The Sunset Magazine iPad App

When people talk about the future of books and adding interactivity like videos to ebooks, I’ve always been skeptical.  What’s wrong with the existing way people interact with books — turning the page for new content?  I’m a happy owner of a Paperwhite Kindle and have read hundreds of books on it without complaint.  I don’t think I’d appreciate all the distractions an interactive ebook would pose — sometimes I just want to unplug a little and read a book like I would a dead-tree book.

That was my thinking before downloading the Sunset Magazine iPad app.  I’d been subscribed to it ever since Will gifted me a a subscription two or three years ago. I think early in the subscription, Will tried getting the digital copy online and it was a terrible experience because we had to get it through some third party app and it just wasn’t worth it.

Recipes and tips

Fast forward a year or so and now there’s a standalone app and it’s wonderful!  While I may not want my regular books to be interactive, I can now appreciate how useful it is to have a magazine be more interactive.  The pictures and design are gorgeous on the iPad’s retina screen, but best of all is how intuitive the app is.  Swipe to change articles. Scroll down to read more of the same article. There are boxes and bubbles I can tap to view more information. It all just works so well.

Letters To Sunset

The only thing that doesn’t work so well are the ads, which sometimes are displayed jarringly because they were sold to be the size to fit in a physical magazine, but look out of place on their own in the app.  I’m sure they’ll work it out once they figure out how to sell different ads in the iOS version of the magazine.

After using the Sunset app, when I went back to using the Harper’s Magazine app, the difference was jarring.  Sunset illustrates how a digital magazine should be. Harper’s illustrates how it shouldn’t.

Total Baby iOS App

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During Robin’s first month, we were using the Total Baby app several times a day to keep track of how many wet/dirty diapers she had, how often she ate, her weight, etc. I blame being an engineer and having to record everything, but it was useful to have the numbers ready when we went for doctor visits.

I like that the app lets you keep track of wet and dirty diapers, feedings (breast, pumped, formula), which side you last fed on and for how long, naps, weight gain, shots, pretty much everything. I didn’t go that crazy and mainly used it for diapers and feedings for the first month. It was certainly easier than having to write it down with pencil and paper each time, since most of the things I wanted to keep track of only required me to hit a button once or twice in the app.

For those who like looking at lots of graphs, the app also generates a ton of them for you. I didn’t find them that useful other than seeing the pattern of when during the day she tended to eat more often.

Another reason I got the app was that it could sync between devices, but that was sort of a misnomer. The synching is pretty clunky since you’ll need both apps to be in a syncing mode instead of just having it done automatically. It’s a minor inconvenience, but when you’re juggling that and a newborn, it becomes a major annoyance.

For $5, Total Baby is probably the most expensive thing I’ve purchased from the App Store, but it is well worth it. I don’t use it much now, other than keeping track of how long Robin naps, but it was valuable for the first month when we were still worried about her losing too much weight.

Just a warning though, if you’re data-minded, keeping such minute track of everything might end up driving you crazy.

FTL: Be A Project Manager In Space!

I’ve been playing a lot of this little game called FTL. It’s a spaceship simulation game, but not of the gratuitous space battle variety.  Instead, players control one ship, its upgrades, and can delegate crew members to do stuff.  It’s almost like being a project manager on a space ship.  This may sound boring, but I’ve spent more than 50 hours on the game since it came out.

A typical session of gaming in FTL goes like this:

Jump to this unknown planet.  Face a battle with a rebel/pirate/alien ship.  Wait for my weapons to charge up.  Direct the shield-penetrating weapon to hit the shield generator of the enemy ship. Direct my other weapons to hit their weapons bay so I can disable their weapons as quickly as possible. Hope that my ship dodges or my shield blocks the enemy’s volley of fire.  Direct my weapons to take down their shield generator if the weapons go down.  Keep hitting the weapons bay to make sure it goes down. Enemy ship finally explodes. Look at the scrap, missiles, fuel, or other items I scavenged from the enemy ship.  See what I could upgrade my ship with now that I have extra scrap.  Jump to another planet or a store where I can buy more upgrades. Rinse, repeat.

There’s a boss ship at the end, but I’ve only gotten to it twice and beaten it once. After getting clobbered by this boss ship the first time, I was extra prepared the second time, but it still surprised me when I beat it. On easy mode.

The game’s been called a rogue-like, which I sort of agree with and sort of don’t.  It’s a rogue-like in that it’s easy to die suddenly even if I think I’m doing well. It’s a rogue-like in that death is a perma-death and I have to start all over from the beginning (protip: don’t get too attached to crew members because they’ll probably die in a roaring fire or slowly asphyxiate because you forgot to close a door to space). It’s a rogue-like in that sometimes you get really awesome weapons at random and sometimes you’ll get totally useless ones.  But it’s not a rogue-like in that it’s turn based, or that you have to explore a multi-floor dungeon.

What I really like about the game is that it only takes an hour or two to play. That means I can start a game and in less than two hours, either die and have to start over, or get to the final boss. Most of the time, I die. But because I didn’t invest too many hours into that ship, it doesn’t feel as bad.  For people who have a job and other hobbies, this is an awesome thing.  I don’t feel like I have to spend too many long hours to “get into the zone” of playing the game.  And because the game has a handy pause feature, it’s easy to just pause, save, and hop out if something comes up.

In this age of HD, hyper-real graphics and gazillion frames per second, it’s nice to see a game like FTL with its top-down, minimalist sprites and restrained soundtrack getting popular.