Monday, June 23, 2008


I must admit to being impressed by Wordle (via Orbiting Frog), enough that I had to give it a tip of the hat in passing...

My tag cloud as a Wordle...

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

It's a real pity that it's a Java applet and you can't use it as a component and build cool stuff on top of it. A clean room implementation as a web service using Python on Google's App Engine anyone?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Petrol crisis? What petrol crisis?

In the wake of the current industrial action by tanker drivers, and more planned action at the middle of the week, some garages have been raising prices.

Here in the South West we're amoungst the worst affected by the strike, by now pretty much all of the filling stations in mid-Devon seem to have run out of diesel, while most of them have either run out, or are now rationing, unleaded petrol. There have also been some price rises by those forecourts that still have fuel left, although it's debatable with this to protect supply or simple profiteering. But even here in the South West 199.9 pence per litre, well above the average pre-strike price in Devon of 117.9 pence per litre, now being charged by one forecourt in Exwick is a little extreme.


For my North American based audience that's £9.09 per Imperial gallon, or US$14.85 per US gallon at the current exchange rate of £1.00 to US$1.96.

So please stop complaining about your US$4 gallon of gas. Because its getting annoying, and even at the average pre-strike price, it looks awfully good to us over here. It's been a long time since anyone in the UK paid 54 pence per litre for petrol.

Despite reassurances by Downing Street to the contrary, I think a US$15 gallon of gas, with two more weeks of on again, off again, industrial action still planned, counts as a crisis. Don't you?

Update: Makes me wish for the good old days...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Find eSTAR on Facebook

I just got round to creating a page for the eSTAR Project on Facebook. I've never really "got" Facebook pages, so I guess we'll see how it goes...

A giant like Google

An iPod killer never arrived, and it seems unlikely to do so until some new technology comes along to kill it as dead as the Sony Walkman. Despite that the industry is already looking for an iPhone killer, but I think they're looking in the wrong direction. Because the iPhone is not a phone, it just happens to be able to make phone calls.

A few weeks ago Google announced (via Hack A Day) the winners of the first round of the Android Developer Challenge. Perhaps somewhat interestingly, only four of the winners chose to withhold details of their applications from public view. I'm not entirely sure what that says about the winners, but I'd be interested in finding out how many of the losers wanted their ideas kept secret if they'd won.

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats - Howard Aiken

This call was actually something I kicked around some ideas for, but in the end got side tracked into writing for the iPhone and playing with Arduinos. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day where you're not actually doing work you're paid to do.

However from the list of winners two applications stood out...

Jigsaw by Mikhail Ksenzov stood out because it's an application for something I do a lot. People with mobile phones taking pictures of the white board are pretty common during meetings.

Applying a geometric transform to the photograph

While I can't find a website for the application from the screen shots and description in the PDF it looks to scratch an itch I've been having for a while. It comes with edge detection, geometric transformation and image enhancements pre-canned to help you capture that vital architecture diagram. If I end up getting a 3G iPhone I might get round to doing a clean room implementation, just for fun.

I've actually done what BreadCrumbz does without the automation, or the sharing, or the mobile phone come to that. I'm not alone, if you go to the directions page for Liverpool ARI you'll see that the text is annotated with links through to pictures of useful landmarks [1, 2, 3] enroute. So while it's not an original idea, it looks to be a good implementation of a good idea. Which is probably better for them in the long run, they're helping people do stuff they already want to do rather than trying to convince them to do new stuff. The second one is always harder than the first.

Of course what stands out for you depends on what you do, I'm fairly sure an application to take pictures of white boards doesn't have a mass market appeal, you have to be a geek like me...

What's the point? Well the winners were applications that you'd find on a smart phone. But the iPhone isn't a smart phone, it's an ultra-portable that can make phone calls. Google Android has the potential to unseat the iPhone, if that's the market they push it towards, but Google has to make a decision. Whether to go for the smart phone market, or to go for the iPhone. Of course, maybe smart phones are just about to become as dead as the Sony Walkman? They were never a good compromise ergonomically speaking anyway. Maybe the iPhone killed them?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The 3G iPhone

Well we've all known it was coming, and that it was 3G. Engadget are hands-on with the new iPhone...

CREDIT: Engadget

However despite the hype surrounding the new phone, Read/Write Web injects a healthy dose of realisim by noting that all Apple is doing is playing catch up. While Dean Bubly points out that the 2MP camera was obsolete on the previous model, let alone this years model. It's a point I can certainly sympathise with, as I no longer own a digital camera. With a 5MP camera on my current phone, why would I have to?

My biggest problem with the old iPhone was Bluetooth, or rather the lack of proper Bluetooth support for anything other than the Headset Profile. Unlike the US, where Bluetooth really hasn't got a lot of market penetration, Bluetooth is everywhere here in the UK. Most, actually thinking about it, all of the devices I carry around with me (apart from my iPod touch) come with Bluetooth and unlike the States we're never suffered from the "crippled Bluetooth" problem. The new iPhone claims to come with Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR. However, whether this means that we finally have proper Bluetooth support remains to be seen.

On the down side, at least in the US, the "novel" at home activation via iTunes has gone the way of all things, and activation is in-store only. I doubt they're going to get away with that here in the UK, almost nobody I know buys their phones in a bricks-and-mortar store. I'm sure some people do, there wouldn't be as many mobile phone stores if they didn't, but everyone I know orders their handset online and it arrives the next day via courier. Worryingly however, if you go to the Apple website, only O2 and Carphone Warehouse are listed as places you can get a new iPhone.

On the up side, the iPhone is heavily subsidised here in the UK and will be free (via TechCrunch UK) from O2 on tariffs above £45 per month. The tariffs themselves, and here our friends across the pond must remember that in the UK you're not billed for incoming calls and text messages, are actually quite competitive.

Over the last few years we've been fighting an ongoing rear-guard action against longer contracts here in the UK, and regrettably, the iPhone might be the final nail in the coffin for traditional 12 month contracts. Although I'll note that O2 didn't quite have the guts to try and push the 24 month contracts that are standard with AT&T in the US. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I doubt anyone would buy the handset at all at that point, a longer contract would be far more off putting that anything else they could do apart from charging for it in the first place.

The only remaining problem? How do I hide the purchase from my wife?

Monday, June 09, 2008

The WWDC'08 keynote

Unlike the January keynotes I tend not to live blog the WWDC. So if you're looking for up to the minute coverage you should head over to Engadget, Gizmodo, Macworld, Macrumors or ArsTechnica, all of whom have live coverage of tonight's keynote...

Update: A big list (via Robert Scoble) of places to get live coverage of the keynote, including a live audio stream, although that already seems to be buckling under the load with just under an hour to go before the keynote begins.

Update: As predicted, we have a new 3G iPhone.

Update: The keynote in 60 seconds from Mahalo Daily, or the full keynote from Apple.

Where everybody knows your name...

Sense Networks emerged from stealth mode earlier today with a press release announcing both themselves and their products. It shows that even behind the most boring press releases some very cool technology can be lurking.

I wouldn't have taken a second look at the company based on the rather dry press release, but fortuntely they took the time last week to talk to Brady Forrest over on the O'Reilly Radar, who in turn took the time to talks about Sense Networks and CitySense. They also got some coverage from TechCrunch as well, but you'd expect that. TechCrunch covers everybody...

CREDIT: Sense Networks
CitySense shows you how active locations are (top) and which ones are abnormally active (bottom) in real time.

This startup is interesting. A big problem for location-aware startup companies is that they need location data. Normally they try and get this from their users, but most of the time their applications aren't really that useful until they get a critical mass of users. But getting a critical mass of users without having any a useful application is almost impossible. It's a classic Catch-22...

Sense Networks on the other had has been able to obtain data from taxi cabs, and it uses the origin and destination data from those taxi journeys to model the city. Then on top of this initial data they can then add in their user data, in accordance with a reassuringly strict privacy policy. Users get immediate benefits from the application, as Sense Networks have found that they can get a fairly good picture of the ebb and flow of city life just using the data from the taxi journeys, and that means it is that much easier to gather a critical mass of users to make sure their application takes off...

The immediate worry is that initially at least, reliant as they are on data from taxis, the application will model a specific demographic rather than showing a true representation of how the city functions. However that might be my European perspective getting in the way. The way a US city works, even a faux European city such as New York or Boston, is very different to the way a UK or European city works. Over here they might be better off relying on data from local buses rather than on taxis.

However that aside, I've seen a couple of attempts at solving similar, but actually less ambitious, problems. They've more or less all failed due to the "critical number of users" problem. But to get off the ground Sense Networks doesn't need a critical number of users, they can answer the question "Where is everybody?" without them. With them they hope to be able to answer the question "Where is everybody like me?", that's impressive stuff...

Of course as well as the current Blackberry application, Citysense is coming soon to the iPhone. But I guess that's only to be expected?

Update: As predicted, we have a new 3G iPhone.