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My top 10 iPhone apps Feb 20

Mark blogged this wek about his top 10 iPhone applications. Always one with an original idea, I thought I’d post up a list of mine. Unfortunately there isn’t an app for that so I’ve had to write it myself. And they call this the future?

This isn’t an ordered list and it’s not an attempt to catalogue the best apps out there – just the ones I use every day or find particularly useful.

1. Tweetie

I experimented with some other Twitter clients (TweetDeck and Echofon) but Tweetie does everything I need with a clean and easy to use interface. My only bugbear is that you can’t do old style manual retweeting – when you “Quote Tweet” it puts “via @username” at the end; I have to cut and paste that to the beginnng and add “RT”. Not a big flaw though given its pleasant handling of threaded replies, direct messages and saved searches.

2. Boxcar

I almost forgot this one because I never actually run it. Boxcar uses push notifications to alert you to various chosen activities. The free version lets you connect it to one site so I use it to generate on-screen notifications when I get new replies and direct messages on Twitter.

3. Facebook

I find Facebook‘s official app a good alternative to their mobile site. The latest version generates push notifications which replace some of the text message alerts I used to use. It’s good for adding photos directly from my iPhone and keeping me up to date with new activity. The drawbacks are that it seems to struggle with time zones on Events – I’ve been invited to rather a lot that are shown as starting at 3am – and it has absolutely no support for Groups, which is a bit of an oversight.

4. Dropbox

Dropbox is an online file storage system. It appears on your computer as a normal folder but when you’re online it will upload the contents of that folder to Dropbox’s servers. A similar folder on another computer can synchronise with the same server allowing you to access and edit your files from different machines – and providing a backup.

The iPhone app is another way to access the files in your Dropbox which means, for example, I can use my phone to read and email onwards Word documents without having to think ahead about which files I might need or having to email them to myself first. The basic service and app are free and you get two gigabytes of storage. There are ways to earn more free space – including by signing friends up using a referral link 🙂

5. Spotify

Spotify is a music streaming service with a huge library of songs. You can use the desktop version free with adverts or pay a subscription to Spotify Premium to ditch the ads. You need the Premium account to use the (free) iPhone app. I use it enough to make it worthwhile – not least because it has a big range of, erm, karaoke tracks…

6. Tube Exits

I know where to stand on the Jubliee Line platform to be in the best place to disembark on my way to work, and I know where to stand on the platform at the other end to be in the best place to disembark on my way home. But for other journeys that I don’t make so often, that anal approach to subterranean travel in London is harder. Or at least it was until the Tube Exits application. Tell it your starting station, your destination and any changes, and it will tell you the best carriage to get on, and which side of the train (same door or opposite) you’ll disembark by. All the data is held offline on the phone so it works even with no reception and there are regular updates as the data changes. I believe it also includes the DLR.

7. RunKeeper

OK, this isn’t one I use every day, but it does the job well. Using the iPhone’s GPS, RunKeeper can plot your path as you travel around. Although you can use it when walking or in a vehicle, it’s designed for runners, to keep track of distances, speeds and routes. On the rare occasions that I go for a run, it’s great.

8. Bejeweled 2

Don’t install this.

Bejeweled is a moving-coloured-jewels-into-lines-of-three-or-more game. I used to play it a lot on Facebook – where it took advantage, like the best Facebook apps, of the playing against your friends option. Eventually I stopped completely because it was too addictive. And then they brought it out for the iPhone – with the killer feature being a connection to Facebook that lets you continue to play against your friends. It’s actually easier to play on the touch screen than with a mouse on the PC which just makes it all the more addictive. And lots of other people must like it too because I regularly get flak for dominating the high score table.

One caveat: the latest version of Bejeweled on Facebook has some new features (coins and boosts) that I’m not a fan of. They’re yet to make it into the iPhone version but when they do I may use them as an excuse to stop playing. I need to wean myself off somehow.

9. Sleep Cycle

This is one of the most popular releases in the App Store though I’ve only been using it for a few days. You place the phone on the corner of your bed and the app uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to monitor your nocturnal fidgeting. It uses this to plot a graph of your sleep patterns, which is pretty cool just on its own, but that’s not the primary aim of the app. These patterns plotted, it then tries to wake you in the morning as soothingly as possible, with gentle alarm sounds timed to go off at the point near your desired time when you are in the lightest sleep phase.

10. Google Mail

This isn’t technically an app but I use it a lot. Although the iPhone’s in-built Mail application works with GMail – and I use it when, say, emailing photos to TwitPic – it lacks some of the features of the full GMail website. One of those I use the most is “starring” emails which you can’t do from the Mail app. Instead, I use Google’s own mobile-optimised version of GMail within the Safari browser, with a bookmark straight to it on the bottom bar of the Home screen.

Some other apps I have installed: Tube Deluxe, Scrabble, thetrainline, Huddle, LinkedIn, Zippo (which puts a lighter on your screen – good for gigs) and Flux (which turns your screen into the Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future).

Will Howells and the Mystery of the Missing Objects Oct 14

In which I engage in a quest in pursuit of hidden letters.

As I was preparing to leave work last night, I got a notification that “wherenext” had followed me on Twitter.

@wherenext’s profile sent me off to What is the question?, which appeared to be a Masquerade style treasure hunt. Presented with clues, the task is to find 43 object hidden in a square mile of London – the very part I travel to every day.

The clues stumped me for a bit but eventually I worked out they were referencing various blogs (had I seen the Guardian story previewing the game I’d have been there quicker!). These blogs have within them pointers to locations on the map. I discovered that one of the locations was behind my office and another couple on a (slightly circuitous) route home, so I passed by all of them in the evening darkness – and found nothing.

Before I go on I should mention – as the Guardian article explains – that the game is promoting the campaign site, which is creating awareness of extreme drug-resistant tuberculosis. It was set up by photojournalist James Nachtwey, who captured these harrowing images:

Last night, I worked on the clues and came up with most of the locations, with a clear pattern forming on the map. I got up at a quarter past six this morning to catch an early train and begun by traipsing around Waterloo armed with my mobile phone’s GPS and Google Maps.

I wasn’t sure how hidden the items would be and didn’t really want to draw attention to myself (even at 7am there were people around) so I didn’t clamber around the first grid point too much. Probably as a result, I didn’t find whatever it was I was looking for. I’d seen something on Twitter about photographing yourself in the location even if you didn’t find the object, so I did that:

In Waterloo, empty-handed

A short walk away at the next location, I again failed to find anything. And then, after a longer walk, I found myself on the south bank of the Thames opposite the House of Parliament.


Failure there too.

Next stop was York Road, ascertained from a clue on Bill Thompson’s blog. I peered around as nonchalantly as possible as commuters from Waterloo passed by. And there, concealed behind a plant pot, I found…


Each photograph is accompanied by a character, in this case an O, and the 43 characters will make up a question. Identifying that question is the key to winning the game.

The excitement of this discovery – photograph quickly moblogged – was quickly followed up with more failures, and a while later with two more successes, one near Embankment tube and one close to Parliament Square. I was impressed that the team behind the game had managed to place so many objects in sensitive areas without causing security alerts (yet).

I covered around 20 sites and around 7 miles in more than two hours of hunting, got plenty of exercise (not least lugging my laptop with me) and got to know bits of London I pass near every day in much more detail (including passing through Horse Guards Parade for the first time).

At lunchtime I returned to a couple of the sites from last night and found the daylight made all the difference: two more successes. At the time of writing, nine of the objects have been revealed.

I’ve now solved (hopefully correctly) all the clues and identified 43 locations. To help me track down the objects, I’ve programmed the locations into Google Maps on my phone, and they appear to form a recognisable pattern:

Me and my map Secret locations plotted

There are 15-20 locations I’ve not been to yet. I’ll see if I have the energy for another early start tomorrow.

And, of course, you can play the game too…

Beyond Our Ken May 10

Last Friday, the morning after the local elections, I was returning to work late in the morning (having got home towards 5am). I’d foolishly forgotten my iPod, so I could hear the voices of the commuters I passed on the Jubilee Line platform. One was very nasal and very familiar. I turned and saw Ken Livingstone waiting for the next train, newspaper in hand.

So I went and said hello. He seemed fairly dispirited and not optimistic about the mayoral election result. Turns out he was right.

In the week since taking office, Boris Johnson has launched one deliberately eye-catching initiative: to ban alcohol on London’s public transport network. So much for selling yourself as a liberal when your first act is to ban something. I wonder why he didn’t make more of this plan during the election – did he make it up in two seconds after getting elected, or was he afraid some of the more, let’s say, light-hearted of his supporters might have been put off?

Anyhoo, the ban takes effect on June 1st. Quite aside from whether it’s liberal or not, will it make a difference? Drunks are probably the least likely to take notice of it. The law-abiding majority who had the odd drink on the Tube will stop, and be slightly less free and enjoy their evenings slightly less.

And who does drinking on public transport actually harm, as long as it’s not the driver doing it? Drunkenness can be a problem, but Boris hasn’t banned drunk people from public transport (as Chris points out, the night bus network would be unsustainable if you did). He isn’t introducing more staff to enforce the ban and he isn’t clamping down on anti-social behaviour generally. The ban might succeed in reducing litter on public transport very slightly but that’s about it.

So a policy that grabs headlines but costs virtually nothing to implement (the politician’s favourite), that inconveniences some people while not noticeably increasing quality of life for anyone else, that misses the real target, but which, in true New Labour style, Sends A Message. Unfortunately, that message is that if you reach your tube station with a half drunk can of beer (or M&S G+T if that’s your preference), you should down the rest before trying to catch a train.

“A WPC was in charge of making tea every two hours” Mar 02

There’s a long preview of Brian Paddick’s autobiography Line of Fire in today’s Mail on Sunday. The book will, the article says, “offer an insight into police culture and practice – from the era of Life On Mars to the era of the suicide bomber.”

Paddick is, of course, the Liberal Democrats’ candidate for Mayor in May’s London elections. His thirty years in the police force make him the ideal person to lead the fight against crime in London, and those three decades of experience are charted in his book, from the Brixton riots to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Here’s a morsel from the Mail:

Whenever I went out on night patrol with one particular pandacar driver, the first stop was the “tube station” – the off-licence.

We would buy a couple of “tubes” of Foster’s lager which we stowed under the front passenger seat. We would wait for a lull, go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and then sit in the car eating and drinking lager.

In those days the unofficial policy was to try to avoid arresting people for drink-driving – because police were drink-driving themselves.

Line of Fire is released on March 25th.

Category: Geeklife, Politics  | Tags: , ,  | One Comment