Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thing #23: Evaluating and Looking Back

Over the course of the last few months--OK, last two months, really--I have found a lot of really useful apps and have also gotten much more in the habit of using my phone for things that I hadn't used it for before.  However, I also have found myself wasting more time on my phone with games, fun stuff, music, browsing for content, reading articles, and falling down internet wormholes.  I still think that my computer is a way, way better tool for some things...but now I recognize that my phone can work in a pinch or--for some things--just as well.  (I also decided that I kinda dig this whole blogging thing, so I started my own personal blog to keep track of personal projects....)  

I didn't really connect with others online doing the 23 Mobile Things.  I did look at a few people's blogs in the Jan. to April months when I wasn't actively working on my own blogging.  I also talked to other participants about 23 Mobile Things and with some nonparticipants asking for advice or thoughts about specific apps.

I really liked the format and the content.  The one suggestion I have is to consider putting the discovery component mid-way through the program.  That way people could have a chance to discover more stuff along the way and maybe find apps that would go with the later Things categories and/or for the sharing component.  Also, I know that I started being really active with my Things pretty late (at the beginning of May.  But in the last 6 weeks of the program I didn't get any comments from my official commenter.  It would have been nice to hear from him at least once after the initial comment way back in January.  

My favorite Things were probably #6 (Creating Docs), #7 (Content sharing and saving), #9 (Taking and sharing photos), #18 (Education), and #20 (Games).

My favorite discovered--and now among my most used apps--are Pinterest, Blogger, some of the photo editing ones, and Duolingo.

You asked if I would participate in another 23 Things program?  DEFINITELY!

This was a great program that really made learning new things manageable.  One of the reasons I hadn't done more exploration of mobile apps before was the plethora of apps out there and the lack of concentrated time to try new things.  This program gave great suggestions and also MADE me carve out the time to experiment.  Fun, educational, and--above all--really useful personally and professionally. Thanks for the good times!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thing #22: The continuing journey of discovery...

For this, the penultimate Thing, I took a look at Droid of the Day.  I liked that it covers a wide variety of apps, so no matter who you are or what you use your mobile device for, you will probably come across something useful or fun for you.  Some things seem dumb to me at first glance, but the reviews are short, sweet and clarify purpose, functionality, etc.  For example, today was an app to help you uninstall things.  I'm pretty sure I can do that without a special app to help me out.  (Actually, I know I can.  I've done it before...)But the review was helpful and said things like, if you are a person who tries a lot of free apps, this will let you more quickly uninstall them ASAP.  OK. Makes sense.  I still don't need it, but I can see how some people might wanna get it.

The first app I actually got from Droid of the Day was just the other day: Mini Warriors.  Fun so far.

I'm going to keep this one.  Like my Duolingo language lessons, I think that this one is unobtrusive, but with a daily notice, it won't let me forget about finding and/or trying new things as they come along.  Should help me stay off the dull edge of complacency about my phone apps as I move forward.

Thing #21: Apps that I think are great

I have a few apps that I love.  Most are not terribly useful professionally, but some could be.  Here goes:

Apps for places/events:
ALA conference apps: I used the app when I went to the conference last summer and will again this year.  It certainly has some glitches, but it does make it easier to condense possibilities and alternate options into one place.  The main problem is that there is just so much to look at.  I found it  easier to view it on the phone, but do the searching and scheduling on the web-based version on my PC.  I haven't started using this year's version in any depth, but it seems to work very similar to last year's.  And since I've had my smart phone for longer, it should be easier to use/figure out this time around.  

Smithsonian app: I used this one when I was in DC last month and I really liked it.  Allowed me to look up exhibits, hours, etc. while on the go.  Especially useful when plans changed or group members split up and we needed to pick a meeting point. There were a few issues with it not being 100% up-to-date, but those seemed to be things that just got overlooked (genuine errors) rather than a problem with not having any updates.

App for productivity:
Pandora: Music makes me work faster.  It just does.  I listen to music while I fix website code and fulfill ecommerce research requests at work.  I listen to music while I cook, do dishes, fold laundry, etc. at home.  I listen to music while I write emails to friends and blog about mobile apps that I try.  And yes, I *am* listening to music right now.  Pandora is a great free music service.  It has ads, but fewer than regular radio.  And it allows you to discover music that is related to music that you like.  I have a number of genre stations or stations based on a particular band.  My experience with Spotify creating playlists has been good, but I also like the serendipity of Pandora.  Plus, I'm fairly certain that you cannot pay to have your songs pushed more in Pandora through stations.  This does not seem to be true of Spotify.

Apps to save you money:
Gas Buddy:  When my dad first told me about this app, I thought it was kind of silly because I don't chase the cheapest gas prices.  However, it has actually saved me money.  It is a collaborative system where people enter the gas prices at the stations near them or that they visit.  The app then lets you look up gas prices using distance from your location, a map with pins that can be scrolled, or finding the cheapest gas within a particular radius.  It also sends you notices when gas prices in your area (the Twin Cities for me) are rising or falling.  Obviously, the app works better when more people participate.  Because of demographics, the gas stations near my folk's place get updated almost hourly, but where I live it is more like once or twice a day.  When travelling, it sometimes has super-updated info, but if you are going through rural places you might not have any info at all.  

I'm also a huge fan of Cartwheel, Target's money saving app.  I pretty much use it to knock a bit of money (usually 5 to 10%) off groceries and household stuff that I already buy.  And since I can use it with manufacturers and Target coupons, I can save even more!  Yay!  (Don't judge.  I'm a librarian at a non-profit cultural institution.  By definition I'm underpaid and swimming in student loan debt.  Every little bit of savings counts!)

App for down time:
Netflix:  I know people feel strongly one way or the other about Netflix, but let me make the case on this one.  I am annoyed that Amazon Prime refuses to get a mobile app that will work on android devices.  I'm a member of both Netflix and Prime, and the fact that Netflix can be streamed on my phone is a huge plus.  Perfect for watching on the treadmill at the gym and/or late-night vacation movie viewing (while staying with morning-people relatives).


Thing #20: Running, popping, and farming

I started playing candy crush a long time ago (well, less than a year, because I just passed my 1 year smart phone anniversary) and have been stuck on the same level (somewhere in the 200s) for months.  Since I refuse to buy any power-ups or cheats and have been doing the same level for so long, it has stopped being very fun and I'm taking a break.  In the meantime, I discovered Farm Heroes.  By the same people that created Candy Crush, it is similar but not exactly the same in mechanics, has cute dancing veggies, and fun sounds.  I would recommend it, but the vegetables have the same inherent problem as their less-healthy counterparts: eventually you will get stuck for a really long time on one level.  And without paying any money for special tools, it may seem impossible to beat....

So, for Thing #20, I tried out three new games on my phone.  (I was in airports for a long time last week!)  The first was Temple Run.  I have heard tons of people talk about it and I played it in the airport while waiting for my plane.  It is fast moving, you can play over and over, with a different path every time (which can also be frustrating, 'cause you can't learn the path to improve your performance!).  It is nice to have a kind of action-based game, which is more reflexive and less brain-intensive. In other words: Fun!  The downside: oh-my-god-does-this-game-suck-battery-power!!  (And heat up my phone!)  I literally had my phone plugged in and charging while playing and I never got anywhere in my charging.  In fact, there might have been a net loss of battery charge.

The second game I tried was Bubble Mania.  It is fun and cute and I do like it.  However, the "lives" on this one recharge at half the speed of Candy Crush and Farm Heroes (1 hour instead of 30 minutes per life).  Also, I'm super annoyed by their reminders to play.  Every time your lives fill up or if you haven't played in a while, the app sends you a reminder.  Um....yeah.  Bubble Mania, you are a game.  There is no reason for you to tell me that I "need" to play.  It is creepy and big-brother-like.  I may remove this from my phone soon, just because of the alerts.    

Finally, I tried Word Collapse.  It is a different kind of game and is sort of like really complicated word searches...where you don't have the list and the order you circle the words in matters.  I enjoyed it, but the free game has a limited number of themes and levels.  When I finish those, I won't be purchasing the more expanded version, no matter how cheap it is.  But I will probably seek out another word-based game.  (I have words with friends, but the a-synchronous nature is a different thing than a game I can play on my own.)

Thing #19: Hobbies and other fun things to do

For Thing #19 I tried one of the listed apps: Spotify.  I love music and listen to it all the time.  My very first experience was not super great, but I tried it again to be sure and I did enjoy it then.  Similar in vein to Pandora, but it is based more on what you know and like already.  I like that I can pick specific songs and make a playlist and that it has a discovery menu feature.  However, since it is based on what you know and what you've already listened to--rather than a genre, decade, theme, etc.--it is not as good at being a discovery tool as Pandora is.  I think I'm going to use Spotify for playlists and Pandora for just listening.  There will be usage on professional time (though not actual professional usage), because I listen to music while working on the website and editing documents at my desk.    

I've also been looking for an app to go along with my baking hobby.  You know: good recipes, good images, the ability to save favorites, maybe the ability to input my own recipes.  I've tried several, but haven't found one that I love yet.  So the search continues.  I tried the the Better Homes and Gardens app, but even after trying to download the supposedly-compatible app 4 times, it won't open on my phone.  So I'm giving up on that ghost.

I also tried the Food Network app.  Great pictures and nice search feature.  The idea of organizing by cook obviously works for them, but I don't actually have the Food Network, so I don't know all of the people and their specialties.  Makes it more of an exploration/adventure to find a recipe for me.  Also, the recipe box feature (which allows you to save recipes) won't work properly on my phone.  A bit irritating.  However, I will be trying a few Barefoot Contessa recipes in the near future.....

Thing #18: Educating Myself, one app at a time

For this Thing, I tried out Duolingo.  Since I took Spanish throughout school and college, I started with Spanish to see what I thought.  After trying it and figuring out the functionality, etc. I really liked it.  The lessons were a manageable length; included speaking, reading, writing, and listening; and it is formulated like a game so that it is more fun.  The idea of a daily, small set of exercises is totally manageable and I think it will be an advantageous way for me to review my Spanish language skills (which have been much under-used and fading for years).

I also tried the French version, since I've wanted to learn French since college, but haven't had the energy, time, wherewithal to do it.  I've done a number of the basic levels (one per day), and I like the everyday, manageable sized lessons that build on one another.  I also like that it reminds me to practice.  Sort of like a cute owl-shaped version of my subconscious telling me to do it, so that I don't forget or get too lazy about it and forget the previous lessons.

My one issue is that it is hard to do special characters on my phone and I get "watch the accent/tilde/whatever diacritical mark" messages while I'm working in the app.  Oh, well!

I think that this tool might be a great tool to help with relearning my Spanish (more professionally useful) and learn French for the first time (something more personal).

I also think it is neato that there is some sort of learning community surrounding the Duolingo.  I commented on Facebook that I was using a mobile app to learn French and an old asked if I was using Duolingo.  We are going to connect and try to help each other learn, which is very cool.

Thing #17: Connecting (or not) to Community

For Thing #17 I tried several of the apps, but was only really impressed with the one most related to my work: the MN Museums app.  I liked that you can put museums on an itinerary or to-visit list and that you can find museums by place, type, map, etc.  I have two hours to kill in [fill in the blank city], what are my options?  Or we're gonna drive to the North Shore, what might we stop to see on the way up?  I also liked that it has an already-visited feature, as well as info and links out to websites, contact info, etc.  All in all, this worked really well and I'll be actually using it going forward.

I had previously used the State Fair app (while on the bus to the fair last year).  I remember it working pretty OK to figure out event times and food locations and stuff like that, but that was early in my smart phone life and I haven't revisited it.

I also tried the Star Tribune Going Out and Explore MN apps.  The idea of each on was good and they seemed pretty nifty in concept, but the reality of functionality was just not there on either one.  For Going Out, I could see movies playing, for example, but not where or the showtimes.  I could see descriptions of shows/concerts/plays, but not locations, a calendar of times, or anything really useful.  It was sort of a tease.  The restaurant part seemed to work the best and I might use it again.  The Explore MN one was even more disappointing.  It literally never worked.  I couldn't get past the initial screens to get any real info.  Super lame!