The Chimerist

Posts tagged iPad

If the Euro falls, what should the coins of Greece, Spain, Italy and the rest of the member states look like? The Money Museum’s Coins app, with its high-definition photos of ancient and modern currencies, offers a lot of ideas. 

I’m particularly fond of this impractical dolphin coin, which dates to 480 B.C. in the Greek City of Olbia (and shows that the Ichthys — the Christian fish symbol — wasn’t as unique as it seems now). You would definitely always be able to find it by touch in your pocket.

Contemporary Greece might want a more powerful and rousing symbol, though, and no one fits the bill better than the Goddess Athena.

Some of the writing is a little stilted and clumsy, but the history is solid. 

Even if you (like me) aren’t into coin collecting, this app is surprisingly pleasurable to spend time with. Also, it’s free. The Celtic collection is especially beautiful.

Maud Newton


Sometimes, when people ask me how useful my iPad is (meaning: compared to a laptop), I’m at a bit of a loss. How do you measure the utility of taking a ten-minute break to dip into Fotopedia’s spread on the Alhambra or to glance at the Guardian’s photo of the day? Hours of reading and writing can leave even the most bookish person starved for images and color. The iPad is a relaxation and consumption device for me (the laptop = work), but it provides a refreshment of eye, mind and spirit that surely do me more good than a whole suite of productivity software. I use it to look at art.

Apps for looking at art abound. One of the best-known is Art Authority, a big barn of images, ranging from classical to modern works, fronted by a modest facade. What Art Authority lacks in sophistication, however, it makes up for in volume: the developers have pulled tens of thousands of images — including many high-resolution ones, for you retina screen users — from all over the web and served them up in a format designed to look like a museum.

Some users have complained that all of this stuff — from the images themselves to the Wikipedia pages that pop up when you touch the information button — is already available for free online. Art Authority is basically a big database of that material, which you can search using a limited range of fields: artist, title, location and “subject,” if, say, you really want to find paintings of horses. There’s no presiding curatorial sensibility, no narrative, no analysis. The developers have also produced a companion art-history book available for free in the iBook store. That consists of some very basic information about the various schools of Western visual art, but as with the large chronological categories in the app (Renaissance, Baroque, etc.), the framework is strictly for beginners. This app isn’t going to replace your Janson. Then again, you can find pictures in here that Janson didn’t have room to include.

And you can set Art Authority on shuffle, prop your iPad up and gaze at a seemingly endless stream of gorgeous images, quite a few of them in high resolution. You can pinch zoom to get a closer look, or try an interesting (if somewhat mysterious) tool that picks out “similar images” from the trove. At five bucks, the app’s seamless presentation is well worth the cost, although it would be great if — in addition to being able to save a list of favorite images — users themselves could add tags to aid future searchers. Technically, for example, it’s correct that the Pre-Raphaelites belong to the Romantic era, as does the Hudson School of landscape painters, but otherwise these two groups don’t have much in common. Yet you can’t currently search the database for either school. 

You’d think, then, that I’d appreciate the more strictly curated artCircles app, which serves up images hand-selected by “the artists, musicians, designers and innovators of our time.” (I had heard of none of them.) You can look at all the images picked by a single curator while listening to an audio narration explaining his or her choices. There are also circles organized by dominant color or theme. The images include paintings, photographs, illustrations, even some vintage advertising.

Unfortunately, the wince-inducing narrations in artCircles are a reminder of just how hard it is not to sound self-indulgently dopey when talking about art. The selections in the app should have felt fresh and eclectic, full of new discoveries, yet there was something overly familiar about it — Klimt, Warhol, Dali, etc. — that made the experience strangely redolent of a dorm room. That’s probably because this free app is produced by the company art.com, which sells exactly the sort of posters you and your roommate and your best friend taped over your desks during freshman year. The app is actually a catalog designed to sell prints.

The Gagosian app is forthrightly a catalog, but one that’s so intricate and inventive that even a viewer who’s mostly indifferent to contemporary art (my favorite painter is Tintoretto, to give you a sense) can end up being charmed by it. Gagosian is a name to conjure with in the current art world, and even I recognize a few of the names (Damien Hirst, Richard Serra) in the three issues produced so far. While I liked playing around with Hirst’s colored-dots animation, the real fun lay in meandering through the works of artists who were entirely new to me, like Mike Kelley, who, alas, died earlier this year. 

The Kelley “exhibit” presented by the app featured video, stills, quotes from critics, narration by the artist (which also confirmed that most people sound dopey when talking about art, including artists), and information and images concerning how his wacky, brainy installations were made. It helped that the project, “Exploded Fortress of Solitude,” offered a cockeyed version of Superman’s mountain sanctuary you could walk through. There’s also video in which bewigged men chain a groggy bride to a stone wall. I don’t know what it all means (despite Kelley’s efforts to explain it), but it sure was fun.

Even though I try to hit the major art museums in cities I visit, I’d probably never make it to exhibits at the various glittering Gagosian galleries scattered throughout the world. Not my scene. But the Gagosian app has earned a permanent spot on my tablet. Each issue has two or three things that purely delight me, presented in some sly way that invites exploration and play. How useful is that? Very.

—Laura Miller


There is not an app for that, or at least not one I can find: Consider this the first in an occasional series in which The Chimerist will gripe about some gaping holes in the selection in the App Store. 

I’m not a musician. I have no desire to be a musician. But I do like music and have always felt my lack of a decent (or, really, any) musical education, particularly in the two genres I listen to most: classical and jazz. 

So I was excited when I stumbled across The History of Jazz, by 955 Dreams (developers of the Band of the Day app). Then I read the reviews, which indicate that the text is lifted from Wikipedia and that there are “glaring omissions” and other shortcomings, suggesting a lack of will or funds to obtain the rights to use all the musical tracks needed 

I understand that rights are a headache — a constraint on app production that I don’t think many consumers appreciate. Still, could there be a more ideal platform for music education than the iPad? Text and notation can run across the screen as the audio plays. The text can explain basic musical concepts and structures as you hear them. Particularly in the case of classical music, I always feel that there’s more going on than I’m getting, and a little help would make the experience so much richer.

So far, the only classical music appreciation/education apps I’ve encountered have been intended for kids and focus on the lives of great composers, rather than on explaining what makes them great. By contrast, there are countless music-making apps, simulators of everything from drums and pianos to ukeleles. I know I should celebrate the creativity liberated by such digital instruments, but it would be nice of the needs of the would-be connoisseurs were as well-served as those of the dabblers. 

Am I wrong? We’d love to hear about any apps you know of that do this, and while you’re at it, a pianist friend wonders when someone will devise a sheet music app that can listen to the piece being played and turn the page on its own when needed.  

Laura Miller


It’s not hard to guess the logic behind releasing "Timeline World War 2" at this time of year: It’s the quintessential dad app. For many people giving or getting a new iPad for Father’s Day, this Ballista Media/Agant Ltd. production handily illustrates the merits of the tablet medium by taking the material of a zillion History Channel documentaries and presenting it in a fresh new way.

But “Timeline World War 2” is not just for dads! Yes, it focuses on the military (rather than the political or social) aspects of the conflict, but to someone (like me) who’s unlikely to read a book devoted to major battles, key tacticians, warships sunk or scuttled, weapons descriptions and so on, it may be even more interesting and enlightening than it would be to an aficionado. It’s also a beautifully-designed demonstration of the iPad’s powers as a publishing platform for nonfiction.

Wars are mostly strings of discrete, if related, events, which means accounts of them fit well into a timeline format. “Timeline World War 2” includes a video introduction by revered broadcast journalist Robert MacNeil, and he continues to crop up now and then as you explore it. MacNeil’s presence in the app proper is far from pervasive, however, and it’s best to think of him as a badge guaranteeing its seriousness and substance. 

The main panel of the app is a side-scrolling assemblage of items resembling index cards pinned to a cork board. A bar at the top indicates where you are in the years between 1939 and 1945, so you can scroll month by month — or day by day, depending on the setting of the chronological zoom adjuster, which you can set yourself. You can also drag a pointer along the top bar to a desired date. The “cards” are displayed in layers, with the most significant events in the foreground and the rest in semi-shadow behind them, so you know there’s more to drill down to. You can filter to see just the entries about battles, or those pertaining to a certain country, etc. The text is derived from two day-by-day histories of the war (one about the European theater and the other about the Pacific) written by Peter Darman and John Davison, respectively.

Histories of war, especially modern wars, are tricky. Even more than most historical events, there’s a huge difference between the immediate, confusing, frightening experience of living through a war and a retrospective consideration of what actually happened and why. It’s easy to lose track of one perspective when you’re paying attention to the other. “Timeline World War 2” orders its entries with this in mind. It offers three different types of items: news-making one-day events are displayed as telegrams; accounts with a bit more perspective (the Nazi takeover of Paris, for example) look like typewritten reports, and annual overviews or biographies of the major players look like pages from a book. That’s an elegant design strategy that conveys information instantly without calling too much attention to itself. 

There are photos and, most captivating of all, many newsreel reports, streaming from the web. These latter are, of course, largely propagandistic; you wouldn’t want to count on them to give you an accurate picture of how the war was proceeding when they were filmed. A few come with the choice of watching with the original audio or with narration by MacNeil. Both are worth listening to; however stiff-upper-lip the British film announcers get, there’s no better way to glimpse how it felt to be a civilian in a movie theater worrying and wondering about the future and the fates of loved ones.

The only disappointment in “Timeline World War 2” is the map feature, which seems to be automatically generated, a basic world map with a pushpin indicating a site mentioned in the current entry. There aren’t graphic overlays of arrows and other diagrams to explain troop movements or battle configurations, so unless you’re the sort of person who doesn’t know where Norway or Libya are, it’s not the least bit helpful.

Serious World War II history buffs may find “Timeline World War 2” too elementary; I can’t testify to that. There’s not a lot of text in it when you add it up, but text isn’t the only way to communicate in this medium. This reader, for one, found it a vivid and immersive exploration of a defining event in modern history.

Laura Miller


The Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy app collects the artist’s incredibly intricate anatomical drawings and theories amid eleven chapters of explanatory text. Viewed in landscape mode, it’s elegant and satisfying, providing real insight into the ways his studies (and, later, his dissections) of the human body affected his painting, and establishing him as a groundbreaking scientist. 

He went out of his way to capture muscles at rest. In one study the model even had his arms supported by sticks so as to put no strain on the shoulder muscles. Leonardo reasoned that, while it is important to know how to draw the muscles in tension, it is just as important to know how to draw them when relaxed: “You should not make all the muscles of your figures conspicuous; even if they are shown in the correct place they should not be made too evident, unless the limbs to which they belong are engaged in the exertion of great force or labour. The limgs that are not under strain should have no such display of musculature. If you do otherwise you will have produced a sack of nuts rather than a human figure.”

For Leonardo it was a combination of slack and tense muscles that implied movement — if every single muscle was tensed, the body was locked in position.

"Had he published the treatise on anatomy that he’d planned," says Alasdair Sooke, “Leonardo would be considered one of the great scientists of the Renaissance — if not all time. But because he never managed to do so, his anatomical drawings essentially disappeared from view for hundreds of years — which meant that they had little impact on scientists of a later age.”

At Download the Universe, Carl Zimmer calls the app ”simply the best ebook about science that I have ever encountered.”

Maud Newton


I continue to use the Paper app constantly. People on the subway are mystified, but my penmanship on the iPad screen is slowly improving, even though I’m still using an AluPen stylus.
I’ve been curious what art and writing apps austinkleon is playing around with these days. A few months ago he said he worked on his iPad rarely but “used to make blackout poems w/ Brushes and the NYTimes app.” He was planning to leave his laptop behind while on book tour, and if he did I wonder how he’s faring.
— Maud Newton

I continue to use the Paper app constantly. People on the subway are mystified, but my penmanship on the iPad screen is slowly improving, even though I’m still using an AluPen stylus.

I’ve been curious what art and writing apps austinkleon is playing around with these days. A few months ago he said he worked on his iPad rarely but “used to make blackout poems w/ Brushes and the NYTimes app.” He was planning to leave his laptop behind while on book tour, and if he did I wonder how he’s faring.

Maud Newton


Like a Portlandia character, I’m excited enough about the iPad to have co-founded this site, but concerned enough about Apple’s labor practices not to want to support them by buying a newer model than the 1st gen that’s just out of warranty and may be dying on me. 
I know Laura and I aren’t the only ones caught in this kind of anxiety loop. Can anyone recommend a good international workers’ rights organization that I might contribute to if (when) I succumb?
—Maud Newton

Like a Portlandia character, I’m excited enough about the iPad to have co-founded this site, but concerned enough about Apple’s labor practices not to want to support them by buying a newer model than the 1st gen that’s just out of warranty and may be dying on me. 

I know Laura and I aren’t the only ones caught in this kind of anxiety loop. Can anyone recommend a good international workers’ rights organization that I might contribute to if (when) I succumb?

Maud Newton


Words That Burn, a poetry app, includes audio and video from the late writer Josephine Hart’s Poetry Hour at the British Library. Beginning in 2004, Hart devoted an evening each month to a poet or two, “introducing and setting their poems in the context of their life,” and staging readings of the work from actors like Dominic West, Harold Pinter, and Elizabeth McGovern.

The idea, Hart said, was that understanding “‘the life and philosophy of the poet illuminates the poetry,” which “readings by some of our finest actors then ignite.” In a video introduction, Hart contends that poetry is “the highest form of language, without a doubt.”

Words That Burn features fifteen poets, and many more pairings: Dominic West reads Percy Shelley and Robert Lowell; Juliet Stevenson reads Emily Dickinson; Ralph Fiennes reads W.H. Auden. Harriet Walter reads Sylvia Plath; Charles Dance reads Elizabeth Bishop; Elizabeth McGovern reads Lowell and Marianne Moore; and so on. And the app is free, created by the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation in her memory.

Alongside each recording, the text of the poem appears. Occasionally, while reciting, an actor will add or modify a word, changing the meaning of the text slightly, causing the listener to reflect on the difference between the original and what has been spoken. Some read quickly and brusquely, others languorously.

Dominic West inserts an extra “I” in Lowell’s “Man and Wife.” Harold Pinter is all force delivering Philip Larkin’s “Vers de Sociéte.”

Outside the simple poetry layouts, the graphics are both wonderful and ridiculous. The main navigation screen, presented as a library, features a crackling fire, mounted animal head, and ornate gold portrait frames filled with an overlarge italicized font. 

The aesthetic of this room powerfully calls to mind a strange sugar plantation whodunit game that I played in the early ’90s. Other aspects of the design are more evocative of New Yorker caricatures or Monty Python. 

Getting around can be tricky. Move a balloon to the center of the screen and click just once on it to select a poem. Make sure not to confuse the app into thinking you want to read the poet’s or actor’s bio yet again. I would provide more guidance here, but I don’t want to mislead you. I still get lost, myself.

Juliet Stevenson’s rendition of “I Heard A Fly Buzz— When I Died—” is particularly lovely — slow and melodious, with pauses where I didn’t expect them, underscoring the gravity of Dickinson’s verse in a whole new way.

Hart herself, as the critic Emma Garman has said, “believed in three major destructive powers: erotic obsession, grief and envy. In her six novels, she anatomized each with an unflinching boldness that was, and remains, unparalleled.” The poetry showcased here tends to reflect those and other dark preoccupations.

Maud Newton


Konfetti, designer Stephan Maximilian Huber’s new app, converts your camera’s mirror image into a collection of dots that follow your movements. Transform and manipulate them, creating ever more striking and abstract renderings, by touching the screen. (Via.)
— Maud Newton

Konfetti, designer Stephan Maximilian Huber’s new app, converts your camera’s mirror image into a collection of dots that follow your movements. Transform and manipulate them, creating ever more striking and abstract renderings, by touching the screen. (Via.)

Maud Newton


Robin Sloan’s Fish app is, like it says, a tap essay about the difference between liking and loving something on the Internet — about the way most of us enjoy things only once, in a rush, online. We click the little star or heart or “like” button, maybe even update our “Read it Later” queue. Then we move on, never to return.

For me, it’s more rarely than never. I Google up old favorites; I rummage through my archives for links to and thoughts on things I read years ago; but most of my quick hits have moved to Twitter, and those are a lot harder to track down six or thirty months later. And yes: most of what I like online, I see only once.

That’s always been true for me of some other things, too. Magazine articles. Theatrical productions. Limited-run films. Even books. Plenty of books. The problem isn’t unique to the Internet, but it feels different here, more endemic to the medium. So many new things are always streaming past that we don’t often make time to visit the old ones. 

Sloan advocates going back to things. Really sitting with them, getting to know them. To say much more than that might spoil the Fish for you, so I’ll just recommend downloading it and reading through, possibly more than once. There is no back button.

For a good companion app, try the beautiful and mysterious Everything Is Its Own Reward, which I, like Laura, find myself returning to often, especially at the end of a stressful day. It took me several readings to remember to look for the hidden parts.

Maud Newton


I’m looking forward to Samantha Gorman’s Penumbra, an iPad app created with Danny Cannizzaro that blends art and literature and is designed to “challenge the notion of a static ‘ebook’ by carefully integrating short film, rich animation, illustration and fiction.” Gorman has posted several video previews at her site. (Thanks for the tip, Patrick.) 

Maud Newton


When the New York Public Library released Biblion last year, it properly wowed iPad users interested in inventive ways of presenting information. Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic proclaimed it a model for the magazine apps of the future. So far, though — nearly a year later — there hasn’t been another issue.

The theme of the premier issue is the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The library signed on to get all materials pertaining to the event right from the very beginning, so it’s a fabulous trove of documents, correspondence, blueprints, sketches, photographs, short films, even a menu or two.

The only way to read Biblion is to wander through it, an experience that more than one observer likened to meandering around the fair itself. It’s an impressive emulation, as well, of rummaging through a good archive or taking in a museum exhibit. If you care about women at the fair (scantily-clad ones were a major attraction), or the Czech Pavilion as a commemoration of a republic that fell to the Nazis while the exhibition being built, or what the staff uniforms looked like, or the story of the African-American composer who wrote the music for the Democracity exhibit inside the fair’s giant dome, you can head straight for that and then fork off in other directions later. Navigation is complex, but after a while you get the hang of it.

The material is clustered around short, well-written essays, and this, as well, seems ideally suited to the material. I wouldn’t call Biblion a model for the tablet magazines of the future, however, because it doesn’t offer one of the primary things magazine features and books provide, which is the order of linearity. Making sense of raw facts, pointing out strands of cause and effect, conveying which bits of information mean more than others: These are some of the meaning-making services that writers and editors perform. It’s a mistake — one often made by unreflective technoevangelists — to assume that linearity’s role in that service is no more than a vexing constraint imposed by the print medium.

For a subject like the 1939 World’s Fair, however, the reader’s freedom to browse through the app’s content at will is exactly the right format. Biblion is spectacularly produced with clever little animations and nice touches like a rotating set of opening images and suggestions for which topic to visit next.

It must have cost a fortune to produce, which makes me fear the library will never get around to assembling another issue. (The web version of Biblion has a collection of stuff on Percy and Mary Shelley up at the moment, but no iPad version seems pending.) I hope that’s not the case, because the access Biblion provides to the world’s great library collections is one of the most exciting possibilities of tablet computers.

Laura Miller


Generally we try to steer clear of servicey posts, our purview being art, narrative, and fun, and preferably some combination of these. But I do use my iPad for practical things, and obviously many of you do, too. So I thought I’d share the stylus recs I solicited at Ask MeFi.  I’m thinking of replacing my AluPen with Wacom’s Bamboo.
—Maud Newton

Generally we try to steer clear of servicey posts, our purview being art, narrative, and fun, and preferably some combination of these. But I do use my iPad for practical things, and obviously many of you do, too. So I thought I’d share the stylus recs I solicited at Ask MeFi.  I’m thinking of replacing my AluPen with Wacom’s Bamboo.

Maud Newton


Our guest for today is Sharon Stiteler, AKA the Birdchick, birder, beekeeper and rabbit wrangler extraordinaire. She works as a ranger for the Mississippi River Visitor Center for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. — Laura

My iPad is used primarily for work and giving programs. I keep quite a few bird field guides and bird finding apps on there, so if someone asks where they can find a titmouse or how to tell a Cooper’s hawk from a sharp-shinned hawk, I can give them a fairly accurate answer. If it didn’t have so much public use, my desktop would have Peter Dinklage’s GQ Man of the Year photo on it.

Since it would be hard to explain how a park ranger accidentally showed a bunch of kids a hot dwarf with a naked woman, I have a photo I took when I was in Israel last fall. The Hula Valley is host to some 30,000 common cranes and we went out there to watch them one cool morning. The birds were surrounded by fog and mountains in the dawn’s early light. I held up my iPhone to my spotting scope and captured that all too brief moment and sometimes when I’m surrounded by bunch of unruly home schoolers, I can look down and remember that moment of peace.

My lock screen is a picture I took of one of my all time favorite birds, the bobolink. I love it so much, the male’s territory song is my general ring tone on my iPhone. And really, what’s not to love? The males are all black with what looks like a bleach job on the back of their heads and their song is a cacophony of notes that almost sound like it should come from a flock and not a single bird. Part of my work involves long days in the field documenting bald eagle movement, which can be surprisingly boring since they stay perched over 90% of the day. On one of my transects were several bobolinks on territory and the males sang all day long to defend their area from rivals. On days when I’m trapped indoors, especially in winter, I can get a glimpse of summer and remember my moment with them.

The song of the bobolink.


Oh, March — so grey and brown. Is there any month more likely to infect a resident of the East Coast with wanderlust? Lately I’ve been treating my incipient spring fever with a form of simulated travel that can only be enjoyed on the iPad.

TourWrist is the app for a panoramic photo sharing service of the same name. Users upload panoramic photos, which are pegged to the geographical location where they’re shot. You can find them as pins on a map or browse through thumbnails.

The special advantage of the iPad app is a gyroscope setting. With that option turned on, you can hold your tablet up and view the panorama as if through a window, with the image changing as you rotate. Some of the panoramas are 360-degree “strips” — that is, with nothing but black, empty space above and below — but most are fully immersive, so if you hold the iPad directly above your head and look up, you’ll see the sky — or the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral.

The odd thing about TourWrist is the mix of subject matter. Realtors and hoteliers post panoramas of their property for potential customers, and there’s a fair amount of random stuff from users who are just trying it out. In the UK, which has a lot of pins, you might find yourself standing at the center of the ancient stone circle at Castlerigg, and then hanging out with a teenager on his back porch in a suburb of Oxford.

If you just want to look at gorgeous vistas — and believe me, anyone who has ever cursed the inability of a snapshot to capture a great view should try panoramic photography — TourWrist could be frustrating. (There are filters so you can look at one kind of photo at a time, but oddly enough, no search feature.) If you’re also the kind of person who stops to examine the photographic listings posted outside realtor’s offices, then the opportunity to peer at dining rooms in Rome might be as alluring as the panoramas of famous landmarks. The things in-between are what I like best: a country church, a spot on a hiking trail, the old square of a small town in France. These things seldom end up in travel brochures, but they happen to have attracted the camera of a local hobbyist, who has been generous enough to share his or her little corner of the world.

And if you just want to be wowed, I recommend the fifty — count ‘em fifty — panoramas shot on the outrageously picturesque streets of Bruges.

Laura Miller