Sunday, September 26, 2010

Overcoming tl;dr on the iPad

tl;dr is defined by Encyclopedia Dramatica as too long; didn't read; if the meaning isn't obvious, just read the article. Shockingly, there are number of books and articles that I have either lied about reading or given a vague nod to indicate that I have read it repeatedly and have written copious notes in the gloss, while the reality is that I tossed the book out of a moving car. For example:
I find many things on the web and in my twitter stream that I would like to read, but just don't have time at the moment or I find that the the writing style detracts so much from the content that I need more time to focus on the material. Book marking has never worked for me because I lack the discipline that it takes to maintain a tidy and organized bookmarking schema. Furthermore, bookmarks are merely pointers to the article and not the text itself (which is why I think geospatial data catalogs based on metadata are stupid, but I digress). 

Enter Instapaper, which describes itself as "a simple tool to save web pages for reading later." Instapaper works in the browser, but it also works on the iPad and the Kindle, which means that I always have access to the articles (if I remember to sync Instapaper on the iPad). This ensures that I have plenty of reading material even at 30,000 feet. Instapaper is easy to use and you can install a scriptlet called the Read Later bookmarklet on your browser that saves the web page. Installing the bookmarklet on Safari on the iPad is a little more involved, but the process is documented here.  The other really great thing about Instapaper is that the bookmarklet function (i.e. Read Later) is integrated in many other applications such as RSS readers and twitter clients. That means you never have to leave your current stream of work to throw another article on the pile.

The one short coming is that Instapaper does not support pdfs which academic journals and research white papers seem to favor. Fortunately, iBooks recently added pdf support. I add pdfs to my book archive by downloading them to the Automatically Add to iTunes directory (/Users//Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Automatically Add to iTunes/); which, as the folder name says, adds the pdfs to iTunes.  When I sync the iPad with iTunes, all the pdfs are transferred to the iPad.

RSS feeds, like bookmarking, do not work for me because they are essentially all you can eat buffets of links that lack curation. I can't be bothered to sift through all of that. This is true of especially podcasts, where they encourage users to subscribe to a stream. Typically, I just want to listen to a podcast or an audio file. Huffduffer is like Instapaper, but it bookmarks audio files using a bookmarklet called Huffduff it.  Huffduffer creates an RSS feed of the audio which can be added to iTunes so you have your own curated Podcast channel. 

Finally, Youtube also has a lots of content where the video isn't terribly important and an mp3 works just as well. Download Helper is a a Firefox extension that can download video and convert it to other formats such as mp3.  Using Downloader Helper's preferences menu, I set the download directory to the Automatically Add to iTunes directory so it's added to iTunes and loaded when the iPad is synched.

Thanks to Joel Ludwig (@joeludwig) for the twitter exchange that prompted this post. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

What's your excuse?

Seriously, what reason do you have for not deploying a map server? Take your pick of the open source map servers or even a commercial one. The cost of deploying a map server on the Internet is $5.12/month for 100% usage on Amazon Web Services. There's a one time charge for a 1 year ($54) or 3 year ($82) reserved instance on an EBS boot (read you won't lose your work if you terminate the instance).  If you want to host a low bandwidth map server for testing, learning, or just because you have cool data to share via maps, a micro instance costs $5.12, as the Amazon Simple Monthly calculator shows: