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Staff Picks: Favorite Websites and Apps

How can we keep ourselves engaged, calm, and happy when we spend most of the day in isolation? Portland Public Library staff share some of their favorite websites and apps for learning a new skill, having fun in nature, and making each other laugh. Enjoy!

A sample from Go Botany’s simple key.

Nora’s Pick

Explorations in nature may be one of the best ways to stay enlivened while practicing social distancing, and there are great sources out there that can turn natural curiosity and observation into learning experiences. Native Plant Trust’s Go Botany tool is a multifaceted site, perfect for kids and adults, that allows users to both absorb and share information about plant life in New England.

With a Simple Key that uses characteristics of plants to help make identifications, an online PlantShare community for collaboration, and links to additional educational resources, GoBotany can help you explore nature from your couch or let you build knowledge from your outdoor adventures. Time to get stretching those taxonomical muscles!

Megan’s Picks

Language Learning

HelloTalk (app): Crowd-sourced social media language learning. Users list the language they are learning and their native language. Based on language different ‘feeds’ are created: All, Learn (read posts written in the language you are learning), Classmates (read posts by people learning the same language as you), and Help Others (read posts written in your native language). There are built-in correction, transliteration, and translation tools. Posting audio recordings and real time voice calls are possible. There is also a private message feature with fairly strict protections (no sending pictures until a certain # of messages have been received, etc).

Anki: This is a highly customizable flashcard program using SRS (spaced repetition system). It’s available for desktop computers and smartphones with limited browser availability as well.

Entertainment

A sample AI creation from Botnik.

Monster Breeder: A text based browser game. Collect classic monsters from various locations, breed them together and make new monsters.

Orisinal : Calm and soothing in-browser games. They are Flash games so they may be less accessible if computers are blocking Flash.

Botnik: Possibly my favorite thing on the internet, Botnik is “a machine entertainment company run by comedy writers.” You can use the “voicebox” to write your own nonsense with the help of predictive text trained on various sources (Harry Potter books, Radiohead songs, Youtube cooking video transcripts). You can also browse through the material they’ve created and it is usually hilarious.

Social

Discord : Originally designed for gamers, Discord allows users to create their own servers with different channels (essentially chat rooms) gathered in each one. Servers can be private/invite only or public, and channels can be private within servers. Audio chat is supported. Group messaging is also possible.

There are various extensions to enable virtual movie nights, but I haven’t tested any of them personally. Netflix Party is getting lots of attention right now; I also found Scener which seems similar. Both are for Chrome.

Jerri’s Pick

I’ve practiced yoga on and off for 50 (yikes!) years and can’t say enough positive things about Yoga with Adriene. I’ve been using her myriad of free videos for about 2 years and there really is something for everyone. It’s some of best yoga instruction I’ve ever had. She’s non-judgmental, accessible, offers lots of modification of poses, creates great body awareness, is fun, and she has a dog (blue heeler) named Benji!

Yoga with Adriene has many videos for home practice.

Today I also tried her “15 Minute Meditation For Anxiety ” – a guided meditation to provide relief from anxiety, stress and energetic imbalance! My first time meditating, but thought it would beneficial in this uncertain time!

Here’s their mission statement:

Our mission is to reach as many people as possible with high-quality free yoga videos. We welcome all levels, all bodies, all genders, all souls! Browse our library of free yoga videos to find a practice that suits your mood or start a journey toward healing.

 

Elizabeth’s Pick

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts showcase artists making music in small spaces.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert archive feels like an online learning resource—there are hundreds of beautiful and moving and fun short videos of
musicians playing live performances, each crammed into the tiny colorful crowded office of All Songs Considered. Learning about new music feels a little like a research project and a sweet labor of love to me, a holdover from younger days making mix tapes and CDs when I scoured the internet for songs my friends had never heard before. The Tiny Desk Concerts are so intimate and gorgeous (I love seeing the musicians so close up, their deft fingers finding a chord, their nods and smiles to each other) and there’s years of them to dig through, an infinite variety of pop, r&b, jazz, hip hop, rock, soul, folk, and classical musicians and their bands. There’s much to discover.

Recent concerts include the incredible vocals and songwriting stories of Brittany Howard and her band, the deeply dreamy, quiet crooning of Raveena  (recently listed as one of 5 Tiny Desk Concerts to Calm Your Mind), the gorgeous harmonies of Mountain Man and tender folk songs of J.S. Ondara, the joyous, rapid-fire reggae of Koffee and the thrilling harp of Bridget Kibbey as she plays a Bach fugue…early this morning as I poured through some of the performances I learned about new music and I found myself relaxing a little, smiling at the musician’s wonderful faces—all the many looks of concentration or delight as they played.

Elise’s Picks

I think this is a great time to highlight our Be a Citizen Scientist page on the PPL website. I have tried out some of the resources on the website, and others look like fun. A lot of them you can do from your couch at home.

Help track squirrels for the Auburn University Squirrel Project.

Zooniverse is a favorite of mine, and one of the ways I got into citizen science in the first place was their Snapshot Serengeti program. Regular people from all over the world look at trail camera images captured in the Serengeti National Park in Africa to classify what animals they can see to make the pictures more accessible to scientists. It’s a lot of fun. Currently, there aren’t any photos that are still waiting to be classified (Its a really popular project so they run out from time to time) but there are similar projects that are currently being worked on! There are also all kinds of projects on Zooniverse to look at, from all over the world, in all sorts of fields of study.

If you have squirrels around where you are sheltering in place, you can observe them and submit your findings to the Auburn University Squirrel Project!

Maine Audubon Society has a community science page with lots of resources, especially for people who like to bird watch.

I am looking forward to an upcoming webinar for a program tracking turtle crossings on roadways in Maine. (Warning: there’s a photo of a road-killed turtle in the link!)

Brush up on your plant care with Plant One On Me.

Carrie’s Picks

Logee’s Greenhouse Tour: Logee’s is widely respected around the world for its rare and exotic plants, as well as for its 120 year old Ponderosa Lemon tree! Watch Summer Rayne Oaks and a bus load of folks from Brooklyn, New York, as they tour this amazing place and even get to go into some of the greenhouses closed to the public.

Plant One On Me: Summer Rayne Oaks channel that is about everything houseplant. Take this time to better understand and care for your houseplant friends!

If you’re left-handed, learn to knit with Yarn Crafts for Lefties.

Becca’s Picks 

About five years ago, a very patient right-handed friend taught me, a lefty, how to knit. Since then, I’m constantly in need of refreshers for certain stitch techniques. Bill Souza’s Yarn Crafts for Lefties YouTube channel has helped me improve my technique and learn new stitches. His well-paced videos are for lefty knitters and crocheters, too!

I also love Seattle radio station KEXP‘s YouTube channel. Their in-studio performances have introduced me to so many new artists. Find your next favorite band, and listen to some old favorites!

More Staff Picks

Indigenous Cinema Archive: Choose from this large catalog of films by Indigenous filmmakers.

Michael Chabon: Watch acclaimed author Michael Chabon read picture books!

DuoLingo: Why not learn a new language, or brush up on one you already know?

Words With Friends: Play a Scrabble-like game with friends from the comfort of your own homes.