Out and About

Last week I mentioned that we’d got the examstutor.com apps finished and submitted. This week they went live. Apple approved them all on Tuesday evening at which point they moved into the “Processing for App Store” state. Unfortunately it then took about 24 hours for all the apps to get through this stage as 6 of them ended up sitting there for ages. We finally got everything sorted out and put the apps live on Wednesday night. The apps have started selling straight away which is a great relief though not a huge surprise as the old apps were still selling ok. This is the first time in a while that I’ve had a free app on the store that I really care about the sales of so it’s interesting to see how the “Login” versions are doing. Currently they’re “outselling” the paid-for apps by way over 10 times but this isn’t a huge surprise. It’s good to see that people are interested though and hopefully some of those will convert to sales. Examstutor.com is now featuring the apps on the homepage and has a good set of pages describing the apps so it’s no surprise to learn that existing subscribers are already downloading the free apps and logging into them. If you want to see more information then take a look at the iPhone apps section on Examstutor.com

Getting these 18 apps live actually took me to 47 separate apps live on the app store, which I like to think – even if some of the apps are just different content – is a pretty good number. Because the Examstutor.com apps are intended to replace the old “Revise” apps I have now taken the A-level versions of those down but I’m still at 36 live apps. 17 of my own (3 not available in the UK), 18 examstutor.com apps and one Credit Cards app I did for Moneyextra.com. Many of these may be repeated but if we ignore the repetitions that’s 5 different apps I’ve got live on the store now and 3 others that are completed but waiting to go live for various reasons. Quite happy with my portfolio and hope I get to continue building interesting apps in the new year.

A quick update on my clock. I ended up deciding to bolt the motor onto the mechanism rather than using glue again. After various problems including broken drill bits I managed to get it secured and turning nicely. Unfortunately when I tried to get it working with the software it stopped working again. I’m now not sure if there’s a problem with my circuit board or somehow there’s a new problem in the software. I’ve had to leave it alone for a while though as I have other things to work on but hopefully I’ll get it going eventually.

I’ve also been working on a brand new start-up idea that someone came to me with a few months ago. I’ll be doing the bulk of the technical work including a Ruby on Rails back-end and supporting mobile apps. I can’t really go into too much detail about it right now but it’s hopefully going to be an interesting return to the location space for me. Watch this space for more info as things progress on that.

Wow, before starting this blog post I thought I’d check the date on my previous post. I haven’t written anything in nearly three months! That’s pretty terrible so I’ll try to do a few more posts sometime. I’ve been pretty busy with a number of other things recently but that’s no excuse, I know interesting things have happened that I should have found the time to mention.

I guess the biggest of the things that have been restricting my time recently was the recent redesign of the Multimap.com site and the availability of Microsoft Virtual Earth content within the Multimap API. Oddly enough, this was the third time that I’d worked on a project to pull VE content into our API. The first two times we had done it by wrapping VE’s API into our own, passing function calls to our API onto VE’s where necessary in a similar fashion to OpenLayers Base Layers. Though this gave us access to VE content and allowed us to resell the content to the UK Yell.com site, it was never going to be the best method. The finished product required loading the entirety of both APIS (nearly 300KB just for JS), and because we only had access to exposed functionality resulted in some odd behaviour, such as when our API and VE’s were both trying to smoothly pan a map to a new location.

Selecting bird\'s eye mode from within map mode using a pointer that follows the mouse.

In December of course we were bought out by Microsoft and as a result were able to get direct access to their imagery. Making use of VE’s maps and aerial data was fairly simple but including the Bird’s eye imagery was a little more difficult. Fortunately with the help of a few guys at MS who sent through some source code, and with the existing good “custom map type” functionality in the Multimap API, I had a good working model pretty soon. We then spent a long time trying to come up with a really good way of communicating “Bird’s Eye” mode to users. Though we had trials and tribulations along the way I think we did pretty well with the solution we came up with, it’s live on multimap.com if you want to take a look (or see the screenshots above and below).

A bird\'s eye view of the london eye shown in the Multimap web site.

Another thing that I’ve been trying to get sorted out is the server that hosts my blog. I’ve been using the same dedicated server for a good 4-5 years now. That server was hosted at Sago Networks and it’s been through a lot, including Florida hurricanes, but has recently started hanging on a regular basis. A replacement NIC a few weeks ago gave promise of a reprieve but it has again crashed since then. Though I’ve had really good service from sago who have been happy to manually fsck it every time it went down recently, I decided I had to go with price and have now switched to Hetzner. Their prices were too good to miss, and though the fact that I don’t speak a word of German has caused a few issues along the way everything seems to be going well with it now.

I’ve even decided to be all modern and am hosting my site on a VMWare Server virtual machine. I’m hoping that this will allow me more control over that machine, making it safer to upgrade and reboot as I’ll always be able to get access to the console through VMWare. Hopefully it’ll also make things much easier when I eventually decide to move to a new server again (I’ve had this new server for a month now and have only just found the time over the long weekend to move everything across!) I’m also hoping it will lend me a little more security by allowing me to segregate important sites that I need to keep secure away from older less reliable code.

One other thing to mention, I’m going to San Francisco next week! Where 2.0 is the second most important conference for location based services providers (the most important, of course, being OSM’s State of the Map) but in past years I haven’t been able to attend. Fortunately this year some budget has turned up and I together with four of my colleagues will be there. Though the main event is the O’Reilley conference, I’ll also be going along to WhereCamp 2008 the following weekend, and as many other events as I can cram in on the Thursday and Friday between. If you’re going and I don’t already know it then get in touch with me on twitter or friend me on the WhereCamp site.

I’m also intending to map my journey there as much as possible, I have to get from Liverpool to London on Friday night, over to Heathrow on Saturday morning and then fly to San Francisco International airport at lunchtime (leaving 10am, arriving 1pm, still freaks me out ;-). Obviously it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to log anything while I’m flying but I’ll do my best, and I shouldn’t have too much problem on the train down. Check back later this week when I’ve figured out how I’m going to share my location with you 🙂

We held the first Liverpool mapping party over the weekend and I’m glad to say it went pretty well. Though we didn’t get as many new people turning up as we would have liked, we still managed to cover quite a lot of ground. Our main target for the weekend was to get as much of the centre of Liverpool mapped and it looks like we managed to achieve that aim. There’s still a few areas towards the North West that need finishing off, and the Paradise Street Project still needs to be marked as “under construction” somehow, but we’re basically there for central Liverpool as you can see from this animation:

Central Liverpool Animation

CC-BY-SA Some rights reserved.

We also had people out mapping in other areas of Merseyside, Crosby got it’s first detailed OSM coverage, as did Birkenhead and Everton. Aigburth also saw numerous improvements including some path mapping in Sefton Park.

I have to say a big thank you to the guys at Glow New Media for their support, not only did they let us use their office as a base for most of Saturday, but they also provided breakfast and lunch! We also have to thank Rightmove for providing drinks and food in the evening.

We’re already planning the next party which we’re hoping to hold in January 2008. We should be able to get a dedicated space to use for the party to allow people to come and go more freely, and we’ll be advertising this one a lot more to try to get new people involved. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it as soon as I have more information about that.

I’ll finish off by thanking everybody who came, it was great to see some people who hadn’t mapped at all before, and it was good to have lots of established mappers in attendance to help them out. I know some people travelled a long way just to help us out in Liverpool which is really appreciated. So, finally, the obligatory image showing all of our traces:

Click on image to see key

Liverpool Mapping Party Traces

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…and so I thought I would recount a memory from a cycle trip last summer:

In June 2006 I cycled from Hornsea on the east coast of England to Southport on the west coast of England. I followed a route called the Trans Pennine Trail which is a 213 mile (344km) route across the country that takes you across the pennines, on roads, along canals and following the paths of disused railways. I know that it was a long and tiring trip, but since doing it I’ve manage to forget most of the bad parts and now remember it as a great feat that I would even consider again (apart from the fact that there’s lots of other things I could do instead).

Until just a few minutes ago when for no particular reason I remembered something from the first day (which is always the worst as you’re just getting used to spending the day doing exercise). It could only have been a few hours into the cycle but I remember saying to my brother in law: “The best thing about this type of trip is the planning isn’t it? Maybe next year we should plan an amazing trip cycling across Cyprus, go into full detail finding equipment and flights, then go to the pub.”

This year I’ve decided that I’m going to try to enter the London to Brighton bike ride. That one’s “only” 55 miles, but it’s still more than I’d done when I made the aforementioned statement. It’s also a race. I’m fairly hopeful that I’ll be able to get through it but I’m definitely going to have to start training soon.

Wish me luck…

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