Alto’s Adventure: A great iOS game

I’m not much of a game player, but occasionally one will come along that is just delightful. The newly released Alto’s Adventure for iOS is that game.

It’s two bucks and well worth it for its gorgeous design and satisfying, immersive experience. You ride a snowboard down a mountain and collect stray llamas. Really.

I loaded it on my kids’s devices today and all of us have been locked into it. So good.

I remember having a similar feeling playing Canabalt on the original iPad five years ago.

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Daily apps: Useful and delightful

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My current iPhone home screen.

These are my most frequently used apps at the moment. I have six other screens of apps that mostly don’t get much use.

Those apps that merit inclusion on my home screen are ones that serve a regular useful purpose and are a delight to use. They do their jobs well.

Useful and delightful. A solid couple of traits to value and aspire to in more than just the apps on your devices.

A daily app: Pedometer++

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We have daily carry items. Everyday I put my keys, phone, and wallet in my pockets before leaving home. Now, most of us have daily apps, phone apps we use every day. These are the apps that stay on your home screen or not too far from it.

I’ve recently begun using Pedometer++ to track the number of steps I take each day. It only works with iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus. The app design is simple and bright, and its function is basic: it just tracks how many steps you take in a day and the number of floors you may have climbed.

You can set the app to list your current steps on the little red badge on the app icon making it unnecessary to even open the app if you just want to check the number.

It makes me want to walk more. I love seeing the steps number go up. I’ll even make an extra effort to put my phone in my pocket at home, even in my pajamas, to make sure steps don’t go uncounted.

It’s a free app, but ads appear at the bottom of the display. With an in-app “tip”, you can support the developers and get rid of the ads. Yes, for me, to both.

This is a tiny little tool that is tweaking my routine and my consciousness in a healthy way and merits its use as one of my daily apps.

Hardcore History: Blueprint for Armageddon V

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I was delighted when I opened my podcast app (Overcast) and found a new episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I’ve raved before about how great Carlin’s work is, but new episodes don’t appear very often. And when you listen you understand why. I can’t imagine the hours that go into creating each episode. The research alone for a single episode must take weeks or months. And a four-hour episode flows seamlessly, meaning the preparation and editing involved in laying out the narrative so smoothly has to take a lot of time.

This latest episode is the fifth in his series on World War I. The complexities of that conflict are overwhelming, and I would not, even after hours of listening to this series, be able to recall the names of the constantly changing cast of generals and political figures. But what I get from this podcast, from the accretion of details and small stories and heartbreaking anecdotes, is an overarching sense of the insanity of our history. It’s fascinating and compelling to follow the flow of events and lives that collide in often tragic circumstances.

I listen while driving alone or while walking. My drive to work is only around fifteen minutes, but I look forward to Dan Carlin regaling me in those short bursts of time with true stories of humanity’s biggest events and told with Carlin’s characteristic enthusiasm and drama.

Here’s a good interview with Dan Carlin that explores how this podcast came to be and how he works.

If you haven’t discovered podcasts yet, Hardcore History is an excellent one to start with. It’s not light or quick. But it’s as rewarding a show to listen to as any I’ve discovered.

App sale: Day One is 99 cents till Dec. 26

One of my favorite and most used apps, Day One, is on sale now through December 26 for only 99 cents. It’s normal price is $4.99.

If you’ve been holding out because you think five bucks is too much to spend on any app, here’s your chance. But, really, an app that brings value to your life is easily worth a few bucks, especially considering the silly things we all waste money on that bring no value in return.

Day One, of course, is a journal app, and it’s lovely. It reduced the friction that kept me from ever sticking to a journal habit and actually made it fun to chronicle my life. I treat it like my own private Twitter, that no one sees but me.

As I’ve been looking back over the year recently, Day One has provided a delightful way to remember what has happened and what has mattered most.

Day One is just one of many apps that are on sale right now. Here’s a great list of the great deals from MacStories. I also love Tweetbot, the best Twitter client, and SolarWalk, a gorgeous exploration of the solar system.

Five weeks left in 2014: Don’t break the string

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Today is the halfway point of my ten-week countdown to the end of the year. There are now only five weeks left till December 31. I’ve not missed on any of my chosen habits. I’m keeping the string unbroken, and I’m finding it satisfying to check off each habit in the Habit List app each day.

My ten-year-old committed herself to playing guitar every day with the goal of being able to play “Here Comes The Sun” by New Year’s Eve. She was eager to use the Habit List app on her device, and she has now got a 7-day string going. This is the most consistently she’s ever played the guitar since starting lessons more than a year ago. It seems more like a game to not break the string. Sticking with a habit just feels easier when it’s monitored this way, with the pressure to keep the streak alive.

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While consistency is key, those sessions still need to be high quality to bring about real improvement. They need to involve deep practice, the kind of effort that keeps bumping up against limits and stretching and refining skills. If I just do enough push-ups to check the box without actually feeling any pain, I won’t get stronger. The key is to go to failure and then try to go a bit further; that’s what leads to progress and makes the difference.

But first you’ve got to just show up, get the quantity in so you can eventually get to quality.

What habit can you lock in in the next five weeks to finish the year on a roll?

 

 

 

Great apps

Speaking of great things, Apple recently announced their annual Apple Design Award winners. They honor developers and designers whose apps stood out from a very crowded field in the ever expanding Apple App Store.

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I was especially happy to see Day One win for its Mac app. It won previously for its great iOS app. Day One, the ultimate journal, is one of my most used apps. It’s beautiful and smart and has become a daily part of my attempt to chronicle and reflect on my life.

I use some of the other award winning apps, too. Sky Guide is magical. Just hold your device to the sky, and it shows you which stars or planets or constellations you’re seeing. (Or point your device at the ground and see the stars visible from the other side of the Earth!) At the beach this week we’ve used Sky Guide a few times to identify the planets appearing in the sunset sky.

Monument Valley is a beautiful, frustratingly challenging, and ultimately satisfyingly delightful iPad game. My 9-year-old went from near tears to fist-pumping triumph and back again trying to play her way through the many levels of puzzles. She’s playing it through again as I write this.

Threes is a fun and engrossing game with charming little details throughout.

There are a lot of poorly executed apps out there, apps that don’t delight. Too many developers are looking for a quick and easy buck, hoping to be the next Instagram or Angry Birds. I appreciate creators who disdain the “quick and easy” approach, and instead put in the effort to make beautifully designed and smartly executed apps that solve problems and add value to my life.

I’m amused by friends who flinch when I recommend an app that costs $3, or, heaven forbid, $5. (These same friends think nothing of dropping that much or more on a cup of coffee that’s gone in a few minutes.) I’m actually a bit leery of free apps. Is this free app going to target ads at me or set me up for in-app purchases or mine my information for some other service? I would rather pay directly to the makers of products I value and know I’m getting my money’s worth.

Go for quality in the things you possess, including the apps you use. Kudos to the makers who bring such wonderful tools to our devices.

Here are my current iPhone and iPad home screens:

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