Drafts [App o’ the Mornin’]

I hope to write small reviews of my whole mobile productivity suite over the next few weeks (alternating with entertainment reviews), and concluding with a post on how it all ties together. I’ve tested a vast array of software over the past couple years, trying to rebuild my work system from scratch, first going wholly paperless, and then drifting back to some paper-based note-taking and lists.

Text highlighted in the Universalis app is turned into a document with one tap.

Whatever I do and whatever I’ve changed, however, Drafts (Agile Tortoise, iOS 7 only, iPad: $4, iPhone: $3, no universal app) has been a constant since I adopted it for both iPhone and iPad last year. Drafts is the funnel through which all my text flows, and its simplicity hides a power that allows to you create and use text anyway you like.

Drafts is a straight-up text utility. You type plain text, and that’s it.

But it’s not merely a text editor. I have several of those, some of which I prefer to use when I’m doing long-form writing on a mobile device. (iAwriter and Textilus both have their uses.) If you choose to use Drafts as your total text creation solution, it will work just fine. It has special characters in the bar above the keyboard, arrows that allow you to move by letter and word through the document, onscreen word and character counts, and some light character formatting features. 

But Drafts is special not because it’s a text editor, but because it’s a text manager. It allows for the fastest, easiest “text capture” on any mobile device. It opens quickly on a blank page every time (unless you set it to open on the last file), and allows you tap out text fast. All of your saved pages are readily accessible by tapping an icon to open a list of documents.

The power comes from it does text. You can “push” it anywhere you need. Let’s say you take a note and want to Tweet it, Facebook it, email it, turn it into a text file to save on Dropbox, make it a reminder, and drop it into Evernote. It does each of these actions with a tap.

Say you don’t want to create a new Dropbox file, but rather append a new piece of text, complete with a time and date stamp, to the end of a file. It can do that too. It’s the best way I’ve ever found to keep a continuous journal. It will start a new file each day, week, or month if you like. The list of actions is large and each can be customized for your needs. You can even chain actions together so that one tap will do all of the things listed above.

It’s like a little notebook and filing system in one. I use it for everything from jotting down quick notes to capturing story ideas or sentences that occur to me. Sometimes I dictate straight into it using the iOS voice recognition icon, and it works just fine at capturing voice-to-text. When you tap and hold the new document creation icon, you get a menu that allows you to create a new draft, new from clipboard, new from selection, or import from Dropbox. If you’re looking for a way to grab slices of text on an iOS screen and send it somewhere for future use, it doesn’t get any easier than this.

There are a lot of features buried in here–like the ability to use it as an app launcher–that I never use. It’s a powerful piece of software, and though some might be annoyed that it’s not a universal app (you’ll need to buy iPhone and iPad versions separately) $7 total is an absurdly small price to pay for something this useful. It has an elegant implementation of its features, masking serious flexibility and power with a deceptive simplicity. That’s a sign of good design. On any device I use, it has a permanent place on my dock.

Watch What This Artist Can Do With An iPad

Morgan Freeman: you know him, you love him, he could inform you that he’d annihilated a small village and that soothing voice would make everything seem okay. Here’s his face:

Know what’s impressive about that image? It’s not a photograph. Artist Kyle Lambert made it with his finger, and iPad, and the Procreate app. Watch this time lapse to see how he did it.



Amazon MatchBook: Get Kindle Versions of Your Purchases

Remember when Amazon AutoRip went live and almost every hard-media CD you’d ever bought from Amazon (even those you’d bought as gifts for others) was automatically available as an MP3 download or cloud streaming file? For free?

That was great.

Amazon MatchBook does something similar for books and Kindle. Books you’ve bought in hard copy are available now for Kindle.

Unlike Autorip, MatchBook is not necessarily free, nor is it, at this point, all that comprehensive.

First, the price: Kindle versions of prior purchases are $3, $2, $1, or free, depending upon the book. Most of  mine were listed at $3. It also works for new purchases.

Of the many books I’ve bought going back to 2004, only 17 are now available. There are some interesting items in there, and I might Kindleize (it’s a word because I say it’s a word) one or two. As more become available, it will be more attractive, but giving free or low-price e-versions away with hard copies is a great value.

This is something you might want to check on every few months, since the list of supported titles may grow.

Log into your account and see what’s available.

Part of my Kindle MatchBook list: hardly complete, but a nice start.

Ridiculous Fishing: Catch Fish, Shoot Fish, Have Fun

Ridiculous Fishing: A Tale of Redemption
Vlambeers, iPad/iPhone: $3; Rated: 12+
Content: Fish erupt in little clouds of pixelated blood when shot.

Drop a hairdryer-, toaster-, and chainsaw-equipped hook into the water, let it sink as low as possible, snag as many fish as you can on the way up, fling the fish into the air, and blast them to pulp with your orbital laser.

Folks, it doesn’t get any more fun than that. Ridiculous Fishing may be the easiest app recommendation I’ve made in ages, because it’s the kind of game that appeals to everyone.

Based a 2010 game by Vlambeers called Radical Fishing, Ridiculous Fishing was brought to iOS by Vlambeers, Zach Gage (Spelltower, Bit Pilot, Unify) and Greg Wohlwend (Hundreds, Solipskier, Gasketball), and there’s a high degree of quality on display in every aspect of this game. The 16-bit style is beautiful, turning retro, Intellivision-inspired art into a kind of absurdest/cubist masterpiece, and providing an arcade-style score to match.

Gameplay has a direct and simple appeal that makes Ridiculous Fishing almost impossible to put down. You begin the game with 50 meters of line, a gun, and a basic lure. The action is entirely vertical, with your character sitting in a boat floating on a narrow patch of sea. Drop the lure into the water, and move the device side to side, dodging as many fish as you can to get the hook down as far as possible. If you hit a fish, that’s the end of your descent, and you star to reel in.

On the way up, you have the opposite goal, moving the device back and forth to hook as many fish as you can. Once at the surface, you fling these fish up and use your gun to shoot them for money. The variety of fish is quite large, with some only catchable at certain times of the day and certain depths.

The money allows you to buy larger reels (up to infinite depth) and more gear. There are elaborate weapons, ranging from shotguns to miniguns and orbital lasers. Lures get more complex, with attachments like a toaster and a hairdryer to electrocute fish (earning you a second chance to keep fishing), and a chainsaw lure to get even more fish on the way down. There are dozens of unlocks, including lights for deep sea activity, clothing, fuel, tech enhancements, and more. There are no in-app purchases, with everything bought by money that’s easily earned in-game.

This is great stuff: perhaps the single most readily and widely enjoyable app game of the year so far. At $3, it’s a must have.

As for the subtitle–“A Tale of Redemption”–I haven’t a clue. There’s something of a story told in via Twitter-style messages, but I was two busy blowing fish into a sticky red paste to really care.


Verbum Prepares a Massive Patristic Collection

You don’t spend any time in deep study of the Church Fathers without coming across some reference to the Patrologiae Cursus Completus of Fr. Jacques Paul Migne. Fr. Migne’s goal was truly epic: create a cheap series of books collecting the complete writings of the Church Fathers, Greek and Latin.

His editions were massive and done with some haste, so they’ve been subjected to criticism over the years, but they remain the single largest source of patristic writing ever compiled. The English translations from Philip Schaff, which are in wide use on the internet and within the Verbum Bible Software, were based on Migne’s originals, but do not represent the complete corpus, which has never been rendered in English in its entirety.

Over the years, better, more academic texts and translations have replaced individual works from the Patrologiae, but there is no single source like it.

Verbum is bringing this treasure of the Church to their software in two editions: Patrologiae Latina (221 volumes of Western Fathers) Patrilogiae Graeca (167 volumes of Eastern Fathers). Each of these is currently on pre-publication sale for $250, which is a flat-out steal for academics and theology students. They’re also publishing  a set that includes Patrologia Syriaca (2 volumes) and Orientalis (17 volumes). These supplements were created by Rene Graffin to fill in the gaps of Migne’s work with writings from the Syriac Church Fathers as well as texts in Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Greek, Georgian, and Slavonic.

The editions are full of introductions, critical and supplementary material, and are fully adapted to the Verbum/Logos format. This means they are cross-linked the Schaff editions in English, which means you can spot check Schaff against the originals.

“But Tom,” I hear you saying. “I don’t read Latin or Greek! What’s a body to do?!”

Look, my Latin is wretched. I was a C-student, and time hasn’t improved it all that much despite my occasional forays into Wheelock. As for my Greek? A-ho-ho-he-he-ha! You know what Ben Jonson said about Shakespeare? “Small Latin and less Greek.” It’s like that, but worse. Here’s a picture from my desk:

Sad, isn’t it? I still need to count on my fingers, too.

But that’s the beauty of Verbum. Their language tools provide a sturdy crutch for the Latin/Greek challenged. You can pick your way through the text with the help of various dictionaries and word-study aids. It’s a beautiful thing.

This will be one of the jewels in Verbum’s crown for the serious academic. Order early to lock in a good price, because it’s not going to be $250 forever.

Never Miss a New Pope Announcement Again

Jeff Miller has the scoop. 

Popealarm.com‘s motto is: “When the smoke goes up, you’ll know what’s going on.” Register at the site, and they email, text, or both when the pope is chosen.

Right now, their demand is so high they can’t guarantee the text service, but they’re working on it. Some were disappointed that the Conclave app didn’t include push notifications, and in fact one commenter recommended Pope Alarm as a solution. It’s work of the fine folks at FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students), and is a dang clever use of text. Bravo!

The Conclave? There’s An App For That

Verbum has released a free app with some nifty content for the conclave. The features of Conclave break down this way:

  • Live Video: Right now, it’s the video of the last Press Office conference, but I imagine this will include live streams as they’re available.
  • News: Relevant feeds from Zenit, Catholic Answers, National Catholic Register, John Allen, Jimmy Aiken, CNS, CNA, and Catholic Culture.
  • Twitter: The #conclave and #pope hashtags are tracked. (Since this is Twitter, that means you’ll also get the constant yawps of ignorance for hateful little trolls trying to pass themselves off as enlightened.
  • Bios: This combines New Advent’s tracking data on the papabile with Vatican Press Office bios of all the Cardinals. I would like to have to links to John Allen’s pieces here as well, but you can find them in the news feed.
  • Resources: This is a good set of links to Verbum resources and Vatican data on conclaves for the last thousand years, Jimmy Akin videos, a bible, and other good stuff.

Conclave should definitely get a spot on your iPhone or Android for the next two weeks. Considering the short shelf-life of the app, this was a nice thing for Verbum to do. They’re also giving away certain Verbum resources for free. “The Papacy and the Conclave: Source Documents” is just one of links that opens into the Verbum app (also a free download) with a generous selection of primary sources related to the election of the pope, from Nicholas II’s “In Nimin Domine (1059) to Benedict’s “Normas Nonnulas” (2013). Really great stuff.

Go grab it now! All the kids will be talking about it Monday morning and you don’t want to be left out.

Awesome Medical Tech, or Merely Obamacare Propaganda?

Ace of Spades linked to this NBC piece about the use of cell phones in medicine. The writer [Warden] and his brother were of two minds about the story, the former taking the position that it seemed pretty cool, the latter, that it was a piece of propaganda:

Did you correctly see this as nothing more than a slimey propaganda piece meant to condition the masses to accept and embrace less privacy, less one-on-one time with their doctor, and lower quality of care under Obamacare?

Embarrassingly, I didn’t until I read my brother’s response. Then it was obvious.

Honestly, I don’t see why it can’t be both, as well as being an 8 minute commercial for GE medical tech, courtesy of their wholly owned advertising division: NBC.
First, the propaganda. The writer’s brother is 100% correct to view every syllable from the mass media as a form of propaganda  That’s your safest bet, since what isn’t outright propaganda is usually just an exercise in applied ignorance in the interests of meeting a deadline, satisfying advertisers, and/or promoting an agenda.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to dismiss it all outright. It’s reasonable to ask if we’re being conditioned to accept less facetime with physicians and perhaps less effective diagnostic and treatment methods in the interests of saving money for Obama’s health care mess.

The answer is: probably.

Is that a bad thing?

Possibly not.

The tech on display is promising. I don’t usually like to brag about this, but I happen to sleep with an expert on medical imaging. When I first saw the doctor in the video reading a pocket ultrasound, I was kind of appalled, since I thought (incorrectly) all imaging was handled by radiologists. My wife told me cardiologists are, in fact, the people who read echocardiograms (ultrasound of the heart), but that there’s some controversy over other advances in imaging technology and when they should be used in place of more invasive procedures. Imaging is advancing to the point that, for example, cardiac PET scans can be used to diagnose certain cardiac issues which formerly might have required a cardiac catheterization (which is invasive and has inherent risks). With advances in CT, MRI, and PET, radiologists are starting play a role in diagnostic areas that were previously limited to examinations by cardiologists and other specialists.

Use of imaging rather than invasive procedures is a good thing, and it’s logical to foresee that imaging becoming smaller, more portable, and easier to use. It’s one thing, however, to have a cardiologist read your echocardiogram. But as these technologies become common features in GP offices, will we see unqualified physicians whipping out their pocket ultrasounds and saying, “eh, you look fine?” I’d say it’s almost inevitable.

We’ll also have to find a balance between reasonable home and personal use of this technology and the idea of people giving themselves ultrasounds. Home tech is completely reasonable and we already see it with blood pressure, glucose, and INR monitoring. More fully integrating these resulting data stream with doctors’ offices, and perhaps adding mobile-driven tech for things like EKGs and pulse-ox, is a good thing, and likely not very far off. Heck, Nintendo’s been talking about producing a pulse-oximeter for the Wii for a couple of years now.

The other question, then, is this: is less face time with a physician necessarily a bad thing? Are that many people really into sitting for an hour in a waiting room with old magazines while inhaling a viral miasma in order to get routine checks? People talk nostalgically about this mythical “relationship with your physician.” I haven’t had one of those since I was a kid, when we’d begin our appointment with the doctor sitting in his wood-paneled office behind a huge desk before retiring to the exam room. Obamacare didn’t kill that. A combination of HMOs and the demands of modern medicine (more tests, more prescriptions, more attention paid to well-care, more patients needing to be seen) did it in.

There aren’t enough physicians in the country to rebuild that paradigm on any kind of scale, and honestly, do we really need it? Sure, I have a nostalgic twinge for doctor’s appointments that were more like an encounter with a caring person than akin to an oil change and tire rotation. It was already a problem before Obamacare. Now that he’s shoving millions more patients into the same number of doctors’ offices, it’s only going to get worse. There simply aren’t enough doctors to meet the demands of the new system.

Modern medicine brings us better treatments, longer lives, and more comfort. The price for that is technology, and technology is–by its nature–inevitably dehumanizing.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. I don’t go to a doctor to chat about golf. I go to meet an expert on human health in order to correctly determine what’s wrong with my body. Certainly, a physician’s manner and familiarity with a patient can help make the encounter more pleasant and more effective. But the days of doctor-as-shaman are passing into memory. They no longer just listen to a cluster of symptoms and then deduce–Sherlock Holmes-like–the most reasonable plan of action. They have to send you for tests, and imaging, and find the right drugs or procedures. The doctor then pulls all the information together and, using expertise and experience, determines the problem and its solution.

Technology will ultimately automate more of this process, and make it easier to manage. Data sharing will enable physicians to have a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s complete medical history wherever that patient goes. PAs will be able to handle more of the frontline work (and it was a PA, not a doctor, who correctly spotted my father’s aortic aneurysm in time to save his life), with the doctor adding another level of experience and expertise. In a way, the doctor/PA relationship is akin to the priest/deacon relationship, and just as we see more and more deacons in service in the church, our medical care will involve more PAs as things go forward.

I don’t think any of it’s necessarily bad, just different. It’s also now inevitable after 60 million Americans looked at the last four years of ruin, demagoguery, war, and lies and said, Mm-hm! Gimme more of that!” This is our future. I don’t think it’s a good one, but I don’t think the technology is the thing we need to fear here. Medical technology saves lives. If I have a choice between a folksy old home-town doc with plenty a’  horse sense, and Dr. McCoy’s scanners and sick bay, I’ll take Bones every time.

9 Ways To Keep Lent

Cardinal Ratzinger and Bl. John Paul II

Pope Benedict gave us a gift yesterday. He gave us a Lent that would focus our minds on Christ, the Church, and His People in a way no one has ever experienced.

I awoke yesterday at 6am to learn–on Facebook–that the pope had resigned. The news spread across the world almost at the speed of thought. When Gregory XII resigned 600 years ago, how many people knew? Or cared? In the modern media age, everyone knew, and many cared very deeply. We were connected to the life of our pope through electronic media, and now we are connected to the end of his reign. It was an unprecedented moment, and we should take a moment to appreciate the unity new media creates in our Church.

It also gives us a chance, going into Lent, to pray for our Church, the man who led it, the men who will choose his successor, and that successor. At this pivotal time in our faith and our history, Benedict has given our Lenten prayers a new purpose.

You’ll see a lot of tech woven throughout the items that follow. It’s how my brain and my life are wired, so it’s natural that my worship and my Lent should be wired the same way. I used many methods to pray and worship over the years, long before I had any gear that would assist. I like it much better this way. Everything is one place, accessible, handsomely formatted, searchable, and with me wherever I go.

Your techniques will be different. Everyone has to make their own Lent. This is mine:

1. Prayer for Benedict, the Conclave, the Church
These will be at the forefront of our minds as we make our way through Lent. Our focus is always on God in the Trinity and the suffering of the Incarnate Christ, but as Catholics we arrive at that focus in myriad ways. Christ founded the Church and established the papacy on the rock of Peter, so it is right and proper to pray for both the current successor to Peter, and the next, whoever he may be. My prayers for the weeks ahead suddenly have a theme.

2. Daily Mass
Last year, my wife and I made a commitment to daily mass throughout the 40 days of Lent. I know many people make daily mass year round, but it’s just not something we can do when we’re getting kids off to school and starting a day. This year, we’re going to try again, because it was such an incredibly fulfilling way to keep Lent.

We knew we wanted to make daily mass, but also knew it could be challenging, so we said each day: we’ll try. And each day, we made it. Rather than a whole 40 days of commitment stretching before us, we only had one day of commitment. And then the next. And the next. In that way, step by step, we made it all the way through without missing a day.

Universalis for iPad

3. Liturgy of the Hours
This is one of the great gifts of the Church: a deep, fulfilling, preset course of reading full of scripture, prayer, and meaningful juxtapositions in readings. The Divine Office is a spiritual treasury that people need to discover and claim as their own.

I make an effort to pray Vespers and Lauds and do the readings every day. Do I make it every day? No, I don’t. Sometimes I just get the Mass readings in. That’s life, and I stopped fretting about it long ago. If you’re interested in doing the Hours, that’s the first thing you need to get past: this idea that you have to read it all and, if you miss some, you’ve failed or need to make it up. No, no, no! Just keep going. If you missed morning, try evening. If you missed both, try the next day. Maybe you’ll only get in one or two in the first week. Well, that’s two more than you had before.

Lent is a perfect time to try the Office. You have a purpose and a commitment: this is how you’re keeping Lent. Forget giving up the chocolate. That’s small beans. It’s nice, and we are certainly challenged to fast, but God would much rather hear from you and have you reading His word.

There are some easy ways to do this. I use a Universalis app on my iPad, which includes everything: all readings, mass readings, and hours. You can read the whole thing online for free, or you can download versions for PC or Mac. I bought a license years ago because I use it regularly, and a worker deserves his wage. There are also $14 apps for iPhone/iPad  and AndroidiBreviary is another option, and it’s free.

I get fairly slack on praying the full Office during Ordinary Time, so I make an extra commitment to praying more of it during Advent and Lent.

4. The Audio Divine Office

The other app I use is Divine Office, which has audio versions of the various Hours as well as the complete text. It’s an excellent app and some people will prefer it to Universalis. I’m used to the feel of Universalis, so I only use Divine Office for the audio files, which can be downloaded for offline use.

Honestly, I run hot and cold on the narrations. Some of the readers just emote too much. I don’t need a performance. I just need text read to me when I’m out and about and can’t keep my eyes on a book, or at the end of the day when I’d rather listen than read. There are free sample versions available for some of the hours, or you can get the whole thing for $20. It’s an excellent piece of software.

5. Magnificat Lenten Companion

I was a subscriber to Magnificat for years before I started doing the regular Office, and I still get their books and companions each season. This is a great supplement, and would work fine as the sole devotional for people who don’t want to commit to a full course of readings.

6. The Homilies of St. Thomas Aquinas
In my Verbum software I have a large collection called  Ninety-Nine Homilies of S. Thomas Aquinas Upon the Epistles and Gospels for Forty-Nine Sundays of the Christian Year, translated by John M. Ashley (London: Church Press Company, 1867). It’s part of their 34 volume Medieval Preaching and Spirituality Collection.

I’ve never read any of these homilies, and there are two for each Sunday in Lent and Easter. I’m planning to read one a week this year, which will be made easier since I can download the whole  book right into my Verbum app on iPad and read them offline, rather than being stuck on a PC screen. You can find a public domain copy here.

Since I’m in a class on Patristics right now, the Church Fathers will be my other companions for the journey. It’s a pretty heavy reading load, but it comes at a good time.

7. The Ratzinger Stations 

We’ll be doing Stations of the Cross, and probably the Seven Last Words, at our parish. I also hope to make time this year to pray the stations written and prayed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, shortly before his elevation. They’re not only beautiful: they’ll be a small tribute to the man as he moves into his own via dolorosa.

By the way, if you use an ebook reader or tablet, you don’t need to print those stations. You can just push them to your device using any number of Google Chrome plugins. For Kindle, I use Send to Kindle by Klip.me. For iPad, I use either the Intsapaper or Clip to Evernote plug-ins.  You’ll find them in the Chrome store for free.

8. Mobile Reminders

I already wrote about Avocado and how it allows my wife and me to synchronize our lists and schedules and connect throughout the day. We both get reminders to pray the Angelus at noon, and if we’re together in the house (we both work at home) we pray together. If not, each knows the other is probably praying at the same time.

There are many ways to work mobile and desktop reminders into your prayer life. It’s certainly easy, for those who have Siri, to simply tell it to remind you do pray Vespers at a certain time in the evening, or to tap out a quick prayer intention in any number of mobile note-taking apps so you have it with you for your prayers. Evernote is a bit heavy for making quick prayer intention notes, but Simple Notes, Notes, or, literally, hundreds of other programs can do it as well.

Or you can just scribble it on a piece of paper. You know, like the cavemen did.

9. Fasting

We’ll all be fasting as well. I already make an effort to observe the Friday fast, so this isn’t a huge change for me. I will add additional days of fast for Lent, but I don’t often make a particular effort to give things up. The additional time devoted to extra reading and prayer kind of automatically means I won’t be goofing off, watching TV, wasting time on the internet, or playing games as much, which is why I do it.  It kind of creates its own fast by taking time from leisure and committing it to reading and prayer.


As I said at the start: this is my way of keeping Lent. Yours will be different, so feel free to share it with us. Any tools? Any books? Any devotions you’d like to recommend?