App Reviews: Shoebox, PlaySay, & Wolfram Dog Breeds

This week I take John Moore to the dogs as we offer a handy guide to picking the best breed for your family. Plus we’ll look at how instant-translation technology is being used to teach languages and an app that uses your phone’s camera to scan old paper photographs into digital ones.





All you’re looking to do is to share an old photograph on Facebook. There are professional stores that will charge you to make an archival quality scan, but this is Facebook, the resolution doesn’t have to be that high. Shoebox will do the trick.

The app uses the camera built into your phone as a scanner. You lay the photo out on a table and snap a picture of it. If you have shaky hands it uses edge detection to crop it properly and adjust the angle to straighten it out.

Shoebox is by online photo-sharing service where you can use your scanned photos to create private albums filled with family history or public albums that will be saved by The Internet Archive for posterity. But you can avoid that option if you wish, and just upload your photos straight to Facebook or Twitter.



PlaySay Spanish



There are Spanish people trying to learn English and English people trying to learn Spanish. PlaySay uses instant-translation technology to connect those two groups of people together so they can teach each other. It’s like having a Pen Pal in Spain. While the app shows you how to send them a voice message in their language, it’s also showing them how to send you a voice message back in yours.

You record your voice messages first in English. The app translates them into written Spanish so you can record the message again. It checks your pronunciation, letting you know if you’re off, and gives you time to practice until you get it right enough to send. In this way, you and someone from Spain go back-and-forth, first introducing yourselves and then getting into more detailed conversations.

To keep you motivated, PlaySay turns the process into a game by challenging you to play out different social scenarios for rewards and player levels. Over time it takes the words you’ve used and creates a phrase book you can go back to.

PlaySay is intended as a study guide, it’s not a proper course in itself, and admittedly Spanish isn’t as useful in Canada as French or Cantonese would be (other languages are coming), but the idea here is captivating and it demonstrates the power translation technology has to reduce the language barriers in our world.



Wolfram Dog Breeds




Of all the animals we take on as pets or companions, none are as diverse as dogs. Not only can they differ greatly in size and behaviour, but their litter sizes and lifespans can be wildly different too. With Wolfram Dog Breeds you can look up a breed and get all the detailed information you need to know before bringing a puppy or adopted canine into your life.

Wolfram Alpha is a smart encyclopedia. Each time you open the app it pulls the latest facts from a variety of trusted sources, cross-references them for better use, and delivers them in a searchable format. The information you’re getting is always updated.

When you look up a breed you get basic facts such as average height, weight, and lifespan, but useful nuggets including how heavy the coat sheds, if the hair is weather resistant, and just how much hair you may have to deal with (is it between the toes, long on the ears, etc.). Keywords, taken from a number of breed descriptions, are listed to help paint a picture of that breed’s temperament. The Saluki, for example, is listed as “active, affectionate, gentle, hunting, independent, intelligent, loyal, peaceful, quiet, self-absorbed, and sensitive”.

Wolfram can create lists of breeds by group (companion, herding, terrier, etc.) or by characteristics (tallest, lightest, heavy shedding, etc.) and can do side-by-side comparisons between two breeds. Unfortunately you can’t jump from these lists to the detailed breed entries directly, a reminder that an encyclopedia isn’t as friendly as a guide written by a kennel club, but the entries here are very informative to anyone thinking of responsibly choosing a dog for a companion.

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