CategoryApps

Fun Things on the Internet – 1st June 2014

1. 6 Stunning photos of the Internet’s hidden infrastructure

via Wired.com

 

2. Hip Hop Llama. Turn your speakers on.

via Buzzfeed.

 

3. The 100 most important cat pictures of all time

also via Buzzfeed (yes I am ashamed).

 

4. Made with Paper

A blog showcasing art and visual creations made using 53’s iPad app Paper. The app is pretty awesome too.

Made with Paper blog

 

5. Two Dots game

My newest puzzle game obsession, from the makers of the original Dots.

More here.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 22.35.47

Dots – Game for iPhone

Every so often I download a new game that’s so addictive I’m hooked for weeks. Over the years these have included Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, Harbor Master, Letterpress and many more. At the moment, though, it’s Dots.

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Dots, created by Betaworks, is extremely simple. You have a playing space with several rows of dots in different colours. Link together two or more neighbouring dots of the same colour, they disappear and you get some points. If you manage to make a square (or something a bit like a square that makes a loop) you get more points. Simple.

The challenge comes from one of its two playing modes – you either run out of moves or you run out of time.

There are trophies for completing certain challenges – getting lots of points, squares, etc – and bonus items available when you’ve collected enough dots to pay for them.

What’s really beautiful about this game is the design. It’s a lovely flat UX, with simple colours and some wonderfully cute graphics for the trophies. Added to that the sound design creates pleasant-sounding chords, built up dot by connected dot. If you complete a square, the chord resolves with a little shimmer. Lovely.

The game is free, but you have been warned about how addicted you’ll be. Enjoy!

 

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Tablets as Performing Arts Spaces

There’s a lot of ‘digital’ going on in the arts at the moment – in productions, in communications, straddling the two, augmenting our live work and standing in and of itself. I read an article earlier about an iPad app which has been created as an entirely different type of performance space for dance. Rather than trying to replicate or augment the experience of a traditionally placed audience, this work is created just for the iPad and is interactive in its nature.

Called Dot Dot Dot, it is created by 2wice Arts Foundation and features dancer and choreographer Tom Gold. The app allows you to tap areas of the screen and ‘create’ your own version of the piece, which is made of pre-recorded segments of dance. The introductory video gives more of an insight: 

Dot Dot Dot from 2wice Arts Foundation on Vimeo.

It turns out this isn’t the first iPad app 2wice Arts Foundation has created. Their previous effort, Fifth Wall, also uses the iPad as a new creative space for dance. This time a piece was filmed in a particular environment – a large rectangular frame – and the user can change the orientation of the frame, add multiple versions and resize each of them. The dance being performed doesn’t change, but the user’s experience of the piece is exactly as they determine it. You could watch it hundreds of times and each time get a totally different perspective on the work.

Here’s the video for that one:

Fifth Wall from 2wice Arts Foundation on Vimeo.

In other arts app news, I also read today (on ClassicFM’s website) about the launch of an app showcasing Benjamin Britten’s orchestral work The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. For those unfamiliar, the work, written in 1946, showcases the different sections of the orchestra in ‘variations’ on a theme by Henry Purcell and is therefore a really important way for music learners to start to understand the complex workings of the symphony orchestra. 

The app announced today is part of the Britten 100 centenary celebrations of the composer, and is available free. It uses a new recording of the piece, alongside games, quizzes and an interactive musical score to enhance learning and demonstrate the potential and complexities of the symphony orchestra to young people. 

There are probably loads of examples of apps and other digital projects creating entirely new ways to experience and create different types of art. I particularly like that the examples above are not only pushing the boundaries of performing arts but also of the tablet as a device and an experience. I think the proliferation of tablet devices is going to turn out to be one of the most dramatic changes in the way people consume and interact with the content and the world, so it’s definitely interesting to see how the performing arts fit into this. 

I plan on downloading and having a play with all the apps mentioned above so I’ll be sure to review them as soon as I can! 

Rails Girls Bath

I spent the day today in Bath at the UK’s first Rails Girls event. It was run as part of Bath Digital Festival by some lovely, friendly coders.

RailsCake

Rails Girls started in Finland, and is a one-day event to teach women of all ages the basics of coding in Ruby and using the Rails framework to create web apps. From the starting point of no knowledge whatsoever, the goal of the day is to make a simple web app using the skills and tools learned along the way.

We started the morning using TryRuby.org to learn the very basic elements of coding in Ruby. I found most of this quite logical because I’ve been learning a bit of JavaScript so some of the concepts transfer even if the syntax and language is slightly different. This taught us how to create and manipulate strings and arrays, using objects and methods and creating a simple blog template at the end.

The friendly coders were always on hand to answer the “Wait, why did that just happen?” questions and keep everyone motivated. There was also cake, which I’m pretty sure helped a lot. After pizza lunch we moved on to learning about the Rails framework, using the Rails Girls tutorial to create a basic app.

I wish I could show you the app that I made but due to the wifi limitations of the college we were in, we couldn’t get our apps to the point of publishing them online. That’s probably a good thing because there’s quite a bit of css work to be done before it looks as pretty as I’d like it to.

I had some lovely moments during the day when I finally got things to work, a concept ‘clicked’ or I figured out how to make something happen without just following instructions. Each time I felt that excitement of having actually achieved something. Ruby on Rails is a really good framework for seeing what you can achieve really quickly. From a few Terminal commands you can see something you’ve created in your browser straight away, whatever it looks like at that point, and that’s really motivating when you’re just starting out with a programming language.

I’m hoping to carry on learning and create some brilliant web apps. Please feel free to offer tips, suggestions or pointers.

During the day, thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I was also part of a conversation about bringing a Rails Girls event to Cardiff. I’m particularly excited about this, so watch this space for more news about that.

 

 

2012: Apps of the Year

In the first of my roundup of the year posts, I’m had a look of which iPhone and iPad apps I’ve used most this year and the ones I’d recommend. Without further ado…

Super Jetpack Penguin

Game / iPhone / Free

 

What is it?

In Super Jetpack Penguin you need to help the penguin eat as many fish as possible without getting killed by any of the nastier sea creatures that try to block his path. He has a Jetpack so all you need to do is tap and hold to keep him going up or down the screen. Like many other games there’s the double challenge of not just passing the level but achieving a 3-star score.

It’s great because… 

It’s so simple. It can be learned very quickly and mastered with a little patience. Also, the sea creatures, and the penguin, are very cute.

Cdf Hotspots

Productivity / iPhone / Free

What is it? 

This app uses your device’s GPS to locate you and show you the nearest wifi hotspots. It’s a Cardiff app, so obviously only shows you hotspots in Cardiff! With a nice clean design, and just the right amount of information, I’ve used it on a number of occasions to locate the best wifi for wherever I am. This app was developed in conjunction with Cardiff Start by Applingua, a friendly app translation and localisation startup based in Cardiff. If you need your app localised, give them a shout.

(They’re not paying me to say that, but they are my friends, just incase you had any disclosure concerns.)

It’s great because… 

It has a clearly-defined purpose so it’s simple, clear and very helpful.

Letterpress

Game / iPhone / Free

 

What is it? 

An online word game. Use the grid of letters provided to spell a word. The letters you use go blue, then your opponent does the same and the letters they use go red. Be the first to complete the board, and make sure more are blue than red. Simple.

It’s great because… 

A lovely simple concept can be made more difficult by the word skills of the players. It’s also a nice, clean, flat design (no bevelling or skeuomorphs here!)

Draw Something

Game / iPhone & iPad / Free

What is it? 

Get a word, draw a picture, your friend has to guess what you’ve drawn. Effectively, it’s Pictionary but over the Internet. Words very from classic objects (spoon, train, man) to topical and entertaining things like Bieber, Hogwarts and J-Lo.

It’s great because… 

It’s entertaining. If you’re a really good artist, it’s an opportunity to show off. If you’re not so good at drawing (or your opponent isn’t!) it’s funny trying to work out what’s being attempted. I actually cite playing this game as the reason I’m better at drawing than I was a year ago.

Pinterest for iPad

Social Media / iPad (iPhone app also available) / Free

 

What is it? 

The long-awaited tablet version of Pinterest. It’s surprising it took this long to be released, as Pinterest’s browser interface has always been so tablet-like. I’m a very enthusiastic pinner so this has just completed my experience. It’s easy to use, if the navigation is a little congested and confusing, and uses a layered page system to show different types of information from pins to profiles to source links.

It’s great because… 

Pinterest is such a natural tablet experience. All those beautiful images you’ve pinned are now full-size on the retina screen and you can admire them and dream about when you actually afford a house/building/wedding/life like that.

Trip Advisor City Guides

Travel / iPhone / Free

What is it? 

An app featuring downloadable city guides of a selection of major travel destinations across the world. Once downloaded, the guide includes offline maps of the city which combine with GPS to make sure you’re never lost, and listings of restaurants, attractions, transport links, subway stops, etc. I used the New York guide on my recent trip there and it was extremely useful.

It’s great because… 

You get offline maps of a whole city for free. Also because it links to Trip Advisors reviews and rating system. A selection of the reviews for each place is available offline within the app so you can make an informed choice about a restaurant or bar.

Adobe Sketchbook Pro

Art & Design / iPad / £ – appears to be on sale at the moment at £1.99

 

What is it? 

A drawing, painting, creating app. It functions a lot like Photoshop but is optimised for tablet use in terms of tool placement and interface design. The paid version allows for up to 30 layers, great high resolution images and a whole host of tools and colours, all customisable. There’s an inbuilt gallery and you can save the images to your iPad’s camera roll.

It’s great because… 

You get a huge amount of function from it, and it’s on a tablet so is always there and nice and easy to use. For best results, combine with a good stylus. And some talent. There’s probably call for a disclaimer here that you still have to actually draw and the results will only be as good as you are. Maybe get Draw Something to practise 😉

The drawing in the screenshot is by Kat Aldridge. She’s an awesome illustrator and you can find her on Twitter here.

Gifboom

Photography / iPhone / Free

What is it? 

A simple app to create animated gif images and share them. Add up to 30 still images, set the speed and the rest is all done for you. It features a ‘feed’ of gifs created by people you’re following but I haven’t actually used this feature at all, as you can share the gifs you created straight to Facebook and Twitter, or just copy the URL.

It’s great because… 

It’s easy, and lots of fun to animate photos and video of your friends, or hand draw your own animations.

Codecademy

I’ve been thinking for a while I should learn to code. When I was a teenager I taught myself html and css and created a series of little websites for my own entertainment. Unfortunately none of them are online any more so I can’t show you what it is a 14-year old girl in 1999 thought a personal website should include…

I still use loads of that knowledge when I’m administering websites at work but I am generally frustrated that my knowledge takes me to a point and then if I want anything shiny and exciting to happen I have to find someone to make it for me. Enter Codecademy.

One of the most talked-about startups of the moment, the site launched in 2011 and offers tuition in various programming language for people with no prior knowledge. Codecademy’s creators want to be “educating tens of millions of people in the skill that matters most in the 21st century” (source: Wired.co.uk). You sign up to the site and register onto a mini course – thus breaking down the challenge into manageable pieces. Every time you sign in and learn or practise you get some points, and when you complete a section or pass an achievement you get a badge. I am totally sick of the work ‘gamification’ but that’s what is going on here – it turns learning a skill into a game in a way that is really not annoying, for a change.

Aside from the game element, the site is also lovely because it looks so great. The interface is clean and effective, with the instructions always down the left hand side and a practise window and console on the right into which you put your code. You can switch between a ‘Scratch Pad’ and the exercise at any time and input your answer to the problem when you’re ready.

Initially all the courses were written in-house by the Codecademy team but earlier this year they opened up their ‘Creator’ platform which allows anyone to submit a coding lesson or practice exercise. This has led to a very quick increase in the number of courses available. Options now include Python, Ruby and CSS alongside the initial Javascript course.

I’m really enjoying learning some coding and it is my intention to complete the whole lot eventually. Perhaps I’ll share the results with you soon!

Roundup of 2011 Part 2: Apps of the Year

I have been meaning to write a post about some of my favourite apps for a while and this seems like the time to do it. I use loads of apps on my iPhone, for different things from productivity to gaming, and will quite often download 5 or 10 free apps in one go and play with them all, keeping the useful ones. Here is my brief roundup of some of the keepers from 2011:

Instagram (Photography, FREE)

Instagram iPhone Screenshot

I’ve had Instagram for a while, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve really started to use it. The concept is very simple – you take a picture, add a vintage-camera-style filter to it, and upload. The reason I’ve taken to it so well is the micro-community that exists within the app. There is no web-based version, so you have to use the app to interact with other users’ pictures. Hashtags connect similar images, and are the way to enter daily competitions, and there are veritable Instagram ‘celebrities’ who will never be heard of outside of the app.

iMovie (Video, £2.99)

iMovie iPhone Screenshot

I reviewed this app earlier in the year in some detail so I’ll stay brief here. I like iMovie on my Mac but with a 13″ screen size it can be a bit tricky to manage and see everything clearly. The re-designed interface for iPhone, especially when coupled with the iPhone 4S’s fantastic camera, is really easy to use and can help you produce a great-quality video in no time.

Diptic (Photography, £0.69)

Diptic app screenshot

Another great little photo app which allows you to create a photo collage of up to 5 images with an easy-to-use interface. Just add the images, zoom in or out and off it goes. This works very well when combined with Instagram too. There is also a Diptic community on Flickr.

Plants vs Zombies (Games, £1.99)

Plants vs Zombies iPhone screenshot

This game began life on PCs but the iPhone version scales down remarkably well. It has a wonderful interface, and some extremely cute cartoon plants and zombies. The attention to detail is brilliant – every plant has a face and they bob around in a truly charming fashion. The gameplay itself involves attacking zombies with various plant life (pea-shooters, cabbage-putts and cherry bombs, for example) before the zombies reach your front door and eat your brains.

Amazon Mobile (Shopping, FREE)

Amazon Mobile iPhone Screenshot

I shop quite a lot on Amazon, send my Wishlist to my family when they ask what I want for Christmas, and research prices and products, so it was only natural that I’d download the app at some point. Its previous incarnation was satisfactory – you could shop, filter your search results and purchase within the app – but the recent updates have made it brilliant. You can now scan the barcode of any physical item anywhere and Amazon will find it (thus giving you an instant price comparison), add to (or purchase from) any of your Wishlists and use a new feature called Amazon Remembers, which allows you to take a photo of something you want to remember, saves it on your Amazon account and tries to match it with a product available on the site. Genius.

iMovie for iPhone

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will probably be aware that I got a new iPhone 4S the other week. My Twitter stream was clogged for several days with my complaining at O2 for not offering pre-order, ordering through Vodafone and then fun and games with the parcel tracker service. I eventually caught up with the phone at a Post Office near my flat that I never knew existed.

Leaving for another day the strangeness of living in a world of modern developments bereft of any community other than the one that was there before and doesn’t really like us, here are some things about the new phone.

Firstly, there are slight case modifications from the iPhone 4. Not many but, due to the aerial improvements, the silent switch and volume controls are slightly lower than they were. This meant that the first thing I had to do was attack my case to make it fit properly.

Next, the obvious: Siri. Siri is iOS5’s new voice assistant. I was a complete sceptic about this, fully expecting that it wouldn’t understand a thing I said and I would never use it. Turns out it’s amazing. It can almost always understand what I’m saying, including the names of people (to send them a text, for example) and places. The only problem I have is that its business finder capability only works in the USA. Over there you can say ‘find me a gas station’ and it will. In the UK you say ‘where’s the nearest shopping centre?’ and you get ‘Sorry Jen, I can only look for businesses in the United States, and when you’re using U.S. English.’ Oh, that’s the other thing – it knows my name. I told Siri who I was by choosing myself from the contacts list when prompted. I’m now even using Siri for the occasional bit of dictation. Facebook statuses, emails and the like. Brilliant.

Something I was really excited about testing was iMovie. This has been around on iPhone since the previous iOS but didn’t work on my 3GS so it was pretty much the first thing I downloaded to the new phone. I have to say I’m really impressed. I couldn’t quite see how a high-feature interface could work on such a small display but it’s achieved perfectly. You swipe to scroll through the movie, click to add media, click on each clip, photo or sound clip to edit it (individual interfaces then adapt for this) and you’re done. Give it a name, export to library, done in seconds.

For a bit of a trial run I used some stock and wallpaper images of snowboarders and created a fantasy snowboard holiday video, perhaps the sort of thing I imagine I would make to show my family a slideshow from a particular occasion.

Oh, you want to see  it? Ok.

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