Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Apple – a slight frustration

28 Nov

I love Apple products. They are elegant and they do what you need them to do.

Apple has designed the most popular smartphone on the planet.

Why, then, do they not have a mobile-friendly version of their website? It seems somewhat counter productive to me.


Search Keywords: apple cards

09 Nov

With yesterday’s discussion on using tools to see what people are searching for, I’m happy that I’ve now got a great example. As I was looking through my logs, I noticed something interesting. I’d had a few hits from computers in the domain. Someone from Apple had been looking at my blog, specifically the post about Apple’s Cards app. As I investigated further, the first visit was from someone who had searched for “apple cards” in Google, and a quick look now shows that post is on page one of Google’s results. The other four visits from Apple didn’t have any “referrer” information – that is, they didn’t link to my blog from a web page, but were direct links. Typically this means that either someone typed it in to their browser, or it was linked from a non-browser application, such as a mail client or instant messenger client. This in turn suggests that the first person who found that blog entry was interested enough in it to share it with other people at Apple.

So, now I know Apple is listening, I have some suggestions.

  • The “copy” icon is unintuitive. I didn’t realise it meant copy, and when I tapped it, it took me into editing the card, but the recipient address seemed to have just vanished. Of course, if you’re copying a card, it makes sense to remove the recipient from the envelope, because you’re hardly likely to send that card to the same person. However, because it took me into the copy of the card to edit it, and the address was missing, I thought that something had gone wrong. A little pop-up saying that you’re now editing a copy of the card would have been helpful.
  • All of the card templates are in landscape format. It would be nice to have some in portrait. If I go to the store to look at cards there, almost all of them are in portrait, so it felt odd that there were no portrait templates.
  • It would be nice to have some different colour schemes. I’m not asking for free range in selecting colours, because I know how people who aren’t professional graphic designers can do horrendous things with bad colour selection. However, to be able to pick a design, and then choose a colour theme from a selection of 4 or 5 would be a nice touch.
  • Another nice touch would be the ability to sign the card – either by signing with your finger on the app, or uploading an image of a signature so it is “hand written”, on the inside. A nice looking “love, Timothy” that is clearly in my own hand, perhaps stored within the app for future use, that I can add and place on the inside of the card would be a great feature. If you do this, there should be multiple signature images that you can save, as how you sign off depends on to whom you are sending the card.
  • Lastly, and this is the feature that I think would be absolutely fantastic, would be the ability to purchase an iTunes or Apple gift certificate from within the Card app. This would basically be automating the process I went through that I described in my earlier blog post about the Cards app. Then the redemption code can be added to the card automatically without any risk of mistranscribing it. It also means a single purchase is made, and let’s be honest, if the feature is available directly from within the app, more people are likely to do it, which therefore means more revenue.

So there it is – my thoughts on how the Cards app can be improved. I know you’re listening, Apple, so it’s now your move.


What are they looking for?

08 Nov

Do you know what people come to your blog to find?

It can be very instructive to look at the kind of searches people are making that causes them to land on your website. Even if they don’t hang around, knowing what got them to your site tells you what people are interested in, which can give you new ideas for what to write about. Maybe you can answer someone’s question directly.

How do you find out what people are searching for? There are a number of tools you can use to discover this.

  • Jetpack is a plugin for the popular WordPress blogging software. It’s simple to install into your WordPress powered site. It will give you a number of site stats, including a chart with search phrases from known search engines.
  • Sitemeter is a free online tool. You register on the site, and they give you some code that you insert into your blog template. Once that’s installed, you can go log back in to the Sitemeter site to see the various statistics for your blog, including each individual visit, where you can see the search terms that drew that visitor there.
  • Google Analytics is another free online tool. Again, you register on the site, and they provide code to include in your template. The Traffic Sources section shows the keywords used to search for your content.
  • Google Webmaster tools is even simpler to use, you simply log in to your google account, and then add your site. You’ll be asked to verify that you have admin rights to the site, by asking you to upload a single file to the site, and verifying with a click. That means you don’t have to mess with templates. This option uses Google’s own data from people searching to populate your dashboard. The advantage of this solution is that it’s easy to do, without the risk of breaking your website by editing your template. It’s a great solution for people who are nervous about such things. On the other hand, you only get the data from google searches, and nothing from any other search engines.
  • Access logs can be analysed if you have direct access to them. Tools such as Webalizer and Analog Stats can be used to parse these log files and tell you what you need to know. If your website is powered by Cpanel, you probably already have access to these tools.

So, now you know a bit more about what people are looking for when they come to your site, it’s time to provide the content they want. These tools, while helpful, won’t write your content for you. That’s up to you.


Apple’s “Cards” App

06 Nov

With iOS 5, Apple introduced a new app, called “Cards”. It’s really easy to use. First, select an appropriate category – such a birthday, seasonal, love, travel. Then, select a card style – some have a picture, and most have a little bit of text on the front.

Once you’ve done that, you can add your own picture (to the ones that have a picture), and change the text on the front to personalise it.

Next, you can change the text on the inside of the card. Again, really easy to do. If you prefer, you can go with the default text, or just change it a little.

Then, the envelope, select your own contact info from your address book for your return address, and select a contact for the recipient. If the recipient isn’t in your contacts, you can type in the address.

Once that’s all done, you tap the price, confirm the purchase, validate your iTunes account, and you’re done. A real physical card will be sent.

All in all, it’s an easy app to use. The cost is $2.99 (plus tax) to send to the US, which when you consider the price of cards in the shops, plus postage, is actually quite reasonable, especially as this will be personalised in a way you couldn’t do with a regular card.

One bright idea I had – I purchased an iTunes gift certificate, the ones that get emailed, and sent it to myself. I then copied and pasted the redemption code from the email into the card. The recipient can then use that code when they get the card.

I’m very happy with the app, so far – I await confirmation that the recipient received it and all was as it should be with anticipation.

[Update: I've made some suggestions on how Cards could be improved in a new blog entry]


Game Center for iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad

28 Nov

I’ve not yet really used the Game Center feature of my iPhone. There are 3 games I play that use it – StarDunk, Angry Birds, and Pocket Frogs. However, the first two, as far as I can tell, only use the feature so that you can compare how you are doing against the rest of the world, there’s no direct player interaction. Pocket Frogs is a fun little free game that allows you to breed frogs in order to make up particular sets that are the achievements in the game. It appears to have some interaction in that you can give frogs you’ve bred to your friends, but I don’t have any Game Center friends that also play.

If you’d like to become my Game Center Friend, I’m timotab, but please also leave a comment here so that I know who you are when you request it. If you play Pocket Frogs too, that would be cool, especially as I’m looking for any kind of Africanus frog, so if you happened to have one to give me…

What Game Center enabled games do you play? Do they have lots of player interaction or just allow you to be ranked with your friends?


Social Networking is Superficial and is Drastically Changing Our Society and Culture

12 Nov

“social networking is superficial and is drastically changing our society and culture”

Thanks, Amanda, for an interesting topic.

Firstly, no, I don’t think social networking is superficial, but yes, it is drastically changing our society.

Social networking is not inherently superficial. I’ve been social networking since before it was called social networking. I started out on a Bulletin Board System (BBS) called Monochrome that was connected in the UK to a network called JANET (the Joint Academic Network). At the time, most of what went on on JANET used protocols called “Coloured Book”, and specifically a protocol called X.25. Internet access was a rarity in the UK, and unknown outside of academia. JANET added IP on top of the X.25 network in the early 90s, and the internet traffic quickly outpaced the X.25 traffic, so it wasn’t long before JANET moved to being solely internet based. This was all before Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web, so things looked very different then. After we had internet service set up, I was also able to access another BBS called ISCABBS. Both of these BBSes still exist, though Mono is the only one I use now. Other Internet BBSes have come and gone. I imagine a few of the old style BBSes are still around, but I suspect their populations, these days, are very limited.

The websites for these BBSes didn’t exist back then, of course. You accessed them via a program called telnet, which provided an 80×24 terminal screen which displayed options, and you pressed various keys to access those options and navigate through. There were discussion boards, and the ability to send messages directly to other users. People could even send pictures to each other on monochrome. If you had access to a scanner, you could scan a picture, do a special encoding of it that just used plain text characters, upload this onto the boards, and then other people could email that file to themselves, decode it, and then display the resulting picture. By today’s standards, horribly frustrating and awkward but back then? Lots of fun!

Why am I in a reverie about these old systems? Because they really were early social networks. They display many of the features of social networks today. Someone would tell you about it, and you’d register to get an account. You’d then start interacting with other people who used it… from across the country, and even across the world. Some people used just monochrome, some people used just ISCABBS, several people used both, and other internet BBSes.

Many people formed strong friendships, and we wanted to get together to see these friends in person. So we did. Someone would pick a weekend to meet in a particular town, people in that town would offer their floor space or spare rooms as accommodation, and visitors would come and stay. Most of us were students back then, so sleeping on the floor wasn’t a big problem. Meeting people in real life like this was interesting. Some people were very clearly identical to how they appeared online. Others were very different in person. But friendships were born, and many of those friendships are still intact so many years later.

Bringing all this forward to present day, how do things look? The two biggest social networking platforms are Twitter and Facebook. I use these two platforms in two different ways, and I know that people who use them don’t always use them the same way I do.

People on twitter discuss a variety of topics, and with the use of hashtags can relatively easily find other like-minded people. As people you follow interact with the other twitterers, you can join in those public conversations and interact with new people as well. So you get to “meet” new people. While tweets themselves are essentially permanent, the nature of it is essentially ephemeral – a stream of discussion happening that you can hop into, participate in for a while, and then hop out of. But in the way I use it, I’ve seen strong friendships form, new hobbies found. People get together to meet these online friends at Tweetups.

Facebook I use somewhat differently. Personally I use it to connect and communicate with people I know elsewhere, usually people I’ve met in real life, but occasionally people I’ve met elsewhere online. It’s enabled me to reconnect with people from my past that I’ve not seen in a long time. Sometimes it’s helped me remember why I didn’t keep in touch in the first place. There are communities within Facebook where people who have common interests can discuss things. Sometimes discussions will lead to friendships. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those communities arrange to get together to meet. I’m sure, also, that some friendships are formed through the conversations that form from comments on someone’s status update.

It’s also great for revealing how interconnected our relationships are. On more than one occasion I’ve noticed that people I know through completely different parts of my life are friends with each other – like meeting someone at an InterVarsity convention who went to college with Karyn, meeting someone at that same convention who is very close friends with someone I know from a board game convention, discovering that a board game friend of mine and a former colleague are friends.

So, are social networks superficial? No, social networks are a tool that we can use as we wish. Sure, there are some people who choose to use them in a superficial way, and to be honest, I wouldn’t say that I have the same level of relationship with all the people I interact with. I can see, of course, how one might think there’s inherent superficiality, when one compares the list of “friends” I have on facebook with the number of people I have genuine friendships with. That, however is a matter of terminology, which has blurred the meaning of the word friend. Has social networking made people more superficial? I don’t think so, it’s just made those superficial relationships more visible, more public.

I used to do a lot of swing dancing when I lived in London. I danced with a lot of people, many of whom were regulars at the various events. Some I formed friendships with, but most were just people I knew the names of, I might know what they did for a living, and I knew how well they danced. But if you weren’t part of the dance crowd, you’d likely know very little about all those people I knew. If Facebook had been around then, I would, no doubt, have friended most of the people I danced with, not just the ones I had become good friends with, but the ones I didn’t know nearly as well. Would those relationships be any more superficial because of Facebook? No, just more visible to those who knew me from other areas of my life. In fact, it’s possible that as I interacted with them on Facebook, I might get to know them even better than I might just at dances.

Is social networking drastically changing our society? Absolutely! So did the invention of the alphabet, the printing press, radio, television. These things were all, at the time, things that concerned philosophers about the effect they would have on society. By and large we have learned to deal with these new technologies to make it a part of our society without it consuming it. Have we learnt yet how to appropriately deal with social networking? Not yet. I think there’s been some progress, but it’s still all so new that we haven’t yet had time to learn. I am, however, confident we will. In fact, this reminds me of a Diane Rehm Show broadcast on NPR, about a book published this year called Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers. I’ve not read the book yet, but the transcript of the show makes some very interesting reading. Perhaps I shall revisit this topic once I’ve found some time to read the book.

How do you feel about social networking?
Are relationships more superficial because of it?
Is it going to cause the downfall of our society?
How do you deal with the challenges that our connected world brings?


A Hockey Game Broke Out

05 Nov

Last night I went to my first hockey game. (For those of you in the UK, that means ice hockey. What Brits call hockey, Americans call field hockey; I would go into more detail about the linguistics of that here, but perhaps that can be a post for another day). The St Louis Blues were playing the San Jose Sharks. It was a great game, with a lot of action. And the home team winning by 2 goals to 0 obviously kept those who “bleed blue” happy.

What surprised me, I suppose, was the fighting. I mean, I knew that fights sometime happened in hockey games. There’s the old joke: “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out”. I guess I just hadn’t realised how much of it there was – there were 4 or 5 fights, I think, a couple of which were serious enough that both players were sent off for 5 minutes for fighting. What also surprised me at first was that the officials just stood back and watched them fight, at least until they fell over and were lying on the ice fighting. (I’ll note that the roars from the crowd were partly because in each case, the Blues player was on top of the Sharks player, so seemed to have the upper hand). On reflection I decided that this was probably for a number of reasons. They weren’t affecting the game – the clock had been stopped and they would both be sent off for the 5 minutes no matter how long the fight lasted; it let them expend their energy – I really don’t think I’d want to be trying to get in there to try and break up the fights I saw; and it was, for most of the crowd, good entertainment – the fans wanted to see it, and it seems it an expected part of the hockey experience, so why stop it?

On another note, related to last night’s event,a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was at the game, and posted pictures of her view. From the details in that picture – the location and orientation of the Blues logo and other markings on the ice, we were able to discern roughly where she sat. Then, spotting the shirts of some of the other fans in the row or two in front of her got us much closer, and then we spotted her. At least we are pretty sure it was her. The hairstyle of the person we saw matched hers and the location was right, so I’m confident. Isn’t technology amazing?


New phone

09 Jul

I now have an iPhone and I’m still figuring out its many features.