[Surf’s Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram, on Thursday, October 11, 2012.]
Whether we recognize it or not, we’re surrounded by programming. Code keeps many things around us running, from our phones to our computer networks, from traffic lights to TV signals.
The featured site this week is one that helps you put a little topspin on the digital content all around you, while making daily life that much more enjoyable.
IFTT stands for If This Then That, which plays on the type of logic that is one of the cornerstones of programming languages, as well as math. That is, if [x] is an input, then [y] is the action, or output.
OK, don’t panic. You don’t need to know any programming at all to enjoy IFTT, but it will work better if you use a social media network or platform or two.
Or several dozen, even. IFTT is basically a connecting device between more than 50 different “channels,” as it calls them, and lets you configure them any way you can think of.
Actually, you don’t have to even do that. You can piggyback on the recipes – yes, that’s what they’re called here – that others have devised. Some examples: if Amazon posts a free MP3 (which they do all the time, by the way) then you can have a notification sent straight to your email.
Weather alerts? Meet Twitter. Your Instagram pics? Have then backed up in Dropbox.
The ideas go on and on, and show some creativity. One of the things that pleases me is the reliance on some underrated favourites. One of them is good ol’ RSS, or really simple syndication (to use one of its names), which is far from trendy but which is the backbone of how a lot of what’s online gets to audiences. Here, you can get RSS to pull needles out of digital haystacks, and deliver them to you neatly and the moment they’re found.
Give it a shot. You might discover a very valuable tool … or three.
The Simpsons do Halloween
Last month, I wrote about a Simpsons game called Tapped Out, which has been rebooted after an awkward start. I noted that it was fun, and kind of addictive.
Well, it’s now even more entertaining. Over the last week, an upgrade for Halloween has rolled out, and if you’ve ever seen the annual Treehouse of Horror specials, you’ll know the Springfield crowd go all-out for the bewitching season.
There are new characters, games-within-games and spooky incentives, but the most fun has to come with the zombie onslaughts that roll out twice a day or so (including, ahem, from the pet cemetery – that’s right, Snowball 1 is back!). If they touch regular characters, the zombiefication takes over.
You can squish a zombie with your finger (and turn Homer and others back to normal with a tap), and the reward might include a roll of toilet paper or a package of eggs – perfect for “sharing” with your virtual neighbours!
Tapped Out is still only available for Apple devices, but it appears to have overcome its shaky start from last winter; it’s currently the highest-grossing app for iPhone and iPad, which is remarkable because you can play it for free. (The money comes from upgrades, where are packaged in a clever way. I confess to splurging a few bucks to get another zombie generator. Less than a movie ticket, I rationalized.)
As with the regular game, what makes the Halloween edition of Tapped Out so charming is astonishing attention to detail. It also differs from many games in that it is actually written; that is, the show’s writing staff comes up with the gags and scenarios, and there appears to be as much care with the Halloween sequences on your screen as with the latest Treehouse of Horror. (In fact, the two are connected, with some of the new jokes riffing on plot details from the actual show.)
As I plant a new pumpkin patch around Willie’s shack, it’s hard not to get in a fiendish mood … and also start wondering what might be coming to Springfield when the Christmas season kicks into gear.
John Gushue is an editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue.