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Whew! I made it! It was getting a little bit close, there, since things got a lot busier around here the last few months. Having completed everything, it’s time to step back and evaluate how it all went. Here are my thoughts on the process!

I think the biggest thing that has changed for me in regards to my ideas about devices and apps is the realization that there really are still a lot of apps that are only for one platform, and the speed with which some apps disappear completely. There were at least three apps that were recommended that were completely gone without a trace by the time I went looking for them. I already knew that there was an app for just about anything you could think of, but I hadn’t realized how many of them are also free. It’s really pretty impressive what you can do with all free apps! My favorite thing was Thing 17 (Community apps), but my favorite new discoveries were CloudOn, ColorSplurge, and Haiku Deck. Most of the Minnesota ones, too! But CloudOn I have used the most, it really is incredibly handy to be able to edit things on the go. I’ve used it to update my lab attendance, work on personal documents from the couch, maintain spreadsheets, and reformat documents. Other than that, the two app search engines, Apps for Free and Quixey, are going to be very useful next time I think “hmmm, it’d be really neat if there were an app for that…”

One of things that really surprised me was sort of an indirect realization. For all the millions of apps out there, with different operating systems and different devices, it’s really pretty astonishing how few of them ever show up in Tech Time with problems. I’ve only had various ebook apps and one problematic Candy Crush app, the rest are just people unfamiliar with their devices and apps trying to figure out how they work. It’s a good thing, too, as there is no way one person could even keep up with what is new out there, let alone what they all do and how to fix them if they are acting up! That said, my general mode of operations is the same for apps as anything else: check the in-app settings, check the overall settings, restart if that seems applicable, reset if necessary, look up problem online.

Overall, I’m glad I did this! It was fun, educational, and got me back online using my blog so it doesn’t feel so lonely and neglected. I would definitely do it again next year, since apps multiply and change like nobodies’ business, so I would learn new things and get to test more apps. As it was, there were more this year that caught my eye that I didn’t get a chance to experiment with or review yet, so there’s always space for more. Thanks to everyone for doing all the backend stuff to get this program off the ground!

Thing 22 is a biggie – how to find new apps. That’s sort of been a challenge for me, since the app stores, both Apple and Android, are not the easiest things to search unless you have a name to go off of. There are simply too many apps for the categories to help narrow things down. Normally, I just find things through word of mouth, or from a review written on one of the Apple blogs I follow. But if you are just wondering “hey, I bet there’s an app for this obscure thing I just thought would be useful,” there’s not much help to be found that route.

Enter Quixey! Quixey is an online database with apps for a variety of devices, Android and Apple, as well as Windows and Blackberry. You can search based on what you want it the app to do, like learn to knit, and it will give you all the different knitting apps out there. It’s much more intuitive, and saves you the trouble of trying to figure out what category a certain task would fall under (because sometimes, it really isn’t clear). There are 4 more general categories for browsing – Play, Work, Live, and Learn – with useful subcategories for each. Additionally, you can see what is popular at the moment (pretty much all games). It does only show apps for one platform at a time, which eliminates that moment of delirious excitement followed by crushing disappointment that the really awesome app that does just what you want is not an app for your device. You can log in and favorite items, if there’s a pay app you want to keep track of and check on occasionally to look for discounts or see if it goes free. Otherwise, it’s a fairly straight-forward database, with easy to understand results. The result shows the icon, name, price, and the first two lines of the official description along with the user ratings. Clicking on a result shows you much of the information that you would see in the respective app store: full description, screenshots, other apps by that company, and similar apps. Most noticeably lacking is the detailed reviews, you still need to go to the app store itself to see those. The last thing to know is that when you click on the price it doesn’t automatically take you to the store, it lets you choose between opening it in the app store or sending the information to your phone. Handy! One last thing to know is that Quixey does not have a dedicated app. The irony of an app database without it’s own app is delightful, I admit!

A great companion to Quixey is Apps Gone Free, which is in fact a free app. Apps Gone Free specializes in free apps, but more specifically, the best newly free apps. Everyday they have a list of the best of the best apps that are available for free as part of a promotion. Additionally, you can nominate apps that you think should be free for a promotion, and if enough attention is given to one app, the developers will approach the develops of your nominated app about doing a promotion. Basically, it’s an ongoing poll that is part petition. Get enough interest, and they will act on it. A neat idea! I like the fact that it is a curated list, as that means you aren’t just looking at the hundreds of apps that are newly free and having to deal with all the junk that is burying the gems. Seems like a great way to find out about cool apps! Apps Gone Free keeps an available archive, so you can see what else has been featured, and all of the apps have the reason for their selection as a stand-out in the details. The app is easy to use, and a great way to just explore what’s new or try and get a favorite app to do a promotional discount.

There are other apps out there that do somewhat similar things (just show free apps, give recommendations regardless of price, etc), but it seems like Apps Gone Free and the app-less Quixey stand out from the crowd by far. Both of these resources will be joining my list of things to use to find new apps!

Thing 21 is up to us to pick an app. I had a hard time figuring out which one I wanted to talk about, since a lot of the ones I use frequently I already talked about elsewhere. Eventually, I had to just sit down and take stock of my apps and find a cool one that isn’t as well known as, say, Dropbox. But as soon as I saw the icon for Word Lens on my screen, I knew I had my winner! Word Lens is a really cool app, that was recently made free. It has been around for a while and was featured some time ago in one of the Apple iOS ads, but at the time it was a paid app and each language cost $10. It is half virtual reality app, half language app. The way it works, is you point the camera at a sign or printed text of some sort, and it will show you the same sign translated into the language of your choice. Currently, it only has the big European languages, and Russian, so no Asian or African languages yet. But it is a pretty handy tool for travelers, language learners, and great just for fun. It does a literal translation, so it comes out pretty stilted most of the time, but it is enough to figure out the gist of what the sign says. I wouldn’t use it for a novel, though, that would be both a slow process and it wouldn’t keep the plot or feel of the novel. The only other requirements for the app is that it needs to be printed text (not handwritten), and well lit. Otherwise it can’t pick up enough detail to make out the words. Things like this are what remind me of just how cool technology is these days! Next time you are abroad in Europe (or Canada, for that matter), give it a whirl.

Another cool app (not free, sadly) is Naturespace. Naturespace is a compilation of holographic audio tracks from various different settings, some with simple tonal bells over the sounds of the nature. Holographic audio is recorded with multiple microphones such that when you listen to it, you feel like you are actually there. You can hear what is in front of you, behind you, to your left, or to your right. They are very immersive, and great for stress relief or for those nights when you have trouble falling asleep. There are tracks with just birds, tracks that focus on rain or thunderstorms, or you can listen to streams, wind, meadows, forests, jungles, lakes at night, ocean shores… the list goes on. It’s one of few apps that I have bought extra content for, and I find it very relaxing. When you have the ear buds on, it really does sound like you are right there. Most tracks are best at quieter levels, so they aren’t intended for use with loud background sounds. In fact, I think most would be completely drowned out unless you had noise cancelling headphones. And those might not work as well as the ear buds, as the audio is optimized for earbuds. There is a way to switch it to the built-in speakers instead, but the sound just isn’t the same. If you are the kind of person that likes listening to nature, this might be the thing for you!

I’m not usually a big fan of the simple games like Candy Crush, but I do enjoy games that are unusual. I’ll talk about two of my favorites, Monument Valley and Spaceteam, and then a new one I tried just for this which was Minion Rush (because, frankly, minions. ‘nough said).

Monument Valley ($3.99 currently) is a fairly short puzzle game. There are no words, just a little figure with a pointy hat trying to get from point A to point B through various different levels of MC Escher-like optical illusions. To get the character, Ida, to the end of the level, you have to move stairways, platforms, and so forth, eventually evading crows as well. It is a very elegant game like nothing else currently out there, and can really cause a lot of headscratching while you try to bend your mind around some of the puzzles! It also has the benefit of being short: it only takes about an hour and a half, and has no ads or in-app purchases to get in the way. It’s worth a look!

Spaceteam (free) is very different. It requires 2-4 people on the same wireless network, and you need to be in the same room. The idea is that you are all on a spaceship with a different control panel, reminiscent of Star Trek. Each control panel has a different set of dials, switchs, and other interactive things, labeled (though eventually the labels are complicated images). Each player is given a different command at the top of the screen, and they have to make sure it is done or else the ship will start to fall apart. That command might be on your own board, or someone else’s. As you go on, the commands come faster and harder to explain, causing for hilarious chaos. Eventually you have things to avoid that require everyone to shake their device or flip it upside down, too. At the end each player is given an award for whatever they did best (which might be repair their board, or most mistakes, or whatnot). My family had a great time with it at Thanksgiving, and it remains a truly fun quick game for a group with smartphones or tablets. It is impossible to play this – or watch a group of other people play it – and not be laughing, not with commands like “eulogize previous crew” thrown in with gobblegook. Who doesn’t enjoy watching their friends yell nonsense phrases at each other frantically? Grab a friend or three and give it a try!

Despicable Me Minion Rush stars the lovably goofy minions from the Despicable Me movies. It’s a simple game, where your minion (Dave) runs straight ahead down a conveyor belt trying to get all the bananas possibly while avoiding obstacles like bombs, giant saws, electricity, etc. The controls are straightforward – swipe left or right to avoid obstacles, swipe up to jump, or down to slide – but it can be a bit finicky. I found you really needed to be swiping from the middle of the screen for the left and right dodging. But it looks fun and easy to get into the swing of it. One of the things that bugged me was that they do push in-app purchases rather a bit. On the plus side, though, it looks like it would be great for short-term entertainment! If I’m stuck in a waiting room or something, it would be perfect. Most of my other games are really long-term, on-going things, so starting it up when you know you are going to have to duck out in a few minutes doesn’t really make sense.

Thing 19 is about hobby apps. As a collector of hobbies, I have a few of these in my arsenal already, such as Merlin Bird ID and Craftsy. After glancing at the recommended apps for this particular Thing, I added Roadninja to my list and took a tour of the app.

Roadninja will definitely join my permanent folder of travel apps. The ability to see what is at the next exit, or the previous one (if you do a u-turn and get back on the highway), complete with addresses and reviews, is really handy. Not everyone restaurant, hotel, or gas station pays for a spot on those exit signs, so seeing what really is there is a boon to travelers with picky tastes or a serious need for fuel when there aren’t towns right at the exits. It also looks like you can book a room from the app itself, though I would probably use the handy phone number included and book that way. Regardless, it’s easy to use and will be joining my lexicon of apps!

One of my favorite hobby apps is actually Merlin Bird ID. It’s a free bird app from Cornell’s Ornithology Lab, and it works really well. Unlike other free bird apps, there are a lot of birds in the index, and it has actual pictures, lots of recorded bird sounds, descriptions, and maps. All of it is organized clearly and logically. You can search or browse if you just want to look at a bird you know to see what it sounds like or what their habitat is, or you can use the Bird ID part of the app. This leads you through a series of questions (where and when did you see it, how big was it compared to other common birds, what were the three colors you saw on it, and where did you see it) before it gives you a list of the most likely matches. I have found it to be very useful, and every time I’ve used it to ID a bird, it has turned up a perfect match. When you get a match, you click “This is my bird!” and it helps them perfect their matching program. It’s great just for looking birds up to check their habits and calls, as well.

Additionally, Craftsy has a great free app for iPhone and iPad. Craftsy is a really cool website with online classes for all sorts of crafts. I have knitting, sewing, jewelry making, and cooking classes that I have signed up for, but there is a lot more available than that! Most classes aren’t free, but you have permanent access to the videos, directions/patterns/recipes, and discussion boards for the class. They are at your own pace, and ongoing, so there isn’t a limited sign-up time or anything like that. I’ve made some really great projects from those classes I’ve completed, and gotten lots of compliments for them. The app is a really nice way to access your classes on the go, with a slick user interface. I’ve used it on the go if I’m in the middle of a project and need a quick refresher on the next step, or if I realize that the next direction doesn’t seem quite right and I need clarification. It’s what I used to learn knitting while out of town for Christmas, and it worked great! I also just discovered that they have specific apps for knitting and quilting. I snagged the knitting one, and it has tons of patterns posted by Craftsy members, free or paid. Patterns are sorted by type (hat, shawl, toy, etc), but there is no way to show just the free patterns like with Ravelry (which remains just a website without an app).

Thing 18 was also a lot of fun, with too many apps to cover in one post. The topic was education, with recommended apps ranging from language learning to age specific learning. All sorts of neat apps, with very specific focuses or broad coverage of many topics. Here are just a few of the things out there, starting and ending with two of my new favorites.

Duolingo is a pretty awesome app. It is a free language learning app that presents a new language in a fun, quiz-like way. How effective it is for truly learning a language, I’m not sure. But it certainly is fun and easy to do. I’ve also heard that some of the translations and things that it has you do help to translate Wikipedia articles into different languages. I hope that’s true, because it’s a pretty cool way to crowd source something like that without making it a task.

Little Learners Play and Learn is a simple app that teaches words, a little bit about animals and food, and lets children manipulate objects on the screen (bounce a ball, rock a rocking horse, etc.). There are two in-app purchases available, nicely placed behind a code that would prevent most small children from accidentally making a purchase. There is also a book list, but most of them have no connection to the app other than sharing a publisher. I can see this being a good app for a very young child that responds better to movement, perhaps for when you are on the road and can’t bring as many physical toys.

Who can resist a Bill Nye app? I grew up on those videos in science class (on the massive laser discs that lasted for…. not long). The app has all sorts of fun things you can do – digging games to learn about the earth’s crust, optical illusions, and more. There are also video clips about specific science topics (gravity, for instance) that you can purchase. This could be very fun for someone who is into science. It captures the Bill Nye quirkiness, too!

Khan Academy is pretty impressive. It has mini video lectures on all sorts of topics, from applied mathematics to Obamacare, art history from 400 C.E. to cool science projects. Each video has a transcript below it, with timestamps. I was not expecting the breadth of information, I thought it would be more limited to grade school. There’s that, too, but it goes far beyond that. There is test prep help for the SAT, MCAT, GMAT, AP Art History, CAHSEE and IIT JEE (which I don’t even recognize). This is all in the free app, not even the paid content! Wow. I can see this being really handy not just for students, but for parents trying to help them figure out their homework, or someone just trying to make sense of something they heard on the news or read about. Really, really cool stuff.

Thing 17 is about learning about what’s going on around you in the community at large. This topic was full of recommended apps that I wanted to use immediately, but I had to limit the post just to 3. There are certainly more on my devices now, though, and they are going to get a lot of use!

Going Out is an app put together by the Star Tribune, that compiles interesting things that are happening all over the Twin Cities. It pulls from movie showings, concerts and performances, museum exhibits, theatrical performances, as well as from well-reviewed restaurants and family-friendly places to go. You can search for things near you or from a different location. With each listing, they link to the website for it, provide address and phone number, showtimes if appropriate, show you a map, and also link to things near it for movies, shows, or venues (so that if you are going to go to Target Field, you can look at what else is in the area if you park way early before the game). It does also show what’s happening today or a week out. You can switch easily between events and venues, just check out what is listed as a best bet for the day, or mark certain venues and locations as your favorites to easily see what is going on at your favorite places. All in all, a pretty cool solution to the age old question, “what do we want to do tonight?”

As a Minnesota non-native, I have less experience with the nuttiness that is the State Fair. But I think even natives who go every year would find the Minnesota State Fair app really useful. Can’t find that new food truck that was there last year? Check out the food finder, listed alphabetically with a brief description of the location listed with the name. Not positive if it was that stand? Click on the name and they’ll tell you a little bit about what they serve. You can even take a quick look at the part of the map that it is on. The same is true for the shops, with the detailed description listing what they are and what they are selling. Perhaps the most useful, though, are the Fun Finder and general map. Fun Finder lists all the different performances, the times, description and locations. All of these sections work identically and are very self-explanatory. The icons for the different sections are very clear, and it took no time at all to figure it out. Searching lets you limit things to the day, location, or category, so if you just want to see what’s going on Thursday in the Bazaar, that’s easy enough to do. Like to plan in advance? You can scour the app for the things you want to do and then favorite them for easy reference later. I know this’ll be on my phone before we hit the fairgrounds this year (and henceforth!!), and I’ll use it in advance to figure out who is performing when so we know what day we want to head down to brave the crowds. Looks like the database is still last year’s info, but that should be updated pretty darn soon!

Minnesota 511 is an app I use frequently during the winter. Fire it up first thing in the morning to get a feel for how bad the roads are, and then adjust our schedules appropriately as a result. I works fairly well, though it can be hard to click on the right road to get details, and fairly easy to accidentally select one when you are trying to move or scale the map. But it makes it really easy to see at a glance where the problems are on the road, and if you need to be even more careful than normal.

As I said, there are a ton of great apps out there for Minnesota, and I would imagine for other places as well. It’s something I’ll definitely start looking for the next time I go out of town, all those little gems of apps that can get you finding the best joints and events in town. I really had fun with this!

Audio recording and editing is the focus of Thing 16. I chose to test Audioboo (not to be confused with Audiobooks, which I reviewed a few things ago). Audioboo is a simple recording app that allows you to post 10 minute recordings online. You can search various genre based channels for what others have posted, which could be just any old person recording whatever, or it can be comedians, radio or tv personalities, you name it.

Recording is pretty darn simple. You start a new recording, and hit record when you are ready. When you are done or need to stop because you messed up, you hit pause. You can trim the ends of the recording and continue, or you can post it as is. Trimming is also easy: just click on the scissors, then drag the handles where you want the recording to start and end. You can’t cut something out of the middle, however. You would have to trim the entire portion after it as well, and then re-record that whole portion. It is what it is, a basic, easy way to post 10 minute audio only recordings, and it certainly lives up to that!

I can see this being really handy for book talks, so you could have a library channel where staff post their book talks (for instance, for the various staff picks behind the service desk), or talk about new programs. Maybe even have authors share a little bit about their writing methods or their latest book. None of those need to be more than 10 minutes, so that limit is not a big deal. There are a lot of cool library possibilities for this, especially if you can connect it to Facebook somehow, or turn it into a podcast!

Thing 15 is about infographics and visualizing data. When I read that, I thought charts and tables and graphs. Imagine my surprise when I Visual Info Touch Lite (or iVi Touch Lite) was more about just text and images. It’s like a slide without it’s compatriots, just a one shot poster with information. Given my predisposition for graphs and tables, I was very surprised to find that I couldn’t even add any of those. Perhaps that’s because it’s the Lite version?

What you can do, however, is create a simple image with a background, basic provided shapes, and text. You can change the size and color of the images, as well as the opaqueness. You can also rotate images and text like in Word, by grabbing the little button at the top of the image. You have the same basic controls for each element you add other than the background, with the handles at the corners and edges for resizing, a trash button to remove unwanted elements, a color palette, and a gradient slider to make things more or less opaque. For text, you also get bold and italics as options. Otherwise you are stuck with the font they give you, and can only resize with the text box handles. The final option that the Lite version gives you is to add graphing paper style lines over the top of the image. Not particularly helpful, unless you are using them as a guide for placement of your elements.

That all said, it does do a great job of whipping up simple posters in quick order. My biggest complaint was actually the difficulty I had in selecting what I wanted, be it a text box handle, trying to move something, or even just clicking in the text entry area at the top. Even with a thin stylus it gave me far more trouble than I’ve ever had with anything. More frustration than I’d like, I’d probably just make a single slide in Haiku Deck instead. There does seem to be unlimited amounts of text boxes and images per graphic, though if I had this much trouble selecting the right thing with only 7 text boxes and two images, I can’t imagine how much of a nightmare it would be if you had even more. And to make it more complicated, you can’t zoom in or out, so have fun with those text boxes.

The only way to save an image in the Lite version is as a picture to your camera roll. Suits me just fine, but a little limited. I’m not positive what the paid version gets you, but I hope there’s a lot more to it. Also, as a bit of added interest, the app was confused about what way was up. Everything was right side up, but when I went to save, the confirmation box appeared upside down. Sure, the iPad was flat at the time, but you’d think it would still pop up the same direction as everything else. Weird.

Socialcam is the app for this week, about video sharing and editing. Usually I just use the Apple movie editor, and I don’t usually share a lot of videos (just put them in Dropbox or on Youtube/Facebook if I need to share them). This was, therefore, a bit of an experiment. I skipped Vine, because I feel like whatever I may do, I would want more than 6 seconds. But then when I saw how limited Socialcam was, I gave it a go as well. After all, I’m more likely to get questions about Vine, as it is better known.

Socialcam is pretty limited as an editor. You have a few options when you take your video, but that’s the extent of it. No trimming, no editing once you are done. You can change the filter (mostly the usual, but then a cool one that is black and white except for everything Red – reminded me of Sin City), or put it in HDR mode, and…. nope, that’s it. Sharing-wise, you can do the standard three: private, public, or just your friends. It looks like it gets some pretty widespread use – I saw comments in Asian languages, uploads of popular shows (clips from Ellen, NBC Nightly News, etc.). But as someone used to iMovie and Final Cut Pro, Socialcam just doesn’t do it for me – I want way more editing abilities.

Vine, it turns out, is just as limited, though more widely used. It’s much more pushy about connecting to friends and various social networks. It has less trimming options, and no filters, it’s just a straight up 6 seconds, recording whenever your finger is held on the screen. You can take it in chunks, but it won’t let you reorder them. From there, you can share it to whatever social networks you added to your account, give it a location, and that’s it. I’m not surprised that no one has asked questions about it before, it’s not complicated. When you first fire it up, it asks if you want a tour, as well. So I don’t expect any questions about Vine in the future, other than people wondering what it is as a whole.

The gist of this particular post is that I’ll stick to iMovie to make my videos. The ease of upload from the others is not enough incentive, especially since you can do the same from iMovie these days. Being able to add audio tracks and do really complicated cutting and trimming, add transitions and titles… so very worth it.