Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thing 23-Evaluate 23 Mobile Things

Overall the 23 Mobile Things MN has been a wonderful experience.  I think I really learned more than I had anticipated.  I sort of had an attitude of, "Well, I'm a digital native, a naturally-curious librarian, and someone who has had an iPhone for several years and used her first tablet in the fourth grade...what am I really going to learn here?"  But, I decided to do the program anyway because:

1) Its free. I'm a temporary substitute in one position and a part timer in another, which generally means neither job has allocated funds/time off/anything for my professional development or continuing education.  If I want to do something or attend something, costs are out of my own pocket and its done on my own time.  23 Mobile Things was great because its free, and was something that could be picked away at over several months, so I could fit it in around both jobs and my personal life.
2) I'm a naturally curious librarian.
3) I probably don't know as much as I think I do, and I realize that!
4) Why not?

I'm definitely glad I did complete the 23 Things.  I found apps that I didn't even realize existed (case in point-Apps Gone Free-an app you use to find other apps...WHAT?!) and apps that could be really useful and make life easier (document editing and presentation apps come to mind).  I also found fun apps that I now love and use all the time-Instagram and Snapchat, Duolingo, and various games apps come to mind.  I even used my county library system's app for the first time (and many times since then) as a direct result of this thing, despite the fact that it is not only a library I work for but also my home library system. 

I would definitely participate again if another 23 Things type program was offered. 23 Mobile Things MN has been a good experience and a lot of fun, and I learned quite a bit!  Big thanks to everyone who had a part in making this happen-it takes a lot of work to put something like this together and keep it going, and I definitely appreciate it!!  Cheers!  ~Olivia

Thing 22-Discovering Apps!

We're in the final stretch!  Thing 22 is the last Thing that involves trying out apps (23 is a final thoughts/evaluation post) and this one was all about continuing to discover new apps, even after 23 Mobile Things MN wraps up!

The app I decided to try for this is Apps Gone Free, which is available for Apple only.  The idea of this app is it finds other apps that are usually paid but happen to be free for the day (I mentioned Ticket To Ride, a game app, frequently has sales on post 20-this app might be a good way to watch for it to go on sale!).  When you find an app you like you can click on it and you will be linked to that app in the App Store, where you can then download it.  I've seen at least 6-7 free apps each day I've used the app so far.  Another nice feature is that it also indicates, right on the main page listing all the apps of the day, whether the app is universal, for iPhone or for iPad only.  I've actually already downloaded 2 new apps using Apps Gone Free.  Both have been hobby type apps (one a game and one an audio app), and apps that I would have never bothered to buy, but if they're free, why not?!

I also tried out, an online search engine for apps.  First, choose your platform (Android, iPad, iPhone, etc) then type in your search query.  It does show example search queries if you click on the search box but don't immediate type something (some I saw included "make a photo collage," "manage files," "shop online," and "improve battery life").  Once you start to type something in, it will offer suggestions based on what you are typing as well.  On the results page you can see the cost, a brief description, and ratings or click into an app title to see screenshots and a full description, much like you would in the App Store.  You can also limit results to free apps only, which is nice.  Also included are options to see trending apps or just browse apps by category (play, work, live, learn) and subcategory, so that even if you don't have something specific in mind you might still find new apps.  Overall a really well designed site!  I wish I had known about this and Apps Gone Free years ago when I first got my iPhone!

The other way I had discovered new apps in the past is just periodically checking in the Apple App Store.  Once you enter the app store, you can click on "Top Charts" to see listings of the most popular free and paid apps, either in general or by category.  Categories are numerous and include things like News, Education, Reference, Games, Photo & Video, Travel and more.  The downside to this, though, is that once an app has reached the Top Charts, it tends to stay there for a while so unless you are willing to click though a lot of top apps, you won't see new things too frequently.

Whoa.  So...that's it.  Those are all the Things.  Stay tuned for my final post, wrapping up my 23 Things experience!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thing 21: Free-For-All!

Thing 21 is a Free-For-All, meaning we get to choose whatever app we want to blog about.  After very little consideration, I'm going with a "Health and Fitness" theme and choosing to blog about MyFitnessPal (MFP) (Apple and Android).  Its a free app that is, hands down, the app I use most frequently, so it only seems right I include it here!

As I've mentioned before, I've lost a lot of weight, and a lot of that weight came off with the help of this app.  Its essentially a calorie counting, diet tracking app.  Create an account, input your information, select your goals, and MFP gives you a daily goal for your calories as well as macro and micronutrients (fat, protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, etc).  The database of foods includes literally millions of entries, so odds are if you're eating it, you can find it in the database and add it to your food diary for the day.  It also has a barcode scanner so if you're eating something packaged you can scan the barcode and up will pop the food you're eating and its nutritional information. Making a recipe?  Enter the ingredients and number of servings in the Recipe Builder and you'll have the full nutritional breakdown per serving that can be added directly to your diary.  At the end of the day (or anytime, really), the diary lets you view your full nutritional breakdown for the day-did you go over your sodium or sugar goals?  Get enough calcium or vitamin D?  You'll know for sure using the breakdown tools.

It also has entries for exercise.  Based on your gender, height and weight MFP estimates calories burned for a wide variety of physical activities-from gardening to basketball and running to snowshoeing and Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, if you move it, you can probably track it!  And, if you have a fitbit, BodyMedia, Nike Fuel or any other variety of fitness/step tracker, it very likely also syncs with MFP.

Its a great, easy to use app that is constantly being updated and improved.  It also has a .com version, so those without smartphones or those who just spend a lot of time on computers can use it.  I should also mention it has settings for those looking to maintain their weight or gain weight as well, so its not just for dieters but also weight lifters and athletes.  If you're looking to lose weight, or just get a better idea of what exactly you are eating and weather or not you're getting all the appropriate nutrients, this app is GREAT.  I cannot recommend it enough because, as I said, its helped me lose, and keep off for over a year, 100+ pounds.  As far as library applications, it could be combined with programming as an additional resource. 

Ok, end of testimonial :)  Sorry, I can't help but love MFP.  Anyway, things are just about to wrap up!  Stay tuned as I post the final two blog entries in the next day or two! 

Thing 20-GAMES!

Ok all, I am super excited about this thing!  My friends and I are big gamers-board, tabletop, card, phone; you name it, we play it!  I'll try to keep this relatively short...Try.

Sadly, one of the games in the official 23 Things post for this Thing, Take Ten! (one of the few I hadn't already heard of or tried, and was actually super excited about) isn't available for Apple.  It's a cruel world, folks.  But I've got plenty of others!

Candy Crush Saga (Apple and Android)-As stated on the official 23 Things page, you can't have a games Thing without mentioning Candy Crush Saga!  I first heard about the app at the Medical Library Association's 2013 Annual Conference.  One of the speakers had his current CCS level in his introduction, and when I heard the chorus of impressed 'Ooohs!' and 'Ahs!' around the room I knew I had to see what the hype was about.  If you've played Bejeweled, CCS is very similar.  Super easy to learn and very addictive.  Its one of my favorite time killers when I have a few spare minutes here or there, and it doesn't require wifi or data to play, which is always a plus. [Free, with in-app purchase options]

Another huge one is Words With Friends, or its sister app Scramble With Friends (Apple and Android).  WWF is essentially like Scrabble, you play one opponent (it can be random or a friend via Facebook or your contacts).  SWF again allows you to challenge friends (or random opponents) to a three-round game, only this time it presents you with a 4x4 grid of letters from which you have to make words.  If you like word search puzzles, you'll love this app since its essentially the same thing but adds the fun of challenging a friend. I love love love these apps!  [Free and pro versions, with in-app purchase options]

Scrabble-If you like the board game, you'll like the app (Apple and Android)!  Play AI (computer generated) components, Facebook friends, random opponents, or in pass-and-play mode (multiple players sharing one device in one location) etc.  Generally, I only use this app when I want to play an AI game.  If I'm going to play something like this with live opponents, I'm going to use WWF, but Scrabble is a great, easy to use alternative when I can't (lack of wifi etc) play a live game or have a few minutes to kill!  [Free]

Text Twist 2 (Apple and Android) is another word game.  You are presented with a number of letters and have to find all the possible words that can be made from those letters.  There are a few different gameplay modes, but that's the gist of it.  Super easy to learn, mildly addicting, and if you like word games, you'll probably love this one.  ($0.99 for Apple, Free or $1.99 for Android)

If you're familiar with the board game Ticket to Ride you'll be pleased to know there is an app version (Apple and Android)!  If not, TTR is a competitive strategy game where you build train routes across a map, fighting to get the longest trains, best routes, and most points (its much more fun than my description makes it sound like!).  App gameplay is identical to the board game (there is also a great tutorial on the app if you need it), but the app's key feature is its flexibility!  On a road trip?  Pass the phone (or iPad/device) around to each passenger in the car and play live on one device.  Multiple devices on the same wifi network?  Start a local game and each play on your own device!  By yourself?  Play other random opponents live OR play up to four AI characters!  I've had this app for years, and I never get sick of it.  [Currently $6.99 in the Apple app store, but they often have sales; additional in-app purchase options for more maps.  SO WORTH IT.]

Sudoku by Finger Arts is another favorite [Apple only, I think]!  If you are somehow unfamiliar with Sudoku, its a number based logic game that seems mind boggling at first glance but is relatively simple and very addictive!  Another good time killer that doesn't require wifi, this is a pretty basic, not-to-many frills app for Sudoku.  There are a few appearance options, some game play options, and increasing levels of difficulty that unlock as you successfully complete puzzles-what more could you need? [Free]

Did you ever play the Gold Miner game online growing up (or judgement!)? (  My friend and I played the heck out of that thing when we were teens, and I was pumped to find out it is available as an app (Apple and Android, titled Gold Miner Classic HD Free on Android)!  Called Classic Miner Free for Apple, it replicates the original game exactly for a shot of nostalgic, addictive fun!  If you're not familiar with it, you are a gold miner and have to get gold, diamonds, and other treasure (or rocks, if you're unlucky!) from the ground using a swinging hook mechanism in a series of increasingly difficult layouts.  Super easy to catch on, super hard to stop!  [Free]

Ok, that's already eight games.  I better stop here, but trust me I could go all day!  Generally there probably isn't a whole lot of direct library application for this one, aside from possible use in programming.  On International Games Day, for example, my library had all sorts of games-video, table top, etc.  I don't think we had any iPad in there (I could be wrong-I didn't actually participate in planning or running this event), but we very easily could have loaded up a couple iPads with games and let users play individually or in groups for pass-and-play games like Ticket To Ride and Scrabble.  BRB, gotta go do some gaming!  :)

Thing 19-Hobbies!

This Thing is all about hobbies!  Developing them, finding new ones, finding new creative outlets, you name it.  But first-another update!  Remember back in Thing 10-Sharing Photos when I didn't have anyone to Snapchat with, so I never got to try the app?  Now I do!  My best friend got the app, so we have started Snapchatting.  The app isn't as intuitive as I thought-both my friend and I were puzzled about a few things and felt like we didn't know what we were doing at first (I even had to Google some how-to guides since the app doesn't have a tutorial or a  'Help' guide).  But, now that we have the hang of it we've been loving it and snapping daily!  Very fun but with a definite learning curve.

Now-to the task at hand!  As I mentioned before (Thing 17-Connecting to Community), I have lost a lot of weight and am constantly striving to be more active and healthy.  Its no surprise that a lot of my apps are related to those goals.  One of my all time favorite hobby apps is Zombies, Run! (Apple and Android).  Zombies, Run! is an immersive, adventure, story line app that develops as you run.  When you're ready to run (indoors or out), you start up the app.  Every time you run you hear a bit more of the story.  The audio is very well done-they have different voice actors for each character, sound effects, you name it.  In the very first story you find out there has been a zombie apocalypse of sorts, and the helicopter you're in crashes right into the midst of it, but you survive!  Thankfully, a local group of survivors spot you and contact you via your headgear, leading you to their base.  Each time you run, you learn more about yourself, the apocalypse, the local group of survivors, and so on learning more of the plot each time.  I won't lie-I've laughed out loud and even borderline held back tears while using this app (yes, mid-run!); the story line is so good!

You can set the app up for mission lengths of about 30 minutes or 60 minutes, and bits of story line are interspersed with music from your phone (after every or every-other song, depending on length of mission, you hear more plot).  You also gather supplies as you run (you'll hear things like "Collected an ax and a pair of shorts" as you go).  Long distance runner?  No worries, it switches to "Radio Mode" and you hear radio broadcasts and stories after your official mission is over.  You can even enable "Zombie Chases" to do interval training-your GPS on your phone tracks your speed, and when you are warned that zombies are approaching you (you can hear them grunting and moaning behind you!) if you don't pick up the speed enough they can catch you and steal supplies.

I literally cannot explain enough how awesome this app is.  If you're even vaguely interested in it, just get it!  And yes-you could absolutely use it walking as well, you don't HAVE to be running (though I think they do make a version specific to walkers but I haven't tried it).  It is incredible, the designers have really thought of everything, and are constantly doing updates as well to make it even more awesome.  The app itself is $3.99 and there are multiple in-app purchases available as well.  They've got three season's worth of missions, races, and more.  I've had this app for probably about 2 years-it never gets old, there is always new content, and I don't regret a single penny spent!

iFunny :) (Apple and Android, free) is another one that would probably fall under 'hobby.'  Its a collection (ever-expanding) of "humorous" GIFs, pictures and videos. Note I put "humorous" in quotes-The content of the app is created by its users, and everyone's definition of humorous varies, so yes, there are some off-color things, cursing etc. in there occasionally, but if that doesn't bug you, this might be a good app to either view or create things. 

One in-library use I can definitely see for hobby-related apps would be for use in programs!  For example, if the library is putting on a program about gardening, they could include apps related to gardening (like MyGarden, mentioned in the official post for this blog).  MyGarden, though I didn't try it myself, sounds somewhat like Facebook for gardening.  If participants of the program decided to download the app and add each other, it could be a great tool to continue the learning and interaction after the program ends!  Of course, you'd probably want to add in some wordage about apps not being official endorsed or maintained by the library etc. etc. to be safe, but in general hobby apps could be a great additional resource to accompany programming! 

Thing 18-Education

Thing 18 is Education, and has been one of the most difficult Things for me-in a good way!  There are so many apps out there that can be used for education, and education of so many topic areas, that it was hard to pick just a few to review (y'all want a blog post, not a book, to read!).

The first app I tried out was Duolingo.  I had heard about it before; my best friend's boyfriend is German, but was raised mostly in the US, so he doesn't speak much of the language despite still having lots of family in Germany.  So, he had found Duolingo and was working on learning German on the app!  He said it was great, and I added it to my list of things to check out, but never got around to it until this Thing came up.  I majored in Spanish and studied abroad in Spain twice as an undergraduate, but since then have been getting rustier and rustier for lack of practice.  Duolingo seemed like a perfect way to brush up, so I decided to try it!  Users have to first create an account, then choose which language you'd like to learn (Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese).
You get a walk-through describing the app, you set a goal for how much time you'd like to invest in using the app each day, and then you're off!  I liked that there was the option to test out of introductory material as well. 

The app is very user friendly once you are started.  There are a number of different skills included, which, from an education and language acquisition standpoint, is key!  For example, the app presents information in the target language and asks for an English language translation, and vice versa.  It will play an audio clip and ask you to transcribe it, or allow you to listen to a clip and ask you to repeat it (using the microphone-if you are in a location where you cannot speak, there is also an option to indicate that).  In that way, its much more thorough then many other language-learning apps and websites I've seen.  Best of all-its free!  I was amazed and puzzled at how such an app could be free, so I decided to head to the website (by the way, you can login and complete activities either on the app or on the website, in case your mobile device isn't handy or you don't have one).  Apparently, Duolingo is free because outside entities can submit information that needs translating and the Duolingo users then translate that information as they practice their lessons, then when the translation is complete the entity pays a fee for the service-who knew?  That strikes me as a very creative solution to funding, and its nice because the app, though free, doesn't even have ads!  Overall I was hugely impressed with this app and have finally found the motivation and (fun!) tool to help get me back on track linguistically! 

I've also used Fooducate in the past.  A friend recommended it to me.  If you don't know much about nutrition, it is a great app!  You search for a food to find nutritional information and a grade (A, B, C, or D) for that food.  It can now also be used as a food tracker.  Its a neat concept, but a little too basic for me-I know quite a bit about nutrition so it didn't really teach me much, and I eventually wound up deleting it for lack of use.

And, of course, as a child of the nineties, I HAD to try the Bill Nye the Science Guy app (Apple only).  As soon as it didn't have the signature "BILL! BILL! BILL! BILL! BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY!" intro I was a little disappointed  ;)  The app itself was ok; certainly aimed at a young audience but I spent my fair share of time learning about planets and launching rockets.  The nice thing is there are multiple different things you can do.  The downside is there isn't really any tutorial, though the appropriate audience for this app probably doesn't want tutorials-they just want to get in and explore!

Briefly, another app I really like is ASL Dictionary.  Its not free ($4.99 for Apple and Android), but it has over 5,200 words with videos, not just images of the sign, which makes learning/using a word correctly much easier!  Its also really good about providing signs for all the possible meanings of a word-take 'block' for example.  There are four different videos-block as in a block in a neighborhood, a toy block, a building block, or block as in an obstruction.  Its not a very fancy app, but when you need a sign, odds are this app will have it!

Stick around, I'm following this post with several others!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thing 17-Connecting to Community!

This Thing looks at ways we can connect with our community via apps!  I think this Thing is super important, for a number of reasons.  First, I tend to (perhaps optimistically) think of libraries as a center of community life, and as a part of the a connection to all the other goings-on in the community.  Keeping up-to-date with community news and events is a key part of that, and apps such as the ones I'm about to review can be key in that.  Secondly, a library is often a first stop after new people or families have settled into town, and I think these would be great resources to add to the library's newcomer's kit (be it formal or informal).

For this app I downloaded St. Paul Connect, Going Out, and Explore Minnesota (all available for Apple and Android).

St Paul Connect allows users to user the app with or without creating an account.  The apps main focus is not on events so much as on giving residents/visitors an opportunity to connect with the city of St. Paul.  For example-if you spot something that seems wrong/out of place/broken in the city (examples included abandoned vehicles, noise complaints, parks and trails, graffiti, tree issues and much more!), the app allows you to snap a picture of it, add a description, it automatically adds a location based on the GPS in your device, then your issue is submitted and forwarded on to the proper personnel!  You can also see a map of reported issues in your area (again, based on GPS)!  Near one of the libraries I work at I spotted reports of potholes, a broken traffic light, parking violations and excessively tall grass.  The feature allows you to see when something was reported, and you can even see issues that were reported and resolved.  If you live in St. Paul, you can register to be shown in the "Neighbors" feature.  I don't live in St. Paul, but think this app is GENIUS.  I didn't actually submit a report myself, but the process seems super easy and I like that you can check the map to see if someone else has already reported the issue, and how recently.  More cities should have apps like these!

Going Out, made by the StarTribune, will ask for your current location when you open up the app.  Then, you'll see a list of 10 options, including Art & Museums, Stage & Comedy, Movies, and more.  Click on a category and you'll see a listing of events that fit in that category that can then be filtered by near your current location, a specific zip code, date, venue, or searched by keyword.  When applicable, there are direct links to purchase tickets, which is really nice!  Overall its a good, very easy to use app that will certainly come in handy, but it has a few setbacks.  For example, ongoing events (a Beatles exhibit, for example), will be listed repeatedly for each date they run, rather than just once with a date range (example: Monday-Sunday, June 1-30).  A single listing and date range would do a lot to clean the app up visually and improve user experience.  But overall, I like the wide range of events gathered on this app and will definitely keep it in mind!

Explore Minnesota's app is targeted at having active users-the logo even contains the word "Active," so the information it provides is all about getting active in the great state of Minnesota!  The app itself is simple and requires no login.  When you open it there are two options-Experiences or My List.  Clicking into Experiences brings up a menu of options including golfing, hiking, paddling, runs and walks, and more.  In theory, you click into any of the categories and, using your GPS, the app will find listings of events near you.  I LOVE the idea of this app.  About a year ago I lost a significant amount of weight and have become much more active.  I love running, walking, and hiking and just tried kayaking for the first time last week.  This app would be perfect for me as it could help me discover new places and events to help me stay active.  The bad news?  Whenever I opened the app, I got an error message saying Google has disabled the Maps feature on the app and if you were the app owner, you could visit a website for more information.  That disabled feature seemed to prevent me from seeing listings of events-I would only ever see a "Loading listings..." message.  But, I'm so in love with the idea of this app that I contacted Explore MN (to make sure they're aware of the issue) and I'll keep checking back to see if it gets fixed sometime soon!

Next time I'll be posting about a big one-Thing 18-Education!  Until then, cheers!