March 7, 2012

Phonebot Plus

My Phonebot Plus app is now available on the Android Market/Google Play. Phonebot is an application that allows you to create applications directly from your phone. It includes features such as a script language and interpreter, visual screen layout, and database management. For Phonebot Plus, I've added some useful development tools in addition to what you get with standard Phonebot, along with more display formatting properties. New stuff:

  • Step debugger - Pause and step over each line of script as it executes
  • Script browser - Quickly access and update any script in an application
  • Database browser - Create and manage database schemas and data
  • Log browser - Access application-specific logs
  • User-defined methods - Create reuseable scripts that can be called from any event
  • Display properties - Configure background color, padding, and font properties

Be forewarned: All of this wonder will cost you nearly One US Dollar. Gasp!

Check out the Developer's reference for full details on what you can create. The main Phonebot page also lists several of its competitors and semi-competitors that are out there. I also posted about it on Reddit and Hacker News.

I had this field cornered when I first started but it's gotten pretty active recently, with several full-fledged Java IDEs available now. The benefit that I think Phonebot offers is with its high-level script language, script generators, and visual layout editor. These are all features that eliminate typing and let you create applications quickly.

posted by sstrader at 10:35 PM in Phonebot | permalink | comments (0)

December 27, 2011

The HTC Flyer Android tablet

Bought myself the HTC Flyer a few weeks back. Some co-workers were talking about tablets and this, along with the Samsung Galaxy Note, had been on my short list because of its smaller screen and pen input. My impromptu shopping revealed that Best Buy had just put them on sale for $300 (cf. MSRP $500!). Although the rest of the world also discovered the sale and promptly depleted the inventory of every Best Buy in Georgia, the next day they were selling in the Amazon marketplace for $350. I accepted the precedent set in the case of Snooze v. Lose and paid the $50 lazy tax to re-enter the world of tablet users (I hear these new iPads are popular with the kids). First impressions:

I used it for pen note-taking in the Ruby training class I attended for a week. Handwriting recognition is noticeably absent, but the screen size and responsiveness were good. Perhaps because I'm a lefty I didn't notice any of the lag issues that I'd read about. I haven't yet done any drawing beyond simple diagrams, so maybe it will be more intrusive there.

Thumb-typing is comfortable in portrait mode. I have larger hands so the keyboard size works well. Lisa looked like she had to stretch a bit when working on it, so for some it would not be comfortable to enter a lot of text. I'd read about split keyboard apps that mitigate the problem.

General browsing and app use is done by holding it in my right hand and manipulating the screen with my left. This is one of the great advantages of the smaller form-factor over the more intrusive 10-inch tablets. I notice the weight after more than maybe 30 minutes of browsing, but it's minor.

Much of the use at home has been streaming anime videos from Netflix and internet radio if I'm working or reading. The case I got folds back to view comfortably in landscape. Image and refresh are good.

posted by sstrader at 6:06 PM in Home Network & Gadgets | permalink | comments (0)

October 29, 2011

Phonebot

I just published an Android app that lets you develop applications from your phone. It's a simple IDE with a script language and interpreter, visual screen layout, database management, etc. It's a v1 that has had a beta tester of just me, so beware.

You can review the Developer's Reference for a quick idea of what's what. And it comes with some sample applications for basic examples of what can be achieved.

(The marketplace is refusing to update images and text right now. Apologies if the copy editing is wonky.)

posted by sstrader at 6:37 PM in Phonebot , Programming | permalink | comments (0)

July 1, 2011

Recent code project

Back in the middle of may, the web host that I use for Java projects--Lunarpages--dropped one of my sites because it was getting more hits than was permitted on a shared server. Their proposed solution was for me to purchase a dedicated server, trading an $8/month service for a $100/month one. I was kindof irritated that there was no inbetween, but you get what you pay for. Their business model was probably always to force the more active sites onto expensive servers contracts. I was lucky that I had the means to relatively quickly re-host, but others are probably more limited in their choices.

That killed a few weeks of productivity setting things up and tweaking and monitoring the new server. Once finished, I got back on my current Android project: an application that will let you create applications on the phone. For the past two weeks have had my head buried in code. This week, I got the basic script interpreter written and have it plugged into the application/module/control object framework. Still a lot to go, but as with any good project it has many areas to keep me interested.

posted by sstrader at 7:33 PM in Programming , Where was I? | permalink | comments (0)

March 30, 2011

Reuseable frameworks for building applications

A month or so ago, I started working on an Android app that will allow you to develop applications on the Android itself. I'd found one application that allows you to add minor scripting on phone events, but haven't found anything as encompassing as what I'm working on. It could be out there, certainly, but the task is the fun part no matter if it's been done before.

Working through the application, I'm remembering how many times I've encountered this before. I'd written several script interpreters, the best of the bunch using the brilliant Boost Spirit Parser library. Where I currently work, they use a Sterling Software application to create order capture pages. Two previous companies I'd worked at (not Sterling) had products that were also based on building applications within an application. At one, I ported a very simplified version of the desktop version to WinCE. Similar to DSLs, these were domain-specific platforms. You couldn't write a word processing application within them, but you could write a training application or a set of intelligent data entry forms. I know I've thought this before, but as often as this task is written and rewritten, can't this be made generic somehow?

posted by sstrader at 8:45 PM in Programming | permalink | comments (0)

December 29, 2010

Wealth

I always think about David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest when I stream some audio or video or, more recently, download a public domain book. In one of those conversations in the book that feels like a musical canon or fugue--multiple speakers in conversation yet each part sounds oddly independent--Orin Incandenza rhapsodizes on how he misses discursive mass media in their current world of everything on demand. Beginning on page 599, speaking with a supposed survey-taker:

'I miss TV,' Orin said, looking back down. He no longer smiled coolly.

'The former television of commercial broadcast.'

'I do.'

'Reason in several words or less, please, for the box after REASON,' displaying the board.

'Oh, man.' Orin looked back up and away at what seemed to be nothing, feeling at his jaw around the retromandiibular's much tinier and more vulnerable throb. 'Some of this may sounmd stupid. I miss commercials that were louder than the programs. I miss the phrases "Order before midnight tonight" and "Save up to fifty percent and more." I miss being told things were filmed before a live studio audience. I miss late-night anthems and shots of flags and fighter jets and leathery-faced Indian chiefs crying at litter. I miss "Sermonette" and "Evensong" and test patterns and being told how many megahertz something's transmitter was broadcasting at.' He felt his face. 'I miss sneering at something I loved. How we used to love to gather in the checker-tiled kitchen in front of the old boxy cathode-ray Sony whose reception was sensitive to airplanes and sneer at the commercial vapidity of broadcast stuff.'

... 'I miss summer reruns. I miss reruns hastily inserted to fill the intervals of writers' strikes, Actors' Guild strikes. I miss Jeannie, Samantha, Sam and Diane, Gilligan, Hawkeye, Hazel, Jed, all the syndicated airwave-haunters. You know? I miss seeing the same things over and over again.'

Patton Oswalt touches on this in a Wired editorial titled "Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die" [ via Slashfilm ]. His main premise is that easily accessible culture has changed the fan from someone who scours book stores or record stores or rarity catalogs over years, to someone who downloads the equivalent in an afternoon. Appreciation without effort alters the relationship.

The problem with the Internet, however, is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly. In the '80s, you couldn't get up to speed on an entire genre in a weekend. You had to wait, month to month, for the issues of Watchmen to come out. We couldn't BitTorrent the latest John Woo film or digitally download an entire decade's worth of grunge or hip hop.

I'm sympathetic with the impulse behind his thesis (before it goes very far afield around halfway through), but not necessarily with the pejorative conclusion. I was driving home yesterday with my Android on the dash showing me POV traffic via Google Maps and listening to streaming Radio Swiss Classic (a Joseph Haydn Symphony, I see, by looking up that timeslot on the internet). Fifteen years or so prior, I had a Newton that I'd only dreamed would have access to such "cyberspace" niceties, and my dreams were probably much paler than the wealth we ended up with. I worry some about the decadence of immediacy, but not yesterday. Yesterday, the immediacy and the realization that it doesn't even register to teenagers made me more interested in what the next wealth will be. We sorta saw this coming (remember that commercial from 10 or so years ago with the guy checking in to the dusty roadside motel and the attendant offering him any movie or recording he wanted for entertainment?) so we can probably see the next wealth coming.

posted by sstrader at 2:06 PM in Internet | permalink | comments (0)

November 11, 2010

My second Android app

Just released a pay version of the GPS bookmarking app I first published three weeks ago. The new version, ArgotPlus, adds several nice organizational features (a tagging system, viewing neighboring bookmarks, cardinal directions, and a link to maps) and will be the version I actively develop.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Interesting report from yesterday, all handheld OSes except Android have lost market share in the last year:

OS20092010
Symbian44.6%36.6%
Android3.5%25.5%
iOS17.1%16.7%
RIM20.7%14.8%
posted by sstrader at 8:58 AM in Programming | permalink | comments (0)

October 19, 2010

My first Android app

I just published my first Android app to the Android Market. It's an idea I had a year or so ago and, after getting my new HTC Incredible a few months ago, finally got the opportunity to write it. It's called ::Argot and it's a tool to bookmark locations to revisit them later. I had the idea during last year's Cabbage Town Chomp and Stomp. It was packed as usual and after wandering around I could never find my way back to where friends were camped out. The v1.0 is pretty basic, but I plan on adding features and creating a more robust premium version to maybe sell for a buck.

I've been very happy with the development tools for Eclipse and there's a strong community of developers and code samples on the internet. I was seldom stumped with a problem for very long. It felt good to get back to application development after doing primarily web development for so many years.

After the updates to Argot, I'll probably create a front-end for RadioWave. I've been listening to streaming stations in the car, and it would be nice to "dial" through their schedules to find something to listen to.

posted by sstrader at 8:13 PM in Programming | permalink | comments (0)

September 11, 2010

Car radio

My 2002 Beetle came with a cassette player. That must've been relatively standard eight/nine years ago, because I remember getting a free cassette when Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters opened for Dave Matthews at Chastain (?). The B side of the Headhunters cassette had John Scofield playing with Medeski, Martin, and Wood. There was much funky goodness that got lots of play in the beetle.

cassette.headhunters cassette.scofield

Side A:

  1. Funky Hunter (6:57)
  2. PP Head (3:46)
  3. Skank It (Future Homosapiens - live mix/breakbeat club version) (6:37)

Side B:

  1. Boozer (5:26)
  2. Jeep on 35 (4:28)
  3. A Go Go (Attica Blues Morphed Schofield [sic] Mix) (6:32)

Around the same time, I would listen to Live365 and recorded several classical stations onto cassette for car-listenin' (laptop -> stereo + cassette deck). A few years back I started to listen to podcasts in the car (MP3 player -> cassette adapter + phone jack). A year or so ago I wrote some PHP pages to allow me to dynamically build streaming playlists at work and access my MP3s at home. I could browse by artist and album and select tracks from them to build the M3U. That worked beautifully for a while, but for some reason my upload speed at home has slowed enough to prevent streaming. I've had mysterious (aren't they always?) network issues possibly related to updates on my Ubuntu web server. Navigating those pages from the phone was tricky anyway. Starting with my Storm and continuing with my Android (HTC Incredible), I've used Pandora to listen in the car.

A couple of days ago, I found StreamFurious in the Android App Store. It allows you to stream from a list of PLS stations including SHOUTcast and public radio stations. Finally, WNYC in my car! I hope to get some combination of RadioWave with StreamFurious working eventually.

posted by sstrader at 1:38 PM in Phones | permalink | comments (0)

April 13, 2010

iPhone, the platform most hated by developers

The new TOS for the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0 introduces additional restrictions on how developers can create applications for the device. Any application must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine. In other words: no cross compilers. Cross compilers provide a single development environment that compiles a single code base to multiple platforms such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. This saves developers hundreds and thousands of hours of development time they would otherwise have to spend creating multiple code bases. The biggest company affected is (natch) Adobe and their upcoming release of Creative Suite which adds a much-touted Flash-to-iPhone compiler. Several smaller, but no less important, tool makers are affected as are the many developers that make a living off of games and whatnot written using those applications. Developers are now faced with the choice of supporting multiple code bases or being locked in to iPhone development.

Apple's choice, if we can divine intent, was a strategic move to lock developers in to the iPhone over other mobile platforms. Cross compiler companies' choice is to lock developers into their cross compiler over other, single platform compilers. Developers are offered a clear benefit by choosing the latter's lock in, not so with the former's.

I don't have a dog in this race, but I'm a developer and love the tech and social aspects of our mobile web present and future. Apple can do whatever it wants with the iPhone/Pad, just as Microsoft did whatever it wanted years ago to attempt to lock in developers with the Visual J++ mutation of Java. However, it's important to note the costs developers should consider when choosing the route of lock in. Short-term gains may have long-term drawbacks.

Some reading:

Geeks insist the iPad is for "their moms" to use as they stand in line to purchase one (or more) for themselves. This self-deceit is used to justify the purchase of what would otherwise be considered a grossly limited netbook. When developers choose to develop on the iPhone for the chance to get rich (many do), they also choose to navigate the capricious business dictates of Apple. Developers generally don't seek out arbitrary corporate limitations when choosing projects either fun or profitable, but with "do what works" as a common mantra, neither are they an overly principled bunch. We'll see if Android benefits from this.

posted by sstrader at 12:25 AM in Phones , Programming | permalink | comments (0)

March 18, 2010

Android, iPhone, criticism

Tim Bray's left Sunoracle for Google; working on the Android. In his announcement of the switch he denounced the walled garden that is the iPhone. He re-visits the thoughts I had concerning the iPhone, more sharply: It's a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord's pleasure and fear his anger. ... I hate it. Non-Android-bashing is his job now, so take that for what it's worth. RWW reported that the Droid (unlike the Nexus One) basically matched the iPhone's sales when you compare the first 2-1/2 months of each. An unlike comparison, but all we have to judge is imperfect metaphors at this point.

In the Slashdot discussion of the Tim Bray story, several people take this opportunity to take up what is becoming an old chestnut of internet flame wars. One, criticising disingenuous arguments defending the iPad's limitations:

That the iPad is crippled because it's simplified for grandmothers (it's not, it's designed for internet addicts who already have at least one computer); that the walled garden is for security (it's for profit and lock-in)...[ 1 ]

And another pointing out the feeling of missed opportunity:

The iPad is a nice device. But there are a lot of things inherently wrong with it. And I find it worrying that Apple, otherwise often a pioneer in technology is capable of ruining an otherwise good device and wants to severely restrict what I do with it. I think there's something very wrong with that.[ 2 ]

This second, and certain thread replies, gets to an interesting point. Many who have been criticizing the iPad (ahem) have been treated as idealists or fanatics. Apple holds a special position among geeks, and so criticizing them can hold special weight. Like asserting that Beethoven was a hack or Einstein dull-witted, criticism of Apple can appear to be merely attention-grabbing. I had mentioned before that my old iRiver MP3 player restricted copying from it to a computer. This is an archaic idea that would not be tolerated in today's marketplace. If a company decided to create such a consumer-limiting device, any geek would immediately rail against it on principle. If it were made by Apple, those geeks would be mocked.

From the original news story, I noted what I called the backlash backlash: criticism of the iPad was the first order backlash, and criticism of that criticism was the second order. I've always been befuddled by criticism of criticism in the arts. There, it represents a gall that another person might have an objective assessment of what some believe to be subjective: aesthetic quality. Other, more general possibilities explaining hostility towards criticism are (1) that you can't criticize unless you are an artist, or (2) that critics are simply arrogant and negative--tearing down that which is better than them. A complement to this belief is that praise of a work of art is both true and valid.

posted by sstrader at 6:18 PM in Home Network & Gadgets , Phones | permalink | comments (0)

August 28, 2009

Week's reading list

Opera Mini Is Most Downloaded Mobile App - A flawed survey but it mimics what I've read from European/non-US sources. Some of the flaws I've found with Opera Mini on my BlackBerry Storm:

  • Cannot copy text from a page.
  • Cannot copy link addresses.
  • Manually entering an address is cumbersome.
  • You must touch a link (and not click it) to navigate to that link.
  • In mobile layout, which is more condensed, check boxes are virtually un-checkable.
  • Bookmarks can be resorted by touching (not clicking) and dragging in the list. Most of the time, they respond by resorting to unexpected locations in the list.
  • Search keys (via the address bar) are not available.
  • Opening images and videos shell out to the BlackBerry browser.

Health insurers admit using 50,000 employees to lobby Congress to defend their outrageous profits - This is a tough one: on the one hand, a corporation is strong-arming it's employees to act in the political interest of the company; on the other, those employees have every right to say no. It

Johann Hari: Republicans, religion and the triumph of unreason - How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? - Every paragraph is a gem. I'll pick two to quote:

This tendency to simply deny inconvenient facts and invent a fantasy world isn't new; it's only becoming more heightened. It ran through the Bush years like a dash of bourbon in water. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the US right simply claimed they had been shipped to Syria. When the scientific evidence for man-made global warming became unanswerable, they claimed - as one Republican congressman put it - that it was "the greatest hoax in human history", and that all the world's climatologists were "liars". The American media then presents itself as an umpire between "the rival sides", as if they both had evidence behind them.

It's a shame, because there are some areas in which a conservative philosophy - reminding us of the limits of grand human schemes, and advising caution - could be a useful corrective. But that's not what these so-called "conservatives" are providing: instead, they are pumping up a hysterical fantasy that serves as a thin skin covering some raw economic interests and base prejudices.

That second one bears repeating. There are many good arguments to be had on healthcare reform. We're not having them and instead allowing the crazies to define the discussion.

The Truth: What's Really Going On With Apple, Google, AT&T And The FCC - Just one story of many where developers are getting fed up with the Apple ecosystem. The best assessment I've heard was from On the Media (I thought it was from the Aug 14th show, but can't find the reference). They were talking about how closed systems promote censorship. If the internet restricted who could create web pages, and what web content they could create, the on-line landscape would be of much less value. Similarly, when Apple arbitrarily block some applications from its phone while allowing other, they diminish the overall value of the iPhone environment. With the horror stories I've been hearing from developer blogs, I'm quickly becoming an Apple-hater. Bring on the Android!

[ updated 2 Sept 2009 ]

On The Media: The Net's Mid-Life Crisis, August 14, 2009 with Jonathan Zittrain, explaining the chilling effect of centrally controlled technology:

The downside [with the iPhone] is it sets up a new gatekeeper that's going to have its own motives and incentives that are not always the same as the consumers it's supposed to serve.

Somebody submitted an iPhone application to Apple called "Freedom Time." Basically it was a countdown clock for the Bush Administration, and it had the tagline, "Till the end of an error." The author couldn't understand why it was rejected.

Steve Jobs wrote him back when he complained, and said, this is an application that will offend roughly half of our users. What's the point?

Also of note from the same show, if off topic, The Net Effect with Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

One of the surprising things we found in that survey was that those who are the most technologically adept and those who are the most engaged with information actually are not in the echo chamber pattern; they are actually seeking out and finding out more arguments opposed to their views than those who are less technologically adept and less interested in political information.

Tweet count is much smaller than it should be - My Twitter count went from ~3000 to 0 after their DDoS. Still not fixed. :-(

posted by sstrader at 2:44 PM in Phones , Science & Technology , Today's reading list | permalink | comments (0)