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Ubuntu and Linux Mint – first steps on an iMac

logosGetting Linux to run on a Mac is notoriously tricky, but I was willing to experiment and work out how tricky it all is. This blog entry sums up my first efforts, and will be updated in the future when I have learnt more.

Mac hardware
I was using a 2008 iMac 24″ (specs) with 6Gb of RAM, and 2 internal hard disks for these tests – an internal 120Gb SSD, and an internal 500Gb hard disk. This Mac has a NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GS (more about that later). If in doubt check the specs on EveryMac before you start. All data was backed up from the machine, and hence I could reformat disks as much as I wished. I used my second Mac (a MacBook Pro) to create the bootable USB keys I needed for the process. Continue Reading

Never buy anything from Compuland – they sent me an empty box

I wanted to buy a computer monitor, and rather than ordering from Amazon, I chose a smaller firm instead – Compuland, based in Wilhelmshaven. The order was a story of woe, and awful and ridiculous service – and they sent me an empty box. There is no way I will ever order from this firm again. Here I will explain what happened. If this story makes you change your mind about Compuland, then do please leave a comment below. Continue Reading

Today I closed by Gmail account for good. This is why.

gmailThis morning I closed my Gmail account. For good. This caused some interesting reactions among my friends (notably Andras), so this blog entry is an effort to explain why I have taken this step, and why I am adjusting my online and purchasing behaviour in some ways.

I need to underline at the start that I am essentially a pragmatist when it comes to these things – I am not going to make technological choices that inconvenience me. I have nothing against Google itself because it is large, or successful, or American or whatever else – that’s what successful companies do in order to maximise their profits. They grow. We cannot begrudge them that.

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One month living with Edgar: a Roomba 650 review

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 13.33.11I make a lot of business trips, and I am tired of returning home to see a floor covered with dust. I also am not a great fan of cleaning. So a month ago I purchased a iRobot Roomba 650 – the robot should clean my apartment while I am away.

I opted for a Roomba 650 for a number of reasons. First, iRobot is the company that has been in this business for the longest, and the reviews of its products are solid. Second, I needed a robot that could be programmed to clean at a certain time, rather than having to be started manually – this ruled out the cheaper Roomba 620. Third, my flat has a mixture of floors – mostly wood floors, but some tiles and a large rug – hence the choice of a vacuum-cleaning robot rather than a mopping robot (such as a Scooba or Braava). Fourth, having never owned a robot vacuum cleaner before I was not willing to go for a super-swanky model such as the Roomba 880 that is supposed to clean even better, but costs twice as much as a 650.

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Photo sharing on Twitter – making sure as many people as possible see your photos

For years I’ve been using Twitpic to share photos on Twitter, but now it’s closing down I need a new solution. It’s a great shame Twitpic is closing for two reasons. First, it allowed you to get a RSS feed containing all your Twitter pictures and that was handy for other purposes, and secondly, I am a big supporter of third party services for Twitter – I want as diverse as possible application environment on Twitter, not just everything run by Twitter itself.

Anyway, so what am I going to do instead? My starting point was to test what works.

I registered the Twitter account @PhotoTestEU and tweeted pictures using that account. I included pictures from Twitter’s own image uploading system, yfrog, CloudApp, Droplr, img.ly, Mobypicture, and Twitpic (for comparison) – these are all the image uploading options in Tweetbot for Mac, my favoured Twitter client. I additionally tweeted a pic from Hootsuite, and pasted in links to pictures first uploaded to Flickr and Instagram.

I then looked at these tweets in a number of ways – at Twitter.com, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite in a computer browser, in Tweetbot on my Mac, in the Fenix for Android and Twitter for Android, and in Twitter for iOS. The test was to see whether the images appeared in the stream, required an extra click but were obviously images, or appeared simply as links. These are the results (click to enlarge):

twitter-apps-pics-lowresThe basic result is a simple one: only images uploaded to Twitter’s own photo share service appear in the stream across all platforms and apps. Beyond that, Flickr, Hootsuite and Twitpic appear in the stream on some platforms, but by no means all.

The result then: if you want to maximise the number of people who will see your photos, then just use Twitter’s own photo sharing, not a third party service.

But that’s not all… What happens if you want to do anything else with the images you share onto Twitter, to use them for other purposes – automatically? That was the joy of the RSS feed from Twitpic – you could use this as an input for IFTTT and do all sorts of super things.

So, not to be deterred, and sadly aware that Twitter has removed its own RSS support, I found this code from Fogcat that makes an RSS feed out of a Twitter stream. With a bit of messing around I tweaked the code to deliver Twitter images into to the RSS stream, using this tip. The RSS stream I will then use for photo sharing is here. I’ve then filtered this stream in four different ways using Yahoo! Pipes (1, 2, 3, 4) to make 4 separate RSS feeds. The relatively unfiltered feed is used in IFTTT to backup photos I share on Twitter to Dropbox. The three more narrowly filtered streams are connected to three Photo Albums on Facebook, and to Flickr too, also via IFTTT.

So my photo sharing system is complete – whatever picture I upload onto Twitter, it will also – completely automatically, and according to the rules I have set – end up where I want it on Facebook, Flickr and Dropbox. Yes, it took me hours to work out, but from now on when I’ve snapped the perfect shot I can rest assured it will end up where I want it!


The best Twitter app for Android

5144798765_7d9bc93fff_zThis is a blog entry written as a result of frustration.

I am an extremely intensive Twitter user (@jonworth has 12k followers, follows close to 5k, and has produced 54k tweets) and I recently switched from an iOS to an Android phone. A vital question was hence: what is the best Twitter app for Android? Friends gave me plenty of suggestions, and I have tried all of them out, and review the 11 apps suggested to me in detail here.

The short answer is that there is no perfect Android Twitter app, but that some of them are better than others (and none of them are better than Tweetbot on iOS…).

The apps were tested on a Fairphone running Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2. Each app was used for at least one whole day, in a variety of situations – at events, while on the road, as a means to follow news as well as to write tweets, and were assessed according to my own Twitter needs. All tests were conducted in the first half of October 2014.

The criteria used to assess the apps were: Twitter List Viewing, Twitter List Admin (can accounts be added to lists), Can RTs be seen, BitLy Link Support, Alternative image upload tools, Text Mute Filters, Hashtag previews, Notifications, Streaming, Saved Searches, Speed, and Multi account support.

Short reviews of each app are provided below, and a table of each of the criteria used can be found at the very end of the blog post. If you think my review is unfair in some way, or you have more to add, please do comment, and if necessary I will update the blog entry accordingly. Continue Reading

The difference between politics *on* the net, and the politics *of* the net

5339417741_6a54da4db7_zWhen I meet people offline and they hear I write a blog that relates to the EU, and that I am active debating politics on Twitter, they very often ask me about issues such as data protection and net neutrality and what the European Union is doing about these things. Questions of this nature arise most often in Germany where the debate about Netzpolitik (structured in part by the famous blog of the same name) – the politics of the net – is fierce.

The thing is that the politics of the net is not my thing, or at least not in a particularly central way. I know what net neutrality is, and why is is important, but I am not heavily engaged in advocacy for it, or in working out the best technological way it could be ensured. I have my own concerns about data protection, and do what I can to be aware of my own data footprint. But I am not manning the barricades shouting Datenschutz!

Instead the politics on the internet is my thing. How does the internet shape our political systems? Our political parties? Our campaigns and causes? How can it be used from everything from helping a candidate to campaign to working out how patient views can be better heard in the healthcare system? Can the internet be effectively used to debate everything from transport policy to social care? Can it help drive up turnout in elections, or – through open data – even help deliver better government services? At the most basic level the internet changes the relationship between the governors and the governed, between politicians and people, and that is deeply fascinating.

Politics on the net is hence not the same as the politics of the net. Die Politik im Netz ist nicht das gleiche wie die Netzpolitik.

(and yes, of course there are some overlaps (net neutrality could promote better debate for example) but the basic point stands – politics on the net, and the politics of the net are not the same things)

Switching from iOS to Android (Fairphone) – Part 1

At the start of the summer I realised I needed to make some changes to the technology I use. This was motivated by my 2008 iMac, 2009 MacBook Pro, and 2009 iPhone 4S all not being as snappy and fast as they used to be. This led me to a series of reflections about the technology that I use, and what to do about it. I concluded I did not have enough money for new computers, so put a SSD drive into my MacBook Pro to speed it up (details on how to do this here – it’s highly recommended!), and will do the same to my iMac soon.

But what about the phone? Even the iPhone 6 that has just been released is not a major step forward. To all intents and purposes it’s a faster and larger iPhone 4S. So I started to look around for alternatives… My decision was to switch to Android, and – for ethical reasons rather than performance reasons – to buy a Fairphone. It is a middle of the range Android phone where parts and metals are fairly sourced, and workers treated fairly too – more about it here. The increasing lock-in enforced by Apple over its iOS devices was another reason to look elsewhere (this lock-in is not yet so pernicious on Mac OS).


The challenge then comes: how the hell do I, someone who has relied so heavily on Apple products for so long, some to terms with a new operating system? And, while I am at it, how do I avoid jumping out of the clutches of Apple and straight into the ever deeper clutches of Google (who are behind Android)? I have also made sure not to give Google my credit card details – I’ve used a €25 pre-paid card for the Google Play store to pay for the few apps that were not free.

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