The Eee Pad Transformer – my romantic tragedy

As a happily married man, falling in love again is not generally thought to be a good thing.  However last night I did. Not only that, but my wife was not happy.  I had better explain…

We are going away soon to the US so that I can be best man at my best mates wedding. Elizabeth and Jet are coming too, and we thought that as we will spend  a lot of time in planes, and waiting around that being able to distract ourselves with a good film or two would be a good thing.

We looked around a bit (quite a bit actually) and it came down to a decision between getting an iPad2 and an Eee Pad Transformer.  We knew exactly what we would get with the iPad2, but the Transformer was a bit of an unknown.  After deliberation, we opted for the Transformer.  The reasons?  It is cheaper – significantly – something like £200 all in, the ability to read websites as they are meant to be (flash) and we read many many good reviews from very well respected websites.

Out of the box the Transformer is amazing. After a quick charge, and logging in with your Google account, it knows exactly who you are – not only that but your contacts are downloaded, your photos are there, and all docs.  The unit itself is slick, image amazing and clear.  The Honeycomb UI – no problems with it at all (I haven’t experienced yet any of the problems with 3.01 that others have).

So what nearly caused us to return the Transformer only hours after receiving it? The things we wanted to use it for (films specifically) are so blinkin difficult to get on it!  I spent hours last night looking for ways to transfer films on, and woke up early again this morning to do the same thing.

The problem isn’t the unit specifically, it isn’t even the OS that runs on it. It is with Google.  I can see why people crow about the iPad.  The simplicity of having a store where you can select a film, and download it is just what you need.  The time and angst trying to find the right file coding for Handbrake, working out how to transfer it on to an SD card (which is not as easy as it sounds) is very close to not being worth the hastle.  Google need to address this, and quickly.  There are companies such as Netflix and Amazon who in the US allow for file download. The closest we have in the UK is BlinkBox which just allows download to PC.  It is a conflict that goes to the heart of the Android ideology – freedom to use which app you like, when you like with little control from an equivalent App Store, with amazing multitasking  etc. etc, but when the main competition is Apple, that likes to hand hold you through every process you have a problem.  it is not good enough to be good enough, you need to be the best, and sorting out this problem soon is critical.

Luckily, I have managed to find the right package to sort out the films – it isn’t perfect at all, but I can live with it until Google get their act together. And  I can stay with the tablet I love 🙂

Grrr… How to create a Fusion Table


Earlier this week, I came across a Guardian article about where schools were on strike – it included a Google map that had each Local Authority highlighted to show what percentage of schools are on strike.  Now, I have made my own map in Google before, and carefully drawn around each territory to show where we have School Representatives, but it is painstaking, and definitely not as professional as the Guardian one.  It made me wonder how they managed to create it.  If you want to skip to the end, then here is what I made!

The answer was in Google Fusion Tables – and after a couple of minutes of tinkering, I was hooked.  The possibilities here are amazing. But also quite a bit of learning to do – and as with everything new, lots went wrong.  Here is how I managed to create my Fusion Table showing all of the different areas of the UK, and where Scholastic have school representatives:

First.

Golden rule: don’t build your data table in the Fusion Table itself – it is a very long winded and convoluted way.  Either build it in Excel or Google Spreadsheets, as you can import them when you are finished.

Get yourself some location data.  Now it depends which type of map you want to show. If I had wanted to show points in the map, then a place name, or postcode would have done and I could have skipped happily onto the next step. But I wanted to show each area as a layer on top of the map.  This is a lot more complicated.

I did plenty of Google searching to find the right data.  In the end, I found some from Nearby.Org, which isn’t perfect, but I can refine over time. To draw polygons over the right data you need a string of coordinates that show the edge of the area you want to cover.  Now, most coordinates come looking like this:

54.91567645	-1.743341174
54.91925706	-1.724644054
54.91056256	-1.718651474

Unfortunately, the lovely way that Google works, you need to reverse these codes, so they end up looking more like this:
-1.74334117369273,54.9156764522577
-1.72464405391863,54.9192570581909
-1.7186514736122,54.9105625612723

Second

Once you have all of the location data (and in my case I have 164 different lines in my database, each with up to 4000 coordinates in) – you can start to build up your spreadsheet.  I wanted to show the Rep name, Area name, phone number, email, Area number (more on this later) and finally the location.  Here is an example of mine.

All of the columns are self-explanatory, apart from location.  In the location column, you need to put in the KML data for the areas you want to show.  This can be done with the following code:

<Polygon> <outerBoundaryIs><coordinates> -2.51998453948394,51.6881171980821
-2.51981095720608,51.6881179666459  </coordinates> </outerBoundaryIs> </Polygon>

Now to do this for all areas would be very time consuming, had it not been for the wonderful concatenate function in Excel.  By using this, it saved me hours of coding work.

Once you have this in your table, you can then import it into Fusion Tables, using the import function.

Third

Once you have imported it, you can click on ‘visualise’ which allows you to show the data you have in your table as a map.  As long as you have included the KML data here, you should have no problems.

All of the areas are red to start with, and you then have to work out how to change each area.  If you click on Configure Map Styles, then on Polygons, fill colour, buckets, you can then set the colour to be what you want.  Now as I had numbered my areas, I was able to set the number of ‘buckets’ to 100, and then I could say that bucket 1, should be green, 2 blue etc. etc.

Once you have done this, you have pretty much finished, you can grab the embed code and put that into a website or blog post.  There is, however much more you can do. You can merge tables to compare and contrast different sorts of data.  The visualisations are much more than maps, you can do timelines, heat maps, charts, storylines…the list is longer, and the possibilities pretty much endless.

Have you used Fusion Tables before? What for, and how have you found them?  I can’t wait to get stuck into more complex, but funkier data!

Grrr… How to embed flash files into PowerPoint

Ever wanted to add a flash object into PowerPoint and couldn’t work out how?  It is possible, but hidden!  Here is the how-to!

Step 1

  • Go to ‘view’
  • Click ‘Toolbars’
  • Select ‘Control Toolbox’

Step 2

  • Click on the ‘More Controls’ icon
  • Select ‘Shockwave Flash Object’

Step 3

  • Draw yourself the box that you want the flash movie to run in
  • Right click, select ‘properties’

Step 4

  • Change ‘EmbedMovie’ from false to true
  • Change loop from ‘true’ to ‘false’
  • Copy file location from the properties (right click on file, select properties) and copy/paste it into this space.
  • When you’ve finished, close down the properties box, and then set the presentation to go.
  • It should work!

Grrr… How to centre your Blogger header

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to centre your Blogger header.  For those of you who have a Blogger header, it is automatically justified left, without an option to centre or right align.  For this, I am using my (very) old Blogger site, which as you’ll see had the grand total of zero posts!

Step 1 – Before you do anything, download the full template in case you make an error and break your site. A couple of seconds work will save lots of tears!

Step 2 – log in to Blogger, and click on Design

Step 3 – Click on Edit HTML

Step 4 – Click into the HTML box, and search for ]]></b:skin>

Step 5 – copy this code, or take it from where I copied it from which is on the very good www.bloggersentral.com and paste it in above the html code you searched for. Code:

#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important;}
#header-inner {text-align:center !important;} /*include this line if you are using Template Designer*/

Step 6 – preview your changes first, and when you are happy with them, save your template, as you are done!

Grrr… Using Evernote as a Twitter archive

If you have ever used a hastag on Twitter, you know there are many different places that you can use to save these tweets, but not a lot of them are that reliable.  I have used two or three, and have been let down by them on more than one occasion.  Therefore I needed something that I knew would work, and something that I knew wouldn’t just disappear! Therefore I started to use  Evernote to save Tweets, favourited blog posts and more, automatically…this is how!

Step One – grab the RSS feed from twitter that you want, in this example, I have used my own:

Step 2 – go to a free service such as Feed My Inbox and register with your Evernote email address.  Once you have done that, you can set up the RSS feed to send an email into Evernote once per day which will save your tweets.

Step 3 – get more advanced.  The above will work with every RSS feed you want to use, but you only get five free feeds before you start to pay, so how do you get more content saved without paying more money? Simples…

Go to Cliqset and (for free) set yourself up with all of the myriad social network services that you can.  You can see from my profile, that I have Google Reader, Picasa, WordPress, Twitter, Delicious etc. set up so that every time I am active on those accounts, it turns it into a single RSS feed – which I can put into Feed My Inbox, which automatically archives all my activity online.

What does this look like in Evernote?

Evernote will save all the feeds by date – so you will get everything by the day that it was sent in, but it will separate out each type of feed that you send through, so I can have all of the Tweets in one file, whilst the blog posts that I have favourited in Google Reader appear in a different note.

The good thing about using Evernote as the archive, is that it is all saved on your machine, rather than using the Twitter archive, which at the moment is pretty flaky!

Grrr… Emailing receipts into Evernote

As many of you will know, I am in the process of moving house, so am getting lots and lots (and lots) of receipts every day for different things. Rather than keeping everything on email, I needed to keep a track on what we’re spending, so decided to use Evernote to gather those receipts. But how do you get them into Evernote?

The first step is really easy

Right at the top of the web-version of Evernote, click on Settings.

When you are in Settings – on the left-hand-side at the bottom you will see your own person email address for Evernote. It’ll look something like this:

Step 3 – I have saved that email address in my contacts as Evernote, and anything that comes in that you need to save, just forward it on.

Moving on a bit, you can be slightly more advanced in your emailing.  In the example we are talking about here, I was keeping all the receipts for the house-move in Evernote, and if you look back at Step 1, you will see that I have a folder set up for just that.  To make sure that the note that you send, ends up in that folder you need to add a couple of things to your subject line.

If you add an ‘@’ then the folder name you want it to be in, so in my example ‘@housemove’ it will go straight into that folder.  Then, if you add a hashtag, it will act as a searchable tag.

Grrr… How to store your iTunes library on DropBox

As many readers will know my wife, Jet, has a new job in September in a very small school in Oxfordshire.  As a result, she needs a laptop she can rely on – and that definitely is not the Asus we have at the moment.  The new laptop arrived on Tuesday, and I had it in my head that we would do something funky with the iTunes library.  Now I have to say that it was @stuartridout that put it in my head a few months back on Twitter when he said he was considering using DropBox to store his iTunes library so that the library was available on all devices.  So, that is what we started…here is a how-to, warts ‘n’ all.

1. Open up iTunes, go to > Edit click on > Advanced and ensure that the following check boxes are checked:

2. Next, come out of iTunes, and go to the folder that you hold your iTunes music in (most commonly in My Music) and copy the entire folder over to your DropBox account.  NOTE: ensure you don’t put it in ‘public’ as in theory it will be open for other people to see and use. If it is within your private section, you are fine.

Now here is where we suffer from having a large music collection (over 25gb) and a very slow upload speed (at times as low as 50kb/sec).  If you want to do this, and it is worth it, then ensure you have time!  I ensured that I had set the power options on the laptop to ‘never off’ when plugged into the mains so that it could run overnight.

3. At this stage, you have your iTunes library on your old PC DropBox folder, and online – you now need to download it onto the new PC.  It will then start to automatically synchronise files.  Please take note of the above point on speed – it will take some time especially on slow connections!

4. Now, you have your iTunes library on your old PC, your new PC and in my case I have it on my HTC Desire as I downloaded the DrobBox App.

5. So you have it in your DropBox folder on your new PC – how do you get it into iTunes? Well, simples…go to iTunes, File, Add Folder to Library

6. This bit is all done now – just a bit of housekeeping now – ensure you have de-authorised iTunes on your old PC. That is all, good luck!

Descriptive WordPress URLs

In WordPress, when you first set it up, your urls when you post look something like this: http://www.chrisrat.com/blog/?p=123.  Not entirely the most descriptive!   I have to thank my friends over at BrainPOP UK for the tip here to turn that into a descriptive URL.

This is a short post, as it is super easy to sort.  In your WordPress control panel, go to ‘Settings’ then to ‘Permalinks’ and you will see something like this:

If you have never been here before, then the ‘Default’ radio button will be selected.  Simply select ‘Custom Structure’ and copy what I have put in above, and it will make it a lot more usable!

Remember everything

When I made my debut Teach Meet presentation at Teach Meet East (from about 1 hr 16m 30s), one of the services I talked about was Remember the Milk. I use RTM often, and although it isn’t new, and a lot of people have used it before, there seemed to be quite a few people who had never heard of it when I spoke.

So what is it?

Remember the Milk is task management software…a funky to-do list if you like, that you can share. The example I gave at TMEast was that I can tell it to remind me to do my expenses tomorrow, and tomorrow I will get an email telling me to do my expenses.  Simple, but effective.

How do you use it?

There are a number of ways to get things on the list (email, Android app, chrome widgets etc.) but the main way I use it is through the desktop app and the web interface.  Type in what you want to do, and when to do it like this:

and it appears in your to-do list with the time set for when it is due like this:

When you have finished compiling the list (and my house moving list needs a lot of work!), then you can start to set up folders and notifications etc.  I have my reminders sent to me three different ways, so I can’t avoid them!  I get them to two different email addresses (work and home), and via skype. There are a host of other ways you can be reminded as well, but three is fine for me!  One thing that does work really well, is that it synchronises with your Google Calendar.

Why go pro?

RTM is free unless you take out the pro version.  I wanted to use RTM with my BlackBerry, as it can take any tasks that I have set up in Outlook, and turn them into to-do’s in RTM.  To be honest, I didn’t use that feature that much, but now that I have an Android phone, I am using it a lot more.

So, I mentioned sharing, how does that work?

This is where RTM becomes really powerful, and where you can get people to work together toward the same goals.  In RTM, you can share any one of your lists with a colleague, and then allocate a task to them (and therefore receive tasks from them!).  I have used it a few times this way, but you have to ensure that the people that you are using it with, know and like web2 tools – otherwise you are going to have a battle on your hands to get people to use it!

In conclusion:

I like it a lot, it has never let me down, but you have to remember that it is only as good as the content you put in.  If you make a habit of using it, your productivity will go up – if you use it sporadically, as with anything, it will only be sporadically useful!

Instantly get photos from camera to web with Eye-Fi

Back in May, I started a series of posts that look at desktop apps, and namely productivity.  So far, I have covered Evernote and Dropbox, and rather than being obvious and moving onto Remember the Milk, or Tweetdeck, I have plumped for Eye-Fi next.

There are a three reasons I wanted to try Eye-Fi

  1. The thought that I can take a photo, and without doing anything it appear online appeals.
  2. Everything I take will be geotagged.
  3. I am falling into a big hole of geekiness and everything shiny appeals.

So how have I used it?

When you get the card, you have to connect it to your laptop and set up a wifi network on the card…this is slightly annoying, as you have to do it for every wifi system you want it to work with, but it is a small price to pay for the time it saves.

The first time I used it was at Teach Meet Hampshire where I used a slightly convoluted route to getting the photos online.  It went like this:

  • Camera – auto synched with laptop – auto imported to picasa – moved to synced web folder – link grabbed from web folder – pasted to Tweetdeck and posted…

At TeachMeet East, I was slightly more organised:

  • Camera – auto synced to Picasa web albums – posted to twitter via Tweetdeck (slightly better eh?)

What I hadn’t figured was there are some pretty cool settings in the programme that comes in the Eye-Fi Centre that allow you to configure it to auto upload to places such as flickr, picasa, facebook etc. etc.  Now, all I need is a way to auto tweet when photos are uploaded to picasa!

One other cool feature of the card is that you never run out of memory. If you take a photo, and it auto syncs to your preferred online photo sharing service, you can set it to delete it from your card…which means you never run out of memory!

One last thing – if you have an Eye-Fi card, and an iPhone, check out this link.