Apps for Interpreters (That We Also Kind of Like)

Most of you know where I stand in the realm of Mac vs. PCs. That doesn’t mean that I have to be against every single product that Apple offers. (Though it is true that the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad are all the exact same product just offered in various sizes.) What I can’t really wrap my mind around is how it is possible for Paul to write a post about iPhone apps and not make fun of the fact that I now have one too. I expect those comments to come rolling in today. Paul did a nice job avoiding hyperbole but I’m here to say these apps will change your life.


For the first time ever on a recent birding trip and guided birding boat tour that I led, I didn’t bring a field guide with me. With the Sibley Guide eGuide to Birds app it is not necessary. The app has amazing options for viewing maps, hearing various versions of calls, along with all of the other images and information that the actual field guide offers. There are many other types of bird guides out there that cost less but overall I was most impressed with this one. It is pricy for an app ($29.99) but it is all about priorities. There are also apps for other naturalists’ interests such as field guides for herps, mammals, fish, etc.


Speaking of apps for naturalists, LeafSnap is pretty cool too. First, it is beautifully designed. You can look through the browsing section for hours at a time.The feature that has made this app so popular is that you can take a leaf, place it on a white sheet of paper and photograph it (or snap it) and it will provide you with a list of possible species that you can peruse based on your location.


If you ever find yourself problem solving or brainstorming and struggling with conceptualizing the issues at hand, SimpleMindMapping is available to you when ever the ideas are flowing. The free version allows you to save and view your mind maps but the paid version allows you to email and share the maps. As with most free technology today, the basic options are free and you pay for advanced elements.


Keeping the Star Wars streak alive (and an attempt to continue to isolate any readers we still have) I bring you my favorite Star Wars-related app. I have a demanding job and personal life where at any given moment I’m searching for wisdom and guidance. Where do I turn? Thanks for asking, I turn to the Star Wars Quotes app. If Yoda can’t help me solve a problem, no one can. I also have friends (which may surprise you) who are also Star Wars fans (no we don’t dress up; well, only on special occasions) who are sticklers for accuracy that this app provides.

I tell you that to tell you this: There are quote apps for almost all interest areas that allow you to access information quickly and easily to meet your needs.

Today’s random quote from Han Solo in Episode IV: A New Hope: “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.”


Speaking of quotes you must have, Dragon Dictation allows you to make your own quotes. It allows you speak into your iPhone and will take your transcribed dictation straight into a text message, email, word processing file, Facebook status update, or Tweet. If you need to make a quick note while out on a tour, you need this app. (Also, it’s great if you ever need to tweet or text while driving.) It is amazingly seamless, but struggles with my southern accent at times.

For all of you interpretive naturalist types out there please share your favorites below in the comment section. In the meantime I’ll be listening to bird calls on my iPhone.

Exclamation Points! Their Time Has Come!

Typographically, exclamation points derive from stacking the letters in the Latin word io (exclamation of joy). And though they have been around for a long time—since the 15th century—there was no separate key for exclamation points on typewriters before the 1970s. For as long as I can remember, grammarians have told us to use them sparingly, if at all. I’ve always thought of them as the Comic Sans or clipart of punctuation.

Yet, only four short decades after the exclamation point got its own spot on a typewriter, a new style guide called Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home suggests that we should use them as much as possible (at least in emails).

I’m always deeply suspicious of any correspondence that uses too many exclamation points. I’ve considered setting up a filter on my email that blocks any message with multiple exclamation points in sequence (“!!!”). One of my favorite quotes from Terry Pratchett’s humor-fantasy Discworld series (now on its 157th book, or so it seems) is this one from the title character in the 1990 book Eric:

Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.

There’s a generally accepted rule among my male college friends that no correspondence among any of us should ever include an exclamation point (though this rule is frequently broken in any message referring to Las Vegas or attractive dental hygienists).

And in spite of all this prejudice against the exclamation point, I frequently find myself staring at work-related emails that I am about to send, wondering if I should change “Thanks” to “Thanks!” And I frequently do.

Granted there’s a difference between using an exclamation point in an email and in a professional scenario—as in a business letter, formal writing, or interpretive media. Author Elmore Leonard, detailing his 10 rules of writing, says, “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” If you are writing the text for an interpretive exhibit and sticking to the generally accepted rule of 150 words per panel, this means you are allowed one exclamation point roughly every 220 to 330 panels. If you use three exclamation points following “OMG” in a text message, then you are done with them for 999,999 more messages (a week and a half, if you’re some people I know).

If it’s true what F. Scott Fitzgerald said, that “an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke,” then the people of Hamilton!, Ohio, must think they’re pretty funny. In 1986, the city of Hamilton, a town of more than 60,000 happy residents, changed its name to Hamilton! to generate publicity. And you know they’re laughing over at Yahoo! When you click on the exclamation point in the logo at, it plays the Yahoo! yodel jingle.

By Leonard’s and many other people’s standards, a lot of people overuse exclamation points, not just in personal communication but in professional writing. Some people refuse to use them altogether (like Elaine’s boss in a very funny episode of Seinfeld), while others can’t update their Facebook statuses without at least three of them. You’ll see me use them on this site occasionally, but I doubt I’ve ever used one in an editorial in Legacy magazine.

I tend to think of exclamation points the same way I do about swearing. They’re crutches people use when they can’t think of words to better express their thoughts—but sometimes it just feels right to let loose. In interpretive writing, I can see justification for using them sparingly (exclamation points, that is, not curse words), but when you’re reviewing your writing, I’d encourage removing them first and seeing if they need to be added back in. If you really need the exclamation points, maybe you don’t have the right words yet.

Well, that’s it! See you next week!

An Emotional Connection: Reasons for Thanks

I have recently been encouraged to be more emotional in my writing, and I’m not sure how that makes me feel.

I’m a highly emotional guy who is excellent at hiding my true feelings or thoughts. That may be a surprise to you coming from a guy who keeps a blog packed with insightful, hilarious, introspective, creative and clever observations (okay, perhaps hilarious was taking it too far, how about “moderately annoying”?) that he shares with the world. This post is a departure for me since it is my nature to be sarcastic and it is much easier for me to take sucker punches at Paul.

But as IBD reader Kelly Farrell has pointed out in the past, we work in a profession that has defined interpretation as “a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections.” If we are to connect with visitors the emotional element has to be given priority over the intellectual.

At the recent NAI National Workshop in Hartford, Connecticut, I felt a connection, a connection between IBD (Paul and me) and our readers. Let’s face it, despite a WordPress plug-in (that Paul and I place way too much value in and check way too many times a day) that monitors our visitation statistics, it has yet been determined if anyone actually reads our posts. The other element that bothers us is, of those who read, how many people are we inspiring change in?

After hearing many positive, encouraging comments (plus three negative comments and one distinct incident of the “stink eye”) from many workshop participants, I really felt part of a bigger community, a very strange, outspoken community. I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you.

Phil Broder, thank you for sharing a copy of your kiting magazine that is now completely Comic Sans free.  The other things you shared via text message would have us arrested in several states.

Scott Mair, thanks for the encouragement and the hugs.

Jay Miller, your kind comments after the awards banquet were just what I needed to hear, thanks.

Marc Blakburn, our conversation was meaningful, I’m glad you care and I appreciate your support.

To the NAI member who bought our book and was looking for Shea so that “she” could sign it, I appreciate you for keeping me grounded. It is true, I am a man.

Lori Spencer, Julia Clebsch, and Susie Edwards, thank you.

Paul, thank you for editing my work. Being the “grammar guy” is really pretty cool.

Ted Cable, thank you for going birding with us (that was a total name drop and  that may be slightly related to a man crush).

Amy Ford, thank you for singing and sharing with me.

Sometimes in life people cross your path that just belong. Jeff Miller, I love you too.

CaputoSign Jane Beattie, I like the way you think. You took a picture in Italy and instead of sending it directly to Paul, you saved it, waited for the right moment and emailed it to me at the workshop so that I could make this punch line.

Caputo Appliances: Our repairman (Paul) is the loneliest guy in town.

Punch line explanation: is a play on the great Maytag tagline/slogan of the 60s (this is for all you generation y’rs that didn’t get it). Jane thank you for taking pictures of signs.

For all of the lurkers out there, thanks for reading. You know who you are, and we know your IP address.

Todd Bridgewater, you are IBD’s new creative director, thanks for the great ideas and sharing the free internet in the lobby.

Lisa Brochu (co-author of IBD who, due to creative differences, is primarily absent from IBD the blog) thank you for the kind and encouraging comments about me and the work Paul and I are doing. It is true we are writing for a “very specific audience.” An audience that is fascinated with the differences between typefaces, loves sausage, can talk about color for hours, and use the phrase World Champion New York Yankees as often as possible.

NAI Staff, thank you all (Tim, Lisa, Paul, Jamie, Russy, Carrie and Beth) for working so hard for us in Hartford.

I had one final connection while flying home from the workshop. I woke up with my head on the shoulder of a sweet lady who had the middle seat. When I awoke suddenly, unsure of my surroundings, finding myself in this embarrassing situation, she kindly said that I “was cute.” After I apologized and I asked her if I had been snoring she said “no honey, you purred.” We had a moment. I would create a different ending here if she wasn’t reading this post. Feeling the connection, I gave her my card, email address and URL. The only thing that she offered me in return was an awkward smile and silence.  Perhaps some connections are meant to be broken.

Thank you for being a part of the IBD community and making my National Workshop experience complete. I hope to see all but three of you in Las Vegas.