App Watch: Plain old text and widgets (lots of widgets)

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App Watch: Sept. 10, 2014

Widget, widgets, widgets. Boy, have we got some widgets for you. And text. Plain text. Plain old text, turned into a calculator. And widgets. Did I mention those? Weather widgets. Battery widgets. And yes, text widgets.

Read all about these new widgets and other new apps in this week's App Watch.

WunderStation

WunderStation from Weather Underground hooks into thousands of privately owned weather stations and presents their data in an iPad app. The smoothly animated graphs are beautiful and can tell you way more than you’d ever want to know about rainfall, barometric pressure and even UV. If you have stations near you, it’s pretty rad. If not, no biggie – the app is $Free

Droool

Filthy name, great app. Droool is a “photo gallery for your social networks.” Browse pictures from Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and more, and index pictures from iCloud and other local folders without moving or copying the files. It’s fast, simple and looks great, and it’s free with in-app purchases. $Free

iBetterCharge

Terrible name, great app. iBetterCharge monitors your iOS devices’ battery level over your Wi-Fi network, using the same connection that iTunes Wi-Fi sync would use, if you still synced your iPhone with your computer in the space year of 2014. It can pop up warnings when the battery drops to a preset level, and a click on the menu bar shows you the level of all the devices on the network. $Free

Photogrammar

This is what the Internet is made for. Photogrammar puts 170,000 Depression-era photos in a searchable, browsable archive. Explore on an interactive map, search or get into the Labs section and browse by metadata sourced from the U.S. Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information archives. Warning: serious time-sink. $Free

PlainTextMenu

PlainTextMenu takes the text on your Mac’s clipboard and transmogrifies it into something useful. It strips out formatting, so you never get big ugly Comic Sans when pasting from a colleague’s Word report, and it can turn the text to uppercase, lowercase or title case along the way. From the school of One Thing Well. $1

re/spin

Web service re/spin takes Spotify playlists and transforms them into Rdio playlists. If someone’s going to share a playlist, it usually comes from Spotify, and re/spin works with published Spotify playlists. Or you can just paste in a track list copied right from the app. It also works with Last.fm. Remember when PCs couldn’t read Mac floppy disks? It’s like fixing that all over again. $Free

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StorageStatus

You know all those hard drives grafted onto your Mac? Keep a close eye on them with StorageStatus, an app that turns hard drives into traffic lights in your menu bar and changes their colors when they do something. It knows when they are sleeping, it knows when they’re awake, and it knows when they’ve been good or bad. $3

Calca

Not new, but awesome nonetheless. Calca is as close as you’ll get to a plain text calculator. Tap in complex formulas or simple sums and see the results right there in a plain text document. Set variables or just add numbers. And see all your pages synced over iCloud between Mac, iPhone and iPad versions, as well as Windows(!). I love Calca for its balance of simplicity and power. From $3

TVShow Time for iPad

Finally, a version for the iPad. TVShow Time tracks your favorite TV shows and tells you when they’re on. Browse shows and show synopses, and get notifications when something is about to air. See the shows on a calendar, view news about your shows and read about new shows. It’s pretty comprehensive, and looks great on the big iPad screen. $3

Can’t wait? eBay’s got your Apple ‘health kit’ now

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An apple a day

We’ve got high hopes for Apple’s healthkit and integration with the long-awaited iWatch. But why wait to slough off the computer tan and desk serf paunch? Here are some fantastic Apple products -- some originals from Cupertino and fanciful knockoffs -- that you can buy right now on eBay to help you get in shape. Once you're there, you can show off your trim physique with this latex shirt with Apple logo, $64.

Stopwatch

It came from the 90s: this sporty stopwatch with logo lanyard is sure to make you stand out on the track and field and is quite a steal at $89.99.

Sweatband

Any huffing and puffing you do will be drowned out by the "oohs" and "ahs" as the exertions from your glistening brow are mopped up with this "Magic of Apple" terrycloth headband with velcro closure. $9.99.

Sweets

Because on your new calorie-restricted Paleo diet, the only sweet things you're going to be laying eyes on are these delicious old Macs. $79.90.

Bento Box

While we're pretty sure this didn't come straight outta Cupertino, you've got to love the idea of carrying your own sleek utensils in an Apple-logo container. If you've always got it with you, there's no excuse for shoving every repast into your gaping maw. Slow down, use a fork and knife and savor every bite with Zen-like grace. $59.99

Beach towel

This beauty could double as a yoga mat or landing pad for the burpees you intend to bust out. This rare item is listed for $240.

Motivational pin

Another fabbo Apple artifact from the 90s, this pin has a message we can all get behind while we get healthy. $10.99

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Ashtray

This is another example of just how much people the world over love Apple - they'll put the beloved logo on just about anything. Every time you want to light up the idea of sullying the symbol of your favorite company will give you pause and possibly the strength to kick the habit. Or use a vape instead. $19.99

Gadget Watch: Staying home with robots

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Gadget Watch: Sept. 06, 2014

Who needs to go out outside this week? Not us: We have headphones, a home-monitoring video camera, a robot to clean the floors and a keyboard that sleeps on your desk, all ready to play with your iDevices. Determined to leave the house? Take the GoPro PowerPole with you and then offload the footage to a new wireless, battery-powered hard drive from Western Digital.

Sony QX1

Forget fiddling with those little magnetic iPhone lenses – the Sony QX1 puts proper E-mount Sony lenses onto your iPhone or iPad. It’s actually a tiny camera that clips onto your iDevice, complete with 20.1 MP sensor and even a pop-up flash, and works in concert with the iPhone via Wi-Fi and a companion app. $400

B&W P5 Series 2 headphones

You could buy these new B&W cans and never switch them on, they look that good. But they should sound good too, with huge drivers that “work like those in a hi-fi speaker” (whatever that means), a sweet padded headband and some shiny silver parts on the outside. The Series 2 even comes with a detachable cable with an inline mic for your iPhone. $300

Baron Fig goes international

Now you can buy the best paper notebook anywhere in the world – almost. The Baron Fig Confidant notebook now ships internationally, so anyone can enjoy its superior design, from the cloth-bound cover to the clever dot-grid paper to the fold-flat design that stays open on the table to the slightly wider aspect ratio for more comfy writing and sketching. And still just $16.

Dyson 360 Eye

Dyson’s first robot vacuum cleaner uses a panoramic cyclops eye up on top of the mercifully muted body to map out your rooms to the millimeter. A full-width brush teases dust out of carpets, and the cyclone separates dirt and dust. It runs for up to half an hour before returning to its dock to recharge, and you can even remote control it from iOS and Android apps. $TBA

GoPro PowerPole

It’s called the PowerPole, but that’s not even the best thing about it. The PowerPole takes the useless space inside telescopic 17-30-inch GoPro mount and fills it with batteries, enough for eight continuous hours of shooting. The aluminum pole also has a pair of USB ports for charging other gear. $119

Logitech K480 keyboard

The Logitech K480 is a different take on keyboards for mobile. It sits on your desk, waiting for your devices to dock in its slot, and then performs double duty as a stand and as a Bluetooth keyboard. A twisting knob selects between three paired devices, and the K480 has keys for Windows and Mac. The slot is big enough for a tablet and a phone together and it runs on a pair of AAA batteries. $50

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Shutter Button

The only way the Shutter Button could be more minimal is if it ditched the fashion stylings and came in plain silver. It’s a Bluetooth remote shutter release for iOS and other devices, and it works by masquerading as a volume switch. Therefore, no companion app is required – any camera, even the built-in one, can work with it as long as the app allows you to take a photo using the iPhone’s own volume switch. From $29.

WD My Passport Wireless

This 1TB/2TB USB 3.0 drive packs a Wi-Fi radio and an SD card slot, making it the most useful pocket hard drive, like, ever. It works with your Mac of course, but also your iPad and iPhone. You can connect up to eight devices, use it as an Internet-sharing Wi-Fi hub and even stream movies to your iPad. The battery lasts six hours for video (20 hours on standby) and you can back up photos direct to the drive using the SD card slot. From $180.

Withings Home

Withings has long been able to track your body with its smart scales and health monitors. Now it tracks your home with this Internet-connected camera. The Home records 1080p video and can alert you to movement via the iPhone app. It works as a security camera, but also as a life-cam, with a timeline mode that lets you make a video diary. It even monitors the air quality inside your home, and works as a baby monitor. If it made breakfast too, I’d marry it. $220

7 weird and wonderful Apple awards — and one that got away

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Emmy

There aren't many consumer electronics companies that win kudos for their excellence in other realms.Apple did just that recently when it earned an Emmy in the Creative Arts category for its commercial "Misunderstood." Apple has been named the most admired, most innovative company and the best brand too many times to count. Its leaders, designers and products have been feted more than a prize calf at the state fair.

Here are some of the other high honors and quirky tributes Apple has racked up over the years — plus one title that no one at Apple seems to merit.

Photo: Wikipedia

National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were crowned National Medal of Technology and Innovation laureates by Ronald Reagan in 1985 for "their development and introduction of the personal computer which has sparked the birth of a new industry extending the power of the computer to individual users."

It was the first year of the award; other winners included IBM and AT&T Bell Laboratories. Not bad for a pair of college dropouts.

Photo: Wikipedia

Emmy Engineering Award

Apple first got its hands around the winged statuette in 2001 with a Primetime Engineering Award earned for FireWire.

"Transferring data at up to 400Mbps, FireWire delivers more than 30 times the bandwidth of the popular USB peripheral standard," Apple's press release boasted at the time. "With its high data-transfer speed and 'hot plug-and-play' capability, FireWire is the interface of choice for today’s digital audio and video devices, as well as external hard drives and other high-speed peripherals."

Photo: Manu/Flickr

Jim Henson Honors

While the fuzzy, wacky, colorful Muppets might seem aesthetically at odds with, well, everything Apple does, there's been a mutual appreciation dating back to the "Think Different" campaign, which featured Muppet maestro Jim Henson.

The Jim Henson Honors go to folks who make the world a better place by inspiring people to celebrate life.

"Steve Jobs has been a leader in the ongoing efforts to develop technologies that allow users to effortlessly express themselves," said Lisa Henson when the award was handed to Jobs in 2010.

Photo: Peter/Flickr

Jefferson Award

In 1987, Steve Jobs won the Jefferson Award, also known as the Samuel S. Beard Award, recognizing "individuals whose public service has had a broad national impact."

The awards were launched in 1972 by Beard, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and U.S. Senator Robert Taft Jr. It's an honor Jobs shares with astronaut Sally Ride and labor leader Joseph Yablonski.

Photo: Virtual Museum of Public Service

Blue Peter badge

Sir Jonathan Ive has won armfuls of honors, including the knighthood, for his groundbreaking designs. But not everyone can get a Blue Peter badge from the beloved BBC children's program of the same name.

“Ive is an inspiration to children around the world and we were ecstatic to hear his comments and design advice to our viewers who will remember such feedback for a lifetime,” said Ewan Vinnicombe, acting editor of Blue Peter.

Photo: BBC

Technical Grammy

In 2002, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave Apple a technical Grammy, the first ever awarded to a computer maker.

“We love music and are thrilled to play a part in how music is created and enjoyed,” said Steve Jobs. “We are honored to be receiving our industry’s first Technical Grammy and we look forward to making many more contributions in the years ahead.”

Photo: Michael Tsai/Flickr

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Isaac Asimov Science award

Steve Wozniak was awarded the Isaac Asimov Science Award in 2011.

"While most people would know Wozniak from his days at Apple, he continues to exhibit his ingenuity and generosity in other settings. A noted philanthropist, Wozniak is a committed advocate for science and computer education," organizers said, citing his funding of science schools in Los Gatos, California, and a summer camp for tech-minded kids.

He shares the title with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Robert Sapolsky and Eugenie Scott.

Photo: Wikipedia

Time Man of the Year

The one that got away: Time's Man of the Year.

This is one of those honors you'd expect Apple to win. But alas, no. According to Walter Isaacson's biography, Steve Jobs thought he was up for consideration the year the magazine's editors decided to go with the personal computer instead of a person. Jobs gave access to the reporters for what he thought was a cover story and found the profile they wrote about him "so awful that I actually cried."

In 2012, Tim Cook was in the running, but had to settle for third runner-up status. "Like an Apple product, Cook runs smooth and fast," the magazine wrote. Just not enough to compete with Barack Obama, who edged him out for the title.

App Watch: Stargazing, light-leaking and book-recommending

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App Watch Sep 01 2014

This Labor Day holiday we take things easy. Whether stargazing with Starwalk 2, taking a walk and remembering the hot spots along the way with Rego, getting a recommendation for a good read with Bookvibe, or adding so retro-style light leaks to our photos with a new set of Prolost Lightroom presets.

Bookvibe

If you follow at least a few half-intelligent folks on Twitter, Bookvibe will help you out with recommendations for what to read next. It’s a service that monitors your Twitter feed and winkles out any mentions of books, sending an occasional list via email. Sometimes it’s tricked by a mention of something that sounds like a book, or presents a subject of Twitter ridicule (or Twittercule) as a recommendation, but overall Bookvibe is solid, and I’ve found a few titles from it. $Free

Rego

Rego bookmarks places. Add them from a map, from an address search, from your contacts or even by pulling in location data from a photo in your Camera Roll. Make collections, view your places on a map, add stars and customs map-pins, and share. A companion website pulls in Foursquare info and other details. Never forget a place again. $5

UpTime

UpTime adds every keyboard shortcut you could need in an iPad browser. If you ever find yourself hitting a desktop shortcut on a keyboard hooked up to your iPad, and nothing happens, then you need UpTime, a simple iPad browser that can be driven entirely from the keyboard. Scrolling, searching, tab-switching and even Tweeting can all be done without once touching the screen, and it’s just $4

Eye-Fi IFTTT Channel

Your Eyefi card can now send photos straight from your camera to, well, to anywhere. Evernote, Flickr, Tumblr, OneNote… Even your Great Aunt Flo. Thanks to the new Eyefi IFTTT channel, any photos that’s uploaded from your Wi-Fi-capable card to the Eyefi cloud can be routed to any IFTTT destination that accepts photos. $Free

Jolicloud Drive photo editing

Jottacloud’s Drive web app pulls together all your cloud services into one beautifully-designed place, including Jottacloud’s own secure, secret, Norway-based version of Dropbox. Now you can take any photo from any of these services (Dropbox or Flickr, say), and edit them right there in the browser. $Free

Quotebook

Quotebook is a place to collect quotes and other text snippets. The Universal app integrates with your browser, your Mr. Reader RSS reader, IFTTT and even with Instapaper’s own highlights feature, and turns those snippets into searchable, organizable quotes. New in v3.0 is auto-lookup of sources (you get an icon and description for authors) and x-callback URL support to work with apps like Drafts. $5

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Prolost Light Leaks for Lightroom

When Lightroom Mobile accepts custom presets, there will be no need for any other photo editing app on iOS. Until then, you can switch back to the desktop to use things like Prolost’s fantastic Light Leak presets, a set of 480 different faux light leaks, 120 from each of four different vintage-camera styles. Just install, run your mouse over the list on the left of your Lightroom screen and hit the one that catches your fancy. Next up: a plugin that fakes leaving the lens cap on for the entire roll of 36 photos. $30

Perspective icons

Perspective icons aren’t an app. They’re a bunch of icons to use in your OS X Omnifocus, but they’re so beautiful, simple and flat that you might want to use them elsewhere, too. For instance, I plan to add them to Scrivener so I don’t have to use the hideous 1990s-era stock icons included with that otherwise amazing app. Perspective icons come retina ready, and cost $10

Starwalk 2

Starwalk 1 was the app for showing off your iPad back when it first launched. Starwalk 2 adds new views and graphics to the stargazing guide. Hold your iPad up to the night sky and see a map of the stars overlaid on the sky using motion-tracking. You can now see a 3-D view of heavenly bodies from any point-of-view, and add satellites, deep-space objects and more via IAP. So put that bourbon down and use the nighttime for something more useful instead. $3