boogdesign posts

Longer posts on standards based web design, portable web development and Linux, intermingled with some stuff on my other nerd interests.

Rob Crowther, London, UK based Blogger, Web Developer, Web Designer and System Administrator - read my Curriculum Vitae

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Category: Gadgets


12:55:00 am Permalink Upgrading a Geeksphone Keon to Firefox OS 1.1

Categories: Gadgets, Linux

Note: This is not a technical post, it's more in the way of a story. If you're looking for step by step ROM flashing instructions this is not the post you are looking for, please refer to the Geeksphone docs.

A few months ago I bought a Geeksphone Keon in order to play around with Firefox OS. My brother did an unboxing video and, not too surprisingly, the comments from his audience of (mostly) high end smartphone users weren't too positive. This didn't bother me overly, I knew what I was getting: a developer phone with a beta operating system, what excited me was the idea of an open phone platform for which the web technologies I am well familiar with were the primary app development paradigm.

The thing that did disappoint me about the phone was that GPS seemed to be non-functional. I tried a few things like leaving it by a window or visiting wide open spaces, waited for some OS upgrades and tried them again, but however long I left it the GPS never got a lock; instead it just flashed away in the notification bar and drained my battery. Since pretty much all the useful apps I could think of depended on GPS this failure quickly drained my enthusiasm both for the device and any potential app development adventures so I put the device aside for several weeks.

During this time Google has set about removing the most useful feature of Android and the top device manufacturers seem to be hell bent on only providing you with top end processing power in phones that are too big to be comfortably operated with one hand. Now that they've achieved market dominance Google seem to be locking down the bits that made Android interesting to me as an open alternative to iOS in the first place. So I've started to consider other options for my next 'proper' phone. In this frame of mind I came across Geeksphone's new device, the Peak+ - doesn't seem to be significantly less powerful than the HTC One Mini, lets you plug in a MicroSD card and about half the price. Plus I'd get the warm, glowy feeling from owning a 'properly' open device. But of course none of that would be any use to me is something as basic as GPS didn't work, which leads directly to today's adventures in ROM flashing.

Geeksphone provide an easy download page for all their ROMS, you can choose from stable (1.0), beta (1.1) and nightly (1.2):

Download page for Geeksphone ROMS

Download your chosen image then the process is quite straightforward:

  1. Unzip and cd into the directory
  2. Connect your Keon by USB and enable remote debugging (Settings > Device Information > More Information > Developer > Remote debugging)
  3. Issue the command: sudo ./
  4. Answer the question about keeping user data
  5. Wait until the phone reboots; you're done

Simple. So, of course, the first time I tried it the phone wouldn't reboot. I saw the startup screen but not the Firefox OS splash screen. I found a blog post with a section ?Ok, I bricked my phone? and followed the steps, unfortunately the same result. In desperation I tried downloading the image again and noticed I'd been trying to install the 9th August build when the 10th August build was available. Downloaded the new build, flashed and voilà I once again had a working phone.

The first happy news:

Keon showing my location
Keon showing my completely different location

GPS works! The second thing I noticed, as I was taking the screenshots, was that it's now optional to have an SD card. Firefox OS 1.0 wouldn't even let me take pictures until I put a card in, now stuff is saved to the device by default:

Settings for default media locations

The other major change from Firefox OS 1.0 is the home screen. Previously there was a basically empty home screen and, one swipe to the left, an 'apps search' screen with a bunch of icons on it (though not for apps, just links to websites). Now there is just the home screen with a search box, typing stuff into it brings up the icons like before along with a relevant background image:

Firefox OS home screen
Firefox OS search for HTML5 books
Firefox OS search for Firefox OS

Overall I'm very satisfied. Upgrading is easy, the upgrade actually fixes stuff as well as improving performance. I'm going to seriously consider getting a Peak+.

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09:47:37 pm Permalink London Web Meetup: Mobile, SEO & the Business Aspects of Web Companies

Categories: Web Develop, Gadgets

Review: London Web April: Mobile, SEO & the Business Aspects of Web Companies at Hoxton Apprentice, 16 Hoxton Square, London. N1 6NT. 19:30 to 21:30

I'm finding my 'spare writing time' increasingly used up these days, more on that in a future post, so this is going to be a much shorter review than I usually manage. There were three talks scheduled, but I only stayed for the first two as it was 10pm by the time they'd finished.

The first talk was by Grapple, who have a platform which takes your HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and turns it in to a cross platform mobile app. And by cross platform they don't just mean iPhone and Android, they mean Blackberry, Palm and almost any variety of J2ME capable phone. This is a significantly larger potential market than just those phones with a well know app store. And talking of app stores, Grapple also offer consultancy services for getting your app noticed and installed by users who don't have access to an app marketplace.

Unsurprisingly, one of the first questions asked was how Section 3.3.1 of Apple's most recent iPhone developer agreement affected them. Basically, Apple have decreed that only their approved languages can be used to develop iPhone apps. Since Grapple is basically executing JavaScript inside a WebKit view, they feel that they're fully compliant with section 3.3.1 and, unlike some of their competitors, won't have a problem.

Next up was a talk from Plugin SEO. Although it covered some of the basics, which I'm already fairly familiar with, it was interesting to me because it didn't end at the 'create some great content' line as many SEO introductions do. We were presented with some strategies for actually creating 'great content' and then introduced to a variety of tools to monitor how well our content creation was going. The slides were the same as these, from a March MiniBar, so you can have a look for yourself.

There was quite a bit of background noise, especially early on, and we might well have benefited from a more strict adherence to the schedule, but interesting talks again, and a great bunch of people with plenty to share, so 4 out of 5.

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12:51:15 pm Permalink Things I did last year (part two)

Categories: Web Design, Web Develop, Gadgets, Blogging and Internet Culture, Semantic Web and Microformats

Following on from Wednesday's post, this post covers the last six months of 2008 and the early part of 2009. This should finally get me up to date and back to the point where I can post about things I did last week without a guilty conscience :) Even in summary form this is taking me a lot of time (that OpenTech event had a lot of stuff!), so I'm just going to publish it half finished and fill in the later events over the next few days.

Summer 2008

  • London Geek Nights: Ajax - I managed to write this one up
  • SearchMonkey Developer Event - obviously in a purple patch of productivity, I got this event written up too, I also wrote a tutorial for developerWorks a few months later.
  • Open Tech 2008 - Session 1
    • Rembrandt, Pr0n and Robot Monkeys (Kim Plowright) - An interesting talk on the relationship of man and machine, how we think into our tools, and the refreshing view that porn is one of the ways we reunite with our bodies.
    • Living with Chaos (Simon Wardley) - I was to see variations of Simon's talk several times over the coming months, and if you get a chance I recommend you go see him too as he's a very entertaining speaker. The message of the talk is that open standards are a necessary end result of the technology curve as we travel through the Innovation -> Bespoke -> Products -> Services continuum. By the time everyone is selling services you're at a commercial disadvantage if you're still on a bespoke solution or selling a locked in product.
    • What the Frog's Eye Tells the Future (Matt Webb) - A talk about the connections between the founding fathers of neuroscience, computers and cybernetics, eg. The Macy Conferences, Pitts and McCullogh, Norbert Wiener, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart. Cybernetics is a cross domain concept language, and the people in cybernetics are the 'dark matter' which link everything together.
    Session 2
    • Sponsor Presentation: TiddlyWiki Tales (Jeremy Ruston) - TiddlyWiki is a javascript driven, single page wiki - no need for a server, everything is saved directly into the file, so it can be used offline from your desktop.
    • Android and the Open Handset Alliance (Michael Jennings) -
    • Social networks and FOAF (Tom Morris) -
    Session 3
    • OpenID and Decentralised Social Networks
    • Distributed, Federated, Partial
    • The Web is Agreement
    Session 4
    • From Stealth Mode to Open Source in 90 days
    • No Comply: or Why the Paranoid Android Approach to Security is a Bad Idea
    Session 5
    • Publishing with Microformats
    • Power of Information: Rewiring the London Gazette with RDFa
    Session 6
    • Finding Good TV on the Interwebs with RDF and REST
    • The Bastard Child of Baird and Berners Lee
    Session 7
    • Intro to Hadoop
    • building for the open web
    This was a really good day, I would recommend going along to the 2009 event if you can fit it in (unfortunately I have a prior commitment :( )
  • Momolondon July - Enabling location in applications - A set of lighting talks: Interesting stuff from Ted Morgan of Skyhook (the iPhone geolocation provider) about using wireless network signatures to determine where you are; a talk on FireEagle; Charles Wiles explained how Gears for Mobile is R & D for HTML5; there was a talk on the W3C Geolocation API; Rummble and BuddyPing, location aware, mobile based social network apps; finally Mark White on Locatrix who are a platform/service provider for people looking to provide location based mobile services.
  • CloudCamp - this has now turned into a regular event, so the original links are long gone. Saw Simon Wardley again, with a similar talk to OpenTech but with cloud, and standards therein, substituted for open source.

Autumn 2008

  • Google Developer Day 2008 - I attended four sessions as well as the starting and concluding keynotes: Intro to Android, after seeing a real, live Android phone in the keynote this was a nice talk to get a closer look - the questions went on longer than the talk though :) ; A Deeper Look at Google App Engine, I was getting quite into the whole cloud computing concept at this point and I likle the way App Engine allows you to just write code and then get started without the bother of setting up VMs etc.; Codelab: Gears, although I went to this I couldn't get very far as my hurried Ubuntu install the day before had left me with a 64bit build - I had built a version of Gears but it didn't contain APIs compatible with what everyone was using so I skipped out of this half way through; this allowed me to got to V8 - the Chrome engine which described some of the techniques used in the recently announced V8 (it was a very popular talk!) including native code compilation and behind the scenes static classes. I wore my Ubuntu 'Linux for human beings' t-shirt which got featured on the closing video/photo montage (the message on the back, rather than me).
  • Scripting Enabled - This was an excellent event, I think videos of all the presentations along with text transcripts and slides are available at the website so I won't go on about it too much. Highlights for me were seeing videos of real users with screen readers and Jonathan Hassell on Dyslexia which both made accessibility issues real to me in a way they hadn't been before.
  • Mobile Location-Based Services
  • YUI 3.0
  • CloudCamp
  • London Perl Workshop 2008 - Since I'd enjoyed his introductory tutorial at the 2007 event, I went to Dave Cross's Introduction to Web Programming tutorial: some interesting stuff on how CGI actually works which I'd never really investigated before, how to work with HTTP in Perl, some hints on security (check all input variables - good advice in any language, and use taint mode, which is Perl specific solution for that) and he finished off with a short introduction on how to use template toolkit to make life easier. After the tutorial I went to a number of short talks: Regexp mini tutorial: Character Classes; Painless OO <-> XML with XML :: Pastor; and‎ ‎Intermediate Moose where things started to get a little beyond me and my rudimentary knowledge of Perl.‎

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10:50:48 pm Permalink Blogging motivations and things I did last year (part one)

Categories: Web Design, Web Develop, Gadgets, Blogging and Internet Culture, Semantic Web and Microformats

In the admin pages of this blog (when I first started writing this post, five months ago!) I have a 'list view' for posts which has a few pertinent details alongside the post title - notably date and visibility (published or draft). In pages thirteen to four (twenty per page), covering July 2003 up until June 2007 all the posts are at status 'published.' On page three, starting about August 2007, there were a couple of posts at 'draft', on page four there were six, on page one, even with the couple of posts I finally published in January, there were seven. There's a definite trend developing here &amp;#58;&amp;#41;

There are a few factors at work here: a major one is that last year I switched from never going to the gym to going five or six times a week meaning that not only did I go to events less often but I had less free time to write them up; getting paid to write articles also decreased my motivation to write 'for free' - plus after spending a week or so where my entire evening (up until the early hours in the morning several times) had been spent writing I did feel like I owed myself some time off.

This led to me starting a number of 'place holder' posts and, once I had a few posts sitting in draft status it was very easy to leave the next one in draft too and say to myself "I'll finish them all off at the same time." What this led to is a whole mountain of unpublished, half-finished posts which eventually put me off even starting new ones.

I read some advice on another blog about not writing things out straight away - hold off seven days and see if it's still worth writing about. For me this just led to not writing anything at all (this may have been the effect he was after). If I'm going to write posts and keep writing them, I've got to do it that day, right there and then, and get it published. It turns out that getting paid to write stuff actually puts me off writing for free on my blog (other than a short burst of activity as the first thing was published just to make it look a bit more up to date).

So, in an effort to clear the decks, I'm going to attempt to summarize 18 months of event attendance in just a few long posts, then delete all those draft posts and make a fresh start. I did manage to spit out some blog posts in this period and I'll link to those where appropriate. The final part of this exercise will involve me finally publishing the few 'technical/tutorial' type posts I have in draft status which I'll then link to from a short post.

Autumn 2007 / Winter 2008

  • Going Beyond REST - This was a fascinating talk. Applying the principals of REST architecture on the inside of a system rather than between systems - all functions are represented by URIs, which it turns out has some nice side effects. For instance if one process within the system calculates 2+2 then the result is cached and any other process gets to use the result 'for free' (I know this is hardly significant for 2+2, but imagine a collection of more complex calculations). This means recursive stuff can be automatically optimised - the results of each iteration are cached and so the minimum number of operations are performed. As I was listening to this talk, Greg Egan's Permutation City kept popping in to my head.
  • Know IT and Share IT - This was an evening about how to go about facilitating enterprise knowledge sharing: "What knowledge do you have and where is it? Employee minds: 85%, Other media: 15%." Three talks on the themes of social network analysis, knowledge networks, communities of practice and tools to support it. A quote I noted down from the final talk which resonated with my experiences: "Any solution which requires significant change in behaviour will be difficult to implement. Any solution which requires significant consistent behaviour will not be possible."
  • Erlang for five nines - Since I've found a video I won't go on about it, but a good introduction.
  • London Perl Workshop 2007 - Attended the 'Beginners Perl Tutorial' Dave Cross which was quite enlightening - certainly an explanation of the default variable made a whole load of code suddenly more comprehensible to me (slides).
  • Javascript as a disruptive language - I went to this mostly because I enjoyed Ajax in Action so much. Again, you can see the video yourself so I won't go on about it.
  • Momolondon February - Mobile Operating Systems - four talks on the current state of mobile operating systems. Mark Burk's talk was interesting as it showed the strong divisions between the US phone market and the rest of the world, also notable the lack of penetration the iPhone had on the world market despite all the hoo ha. David Wood of Symbian takes the in retrospect prize for his strong defence of the closed source development model for mobile OS development (though misrepresenting several aspects of open source in is argument) only for Nokia to open source Symbian five months later.
  • Momolondon March - Mobile London - Excellent venue at the London Transport Museum for this event focussing on mobile apps for Londoners. Some of the trials LUL had been conducting with audio travel guides and travel news while actually in underground stations looked very interesting, also the trial to add Oyster payment functions directly into your mobile phone. The "Huh!?" moment of the evening was provided by the O2 marketing person who claimed (with a straight face) that customers thought it was really important that they could always see the O2 branding on their phone display - yes I just love having 20% of my screen taken up by the operator logo...

Spring 2008

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01:58:03 am Permalink GPX2 Linux handheld gaming device

Categories: Gadgets, Linux

I used to use a second hand Zaurus for listening to MP3s and a second hand PocketPC for reading eBooks while commuting to and from work each day. Sadly they both deteriorated to the point where battery life was barely enough to cover the journey one way, let alone there and back. I switched back to dead tree book consumption and have learned to live with the general background noise of tube travel.

Recently I started thinking it was about time I got myself a new digital audio player and started looking into options. I was thinking I'd make do with one of the cheap solid state ones in the 2-4Gb range, but I wanted the player to support OGG encoded files to save me having to re-encode half my collection. These simple requirements limited my options on eBuyer somewhat, and I started investigating more expensive devices. That's when I came across the GP2X - a linux based, hand held game console with built in media player and eBook reader.

Now, if you were going to design a gadget specifically to push all my buttons then you'd probably end up with a GP2X - it plays MP3s and OGGs, has dual processors, runs Linux, plays games and reads eBooks, and ships with the SDK for free. You can even plug it directly into a TV and watch movies. And all for only £124.99 - though probably closer to two hundred quid once a few optional extras have been added in. I want one!

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01:23:08 am Permalink Zaurus Wireless

Categories: Gadgets, Linux

Woo hoo! Decided to have another whack with the Wireless Network CF card I got for my birthday (in September!) with the Zaurus. It works! I think the trick was not trying to be too clever, last time I was trying to install kernel modules and all sorts, turns out I needn't have bothered. I manually set the ESSID on the WAP, so I'd know what it was, and then typed it into the Wireless Network config, but it didn't work until I changed it from 'Ad Hoc Network' to 'Infrastructure'. Suddenly I can see how bad all my sites look in a 240x320 display... &amp;#58;&amp;#41;

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01:26:51 am Permalink Linux on a PDA

Categories: Gadgets, Linux, Product Reviews

Bought a reconditioned Sharp Zaurus 5500 before the weekend. It had to be a reconditioned one because they've apparently discontinued the model, it's been replaced by the 5600 in the US (more memory, faster processor) but everyone seems uncertain if/when it will be released in the UK. Given that the credit limit extension on my card would just get spent on something else otherwise, and I wasn't brave enough to order direct from the States, I settled for a reconditioned 5500 from Expansys.

So far it's been quite interesting, the file system is a good deal more complicated than a PocketPC device (and even a standard Linux install), but at least you can install Bash and look at it all properly &amp;#58;&amp;#41;

Managed to sync it with Outlook tonight, will be trying to get Qtopia installed on my RH9 system in the near future. One thing I will complain about is the eBook readers - Microsoft Reader on PocketPC is very nice, feels like reading a book with page numbers and nice anti-aliased fonts and everything (and it was free), but the best I've found for the Zaurus is the Sharp eBook Reader, which costs £30. I managed to convert some books to zTxt format but they just display as one long document, without paragraph or page breaks, which is a bit uncomfortable to read. You can at least make bookmarks, which is the only thing holding me back, at the moment, from just switching to HTML and viewing everything in the Opera browser instead.

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