Collage by Maggie Thrash.

Collage by Maggie Thrash.

Hello, Tech Trek-ers! Today, Maggie is going to talk about the many joys that an infrared thermometer gun can bring to a person’s life. You can use it to take the temperature of pretty much any object—like, say, your cat, or a pumpkin—by reading its thermal radiation. You can even wield its powers to make stuff like homemade yogurt*!

Pretty cool, right? Now here’s Amber to answer some of your burning tech-related questions!

How do I start learning HTML? —Nyaila

Great question! To answer, I first consulted my cat Luca. I think of him as a sort of computer savant because he once accessed a secret level of Google simply by lying across my laptop’s keyboard. The bad news is that he can’t talk, so he was no help. The good news is that I know of a great place to start learning HTML: Khan Academy. This site is an incredible instructional tool—not just for learning HTML, but for learning a lot of things (art history, math, science, and pretty much the rest of it). Oh, and it’s free! Yay, for free knowledge, right?

Khan Academy can help you learn how to make webpages with HTML (the language that provides the structure for online content) and CSS (the language that controls the style of a site). Everything is explained clearly, concisely, and in a conversational way, and I like that the lessons present information through text and audiovisual aides. There are interactive challenges, too, like a code editor that tests how much HTML knowledge you’ve absorbed. These games are fun, and pretty necessary, for me at least, because completing them has helped me see how much I’ve really learned. It keeps me moving forward with the lessons, rather than abandoning the whole endeavor to stalk Taylor Swift’s cats on Instagram with Luca.

My friend and I really want to make an app, but just don’t know where to start! What are the basics? Is it even possible for us? ­—Phoebe, 19, Madison, Wisconsin

Just from the couple of sentences’ worth of info that I have about you and your friend, I can tell that you are industrious folk—you’re asking questions, and you have the desire to take your idea and turn it into something tangible. So, the short answer to your question is, yes, of course it’ll be possible for you two to make an app!

First, you should know (and you may already) that apps or any kind of software or website are created with code. On the most basic level, code tells a computer to do what you want it to do. There was a time when not knowing how to code would make it very, very difficult for someone to develop an app: After coming up with an app idea, you would have had to outsource the work and potentially pay tons and tons of cash money. Or you’d have to devote a lot of time to learning how to code before you could even start work on your actual app project. But these days, if you’re raring to go—totally ready to just, like, have that app—but don’t have the requisite coding knowledge, there are several different app-making programs, also known as “authoring tools,” that you can use.

Before you decide on which program you want to use, you need to figure out which type of app you want to make, because some programs are going to work better for your purposes than others. If you want to make a mobile game, for instance, you might want to give GameSalad a try. The interface is fairly simple: You pick the elements that you want in your game from a list of options, and then just plop them into the game you’re creating. Per the company’s site, “you can make your first game in about an hour.”

If your goal is to take a personal site, like maybe your blog or YouTube channel, and turn it into a mobile app for your readers/viewers/fans, then you could take a look at DWNLD, a relatively new authoring tool. With DWNLD, you simply type in the web address of the site you want to app-ify, choose a template, and then publish. It works in a way that’s very similar to WordPress, and it’s extremely intuitive.

If you want to create an app for a club or other organization, then I’d suggest taking a look at AppMakr, which will allow you to add features like forums, photos, video, and live-chat to your app.

All of the tools I mentioned have free options, but you’ll be able to do more with your creation if you have a paid package (you know how it goes). That being said, why not learn to code? It’s the slower path to app creation, for sure, but if you want your app to be more customized, then this is really a great option. Code Avengers has courses that lay down the foundation for developing apps and games with Javascript. If you have the money (the first lesson is free, but the more advanced levels average at about $34 each), then this could be the place where you begin. There are also Women Who Code and Girls Who Code networks that hold workshops and events all over the world. You’ll learn how to code, and who knows—maybe you’ll meet a new friend/app collaborator, too, while you’re at it? ♦

*If you make Maggie’s yogurt and decide to try her heating-pad tip, do not leave that pad unattended, y’all! Even if it does take hours for the yogurt to set (’cause heat and electricity).

You don’t need an infrared thermometer gun to know that you’ve got a burning tech-related question. If that is the case, email [email protected] with your first name, last initial, age, city/state, and what’s on your mind.