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Get your blog iPhone-ready

Apple’s releasing a new phone today (if you didn’t know that, you’re lucky). Beside curing all manner of ills, the phone has a great web browser that should get people really interested in using the web while on the move.

Now, the thing is lots of other phones have decent browsers — many phones run Opera, for example, or at least the Opera Mini. And with reasonable data plans becoming increasingly common, it definitely makes sense to get your site ready for mobile browsing.

I used a media="handheld" stylesheet declaration on this site, but that wasn’t very well supported. So here’s a better solution that requires very little work, if you run Wordpress:

  1. Get the Wordpress Mobile Edition plugin and install it. This will create a wp-mobile.php file in your Wordpress plugins folder, and a wp-mobile folder in your Wordpress themes folder.
  2. Open wp-mobile.php in a text editor and search for the word 'iPhone'.
  3. If you don’t find it (I’m sure it’ll be added as soon as the user-agent string is confirmed) add this text exactly as shown (without double quotes) somewhere in the middle of the list of browser user-agents:  " ,'iPhone' " (search for the text 'small_browsers' to find this list). When you’re done, save the file.
  4. Optional — you can also tweak your site’s mobile appearance by going into the wp-mobile folder (under your Wordpress themes folder) and editing the files there (mainly index.php). Some knowledge of PHP is required, but you can avoid the PHP and modify only the HTML inside the file.
  5. Test your mobile site using the Opera Mini applet, iPhoney (if you’re on a Mac) or even a real iPhone ;-). Emulators for most other phone browsers are also available.

The other advantage of a mobile-ready version of your blog is that mobile versions tend to very accessible and compact. Most accessible browsers already support disabling stylesheets, images, etc, but they still have to load other text, such as blogrolls, sidebars, etc. You could use the wp-mobile theme along with a theme switcher that would allow users to switch to a compact, accessible version if they wish.

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29 June 2007 11:29 pm

The Network is the Computer (except from 11pm-12.30pm)

This story about IIT Bombay (IITB) disabling internet access in its hostels between 11pm and 12:30pm is not at first glance as hair-raising as the one about Chinese Internet de-addiction clinics, but it improves upon acquaintance.

Consider the consequences: one of the finest research tools invented by man is effectively off-limits to students for half a day (Is that really right? Or did the Economic Times flip an AM into a PM?) Of course, in the name of compulsory ’socialization,’ students will crowd into university clusters, which never quite have enough machines to accommodate the crowd.

Involvement in Open Source and Web 2.0 projects will drop because budding programmers at IITB will lose access just when many of them are most productive — given extremely hot Indian summers and the lack of air-conditioning in most (practically all?) dorm rooms, night-time is often the most comfortable time to start a long hack session.

Of course, the most enterprising students (especially in departments like Electronics and Computer Science) will probably use their ability to access department networks to get around this interruption in service, but a more interesting question is: in 2007, should students really have to wrangle for network time?

The point about regulations like these is that they demonstrate the knee-jerk short-term thinking that passes for leadership in many Indian institutions. Apparently the drivers for this decision included the death of IITB’s “hostel culture” (by which they mean late night vodka parties, night shows at cinemas and card games — oh wait, that was my misspent youth) and, rather more seriously, a string of on-campus suicides by some loners. Of course, while it is regrettable, it has to be asked: are the vast majority of well-adjusted (and not-so-well adjusted, trying-to-cope) students well-served by over-paternalistic regulations? Pre-Internet hostels weren’t exactly idylls.

And if IITB is scared of internet in the hostels, wait until they hear about this newfangled thing called wifi in classrooms:

“At any given moment in a law school class, literally 85 to 90% of the students were online,” Professor Herzog says. “And what were they doing online? They were reading The New York Times; they were shopping for clothes at Eddie Bauer; they were looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco when their new job started…. And I was just stunned.”

There’s the paternalist, knee-jerk reaction of banning the undesirable, so typical of India (Here’s another great example). Then there’s the embracing of the new, and treating students like responsible human beings:

I also tend to wander around the room a lot (I’m one of those don’t-stay-behind-the-lectern professors), which may discourage some of that behavior. And I tend to call on the students who don’t seem engaged. But I don’t make any particular effort to ensure that students aren’t surfing or IM-ing or whatever. They’re grownups. If they’re willing to risk their grades, and to look dumb when they’re called on, well, I’m willing for them to do that too.

1 Comment

13 March 2007 5:11 pm

10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week

There’s lots of cool content on the web that doesn’t have RSS feeds (or good RSS feeds). Thankfully, synthesizing feeds for most of them is pretty easy (Here’s an example in Python, from back when the Day by Day comic had lousy feeds that forced one to click to see the comic).

Now Yahoo Pipes makes it even simpler, at least for some feeds. The BBC’s Magazine publishes a blog with a great “10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week” feature, but it doesn’t have its own feed! Thanks to Pipes, I was easily able to come up with a feed only for 10 things. Pipes won’t replace Perl anytime soon, but anything that makes it easier for people to remix data is great to find (and oh, their development environment is very cool indeed).

Update: As Aaron points out below, 10 Things does have its own feed, which I would have discovered if I had bothered to scroll down the page instead of clicking the Subscribe icon in my browser’s status bar (perhaps there’s a usability lesson in there somewhere?). Oh well, it was still a great way to get my feet wet with Pipes.

Update 2: It turns out the BBC 10 Things feed isn’t full-text but my Pipes output is, because the feed it’s based on happens to be full-text. So it turns out Pipes is useful after all. Hooray for remixing!

Subscribe to the full-text 10 Things feed.

2 Comments

20 February 2007 9:55 am

Flat-Rate 3G Internet

Mobile operator 3 is all set to offer ADSL/Cable-style flat-rate pricing plans for people using their 3G network. UK service will begin next month, other countries are slated to follow soon. This was long overdue; I remember the complete cluelessness on a 3 rep’s face in 2003 when I asked him why I had to pay extra to send email on a network touting its data capabilities. 3 and its cohorts seem to have gotten the religion now, with Sony-Ericsson’s President quoted as saying “Moving to flat rate charging is the key to unlocking the value of the mobile internet”. No kidding.

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17 November 2006 3:14 am

Get Custom Overlays in Google Maps

Google Earth has had overlays for a long time — they make it easy to annotate maps with all sort of information, from vacation photos to public transport pickup points. Now, overlays work with Google Maps too. You can type in a URL of a KML/KMZ file into Google Maps and it will show you the overlaid map — here’s an example showing Metrolink stations in Manchester. This just made Google Maps much more useful.

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14 June 2006 10:48 am

Virtual Worlds and Google Sketchup

The Scobleizer’s been raving about Second Life for some time now. I’ve been less than enthusiastic because to me Second Life has always been the CompuServe of online 3D worlds: interesting but ultimately proprietary and therefore ripe for being replaced by an standards-based competitor (much as the Web replaced CompuServe). Like Joshua Allen says, a virtual world should provide a single seamless virtual environment that’s not provided by any single vendor.

Today Google released a product that makes me wonder if they have any intentions to enter the virtual worlds biz. They released a product called SketchUp that lets users create 3D models. There’s a free version available for all and Google will warehouse your models for you. You can even download items into Google Earth.

What stops Google from offering a virtual-earth.google.com that is essentially a coordinate space for users to populate with their models? Well, creating 3D models is much harder than creating a webpage but much, much easier than creating a system that can handle and render a distributed virtual world (here’s a good FAQ on the subject). However, given the large number of PhDs who populate Google it wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that they have made some progress on this.

Another possibility is that Google will eschew the distributed virtual world model for what I call the (far less satisfying but far more achievable) small closed spaces with portals model: multiple virtual worlds with distinct coordinate spaces each run by a single entity and traversable using portals. Such a model could be used to spice up many Google offerings, such as Google Groups’ mail list feature, IM, personal home pages and the nascent markets on Google Base.

And of course, irrespective of whether or not Google’s working on this, there is tremendous opportunity for startups and researchers to go out and create the next big thing online. The opportunity to do something creative is huge here.

1 Comment

27 April 2006 8:57 am

Movie Trailer Mashups

Movie trailer mashups are going to be the next big thing after Photoshop contests. Check out the hilarious Sleepless in Seattle recut as a horror movie and Back to the Future inspired by Brokeback Mountain.

1 Comment

4 February 2006 3:09 am

Google Talk now supports XMPP Federation

Google Talk users can now connect to other Jabber/XMPP users.

1 Comment

18 January 2006 3:26 pm

The Compleat Beethoven

BBC Radio 3:

From 9am on Sunday 5 June to midnight on Friday 10 June, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast every single note of Ludwig van Beethoven. Every symphony, every quartet, every sonata

Like most of the BBC’s programmes, this will be available to internet listeners as an audio stream, and the Evening Standard says that the BBC will make it easy for listeners around the world to catch up with what they’ve missed:

These concerts will be […] “streamed” for a week on the website … Anyone from here to Hong Kong can slip a disk into the drive and download a set for keeps. Allow five minutes on broadband for Symphonies One to Eight, 10 minutes for the momentous Ninth.

I’m guessing this means mp3 downloads will not be available, which is a pity, but those who don’t mind listening to the lo-fi streams can try out Total Recorder.

Updated 8 June: It looks like they really meant it when they said ‘download for keeps’ — you can snarf the MP3s from Radio 3’s website now.

1 Comment

14 May 2005 10:34 am

Accepting Paypal just got easier for Indians

Using Paypal to pay for things has been quite easy for folk who have credit cards in India, but until now accepting payment using Paypal was impossible for Indian sellers without a US/UK bank account. With Paypal’s new “Request a Cheque” feature, this is set to change.

Now Indians can get rupee cheques mailed to them from Paypal on request (minimum $150 equivalent with a $5 service charge). This ought to be a big boost for e-commerce in India because it’s now a lot easier for most Indians to sell on eBay or over the web than it was previously.

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30 January 2005 9:05 pm

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