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Jonathan Thompson | Jan 30, 2013 05:00 AM

So you finally went out and got a “smart” phone, figured out how to check your email, ask it inane questions and get even more inane answers and got the “app” that turns your phone’s screen into a beer mug that “empties” when you tip it. Maybe you’ve even discovered one of the applications that will find the nearest Thai food.

If you’re anything like me, this is the moment when you ask yourself why you spent a wad of cash on this damned thing. Can’t it do anything, um, useful? Like find the nearest active drill rig? Or nuclear facility?

Of course it can! You just have to find the right apps, a potentially mind-numbing process. Unless, that is, you read the Goat’s handy-dandy ongoing guide to geeky iPhone apps -- only free ones, of course -- where we numb our minds so you don’t have to! Here’s our top apps for today. Be sure to add your favorites in the comment section, and we’ll give them a whirl, too.

Rig Data

1. You’re driving down the road through an empty looking section of the West, and you want to know how the oil and gas industry’s doing in that area? Just open up your RigData app (free for two weeks, then requires subscription). It zooms in on your location and pinpoints active drilling rigs in the vicinity, as well as giving a boatload of info about the rig: its operator; whether it’s a vertical, horizontal or directional rig; whether it’s drilling primarily for oil or gas. The Baker Hughes app is also good -- and it’s free! -- but tends to include less information about each rig. (If you're in Texas, try Texas Wells, with an impressive amount of data and great interface).

2. When it comes to oil, natural gas or gold, price matters. Keep track of all three with the BlackGold app, with up-to-date prices and changes over the past month.

3. Don't know the difference between drilling and hydraulic fracturing? You're not alone. Beef up your roughneck vocab with the Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary.Schlumberger app

4. Point your phone's camera at a power plant, refinery or other industrial site, and Toxics Layar will tell you what kind of nasties they are spewing into the air, water or onto the ground with "augmented reality" technology. We haven't had a chance to try out that feature, yet, but the basic map with EPA toxic release data from a variety of facilities is certainly useful. The ESRI Place History app also looks at TRI Place history appdata, but with a focus on all the harmful chemicals in a particular place rather than from specific facilities. It also gives the heart attack rate from the place -- they call it "geomedicine."

5. The EPA's AIRNow app can give a general sense of what those chemicals might be doing to the air quality. It gives the most recent Air Quality Index figure for your location -- or at least for the monitor nearest your location, which could be a long ways away. It also has an air quality map of the entire nation, showing trouble spots so you know where it's safe to breathe.

6. And, if all that brings you down, you can have a bit of fun with the Take Aim at Big Oil game. As far as games go, it's actually rather lame. But the "big oil"man's quotes are kind of funny, I guess.

 

Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor for High Country News. He spends a great deal of time pointing his phone at things in the Four Corners region. His Twitter handle is @jonnypeace.

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