moment, either way. 

Phone flicks is great because it allows me to put something on our cue (que?  How do they spell it?) right when someone mentions a film or show to me.  Of course, my tastes in such things are falling right off the radar of the rest of the world, so it may be of diminishing utility ;-) (child abduction? nope, can't watch those any more.  Infidelity? not interested.  Too much realistic blood?  Sick people? Death? Sounds like work, not entertainment.  Just plain jacks my blood pressure?  No time for that.  BBC farce? *perfect*).  I just installed the app for the IMDB (internet movie data base) so those two should work together well.  I haven't used it much, yet. 

The Comcast app is great because it makes our comcast voicemail into visual voicemail (text listing of what numbers the messages are from), from anywhere.  Nice!  I've gotten used to that on my iPhone, now I can have it for my home phone, too.  I use it for TV listings, occasionally, but not that often (see above).  And I don't use comcast email much, but if I did, it includes that, too. 

I downloaded the ebay app, but I just don't use ebay that much.  It is nice to be able to track the progress of auctions, so for those who use ebay a lot, it makes good sense. 

You may have favorite apps in this category, to go with favorite vendors.  Please post any suggestions (or warnings about badly designed apps) in the comments!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thanks, Jude!

She gave me the real, honest to goodness hard copy cut out of the magazine itself.  The highest form of decoration that a professor's door can attain!

Many thanks, Jude, it's awesome.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The first app I'm going to describe here is ToDo by Appigo.  It is the to-do list that Sam and I both use, along with my mother (better known to most of you by now as "Mana").  It is a bit expensive for an iphone app, but for something as important as your task list, it is well worth the investment.  Spend a bit of time learning about the different types of entries, as they will allow you to make sub-tasks and checklists to manage even the most complicated projects.  I use it for work, and Sam and I both use it for family tasks.   Last I checked, Mom was using it for her work, as well.

It has a very clean interface, and is quite simple to use. I find that the only time it doesn't work is when I neglect to use it :-). It is built to support the GTD method of task management, but the three of us just use it without such theoretical backup.

In addition to its usefulness as an app, it also will synch with several other services. I have hitched it to a free account on, which has also impressed me with its balance of features and ease of use.

Toodledo will accept new items directly into the website, via email (with a bit of judicious markup) or through an excellent Firefox plug in that pops up in many useful places as you browse.

On one occasion earlier this year, toodledo went down, briefly.  The site owners were appropriately apologetic, but I was fine because of the Todo version of my data that is stored on my phone and backed up on my computer.

My next step will probably be to get a paid account on toodledo, so it will support the same task-subtask structure that Todo supports.  I think it costs a whopping $15 per year!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

iPhone Apps: A list I fleshed out for Bethany...

#iPhone Apps
- Evernote
- Pandora
- Google Earth
- Google mobile
- The weather channel
- Stanza
- Public Radio
- Facebook
- 3d Brain (by cold spring labs, just for sheer coolness)
- NY Times
- Layar (also pretty much for coolness' sake, an introduction to the world of augmented reality)
- LocalEats

##Specific Vendors whose apps I use
- amazon
- netflix (phone flix, I think it's actually third party)
- Comcast (if you use their digital voice phone service, you can check and delete voicemail in a "visual voicemail" format from anywhere)

- Spider; mystery of bryce mansion
- Doodle jump
- ToDo by appigo *really useful*
- Geocaching
- QuadCamera (go look at, most anything there in B&W is from this app)
- iBird plus


This doesn't touch the list of games that I have explored, many of them with Jonas.  Lately we've been playing Warship, which is a version of Battleship.  Games will require a whole separate list.