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 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.
Google's App Engine offers an attractive idea for web developers of being able to use Google's famous server infrastructure to serve up their own code and interactive websites. If you develop for it though you might find it is a bit different from developing for other types of web host and some of the concepts are new. I've been asked if I would do a simple run through of how you would set up an application and handle an HTTP GET requests with parameters, so here is a tutorial that will not just say “hello world” but greet you by name. The example is deliberately simple, but the concepts in it can be built on for many other uses. This example uses Python, if you would like to see a Java version then please mention it in the comments.
Back in July I wrote about an Android tablet computer that I picked up on Amazon for £85. This is a really interesting device and seemed to do quite a lot. A couple of things really let it down though, its speed and the fact that you could not use Android Market with it, making obtaining most Android applications quite difficult. Fortunately a group of enthusiasts have formed a community around this device, the Eken M001, and similar devices over at Slatedroid.com. A couple of people there have put together a new firmware image which is still in beta but I've been trying it out and I am impressed so far! The tablet now has a working Market and feels much more responsive.
I am a big fan of Delicious the online bookmarking site. It has proved very useful to me as a way to find information and build a collection of links that are useful to me. Delicious also has a really good mobile site and can be a good way to retrieve links from earlier research while out and about. One issue that is always a bit fiddly with mobile devices though is text entry, so wouldn't it be great if we could just say out loud what terms we would like to search for and populate the search box with that? Interestingly this is quite an easy facility to build with the new Android App Inventor. In just a few clicks we can build an application that takes voice input, processes it and then launches a web page with a search box populated with those terms.
Google's Android App Inventor is great fun to play with and I think represents a fascinating leap forward in mobile application development. It provides a whole toolbox of ready to go functionality, but sadly missing from this toolbox are facilities to interact with web sites and services (with the exception of Twitter of course). However there is one component that provides a glimmer of hope and if you want to publish data in a way that can be used by Android App Inventor developers then you can use this component with a PHP script to easily pass data to the mobile device.
Recently I got my invite to try out the beta of Google App Inventor for Android, a simplified environment to enable people to create applications for Android based phones using visual building blocks instead of a programming language. Google have written extensive set up instructions to get your computer and phone set up: http://appinventor.googlelabs.com/learn/setup/index.html but also on this page is a bit of text that could cause us trouble: "If you are using GNU/Linux, then you should use Sun Java rather than OpenJDK. App Inventor does not work well with OpenJDK." Unfortunately OpenJDK is the default for Ubuntu 10.04 and it might not be obvious how to get the Sun version, so I thought I'd better document what I did to get it working.
I did a fresh install of Boxee and the newly released Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on my Acer Aspire Revo today. The process has not changed significantly since I wrote my post How to install Ubuntu 9.10 and the Boxee Beta on an Acer Aspire Revo (including 64 bit option) back in January. You can pretty much follow these instructions to get everything up and running. One minor difference is in alsamixer where the entry formally known as “IEC958 1” now seems to be labelled “S/PDIF” (see below for screenshot) - unmute this as before. I used the recently released Boxee Beta version 0.9.21.11487 which works with Ubuntu 10.04, at the time of writing the Boxee site doesn't state this. It is also possible to integrate Boxee with the new Ubuntu One Music Store.