Arthur C. Clark once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The man couldn't have been more right.
What would Aristotle think of radio, cars, even something as common as a ball point pen? Things we take for granted would be a source of wonder and fear to anyone unaccustomed to the technology.
I'm also finding the opposite to be true. Our world is built on technologies and processes that are being or have been forgotten. Lighters have replaced matches which replaced a whole process of creating and maintaining fire. For many in our modern society the skill of making fire using two sticks can seem almost mystical. (It is for me at least.)
Skills that at one time were key to our survival, making a living, or communicating have been replaced by readily available and abundant gadgets. A letter, handwritten in often undecipherable cursive, that was carried and delivered by a person have been replaced by clean and easily understood text that's delivered almost instantly. But the skill of writing cursively can produce something unique and beautiful. That skill is vanishing and soon writing and reading anything cursive will be seen as a quaint artifact of our society understood by a handful of academics like sanskrit or cuneiform.
I think there are basic skills we all should have, just in case the technological house of cards our modern world is built upon collapses. And we should have a common understanding of how things work so that we don't have rediscover key survival skills. The two examples I've used earlier should likely be on that list of survival skills. (Well, maybe not being able to write cursively, but certainly being able to effectively print with pen and paper.)
That's a discussion beyond the scope of this column. What I do want to talk about and direct your attention to are three apps that seem to use a bit of magic to do what they do. And the real magic is that they are all free. So let get to it.
Crowsflight [1.9 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 7.0 or later, Maker: CW&T Studio LLC]
Crowsflight's simple interface is effective at pointing the way
Everyone knows what a compass is. Many school kids can even tell you how to make one. (Magnetize a steel needle, get to float on water, undisturbed it will align itself to point the Earth's magnetic north and south.)
There was a time before GPS and computer plotted directions where people (guys mostly, yours truly among them) took pride in being able to find almost anything using a technique called pilotage where you use visible landmarks to navigate to your destination. Some used dead reckoning where speed and direction were used to achieve the final destination. With either method it helps to have a map and a good sense of direction. With Crowsflight you may not need either.
More info and save points of interest for later
You enter a point of interest, like the Eiffel Tower for instance. Crowsflight shows you the relative direction and distance of your destination. With that info you should be able navigate to your goal.
It's obvious that Crowsflight uses GPS and compass info to calculate and display info, but it does so in such an ingenious way that it looks like magic. The display background is a compass over which the direction (yellow) and distance (blue) info is given. With that info you can tell if you're getting closer to your goal at a glance. Pretty cool and of great use in unfamiliar places.
There's not much more to Crowsflight than that, but there really doesn't need to be. It's simple, easy, and it works. This one you should get and keep.
Swiftkey Note [10.7 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 6.0 or later, Maker: TouchType Ltd]
Start typing ans Swiftkey Note suggests the rest
I've mentioned Swiftkey before . Swiftkey Note is the current freebie version and it's worth a serious look.
One of the frustrating things about iOS is its text autocorrect. It's aggravating enough to make you want to turn it off, but useful enough to leave it on. Swiftkey Note aims to change that.
It's a pretty savvy autocorrect, but, unlike the built in autocorrect, Swiftkey Note learns from your mistakes so the corrections it offers are closer to what you really intended.
Magic? Maybe not, but it is pretty mystical how well it works. Fire up the app and you are presented with a clean interface that even has suggested starting words. As you type word suggestions appear, the most likely candidate is in the center. Tap the word you want and keep typing. It takes a little getting use to, but soon you'll be tapping out notes faster than you can say, "Four fast fawns frolic in fiddlehead ferns".
Organize your notes into books
Once you're done with your note you can save it to a book of notes, tag it for easy finding, export it to messaging or email, or just copy it. Nice and neat.
If you're looking for an app to replace the built in Notes app Swiftkey Note should do the trick.
Cardiio [32 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 6.0 or later, Maker: Cardiio Inc]
Your heart rate just by looking at you! Magic!
OK, now for a really magical app. If you're into fitness keeping track of your heart rate while resting and while active can give you good insight into the health of that all important organ. You could buy a device to measure it for you, take your pulse the traditional way with a finger on a blood vessel and an eye on a clock, or you could simply use Cardiio.
Start the app and center your face inside the ring of the stethoscope, hold still for a moment, and like magic your heart's beats per minute reading is displayed.
The app looks at you and tells you your heart rate!! If that's not magic I don't know what is.
Actually the app was developed by a bunch of fitness minded eggheads at MIT, and included is a log so you can keep track of your cardio-health, a social element that allows you to compare yourself with your friends, and a 7 minute workout designed to raise your heart rate almost anyplace.
Lots more info included in Cardiio
There's a pro version that adds more features, but you'd be fine with what's offered for free. It's a great little bit of wonderment right on your phone.
And that's a wrap for this week.
Your wee one will love this week's Free App of the Week, Toca Cars. It's a cute game that lets your kids get behind the wheel without raising your insurance rates.
This week's Single of the Week is Your New Beloved from Lovelife. Just in time for Valentine's Day!