Tag Archives: app

A Day for Writing–Literally

A few Tuesdays back, I wrote about how the Alarmed iPhone app has revolutionized the way I do household chores, schedule blog posts, and do a whole bunch of other things. In short, it’s made me much more organized and on-time doing things. Now I have entire days set aside for things like cleaning the kitchen, tackling cluttered areas of the house, posting all the blogs for the upcoming week, etc.

But I did not mention that this app has also revolutionized the way I write…because I simply did not think of it as a “writing app” until about two weeks ago.

How did a reminder app change my writing habits? Simple: I set aside a “Writing Day” reminder, just like I set aside a “Kitchen Day,” a “Clutter Day,” etc.

writingday This screenshot from my phone shows how Writing Day falls on Sunday every week, sandwiched in between mundane, tiny little tasks. Sunday afternoons are the times I can finally wind down for the week and recharge for the next–it’s a time of reflection, and more importantly, a time of just being able to BREATHE. No one needs my time, no one really needs me to do anything–everything for the week is done, and my time is my own. In short, it’s the PERFECT time to write.

I’ve left myself a simple instruction, too–“You know what to do.” Because I do know what to do on Writing Day–just write. I can write in my novel, I can write in a fanfic or two, I can write anything I want as long as it’s creative. That’s the only rule.

Has This Helped? YES!

This app has already helped me move ahead three pages in my novel. Though it might seem paltry, three pages is a victory, since I’ve been stuck in one place for nearly a year.

Before making a specific “writing day” reminder, I had had a hard time making time to write. It seemed I wrote all the time, either doing blog posts like these, preparing my Sunday school lessons to teach on Sunday, or writing website content…but I hadn’t really done much creative work aside from just little random bits here or there. I ended up almost burned out on writing, just not feeling like I had the energy to write anything when I had free time.

When I finally set aside a special “day” to write, boy, did that change. I’ve begun to write more on my novel, and I’ve started looking forward to Sunday afternoons as “my time,” even. Just allotting a special day of the week to writing makes me feel less anxious about accomplishing my creative writing goals, and less anxiety = more productivity. This is a HUGE change for the better. I don’t force myself to produce a certain number of words or pages when I write this way–I just relax, get rid of all my anxiety about “getting things done,” and just enjoy the process.

Making a “Writing Day” for Yourself

  • Choose a day of the week which is less busy than all the others, or which has mostly non-writing tasks. This is important–you don’t want to be mentally “burned out” on writing before you even begin.
  • How much time do you have during that day? According to your schedule, budget in a block of time to write. It can be 15 minutes, one hour, 3 hours–whatever time you have free.
  • Create a consistent reminder for yourself, either on your phone/computer as I did, or place a paper note somewhere where you will see it every day.
  • When your chosen “writing day” comes around, just write SOMETHING creative. If it’s a few words, awesome. A few lines or a paragraph? Great! A whole page, or even a bunch of pages? Amazing! Count it all as progress, because it is.

I hope this helps you get back on track with your own creative writing–it certainly has helped me!

Flow Free

Looking for a puzzle game with plenty of little challenges? Then I suggest you check out Flow Free, a neat little game app by the folks at BigDuckGames.

Basic Gameplay

The point behind Flow Free is to connect all the dots on a grid of a certain size, using the connecting lines to fill up the entire grid, without any lines overlapping each other. Seems pretty simply and straightforward, right? Well, it is–for the first few levels.

simpler-flow
Image Credit: iTunes App Store
At first, you start out with levels like this 5×5 grid at left, with only a few different colors of dots. These puzzles don’t take too long to solve–you just have to figure out how to wrap the lines around each other rather than crossing over each other. With grids this small, you also don’t have to worry too much about filling up all the allotted grid space–it pretty well happens by nature.
level-choose
Image Credit: iOSApps.com
But, as you can see at the extreme right of this screenshot, there are levels beyond the 5×5 grid. More space is introduced; more colors of dots are introduced. You wouldn’t think the game would get harder with MORE space, but it does–you still have to fill up the grid, so sometimes you have to come up with interesting ways to take up space with a line or two. And above all, the lines can’t block each other off!

harder-flow
Image Credit: GamesDreams.com
Eventually, you end up with levels like this and beyond, where colors interweave in a careful, angular dance that’s often more about thinking outside the box and taking up space rather than getting things connected in the most efficient manner. (The website I just linked to, GamesDreams.com, has solutions for every level, which is helpful if you get flat-out stuck as I have a few times!) Rest assured, each level presents new challenges!

Game Levels

The game comes with several 150-levels-apiece packs for free:

  • Regular Pack (5×5 to9x9 boards)
  • Bonus Pack (5×5 to 9×9)
  • 8×8 Mania (lots and lots of 8×8 boards)
  • 9×9 Mania
  • Jumbo Pack for iPad (10×10 to 14×14 boards–super difficult!)

There are also some extra packs you can buy for 99 cents each, or buy for about $4.00 all together:

  • Green Pack (5×5-9×9)
  • Blue Pack (5×5-9×9)
  • 10×10 Mania
  • Kids Pack (5×5 and 6×6)
  • Rainbow Pack (5×5-9×9)
  • Purple Pack for iPad (10×10-14×14)
  • Pink Pack for iPad (10×10-14×14)

Completing a Level vs. Perfecting a Level

In Flow Free, just “completing” a level can be different from finishing it perfectly. You can finish a level and move on to the next one, no matter how many times you had to retrace your lines or undo moves, but you get extra points if you can finish it with the minimum number of moves. Completed levels are marked with a check mark; perfected levels are marked with a star. Try to perfect them all!

Bonus: Time Trials

Once you complete the game’s Free Play levels, which are not timed, you can try your hand (or fingertip) at the timed levels, which test how many puzzles you can solve in a certain length of time (30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes, and 4 minutes). All of the Time Trial puzzles are 5×5 boards, so they aren’t too terribly hard, but some of them can be a little tricky!

To Download and Play:

For iPhone/iPod touch/iPad: iTunes App Store link
For Android: Google Play link
For Windows 8/RT: Windows Store link

Mobile-Friendly Designs, part 1: Do You Need an App?

With much of our personal websurfing now being done through mobile devices (hey, it’s something to do while waiting in line!), many websites have created apps to make navigating to their sites that much easier. In a way, apps have become like bookmarks or favorites for our mobile devices.

But, as webdesigners ourselves, do we need to take the time and trouble to make an app for our own sites just yet? Well, as I discovered while thinking and researching for this article, it depends.

Biggest Reasons to Build an App for Your Site

  • Your site has a HUGE readership and lots of web traffic per day
  • More complete control over how content displays on all mobile devices
  • Offers a simpler way for users to access your site

If you have a blog that already gets a lot of attention, or a website that many people use, an app may be just the ticket to help boost your popularity and usage to the next level. Also, if you’ve studied your website statistics and have seen that a large percentage of your visitors are using mobile browsers to visit your site, making an app could be a great idea. Lastly, if you don’t want to build a separate mobile version of your site, an app can be a simpler, sleeker “mobile portal” of sorts for your content. (Case in point: I use the Beautylish app from Beautylish.com every day to read their articles without loading all the layout graphics and extraneous stuff from their desktop site.)

As a personal example, I’ve considered building an app for this blog to help with my mobile readership, since I update every day and get a fair following on Twitter–people might appreciate a simpler link to my blog. I’ve also noticed how I have to zoom in when I read my own blog on my iPhone, and have thought how great it would be to have a simpler layout and better social media functionality all wrapped up in an app.

Biggest Reasons NOT to Build an App for Your Site

  • It’s something else for readers/viewers to download and store on their devices, rather than just visiting a mobile-friendly site
  • Have to keep updating the app to stay current with mobile platforms
  • Can bring unforeseen complications, like app crashes, bugs, etc., which interfere with usage

If you’ve just got a small personal site, or a site you mainly build and maintain for hobby purposes, creating an app for your site is likely not going to be very helpful for you. An app is one more thing to keep updating, and could introduce more programming issues than you really want to handle, especially for those of us who don’t get into much web programming beyond HTML and CSS. (Even the apps that are “made for you” can have bugs, and they’ll still need updating, too.) And if your app doesn’t offer much more functionality than just visiting your site through a mobile browser, viewers might not opt for downloading it anyway. (Case in point: I downloaded the Google app, but found it to be so slow that I switched back to using Google in a mobile browser.)

Making an app for my main domain, withinmyworld.org, for instance, would be quite frankly a waste of time and effort at this point, since my domain is mainly a personal site and portal to all my other sites. It would be little more than a gimmick at best, since I know I probably wouldn’t update the app all that much (not much to update!).

Bottom Line: Site Size, Topic, and Popularity Matter, But…

If you want to put the time and effort into building an app yourself, or creating one using an online service, make sure you’ve done your homework beforehand. Having an app can be a great asset, or it can be little more than a superfluous gimmick. To me, frequently-updated blogs or sites with very helpful, often-accessed content would benefit most from having an app, and personal sites or hobby sites are better off not worrying about it.

BUT! If you really want an app and think it could rocket your little site into popularity, that is your choice to make. Who knows–if you’ve got a lot of people visiting your site via mobile devices, the app could just make their visits easier, and word-of-mouth advertising would spread it further!

App Creation Tips and Services

If you’re interested in creating an app but don’t necessarily have all the programming skills to do it yourself, here are some sites to check out:

How to Make a Blog or Site into a Mobile App without Programming Knowledge, @ Lifehacker

App-Making Sites

AppMakr (iPhone; Android beta)
AppsGeyser.com (Android)
Conduit (iPhone, Android, HTML5; Windows Phone coming soon)
Genwi.com (Helps you build one app in the “cloud,” and then they make it workable for iPad, Android, iPhone, etc.)
Phonegap (more hands-on app making with HTML/CSS/Javascript; supports iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and some others I don’t even know)

9 Apps I Can’t Do Without

Since getting my smartphone, an iPhone 4S, back in November, I’ve quickly moved into the 2010s with everyone else. I can now receive email through my phone (no more waiting for an hour on dialup to load email!), text more often because it’s easier, and most importantly, make use of great apps.

But great apps for any smartphone aren’t just the social networking apps or the games, as I’ve found out. Below are the apps I’ve used to literally revolutionize my life–all of them are free, and most of them have both iPhone and Android versions!

Alarmed

alarmed This little app has transformed the way I complete tasks and keep up with obligations. I have used it so far to keep up with household chores, pet flea treatments, meetings, reminders to do small tasks, and tons of other stuff. Now my house stays cleaner, things get done on time, and Mr. Kitty stays flea-free! I find that it’s a much more organized reminder app than the onboard Reminders app for iPhone–you can see your reminders organized by day instead of the haphazard way you entered them into the app, which for me is a big bonus.

Recently there’s been a big fuss about Alarmed dropping its “alarm clock” feature, but I find that the app is great even without the alarm clocks; plus, there’s a separate alarm clock app by the same developer, so you can download that as well. All in all, a wonderful free app.

iPhone version
Yoctoville.com (developer)

Flashlight

flashlight Before I found this app, I used to trip and stumble trying to get into my house every evening. Living deep in the forest, with no outdoor lighting to speak of and lots of tree roots crisscrossing the yard, made it an adventure just trying to get into the house at all, never mind getting in without a broken ankle. With this app, which uses the flash from the iPhone’s camera to provide light, I can now see easily and avoid any obstacles.

This is a very handy thing to have, not just for navigating tough front yards, but for finding small lost objects under furniture, for changing your tire on the side of the road…you name it! You can dial the brightness up or down, and turn it off in-app when you don’t need it anymore. The other cool thing? It’s got a compass included!

iPhone version
Android version

Google Chrome

googlechrome Okay, okay, I know, what is an iPhone user doing using a mobile version of Chrome? Simple: because Safari is slow as molasses for no reason. I downloaded Chrome after a few weeks of using Safari on the iPhone, and haven’t looked back; it loads faster, doesn’t take up near as much memory (it seems) as Safari does, and I have the option to go Incognito with my tabs if I so wish. (Now if I could just make Chrome my default browser on the iPhone, we’d be ALL good to go. LOL)

Android version
iPhone version

RedLaser

redlaser For saving money, RedLaser is a great little app. Scan a barcode off any item with your phone camera, and RedLaser will tell you what the cheapest price is for online shopping and local shopping. Using this app, I saw that I could save 3 bucks off my favorite deodorant just by buying it online, and could save almost 4 bucks on cat food by buying it from a different store than usual. These days, saving a few dollars here or there is a BIG bonus!

Android version
iPhone version
RedLaser (app site)

Echofon for Twitter

echofon I never thought I’d find an app that let me access all my Twitter accounts through one interface without logging out and back in. But Echofon does exactly that–it helps me manage my Twitter accounts for my various websites, lets me know when new people have followed or mentioned me on any of them, and I can post and read Tweets as normal. It’s been a real time-saver!

(Admittedly, I don’t know if the regular Twitter app does this or not–I could never get the Twitter for iPhone app to download, so I went with this one instead. I’ve been happy with Echofon’s performance, though!)

iPhone version
Android version (beta)

BibleGateway

biblegateway For those of you who want to have a quick reference for Bible verses literally at your fingertips, the BibleGateway app (from biblegateway.com) is a must-have. I find myself using this during church sermons, when I need to follow along with the pastor’s Bible verse references (and when I need to keep myself on-task, lol). All you have to do is open the app and search for the book, chapter, and verse you want, and the verse appears within its context! You can also choose which translation you want, or you can start reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, all within the app itself.

BibleGateway.com App Page

ScanLife

scanlife For all those neat QR codes you see posted everywhere, here’s the scanning app I use. It scans even in low light, and not only takes you to the page the QR code leads to, but also lets you share to Facebook, see what codes other people have scanned, and keeps a history of the past codes you’ve scanned in. (You can also make your own QR code for your contact info!)

Scanlife App Page

MacHash

machash If you own any Apple products (like the iPhone), MacHash is a wonderful news aggregator for everything pertaining to the Mac brand. Pulling from several dozen Mac-news websites, it arranges them by most recent, and you can easily scroll through, reading headlines. When you find a page you like, just click on it to see a quick summary, and then go on to read the full article if you so choose.

Don’t think this sounds all that exciting? For the iPhone, at least, this app has served as a troubleshooter–for instance, I had a weird problem with the Do Not Disturb feature not turning on properly. I read a few articles, learned how to fix it, and in 5 minutes’ time the issue was resolved! Moral of the story: having a mobile news source for mobile technology can definitely be a good thing!

Download for iPhone

IMDB

imdb Being able to pull up info on movies and TV shows without having to open a web browser first? EXCELLENT. The interface for the IMDB app is clean and easy to navigate, and provides you not only with the search function for the database, but also movie showtimes near you, featured articles, and the message boards as well. Great for impromptu movie outings as well as proving your friends wrong (or right) about a movie or TV show.

IMDB.com App Page

Virtual City Playground

Did you love SimCity and/or other games like it? Ever wanted to REALLY run your dream virtual city instead of just building it and watching it go? Then Virtual City Playground might be just the game you’re looking for!

I recently discovered this free game for the iPhone (though it’s also available through iPad, Google Play, Mac, Kindle, and what looks like a Web game in the future), and I’ve become pretty addicted to it already. It’s got all the road-building, city-planning fun of my old favorite SimCity, except it’s a little more involved and detailed–which is definitely a good thing!

Basic Gameplay


Image credit: geardiary.com

Instead of building huge zones like SimCity has you build, Virtual City Playground has you build actual buildings, like houses, factories, shopping malls, monuments, etc. Building roads and buildings takes energy, though, and you start out with a set amount of Energy Points. When you’ve run out of energy, you’ll have to wait a few minutes for your Energy to regenerate (takes about 4 minutes to get 1 point back).

Constructing roads functions about the same as it does in other city-building games–you lay out the roads bit by bit with your mouse/fingertip. In this game, though, you’ve got to make sure you have a road leading to your building before you build it. And if you find out you’ve placed a building wrong, don’t worry; buildings can be moved around easily, and it only costs 1 Energy to do so.

The main part of the game is building factories (a few at a time) and linking them together with delivery trucks, so that they can use each other’s raw materials to make products–that realism is one of the coolest things about this game. You also need to build houses so that people can come live in your city. Route a few dumpster trucks around to take care of garbage, set up a public transport system with some Buses and Bus Stations, and you’ve got a city in no time!

As you level up in the game through building, routing roads, and upgrading buildings, you’ll get access to more types of factories and buildings. Keep track of the game’s various City Goals to accomplish, which will appear on the left side of the game window. You’ll have some long-term goals (like building very expensive monuments) and some short-term goals (like shipping so many products to the Shopping Mall, or transporting so many passengers to public places). Be prepared for your city to grow very very fast once you start completing goals!

The Difference Between City Coins and Invest Points

You start out with a set number of City Coins to help build your city, buy trucks and buses, etc.; you also start out with a few Invest Points. Invest Points are specialized rewards which can be bought with real money, or can be earned through accomplishing certain game goals.

Invest Points can be tempting to use, especially if you want a goal finished RIGHT NOW, but don’t give in. Instead, save up Invest Points for really important things, like buying more city territory and leveling out the land (because you can’t build anything on hills).

Two of the best ways I’ve found to gain Invest Points:

  • Log into the game every day; you’ll get an Invest Point every day until you’ve logged in for 5 consecutive days…and on the fifth day, you’ll be rewarded with 5 more Invest Points!
  • Link your Facebook account so that you can post “goal completed!” announcements–some of these completion announcements reward you with yet another Invest Point when you post to Facebook. Look for the Invest Points icon beside the Facebook “Post” button on the “Goal Completed” announcement to see whether posting is worth your while.

Side Note: Your Citizens’ Happiness and the Environment


Image Credit: apprecap.wordpress.com

Aside from your regular city-building concerns, the game also tracks your citizens’ Happiness score and Environment score. After playing this game for a while, I would recommend you not worry too much about your Environment and Happiness scores at first–I’m currently around Lv 23 and am just now starting to see numerical scores without a negative sign out front. LOL!

Happiness and Environment scores do not detract much at all from your gameplay; they are just informational, though some City Goals do give you rewards for having at or above a particular level of Happiness, etc.

Summary

This game is great for gamers like me who play long-term achievement games; I find this to be a very rewarding, relaxing game to play, and it allows me to exercise my creativity at city planning, too. Check it out and see how your own dream city can grow!