Friday, January 31, 2014

Thing 10 Sharing Photos

Instagram: After a few glitches, I was able to get Instagram to work--sort of. One of the recurrent problems was that it repeatedly said " . . . couldn't refresh feed . . . " but beyond that, I can see why it's a popular app. It's clearly set up to share in multiple ways. Though I prefer other photo editors for the variety of things they can do, Instagram does not have that as its central purpose. So below I have an Instagram image to demonstrate how this app can be a sort of graphic "telegram" or "postcard."

Another problem: When I tried to search for images using Instagram, I received the "could not load results" response. So possibly today is not a happy day for Instagram. I'll return to the app and try again another day--it seems to have tremendous potential for sharing and finding images that--again from a research focus--could make creating a presentation far more interesting than using the usual stock footage. Just a thought.

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InstaCollage is another nicely organized app that allows the user to create albums, display them in a gallery, and then share them with others. You can take photos listed on your Camera Roll and place them in individual albums, which can then be shared with others. Similar to Photo Editor, it has frames, filters, special effects, text, and little stickies that can be added to the image. It's definitely fun to explore, and I could see students having a blast with it.

Although a little tricky to use at first, and a little glitchy, it shares similar menus with other apps, and the learning curve is relatively short. Though I don't know whether I'd personally use this app, it does have possibilities for those who love to take tons of photos and share them with others.

I'll return to this post and try downloading Instagram again to see whether I might have better luck next time. If anyone has any helpful hints, please let me know.

Or possibly a book collage . . .

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thing 9 Taking and Editing Photos

Line Camera: This does not seem to appear in the app store. Has it gone away? Today's date is January 30, 2014. Maybe I'll come back later and see whether it mysteriously reappears.

For now, however, I'll move on to Photo Editor by Aviary. This is a fun little tool that I suspect I'll be spending too much time playing with. As I've been saying with most of the apps, this one is really easy to use in a variety of ways. In fact, it's one of the easiest, and, for the money, one of the best. And as has been mentioned, it could be an effective marketing tool for the library.

This photo used a variety of editing tools: cropping, sharpness, contrast, color saturation, distortion,framing, and high definition, and probably a couple more that I missed. Unfortunately, the printer did not capture some of the subtlety of the actual print--something to keep in mind.

Here is another sample of a book cover altered somewhat. This editing is done through Photo Editor and has endless possibilities for marketing books.

And a final sample using Photo Editor with a willing victim . . . Taking and posting photos (and giving them away to the "victims" are related ways to build goodwill and a positive attitude toward the library--so long as your photo subjects are willing and not embarrassed by the results.

ColorSplurge: Having enjoyed Photo Editor by Aviary, I decided to go on to ColorSplurge by first watching the tutorial video, which demonstrated how a background can be in color while the subject is in black and white and vice versa for dramatic effects. The narrator pointed out that you can use a postcard feature, which is a nice plus, and that you'll obtain better results if you take your time in using the color tools.

My results: I enjoyed using ColorSplurge, but was annoyed by the constant requests for product upgrades or related products. Pop-up windows for advertisements were a headache. I also couldn't figure out how to save the results to transfer them into PhotoEditor, so I emailed the colored photo to myself and then added it to this site. Here is the result of just coloring the people and leaving the background in black and white:

While I just focused on their faces, I could have used another color and colored in their clothes. The the app is versatile and fun to use--although, as one reviewer pointed out, it does have a habit of crashing.

Thing 8 Social Media Management Tools

Having accounts with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I decided to try Google+ to see whether it offers anything compelling enough to add it to my list or to replace any of the other tools--which admittedly have not been all that active lately, especially in the case of Twitter, which I prefer to follow rather than to post my own information or ideas. From what I understand, Facebook is becoming boring to its teenage users, and it has always been boring to me: Looking at people's selfies or their kids or their pets or their parties or their latest vacation (especially since I haven't been on one for a while) does lose its charm after a few views. (Perhaps politically incorrect, I've often thought that a lot of social networking sites were little more than exercises in narcissism, and with the chronic displays of narcissism in sports (think Superbowl), entertainment, etc., more opportunities for narcissism may create an epidemic of ME! ME! ME!) LinkedIn, as a networking source, doesn't seem relevant to me in education, where there are already MEMO--I mean ITEM--and EdPost, and other listservs. So onward to Google+ . . .

Google+: Before exploring the app, I read three reviews that were all glowing, which is a good sign, but, depending upon who wrote them (i.e. Google employees), I remained somewhat skeptical. After all, while it received a 4+ rating, so did Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

My review: Let me express a bias. Generally, I've been impressed by most things Google: Gmail, the Chrome browser, Google Maps, Google Alerts, (not so much Google Scholar) and Google Earth. So I go into this exploration of Google+ with relatively high expectations. After signing up, I read a notice that Google+ would back up all the photos in my iPad camera and privately archive them, which is a nice service in case I ever need to refer back to them. When I first entered the homepage, I experienced a Pinterest-like deja vu with an overwhelming array of photos and sidebars and wasn't quite sure what to do next. The menu at the bottom of the page provided some guidance; it listed Photo, Location, Link, and Write. They were easy and useful to use. The menu on the left also helped the user navigate around the site. Beyond that the site contained communities and trending topics and a lot of things that looked similar to other popular homepages. Again, as with several other apps, Google+ creates opportunities using Following, Acquaintances, Friends, and Family for sharing in a Facebook-like fashion. The user can even create an event to see whether others are available to attend. Perhaps my favorite part: Animal videos with people texting captions. Funny, cute, edgy. Google+ lives up to its rating of 4+. In the school setting, Google+ could be useful for collaborating and gathering information for group work, reference, and studying purposes. I'd be curious to know how many teachers incorporate it into their courses and how the students respond to it. I could imagine that Google+ could be used as a content manager in a class that studies trends or current events or updates on the latest changes in such topics as science, technology, or engineering. I could even imagine that a media specialist could use it to track trends in reading--hot new books, and the like. Clearly, there are productive possibilities.

Thing 7 Content Saving & Sharing

Pinterest: This is reminiscent of the original 23 Things on a Stick, and I remember then that having one place for all bookmarks--organized and categorized--and accessible to any other computer--but not mobile device at the time--seemed very appealing. I recall exploring and PageKeeper for Teachers. Now that capability has been taken to the next step by making bookmarks accessible to any device, whether mobile or stationary. In that context, what do I think of Pinterest?

What I liked about Pinterest, beyond its ease of establishing an account and setting up, was its intuitive graphic layout and a sort of catalog of topics from which to begin, which, however, can "feel" a bit overwhelming at first. I created a couple sites on two hobbies of interest and pinned photos and Web sites to them. It's an interesting process. There are so many features that it does take a bit of playing with to catch on, but that seems to be the point. Again, like so many other apps, Pinterest seems to make as part of its focus the ability to share items of interest with others and to have others share their stuff with you. That has tremendous possibilities for information sharing, saving time, and collaborating. On the whole, I enjoyed Pinterest and can see using it for my own personal collection of resources and for collaborating on a professional level, just as students could use it for collaborating for assignments or for just sharing their own interests.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thing 6 Creating & Editing Docs

Quickoffice: This app has the iPad versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and a text file creator. It allows the user to create folders for organizing documents, and it can email and create zip versions of documents. I tried the Word application and found that it is a stripped down to the bones version of a word processor; it will create a document, check spelling, provide basic fonts and styles, and allow printing and creating PDF files--and, beyond a few other minor things, that's about it, with the exceptions that it does allow the user to drop it in Dropbox or other apps, and it has features, such as comment boxes and change tracking that might be useful for sharing and collaborating by students or teachers. To put it mildly: No frills. I also played with PowerPoint and Excel and found them a bit awkward to use, especially Excel. While I'd be more inclined to use a laptop for any of these functions, Quickoffice will work in a pinch or on the run, and since it's free, that's not all bad.

Its main value, then, seems to be in its ability to start the ball rolling in creating a document, sharing it for the sake of making revisions, and then doing the fine tuning with an actual laptop or other computer.

SignNow: This is another app that may be useful in a pinch. I liked how easy it was to set up and to apply a written signature to a document. No scanner needed. That's a genuine plus. Just two issues come to mind: First, as one user noted, signed documents tend to be sensitive in nature, and it might not be wise to let them "float" around on the cloud, where other signers may be involved with the document, especially with the risk of hackers. Second, and not nearly so important, I could never get my "signature" to look like my actual signature--not sure about the legal implications of that, but it was a little concerning.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thing 5 Notetaking

Springpad: Springpad is easy to set up and to use. I enjoyed the personable tone of the instructions and the search tool to find notes that I had written. That's a fast way to find things without paging through documents. I also liked how it uses the homebase of your iPad as a starting point for finding such things as nearby restaurants. What strikes me about this app is its wide range of functions. It basically works as a personal assistant, and I could see using it for collecting my own thoughts or recording ideas for personal use. It could also be used professionally as a kind of reference; in fact, this app is so multi-dimensional that I think it will take something of a shift in thinking to switch to using it. The barcode feature, for example, could be used to gain instant information about a book, whether for personal or professional purposes. As another example, I tried the TV feature and typed in Bates Motel to see when the series will resume. The app brought me to; from there I opened the site in Safari, which gave me a full-screen view of the Web site. Overall, this app works fast and is easy to use, and a person could play with it for hours. Its features for sending notes to others and following other Notebooks were additional bonuses, and I got a kick out having the ability to attach audio to a message. I give it two thumbs up.

Bamboo Paper: This app is fairly limited in scope, appearing as little more than a blank notebook page; it has the usual sharing and e-mailing features common to, it seems, just about all the apps I've tried so far. The usefulness of this app, beyond keeping handwritten notes, may be in its ability to demonstrate a process, a drawing, or anything else that can be demonstrated from scratch to completion; it might even be useful in demonstrating cursive to students, if anyone still practices cursive any more. A word of caution: If the user has large hands or fingers, this app could well prove frustrating to use. I know I couldn't get many words on a single page. (It charges for its tools, which is a disincentive for using it, considering all the free apps out there.)

Dragon Dictation: I tried dictating into Dragon Dictation three times and found that overall it produced a fairly accurate transcription. When I read a passage quickly into it, I found that it could not capture all the words, so it may be accurate to state that a speaker has to speak slowly and clearly in order for this app to be effective. But for a free app, it's not bad at all--and could serve as a notetaking/sharing tool for students who are not good/fast writers or for those students who would like to save time by dictating as they're reading a text or some other document for which they may need notes. I can see an app such as this as a serious time saving device in taking notes--or as a device that can serve disabled students unable to write. Other features: As with many other apps, it allows for easy sharing via email, Facebook, or Twitter. On the whole, it's a clever little tool.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thing 4 Keeping Up

Zite: This reminds me of the RSS feeds that we explored for 23 Things on a Stick, only that it's a kind of flexible graphic aggregator that is far more visually appealing and intuitively easy to use compared to the old versions that were slightly clunky in nature. I also liked the Quicklist, which focuses in on a person's particular interests on a whim.

Note: There is a similar app called Side by Side that aggregates information sources and allows the user to self-select content as well. On the whole, however, Zite is a slightly more appealing app, but Side by Side may be more efficient for the serious searcher of related news and information from a variety of sources.

What I'm not so sure about is whether there's any value added by this app. By that I mean lots of homepages allow viewers to customize them in such a way that the homepages will cater to their interests in a way that allows a broader visual sweep of information. So would I take the trouble to create yet another source for finding information that appeals to my interests and then visit it in addition to or to the exclusion of other sources, such as Yahoo or Google? Probably not. It's nice, but not unique. And that leads me to another issue I've been thinking about concerning online resources: There's increasing competition and overlap among online tools (apps), so much so that one motivation for using one app over another is simply because it is newer or more novel. That to me may lead to a lot of technology churning--learning and relearning for the sake of the next new device when a critical attitude may need to be applied instead: Is the new tool better than an older tool? What are the unintended consequences? These questions really become relevant when sharing and online collaboration are involved.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thing 3 Utilities

Wi-Fi Finder: I downloaded this app for the times I'd like to use my new iPad away from my school site to broaden my opportunities to access online resources and to do professional and personal tasks in the field, so to speak. The features I especially liked about this app were the map (which showed how to find hotspots), the filter (so that I wouldn't have to end up in a bar in order to use my iPad), and the save feature in the event I might want to refer back to the listings. I also liked that the app pointed me toward using the strongest Wi-Fi signal. When I tried it for the first time, it indicated that I should use my school's signal instead of those in the surrounding area, which made sense since the signal would be far and away stronger than others. Is this app critical to have, considering that one could just go under settings and find another network? I believe so because it allows a person to navigate toward a signal if none is in the current area. Relying on settings is flying blind and could prove unsuccessful.

RedLaser Barcode & QR Scanner: This free app could put a lot of money back in the consumer's pocket. It allows for price comparisons among stores, show specials, and indicates the availability of a product at a particular store, thus saving the consumer in both time and money. In another sense, it could save the shopper money by comparing store prices with online prices, which could lead to matching the lower price. Now I just wish I had a smart phone to carry around in stores rather than an iPad.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thing 2 Mobile Device Tips

Focus: iPad tips and tricks Link: Support Essentials Areas covered: (1) Connecting to a Wi-Fi network to all sorts of other tools, from Siri to Troubleshooting: This doesn't make the most interesting reading until it's needed, so it's reassuring to know that this information is available as a backup. Its descriptions and visuals make it very user-friendly, and I know that I'll be returning to the site often. The Communities feature is an added bonus for interacting with someone who could solve a problem in a few quick sentences. (2) iPad Tips & Tricks Overview Video: This brief video gave a good overview into some of the features of iOS 7 and is a good starting point for understanding how the iPad offers multi-tasking features. (3) The Best Tips & Tricks link: Since this source has so much information that may need to be accessed at any time, I'm putting here as a link to make it easy to find for future reference. This is an excellent, easily understandable reference.

Thing 1 Getting Started

As a high school library media specialist, I've just begun learning how to use the new iPad that my district purchased for all of its staff, and I'm interested in apps that are related to library media center uses and that may be useful beyond that for my own professional and personal interests. I also believe it's my responsibility to be current on technology applications relevant to education and to not just use but to share my knowledge with staff and students.

Here's to mobilizing to new uses of technology--and to having some fun along the way.

To 23 Things