Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Five Favorite Apps

Rice cooker green tea bread chases apple.
Nothing to do with apps. I just liked it. 
Over the course of the Blogathon participants are asked to focus on a small handful of themes. In the past it's ranged from five favorite books to haiku to movies. Each year my initial thought is "I have no idea what to say." Then somehow the ideas and words begin to flow. It's a nice way to get pushed outside my comfort zone.

This year the first theme day asks us to write about our five favorite apps. Well, I'm a farmer as much as a writer. Electronic devices and dirt don't mix; however, there are heaps of apps out there for folks like me. Farmers as well as gardeners can find tools to help them with every job under the sun and in the barn. While I remain rather old school for working in the dirt (give me a notebook, pen, and solid reference book along with a good pair of gloves) I do find a use for apps as my day goes along. Here are the five I use most.

Anki - Life in a foreign country doesn't necessarily require knowing a foreign language, but for me it makes a world of difference. If I want to know what a farmer is selling at a Tokyo farmers market, how to prepare it or how it grows then I need to speak Japanese. If I want to interview a farmer about their experience dealing with the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, then I need to speak Japanese. If I want to remember the new vocabulary I get at the farm or markets, practice the interview questions, or remember plant names, I turn to Anki. A spaced repetition software (SRS) flashcard program, Anki only shows me the cards I need to see when I need to see them. Daily study on my iPhone while riding the train, walking to buy vegetables or working out means I simultaneously build and reinforce my language abilities. I'd be voiceless without it.

Imiwa? - A Japanese dictionary that, again, makes a world of difference for me. Countless times on the farm as we talk while packing vegetables for the days sale a word comes up that I don't know. I pull out the iPhone, open the app, and look it up. Of the multiple possibilities that come up my farmers point out the exact one they mean. I mark it and add it to a running list that the app allows me to keep. Later, I make a flashcard for it in Anki and it gets rotated in to my daily study.

Evernote - This is a recent addition to my device life, but I love it. Evernote on the iPhone and Google Nexus 7 allows me to make short notes about new farmers, new vegetables, new vendors at markets, everything. I can pop the note in an existing notebook or create a new one. I can include a photo, a website, or even a document if I wish. I use it to store a standing list of interview questions for market managers and farmers, which is invaluable as I can never remember all of the questions. I use it to store links to articles I've written about farmers and markets so I can quickly show a new farmer or manager that I meet that I'm not just another weird foreigner talking to them for no apparent reason. (Well, I am kind of a weird foreigner. How many women can talk about farming and markets in a foreign language but struggle with basic small talk? Add to that my height and curly hair and I'm definitely odd.)

Hyperdia - The Japanese rail system is extensive, efficient and wonderful. Everything is bilingual (English and Japanese) so I've no trouble sorting out which train is going where at what time. However, sorting out a route to a final destination, especially if I need to arrive at a particular time, can be challenging. Hyperdia is a website and app that allows me to type in the station I will start from, the station I wish to end at, and even a departure or arrival time. The resulting itineraries offer me a variety of routes and times to choose from that vary in price, amount of travel time, and means of transport. (Hyperida will also include flights.) I snap a quick screen shot of the route I prefer and then head to the station. The itinerary often includes links to train timetables and intervals. If a connection is tight I can see when the next train is coming and plan accordingly. Or hustle to the station to not miss the only express train of the day.

Twitter - This one feels rather banal, but it's worth a mention because it has been incredibly useful in sharing information about farmers markets in Tokyo. Tweeting out the monthly and weekly calendar of markets, photos from the markets, information about tours of the markets, and information about specific markets has drawn attention not just to my website but to the markets themselves. That means increased sales for the farmers, healthier eating for the patrons, and an ever so slightly better world for everyone. Seems like a nice thing to me.

Got a favorite app? Do tell!