Jewish Holidays app

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In the spirit of the holiday season, and in that of intercultural relations from yesterday’s staff-development event, here is an app that covers the major Jewish holidays.  The app includes not just Hanukkah, of course, but also Yom Kippur and Purim, among others.  The focus of the app is not so much on the activities during the celebrations as it is on the spiritual significance of the traditions.  More importantly, the app does not treat each holiday in isolation, but instead ties them into the broader Jewish spiritual philosophy.  To this end, the app has detailed video and written commentary by Kabbalah expert Dr. Michael Laitman.  If one wants additional information, one can peruse Dr. Laitman’s blog.  While “The Spiritual Meaning of the Jewish Holidays” app does require an understanding of Jewish spirituality–there is no glossary or other aid to provide background–the app goes beyond just a generic overview of Jewish holidays and introduces one to deeper perspectives on the holidays’ religious significance and Jewish spirituality in general.

Vatican.va app

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This is the official app of the Holy See.  The app is streamlined and easy to navigate, although there is much overlap between the app and the Vatican’s website (http://w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/it.html).  The app does, however, have some additional multimedia features.  These include a photo gallery of Pope Francis.  The app’s strong point is a virtual tour of the Vatican City that includes stunning 360-degree images of various locations in St. Peter’s Basilica and Square.  What adds a “you-are-there feel” not found in other apps is that the panoramas are taken while people are actually visiting the locations, instead of when they are empty; this does not, however, obstruct the sharp views of the artwork and architecture.   The downside to this app is that news and other official releases are not available in English.  (Translated versions of the same documents can, however, be found on the Vatican’s website.)  Also, the virtual tour of St. Peter’s does not include descriptions of the locations and artwork.  Despite these drawbacks, the Vatican.va app is a useful way to orient one’s self with the documents and other resources available on the full website, in addition to enjoying the virtual tour.

“Wonders of Italy: Pompeii” app

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The “Wonders of Italy: Pompeii” app (the series has apps for Rome and Florence, also) presents a photographic tour of the ruins of that city. The app includes background on each set of ruins, including their probable use. The ruins cover a range of public buildings, from amphitheatres to eateries. From a multimedia perspective, this is a fairly worthwhile app to peruse. The photography is sharp, and the 360-degree panoramas of the ruins are give one a “you are there” feeling. There are also close-up views of artwork and other interesting features of the ruins.

There is not much on the history of Pompeii itself, however, nor is there much detail on the excavation and preservation of the ruins. A reconstruction of the city as it appeared before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, and maybe even an animation of the eruption itself and the resulting burial of the city in ash, would have enhanced the educational and entertainment value of this app significantly. As it is, there is information on only eight sets of ruins to peruse, giving a piecemeal approach to understanding the city and its history. While the app does give a nice introduction to some of the ruins of Pompeii and the related history, it doesn’t really go into the depth that one would expect, especially given the archaeological value of the site and its popularity as a tourist attraction.