Feb 062014

While I was on vacation I was asked to review an an iPad app called “Mass Explained”, with the full title being “The Mass Explained Volume 1: The Introductory Rites & The Liturgy of the Word.” My initial thoughts before getting a chance to download it was that it would be just another Catholic app with some good content, but nothing to rave about.

So I was pleasantly surprised that it is indeed something to rave about. When I saw that the introduction was by Mike Aquilina I knew that I was going to find solid content.

If the majority of the contents of this app had just been printed as an ebook it would have been worthwhile, but maybe not very engaging. I was really stunned by how good the layout is along with all the graphic media found on every page. This is a very beautiful app that is fairly simple to navigate. Swipe horizontally to navigate to chapters and other major sections and swipe vertically to page down through it.

I would go more deeply into reviewing it, but recently Thomas L. McDonald did a comprehensive review that should be read instead.

As an application developer myself looking at this app just from a technical perspective I find this to be a stunning achievement. It combines the best of the old school textbook layout with elements that can only be achieved in an electronic text book such as information in the side bar or other places that can be scrolled through. As someone who works in the field of creating courseware content creation tools along with other training applications again I am extremely impressed with this app.

So what is the Latin for “Let it be published on the App store”? Regardless this app carries both the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur along with being reviewed by ICEL and approved by the USCCB.

In his review Thomas McDonald said:

Here’s where we come to my one reservation: at $25, it’s expensive for an app and even expensive for an App Store book. As they say of big budget movies: it’s all up there on the screen. The production values are top notch and the writer has done a great deal of work producing the text and adding multimedia content. There’s no denying it’s a slick piece of work. I don’t begrudge the creators their price point, but it does limit the audience.

The good news is that, purchased in volume (20 or more copies), it qualifies for Apple’s Volume Purchase Program, which offers a 50% discount.

To which I totally agree, but I would love to have this app seen and used by a larger audience.

Dan Gonzalez is the developer and should be praised for what he has pulled off.

Mass Explained site

iTunes link – App is for the iPad only.

Jun 172013

The My Confessor app lets busy Catholic priests update their statuses from their phones. Currently, the app is only available for users in the Madison, Wisc., area. Heilman sees this going national.

God may be omnipresent — but His priests aren’t.

So a holy man in Madison, Wisc., has turned to app development, along with divine guidance, to find a better way to tend to the needs of his 800-family flock.

Father Richard Heilman is launching a My Confessor App that will let his parishioners know when and where he is available to listen to their sins.

After 25 years in the ministry, Heilman believes Catholics could do with a bit more priest-and-me time. His preferred dosage is at least once a month.

“Maybe more often if you’re dealing with repetitive sin,” Heilman told The News. “A lot of us aren’t in a state of grace and confessions help that grace flow freely.”

My Confessor App screenshot
My Confessor App screenshot

I think this is just so awesome.

The idea is simple. A red status box means “Father is OUT.” A green status box means “Father is IN.” And priests have a special log in that lets them easily update their statuses and even post messages, according to app developer Mary Hoerr.

The app also has a section explaining the sacrament of confession, as well as another place where users can read priests’ bios.

Heilman is the only priest on the app for now and he’s been paying all the development costs out of his own pocket. But he says several other priests have reached out and asked to get involved. The app currently serves people in the Madison area. However, Heilman sees this going national.

He envisions an app that has a Google map with markers that point out where the nearest priest is. So if you’re driving by and you realize that there’s a burden on your back that you need to unload, users of My Confessor will know exactly where to go.

“I want people to not feel uncomfortable asking about confession,” Heilman said. “We want everybody ignited in the holy spirit.”

The app will be available to both iPhone and Android users later this month. For now, those interested can check myconfessor.org for updates.

I hope this takes off as an idea. Confession is something that seems to be so deemphasized. Most parishes you find it available for roughly half-an-hour on Saturdays and of course by appointment. Neatly tucked out of site for most people and “reconciliation rooms” not located in the main part of the church makes it unlikely to see people going to confession.

I like the service MassTimes.org to easily find a parish wherever I am, but it hardly has any information on confession times. I would just love to be able to have an app that let me know where I could go to confession based on location and time.

So super kudos to Father Richard Heilman for not only making this app, but for making himself available to hear confessions.

Via The Deacons Bench

May 122013

One of the problems I have with novenas is being able to remember to pray them during each of the nine days of if you are doing a novena of novenas during that time frame. So last Friday being a traditional day of starting a novena I remembered that I had recently seen an iOS app designed for novenas and so purchased it. Simply called Novena and priced at $2.99.

There are many ways a mobile application could help with praying a novena as far as scheduling goes. Unfortunately this app came up with none of these ideas. No push notifications. No scheduling. Nothing to track what day of a novena you might be on.

Neither was I impressed by the design of the app. Apparently not much effort went into design and it only worked in portrait mode in one orientation. Being a universal app for the iPhone and iPad it at least supported both platforms. Yet on the iPad the menu was apparently the same as for the iPhone or so just took up a small area at the top right part of the screen.

On the plus side novenas were grouped in several ways that could be useful in finding the one you want. You could also favorite one to easily come back to later. The artwork seems to have been taken from German holy cards and I did like the look of these cards and they did give the look of the app some consistency. Once selecting a novena you were presented with the individual novena and you could select or swipe to a history of the saint involved.

One nice feature was that for each image you could select Symbols to show a text overlay explaining some of the symbolic components in the image.

Overall I was disappointed by this app for missing obvious features and having a poorly designed interface and menu. So if anyone knows of an iOS novena app with push notifications and/or some form of scheduling please let me know.

Mar 062013

The Vatican web site has long frustrated me as evidenced by my parody post back in 2005. There are plenty of things that drive me crazy about it especially the navigation and the fact that instead of using CSS they use table formatting for documents.

So I was a bit surprised to see shortly after the interregnum started to see a commemorative site for Pope Benedict XVI setup that for the most part was quite nice. They setup what looks like a physical book where you flip pages to see photographs with descriptive information that gives an overview of Pope Benedict XVI papacy.

Now the fact that they did this using the metaphor of a book in this case works out pretty well. Not all cases of skeuomorphism in design are bad. Really skeuomorphism has been used considerably in Catholic art and architecture. I was quite surprised when I viewed this on my iPad that the flipping of pages was done via smooth full animation where the page curl followed your finger as in the iBooks app. The same effect can be used with a mouse or on a desktop browser you could just click on the edge to advance through the pages or via the keyboard. This commemorative “book” really is quite nice, although I haven’t made it through all the pages without tears threatening to well up.

This would be quite awesome except for one thing. There was something odd about the design that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and Father Roderick pointed out exactly was wrong. The font used is Comic Sans. I am sure one of the anathemas for the Council of Trent was regarding Comic Sans, if not there should have been one. See Fr. Roderick’s meme graphic.

Now if they removed the Comic Sans and made this as an actual ebook I would buy it in an instant.

Jan 232013

So the Vatican puts out a new app called “The Pope App”, specifically put out by the Pontificium Consilium de Communicationibus Socialibus.

What is amazing is that it doesn’t suck. In fact it is quite well done. Just from a design perspective it is clean and functional. I totally agree with Thomas L. McDonald’s review which also includes some screenshots.

It has the following sections:

  • Live – Video streaming of some live events.
  • From the Pope – Angelus, Homilies, General Audiences, etc.
  • News
  • Images
  • Video – Archived video of Papal events
  • Webcams – Yes Vatican webcams.
  • Vaticano – Links to the Pope’s Twitter feed along with other related links.

My only real critique is that for something called “The Pope App” I would think a basic biography of the Pope would be in order and maybe something about the Papacy itself. Although this is a “preaching to the choir app”, so maybe this is not necessary.

Must have for pAPPists.

Jan 082013

I’ve lamented before about the lack of Catholic podcasts. There are certainly some high quality ones out there, but there are relatively few compared to Protestant and even atheist podcasts

Now one avenue for getting quality Catholic media out there is to take an existing show produced for radio and make it available as a podcast. Catholic Answers, EWTN, and Al Kresta do this. This is an excellent way to increase discoverability and to allow people to listen to shows at their leisure.

Unfortunately I saw today two examples of Catholic media failure in this regard. The examples I found indicated they had no idea what a podcast really was. For one thing making an mp3 file available on a website is not a podcast. An actual podcast provides a syndication feed (RSS) where you subscribe to the podcast to listen to via a podcast application. These podcast application can be used on a computer or mobile device. The podcast application then checks when new shows are available and downloads them for use.

There were a couple of Catholic shows I wanted to check out. One was the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick and the other is Patrick Madrid’s new show “Right Here, Right Now

At the top of the Son Rise Morning Show’s site there was a promising tab for “Podcasts”. It even had a Podcast button labeled “Full Feed.” This was not an actual Podcast RSS feed you could subscribe to but just a link to the same page which has a list of shows you could listen to.

Now that was annoying, but I thought maybe I could just download the show to listen to later on my iPad. Nope, no download link just streaming from the site. Plan B: Well I will just load up the page on my iPad to listen to it. Plan B Fail: Page would load, but no episodes appear on the iPad.

Update: Immaculate Heart Radio let me know that they do indeed have podcasts for some of their shows available in iTunes.  They will have Patrick Madrid’s show as a podcast in the future.

Second Update: The show is now available via podcast.

Next I went to Immaculate Heart Radio where I saw a banner for “More streams, podcasts, and more!” Now was there an actual podcast I could subscribe to? You guessed it, no. What they did have is a new mobile app for iOS and Android. This app allows you to listen to live streams and what it called “Podcasts”. In this case the only show available was “Bay Area Catholics” and not Patrick Madrid’s show. Plus again it was not really a podcast, but a show available on demand for streaming.

At least on their Audio Archives page you could download individual shows. It is certainly nice to support someone being able to listen to a show by clicking on a link on their site. Actual podcasts allow you to listen to shows when not online.

EWTN’s new mobile app is another thing I found quite annoying. For the most part mobile apps created for Catholic broadcasters are usually just not very good. Now I understand this is something they hire out for and cost is of great concern. This app certainly I think reflects that. On the plus side they had a universal app for both the iPhone/iPod Touch and for the iPad. There was really no consideration is how it looked/worked on the iPad and you could not change orientation from portrait to landscape for the menus. At least videos played in landscape mode (sometimes). If you lost internet connection and wanted to play where you left off for the video – no luck there. Overall the app was just not visually appealing in any way. On the other hand it might be perfectly usable for many people and it does provide something needed. Maybe I am too picky as being both a developer and somebody who has come to understand how important interface and aesthetics are. This app though looks to me like the iconoclasts won.

Here is something else I found embarrassing. EWTN has a page dedicated to using EWTN on your mobile phone.

On your Iphone or iTouch, start Mobile Safari browser.

Wow where can I get an Iphone? Is that a Chinese knockoff of an iPhone?

How about some instructions for Android users or is it this page just never got updated? Possibly since they don’t even mention their new mobile apps.

They do have a Mobile Apps page and here they link to the iOS and Android apps stores to download this. Oddly though instead of using the standard Android icon, they used the Google Play store icon.

Now I might be a pot complaining about the color of the kettle considering the grammar and spelling mistakes that appear on my site. Still I find the problems noted above to be indicative of some Catholic media.

Dec 262012

Brandon Vogt has a post up on some free resources from Logos for Catholics which include the documents of Vatican II and Pope Benedict’s exhortation Verbum Domini until December 31. Brandon’s site has the details and the coupon code necessary to get these resources for free. Brandon also gives information on how to use the tool.

As a user of Logos for the last ten years I have been very happy with both the increased performance and power of the Logos library system and how they have become even more Catholic friendly with a number of Catholic resources. For example one of the most recommended scriptural commentaries is “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture” by Dom Bernard Orchard which had been out of print for awhile. Not only is it in print now, but it is also available on Logos. The power of Logos lets you read the scriptures side by side with whatever commentaries or other writings like what the Church Fathers had said about a passage.

They also have mobile apps (currently iPhone/iPad only, though the Android version is in development) and I had actually just used the Logos app on my iPad to read through the Gospel of Luke on Christmas. I had not realized until I read Brandon’s post that the free Verbum app for Catholic Bible study has included resources where all you have to do is to create a free Logos account to take advantage of them. So you can use the current free resources mentioned above along with those included built-in resources without owning Logos or the Catholic implementation of Verbum. Verbum uses the new Logos Bible Software 5.

What is nice also is that if you go ahead and buy Verbum than all of those Catholic resources are available on the mobile apps along with of course the desktop version. Another thing nice about the Logos ecosystem is that you can start with the basic package and then either upgrade to another package with increased resources or buy individual books. Upgrading to another package is pro-rated based on what you already own. While it is true many of some of the older resources are available online for free – the advantage of Logos/Verbum is that all the resources are indexed so that they are tied to verses in scripture and quickly referenced.

I currently own Logos 4 with the Catholic Scholars package, but did not yet have Verbum. I found though that I could get the Basic Verbum package for $34.95 pro-rated based on what I already owned. Even better using the coupon code “JIMMY” from Jimmy Akin’s site I got a %15 discount and paid $29.41 instead. The %15 discount is good for any of the Verbum packages.

Another nice thing about the Logos library system is the way that it syncs on both the desktop and mobile versions. To set it up you just need to have Verbum installed and tied to your Logos account and then it will download all of the resources you own. So setting up on a new computer is a snap. When I just installed Verbum it used all the information and documents I already had installed with Logos 4 and was up an running very fast.

Verbum Desktop Version
Verbum Desktop Version
Dec 042011

I got a request to create an ebook version of the  “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”  Since this was a document I had been meaning to read myself I went ahead and created it with a fully indexed table of contents.

ePub version – iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch/Nook/Sony Reader/Kobo

Kindle version

Note: While a dedicated e-reader is the preferred device for reading ebooks, you can also use various free desktop apps to do the same.

Kindle Reading Apps: Kindle Cloud Reader | PC | Mac

Adobe Digital Editions (PC/Mac)

Calibre  (PC/Mac/Linux)

Oct 252011

Some years ago I bought a copy of the Logos Bible software for use in scripture study. Catholic Apologist Steve Ray has been a proponent of this software which was a main reason I got it. At the time they had version 2 and I was pretty happy with it and got a lot of use out of it. The ability to easily go deeper in scripture with commentaries and word studies along with tools such as maps is really quite a boon. When I switched to Mac though my use of it diminished even though I could have run it in a virtual machine. Back then they did not have a Mac version, though they were working on one.

Another of the reasons I went with Logos is that they are very Catholic friendly and some five or six years ago started developing packages specifically for Catholics. This trend has continued with Andrew Jones who is the Catholic Products Manager at Logos Bible Software. I was given the chance the review Logos 4 with the “Catholic Scholar’s Library” package.

The way Logos works is as a library system where you have access to the contents of any packages you bought along with any individual titles you may buy. It then wraps all of this content with linked and integrated search so that for example a scriptural passage you are reading can also show commentary from the Church Fathers or a wealth of other sources. There are some serious tools for those inclined to compare Bible versions with Hebrew and Greek texts along with easy access to comparison of verses using different scripture versions.

While I was very satisfied when I was using Logos 2, Logos 4 is certainly a large step forward in ease of use while having access to even more advanced features. It is sort of a personal internet containing scriptural and related resources since there is so much interlinking. Since Logos works with a variety of publishers including Ignatius Press to bring their works to their format their is an amazing wealth of what is available.

Though Logos does not come cheap and is rather pricey, but that is to be expected when you have so much source material licensed from various publishers. Currently there are three Catholic specific packages ranging from $395 to $669. One of the advantages of Logos is that if you go with one package you can still upgrade to another one at a later date.

A very important consideration for just how useful is this if you can only use it when sitting down in front of your computer? The answer is quite a lot. I’ve been using the iPad version of Logos which has access to all the same content from my account. This is my preferred mode for scripture reading and still having access to some of the advanced tools such as the multi-functional Passage Guide and text comparison. I do wish that there was an ability to tag something you are reading to be research later in the non-mobile version. For example favorites should really be synched. You can share a passage via the typical social networks. Logos apps are available for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad and Android along with mobile web.

You can look through the various Catholic specific packages here. The amount of Catholic specific material is quite high and ranges from the Early Church Fathers, Sts. Augustine & Aquinas, Councils, Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, G.K. Chesterton, Blessed Cardinal Newman along with Catholic specific commentaries and versions of the bible including the RSV-CE and various versions the Vulgate. Granted you can find a good amount of this in the public domain. A Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI is coming at a later date. The amount of material makes my inner and outer bibliophile jump for joy. Also included are Protestant sources and I found in the past many of these are quite worthwhile as long as you don’t mind an occasional “papist” thrown in as a slur. Commentaries from certain periods run rather anti-Catholic, but if anything they often confirmed my faith as they went out of their way to deny common Catholic exegesis.

The install for my Mac couldn’t have been easier. I downloaded the main program and then it started to download close to 5 gigabytes of content. The mobile versions download content as you need them. Of course the software and various packages also comes on DVD. I’m very happy with the multiple OS support, though as usual Linux users are left out – but hey they are use to that.

Now if only I can find a place to connect a chain to this application. Us Catholics love to put chains on bibles don’t you know.

Enter for a chance to win a copy of the Catholic Scholar’s Library.

Other Reviews:
First Things
Michael Barber
Taylor Marhall