iPhone magic

My iPhone has learned to do magic, and I think it is going to entirely change my experience here.

Back when it came out, I was really excited about the Word Lens app.  Using a smart phone’s built-in camera, the app will translate printed text in real-time on your phone screen.  You can point it at just about any text and have it pop up the translated text superimposed over the original image (it even does a decent job of mimicking the font).  Suddenly, you find you’re looking at English instead of whatever was printed in the first place.

It’s absolutely amazing, and, to my mind, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from magic.  (In fact, if it turns out that it IS magic, it would probably make more sense to me.)  It’s like having a translation dictionary in your pocket, except that you don’t have to spend the time looking up the word or phrase you’re looking for — the app does it for you.  It’s like (for fellow Doctor Who fans) having been a passenger on the TARDIS and having all text suddenly appear to be in English.  Jo compared it to having a babblefish (a la Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) for your eyes.  I think it’s basically magic.

When it first came out, it was only available in English/Spanish translation.  That was just about the same time we moved to Austria, so although I found it amazing, I didn’t have much use for it.  Since then, though (and unbeknownst to me), they added French and Italian translation.  And, just recently, German.

So now, in addition to actually learning German (which I really am trying to do) I have the ability to point my phone at text I don’t understand and suddenly “see” what it means.  Signs, menus and newspaper headlines are all going to be much more accessible.  I tried it today on some papers that B brought home from school, and instead of spending an hour puzzling it out with the help of Google translate, I spent 10 minutes reading through the pages in sections with the help of my phone.  I think it’s absolutely fantastic, and it’s going to be a pretty amazing tool when I’m in need of understanding something (which is frequently).

And, since it also does Italian translation, I went ahead and downloaded that one, too, since we’re leaving for Rome this evening and we don’t speak any Italian.  I’m fairly certain that it’s going to be a significant help, and will certainly give us more confidence being abroad in a culture where we can barely communicate.  (Other than that, we’re pretty much counting on the fact that we speak, collectively, a little Spanish, French and German and that we’ll be able to make it work.  Which may or may not actually be the case.)

But it’s kind of amazing to have a super powerful real-time pocket translator.  We live in the future.

I have my iPhone back!

My iPhone suffered a tragedy last month at the hands of Liam (in the form of a very cracked screen).  It actually had handled dozens of worrying tumbles, onto restaurant floors, out of the stroller, and even once onto a cobbled stone pathway, with little to no damage.  The one that finally got it didn’t seem worse than the others — in fact, I was shocked to find, after recovering it from the floor, that the screen had been shattered.  Liam had batted it out of my hand onto our hardwood floor, and I had expected it to survive, but it didn’t.

Well, after a month of “refurbishing” (which actually came out in our favor, they either couldn’t or didn’t actually refurbish it, apparently I got an all new one) and the addition of a new, expensive and very tough case, I have it back.

I don’t think I’ve ever become so dependent on any kind of technology so quickly.  I had already become accustomed to being able to check my email while holding a sleeping baby, check the weather on my way out the door, navigate anywhere from anywhere else, translate anything I needed to and always have a camera in my pocket.  It’s a miracle I survived the month without it.

I am so glad to have it back.

The modern day pocket watch

I see it all the time — people hurrying down the street, riding on the train, sitting in a cafe, having a meal, having a conversation, playing with their kids.  They sneak a quick peek at their cell phone — too fast to be checking a message:  they’re checking the time.

Once I noticed it, I see it all the time, and it’s really pretty funny.  We’ve replaced pocket watches with wrist watches and replaced wrist watches with cell phones as timepieces.  When we need to know the time, or when we’re asked, we reach into our pocket, pull out our fancy digital pocket watch, click the button on the side to turn it on and peer down.  (All that’s missing, really, is the chain attaching it to our pocket — which actually would be a useful feature.)

Dan and I often laugh between ourselves at how much we take the computing power in our pocket for granted.  When one of us is grumbling about how “slow” or “frustrating” our phone is, the other will remark, “Oh, yes, the supercomputer/phone/camera/internet access in my pocket is just not fast enough for me!”  The ease and seamless integration of this kind of technology into our lives is something that would have been astounding (to the point of seeming magical) to us only 15 years ago or so, and now we carry these devices around with us everywhere we go.  I sure do like my fancy pocket watch.