Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘TED’

27 DECEMBER, 2010

The Best Apps of 2010

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Social magazines, Victorian tablets, and what 100-year-old educational traditions have to do with analog photography.

After spotlighting the year’s best books in in Business, Life & Mind, Art, Design & Photography and the top children’s literature, we’re back with the 10 most interesting, innovative and plain useful apps launched in 2010.

FLIPBOARD

Yes, Steve Jobs named it the best app of the year. Yes, TIME picked it as one of the 50 best inventions of 2010. And, yes, we happen to be a featured stream on it. But mainstream acclaim and ego flattery aside, Flipboard is, quite simply, absolutely brilliant. The sleek iPad app turns your social streams — content your Facebook friends and Twitter follows are sharing — into a beautiful visually-driven magazine, padded with extra interesting content from curated channels around your passion points.

Oh, and it’s free.

A HUMUMENT

From British artist Tom Phillips comes A Humument, combining 367 stunning full-color illustrations from Phillips’ artist book, based on and a contraction of the title of the Victorian novel A Human Document, with an ingenious interactive oracle function that will cast two pages to be read in tandem using a chosen date and a randomly generated number. A Find wheel lets you navigate the pages visually. You can share oracle readings with friends via email and post individual images to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Design Observer called it “one of the most successful artist’s books ever published” and we won’t disagree — it does for the iPad what Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes does for the bound book.

A Humument was first published as a private press edition in 1973, with several subsequent print editions and spinoffs. But the iPad app is the pinnacle of it all, weaving an immersive, non-linear narrative and featuring 39 new, original pages not available elsewhere. It’s the epitome of harnessing the full potential of a new publishing platform to engage in a different, more compelling way, rather than merely repurposing the print experience to a tablet screen.

A Humument is available for $7.99 which, given it’s more a book and art project in one than it is an app per se, is an absolute steal.

RAPPORTIVE

Rapportive is your personal social media detective. The clever Gmail extension pulls a rich profile of the sender to the right of each email — everything from social media presence to location to job titles past and present.

Rapportive is free and available for Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Mailplane.

INSTAPAPER FOR IPAD

Sure, Instapaper, the ingeniously simple app for saving web pages to read them later, has been around since 2008 as an iPhone app. But the Instapaper iPad app, launched in March, completely changes the relationship between the reader and the digital page. With its stripped-down, minimalist aesthetic sprawled gloriously on the wide iPad screen, the app turns your favorite online reads, sans the annoying ads and the distracting meta-links, into the perfect companion for everything from your train commute to your cardio workout at the gym.

Instapaper is the brainchild of Tumblr cofounder Marco Arment. The iPad app is available for $4.99 and triple-worth every penny.

TED

It’s no secret we’re big TED fans here, so the October launch of TED’s free iPad app was an absolute treat. It tailors TED’s familiar brilliance — powerful punches of inspiration by some of the world’s most remarkable thinkers and doers — to the touchscreen experience, offering some nifty iPad-exclusive features. An “Inspire Me” button lets you find the perfect dose of inspiration based on the amount of time you have to watch; curated playlists offer thematic insight on topics like “How We Learn” and “The Power of Cities”; smart tags break down the 800+ TEDTalks into 250 easily navigable categories.

The app was developed by a former Apple developer who worked on the first iPhone SDK — and it shows.

WORDLENS

With real-time translation as the next frontier of the web and augmented reality as easily the most buzzed about mobile technology this year, it’s no surprise that the marriage of the two would be a win. WordLens is a new real-time translation app that turns your iPhone into “the dictionary of the future,” using optical character recognition and augmented reality to translate text captured with the phone’s camera. From t-shirt slogans to street signage, its applications for globe-trotters are astounding and its implications for the future of language learning and cross-cultural communication remarkable.

The app itself is free, with various language pairs available for in-app purchase. The first pair released is Spanish-English, with more coming soon.

DESIGN OBSERVER

Design Observer is the world’s premiere online design journal and their new iPhone app puts today’s most important conversations about design in your pocket. From photography to architecture to to urbanism to sustainability and beyond, the sleek app lets you browse the entire spectrum of visual culture and social innovation by channel, topic or author. A special Mondrian view allows you to scan articles visually by thumbnails of key images.

The app is free and highly recommended.

INSTAGRAM

Visual lifestreaming is one of the most rapidly growing branches of new media storytelling. Instagram takes your hum-drum iPhone photos, runs them through some retrotastic filters, and churns out gorgeous images oozing Lomo charisma and vintage goodness. What makes the app interesting is that it comes with a built-in mobile-only social network: You get to follow friends and interesting users on Instagram, much like you would on Twitter, with the option of liking or commenting on images, but there’s no web version whatsoever — you can only engage with your stream within the app. (Though you can, of course, share instagr.am links to individual images on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.)

The app is free and one of our most recent (now full-blown) obsessions.

FOODUCATE

Navigating the torrents of marketing hype, nutrition labels, overwhelming ingredient lists and questionable health claims can take the joy out of food shopping. Fooducate is a smart app that helps you see behind the veil of healthspeak and make better choices at the store. The app, developed by a team of dietitians, uses the iPhone’s camera to scan barcodes and pull up product highlights, both good and bad — including stuff manufacturers don’t want you to see, like excessive sugar, hidden trans fats, additives and preservatives, artificial coloring and more. It currently features a databse of 160,000 products, growing daily.

Fooducate is free and a solid investment in your health.

MONTESSORIUM

The Montessori method is easily the best-known system of self-directed learning in formal education. This year, Montessorium put the 100-year-old educational tradition at the fingertips of today’s children with two simple yet brilliantly executed mobile apps that let kids learn the basics of language and mathematics. Minimalist yet engaging, the sleekly designed app makes self-directed learning what it should be: Fun, simple, yet effective.

Montessorium comes in three varieties — math, letters and writing — each available for $4.99. The folks at Montessorium have kindly offered 10 free downloads of the brand new writing app to Brain Pickings readers, so if you’d like to try it out, say so in the comments below and we’ll email the first 10 a promo code. [UPDATE 12/27/10: All 10 invitations have been claimed!]

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





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03 DECEMBER, 2010

Hans Rosling for BBC: 200 Countries Over 200 Years in 4 Minutes

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Statistical stuntsman Hans Rosling, mastermind of revolutionary visualization platform Gapminder, is a longtime Brain Pickings darling. From his blockbuster TED talks, better described as performances than mere talks, to his projection of the future of humanity in LEGO, Rosling is easily the most vocal and engaging advocate for data visualization as a sensemaking mechanism for culture and the world.

Now, The Hans strikes again with an absolutely brilliant 4-minute distillation of 200 countries over 200 years, part of BBC’s The Joy of Stats. (An excellent companion to The Beauty of Maps.) With his signature sports commentator style, Rosling narrates two centuries worth of income and life expectancy data in a way he never has before: Using augmented reality animation. To see the impact of historical and political milestones, from colonization to the Industrial Revolution to WWII, in such a visceral way contextualizes these events and their aftermath in a way no history book or verbal storytelling ever could — a living manifesto for the power and importance of data visualization as a storytelling device.

For more on the storytelling and sensemaking art and science of data visualization, the journalistic importance of which we’ve previously examined, we highly recommend Data Flow 2 and Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions, both of which reference Rosling’s work, among countless other masters of the discipline.

HT @TEDchris

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

01 DECEMBER, 2010

The Secret of Happiness: A TED Remix

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I recently had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project fame, who inspired me to excavate an old pet project of mine featured here a few years ago: An exploratory story of what happiness is, told in TED soundbites and kinetic typography — a true labor of love that took three weeks to compose, audio-edit and animate. Enjoy!

Speakers, in order of appearance:

For a complementary read, see these 7 essential books on the art and science of happiness.

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