23 Dec 2010

I bought my iPad knowing that without owning a machine capable of running iTunes there would be certain things I wouldn’t be able to do. Thanks to friends with such machines, I managed to do the initial activation and recent upgrade to 4.2. But there are plenty of day-to-day tasks that I have foregone.

It was never going to be a music-listening device for me, so the current lack of support for music syncing in libimobiledevice is not a problem. The library’s support for mounting the iPad as an external drive lets me copy off photos, which means it has become a part of my photo work flow.

Putting photos back on the iPad isn’t currently possible – more specifically being able to push them back into the Photos app. Generally, pushing documents into whatever app might be registered to handle them isn’t possible.

The Dropbox app solves a lot of these getting-files-on-to-the-iPad issues, with the added benefit of ensuring the documents are also available on my laptop and wherever else I have Dropbox running.

What the Dropbox app is missing is the ability to add files from the iPad itself; for example, saving a copy of a pdf from Safari. As the app isn’t registered to handle any file types, it doesn’t appear as an option to save files to.

To work around this, I’ve built a site that lets me submit a url which is then downloaded, or ‘slurped’, by the server and pushed to my Dropbox account, at which point it is available on the iPad. For those who care, the site was built using django and was a good lesson in doing proper oauth against the Dropbox API. As it currently stands, it looks like this:


I even had the domain name picked – although this time around I didn’t rush out and buy it.

You’ll notice I’m not linking to the site; for which there is a good, but unfortunate, reason. In order to connect to the Dropbox API, I got myself an API key. This key is tied to my user name and can only be used when connecting as me. To allow other people to use it, I have to apply for ‘production status’. Currently, Dropbox are only looking at apps that are run natively on mobile devices – they are not approving web apps.

It is a pain, but I’m not complaining; if this is how they have choosen to focus their resources, I’d rather they did that then overreach what they can support.

Even with my non-production status, I can use it myself when I need to. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to get proper production status and make it more widely available – although whether this will still be an issue then, I don’t know.

22 Dec 2010

Having just marked a domain name to expire next month, I realise it has been two years since I had enough of an idea to register it in the first place, but never quite enough to make a site to fit it.

It’s all a bit vague, but at the first PaperCamp, back in January 2009, I had a chat with Alex about one of the talks we’d just seen. I remember thinking there was something worth building as a result of our chat, but I’ve been trying to remember what triggered our conversation. I went back to this write-up from the day and found exactly what it was:

… Beeker Northam … speaks about photographing paper. She doesn’t like throwing away books. She photographs her books. There’s something about photographing them that’s different to scanning them. She’d like to have some kind of web-based way for people to share those bits of books that have had an emotional impact on them but she hasn’t found it yet. There are book sharing sites out there but they all take a library-based approach.

Rather than simply list what books I’d read, I wanted to be able to record the actual, physical objects – a thought that surfaced in this post from a couple months later. A few days after PaperCamp, I registered ThingsWeRead.com as the site never to be. I got as far as putting up a holding page and a blurb of text that feels awfully contrived looking back at it now:

Things We Read

Things We Read

The site was basically going to let you list books, or other things, you’d read and have some nifty way to automatically include tagged photos from flickr to help emphasise the physical link. With all the social network trimmings of course.

As evidenced by this post, the idea didn’t get any further and I suspect there were two main reasons why.

Firstly, it was around this time that I found bkkeepr, which has more or less done all I needed in the book-tracking department where others failed.

Secondly, as much as it sounds like a trendy post-digital thing to do, in reality I have a bookshelf full of books published in their thousand that hold no special place in the world as individuals. For every Content Assignment, which is an amazing physical object, there are far too many Dan Brown’s or Lee Child’s (yes, I know).

So having sat on the digital shelf for two years, I’ve decided there isn’t enough in the idea to renew the domain.

27 Oct 2010

A few weeks ago I received a phone call at home that came up as an International number, so I was fully prepared for some sort of advertising. The typical silence after answering such calls was eventually answered by an Indian women confirming she was speaking to Mr O’Leary. Of course, there was the usual stumble as she tried to decide how to pronounce my surname. Eventually she said she was calling to help with the issues I’ve been having with my Windows computer. I pointed out to her that I don’t own a Windows machine, so that was the end of that. It didn’t occur to me until I’d hung up that this was probably a scam and some fun could have been had.

Well, tonight I got the chance to play. I’d known for a while that an International number had again been ringing us through the day and Jo had taken to ignoring them. When I answered I tried to sound suitably naive and welcoming of their offer to fix the apparent problems on my (still non-existent) PC.

After confirming which the ‘windows’ key on the keyboard is, he asked me to press Win-R and confirm what I could see. Unfortunately it’s been too long since I’ve used Windows so I couldn’t remember what this did. I suspected it was the run dialog (which it is) but I didn’t quite have the confidence to say so. So I launched into saying how, unfortunately for them I’m an engineer, know about computers and that I knew they were trying to scam me. I kept this up for a while, ignoring their denials until the line went dead – they hung up on me.

An hour later, we got another International call. I had since confirmed that Win-R brings up the run dialog, so I was looking forward to taking it further. This time however it was quite different. After confirming they were speaking to the right person, I was told I should go kill myself, set fire to my house, dig a grave and lie in it and various other colourful suggestions. Clearly I had upset them. The guy on the phone, also with Indian accent, told me as an engineer I was lowering the intelligence of computer users. Oh the irony. The insults continued for a while, with occasional laughter in the background. To be fair, I was laughing back. Eventually I had had enough so hung up on them.

The phone rang seconds later; he clearly hadn’t liked that one bit. He told me off quite clearly for hanging up and the insults and threats continued. I told him I was recording the call so it could be reported and have them shut down… not at all true, but there you go. Eventually I told him I’d had enough and suggested we just leave it there and get on with our lives. He agreed and we hung up together.

It was quite a bizarre thing to experience. The saddest part of all is their scam clearly must work often enough for it to be worth doing. I’ll give BT a ring tomorrow to see if anything can be done to block the calls. Their website implies they can’t block international numbers as they are not properly recognised by the system, but that it is also very rare to get nuisance calls from overseas…

22 Oct 2010

I had to go through old posts here to remind myself when I last did anything on my Paper Graphs project. I was surprised to find it was as long ago as January last year that I wrote about the paper pie charts after the first PaperCamp.

A couple weeks ago, we reconvened at the Mecca for all good conferences, Conway Hall, for PaperCamp2: Fold Harder. Roo’s done a nice write-up over here if you want to read more about the event itself.

Of the small number of talks during the day, it was the opening one from Matt Brown that chimed the most with me. His write-up is worth a read. The Origamic Architecture by Gerry Stormer reminded me of the books my parents had by Masahiro Chatani from which I learnt a lot of the principles used in the paper pie charts.

At the first PaperCamp, I said I wanted to produce a pop-up book of statistics. This was mostly an attempt to put the hastily crafted pie chart into some sort of context and I didn’t put much more thought into it. It’s still something I think would be fun to do – if I can find the right angle to approach it with. In the meantime, I felt inspired to start playing with other paper graph styles. Specifically, the humble bar chart.

Having sketched a few ideas along the lines of Stormer’s work, I went back to the style of the pie graph. A bit more prototyping later and here’s where I got to.

Paper Bar Chart Paper Bar Chart - collapsed

As with the pie charts, the pieces for the model are automatically generated and spat out as a pdf. I’ve updated the project page so you can generate your own here. It isn’t perfect – particularly if the values have a large range – but I think it works well enough as-is.

12 Mar 2009

The progression of the digital age is changing what will become the cultural objects that mark our time. In 50 years, will passing on a 1st edition Kindle to ones children hold the same significance as passing on a 1st edition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? What about a vinyl copy of The Wall versus an iPod loaded with the entire Pink Floyd back-catalog?

As the digital age makes it easier to access and share information, does the value in physical embodiments of these things reduce? Who would buy a 26-volume encyclopedia today when they could search wikipedia in an instant?

A common sentiment at BookCamp and beyond is that you can’t replace the experience of holding a book. Whilst 1000’s of people may read a book, few will read the same book, the same physical embodiment of the text with all of its history and experience worn into its patina.

There are many sites that help socialise the experience of reading a book – I have recently started to use bkkeepr but have also tried out LibraryThing. They are good for keeping a record of what you’ve read and what your friends have read but I can’t help feel they are missing something when it comes to the physicality of books. More on this, maybe, another day.

For now, here’s what triggered me to write this today. Whilst books are important, sometimes ‘progress’ is inevitable.

Stephen Fry on books