Help Someone Make Something

Thanks to John Gruber for the link to [Elevation Dock](, which is on KickStarter looking for start up funding. The best part of the KickStarter page? The video showing the guy behind the project milling aluminum stock down to the dock — and the ending with the aluminum shavings being swept into a pile is a nice touch.

iPhone 4S Video

Benjamin Dowie has a short video (1:25) up on Vimeo that he shot using an iPhone 4S which is, well, it’s just amazing how good the video is. And it was shot on a phone. Now, obviously there are obviously a lot of other things that make for great video, especially sound, as I have noted before, but in terms of the creative possibilities, I am just delighted. More importantly for someone like me who works with students to document folk culture and everyday life, it just hammers home how much great equipment is already in their hands. What we need to do, what I need to do, is simply to use it to greatest effect. (Maybe that’s what I’ll do tomorrow in class.)

The Size of Things

On the heels of my experiments in hacking computer speakers, I found myself with an old fourth generation iPod, the 20GB model, in my hand, and I was struck by how good it feels. It has the same roundrect shape of Apple’s iOS icons — but in three dimensions. It also feels like the length to width ratio is better than, say, the iPhone.

And that got me to wondering about the dimensions of the two objects and the aspect ratios involved. That meant getting a ruler out and measuring them. I included another much loved object for the sake of comparison:

Three Objects Side by Side

Object Length Width Depth L/W Ratio
iPhone 11.5cm 5.8cm .9cm 1.98
iPod 10.3cm 6.2cm 1.4cm 1.66
Moleskine 14cm 9cm 1.2cm 1.55

What’s interesting about the length-to-width ratios of the iPod and the Moleskine is how close they are to the golden ration of 1.618.

I tried to think of a way to throw the thickness of the objects into some relationship, but I couldn’t. I’m open to suggestions.

Three Objects Stacked

iPhone Tracker on GitHub

Apple’s latest update to iOS fixes the problem of making the location services cache easily available on your computer, but before you update, you might still enjoy seeing how much information about you is available. How widely available it is is a matter for a separate discussion.

I tried out the app on myself, just before I updated, to see what the results look like:

It’s pretty much what you expect: it shows that I live most of my life within Lafayette, where I live and work, and the city’s environs, where I do research. What I found interesting, since the app offers this data as an animated timeline, are the brief flowerings that occurred thanks to travel I have done over the past year.

Viewed within a historical perspective, and internally, this information raises no great concerns for me. Viewed from a chance to market to me I have some concerns. Viewed from a particularized and dynamic tracking of my movements … I don’t like it at all.

Yes, the Flip is dead; let it go

So Cisco bought a perfectly good little company with a perfectly good product and then lost it all by not figuring out how to distinguish their product from the wide variety of multi-use devices that were packing “good enough” functionality into their units. The Flip is dead, and I’m okay with that. No, I don’t think the video recording functionality, including ergonomics, of my iPhone is quite as good as the Flip, but that also goes for my point and shoot Canon camera, which has largely sat in its case of late. I think the really great thing about the Flip was how some of my colleagues were using it in their classes: it was a great “good enough” video camera that made it easy to work with video. That part I will miss — I don’t see my university buying a bunch of iPod Touches any time soon. And negotiating with multiple device interfaces and usages does slow things down in the classroom.

iPhone Geotagging Applications

One of the reasons why I picked up an iPhone 3GS was for its GPS functionality.[^1] I had been thinking about getting a separate GPS unit, and in fact had asked for one Christmas 2008, but it turns out the delay worked to my benefit. At this point in time, I don’t want turn-by-turn directions, all I want is to be able to note my location coordinates and then tag my notes and my photographs with that information so that future researchers will have that information available to them.

However, getting those coordinates from somewhere on my phone to all those images is not as easy as it should be. This may have something to do, from what I can tell, with the iPhone’s SDK, which up until now has made it hard for apps to save data in a place or in a form that could be used elsewhere. This may all change with the iPad, which obviously needs to make something like a file system available to apps for storage of information. (Again, I could be talking out of my hat here — it’s a lovely IU baseball cap, and so I look quite good talking out of it.)

I have downloaded a few GPS apps, but none of them have done what I want. “Geo logging” wasn’t quite the right search. I should have been using “geotagging.” (It’s often one word these days.) And so I have turned up a number of applications that promise to make this pretty effortless:

* [GeoTag for iPhone]( is inexpensive at $1.99 and offers to track your location for you. You then use a desktop application to tag your photos.
* [GeoLogTag]( is more expensive at $4.99 but it doesn’t require that you install any software on your Mac. Instead, you connect your phone to your wireless network and then tell GeoLogTag to tag your photos. (How exactly this works isn’t clear.)

Frustratingly neither of these apps, and a few others at which I looked, mentions specific use cases with [Lightroom]( They mention iPhoto, Aperture, and Flickr, but not Lightroom.

All these apps also discuss tagging your photos within a given time window — five minutes or such. Since I tend to be at a given location to document something, I would prefer to capture that data, manually even, and then be able to drag and drop it onto a given set of images — rather like one tags with keywords in both iPhoto and Lightroom. Both of these apps, and others, assume a kind of automation which is very nice but doesn’t exactly fit with my own workflow.

[^1]: That makes for a total of 3 radios in the iPhone: cellular, wireless ethernet, and GPS.

Solar Powered USB Charger

Ah, the dreams of going off-grid! More importantly, the ability to re-charge in the field when you’ve forgotten to charge fully before leaving home. AA batteries power my small camera and my field recorder, but my cell phone has a built-in battery.

There are a number of solar-powered chargers out there, and some are reasonably priced. There is, however, something incalculably alluring about finding one of those cheap lawn lighting kits, for say $10, and making your own solar charger. More importantly, it would be nice to begin to do such things with my daughter, so that she has a since of *making* things for herself.

Here’s the simplest DIY version I have been able to find: [[Metacafe video]](

The Future Experience of Media

The iPhone, and now the iPad, are establishing that there is a place, even with the consumer utility device market, for general computing devices. In particular, [Game Developer Research]( has just its report on the current state of game development. The 100-page document is available on their site and is covered in the the current issue of [Game Developer]( magazine. Some of the trends revealed in the report include that the economic downturn has more developers working in smaller companies (less than 50 employees) and an increased focus on the mobile device market:

> Of these mobile developers, nearly three quarters of that group are targeting iPhone and iPod touch development, a number more than twice the reported support for traditional handhelds like Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

This only confirms our own household’s decision to retire our daughter’s Leapster that we had paired with my old iPod Video for road trips and mobile entertainment. Both were handily replaced by an iPad Touch that not only has the games and the videos of the previous two devices but also flash card activities, wikipedia, and other applications. General computing, baby, general computing.

iPhone/iPad App Development

For those interested in iPhone/iPad development and looking for other development environments than that provided by Apple, here is an interesting item: [Ansca Mobile]( has released [Corona](

> Corona is built from the ground up to enable designers, web developers and engineers to quickly develop and distribute highly optimized native iPhone applications.

You can download a trial version of the SDK or you can get a full version with a one year subscription to their Corona Developer Program.

Some More Initial Thoughts on the iPad

First, the LED screen will not be there for long. Color e-ink with decent (enough) frame rates for watching video is on its way — or at least so I am told. Apple knows that this thing isn’t perfect, but I suspect they also saw that the technology in this category was lagging behind market interest and demand. iPad 1.0 is a placeholder in some ways.

Second, if I was 20 years younger, I would stop what I am doing now and immediately immerse myself in everything it took to develop native apps for this and the other devices that are going to copy it. This is the computing device that most people have wanted for a very long time. For better or worse, most folks are consumers, not producers. The IT revolution — Tim Berners-Lee core concept — was a blurring of that distinction. We have seen a lot of movement in that direction, and there are certainly a lot more people producing content than there was twenty years ago, but I think we are also seeing a flattening of the growth curve and a kind of stabilizing of who is going to do what for the time being. The iPad addresses that flattened curve very, very well.


Of Flash, the Web, and iDevices

John Nash over at Adobe has published a [great essay]( on his personal blog about the nature and status of Flash vis-a-vis web standards, functionality, and the iPhone (and now iPad) embargo:

> I came to Adobe ten years ago to build an open standards (SVG)-based Web animation tool. I like standards, and I have some experience here. … Here’s a quick summary of my long piece below:

> Flash is flawed, but it has moved the world forward.
> Open standards are great, but they can be achingly slow to arrive.
> Talk of “what’s good for standards is bad for Adobe” is misinformed nonsense.
> Flash will innovate or die. I’m betting on innovation.

Note that Nash actually worked on Flash’s competitor — remember Flash was created by Macromedia, then Adobe’s competitor for authoring applications — and is well aware of its history and its limitations. Most importantly, it’s a thoughtful piece with lots of details. No screed. No paranoia. Not your typical internet.