Simon’s Backup Weblog

Dolby in London – October 3rd

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 29, 2007

According to his blog, Thomas Dolby will be playing a UK gig that day at the ICA to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.

Ticket details will be announced soon, along with other UK dates.

w00t. More Dolby in London, and somewhere less awkward than the Scala too!


Getting US traffic on a UK Windows Mobile Live Search

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 27, 2007

I’m helping work on a Tom’s Hardware piece on mobile mapping software. As it’s for an international audience she needs to be able to show some US specific features, like the traffic tools. That’s fine with Google Maps for Mobile or Yahoo! Go – both have one installer for wherever you are in the world, and you can map US traffic from the UK quite happily.

Unfortunately there are two different versions of Windows Live Search for Mobile. One US, with traffic data, and a UK version for the rest of the world, without. It doesn’t matter which version you try to download, the site will download one standard installer no matter which country you select.

The first time the application runs, it checks the device location, and if you’re not using a US phone it gives you the Rest of the World version. You can be in the US with a UK device and you won’t be able to get the traffic data – so you could get stuck on an LA freeway without knowing how to escape the jam. Now Microsoft rarely makes two binaries where one will do, so I suspected that what we were seeing was something in the application configuration. I first used a mobile device registry inspector to see if the application was using the registry.

It wasn’t. So it was time to pour through the Windows Mobile file system to see if there was anything there. There was. Sat right next to the application executable was a preferences.xml file. I copied it across to my desktop, and had a look through with an XML-aware text editor. The file contained some canned searches, details of most of my last few searches, as well as some slightly less obvious sections. In one, <R>, was the text GB. I changed it to US, and put the file back on the mobile device.

I reopened Windows Live Search. Bingo! The traffic option was now available, and I could see the state of the LA rush hour. At least I won’t get stuck on that stretch of 110…

The Flickr UK Postcode Interestingness Weather Location Explorer

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 25, 2007

The first application at my Web 2.0 sandbox is now live.

Have a play with The Flickr UK Postcode Interestingness Weather Location Explorer. Give it a postcode, and it’ll show you the weather at the location, along with the most “interesting” Flickr image it can find nearest the pinpoint on the map. I’m quite pleased by the self-expanding search area that expands each time it can’t find an image…

(It’s a mash-up of Google Maps, Google Local, WeatherBug, Yahoo! Pipes and Flickr written for a magazine article.)

Update: I left out one of the instructions: click on the pin to get the pop-up once the progress bar goes away…

Lost in the immensity

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 25, 2007

So small, the puny human

The tiny figure of a man is dwarfed by the immense rockscapes of the Grand Canyon.

Looking out across the Grand Canyon from near Mather Point.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
June 2007

Condor Circling

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 25, 2007

Condor Circling

Down below us the massive shape of a condor was circling, its wings spread wide to catch the plentiful thermals.

Looking out across the Grand Canyon from near Bright Angel Lodge.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
June 2007

Falling into Flickr’s mirror universe

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 24, 2007

I have been bashing my head against the keyboard most the day, trying to write a location-based query against the Flickr API. Every time I ran my search I kept getting the same picture – that of a cat somewhere in the Seychelles. This wasn’t right – as I was trying to search for images in London, Bath and Edinburgh.

My JavaScript JSON code was right, my loop was working. I was giving Flickr a latitude/longitude-based bounding box for the search, and a reasonable base date for the search results. So what was going wrong? I was getting the same results using Flickr’s API explorer, so I knew it wasn’t my code that was wrong – and a search with Flickr’s own mapping tools gave me plenty of results. So there was some mismatch between the queries I was building and the data Flickr was querying on.

I finally found the answer, on my nth read through of the documentation. The reason why my queries weren’t working was actually very simple – and also completely illogical.

Instead of using conventional lat/long pairs for the bounding box, Flickr is using long/lat. I have no idea why someone made that illogical decision – it’s something that’s very easy to miss, as we’re conditioned to think in lat/long, so I just misparsed the documentation that Flickr provides every time I read it.

Still, my code’s working now (I’ll be putting my location/weather/interestingness mashup online soon at my new development web site – I just need to make a few final refinements to the search loop, and then write the tutorial article that I’ve been developing the code for…

Lesson re-learnt: be more careful when reading the documentation.

And if I ever meet the person at Flickr who made the decision to have an API that reversed common conventions, I’m going to have a conversation about how design by contract needs to respect conventional data formats.

Adding to the toolset: Aptana

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 23, 2007

Aptana is a JavaScript editing and debugging tool.

As it’s based on Eclipse, it’s available for most platforms. Along with the JavaScript tools there’s also a Ruby on Rails plug-in, and support for Adobe’s AIR SDK.

The learning curve is quite short (and shorter still if you’ve used Eclipse or any other Eclipse-derived IDEs), and the code completion tools are efficient – and also work with any libraries you’re using. I’ve been using it to do some AJAX and JSON development for an article I’m working on, and I have to say it’s really rather decent. It’s helped me track down some rather silly formatting errors I made while I was writing code to work with Flickr’s JSON search API, saving me quite a bit of time. I also found the Outline view helpful as it let me quickly hop from function to function (and see what was calling what – and when).

A recommended tool.

Is that me in my favourite bit of The Onion?

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 23, 2007

A while back I wrote about the Dept. Head Rawlings series of hi-tech super-spy thriller “op-eds” on The Onion.

I suspect the anonymous author of the series may have read that blog post, as when I wasn’t looking, Rawlings returned to the Onion, with a new problem, and a new member on his team at the Department for Special Acquisitions and Liquidations…

Which is why Mr. Bisson is here. Some of you know Mr. Bisson, and I’m sorry you have to see him again. His specialty has become less common since the heady 1970s, but his services are still quite useful to us.


Bisson, you have your assignment. I have faith in your, shall I say, unorthodox skills and experience.

While some readers may see this as explaining my tendency to suddenly vanish on unexplained foreign trips, I’m afraid I’m going to be sticking to my cover story still just a technology journalist and not, as Rawlings says, “the world’s most seductive catamite assassin”.

At least the problem with the Thanatos device seems to have been solved.

Bad headlines of our time

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 22, 2007

Not quite what one should use for a report of a safe landing, especially post Challenger and Columbia.

[Update: They’ve now fixed it to the much better “California landing for Atlantis“]


Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on June 22, 2007

I’ve given up waiting for the various mobile operators to live up to their promises and put out Windows Mobile 6 updates. So I’ve been out and about the internets and found a copy of a ROM for the HTC TyTN family of devices, all packaged up along with a ROM loader. That’s the underlying platform for a SPV M3100 I had lying around, so I figured it was well worth the try. The various forums at the XDA-Developers site have lots of useful information for anyone planning a DIY upgrade, and the information there got me up and running in no time at all. Now to reinstall software and tweak the phone just the way I want it…

On a side note I’ve also found an add-in that’ll give my Blackberry Pearl HTML mail support – so if you’re using a Blackberry and want to get away from seeing rather ugly messages in your inbox you could do worse than fire up your Blackberry’s browser and pop along to the OTA download page.

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