Archive for the 'useful apps' Category

Yet another roundup of iPhone apps, including Metro Paris and Facebook for iPhone

I’ve always been the “in-between” guy -depending on who I’m talking to, I’m either an expert or an amateur at a particular topic…. the topic is the same, I am the same, what differs is the background and expertise of whoever i’m talking to.  Whether it’s wine, drumming.. or technology.
So the fact that I’ve finally got an iPhone is near-luddite to some friends, and eye-rollingly geeky to others.  The one advantage, however, is I can usually rely on others to have paved some of the way for me.

Which is why I’ve been a bit surprised at how lame some of the iPhone functionality is, giving the massive adoption rate and couple of revisions its gone through.  Yes, Virginia – I’m over the honeymoon phase, and onto the phase where I try to answer my iPhone in my pocket in 3C weather with gloves on, and I miss the call because the only way to answer is to have a bare finger slide across the screen.

I guess I should have known that the battery wouldn’t hold up to several hours worth of Gmapping (useful when wandering around the outskirts of Paris looking for an apartment), but I was pleased to see it will stay alive over night if it’s on 20% of its battery power.

App switching speed is not what is advertised on the slick apple campaigns – but I knew that.  However, it’s really stunning how poorly some apps deal with Edge data transfer rates (app developer’s problem, I know, not Apple’s).  There are several apps – Bookmakrs for example – tht stall on Edge even though it’s only transferring text!

Music streamers also choke, but that I can understand.  If I’m walking around downtown Paris – bathed in 3G connectivity – my Last.FM will stall every other song.  LiveRadio (Orange’s internet radio app) has a lot of promise, but the load time for the radio station lists is terrible – and it hangs while trying to load, so if you want to answer a phone call during that time, for example, no can do.

Which brings me to my short list of iPhone desires:

  • No copy and paste?…..
  • Streaming radio apps that do not cut off when you switch apps.  Is it that hard to create a background process?  I ask this honestly, not facetiously…..
  • Fast preview loading.  If I want to see a list – of radio stations, bookmarks, whatever – load the text list quickly first.  Once I’ve decided what I want to see, I can wait a little longer to load the full text / image / media.
  • Some sort of password management / keychain.   Wow, wouldn’t it be col if there was an OpenID app for iPhone (haven’t looked yet…)
  • What’s with the volume on the iPod?  My phone calls blow my ears out, but my music – with decent volume on my iPod, sucks on the iPhone….

And so as not to end on a sour note:  As predicted I have become addicted to my iPhone and so here are my essential apps, in case there is anyone stil out there who has yet to get an iPhone or yet to get one of these apps:

  • Facebook for iPhone:  A Facebook junky mostly because my main network is all my friends I left behind in San Francisco, this is a great tool for me.  I saw the ripple effect happen among my friends when they saw my automatic update “Greg installed Facebook for the iPhone”….
  • WritingPad:  A “cursive” way of writing (but don’t think Palm Pilot’s old styls shorthand) that is faster and more reliable.  Works with built-in email, but not other applications.
  • Last.FM / Pandora  / Live Radio:  Three great streaming services – when you have wifi or 3G at your beck and call.  The last is an Orange (France Telecom)-specific app for subscribers only – and to be honest, it’s a bit of a dog.  But it gives you essentiallyt eh same access to online radios around the world that iTunes does – which I have not yet seen on another app (doesn’t mean I’ve done a bunch of searching).
  • Glacon Lite (link opens your iTunes): an addictive and short game.  And for those wondering what the other addictive, colored-ball game is – reMovem Lite.  Also a good one.
  • Metro Paris:  A great iPhone version of the indispensable RATP interactive map.  My biggest complaint is that the iPhone app does not include the full RER lines.
  • Fring:  Initially a Skype (and other chat / VOIP service) gateway, it’s now an all-social-web aggregator/sharing/kitchen sink.  Haven’t tested the latency of Skype voice calls….
  • WordReference (iTunes link): a must for living and working in France
  • NetNewsWire:  Although the only thing really feed is my wife’s blog, and The Daily Blah (no, not that one…)
  • Bookmarks (iTunes link):  An iPhone app for your booksmarks.  If you’ve got hundreds like I do, you need this to browse them effectively.

Websites with good mobile service:

  • MonRAPT: a simple interface for looking up routes.  A free alternative to the full app described above – designed by my friend Shakaman here at
  • iBackPack: A CSS hack you have to put into yoru BackPack pages that renders them nicely for the iPhone.

And one to leave on – a new app I discovered putting together this list – Leaflets….. looks good…..


Trying out Snappr

[UPDATE: I created a Snappr count and tried again – we’ll see if this works…..]

So I encountered 2D bar codes last year, with faberNovel‘s digitick project.  I was on a recent trip to France, and there are 2D bar codes everywhere now – outside of the US that is (even Canada is full of them).  So it’s about time someone is doing something with them – well, someone other than us.

I’ve just heard about Snappr, and I’m trying it out.  Not entirely sure what to expect – Snappr uses barcodes purely for information embedding, as opposed to subscription serivces or mobile purchasing (at least, as far as I can tell).

But I’m going to test it out and see how it works with my camera phone.  I’ll take a photo of the code (on my laptop), send it to SNappr, and see what happens.  I’ll leave the results in my comments.  Go ahead and test it out yourself too!  (And as Snappr notes – be sure you have an unlimited data plan, or it’ll be expensive!)

Snappr code

Snappr code

Taking the pain out of Windows – w/ a Mac and VMWare

I needed to install some PC accounting software at our office, which only has Macs right now.  Althoguh I was originally going to use Bootstrap, Mac’s built-in software that allows you to switch OS on startup, I opted for VMWare Fusion for the Mac ($80 for a single license, vs. free for Bootstrap).  One of the main advantages of VMWare Fusion is it’s ability to drag-and-drop from your Mac desktop into your Windows window – smooth like ghee, man.

In addition, VMWare had a Windows Easy Install option – you provide the license and Windows install CD, and it runs the whole thing for you in one fell swoop.  The whole process, including buying VMWare online, took about an hour (a lot of that was the Windows install) but it went smoothly from beginning to end, no glitches.  And..  when I’m done with the Windows window, I put it in “Suspend” – and can come back to it as fast as a PC coming out of sleep mode.  Meaning I don’t have to wait for Windows to boot up every time I want to use it.

All said and done – yeah, Windows still sucks, but it’s less painful when running on something as sweet as VMWare Fusion.

Great Drupal Resources (and a fun event): Drupal Module Finder and Drupal Code Search

My friend Brian Wood at UC Berkeley (and part of BDUG) pointed to a couple of great resources by way of John Bern’s blog:

Drupal Modules:  A comprehensive way of searching for, favoriting and ranking Drupal modules.

Drupal Code Search
:  A site using Google’s Code Search API to lookup Drupal code strings.

Neither are officially sponsored (nor sanctioned – yet?) by  Nonetheless, I love this tertiary after-market style ecosystem building around Drupal.

Also, from Amazon, who is one of several people representing Druapl at the LUG Radio events in San Francisco:

Selena Deckelmann , and Andy de la Lucha, daytime Linux system administrator, nighttime design geek,  will be doing a fun and theatrical event pitting WordPress easy entry and their huge user community versus Drupal’s you can do anything and it’s huge “join the community now!” developer focus.

Should be a really fun event!

Signup and more details are here.

BadCamp report back

As usual, the Bay Area Drupal Camp was a mix of information well over my head, and other stuff that thudded off my chest (read: not over my head).  I’m not a coder, so I was lost in the the Drupal Ninja session I wandered into and I quickly wandered out.  On the other hand, I’m pretty damn good as a site admin, so the CCK tutorial was mostly interesting to watch teenaged Dimitri move with lightening speed.

I attended the Drupal theming session, and got confirmation from what several themers said at the Sunnyvale OSCON/ DrupalCon: if you are doing a lot of theme development, don’t start with any of the default themes and tweak from there; instead, build a clean theme from scratch, and use something like the Zen theme to inform your work.  (People also stressed not to use Zen as your primal building block).  My very sparse notes on this session are at the bottom of this page.

Kentbye posted a bunch of audio of the sessions here. There’s also a continuation of the usability session discussion here.

Another “as usual” is that I gleaned the most interesting information (for me) at the periphery.  I had a few specific questions that were answered in between sessions.  I got direct and indirect pointers to new tools and – more importantly – new modules, or reminders of modules I need to revisit.

There were several apps people were using in their demos that I took note of:

  • Web Developer Toolbar (for Firefox) was a favorite.  It’s very useful for theme work, something I now can’t live without.
  • Firebug – very similar; I’ve yet to see a comparison of the two
  • Colloquy – an open-source Mac IRC client that is user-friendlier than Snak.
  • TextMate – apparently the favorite of Bay Area coders; I’ll stick with TextWrangler for now
  • Yahoo UI tools – for CSS tools, see the bottom of the linked page (the Grid CSS builder tool linked here)- uh, I still don’t quite get how to use this, but it can generate clean, Yahoo-standards-based CSS.

And then, more modules.  Just a few days ago I was telling someone new to Drupal that one of the
key challenges is staying on top of new the Drupal modules
(800+ was a count I saw in one presentation, but that seems high. 
Maybe that’s all modules for any version of Drupal….).

In nearly every session, someone would mention a module I had never heard of (or had not looked at closely enough), so here’s my new Drupal module follow-up list:

  • The Devel module – no, nothing new here; but it may actually be useful for non-developers as well
  • Signwriter – a module to allow you to use custom fonts in headings; apparently better and easier to use than sIFR
  • Panels – allows you to put different content into “panels” – different areas on the page.  You can potentially stuff more things into your main content area than just a single node or a view.  I looked at Panels for a specific project a while ago, and at the time I thought it could do more than it actually could, so I left it behind.  I also recognize now how to acheive a lot of what I was looking for with template overrides, but it may be worth looking at again.
  • Subscriptions – someone mentioned that this is a good replacement for Notify, but not quite.  This allows you to subscribe to updates of particular nodes or taxonomies.  However, I use Notify (on a particular site) to send out all site updates.
  • DBA – A presenter mentioned that she uses this to make automatic backups of her database which get emailed to her every night. It allows you to administer the database without using something like phpMyAdmin…

I feel like I haven’t added that much to the general store of knowledge.  Hopefully a link here will be of some help to someone.

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Additional France / Europe car rental resources

ViaMichelin not only provides driving directions, but gives you the option to calculate travel costs based on: whether you select to take the toll roads or not; and the current price of gas!

If you’re curious about the latter, check out Zagaz – click on the map to get a localized listing of gas prices….

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Because I spend most of my time between email, blog posts and just basic note-taking, I do a lot of work in TextEdit, on the Mac.  I’ll go a week or two without opening Word (except to read something someone else sent me).

The trouble is, going back and forth between emails, text docs, and blog posts wreaks havoc on basic things like line breaks, tabs, etc.  Not to mention the annoying forwarding marks in emails (like the old-school “>” characters before each line).

Several years ago, I looked for a tool to help me deal with this, and found textSOAP.  In the intervening years I moved to a PC (there wasn’t PC version at the time), and only recently came back to the fold.

I guess the main reason I’m writing this was that I purchased a copy to help me with a long email draft I needed to re-edit. I was able to purchase the software, download it and use it right away.  But I ran into a weird licensing error – I had bought a deluxe license, but the software wasn’t reflecting that.  I wrote a rather irritated note to tech support, expecting that I had misread the checkout fine print or something – and got an email back within an hour with several suggestions on how to fix the problem, from the developer himself (the very first suggestion worked).  I guess this  is one for GoodExperience.

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