29 Jan 2013
Recently I’ve been trying to finish off the shiny new version of this site, and was getting frustrated at my slow progress, so I picked the simplest idea out of my
notes.txt file and built something.
The result is 15by7, a one-page web toy for creating tweetable pixel art from Unicode block characters. I’ve also set up @15by7 to retweet the best efforts. There’s no practical use, it’s all about the fun challenge of doodling something within such severe restrictions.
Unfortunately, the Twitter ‘desktop’ site doesn’t render line breaks, so 15by7 tweets end up looking mangled. The mobile site is fine, as are virtually all apps, so it’s an odd and frustrating anomaly. You can force wrapping using long lines or extra-wide characters, but then it doesn’t look right on mobile devices. There’s no universal solution.
Also, in some fonts the block characters are mangled (e.g. the densest block may be much wider; this afflicts Tweetbot on all of my devices) or missing (Android 4 doesn’t seem to have the least-dense block).
So I very nearly ditched the whole thing, and will be filing the project under “Nice ideas spoilt by reality”. Hopefully some people are enjoying it though, and getting anything finished & launched is always good.
Partly as an experiment, and partly out of necessity, I did almost all of the development (everything except image tweaking and browser testing) on an iPad, using Textastic and a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover.
Textastic works well for editing a simple static web site offline, especially once you know this vital tip: tap on the filename at the top to choose from recently-edited files. I was able to preview within the app, and upload to the live hosting for further testing. The only thing I got frustrated with was fiddling around to precisely select text, which is a general iOS/touchscreen issue (and I probably should’ve bumped up the font size and made more use of Textastic’s selection widget).
I’ve been using the Ultrathin quite a lot for four months and haven’t charged it since the day I got it, so battery life certainly isn’t a problem. I’m not generally a fan of encumbering gadgets with cases & add-ons, but it’s well-made and useful if I’m having to do a lot of emailing on the move. Or decide to build a daft little web site.
30 Nov 2012
By now you may have seen this slick TV ad for the Surface RT tablet. My wife watched it a couple of weeks ago, paying fairly close attention, then at the end said “Is that a new cover for the iPad?”. Ouch. It’s a good job Steve Ballmer wasn’t round for dinner that night.
I recently bought an RT to add to my growing range of test devices. Let’s get some of the bad points out of the way quickly:
- There are odd glitches in numerous features.
- Performance is inconsistent; usually OK but sometimes very sluggish.
- The ‘VaporMg’ case holds onto fingerprint grease like nothing else ever created.
- The keyboard cover is bonded around the edges in a way that clearly isn’t durable.
- The special charging connector is annoyingly fiddly to attach.
- There aren’t many decent apps available.
- It feels slightly awkward to hold as a tablet, and can’t be used on your lap with the keyboard cover.
- Some aspects of Metro/Modern UI aren’t as obvious/discoverable as they could/should be.
Some of those are ‘teething problems’, but the one thing that’s made everyone trying the device pull a face has been the presence of the ‘classic’ desktop. As in the normal version of Windows 8, behind the shiny Modern UI lurks an old-style Windows desktop, in this case primarily to hold a non-touch-friendly version of Office. Producing a Modern UI version of Office will be a huge job, but this hack tells us a lot about Microsoft’s confused priorities and internal management.
Having said all that, there’s much to like. The hardware is good (aside from points mentioned above), battery life seems comparable to the iPad, and Modern UI looks great. Through gritted teeth I must admit that IE10 has seemed very capable (I tried a couple of complex web apps I’m working on and they rendered perfectly).
Overall, the best thing is that it’s genuinely interesting. Android tablets tend to come across as pale imitations of the iPad (in hardware and software), but this is something different. Would I recommend it instead of an iPad? No, the glitches and compromises currently add up to too much frustration. But it’s not the complete dud some reviews have portrayed and I’ve actually enjoyed trying it out.
05 Jul 2012
This gives you fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses with a single clip-on gadget. Here’s a quick snap taken with the macro, showing the wide-angle lens you have to remove to use it (click for the original, unedited image):
It’s pricey at 50-60 quid, and won’t fit over a case, but clearly well-made and that macro is impressive.
This iOS app lets iPhone 4S users record video at 60fps and then play it back at different speeds, optionally with one of 3 frame interpolation methods (new in v2).
Other devices will only record at 30fps, and even with the 4S you do lose image quality (due to a drop in resolution combined with data rate limits), but it works well and even just halving the speed can be interesting.
Here’s a raw, unedited Quicktime file recorded with the Slow setting (warning: large file) to give you an idea of the output.
Note that although it’s promoted as a free app, you need to pay to be able to do basic things such as exporting footage.
22 May 2012
…is the URL. They’ve chosen as short a domain as you can get for their new research-orientated social network, but when you visit the site it redirects to
A few possible reasons come to mind:
- Microsoft corporate policy or standard setup (not every Microsoft site redirects, but most do)
- Concern that users wouldn’t realise it’s a valid domain name (but then why choose an unusual short name and URL in the first place?)
- Improving automatic URL recognition in software/services, including their own (e.g. typing
www.so.cl into WordPad produces a link,
Whatever the actual cause, it won’t have a noticeable effect on the site’s success but is the kind of irritating tiny detail that hints at a lack of thought or commitment.