Tuesday, 18 April 2017

My Favourite Apps: TasteKid, Hemingway, and Vocabify

I would prefer this to an app any day, but I admit the apps reviewed here are good! (Flickr: Paul Townsend/CC BY-ND 2.0)
I don't normally like apps of any kind. I'd much rather use a browser and a website. But that is an attitude rather than a fact, and when it comes to apps that solve life's petty dramas, then I must change my tune. Here I give a quick review of TasteKid, Hemingway, and my latest app, Vocabify.

TasteKid (now TasteDive - WTF?)

By a random trial and error method, I have found various books, movies, and music by making connections between various media. For example, one of my pianola rolls is a foxtrot entitled The Flapper Wife, and this led me to the book, and then on to a series of movies and music of the period, by following the trail of authors, publishers, composers, and musicians. For several years now, I have been using TasteKid to do the same thing, but with considerably less effort. Is it just me or did TasteKid change its name to TasteDive while I was writing this? Now it makes me think of nasty tasting things from "down there". Oh, I am so annoyed! Semantics aside, the recommendation engine is good, and has helped me to discover lots of new music, books, and movies, based on the recommendations of others. For example, today I searched for a composer like Richard Wagner, and discovered the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. Whether the similarities would pass scrutiny is not the point. The recommendations provide opportunities to look beyond our own bounded rationality, and for that, this is my favourite app. Oh, wait, it is a website. Oh well. But why oh why did they rename it TasteDive?


When writing for news media websites, there are a variety of text editors and readability measures that help authors to cut down superfluous, flowery, or woolly (I love that word) sentences to help focus on plain language. It is not my ideal way to write, but it does tend to force one into the journalistic style of writing, which is indeed a skill unto its own. My favourite author, Ernest Hemingway, was known for his iceberg principle, where he strips down his sentences to the bare minimum. This enables the reader to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. The app requires payment of a fee, but I do not mind paying for something that is useful. Think of it in terms of design (see Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Wind, Sand and Stars):
[P]erfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.


Scattered throughout my travel and writing diaries are words that I am familiar with, but do not really know. I write these down, with definitions, but time and again I see the same words, and I ask myself, what is the definition of this word? Typically, I cannot answer, even though I might be able to use the word in a sentence. Then along comes Vocabify. There are a couple of words that it is unable to provide definitions for, and I provided feedback to the creator. I wanted to be able to add words. But this seems to defeat the purpose of the app, in that it attaches to databases with decent definitions, and one can only add words from these databases. Most of the words that I cannot find in Vocabify are technical jargon in either political science or philosophy. But the creator told me this in a quick response to my feedback, and it is only in beta form at present. The app operates via an add-in to my browser, and I can add words as I discover them (I have already combed my diaries for my lists of words and added these). The app then sends me an email each day with one of my words and its definition. The app works on the basis of rote learning, and frankly, for learning definitions or the spelling of words, much like tables of multiplication, there is no better way to learn.

So there you have it. Three "apps" that I use and enjoy on a regular basis.

Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Le Flâneur Politique by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at politicalscience.com.au. Background image ©Depositphotos.com/ @redshinestudio