Digital Reading Room: That old familiar feeling

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[As tablets get more powerful, with more memory and sharper-looking screens, their apps are getting a makeover. Increasingly, mobile apps employ multimedia—combining words, pictures, audio, and video—in new and interesting ways. In our Digital Reading Room series, we’ll look at some eye-catching multimedia apps and tell you which ones deserve a place on your mobile device.]

Some familiar favorites mark this installment of our look at a multimedia-rich mobile apps, whether it’s Charlie Brown or NASA, which has carved out quite a space for itself as a provider of compelling iPad apps. And while you may not be immediately familiar with the process of “knolling,”—the topic of our third digital offering—the subject certainly will ring a bell once you’ve flipped through the pages of the enhanced iBook we review.

Charlie Brown’s All Stars

The interactive elements in Charlie Brown’s All Stars are a bit too simple, even for a children’s book. In this example, all you can do is swipe your finger, and then watch as Charlie Brown’s pitch is sent sailing over his head by an unseen batter.

Charlie Brown’s All-Stars is a likable book app for iOS and Android, primarily because it’s hard to totally undo a great story about wonderful, familiar characters, with classic images and words from Peanuts creator Charles A. Schultz. It also benefits from the charm of hearing some dialogue lifted from the original 1966 TV special, and the narration by Stephen Shea, who, as a youngster, was the voice of Linus. (You can turn the narration off if you want to read it aloud or your child wants to read the book on her own; one nice feature is that when you tap on a word, it’s spoken aloud by Shea).

The book is divided into chapters, and pages are turned by swiping the bottom portion of the screen. Interactive elements include activities like swiping to help Charlie Brown throw a pitch, positioning him to catch the inevitable blast from the opposing batter (he doesn’t catch the ball, no matter what), and other simple activities like helping Snoopy fill an inflatable pool. However, they are only “interactive” in the sense that you perform an action, and something happens. Unfortunately, the same thing happens every time—the pool gets filled, Charlie Brown drops the ball, and so on.

Charlie Brown’s All Stars would benefit from either being more interactive (with multiple possible outcomes from the interactive elements) or much less so. While young readers may want to reread this ebook, the interactive elements may not be interesting enough for more than a couple of go-rounds. The original video may be a better choice

Where to Get It: $4; iOS App Store; Google Play

The Verdict: Watch the original TV special.

NASA Earth As Art

his view of the farming town of Garden City, Kansas, was transmitted by the Landsat 7 satellite in 2000. The red circles are of still growing crops, while the white circles represent harvested crops. The circles are created by center-pivot irrigation systems.

Often, it seems as though NASA is the gift that keeps on giving. Yes, there have been some huge cost overruns. On the other hand, NASA has launched many inexpensive probes that continue to send back data and images way past the time of their expected demise. Earth As Art is a collection of images that were sent back to this planet from a variety of NASA satellites during the past 15 years. These images do not look into space, but rather from space back to Earth. They shed light on a wide variety of ice, sea, and land formations, focusing on their almost other-worldly beauty as seen from space. Many are images of landscapes such as the Mississippi River and Mount Kilimanjaro—usually familiar, but when seen from space and with the large perspective provided, can be unrecognizable without the provided captions.

The point of the app is implied strongly by the title: Display parts of the earth as beautiful abstract images. But you also get links to articles and slideshows that illustrate large-scale changes, such as the shrinking of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska during the past 30 years, and the construction of artificial islands, such as the Palm Islands in Dubai. (You’ll need an Internet connection for these features.)

Navigating through the app is simple: You can either view photos by tapping on thumbnails in a tiled overview, or view them by choosing one of the five satellites that captured the images. The images take up the full iPad screen and captions can be read on half of the screen and they provide a lot of information. You can zoom in and out of images but zooming is limited, presumably because the images become much too pixilated if you zoom in too much.

NASA has only provided a relatively small sampling of some of the best images that it has collected. However, the app does provide links to websites to which have many more photos, time lapse slideshows, and videos.

Where to Get It: Free; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

90 Degrees: An Experience About Knolling, by Andrew Kim

One of the many images of items properly knolled are included in 90 Degrees—in this case, personal items, with like objects arranged together, in an organized, pleasing fashion.

You may have never heard the term “knolling,” but you know what it is, because you see it often, and probably practice it yourself, at times. Knolling, as Andrew Kim explains in this beautiful enhanced iBook, is the art of arranging items in logical, organized, and aesthetically-pleasing patterns. Kim does a wonderful job of explaining the history of the practice of knolling, the origins of the term, and the popularization of it by Tom Sachs in 2009.

The book includes examples of everyday, personal knolling (arranging tools on a woodworking table, items in a wallet, and food on a plate). It also explains how knolling works on a micro level (using Intel chips as an example), on an architectural level (Apple stores are “knolled”), and on a macro level (using cities such as Tokyo and Amsterdam, which are arranged in grids). The concept gets a bit murky when Kim tries to extend it to the Dewey Decimal System, which is a logical mathematical system for arranging books. Kim may have been referring to the way libraries are physically laid out in accordance with the system, but does not refer to this.

The enhanced iBook includes many beautiful images of items in pre- and post-knoll states, just enough text to get the main ideas across, and some short, entertaining and useful videos that show someone practicing the art of knolling.

Whether you’re an organized person or not, 90 Degrees is a pleasure to read and view, and communicates some basic design principles very well. To knoll or not to knoll? That’s not the question, Kim emphasizes, as the book ends with the phrase, “Always Be Knolling.”

Where to Get It: $1.99; iBookstore

The Verdict: Definitely download.

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