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Gadget Watch Apr 24 2014

Each week we pull the best Apple-related gadgets from the Cult of Mac and collect them here for your perusing pleasure.

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This Week’s Best New Music, Movies And Books On iTunes


Rather than slogging through a lake of reviews to find something you’re just going to put down after 10 minutes, Cult of Mac has once again waded through the iTunes store to compile a list of the best new albums, books and movies to come out this week.

We’ve got a rap-tastic future you’ll either love or hate, a yummy comeback from Kelis, a dark indie movie you may have missed and a soul-searching memoir from Barbara Ehrenreich.





You will either love or hate Hate HATE Future. His raw, emotive, and heavily Auto-Tuned rap vocals have caused a split among rap fans, but we love it, especially paired with a heavy hitter like Pusha T on “Move That Doe.” Honest surges with a new self-assurance of the artist coming into his own as Future has become more comfortable letting the grit of his rap show. Anchored by giants like Kanye West, Drake, Pharrell, Wiz Kalifa, and Pusha T, Future’s second LP is the rap album you can’t miss this week.

iTunes – $12.99

Neon TreesPop Psychology


Neon Trees are the pop-alt icons of the aughts. Their catchy electric tunes induce involuntary foot-taps, head bops, and before you know it you’re singing along whether you like it or not.  Pop Psychology is the inevitable progression from hits like “Everybody Talks” and “Animal,” but it also contains deeper conflicts as singer Tyler Glen opens up about coming out of the closet in an all-Mormon town.

iTunes – $7.99



When I think of Kelis, my mind naturally turns to milkshakes bringing boys to yards, but on Food Kelis sheds both her contemporary R&B sound as well as the futuristic electro-pop that made Acappella a hit, in favor feast of impeccable soul melodies served next to sweaty funk grooves. Food is different from anything else she’s made in her career and boy, is it delicious.

iTunes -$9.99


Struck By Genius
by Jason Padgett

Struck by Genius

At 31 years-old, Jason Padgett was a dude who cared more about his biceps than his career. Ironically, a savage mugging forever altered the way his brain works, giving him unique gifts like the ability to see water in crystalline patterns or fractal patterns emerging from the movement of tree branches. His unique case of acquired savant syndrome makes Struck by Genius a fascinating read as Padgett recounts how he overcame huge setbacks and embraced his new mind.

iTunes – $12.99

The Remedy
by Thomas Goetz


In 1875, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, causing over a third of all deaths. The Remedy presents the riveting history of the world’s most lethal disease, but also taps into the life of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his link to the birth of medical science by exploring his history of debunking a lauded TB cure.

iTunes – $13.99

Living with a Wild God
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the most important thinkers of our time. Not only is she an educated scientist,but she’s also an author, journalist, activist, and advocate for social justice. In Living With A Wild God, Ehrenreich recounts her quest to find truth about the universe and everything else, presenting a book that can be enjoyed by the religious and atheists alike.

iTunes – $12.99


Small Time


I only watched Small Time because as a Breaking Bad fan, I’m hoping that Dean Norris (Hank) can make it in comedies as well. He doesn’t get as much screen time as I hoped for in this comedy about a high school graduate who shuns college to work at his dad’s used car lot, but the moments he does get in provide the perfect amount of relief in this heartwarming comedy.

iTunes – $12.99



Turning political issues into effective personal stories is incredibly difficult – possibly more so when the backdrop is set in Palestine – but that’s exactly what filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad does in Omar, a 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. The film’s titular character is a amiable baker who conspires to gun down an Israeli solider with two friends. Omar is subsequently captured, tortured, imprisoned, and then forced to make a horrible bargain for his freedom.

iTunes – $4.99



Favor is a riveting indie-gem about Kip Desmond, an affluent guy with a beautiful wife. Kip’s lifestyle isn’t that interesting, but when the waitress he’s been sleeping with on the side is accidentally killed all hell breaks loose and Kip finds himself committing horrible act, the kind he never suspected himself capable of, with his buddy Marvin.

iTunes – $12.99

Top iOS Apps Of The Week

Browsing the App Store can be a bit overwhelming. Which apps are new? Which ones are good? Are the paid ones worth paying for, or do they have a free, lite version that will work well enough?

Every week, we highlight some of the most interesting new apps and collect them here for your consideration. This time, our picks include a timer inside of another timer, something to keep track of where you’ve been, and some fancy new fonts for your iWork.

Here you go:

Traveler's Badges

It’s nice having some record of the places you’ve visited, but FourSquare is a little granular for my liking.

Traveler’s Badges keeps it simple and broad. You just let it detect your location, and it generates a unique badge for your current city that you can collect and add to your collection. It even logs the date and time you were there, in case anyone asks.

If you want to get all global with it, you can even display all of your badges on a map. It’s not the most practical app, but it is pretty cute (and free). And it’ll kill like five seconds of a layover. Every bit helps.

Traveler’s Badges – Free | Yangfan Qi

Practice Time

If you’re doing interval training or something else that requires you to time one thing and then another thing, like, right away, you might be interested in Practice Time. It’s a new app that lets you set up two countdowns and then run them consecutively. You can also tell it how many cycles to go through once you start.

It’s handy for timing exercise and then rest or if you want to be really persnickety about those instructions that tell you to leave soup in the microwave for a minute after it’s done cooking. And if you also timed the cooking concurrently with the microwave.

Nevermind; just use it for intervals.

Practice Time – Free | Mal Function

Spell Checker

Sometimes, you’re just typing an e-mail or note on your iPhone, and you realize that you have no idea how to spell the next word you want to use. It could be genuine ignorance, it could be a brain fart, but the person on the other end isn’t going to care why; they’ll just notice the mistake.

Spell Checker wants to help you out. It accesses your onboard dictionary to keep you from looking dumb. And because it uses the built-in resources, it even works offline.

You know, in case you’re writing an e-mail in a cave that you would want to send after you left the cave. It could happen.

Spell Checker – Free | Paradigm Agnostic

Install New Fonts

Your iPhone and iPad already have some fonts on board, but what if you want to make something that looks like it was stenciled or written in cursive? Or maybe you just like knowing that you have like 800 typefaces to choose from, just in case? Install New Fonts has you covered with enough options to keep you out of trouble for a while.

It’s free to download, but most of it is locked behind a $2.99 in-app purchase. But everything’s licensed for commercial use, so think of it as an investment.

Install New Fonts – Free | Denis Tokarev

Keep Calm and Breathe On

Every once in a while, I find an app that shows me just how much I need it. This time, it’s Keep Calm and Breathe On, which offers you seven guided breathing exercises (based on cycles per minute). The goal is to relax you and “calm your heart activity,” and when I tried it out for this write-up, I realized that I’m apparently really bad at breathing.

It has two sounds to accompany your oxygenation: Wind and River. I preferred the wind. It just made more sense because if I’m in a river, breathing might be a problem. And that’s less than calming.

Keep Calm & Breathe On – $0.99 | Commit GmbH

Review Roundup: Waterproof Speakers For Spring Excursions

Review Roundup: Waterproof Speakers For Spring Excursions

This week we get ready for springtime excursions with three portable speakers that shrug off splashes and are happy to be used in the shower. Which one will you take to the lake, pool or beach? Let’s take a look.

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Essential Kit For Your Digital Music Making

Bluetooth Guitar Pedal Will Thrill Your Ears But Hurt Your Brain

IK Multimedia is responsible for a veritable boat-load of music peripherals and apps, like the hard-rocking guitar crunch of effects app Amplitube and the portable MIDI keyboard iRig Keys. If you’re a musician interested in working with iOS devices on stage, IK Multimedia is the place to go.

iRig BlueBoard by IK Multimedia
Category: Music Peripherals
Works With: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch
Price: $99.99

It was with excitement, then, that I opened the latest review gadget from the musical company, the iRig BlueBoard, a small footprint Bluetooth-enabled pedal board meant to help you switch effects in a guitar app like Amplitube or piano sounds in something like iLectric Piano, both IK Multimedia apps.

The BlueBoard is a great idea, especially if you’re working with a guitar or keyboard hooked up to an iPad or iPhone. Being able to switch settings on the fly with a foot-operated switch is something I do all the time with my analog guitar foot pedals. Having it do so via Bluetooth is even better, as it won’t take up the 30-pin or Lightning connector, leaving that free to connect a guitar or MIDI interface, like the iRig HD guitar adapter or the iRig Keys.

Unfortunately, that’s where the great idea stops and the difficult to figure out begins.

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Rock Harder With Garageband On Your Mac


Garageband has forever changed the way weekend headbangers create music on their Macs. Included with all new Macs and available in the Mac App store for free, it gives brand new as well as seasoned musicians a way to record all kinds of music, letting them connect real instruments, MIDI devices and microphones to the Mac for easy music sessions.

It also does some other cool things, which we’ll tell you about right now.

Drummer: The Killer New Feature

The latest version of Garageband, 10.0.2, offers an amazing new piece of kit called Drummer. This one deserves a standing ovation. For years, I’ve used Garageband to mock up demos for my disco band. (Yes, we do weddings.) Anyway, the software makes putting together a quick multi-track song super simple and I’ve always enjoyed making sound loops–especially drum loops–to give my demos a more professional feel than I’ve ever been able to with a drum machine or synthesizer module.

I’m a guitar player who understands vocals, bass, and drum parts, so it’s usually pretty simple to drag Garageband loops to the editing area then let the software make everything sync up easily. The Smart features of Garageband have made it chimp simple for me to create an entire song without touching an instrument besides my guitar.

Garageband’s latest feature, though, way above what drum loops could ever do —  it’ll make you want to sway with a flickering lighter like a stoned fanboy in utter appreciation.

Drummer drummer, do your thing

So. Drummer offers several ways to make it sound as if Neal Peart is banging on his 360-degree drum kit from your humble home studio. Simply click on a drummer profile to customize the sound and feel of that virtual drummer’s playing in real time with just a few clicks and drags. What would take quite a bit of time with drum loops is now seamless and simple. Garageband is simply taking care of changing drum loops in the background, but what comes out of the speakers will be music to your ears.

You’d be playing a different tune (probably to the ca-ching of several thousand dollars) to get this kind of subtlety from a drum machine or drum loops —  or giving it up for your own damn drummer. Garageband’s new Drummer feature gives all of that to us for free. Free!

Ok, so the basic package comes equipped with one drummer (Kyle), but still. TK KYLE’S DRUMMING STYLE. But an entire troop of 18 timpanists will set struggling musicians back just $4.99. Heck, Apple just added three new ones (plus a seriously useful MP3 export function) just last month, FOR THE SAME IN-APP PURCHASE?

All of this to say: you’ve now got a fully responsive session drummer with personality, style, and variety sitting on your Mac, just waiting for your latest song idea.  Each drummer gets their own custom kit with its own specific sound, just like a real drummer.

Learn To Play Like A Pro

music lessons garageband

While the latest version of this fantastic (and free!) music production suite has lost some functionality like podcasting and Magic Garageband, it still has plenty to recommend it for those new to music or old vets alike.

One of these cool features is the Learn to Play function, which has some pretty good basic music tutorials baked right in, along with the capability to purchase videos from hit artists like Sting and Norah Jones, who teach you how to play some of their famous songs.

It’s a pretty heady set of music learning; here’s how to access it. Getting really good at your instrument will take more than watching a video or three, but this is a great start if you want to try your hand at the guitar or piano.

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This Week’s Best New Books, Music, and Movies On iTunes


Rather than slogging through a lake of reviews to find something you’re just going to put down after 10 minutes, Cult of Mac has once again waded through the iTunes store to compile a list of the best new albums, books and movies to come out this week.



The Afghan WhigsDo To The Beast


The Afghan Whigs haven’t released an album in over 16 years, but that streak finally dies with the release of Do to the Beast. Rather than picking up right where they left off, the Whigs have shunned 90s nostalgia and leaned on influences in R&B, soul and funk, for an album that’s rich, dark, and raw even if it misses the mark as a true rock album. 

iTunes – $9.99

August AlsinaTestimony


August Alsina first broke big when his single “I Luv This S**t” became a viral hit in 2013, and although some fans are worried he might be coming on too hot, he’s ready to mine his hip-hop connections for gold in his debut album, Testimony, that features appearances by Young Jeezy, Pusha T, Rick Ross, B.o.B., Chris Brown, and Yo Gotti. But August is never overshadowed by his rap overlords, thanks to his sweet evocative vocals that are something of a mashup between Usher and Omarion.

iTunes - $13.99

Chet FakerBuilt on Glass


Melbourne-based Chet Faker established himself as one of the most alluring voices in electro-soul thanks to his cover of “No Diggity” in 2012 and the series of sultry singles that followed. Built on Glass, his first full-length album, is a swirl of blues-inflected ruminations on love, loss, desire and emotional desolation. Combined with spare beats, hypnotic samples and yearning melodies, Built On Glass is an imaginative, soulful delight.

iTunes – $9.99


Creativity Inc.
by Ed Catmull


Thousands of books have tried to formulate the secrets of creativity, but as one of the co-founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull is uniquely positioned to dispense advice on creativity in business. In Creativity Inc., he explores the lessons learned while creating some of the most beloved animated films of the last 20 years and the ideals and techniques that made Pixar so widely admired – and so profitable.

iTunes – $11.99

Can’t and Won’t
by Lydia Davis

Rick Moody once called Lydia David “the best prose stylist in America,” but you can make that judgement for yourself as her fifth collection of stories Can’t and Won’t hits iTunes this week, demonstrating all the power of her sly humor and finely honed prose, as her stories seek to untangle the predictable patterns of daily life.

iTunes – $12.99

WAR! What Is It Good For?
by Ian Morris


Ian Morris’s new book makes our list for its excellent title alone (seriously, no one else thought to name a book after the popular song?), but there’s more to WAR! than just its catchy title as Morris explores one of history’s greatest paradoxes to see how war has changed our society for the better. With all of those unmarked tanks edging towards chaos in Ukraine, it’s a timely read.

iTunes – $12.99


The Unknown Known


From Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld was one of the most powerful men behind the scenes in Washington for over three decades. In this shocking documentary about the use and abuse of American power, Academy Award winner Errol Morris sits down with the former United States Secretary of Defense to discuss his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

iTunes – $6.99



Nicholas Cage is the probably the most hit-or-miss Academy winner of all time, which makes recommending any movie he’s in tricky. This one, however, is a safe bet:  Cage has his best role in years with a film about a hard-living ex-con who inexplicably becomes a role model  to a 15-year old homeless boy as he teeters between redemption and ruin.

iTunes – $6.99

Beneath the Harvest Sky


Fans of Game of Thrones will enjoy seeing Aiden Gillen (who plays sinister Little Finger in the HBO series) put his devilish charm to good use in Beneath the Harvest Sky. Here  he plays an outlaw character teaches his struggling teen son the business of smuggling drugs in an indie film that was all the hype at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

iTunes – $4.99

Top iOS Apps Of The Week

Browsing the App Store can be a bit overwhelming. Which apps are new? Which ones are good? Are the paid ones worth paying for, or do they have a free, lite version that will work well enough?

Well, if you stop interrogating me for a second, hypothetical App Store shopper, I can tell you about this thing we do here.

Every week, we highlight some of the most interesting new apps and collect them here for your consideration. This time, our picks include _____, _____, and _____.

Here you go:

Do One Thing

This new self-improvement app from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has a simple premise: Trying to do everything is hard, but doing one thing isn’t.

Sounds obvious, but what you do here is select a few habits you’d like to form; pre-loaded examples include drinking more water, inviting friends over, and going to bed early. You can also devise your own if you want to do something that isn’t on the list. The app sets goals, and you check them off when you do them. Eventually, you can “commit” to doing a thing without prompting and start on something else.

Do One Thing by SCCA – Free | 2Morrow Mobile


I know that your iPhone already has a calculator in it, but here’s a specialty app for people who suffer from the curse of Man Thumbs.

SwipyCalc is a basic calculator that gives all the screen space to the numbers. Only the numbers. You enter your basic functions — adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing — with swipes in one of four directions. It’s fast and easy, especially once you realize that the comma in the lower left corner is what you use for a decimal point.

Unless you’re in one of the 60+ countries that uses the decimal comma. That won’t slow you down at all.

SwipyCalc – Free | Domenico Scalambrino

Local Birds

Spring is here, and–holy crap, do you see that bird? No, the other bird. It’s over by the tree. No, the tree by the shrub. Yeah. That bird there. Do we have those here, or is it some kind of bird-stranger?

Local Birds will help keep inane, interminable thought processes like that one from happening. You tell it your location, and it shows you birds in order of commonality to your region. So when I told people the other day that I saw a Western Scrub Jay, and they were like, “Nuh-uh,” and I was all, “Uh-huh”?

I can totally prove that that was possible now.

Local Birds – Free | Thomas Benner


This isn’t the most practical app for everyone, but it’s certainly interesting to look at.

Re(play) features six clips of athletes being all athletic and stuff. High-speed cameras captured the footage at 236 frames per second, and you can either watch the maneuvers play out or scrub back and forth to study the movements in detail. That could be nice for people studying movement for art or animation.

But even if you don’t have any professional or artistic need for Re(play), it’s really just kind of hypnotic to watch.

Re(play) – Free | JC Pinheiro


I don’t know if I’m just ridiculously clumsy or what, but I’ve had times where I saw something happening that I wanted to record, and by the time I got my camera app up and switched over to video, that thing had stopped happening. And regret is a powerful thing.

So Blink (or [Blink], if you’re super fancy) is a new app that starts recording the instant you open it; it also lets you take still photos while capturing with a single button press. And that’s slightly faster than opening your iPhone’s camera and then fumbling my stupid, giant thumb around trying to switch to video.

I feel like the black-and-white parts of an infomercial when that happens.

[BLINK] – Free | James Munro

Editor’s Letter


At the risk of sounding like a cranky old rocker: you people just have no idea how good you have it.

The ease with which you can put together a fairly amazing-sounding song with that iPad and a few peripherals is darn near insulting, considering the kind of stuff we used to have to do, back in the day.

When I was in a band in Los Angeles in the 1990s (no applause, really, please), we recorded a little demo on a friend’s recording set up. This was a full-on audio workstation that used, joy of joys, Alesis Digital Audio Tape, (ADAT) a thrilling new technology that let you record up to eight tracks at once. My buddy linked up two of these bad boys for a full 16-track mini studio, and we spent weeks in that smelly room playing the same 10 songs, over and over to get them right. If we screwed up a part, we’d have to back up to the beginning again, a laborious process that certainly extended our timeline exponentially, newbie recording musicians that we were.

Soon after that epic effort, I wanted to do some of my own recording, but I really didn’t have the money to buy the kind of crazy-expensive equipment that we had used on our demo tape (remember tape?), so I turned to my Mac, a Performa 638CD that the salesman at Circuit City had sold me without mentioning that PowerMacs were just about to come out. Jerk.

Anyway, I lost a few brain cells learning some arcane audio recording software enough to just scrape by. I’m not sure I remember which software it was (brain cell loss, remember?) it might have been Cubase, Logic, or ProTools, but to say these were overkill (and darn pricey) is an understatement. They were hard to learn, and you needed a ton of weird equipment to connect MIDI keyboards or drum machines to the thing, so I didn’t even bother.

Macs continued to play a role in my music, but not to any huge extent. I’d rather be a musician than a recording engineer — and that was what you’d need to be to make older equipment and software sound halfway decent.

Flash forward to 2004. Steve Jobs announced Garageband, with a little help from John Mayer. Here, finally, was multi-track recording software for the rest of us. A little program that would let me record live music, use pre-recorded loops like the most expensive software at the time, and mix it all down to something that I could then burn to a CD and play in my car? All for the cost of, well, next to nothing? Sign me up, right now.

The next few iterations of the Garageband software added amazing technological advances, like recording more and more tracks at once, pitch correction and automated pan tracking (moving the audio from one side of a stereo signal to the other). The ability to easily create and edit Podcasts led to my short stint as a podcaster, in fact.

Now you’ve got this ridiculously advanced audio recording software on an iPad. A tablet that you can slip into a backpack and just go. It’s a glorious time to be a musician with this kind of ability within your reach. Just be sure and know you’re totally spoiled.

Gadget Watch Apr 17 2014

Each week we pull the best Apple-related gadgets from the Cult of Mac and collect them here for your perusing pleasure.

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