Isn't It Ironic? 'Unplug Day' Gets Smartphone App

PHOTO Smartphone app to help go off the grid.
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If you're a smartphone-toting technophile, chances are you're used to "checking in." But a new application wants to give you a way to "check out" -- at least for the next 24 hours.

To help people observe the second annual "National Day of Unplugging," which starts at sundown today, the non-profit Jewish network Reboot launched a smartphone application to remind people to turn off their phones and send messages to friends about their decision to go off the grid.

"We're not anti-technology. We completely recognize the value and importance of technology in today's world in connecting people and for work," said Amelia Klein, program director for Reboot. But "people are saturated with technology, it consumes our lives ..… The Sabbath Manifesto and the National Day of Unplugging asks people to take stock of their lives … take a pause from our frenetic existence, unplug and reconnect with the things most important to us."

The Sabbath Manifesto "Check Out" app, is like the "inverse" of location-based social network Foursquare, said Klein.

Instead of letting friends know that you've arrived at a particular place, the app automates outgoing messages to Twitter and Facebook to tell friends that you're taking a temporary break from technology.

The irony of using a high-tech app to promote a no-tech day is not lost on its founders.

"We realize the irony of using social media to get the word out but it's been successful for us in reaching a wide audience and encouraging people to unplug," said Klein.

The app is available for Android phones, Blackberrys and iPhones by texting REBOOT to 738674.

But before you unplug, take a look at a few other of our favorite apps below.

Word Lens Translates in Real-Time

You know the feeling. You're in a foreign country, but you haven't mastered the foreign language, and you just want a quick, easy way to translate signs and menus.

A new iPhone app now has a solution.

Taking translation tools to a whole new level, Word Lens uses the iPhone's built in video camera to translate printed words in real-time.

Just pull up the application and look at the words you want to translate through the iPhone. Instantaneously, the words appear on the screen in the language you understand.

The application itself is free, but the in-app dictionaries cost $4.99 each. At the moment, the app offers only Spanish to English and English to Spanish. (It's compatible with the iPhone 3Gs, the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch with video camera.)

The app's founders, Otavio Good and John DeWeese, took two and a half years to build the app, which relies on Optircal Character Recognition technology, TechCrunch reported.

"It tries to find out what the letters are and then looks in the dictionary. Then it draws the words back on the screen in translation," Good told the popular tech blog.

Virgin Atlantic App Helps Fight Fear of Flying

To help travelers overcome a fear of flying, Virgin Atlantic launched an iPhone application based on the airline's "Flying Without Fear" course, which the company says has a 98 percent success rate.

Launched in partnership with developer Mental Workout, the application is available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, includes relaxation and fear therapy exercises, frequently asked questions and a video that explains a flight from start to finish.

It even features a "fear attack button" for emergencies, with breathing exercises and quick tips.

"Our first iPhone app will bring the benefits of our successful Flying Without Fear course to millions of people around the world who are now using mobile technology to make their lives better," Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic's president, said in a statement. "The app will put many travelers at ease and enable them to prepare for their first Virgin Atlantic flight."

At $4.99, the it's on the pricier side for iPhone applications. But as proof that the app is based on a sound program, Virgin Atlantic said its Flying Without Fear course recently helped Whoopi Goldberg overcome her fear of flying.

"The program works, I was a skeptic. I hadn't flown in 13 years but after doing their program, I understood that while my fear was real, there were many things I didn't know or had misinformation about, which they were able to clear up," the actress said in a statement. "So what happened? I now fly. It's that simple."

Hollaback: iPhone App Curbs Catcalls

Next time you're walking down the street and someone throws a lewd comment your way, you don't have to just take it, you can "hollaback."

A new mobile application for iPhones and Android phones takes on curbside catcallers and lets victims of street harassment report verbal abuse, flashing, groping and other kinds of assaults on the go.

"We have addressed workplace harassment, right? And workplace harassment isn't any different from street harassment. It's still harassment and it certainly doesn't hurt any less," said Emily May, 29, the executive director of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Hollaback, which launched the application this week. "(We) addressed workplace harassment 20 years ago and the reason was that we could sue the pants off these companies. But when it comes to street harassment, we can't sue the pants off the sidewalks."

So to tackle street harassment, she said, activists need to bring the latest technology to bear.

The application, which costs 99 cents in Apple's App Store and $1.00 in the Android Marketplace, lets women (and men) immediately report street harassment incidents. It then maps the geo-tagged reports in real-time.

It also sends a follow-up e-mail to the user asking for more information about the event so that a more detailed account can be added to the database.

Application Remotely Unlocks, Starts Cars

Viper SmartStart promises to remotely unlock, start and warm your car from almost anywhere in the world.

Launched by Directed Electronics, a vehicle security and remote start systems designer, the app can be downloaded for free from Apple's App store.

Using an existing remote car starting system from Viper, with a tap of a few buttons on your iPhone, your car can be started, warmed up and humming, just waiting for you to hit the road.

Although remote starting systems for cars usually have a limited line-of-sight range, Viper says its system has "virtually unlimited range" since your iPhone, not the original remote, communicates over cell networks with your car.

"We think customers will find all sorts of unique and personal value in Viper SmartStart," Mike Simmons, EVP of Directed Electronics' parent company, DEI Holdings, said in a statement. "Whether helping out her husband, who's locked his keys in the car, or securely locking her keys and purse in the car while she takes a jog with some music on her iPhone, we expect to hear about some uses we never anticipated."

Once the Viper SmartStart hardware is professionally installed in the car, the iPhone can also be used to defrost windows, cool down the vehicle in warmer weather, unlock the trunk or activate a panic alarm.

But though the app is free, the hardware that will actually make it work with your car is quite pricey.

The system will only work if paired with one of two Viper SmartStart systems that go for $499 (for those who don't already have a remote start system) and $299 (for those who do have remote start). The first year of service is free but, subsequently, service is $29.99 a year.

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