May 14, 2011

Moving to a new home…

Writing about web page http://www.rumsby.org.uk/blog

I got out of the blogging habit a little while ago, and despite several attempts I never quite managed to get things going again here. As a final attempt to get back into it I’ve set up a new Wordpress blog over here. Maybe having my own will be enough inspiration to keep going? There’s only one way to find out!

Anyway, the current plan is that there will be no more new content here. Please go and browse the new blog instead. A small amount of the content from here has been migrated over, when new articles reference old ones, but this blog will stay here as an archive for the foreseeable future.


February 16, 2011

RSS feeds from Twitter

Follow-up to Evernote as a Twitter archive from Steve's blog

I was just about to write a blog about feeding Twitter into Evernote via the Twitter RSS feeds and an RSS-to-email service when I discovered I had written about it years ago. What I missed out of the blog, though, was the URLs for the RSS feeds. So here they are.

The URL of the feed for your own tweets is listed on your profile page, but not, apparently, in new twitter. If you’ve switched to the new twitter design, switch back and look at the bottom of the right-hand column. It will look like this: “http://twitter.com/statuses/twitterid/digits.rss”.

The feed of your favorites looks like this: “http://twitter.com/favorites/twitterid.rss”. As far as I know, this doesn’t appear on a twitter page anywhere. You just have to know.

I also feed my mentions into Evernote. There’s no simple RSS feed for this. I use a twitter search, like this: “http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%40steverumsby”. That “%40” is an ”@”.

Set these up as three separate separate feeds in Feed My Inbox, all sending to your evernote email address – you can get that from your account summary page on evernote.com.


February 08, 2011

Eye–Fi day 2 – I'm confused

Follow-up to Playing with an Eye–Fi card from Steve's blog

Yesterday, I thought I understood the Eye-Fi architecture. The Eye-Fi card connects to your PC if it can, and transfers images to the Eye-Fi Center software running there, and from there images go the various online sharing services you’ve configured. If it can’t connect to your PC, the images stay on the camera until it can. And if you want to operate without a laptop, Eye-Fi have a hotspot service you can buy (£25/year) that allows that.

At least, that’s what I thought yesterday. A little experimentation last night and this morning has disproved all that, though. I configured my Eye-Fi to connect to my MiFi, and discovered that with my PC off images still end up in Picasa and in Eye-Fi’s own online storage system, and are eventually delivered to the PC when it is turned on. But that’s what I thought the hotspot service was.

The more expensive cards come with a year’s hotspot service bundled. Mine isn’t one of those. Perhaps it has it by mistake? If any other Eye-Fi users have any idea what’s going on, do please let me know! In the meantime, I’ll continue enjoying functionality I didn’t realise was there…


February 07, 2011

Playing with an Eye–Fi card

Writing about web page http://www.eye.fi

I was a keen photographer many years ago, but when kids came along I didn’t have time to keep up with it as a serious hobby. Consequently my recent photography kit has been from the, er, consumer end of the spectrum. Recently, though, my eldest has developed an apparently quite serious interest in photography and we have, between us, invested in a digital SLR – a Sony Alpha A500.

Alongside this, I’ve been researching lots of peripheral kit (any excuse to play with gadgets:-) and one thing that caught my eye was the Eye-Fi card. This is an SD memory card with WiFi built-in, which essentially adds WiFi capabilities to almost any digital camera. After a little bit of research and conversations with a few people that have one, I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought one. There’s a range of cards that provide different capabilities. I bought the most basic one – the 4GB Connect X2.

In essence this connects to a WiFi network (infra-structure mode, not ad-hoc), and as you take photos it transfers them to a PC (Windows & MacOS supported) automatically. Once there, you can configure various photo sharing services and have the images automatically uploaded to Picasa, flickr, Facebook and others, as well as keeping the local copy on the computer. Obviously, this all depends on having a WiFi network available. What if there isn’t one?

Well, if there really isn’t one then the Eye-Fi card just keeps the photos locally – it is a 4GB SD card, remember – and will upload them when it does find a network. If you have your laptop with you, but with no WiFi, there are two options. A more expensive version of the card, the Pro X2 supports ad-hoc WiFi connections. Option 2 is to turn your laptop into a hotspot. If you are running Windows 7, then Connectify does exactly that. The Eye-Fi card will connect to the laptop’s connectify hotspot and transfer the images. If the laptop has a live internet connection the images will then be forwarded on. If not, they’ll be held on the laptop until it does, and forwarded on then. This all works just as you’d expect. Connectify has another advantage. The Eye-Fi card in unable to connect to WiFi networks that have a web-based sign-in page, like most commercial hotspots do. But if you can connect from a laptop, and then re-broadcast that via connectify, you can still use the Eye-Fi in your nearest coffee shop!

There are a couple of other advantages of the more expensive cards. My basic card will only transfer JPEG images – it won’t transfer RAW files. The Pro version of the card transfers RAW files. Also, the Pro version of the card comes with a “Hotspot” service that allows it to transfer images without a laptop. You’ll remember I said above that images go from the card to a PC and then onwards to other services. Without a laptop that doesn’t work. With the “hotspot” service on the Pro card, images will go directly from the card to Eye-Fi’s own servers “in the cloud” and from there to your configured online services. If this is important to you, it is a service that can be added to the basic cards too, for £25/year.

For £40, my basic card looks like it is going to be a useful way of getting photos off the camera and onto various of my online services quickly, easily and automatically. WiFi enabled cameras have a lot of potential, and the fact that they can fit the WiFi hardware inside an SD card along with the memory, is pretty impressive. I do wish the Pro card wasn’t twice the price of my Connect version, though. The ability to transfer RAW files would be nice, but I’m not (yet) prepared to pay the extra for that. I have my dSLR configured to shoot RAW+JPEG so the jpegs transfer automatically and I still get the RAW files to process later…


September 23, 2010

Thoughts on Facebook Places, and LBS in general

Facebook places went live in the UK at the end of last week. After a few check-ins “just because” I started thinking about whether or not I would actually use it. I use Foursquare a lot, checking into almost every place I go (with a few exceptions, like my house). But in general I keep that information in foursquare where it belongs. I do not post all my checkins to Twitter too. If I would tweet about the location anyway then I will cross-post, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. I assume my Twitter followers don’t want to know everytime I check-in to my place of work, or to the local DIY store.

And that’s my problem with Facebook Places. If I checked in everywhere I went I’d be spamming by Facebook friends with loads of checkins they aren’t interested in. If I would post something to Facebook anyway about the location, then I will probably checkin to the Place. Mostly, though, I think I’ll be ignoring Places.

If you have a desperate need to know my every move, go find me on Foursquare. That’s where that information is staying…

And that brings me to another reason for not using Facebook Places. I might not want all my Facebook friends to know where I am. I have just about 100 Facebook friends, 600+ Twitter followers but just less than 30 friends on Foursquare. I’m more selective about who gets to see that information, and keeping it separate allows me to be. Facebook Places doesn’t let me be selective, and that’s not a good thing.

So, although I do use LBS a fair bit, in the form of Foursquare, I don’t think I’ll be using Facebook Places. At least not in their current form.

What do you think?


The "replacement for my iPhone 3G" deliberations continue…

I’ve had my iPhone 3G since day 1. Back in July this year when the iPhone 4 came out I was looking forward to getting something a little better, but ended up being disappointed by how little better the iPhone 4 was compared to its asking price. That started me on a process of looking at alternatives, mostly various Android phones. As I looked, I kept comparing them to my iPhone 3G and coming to the same conclusion. None of them was enough better to justify the cost. Time for some serious thought – what is it my iPhone 3G doesn’t do that means it needs replacing?

I’ve eventually come to the conclusion that there are just two things. First, the iPhone 3G is too slow. Maybe it has always been this slow and I’m just noticing when it is compared to newer devices, or maybe OS upgrades over its 2+ year lifespan have slowed it down? Certainly iOD 4.0 and 4.0.1 had performance issues, but 4.1 is much better. Either way, waiting for apps to open is getting quite frustrating. Waiting for web pages to load is equally frustrating, and that’s down to CPU not network. Some apps just don’t work at all, which I imagine is down to lack of RAM.

The second thing is the lack of storage. I bought the 8GB version, not the 16GB one. 8GB seemed plenty at the time, but now I find myself having to cut back more and more on the music on the device in order to make room for apps and their data.

And that’s it. Everything else about the device, from the lowly 2MP fixed-focus, no-flash camera to the display is fine for me as it is. Yes, better would be, well, better, but I don’t need better. While the various possible replacement phones I have looked at, or would like to look at – HTC Desire, HTC Desire HD, Samsung Galaxy S, Nokia N8 – are all good devices, they are all expensive ways of addressing the problems I actually have.

This is all leading me slowly but surely to the conclusion that what I need is an iPod Touch, combined a MiFi. I liked the Mifi so much when I had one on loan that I might just get one anyway for use with laptops while travelling. That would reduce my iPhone to, well, a phone most of the time, with a few apps still on it for those times I don’t want to carry the touch too. And for things the Touch doesn’t do, like GPS.

A decision is getting close, I think…


August 24, 2010

A gadget that "just works" – the MiFi

Writing about web page http://www.three.co.uk/Mobile_Broadband/MiFi

3 MiFiI’ve just been on holiday – a week in Centerparcs. The village has WiFi in all the central areas, and some of the more expensive lodges have it, but not our lodge. Co-incidentally I was offered the option of trialling a MiFi by Three Mobile Buzz. Now normally I wouldn’t be bothered at the lack of WiFi. I have an iPhone which has all the connectivity I need, and the other members of the family aren’t so addicted to being online as I am. Except that a few of them have recently discovered Farmville and didn’t want to leave their farms unattended for a week. Anyway, when you are holiday with kids, you have to spend the evenings in and having internet access gives you another entertainment option.

The MiFi is basically a WiFi hotspot with a mobile data connection. Turn it on and it connects, via the Three mobile network in this case, to the internet and advertises the connection via WiFi. It allows up to 5 simultaneous WiFi connections so you can share your connectivity with friends. The hotspot is fully configurable for encryption and passwords, but the defaults are reasonable and mean that you can be up and running with it very quickly.

Anyway, I got the MiFi a few days before we set off. The first thing I did, obviously, was try it out at home. I seem to have a decent Three signal at home, the MiFi connected via HSDPA (aka “3.5 G”) and my usual broadband speed checker rated it at 4Mbps. Since my home ADSL line only runs at 5-6Mbps, that’s pretty good. Obviously this is signal strength dependent, though. I also tried out the battery life before we went. From fully charged to completely empty took 6 hours with light usage. Use it heavily and it lasts nearer 5 hours.

So, with everyone eagerly anticipating access to Facebook and Farmville through the week, we arrived at Centerparcs and discovered that my iPhone, on O2, just about managed a voice connection, at least some of the time, but couldn’t manage a data connection at all. Other phones on Orange where just as bad. As I turned on the MiFi in our lodge I was preparing people for the worst, but it turns out that Three’s signal was pretty good. The MiFi got a decent 3G signal in most of the lodge and could manage 3.5G in one corner. Throughput varied between 1Mbps and 3Mbps. Sighs of relief all around…!

And it worked flawlessly all week. Everyone was happy – the Farmvillers and the iPhoners with no native data connection. One nice feature of the current MiFi, compared to the previous version, is that it does work while being charged. There were a couple of days when I had it running all day, permanently powered, and it didn’t skip a beat. A gadget that just works. Perfect…

A quick note about costs. You can get the MiFi on a rolling monthly contract, £15/month for 5GB/month with the device costing £40, or £17/month for 18 months again with 5GB/month and the device for free. You can also get it on PAYG for £50, with 1GB of data costing £10. The MiFi is also available on Vodafone.

Overall, I love the MiFi device. It just works. Simple. And, depending on mobile signal strength, it provides a decent throughput. Certainly enough, potentially anyway, to use as your only broadband connection. The only problem with that would be cost. If you use lots of data it could get expensive, although there’s a 15GB for £22/month package with should do for most people. That said, my “unlimited” ADSL costs me just £7.50/month, and I have pushed over 70GB through that in the last couple of months with no complaints form the ISP.

Summary – If you need broadband on the move, the MiFi is hard to fault. Just get one…


August 05, 2010

It has been a bit quiet around here of late…

For various reasons, I seem to have been somewhat neglecting this blog recently. Much of what I would have previously posted now goes to Twitter and Tumblr these days, which doesn’t leave me with much to post here. I must try harder…

The good news is that I have some new gadgets whizzing towards me, for trial purposes as usual. And this time they aren’t Nokia gadgets! Having been slightly underwhelmed by the iPhone 4 I’ve been taking some time to look at alternatives, and in particular at Android devices. I’ll shortly be getting my hands on an HTC Hero. I’m more interested in the HTC Desire as my iPhone replacement, but the Hero will give me a pretty good idea of what living with Android would be like. And that’s not all! I’m also going to get to play with a MiFi for a while.

I haven’t given up on Nokia, though, and I’m hoping to get my hands on an N8 soon. I’m looking forward to that – the specification looks really good. As ever with Nokias, the devil is in the software.

I’ve also been off the bike for a while thanks to a car driver that was following the old French rules of the road at a roundabout. I’m hoping to get back on two wheels sometime soon (and now that I’ve said it in public, I suppose I’m going to have to). Maybe there’ll be some cycle-related blogging coming soon, too?

So, if there’s anybody left still reading this blog then prepare for some new content, and once again my apologies for neglecting you for so long.


January 04, 2010

Playing audio from an iPhone

Pretty much ever since I’ve had my iPhone I’ve had a problem I’ve been looking for a solution for. Having lots of music on the phone is great for personal use – earphones on one sort or another work fine for that. Sometimes, though, I want to share the music (or podcasts, or…) with others, and in several different situations. I’ve found the built-in speaker to be surprisingly loud, and is usable in smallish rooms with a few people so long as there isn’t too much background noise. But sometimes something else is needed and I haven’t really found an ideal solution.

At home I can just connect the iPhone to my existing hi-fi via a cable and that works fine from an audio point of view. Having a cable trailing across the room is less than ideal, though. I’ve tried the Jabra BT3030 as a solution to that. It is a stereo bluetooth headset designed for mobiles, but with a 3.5mm socket for connecting headphones, meaning I can also feed it to my hi-fi. As a wireless headset for an iPhone it has some shortcomings, but for this application the main problem is that the audio quality isn’t quite good enough.

I’ve also tried the Griffin iTrip (thanks, Santa!). This is a much better solution all around, apart from one little detail. The range is irritatingly short. More than a couple of metres away and the signal starts to break up. The Griffin website claims a range of 9m. I don’t get anywhere near that. And anyway, it seems that not everywhere I want to do this has a conveniently located FM radio capable device. A decent enough portable FM radio isn’t hard to come by, though, so this is my current best solution to the problem.

Does anyone else have the need to play audio from an iPhone/iPod in a portable way without spending a fortune? There must be a better solution out there somewhere. Do decent bluetooth speakers exist? Bluetooth appears to have a longer range than the iTrip…


December 21, 2009

Nokia N900 – the best N–series yet?

Writing about web page http://www.nokia.co.uk/find-products/all-phones/nokia-n900

Nokia N900Once again the folks at WOMWorld have been kind enough to lend me a shiny new phone for a few weeks. This time it was the Nokia N900. I was really looking forward to getting my hands on this. When I tried out this device’s predecessor, the N810, almost two years ago I liked almost everything about it. The main issue was that it only had a WiFi connection and so much of its functionality disappeared when you were out of range of a wireless network. The N900 is a phone as well as in “internet tablet” and so doesn’t suffer from that problem. It should be the perfect device for me…

Of course, in the last two years things have moved on. In particular the iPhone, which all new smartphones are inevitably compared to, has changed people’s expectations of what such a device should provide. Has the N900 developed enough to keep pace? I’m pleased to say it has. There are a few shortcomings still, not all of them with the device itself, and those mean that I still prefer my iphone to the N900. It was close, though. I do think that for me this is the best N-series device I’ve used. And so to the details…

The N900 is a Maemo-based device. This is a Linux-dervied OS built by Nokia specifically for their “internat tablet” range, starting with the N700. The N900 has the latest version, Maemo 5. I really like this OS and the UI. It isn’t quite as intuitive as the iPhone but after just a few minutes I had found everything I needed without having to resort to the manual. And one of the major issues I have with all Symbian-based phones, the way they deal with network selection on a per-app basis, is dealt with nicely. The OS chooses the appropriate network connection (WiFi or cellular) and everything just uses it. Perfect. It did feel like the UI needed just a little more horsepower from the CPU, though. Inertial scrolling wasn’t quite as smooth as you’d like, and nor was opening windows. To be fair, though, the same is true of my iPhone 3G (but not the 3GS).

Running multiple apps worked flawlessly, and switching between them was straightforward. All apps continued running in the background and could provide notifications where appropriate – new IM conversations, emails, SMS, etc… I so wish the iPhone worked this way. That said, I once had to reboot the machine because a background app was causing it all sorts of grief. Speaking of apps, there’s a default link to the “Ovi Store” for downloading new apps but that just took me to a “coming soon” page. That was a bit of a disappointment. One of the expectations that the iPhone changed was the “app” ecosystem, and shipping without a working app store these days is not a good thing. Without an app store you could make an argument that this isn’t really a smartphone. The Palm Pre has a similar problem, but it at least has some useful apps in its app store…

I did have two surprising issues with the software on the phone. I couldn’t get it to sync to our Exchange server. This is apparently because we are running Exchange 2003, and that isn’t supported (yet) by Maemo 5. Apparently it will be supported in the next update. That makes the device useless to me, and presumably many others, until the update is released. Next, and possible more surprising, the N900 doesn’t support MMS! How can a device released in 2009 not let you send MMS messages? Yes, I know the iPhone didn’t either, and Apple were rightly criticised for it. It isn’t like Nokia don’t know how to do MMS – they’ve got one or two other devices that support it. I’ve not heard when MMS support is coming along.

The touchscreen is resistive, which is a bit of a shame. It is the best resistive touch screen I’ve used, though, and most of the time it worked as well as the capacitive screen on my iPhone. It doesn’t support multi-touch, of course. Most of the time that wasn’t an issue but when you need it there’s no real substitute. The camera is Nokia’s usual 5MP device with auto-focus, Carl-Zeiss lens and LED “flash”, and it does its usual very, good job. I’d be more than happy for this to be my “carry anywhere” camera, even for indoor and low light situations.

Back when I tried the N810 I was really looking forward to a device with a physical keyboard, but was quite disappointed by that one. I also didn’t really take to the one on the N97 I tried earlier this year. I suppose I was expecting the N900 keyboard to be the same, but it wasn’t. I can’t quite put my finger on what is different, but I did like the N900 keyboard a lot. It worked a lot better for me that the others. I think I still slightly prefer the on-screen keyboard on the iPhone, but then I’ve had almost 18 months of practice on that and I’m sure I’d like the N900 keyboard more as I got used to it.

As far as the device goes, then, pretty much everything is good. The keyboard and resistive touch screen work better than I expected, the OS and UI are good, the camera is excellent. The major problems with this device are actually not with the device! I’ve already mentioned the app store, or lack of one. The PC software for communicating with the phone is also a bit of a disappointment. Getting music onto the phone is just too hard. iTunes for the iPhone just works. Nokia’s PC Suite is too much of a pain. It does the job, but it is too awkward to use. Maybe when you get used to it it is fine, but these days you shouldn’t have to “get used to it”. More work needed here, Nokia.

So, in summary, the device is pretty good. Definitely the best N-series device I’ve use, at least for my purposes. There are a few surprising problems (Exchange support and MMS), though, and they need sorting out. As does the PC software. Linking the N900 to a PC to swap data should not be as hard as it is. Overall, though, this was the hardest device to send back. Somebody asked me if I’d have sent the iPhone back and kept the N900 if given the chance. For previous Nokia devices I’ve tested, the answer would always have been a resounding “No”. This was much, much closer. I still sent back the right device, but when the N910 (or whatever it is called) comes along I might just be tempted! Keep up the good work Nokia – you’re definitely getting there…


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