Delicious + Twibble

Last year I described how I used Delicious and Twitterfeed to post bookmarks to Twitter automatically.

Since then, I got more and more fed up with Twitterfeed. In theory, it ought to check my links twice an hour, but often it would leave three to four hours between updates, which meant that my links sometimes got posted at 3am when nobody was around to see them.

I was starting to think about writing a Twitterfeed replacement myself, when I discovered Twibble, and it’s much better.

It has many more options — for instance you can specify posting times so that it doesn’t tweet anything during the night, and it can check for new links much more frequently.

There are a couple of minor flaws — for instance, the posting times have to be specified in PST — but it’s nothing you can’t live with.

The main problem is that Twibble isn’t totally stable yet: It has stopped posting twice since I started using it, but the support team is normally really responsive and helpful (during California daytime).

I would definitely recommend Delicious + Twibble as the best solution for tweeting your bookmarks at the moment.

WordPress/Flickr Helper

arsp_046
arsp_046 by Anthony Ryan, on Flickr.
Flickr recently removed their WordPress sharing support, so all you get now is some generic HTML code that’s not ideal for WordPress. (Mind you, neither was Flickr’s old sharing code, which didn’t work well out of the box — I described how to fix it in this old blog post.)

I’ve now written a wee webpage that uses some JavaScript to correct Flickr’s HTML.

Just go to Flickr, find the sharing code, select “Small 240 x X“, then “HTML”, and paste the result into the text box on the left and click the button. The WordPress-style code will then appear on the right, and you can copy it and paste it into your blog post.

It’s not quite as convenient as Flickr’s old system, but it gets the job done.

Language icons

Language symbols
Language symbols, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.
The existence of national flags makes it easy to create country icons (e.g., in a menu where you can select your country of residence).

However, at least in a web context it’s relatively rare to provide country menus. On the other hand, language menus are common, allowing the user the view the page in another language. Wikipedia is a good example of this.

Unfortunately, there is no accepted way to symbolise languages. Wikipedia writes the language names out in full, and other websites use two- or three-letter ISO codes.

When a graphical icon is needed, people often resort to national flags, but that really isn’t a very good solution at all: Some languages (such as English and Spanish) are used in many countries, and many countries have more than one official language (e.g., Scotland and Belgium).

I really wish somebody would come up with some language symbols/icons that everybody could agree on. For the purpose of this blog post, I played around with the idea of using three concentric circles in various colours (loosely based on the flags of the main countries where the language is spoken), with the ISO code in the middle, but I fear they look too similar.

Perhaps using shapes as well as colour would help, but the danger is that it would be hard to identify one of the icons out of context.

Even if the whole world could agree on a set of language icons, it would still be a challenge to teach ordinary people to recognise the one associated with their native language, but it should be possible. If websites such as Wikipedia adopted them, their use would spread quickly.

It would be really useful!

Converting photos into embroidery

I recently discovered that VistaPrint have started selling embroidered polo shirts.

However, their embroidery program is rather fussy with regards to the images it can deal with, so you can’t just upload a normal photo. As they write, there must be “no small lettering or tiny detail” and “no photographic imagery or gradients”.

So what do you do if you want to get a photo embroidered? Here’s what I did to the photo below:

Marcel before and after embroidery.
Marcel before and after embroidery.

I first opened up a photo in the Gimp, cut out Marcel’s head and placed it on a white background. The result is the photo on the left.

I then opened up this photo in Inkscape and selected Path->Trace Bitmap. I then selected Colours and specified a low number of colours. Some of the resulting colours were rather similar, so I changed them to something very different. Finally I exported it as a bitmap.

This bitmap was now acceptable to VistaPrint, so I could change the colours back to something more reasonable, and their embroidery preview is shown on the right. In many cases, their program will still complain, so you might need to simplify the paths in Inkscape, reduce or number of colours, or use a simpler photo to start with.

So long as you start with a reasonable photo, you should be able to create a beautiful embroidered polo shirt in this way. Have fun!

Tweeting your links automatically

Multiple Tweets Gradient
Multiple Tweets Gradient, a photo by mkhmarketing on Flickr.
If you follow my political independence blog, Arc of Prosperity on Twitter, you will have noticed that I often tweet topical links, prefixed with the text “Seen elsewhere:”.

This happens automatically when I bookmark a link so long as I add a certain label to it.

To do this, I use two free websites, del.icio.us and Twitterfeed.

Del.icio.us is simply a bookmarking site that allows me to save bookmarks and attach labels. All links that I want to appear on Twitter get the label “aop”. (You can see all my aop links here.) The most important del.icio.us feature from this point of view is that you can retrieve these bookmark lists in RSS format (e.g., this RSS feed for my aop links).

Twitterfeed posts RSS feeds to Twitter, so all you need to do is to tell it the address of your del.icio.us RSS feed and determine the posting frequency etc.

Del.icio.us and Twitterfeed work really well together, and it’s my impression that many of my Twitter followers really appreciate the links I’m posting.

Nuntii Latini

Inscripció dels emporitans
Inscripció dels emporitans, a photo by Sebastià Giralt on Flickr.

Many years ago, somebody told me that Yle (the Finnish Broadcasting Company) were broadcasting weekly in Latin. However, in those pre-Internet days I had no idea how to find a way to listen to it.

These days things are much easier.

Yle have created a webpage containing podcasts, so that we can all easily get our weekly five minutes of Latin.

I must say, however, that the presenters sound very Finnish. I also find it interesting that they pronounce ‘c’ as /k/ before front vowels while at the same time pronouncing ‘ae’ as /?/ — I would have thought that would be a somewhat unlikely combination.

Paying for journalism

Scotsman Hotel
Scotsman Hotel, a photo by buhny on Flickr.
Today The Scotsman announced that they will make a quarter of their editorial staff redundant, and The Telegraph have decided to set up a paywall. On a more positive note, Wings over Scotland’s fundraiser exceeded its ambitious goal, raising more than £30k.

It’s clear that traditional journalism is in danger. However, I’m not really sure that the solution consists of paywalls, fundraisers, intrusive ads etc.

The things is that in the “old” days (about ten years ago), I spent something like £1 a day on buying newspapers (slightly less on workdays and slightly more on Sundays).

However, the advent of blogs and free newspaper websites has changed my behaviour — instead of reading all of one newspaper, I’m now reading 5% of 20.

The money I can spend on reading news hasn’t gone up, so there’s no way I can spend anything near £1 a day for news. On the other hand, if I had to pay 5p per article or blog posting, I probably wouldn’t spend much more than I used to, and everybody would be happy.

The problem is how to do it. I’m not going to set up subscriptions with direct debits or credit card details separately for the 50-100 news sites that I occasionally visit.

The only solution I can think of is a way for newspapers and quality blogs everywhere to create a payment system together, whereby reading a news article triggers a payment from the reader to the writer of 5p or so. The system would then add up all the small payments and send the reader a monthly bill.

However, it isn’t a perfect solution. Many websites would remain outwith this system (most small blogs and the BBC spring to mind), and there will always be a temptation for users to go for the free websites.