Having a nettop like the Acer Aspire Revo running Ubuntu and Boxee is a great addition to the living room. One thing that I have been meaning to do for a while though is add a proper way to shut the unit down from the remote control when I have finished using it. Walking across the room and using the power button just doesn't seem to be appropriate for a set top box experience! I followed the instructions I found on the Boxee forum to add this feature, but instead of changing the Suspend button into a power off button I decided to add a new button to the log out dialogue. Fortunately this was quite a straightforward procedure.
*** Update! See: RefSignals: A quiz app built using App Inventor - how to stop repeated questions for an improved version of this app! ***
I've been going on quite a lot about Google's App Inventor for Android to anybody who will listen recently. An example application I show them is one I built as a result of a conversation I had with my friend Georgina Parsons while we were sat in an ice rink in Gothenburg, Sweden watching a great match between the Frölunda Indians (the local team) and HV71. Ice hockey is a shared interest of ours but normally we attend matches in England so following proceedings in Swedish could be tricky. Fortunately the referees have a series of standard signals they make to indicate which penalties they are calling and our conversation turned to how it would be great to have a mobile app to help us learn those signals.
The demise or otherwise of social bookmarking service Delicious has set tongues wagging across the Internet. Does it mean we can't trust cloud services? Or nothing of the sort? In reality I think this story shows us nothing new, it is just another manifestation of an age old problem. As the old saying goes “if you want something doing, do it yourself”, but you can't do everything yourself so you have to trust other people at some point and that is where risk comes in. One way to reduce that risk is to have alternatives that you can switch to easily (and consequently this is why vendor lock-in can be so dangerous). Fortunately with Delicious there are a number of ready to go alternatives and one I have been experimenting with a self-hosted solution called Scuttle.
Just a short post to say that the "Your MP" application for Boxee has been slightly updated. This is an app that lets people in the UK see how their MP is voting in Parliament from the comfort of their armchairs. You don't need to know who your MP is, all you need is your postcode and the app will do the rest for you.
Many organisations are offering rich Linked Data stores now that you can interrogate with the SPARQL language. This data might be interesting for the mobile app developer to work with so it would be great to be able to experiment with this data in Google App Inventor for Android applications. At the moment you cannot do this directly as App Inventor only offers quite limited functionality to interact with the web, however with the help of a server side "bridging script" we can close that divide and send a SPARQL query from inside the application and deal with the results we get back.
Cloud Computing is a hot topic in IT circles right now and many will be keen to try out some of the technology involved to gain an insight into how they or their organisation might be able to benefit from this area. One significant product is the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (also known as Amazon EC2) which offers the promise of a server image that can adjust its specifications to cope with peak demands on a website. Getting started with this product has previously meant a lot of preparation though, lots of reading up on new terms and new ways of doing things and that is before understanding a pricing structure which thanks to its pay as you go nature might work out cost effective, but also takes longer to understand. Fortunately Canonical, the commercial backer of Ubuntu has stepped in and introduced an offer where you can test drive an instance of Ubuntu Server 10.10 on EC2 free of charge for an hour. I decided to take up this opportunity and see what I could learn.
I meant to post this a bit sooner, but anyway here is a link to a talk I did last week about Google App Inventor for Android for the Vital programme. It was my first time giving a presentation online so forgive my possibly frequent use of the words "um" and "err"! It was a great experience and I enjoyed giving the presentation to a great bunch of people.
There is a lot of talk about how tablets might kill off netbook sales. I thought about buying a tablet to replace my broken netbook but then I found another rather interesting option. The Samsung NB30 Touchscreen in some ways occupies an uncharted land between netbooks and tablets. It is a netbook, but you could also think of it as a tablet with a keyboard. This machine fitted my requirements a bit better than a tablet and I felt that it would offer me a bit more flexibility. In my last blog post I examined how to set up Ubuntu on this machine, in this post I want to reflect on my first week using it.
The Samsung NB30 is a great little machine and if you get the model with a touchscreen it can be a nice way to fully enjoy the new Ubuntu Unity netbook interface. I recently treated myself to one of these and now have Ubuntu 10.10 installed with (hopefully) everything working. I'll be writing much more about this netbook and touch screen interfaces in future blog posts but first to get the features working that don't work out of the box, or don't work well straight after installing Ubuntu. These include WiFi, the touch screen, screen brightness adjustment and the hotkeys.