aimee’s 2011 retrospective – a year in review

This is going to be a long post, all about me! feel free to skip it! :)

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An Android app to send prayers to Jerusalem

I have just finished a two-week project building an Android app called @TheKotel – Prayers to Jerusalem.

Now, anyone who knows me even slightly might think this is a bit weird, and believe me, i had a long conversation with myself about it before deciding to take on the work. These are the reasons that i did.

  1. I think it’s a nice idea. Putting thoughts into words and feeling that you’ve offloaded them somewhere is sometimes all people need to feel better.
  2. I saw a video of Alon printing the prayers and cutting them up and taking them to the wall. It made a personal connection for me.
  3. There’s already a successful iPhone app with over 10,000 downloads, so i saw this is definitely something that people want, which is all good publicity for me.
  4. Alon raised money from the people who already use the iPhone app to pay for the development of the Android app.
  5. I saw it as an opportunity to learn a bit more about Android development, try out PhoneGap and Sencha Touch (which i dropped when i found i wasn’t happy with the quality).
  6. I had saved up enough money in the back that i could offer this more-or-less as a gift, not expecting much money for it but instead doing it for reputation and for another Android app in my portfolio.

The concept is very simple. You type your prayer on a piece of paper (or pray out loud with Android’s speech-to-text feature) and press “Amen” and the prayer gets sent to Alon in Israel.

Combined with all the prayers that get sent via twitter and the iPhone app, Alon prints out thousands at a time, cuts them into little slips, rolls them up tight and takes them to the Western-Wall, or The Kotel, the remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The app is free, and the service is totally free, but donations are gratefully accepted. There is also a Connect screen giving options to share the app with friends and feel connected to the Western-Wall and Jerusalem. We also included some background information about the Wall and how the service got started, as well as some personal messages from a few supporters who helped to raise funds.

Best of all, there’s the gallery where you can see where the prayers are going. I really like this image of Alon putting the prayers in the Wall.

I am very pleased with the final result. It’s nice and fast, good native Android experience, and i think people are going to love it! I enjoyed coming back to Android development, say what you want about Java, but i like it!

If you can bear to listen to me talk about this anymore, Alon asked me to record a video in my “enchanting” British accent, heheh! :)

Device graphics were generated with Device frame generator and released under CC BY 3.0 license.

New Buffer for Android – a couple of tips

I have spent the last 5 weeks working on the all-new Buffer for Android. I’ve learnt a lot about Android and Java, and it has been great fun. I am really happy with version 2.0. It was very exciting to release it to the world last night.

We’ve had a lot of feedback, most of it very positive, thank you to everyone who has tried it and given feedback. There are a few things that i want to mention here.


Time zone issues

At the moment, the API is reporting the time in GMT rather than your local time. This is a mistake from us, and we should have caught that, so sorry about that. I am sure Joel or Tom can get it fixed very soon, and you won’t need to update the Android app, it will just start working for you automatically.

Rest assured that your updates will still be sent according to your schedule, whether you add them through the Android app or through the web. The web will show the correct times for you.

Update: Tom has since fixed this issue! :)


No default profile selected

It is possible that you might have no profile selected. You’ll get the message “Please select at least one profile to post from”. I realise this could be annoying. I will make a fix so that if you only have one profile, that one will get selected automatically.

Update: This is fixed in version 2.0.1 which is now available. I’ll keep the following workaround here because it might still be useful.

In the meantime there is a workaround you can use. Go to your Buffer profile settings and click “add default”.

Having done that, go into Buffer on your phone, use the menu to choose Sign out and then sign in again. From now on it will select your profile by default.


Refresh interval

To speed things up on your phone, i have added some caching so that it doesn’t continually have to connect to the internet. The cache lasts for 2 hours, or until you add or edit updates from your phone, at which point it fetches again from the Buffer API.

If you add or reorder updates from another device, or in the web app, they might not necessarily be shown in your Android app, due to this caching. You can always force a refresh by choosing the Refresh option from the menu.


Short URLs

We are currently not providing an option to shorten URLs within the Android app. We plan to add this in a future release but right now you might see that a long URL means you haven’t enough characters to write everything you want to say.

As a workaround, if you add the update to your Buffer, you’ll find that it does shorten the URL for you. You can then go into the app and edit the update to add your comment. (A long-press on the update will give you the option to edit, copy text or delete.)

Update: Dan Monzelowsky suggests sharing first to an app called Abbrevator! to get a short link, and then sharing from there to Buffer.

Update 2: Version 2.0.1 now shortens URLs for you and it’s available in the marketplace now! :)


Anything else?

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. We’re eager for feedback and suggestions so don’t hesitate. If you have any other tricks/workarounds for using version 2.0 please share them too! :)

Build and launch a web shop in a day

My day yesterday began at Winchester station at 05:19 in the morning, with a big ambition:

I arrived in Kent at 08:25 and was met by Alanna who owns Aphrodite’s Desire. We got straight to business. By 08:45 we were settled in with a cup of tea and signing up to Shopify.

Let me back-track a little. We had already had several email conversations and had met previously to discuss options, and decided that Shopify was the best solution. Alanna needed something that is easy to manage, looks good, and can handle orders and payments reliably.

Our first concern was that Alanna’s debit card might not be accepted as Shopify says it wants credit cards. According to two people i spoke to at Shopify, some debit cards work, but not all. Fortunately, Alanna’s Visa card was accepted.

I began by demonstrating how to add products. Alanna’s immediate reaction was, “Oh, it’s just like Facebook!” Alanna was already uploading product photos before i’d even pointed out the option! Huge props to Shopify! Fortunately, Alanna had done a lot of good preparation work writing up descriptions for the products and getting all the photos ready. This was a major advantage to launching in a day.

In the meantime i worked on installing and customising the theme that we’d previously chosen. I asked Alanna’s opinion on a few fonts and we chose some photos for the banner.

I installed the iPhone extension. Alanna had already downloaded the app, and it was cool to see products appearing on the iPhone. We were both impressed by Shopify’s handling of discounted products, and combinations of different variations, some being available and some out of stock. I was impressed at how easily i could extend the theme and add a message that invites people to contact Alanna to ask about unavailable items.

By lunch time we had a pretty good looking shop! We were admiring it on the iPad over lunch. We went out for a quick walk and fresh air before coming back like, “Right! we have a shop to launch! Let’s get to it!”

Adding the facebook and twitter integration was fun. You can ‘like’ products and add comments and it all gets synchronized to facebook. Alanna can click a button to promote products on twitter and facebook. It’s great! Shopify extension apps are awesome!

We spent a bit of time doing the PayPal integration, and then a lot of time signing up for Sage Pay. A lesson learnt: if you want to accept credit/debit cards directly on day 1, you must apply for your Sage Pay merchant account in advance. But it wasn’t so bad to launch only with PayPal.

We had a dilemma when it came to shipping options. Because Alanna hadn’t weighed any of the products, we were leaving them all as weighing nothing. But this meant we couldn’t calculate the shipping. Alanna wanted to charge £5 for a single product, and £1 extra for every additional product. So we came up with the idea of making every product weigh 1lb just so that we can count them in the cart.

That being done, we just needed to tidy up the additional pages and navigation links. I was keen for Alanna to do this, so as to be able to do it again in the future. Shopify provides a very nice content management system which is simple to use. I did a little bit of graphics work on images for Alanna to use.

I think it was about 17:00 when we launched! We spent about half an hour tweeting and facebooking about it like crazy … and then an order came in! Alanna was just looking at the iPhone app and said something like, “Oh, is something wrong here? It says …” and it was an order from one of my friends!

Fantastic! A working web shop in one day! It is totally possible! The shop had 171 unique visitors on its first day.

My day ended with this from my mentor:

I went to bed feeling very satisfied and utterly amazed at knowing i get paid to have a lot of fun and do what i really love to do. It was a brilliant day!

Please visit aphroditesdesire.com to have a look at what we did. Kisses to shopify.com for making it all possible!