I didn't really intend to take six months off from my blog. I was actually doing pretty well, but then along came summer and a long vacation and then, as I say, the wheels came off. I didn't seem to have much time for anything but work and trying to adjust to a husband who was essentially retired and home. All. The. Time. After so many years of solitude, it's been an adjustment, to say the least. So the days flew by and the calendar pages kept flipping and here we are in January. At the end of January, I might add. But despite that fact and the fact that I'm not a New Year's Resolution type of person, life has indeed settled down a bit and I'm happy to re-engage in the Blogosphere.
My voracious "app"etite has slowed a bit, I find. Either I have every app worth its place on my iPad/iPod and now - iPhone, or they just aren't making them like they used to. It was bound to happen. The other thing that happened, of course, was the upgrading to iOS7, which rendered some of my older apps obsolete, such as Magic Piano. The good news--and there's always good news, isn't there?--is that I found a great new app that works on all my devices. To wit: LIfe Ticker. Want to know exactly how many years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds are past or left to the important moment in your life? Life Ticker (Lite and Pro versions) will do that for you. Type in the event, then select the CountUp option for past dates or CountDown option for future dates and let the tracking begin! You can also share your dates and photos with family and friends via Facebook & Twitter!
I already have Erin's and Lee's graduation dates and Emma's First Communion on the board. Now I can see how much time I have until I have to panic because I didn't get a gift! By checking one of my favorite apps, AppsGoneFree, I was able to get Life Ticker Pro version for Free. And by the way, I'm glad to be back. Look for another recommendation from The Granny Apple in the not so distant future!
It’s summer. In what leisure time you have, you probably just want to stretch out in a hammock with an icy glass of lemonade, or hit the beach with the latest trashy novel. The last thing on your mind is any form of working out—ab crunches, jumping jacks, push ups, and oh, it exhausts me just to think of pushing my body to move beyond lifting a glass or turning a page.
My mind, though? Well, I sure don’t want that to go on hiatus. I have enough problems as it is. So I need these mental workouts to keep my wits sharp.
The first is one aptly (or is it apptly?) called Fit Brains. Created by a clinical neuropsychologist, this app puts you through a series of deceptively simple exercises in areas such as concentration, problem solving, memory, speed, etc. Which collection of coins is the larger amount? Spot the difference in shapes. Sort objects into matching groups. The app itself is Free, but if you want to up your game, as it were, you can subscribe on a monthly, annual or lifetime basis. I plunked down ten bucks for a year—probably about the same as I’d spend on suntan lotion and a paperback. Now I get various levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Levels are locked until you reach a certain level of competency. Your performance is tracked and even measured against others in your age and sex category. At the moment, I’m sorry to admit that I’m only 35% better than other females my age in the memory category. No wonder I can never find my glasses!
Lumosity is also a nice free brain trainer. The problems are a bit different, but you can extend your workout in similar areas: memory, attention, speed, flexibility, and problem solving. I like the pinball game, but it’s hard! You have to figure out where a pinball shot into one side will bounce off bumpers and come out. It starts out easy, but pretty soon those bumpers disappear quickly and you have to remember where they were and in what direction they were pointed. Unfortunately, the price to unlock a lot of the exercises is pretty steep - $79.99/year. But you can have fun and get a decent workout at the free level.
Good thing we don’t own a bird. There would be nothing in our house to put at the bottom of its birdcage. Or start our fire with, either. We gave up on “paper papers” quite a while ago. At first, I really missed having something to read while I ate my breakfast. We relented a couple of times and got The Wall Street Journal, but ended that when I realized that just about the only thing I read in it were the Personal Journal and Walt Mossberg’s technology column. When we traveled, we’d get a free copy of USA Today from the hotel and I’d carry that around for a while. For the most part, though, I got my news from the computer.
Enter the iPod and iPad. Now I could once again read the news while having my egg and toast. The first news apps I downloaded were USA Today and a digest from several sources called Fluent News Reader, both of which I liked very much. But of course, they changed. USA Today added a whole bunch of video stories and Fluent News has dropped off the radar. I have to admit that I just don’t enjoy video news. A lot of it has to do with the commercials they sneak in, but maybe it’s because I’m more of a word person.
Here are my current picks for news apps.
The Wall Street Journal has some content available for free, but if you subscribe, you can get the entire paper. Still there are quite a few free articles available. And I can often get Walt Mossberg!
USA Today (free) is the app I usually go to first, video content aside. It does have several sections—Top Stories, Sports, Money, Life, Technology, etc.—with probably twelve or so stories apiece. A story on technology, say, would also appear as part of the technology section, and if you’re tired of hearing the word “Kardashian,” I’d suggest staying away from the Life section.
Pulse for iPad is also a pretty good app, and free, as well. You can choose your own sources to follow, which show up as strips across your screen. You can swipe for additional content. You do tend to get repeats a lot, but, well, the news is the news.
Try these three out. There are plenty of others out there, too. All this digital news has led to the downfall or cutting back for many dailies. I’m not sure if there are any crusty old editors out there these days. I like to think so. When I worked for a newspaper many moons ago, I had my very own Lou Grant wannabe. Another American icon lost to progress.
It’s 2 a.m. and your eyeballs are stuck in the Open position. You’ve tried counting sheep, drinking warm milk and reading a boring book. Nothing works. Or maybe you’ve just arrived home after a busy day and all you want to do is kick back for a while. Never fear! Your iPod/Pad is near! Today I have six apps that will help distract your mind enough so you can relax. Don’t you just love lying in bed on a Saturday morning in summer and listening to the rain outside your window? (Unless you have a big outdoor event planned, that is.) Just the steady drip, drip, drip or even the rumbling of distant thunder is enough to send you off into one of those states where you’re half asleep and half awake. No wonder, then, that almost every relaxation app in my own repertoire contains the sound of rain or water in some form. (As a side note, just as I was typing this, I became aware that I was hearing rain. Since it was a gray, gloomy day and had poured a few hours earlier, I assumed it had started up again. Then I put my ear to my iPad. The rain sound was coming from there!) Anyway, in addition to rain and rivers and the seashore, these apps almost all have other sounds that you might want to put in the background of whatever you’re doing. SimplyRain provides nothing else but—rain! Oh, yeah, you can add a bit of thunder, if you like, to liven things up. Controls allow you to change the intensity and volume and set the time for anywhere up to a full day, if your battery will last that long. In addition to rain, Sleepmaker All in One Free offers waves and storms and streams and even throws in some crickets and frogs, and even a crackling campfire. (All of which I’m okay with, as long as I don’t hear bears foraging around for picnic food!) With this free version, you get about 35 different sounds, but if you spring for the full version ($5.99), you get up to 110 different sounds. That’s enough to put you to sleep for a long, long time. There’s also a Sleepmaker Rain Free with rain sounds that go from gentle to heavy, including rain in gutters, onto canvas (as tents, I suppose), against windows, in puddles, on your car roof, and so on. Check them all out! Relax Melodies has a whole bunch of stuff, not just rain and water. If such things relax you, you can try out a Grandfather Clock, Monks Chant, Flute. Relax Melodies Seasons adds even more interesting sounds. How about a blizzard? Horse and Wagon? Spring birds? Downtown? Whales? No? Well, how about a Lawnmower? Personally, I think not, but it might work if you can relax knowing that somebody else is cutting the grass. The neat thing about this app is that you can just keep adding sounds on top on one another. Try Family at the Beach, mixed with Hockey Arena and a Train! It’s actually just fun playing with the mixes and I guess that can be relaxing in and of itself. Finally, Ambiscience 300 offers not only the usual type sounds, but also some pretty awesome zen-like meditation style music. You'll find a whole lot of options for your relaxing pleasure. I might mention here that almost all of these apps offer some form of what’s known as “white noise,” which can also be pink or blue, or so I learned when looking it up in Wikipedia. As I tried to wade through the technical descriptions (and failing to comprehend much), I finally decided that it was basically “no noise noise.” You can look it up. It’s often used to treat tinnitus, a condition where the ear constantly hears a whistling or other type of sound. If you have it, you probably know it.
Try out the Free version of Paper in the App Store
Maybe I never quite grew up, but I love kids’ stuff! And if you have a kid in your life—your own kid, your grandkid, or somebody else’s, there are some wonderful apps out there for them—and you!--to enjoy. I don’t have any grandkids nearby, but I keep downloading apps for when we visit. I have to confess that I love checking them out myself and occasionally learning a thing or two in the process.
Apps can be loosely divided into groups according to their purpose: educational, books, games and so on. Here are a few examples.
One of my favorite apps, and one I keep showing to others when they wonder what’s good about having an iPad, is Nighty Night. It’s an interactive book about farm animals going to sleep. Click on one of the lighted windows in the farmhouse and you’ll see an animal: sheep, cow, chicken, fish, etc. Touch the animal and it will make a sound or perform an action. You can touch it three times and get new reactions each time. Somewhere on the panel, a light switch glows. Touch it to turn off the light and the animal will settle down for the night. The whole experience is enhanced by the British narrator. Who doesn’t love a British accent? (Ever heard the Harry Potter books in audio? Awesome!) It's listed as $2.99 currently, but it will occasionally be found on sale.
Another favorite read is The Monster at the End of This Book, starring lovable, furry old Grover. The story, in traditional book form, has been around for quite a while. My own kids loved it. But the app is absolutely addictive. Grover doesn’t want you to keep turning the book's pages because, as the title suggests, there’s a monster at the end of the book, and he’s really afraid of monsters! Talk about interactive! Aside from turning pages, you can also take nails out of a boarded up page, knock down a brick wall, or untie ropes, thus defeating all of Grover’s attempts to keep you from reaching the end. I’ve seen this book occupy a three year old for hours—which is good if you have a long car trip in the offing. There is another similar book with the addition of Elmo. I’ve never been a big Elmo fan and the kids I’ve seen try it have almost always elected to go back to Grover.
Here’s a great alphabet app that works on more than one level. Endless Alphabet features a motley crew of darling monsters who show that it’s possible to have fun with a bunch of letters. They run over words, scattering the letters all over, leaving it up to you to put them back in place. There’s lots of action that helps define the words, as well. It’s clever, creative and amusing. Kids will love it so much, they won't even realize it's educational.
Who knew it could be such fun to run a hair salon? The Toca Boca people, that’s who! Check out all the various Toca Boca apps, such as Hair Salon 2. You get to choose a character, wash their hair/beard, dry it, curl it, straighten it, dye it, add accessories and even save and share it. There’s even a special app where you can do all that to Santa Claus! They can cost a dollar or two, but once in a while you’ll find them on a special for free. Thanks to my friend, Colleen, and her kids for suggesting them.
And finally, here’s an app that anyone who likes to draw will fall in love with. Paper is probably the premier drawing app out there. There’s a basic free version, but I ended up purchasing the entire thing for $8. I pay that much for a hamburger that’s gone in ten minutes, whereas Paper will be around for a long, long time. The app allows you to create separate notebooks for your art work, select an implement (pen, brush, eraser, etc.), choose a color or mix your own (in the paid version), and then steps back and lets you create. The interface is simple and the drawing lines can be so elegant. A recent upgrade even allows you to post your art work in a gallery and check out what others have done. It’s more fun for little fingers—and for adults—than scribbling on the living room wall! Note: There are a TON of drawing apps out there, a lot of them free.
TIP: The best way to figure out if an app is something you want permanently on your iPod or iPad is to download it, then find a kid and hand over your device with the app open and watch. You’ll have your answer soon enough. (You may have a tough time getting your phone back, though.)
It was unthinkable only a short while ago that you would be reading your mail, booking hotels and flights, checking the weather, playing the piano, editing photos and a lot more while you were snuggled up in bed. Having an iPod/iPhone or iPad can save all the time you used to spend trying to get information by means of the phone book, the encyclopedia, Fotomat or your own personal darkroom, a barometer or having a baby grand in your parlor.
But as much as I love my gadgets, there’s one downside to them—waaaay too much sitting! I don’t know about you, but it’s a wonder my “aft” isn’t the size of Texas. If, like me, you find yourself tending to migrate all over the prairie, there’s actually a ton of apps to help you prevent it. I don’t have time to explore all of them, so I’ll just present the one that works for me (and a lot of other people) and you can check out some others, if need be.
MyFitnessPal is a great little app that allows you to track your calories, exercise, and weight on a daily basis. It’s completely Free, too. And you know how I like Free!
Last year, I decided that The Time Had Come to take care of myself a little better. I needed to lose weight and start exercising. Tracking calories has always been a system that worked for me and I use to have a web site where I plugged in all my information. It worked, but after a while, as with all diets and workout programs, it became a bit of a drag. I hated sitting at the computer to enter in all my data. So this time, I figured there had to be an app for that, as they say, and immediately stumbled upon MyFitnessPal. I liked the looks of the app, and found that keeping track of my food intake was pretty easy. I could sit at the counter where I often take my meals and log them in on my iPad while I was eating. The food section saves pretty much anything you plug in, so if you have a glass of juice and an egg every morning, as I do, you just have to check a box and add it to your breakfast. Automatically, it totals the calories, as well as the carbs, fats, and protein. You set your own calorie goal, so you can always easily see how many calories you’ve gone through or whether you might have enough slack left for a cookie before bed.
For weighing in, this app keeps track of your progress (or lack of it) on a graph. It’s neat to see those lines going down and a jolt when you’ve run headlong into a holiday.
When I first started using MyFitnessPal, I also started putting what exercise I’d done that day. It told me how many calories I’d burned. I figured if I’d entered in a weight loss number of calories and “earned” more by exercising, I could splurge a bit. That didn’t work too well, so I eventually stopped entering the exercises. Not stopped doing them, mind you.
There’s a social aspect to MyFitnessPal, as well, but I’ve not explored that option. I have enough trouble keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, and my emails.
MyFitnessPal syncs across all your devices and also your computer.
Just so you know I didn’t wimp out on this, I did try another app called Gorilla Workout, which I also got for free. That has a workout program and I actually started to try it—until it came to the crunches. At my age, the only things I crunch are potato chips and popcorn. But if you’re up for a little more serious workout, give it a try.
And for those who like yoga, I’m sure there are apps for that, too. Even more fun, I have another one called Bonzai Master Studio, where you can make your own bonsai tree. You get your choice of tree shapes, leaves, a pot, and other things to decorate your own washitsu (a Japanese room). All very zen.
(Lee, I hope that does it for you- -at least a little bit.)
Do you shop? Of course, you do! Even if you’re a guy. I don’t mean spending three hours in a department store looking for just the right pair of jeans. I mean food shopping, and with food shopping, I want to get in and out of the store as fast as possible. Plus, I want to come home with all the stuff I need.
Ah, the old paper grocery list. Pinned up by a magnet onto the refrigerator door, it was the place where if you were on the verge of running out of sugar, you jotted it down. And milk. And eggs. My mom used to use the back of envelopes—the gas or electric bill, for example. She was an early recycler! For eons, the paper list served people well. The only problem was—you had to remember to bring the list with you to the store. That’s where I always fell short.
No more. I have a nifty little app on my iPod—and I am absolutely NEVER without my iPod tucked into my pocket.
myShopi works well for me. Since I do my grocery shopping at more than one store, it allows me to make a note of what item I need at what store. It even has cute little graphics of, say, canned corn or bananas and the like, in case you forget what they look like. You can tick items off as you put them in your cart and then delete the list when you’re done. Put regularly purchased items like coffee or cereal in your Favorites list. There’s a bar scanner, too, although I’m not quite sure if that’s a big plus. I haven’t used it at all. The best thing is that if you need a few things and want somebody else to pick it up for you, you can send your list to them via text or email. No ending up with ground beef when you wanted sirloin steak!
I’ve had a few other shopping apps, but this one seems to do the trick nicely.
Here’s a nice app referral from my friend Kate - CardStar. This is where you can enter the bar codes from all your loyalty cards, such as the supermarket, Panera, and even your library, scanable at checkout counters. Imagine not having to lug around ten pounds of plastic on your key chain! Although I guess a loaded key chain could possibly be considered a security measure, something like having a nunchuck handy.
The portability of the iPhone, iPod and iPad is probably the biggest reason for the explosion of apps related to photography. Not only can you take a picture with a camera that's easy to slip into your pocket, but you can play with it—change it up, enhance it, crop it, post it, and send it pretty much as soon as you can click the shutter.
There is probably a 12 Step Program for photography app addicts like me. In preparation for writing this blog post, I was curious as to just how many I had on my iPad. Color me embarrassed. I counted nearly 100! Not including the ones I’ve already deleted because they either crashed or didn’t offer too much that was different. Those are pretty much photo editing apps, not camera apps, since my iPad is a bit creaky in the joints these days—i.e. it's so old, it has no camera. So, I use my iPod for taking pictures and the iPad for editing them. Seems to work pretty well for me. Of course, if you have one of the newer iPads, you're all set and ready for action!
There is no earthly way I even know what each one of my apps does, much less can recommend them all to others. But there are a few favorites, so I’m going to give it a whirl.
The four apps I’m highlighting this week are, for the most part, camera apps which take photos that are enhanced in some way immediately. I think they’re fun.
First, one of my new favorite camera apps is Momentsia and everyone I’ve shared it with already loves it, too. Opening the app gives you collage set-up options, anywhere from two pictures to sixteen or more. You just tap on the section you want to photograph and it takes the picture instantly and puts it on the grid. If you have a group of people, for example, you can make a collage using photos of each person. The first time I played with it, I used my breakfast. Here, in five photos, is my tea, my teapot, my egg shell, egg timer, and a bowl of yummy pomegranate. Lots of room for creativity here!
For those of you who know what Steampunk is (or even if you don’t), this camera takes a picture and then allows you to create an industrialized Victorian era photo. Okay, well, you can Google Steampunk or look it up in Wikipedia and that will get you a better explanation than I'm capable of giving. Once you take the picture, you can use slider bars to give it a variety of pressure marks or paper textures or color. But I guess a picture speaks more than a thousand words, right, so here’s a Steampunk Christmas tree! The app is called SP Phototada. I’m not quite sure why I love Steampunk stuff, but I do. I even have Steampunk earrings!
Paper Camera is another fun app. It gives you several choices of unusual effects for the picture you want to take. You decide what effect to use before you click the shutter. Here’s a cartoon style photo taken with Paper Camera.
Finally, rather than trying to get just the right shot, just let FastCamera keep taking pictures and you can sort them out later. The minute you open the app, it begins to snap pictures rapid fire at a rate you select in the Settings menu, anywhere from no time in between shots to five, ten, or even 30 seconds in between. You can stop the camera at anytime. Your pictures are kept in folders so you can choose which ones you want to keep. FastCamera is great for action pictures—as here, trying to get the best shot of some of your favorite people.
P.S. And by the way, most of these apps will save your pictures to your Camera Roll so you can email or download them. Happy Snapping!
It’s Easter weekend, when we should be thinking baby chicks and bunnies and little yellow ducks and tulips and daffodils, yet there is still snow outside my window. I could easily grumble about it, but since spring has never failed to show up—eventually, I’m just going to grin and bear it. With a little help from my friends.
My friends this week are two fun apps: Little Things Forever and Word Mess. Guaranteed to take your mind off almost anything, such as eating, going to bed, paying your latest credit card bill. . .
Little Things Forever is a search game, sort of like I Spy and Where’s Waldo? Each search field is contained in one of the objects that can be found in the game—an owl, vulture, whale, domino, goat, etc. A list will appear next to the search field that tells you what to look for. Once you’ve found it, just tap on it and you’ll get some lovely sparkly things to let you know you’ve chosen right. Most of the levels aren’t timed, but you can get a pat on the back and a comment anywhere from an “OK” to an “Excellent,” depending on how quickly you’ve completed the level. And after a certain number of levels, you unlock another object as a search field—a whale, perhaps, or a slice of watermelon. There are also some timed levels when you’re asked to find specific objects in two minutes. I tend to get more stressed out over those, but they're usually over quickly. And in between major levels are some pretty tricky puzzles. Yeah, it’s a bit addicting, but a nice way to take your mind off your troubles, if you have any.
Word Mess is another mind challenging game. You’re given one word to find in a field of many other words. Touch each one you find to eliminate it. It can be easy if your word is “stargazing” and the other words are short, like “art” and “graze.” But if the words are about the same length and composed of somewhat the same letters, it can be difficult. This is a timed game and for me, that can get frustrating when I’m not fast enough and a little bomb appears and blows everything to smithereens. The good news is they give you four or five chances.
Some people consider these types of activities timewasters, and there’s some truth to that. I prefer to call them mindbuilders and that, says I, will help to stave off the effects of getting older.
At the time I got both of these apps, they were free, however, at the moment, they aren't. But considering how much you pay to go to a two hour movie, it’s still pretty cheap entertainment, if you ask me.
I’m actually going to toss in a third app today, and the reason I was able to get Little Things Forever and Word Mess for free. It’s called AppsGoneFree, and the app itself is free, too. This is where I get most of my apps, and get them for nothing! Every day there are new apps available for just that one day. (I find they don’t release the new ones until after noon EDT, so if they don’t show up on your device at 8 am, wait a while.) My theory is, and I got this from another blogger, that you should get all the free apps you think you might enjoy, even if some of them end up less than useful. You can always delete them later, which I’ve done.
I hope it’s warm where you are and that you are enjoying the coming of the nice weather—whenever it decides to get there.
P.S. Next time, my biggest addiction—photography apps!
Like many other adults, I’ve always regretted not keeping up with my music lessons when I was a kid. Oh, I’ve managed to retain a few skills and still do like to sit down at the piano, but I’m a far cry from – well, even my eight year old grandson. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered Magic Piano, a neat iOS app from Smule. Just by placing my fingers on some moving dots, I can produce on my iPad reasonably recognizable renditions of a ton of songs in every genre, ranging from I’ve Been Working on the Railroad to Pachelbel’s Canon in D and everything in between. And I’m not limited to the piano, either. Magic Piano lets me choose from a variety of keyboard instruments, such as organ, harpsichord and even the glockenspiel! Skill levels are easy, medium and hard, so I can work my way up to a greater level of proficiency.
When you first sign up (and yes, you do have to establish an account), you’re given a few free songs. After that, you have some options. Free ones are available just about every day, but you can buy songs and also earn them through options such as watching videos, liking on Facebook, moving up to a new level, etc. I have to admit that so far I haven’t bought a single song with real money, but I have about a hundred on my list by earning Smula, their unit of “currency.” You can even get a little preview of each song before you buy, and if you own a song, you can get a full preview to help you figure out the rhythm.
Another neat thing about Magic Piano is the ability to share your playing with the world, not that I’ve done that much. Other subscribers can “heart” you. Plus, you can listen to people from all over - South Africa, Australia, Asia and the British Isles, to name a few. You can see where the music is originating from on a big globe.
Even my very youngest grandkids love playing songs on my iPad, and so do the older ones! As for me, I feel it helps keep my mind sharp and it’s also good exercise for my fingers.
Recently, I was with some friends who were celebrating their anniversary. I provided a pretty decent version of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.
This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and sure and I’ll be plinking out Danny Boy, Whiskey in a Jar, Wild Rover, The Irish Washerwoman, and When Irish Eyes are Smilin’.