Category Archives: App Review

app talk: Check out the Harris County Public Library app – and free books, music, and audiobooks

San Jac’s library has many of the books you need, and transformed spaces that makes collaboration and study easier than ever. Still, the free apps from Harris County Public Library (HCPL) are available on iTunes and Google Play, and a worthwhile addition to your Android tablet or iPhone.


If you qualify for a library card  (proof of your Harris County mailing address is needed when you apply), the HCPL app will help you make the most of your time in the library. It makes it easy to not only search the library catalog, and renew your books, but also place requests for favorite books and DVDs. If you’ve always wanted to read a copy of “Twilight” – but not pay for it – this app will allow you to reserve a copy, or “get in line” behind other patrons. (The app will tell you, for instance, that if you want to read John Green’s recent best-seller “The Fault in Our Stars,” there are 18 copies available and 541 other patrons waiting to read it.)

HCPL Mobile also features a eMedia section letting you search through their online, virtual collection. If you have space to download additional apps – HCPL has partnered with Overdrive and OneClickdigital, to make it possible for you to  remotely check out audiobooks and print books. The available formats include Amazon Kindle, Adobe EPUB, OverDrive Read, MP3, or Windows Media Audio format. The Overdrive Media Console app and OneClickdigital  eBook and eAudio app are also both available on Google Play and iTunes as free downloads; eBook can be used on the Kindle Fire, and eAudio can also be used with the Nook, or downloaded to a desktop computer. 

overdrive                                   oneclick

There are limitations; some books shared by the library exist in only one or two formats, and not another; if you’re used to reading a Kindle-formatted book, but if the book you want is in EPUB, you may have to download a different app to read it, such as the Aldiko Book Reader.

Still, if you enjoy reading, or listening to, the latest book, the HCPL apps are a surprisingly robust method of connecting with your local library.

app talk: Remind

Here’s another app that comes highly ranked as one of my favorites.  Remind (formally known as Remind 101) is an app made especially for teachers.  Educators who needs to reach their students or their student’s parents, in a K-12 environment, can do so by sending out one message that goes to an entire class and/or their parents with a few simple clicks.  It’s never been easier to send reminders about upcoming exams, school activities or any other classroom related event. Remind

This app is an effective way to disseminate information without ever having to text from a personal cell phone or without having to input cell phone numbers.  The team at Remind even has a safety component built in, whereas there cannot be any one-to-one messaging.  The system is set up to require messaging of no less than 3 subscribers.  Not only is Remind good for a K-12 classroom, but also on a college level for advisors/instructors overseeing student organizations or someone heading up a community organization.

At first glance, Reminder appears to support one-way communications only.  When messages are sent out, there is no way of responding back, as you would with a traditional text message.  However, with some thought and creativity, Remind can be used for such things as RSVP’ing, voting and answering questions.  One component within the Remind app (not available through email or SMS) is called Stamps.  Located in the lower right hand corner of any “received” message you will see a circled star.  Touch the star and it opens up to a colorful bar of 4 symbols: a star, a check, an X and a question mark.  This is how it works; a teacher can send a text to the whole class that simply says, “Have you completed your projects?” then respond with a “check” for yes and an “X” for no.  Each student that has the app can respond by simply choosing the correct symbol.  The teacher can then view the results of each response gotten for each response as they come in.


It’s your choice, but this app allows you to receive messages one of three ways, recipients can receive messages either through SMS messages, emails or Push Notifications via the Remind app.  Messages can also be sent out and viewed via their website The app is totally free and is available on both the IOS and Android devices.

app talk:The ultimate “kitchen sink” app – Wolfram Alpha

You may have heard of Wolfram Alpha, a self-proclaimed “knowledge engine” that, like the famous talking computers on Star Trek and in other science fiction, produces gobs of mathematical data and answers on the fly. Not surprisingly, Wolfram Alpha is an adaptation of the Mathematical software. A variety of sub-apps are also available, using the same data stored on Wolfram Alpha servers – there are course assistant apps for classes like Physics I and II, Astronomy, and Pre-Algebra.

But the main Wolfram Alpha app ($2.99 from the Google Play Store, Amazon AppStore, or from the iTunes App Store; available also on Kindle Fire and on the Nook) is actually a terrific tool that can be used for ESL, English, business, economics, and social science reference. It’s better than Wikipedia; sources for all the data are clearly noted at the bottom of each output, and can be confirmed with a click. Unlike Wikipedia, (where noted researchers may be forced to battle incorrect page edits by users named GreenWhistleMan99 and JellyBeanLisa), Wolfram Alpha requires all data, facts and figures be submitted with proof, references, authorities and/or methods.


Confused about the meaning of a word? Wolfram Alpha provides a detailed provenance, definition and pronunciation, as well as rhyming words, synonyms, and for fun, Scrabble score and related Crossword puzzle clues.”Trivia”, Wolfram Alpha explains, was a word first used in the Edwardian era, in 1902, and is a noun; “bursar,” it explains, is Medieval Latin, and was first used in 1587, but jumped in word frequency around 1800, and then became less popular after 1950.

Ask Wolfram Alpha about Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett’s famous company), and the latest stock trade price appears – along with fundamental information, from its market cap to P/E ratio. Want to see how the company’s performed? A price history chart will let you look at trends; a candlestick chart is available, as well as selections that let you look at just last year, or last week.

Corporate finance not your thing? Wolfram Alpha can help you with personal finance, too – typing “mortgage 6%, 30 year, $130000” will spit out calculations for that sample mortgage, including a full payment schedule.

Science data can also be generated rapidly. Ask Wolfram Alpha about earthquakes in Alaska; it’ll provide you with results and a local map; results can be keyed to look just at the last 2 months, or move up incrementally to a maximum of the last thirty years. And if you’re curious who invented the chemical periodic table? Wolfram Alpha will not only give you a brief bio of Dimitri Mendeleev, but also list who his family members were, and a link to his less famous invention, the pycnometer.


Wolfram Alpha also has plenty of popular and classical culture to draw on. Not sure who the characters are in Macbeth, aka “The Scottish Play”? Asking Wolfram Alpha will generate a list of the top characters, and how often they spoke – Banquo, for instance, only says 4.6% of the words in the play, appearing 32 times (still, he should be comforted by the fact that a long line of kings will follow in his wake). More fun is looking at a generated dialog timeline, that lets you see approximately when each character participates in the action of the play. Now you can really prove that “there are no small parts, only small actors”, by showing how a minor role interacts with the lead.

Or are you a sports fan, wanting to find Anibal Sanchez’s strikeouts for 2014, or DeMarcus Ware’s 2013 defensive stats? Just ask Wolfram Alpha.

If you’re having a bad hair day, existential questions are also available for probing by Wolfram Alpha – such as “Does Santa Claus exist?”, “Does (s)he love me?”, and “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop”.

And, if you want to pretend you’re talking to the computer on Star Trek, Wolfram Alpha will tell you Spock’s home planet – and Captain Kirk’s birthday.