The power of twitter!

I wanted to recall a book i read a few years ago. The trouble was, i remembered very little about it, but i think a friend of mine might like it. Google was proving absolutely useless. Time to turn to the power of twitter!

Ten minutes ago i posted a slightly jokey tweet:

i read a book a few years ago. it had a blue cover. any ideas, twitter?!

I got a few appropriately jokey answers:

did it have a man with a face in it? And that woman with a name?

Conservative Manifesto perhaps: amazon.co.uk/Invitation-Joi… ;-)

“Beautiful Code”?

it’s that one written by that author. He wrote all that stuff about things.

That last one reminded me that the book was written by a female author. I gave a few more clues:

the book had some kind of medieval/renaissance/inquisition theme, set in the south of france. author was female, i think.

i seem to recall some sort of circular symbol on the cover, and the title was one fairly long word. i think it’s historical fantasy.

in the book was some kind of weird cult that met in a room underground. people died in it. come on, someone must have read it!! ;) ;)

That was enough for mason to be confident enough to post a picture. In fact, mason had got it by the time i mentioned the theme and location.

if I am right, after all these sarcatic tweets I claim a prize.. (Please wait)

??? If I’m right then I’ll probably shit the very bed I just took this picture on. yfrog.com/h4chnuxyj

Indeed, mason was right! Labyrinth by Kate Mosse is the book that i was looking for! The power of twitter, hey?! :)

Advertisements

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.

Buffer 2.0.1 for Android

Thanks to everyone who gave feedback about the Buffer for Android new release two days ago. We were very happy to receive so much positive feedback.

I know that we had a couple of problems. The two that stood out the most were the time zone issues (already fixed) and the shortening of URLs.

I am happy to say that URL shortening is coming in the very next release. 2.0.1 should be coming to the marketplace within the next 12 hours.

Update: Buffer 2.0.1 is now available! :)

Here’s a sneak preview for you; URL shortening comes at around 0:40.

In addition, we’ve paid some attention to the styling, going back to standard Android styles in many cases rather than trying to override it with green, which didn’t really work too well. Tom has also come up trumps with some new icons for us!

Here’s a comparison between 2.0 and 2.0.1 – i think it’s starting to look really stylish now!

Update: Buffer 2.0.1 is now available! :)

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! :)

Unless there’s a big solar flare!

I was just listening to The Angry Atheist episode 37 interview with The Godless Bastard and i was highly amused by this exchange.

Somehow they got talking about the internet and our reliance upon it.

– It’s almost like a drug … my world comes to a screeching halt without the internet … we just become so dependent on the technology, i mean, how the hell do we get by without it? That’s what i want to know.

– We don’t have to. We’re never gonna have to. It’s always gonna be there!

– Yep, i know, i know!

– Unless there’s a big solar flare!

– That’s right, that’s right, it’ll take everything out!

I have heard the sun is getting more active at the moment, and solar flares are becoming more common and more powerful. Part of me really wants to see what would happen if a big solar flare takes down all our telephones, television and internet. How will we behave when cut off from the wider world? Would we turn to our local communities for support? I like to hope we would.

I have a few close friends locally, but i always think that i could have many more friends in my neighbourhood if it didn’t just seem so weird to go and introduce myself. I think it might take something drastic like a solar flare to get us off our computers, out of our safe little houses and connect with the people around us.

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!

Good news for Google addicts!

Oh my word i am thrilled to hear news of Google’s new operating system, coming next year!

I admit it: i’m a Google addict! I’ve previously said that Google products are like chocolate bars: i always have to try the new ones! I used to be cautious, not wanting Google to follow me all over the internet, so i always logged out quickly. But recently i’ve thrown caution to the wind! I have fully immersed myself into Google Mail, Chat, Calendar, Docs, Maps and Reader. We use Google apps at work for all our communication needs. I’m considering getting an Android phone and writing apps for it. I basically love Google!

Chrome OS will be a super-speedy operating system (based on the Linux kernel) that will do one thing and do it really well: the web! With a great lightweight browser, the push towards HTML 5, Google Wave, and Google Gears for offline access, everything is pointing to the gap between desktop applications and web apps narrowing, and web apps taking over.

Haha, i just realised, they’re finally going to have to write Chrome (the browser) for Linux! Awesome! It’s been 9 months i’ve been waiting for that!

Update – things have moved on since i last checked – you can now download a development version of Chrome as a deb file for Debian and Ubuntu. The install was quick and easy, and it seems to be working pretty well, apart from keyboard shortcuts.

This is a Google world we’re living in, and i fully embrace it! :D

A website in a day

Sometimes it’s excellent fun to work with somebody to produce a website in a day. With no requirement for ongoing support, just get it up and running, instant gratification. In a way, it says, “Look what we can do when we set our minds to it!”

New site for the Winchester Web Scene
winchesterwebscene.co.uk

Yesterday, @sydlawrence phoned me to ask if i’d like to help make a new site for the Winchester Web Scene. Without a second thought, i said, “DEFINITELY!” We got together at 3pm today at the Bridge Patisserie. We drank lots of coffee, went on to the Bishop on the Bridge, then went back to Syd’s house and ate pizza. We got the whole site designed, coded, integrating with Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, Gravatar and Campaign Monitor for email subscriptions, with a blog plus comments, events list and RSS feeds … in about 5 hours.

It was nice that two Winchester web companies, Marmalade on Toast and Eden Development were able to combine talent to work on a fun social project together. The two of us had a great time making it!

The site gives a far greater prominence to the Winchester Web Scene than the old Ning site did. Still in its first few hours of existence, the site has already had 71 unique visitors. The future of the Winchester Web Scene is looking very bright!

The next event is a barbeque at the Hyde Tavern on the 6th July from 7pm. If you live near Winchester and are interested in anything to do with the web, you’re very welcome to come along! :)

Right Now Search

With all this talk of Google wanting to buy Twitter, it got me thinking about the exciting potential for real-time searching. I’ve seen some greasemonkey scripts for adding Twitter search results into Google, but i wanted something a little bit different. I wanted to search multiple places and bring them together in columns. Something a bit like this:

Right Now Search

So i spent the whole afternoon figuring out how to do it (and in the process, learning how to do object-oriented PHP!) and you can try it out here: rightnow.aimee.mychores.co.uk

I need help on making it more interactive. It should be fairly easy to define new search locations like plugins. I want people to be able to choose which they wish to search on. I would like AJAX updating with auto refreshing. And of course i need a lot of help with the design!

If you fancy having a play, fork it on Github! github.com/sermoa/right_now_search :)