Three New Apps that Writers & Teachers Need Now

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Once in a while, applications come along that don’t need to be sold. They sell themselves through their utility, design, and the narrative they embody. Seth Godin, author of All Marketers Are Liars, has said these are the only kinds of things we should be making.

When it comes to computing, this is the kind of application that exemplifies great user experience. This is the kind of app that provides the function and interaction people expect from computers.

Users know that smartphones have the capability to pinpoint their exact location down to the inch. The Earth is spinning on its axis, rotating around the sun, and this will all work so long as you’ve paid your bill this month. Computers can do very rigorous work when the user’s not checking up on what some Canadian Mayor’s drinking or smoking. We can even put our computers to work for a good cause, like searching for life in other planets, when were not using them.

Today we copy and paste, zoom in and out, save to the cloud, search a tremendous amount of text with command+f, take screenshots, and touch the screen. The fact that you’re allowed to touch the screen on so many of our devices today still blows my mind. I got yelled at for touching the screen when I was seven. Don’t touch the screen. Since the screen was created, people have wanted to touch it. If you thaw out a cave man today and take him to see Her starring Joaquin Phoenix, he’ll walk up to the screen and try to touch it.

Computers have been capable of doing the above for a long time, yet it is the user experience, the design of the application with the user in mind that have made these functions ubiquitous. I’ve chosen three apps below that perform functions I had expected from computing that it hadn’t yet delivered upon.

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“Social Media Apps” | flickr | Jason Howie

TextGrabber for iPhone

From their website:

TextGrabber + Translator easily and quickly scans, translates and saves your chosen text from virtually any printed material. Simply take a picture of the text and immediately edit, hear it spoken aloud via VoiceOver, translate it into over 40 languages, send your text by SMS or e-mail, or share it quickly on Facebook, Twitter or Evernote.

You’re at the Peabody Library in Baltimore or the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, or even the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve in Paris and you forgot your library card. You’re working on a book about the nuances of homoerotic images carved into pipes and just hit paydirt. There’s a dozen turn of the century texts on the subject here in front of you. What do you do? If you have TextGrabber, you can take a photo of the page and it will translate it into text that you can quote in your book.

This is described as optical character recognition, or ORC. It also translates. I’ve used it. It’s not perfect but at less than six dollars, it’s money well spent. But if my word isn’t good enough for you here’s this: Lifehacker calls this the best image-to-text app for the iPhone.

1Password for Mac

From their website:

Why 1Password? Because your mother’s maiden name and your dog’s birthday haven’t cut it as a password for a long, long time. Because reusing passwords has never been a good idea. Because “secure” and “convenient” never worked together in a sentence until we built 1Password.

You’ve got a password so safe you can’t even get in to your account. You forgot it. How easy is it to remember c$~a*9_T? And I even put the word “cat” in there to help you. So people write them down and reuse the same base password for different services. Those are both against the rules.

Wired has said no password is safe anymore. They suggest two or three factor authentication for every account. If you’re not ready to have a retina scan and enter codes into three different devices, then 1Password could be for you. J.R. Bookwalter at Mac Life says this app is on his deserted island list. At $49.00, this app is for the heavy users, not people who are happy with what Chrome or Mavericks offers right out of the box.

If you are an adjunct professor teaching four or five classes at as many different universities, you could be responsible to use a different email account and a different learning management system (like Blackboard) for each of those universities. Not to mention that you have more keys than a janitor. This is just one more problem for professors referred to as contingent faculty. If you are an adjunct or know someone who is, check out adjuncts-unite for more strategies and commiseration.

Codecademy app for iPhone

From their website:

Learn how to build amazing things online by programming with Codecademy – all for free. Our app gets you started by introducing you to the basic concepts behind the apps on your phone and the websites you visit. You’ll learn to understand the basic structure of code when you see it.

This little app will get you coding in fifteen minutes. Techcrunch recommends this as the way to kill time on the subway. Sure, fifteen minutes might not get you the chops to impress every Linux nerd in the room. But they’d probably respect you more than before and they might not tell you RTFM so often.

For the longest time, I believed you needed to be a math wizard to do anything with a computer besides word processing or sending email. This is not the case. Maybe the teachers needed some sort of carrot to hang over my head to learn math. It didn’t work. I’m not great with the old square roots, but I am learning about code. You can too.

You don’t have to want to be the next Startup CEO to get in on this. One quick look behind the curtain is useful in knowing more about the tools we use. Clarke’s law sates that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Which side of the wand do you want to be on?

Jason Braun (@jasonanthebeast) is a musician, poet, mixed media artist, radio host, teacher, and hacker extraordinaire. He performs under Jason and the Beast, and his latest album, Made This For You: The Mix Tape As Literaturecame out this year. He is also one of the hosts for 88.1 KDHX's Literature for the Halibut. Check him out at his site, jasonandthebeast.com.