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Æ & Œ

Æsc and Œthel

All hail the Mighty Techie.

I've discovered something which pushes all the right buttons for me. Almost literally.

IFTT - If this then that, is a service which enables various internet services and objects in the internet of things (such as automated plant monitors, lightswitches, internet enabled lights, thermostats, various functions of android and iphone smartphones etc. etc.)

Essentially it allows you to take certain things as input and then do something - sending information to an output. So, for example, using the time input and the android volume output I can make sure that just before my phone's alarm goes off the volume of my phoen is turned right up.

However it has its limitations in what it can do itself.

It can only take one input and only give one output for example.

Because of this it also can't do logic.

So for example I can say:

IF it's the time of day where it should be dark out side THEN turn my smart light on

But I couldn't say

IF it's the time of day where it should be dark out side AND motion sensors in my house detect motion THEN turn my smart light on.

Or could I? My first foray into logic programming was trying to solve the conundrum of cross-posting on three different types of social media. There are plenty of methods of allowing a cross-post but none that I could find which would cross-post regardless of where the original post was made. I could get something which posted on twitter when I posted on Facebook or something which posted on Facebook when I posted on twitter but using both together would end up in a loop.

With IFTTT on the surface of it you have the same problem. However you don't just have to use ONE IFTTT recipe and the power of IFTTT is in that and in using the features of the services it links to.

So rather than having a script that says "When I post on this post to that" I have a script that says "When I post to this - send to gmail and make use of it's ability to take labelled email ( enabling you to better filter your mail)

Then gmail will examine the mail, check for certain text and adds tags (So, for instance if something comes in on it will add tags fo 'Googleplus' and 'facebook' unless it finds the words"originally posted on ....".)

IFTTT then has scripts looking out for any new tags and posts to the appropriate services and puts "originally posted on" whatever service it was originally posted on.

Similarly I can't take more than one RSS feed as an input for IFTT but with the use of Yahoo Pipes I can filter, combine and perform logical operations on multiple RSS feeds combining them into one and providing only the information I need. IFTTT doesn't have a Yahoo pipes channel - it doesn't need one. It has an RSS feed channel.

The power of the RSS channel on IFTTT is that it enables integrations of multiple things that don't have their own official IFTTT channel.

Including your own server. If you have CRON capability and can write an RSS parser or an emailer then you can send output that can be input into IFTTT.

More interestingly the RSS parsing allows for input. There's no outputs on the RSS channels in IFTTT but there is a blogger channel which allows IFTTT to make posts.

Only one Blogger account is needed because the resultant feed can be filtered and manipulated via Yahoo pipes or a server side script.

With creative use of the services it takes inputs from and gives outputs to the world can be your oyster. So normal users can get the simple functionality that IFTTT provides but with the use of multiple IFTTT accounts, a bit of web hosting, CRON, Gmail and pipes those of us with the mind of a hacker can make the world our Oyster!

When is an export not an export

When it claims "backup everything" and in actual fact just backs up text.

All my pictures.


All my plugins.


All my stylings.


Thanks WordPress.

Of course there won't be a link to this on twitter any time soon. That's gone.

It's a small mercy that I copied and pasted my plugins list to a Word document before I wiped and 'restored' the site. So all I have to do now is:

Look up and install all the plugins again

Work out the settings for each.

Track down/ Recreate the pictures and photos.

Install WP plugins that will ACTUALLY back up stuff like pictures to my home PC.

Should take a while... (I'll install the Twitter/Facebook plugins last. People seeing a site with default feels a bit like having someone walk in on you when you're only wearing underwear)

Ignore this blog post

The downside to linking to Twitter via a WordPress plugin is that if something goes wrong with my WordPress site (which it just has done) then any test post which I publish (which I have to do to check this particular error) will immediately go up on Twitter.


Ho hum. Time to check if it's all working correctly.


I have to say that, even though I am a total and utter gadget lover, I still love to read a traditional paper book for preference.

Part of this has to do with being a little materialistic as far as owning books. If I have the money I prefer to own a book I like rather than borrow it from the library. There's something rather satisfactory about a jumble of books on a shelf, folio, dust-jacketed and paperback. There's also something pleasing about leafing through pages.

The other part, for me, is about e-reader technology not quite being there yet.


Part of this is due to tablets and 'value added' extras.

I don't need colour. I'm reading a book not watching a movie. Colour is a nice idea and when they've cracked it for e-ink it will be brilliant in terms of bringing the world of comics to ereaders but it is by no means essential. I certainly wouldn't want to swap my e-ink for an lcd or OLED experience.

I don't need text-to-speech. If I were blind I'd be better off just downloading my ebooks to a phone or mp3 player or purchasing an audio book read by a normal human being in any number of formats.

I don't need a touch screen.

I can get the Internet on my phone, my PC, a tablet and so on.

I could go on but basically my point is this:
E-readers main selling point was that you could replace shelves of books with a lightweight reading device which provided a paper-like reading experience. The idea being that ebooks would also be cheaper and so the device would pay for itself over time.
With this in mind here are my ideas on where ereaders SHOULD be going:

DON'T give them 3G connectivity.

One of an ereader's two benefits is its long battery life. This is due to the fact that displaying an ereader's screen takes no energy. Only changing the display takes energy and that is only a tiny charge. For this reason early ereaders like the first Kindle would need charging only on a weekly basis. Sometimes less often than that. For simular reasons the 'screen savers' I've seen on some ereaders are an extremely stupid idea.

A small form-factor keyboard or a touchscreen with low touch resolution would be useful as well as built in search and dictionary support.

Here's the key: being able to interface with a smartphone would be incredibly useful. Bluetooth is one option for this, although it would have to be power managed to avoid battery drain. As USB connection through the smartphone USB standard is possible on Android and likely to be possible on Windows Smartphones after the release of Windows 8 and as even BlackBerrys are starting to support Android apps - meaning they also will probably support USB device connection if they don't already do so, the best solution would be a connection through a microusb to microusb cable. This would provide the 3G download and, later on, Internet connections, and mp3 and read aloud support and many other options included needlessly on current ereaders. There are precious few situations where I'd have an ereader available and not have my mobile phone on me so why needlessly duplicate what my mobile phone does better.

Finally we need to work on what ereaders do best. So first order of the day is to improve readability. There is no problem with the static display. More grey levels, better resolution and colour support are all desirable but none are essential. The problem I find is with the 'Page turn'. After a page worth of readability I 'turn the page' only to have my eyes assaulted by a rapid black-white flash which makes my eyeballs want to retreat back into my head. It appears that currently the only way to refresh the screen without leaving little artefacts is to turn the whole thing black and then clear it. Finding a way to do this and making the page refresh quicker should be the main target for ereaders. All this and also ways of making the technology cheaper. See my next point.

The other target should be price. I see a place for 3 main form factors - the first the size of a small novel with side buttons or simple touchscreen for navigation. This needn't have anything other than navigation. No search, no keyboard, no dictionary. A simple ultra portable novel reading device. Dimensions would be 175mm by 110mm by 10mm the screen taking up the whole of the front. The next size up would be A5 not much bigger but still designed as a reasonably portable study device with search, notes, and dictionary. Dimensions would be 210mm by 148mm by 15mm with a slide out keyboard 210mm by 120mm to 210mm by 150mm in form factor. The last would be a true A4 device 297mm by 210mm by 15mm with a keyboard dimensioned 297mm by 120mm to 297mm by 150mm.

I think the prices would be best set at £20 - £35 for the first device, £50-£75 for the second and £100 to £200 for the third.

All devices would support mobi, epub, HTML and pdf as standard and preferably also other XML standards as appropriate.

Ebooks should also be made cheaper. At current prices some ebooks work out more expensive than their paper counterparts. They should also be more portable. Being able to read something on my phone, tablet or PC if I don't have my ereader available is a must.

Consider this:
Say we charge £3 per novel for ebooks. A paperback costs about £8 these days
Would you rather pay £56 for 7 current books on their own or the same £56 for a reading device with them included and each novel thereafter only costing £3 and all those novels also available on your phone or PC? Of course this is with the smallest device costing £35 and with no discount for bundling the books. It's also missing the advantages of books which are now free of copyright. So say a deal was made with publishers to include 5 current novels at £1.50 each, and the reader was priced at £25 and 50 classic novels out of copyright were also included. Now, which would you rather pay: £32 for 4 paperback novels or add an extra 50p and get 5 novels and an ereader and each book thereafter at a £5 discount?

All this seems unlikely at the moment because companies keep concentrating on adding "wow factor" and 3G capabilities to their devices. All it would take is one (probably chinese) company to work out that a more basic but well produced product at a lower price point could be beneficial and they might be able to steal the market.

By aiming at cheapness and quality of reading experience ebooks and ereaders will hopefully become a valid alternative to paper.

What is the real meaning of Christmas?

It's that time of year where all kinds of traditions happen.

WARNING: I am honest and frank about all things Christmas here. I make no apologies for what I say but if you want your kids to still believe in Santa then don't let them read this.


Yule Logs, Christmas trees, Fat Men who jump down chimneys committing the anti-crime of housebreaking with intent to provide, Stories of 'The Christ-child', Goodwill, overeating, overdrinking, overspending and raised suicide rates, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Snow (often only on the traditional cards especially for those of us in the South of England) and cheesy annoying music that you wouldn't listen to any other time of year. Lots of Family traditions as well, presents in sacks, presents in Stockings, when to put the decorations up, when to take them down.

Is it any wonder that at this time of year some people wonder what all the fuss is about and whether it's worth it. It's then that us Christians start talking about 'the real meaning of Christmas' - so are we right to do so?

At the very basic level what will be told to many Christian kids is that Christmas is Jesus's birthday. So is this the case?

Well. Around 2000 years ago (Bearing in mind that AD started counting at 1 as there was no zero at the time and that most historians now reckon Jesus may have been 3 or 4 in AD 1 I'd say that it was just under 2010 years ago give or take a couple of years) Jesus was born. I am (I hope reliably) informed that he was born during the Jewish Festival of Sukkot, known as the festival of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths which celebrates the Israelite's faith in God while traveling through the Desert and God's protection. I find it quite Poetic that it was at this time of year that Jesus came. During a festival about God's faithfulness to the people in the wilderness the God who dwelled with them as a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud came down in human form to be in the dwelling place of men.

So is Sukkot in December? No. As the Jewish calendar is different to ours it can happen any time between September and October.

So if Jesus didn't come to Earth in December why do we celebrate his Birthday at that time?

This brings us onto Solstice and the second 'reason' for the Mass (Feast) of the Christ-child.

The winter solstice is an astronomical event. A solstice is a time of year when the sun, having traveled either North or South,  'stands still' (Latin: Sol Sistere). In Pagan times, long before the coming of Christianity to Europe, a festival was held to stave off the winter chill. A Pagan precursor to Santa Claus was involved, a god or demigod who brought gifts to those who had been good (sometimes accompanied with a malicious god meting out punishment to ne'er-do-wells), a Yule log which, depending on which historian you ask either had a Pagan Religious significance or was simply part of a non-religious tradition and a way of keeping warm, various pagan traditions and Gods were celebrated at this time. Trees and Mistletoe would have been a significant part of Druidic religion practiced back then.

So that's a basic description of some of the stuff that happened at Solstice - so what of the second 'reason'.

The second account of why we celebrate Christmas is that it was an attempt of Christianity to remove the ancient pagan festivals. The argument goes like this:
The Catholic church was upset that people were still following their Pagan festivals so they placed their Pagan festivals over the top of them to replace them so that the people had to decide between the two. Christmas replaced the festival of Solstice, Easter replaced the spring fertility festival (in the UK it's even still named after the Goddess Aster who used to be worshiped at the time) and so on.

It's a nice story. But it's not the truth.

In truth for the first 300 years the Christian church would Celebrate the Nativity of Christ on various dates including that of, you've guessed it, the festival of Booths in September/October. It was the Emperor Aurelius who took the day of the 25th of December, formerly the day of celebration for the birth of the birth of the invincible sun (yes, with a 'u') and proclaimed it the day of Christ's birth. Why? Because people were celebrating Pagan festivals instead of Christian ones? No, most probably because he was anti-Semitic and didn't like Christians celebrating during Jewish Festivals. So he took the day of his favourite Sun God and other pagan religious days and did what Romans had done to other cultures for centuries. He syncretised it. The ancient Roman gods became the saints, and Mary, and, Lord help them, Jesus.

So reading this you'll probably think I'm dead set against celebrating Christmas.

Not really, no.

You see. Festivals were made for Man. God himself has said that he prefers a righteous and obedient heart to the celebration of any festival. Neither the pagan meaning nor the Christian one is really seen in todays modern, largely secularised religious festivals. (I will say though that if you want to teach your children that fairy tales are reality, that a fat man with a red suit magically gives them presents, if you want to tell them these lies while at the same time telling them the truth of God then be willing for the risk that you'll tarnish their view of Christianity. See the lyrics of the thoroughly depressing 'I believe in Santa Claus' Christmas song for my reasoning why.)

I think that in reality the real meaning of having a festival at this time of year is this:

It's flipping freezing outside. Let's have a party.

.... and as Christians if that gives us an excuse to talk to people about the birth of the most lifechanging baby ever born, the very Son of God, then I think it's an excuse that we should use to it's utmost.

May you have a blessed and glorious Feast of Christ during this year's Winter Solstice and a happy and blessed New year.

Wading through Treacle

Well here I am on the day before Christmas Eve (or "Christmas Eve Eve" as I like to call it) and I haven't blogged since just before leaving for Serbia. On my (now rarely used) iPhone are some notes for half the week in Serbia still stuck on my iPhone due to a lack of obvious options for a cheap enough internet connection while out there (got so busy towards the end of the week didn't find time to upload to my blog).

By the time I put them up it will appear that they've been up there for ages as I will backdate them to the days I wrote them or the days which I wrote about (I think the latter because it kind of makes more sense of what I wrote).

Which brings me to the title of this blog entry. It might sound like a light hearted title but it deals with a weighty issue.



It's something I struggle with. I find that things like leaving the house, meeting friends, looking for work, filling out forms, even a lot of stuff I enjoy doing seems almost impossible to do. It feels like I'm wading through treacle when I approach the task at hand and then the guilt of not having accomplished anything (in the case of stuff I feel I should do) or the frustration of not being involved (in the case of stuff I really was looking forward to) or both (because there's quite a bit of crossover between those two) just adds to the treaclyness of the situation.

This blog was created partly for some kind of catharsis - a means to splurge what I needed to get off my chest and to share what I thought was interesting. Instead it's started to become another treacle issue, so I guess this post is an attempt to put that right.

My New Year's resolution: Blog more, it keeps my mind healthy and I'm going to cheat by starting before the New year.

Blog anywhere

Well, the new updated wordpress app for iPhone spoke English to me and actually told me where to go on my wordpress settings to allow it to work with my site. So now I'm blogging from my kitchen while making coffee! 3 and a half hours until Sam and Suz pick me up.

I'm hoping that if/when I can post in Serbia I can blog something a bit more interesting!

Leaving the country

I'm leaving the country. But only for a week.

It's at THIS point that I realise that the blog, which I promised myself I'd regularly update has been left untouched for weeks, nay, months.

I should probably be worrying about other stuff...


Instead, full of coffee and cola and general caffiene, I'm sitting at my PC wondering if I'll be able to update it while I'm away in Serbia. I'm trying to get the caffeine balance and timing just right, enough to keep me properly awake until Sam and Susannah come round at 3:25 to give me a lift to Phil and Liz's but not so much that I won't be able to sleep at some time just after four when I'll be in a taxi on my way to Heathrow.

I shouldn't really be worrying. I've done most of my packing and preparation already and, as already intimated, I don't intend to sleep until I'm in one of two taxis and on my way to Heathrow at four oclock tomorrow morning - that's the tomorrow that starts in less than an hour's time (or possibly the tomorrow that will have already started after my typing this  depending on how much I waffle). I have a book, a white shirt and some lyrics (that Susannah left here yesterday when she, Josh and I were practicing our English number ones) to pack and I think that's it. Ooh - and some numbers to put in my phone. I have a few more songs to pick for the morning team time that I'll be leading with Nick (a different group of two will take each one each morning). I have that odd going-away-on-holiday feeling mixed with a slight apprehension of how much hard work this could well be. The truth is inevitably going to be somewhere between the two. I suspect the week will go very quickly whatever I'm doing. It remains to be seen whether my plans to get my wordpress iPhone app working, get a Serbian Pay-As-you-go sim with a data plan and do a daily blog will pan out at all. If not I may just journal and post it all on this blog when I get back. Or I may find a cybercafé or Church PC. Or none of these things will happen.

I've been facebooking a lot of the evening, making the most of the luxury of using my own PC while I can but I promised myself I'd stop doing leisure stuff and start the last minute packing and checking from midnight on, only returning to less serious stuff when I'm absolutely certain everything is done. Meanwhile the strange butterflies in my stomach feeling is still mounting.

Hm. Nearly half eleven. Time for another coffee I think...

Testing Testing....

I'm just writing this to see whether a new plugin works.


I've been fiddling around with plugins. I've got one to randomly change the strapline on the top of  my blog (which, if I ever learn to write wordpress plugins myself, I'd like to improve upon) and one to filter out spam (which has proved very effective so far. Only a couple days of properly going "live" and it's already filtered out 5 spammy comments).

There's a reason, beyond my normal verbosity, that this post is so waffly and that is that I'm hoping to go past 100 words to test out the new RSS feed improver which SHOULD cut this after 100 words and add a link back to my blog. If I can then fiddle with the settings that means people reading my "notes" on facebook will be redirected to my blog where I want them to be.

*Edit* Having read again I now see that I just need to put a 'read more' link in rather than typing a lot. Ah well.

Last Night I had a dream

Don't worry. There weren't any sand or footprints in it.

I dreamed that I had been arrested and taken to prison for a crime I didn't commit (cue A-Team music!)

The thing was it was one of those dreams that was only slightly odd, it didn't completely break reality. It had some logical inconsistencies (the fact that I had an iPhone 4 in prison - I joked with a visitor that it'd be old hat by the time I was released) but there weren't any Cheshire cats or bottles marked 'drink me'. It also certainly wasn't one of those 'from God' dreams of great prophetic import - unless God is trying to tell me something about the iPhone 4.

Where God really spoke to me is after the dream as I lay in the æther of half-sleep I pondered what I had dreamed. Prison was very real to me in this dream. I was pretty terrified. I asked mum to bring some wet-wipes in because I didn't want to shower in prison (although I suspect that in reality nowadays the showers would have separate cubicles - it's not exactly Shawshank these days). No-one would see being sent to prison as a blessing but I pondered how I'd felt and thought this.

No-one would see prison as a blessing. You're shut away from your friends and kept in a small cell for quite a lot of time. Other people determine how you live your life. However God can bless you by sending you to prison. It could be that while in prison someone who is determined to kill you can't get to you or that you are used to bless someone in there who becomes an important part of your life or many other things.

Now lets turn that on its head. Being in a restrictive environment with other people in charge of me could be hugely attractive to me at the moment. My own management of my life has caused me to miss important events, frustrate family and friends, live in an untidy flat and lose multiple jobs. It would be the most amazing thing in the world to delegate. For someone else to appear on the scene and take it all over. "You need a wife" has been frequently said to me by family or friends - as if the sole purpose of having a woman in my life would be as some kind of walking personal organiser, which is why I usually reply "No, I need a PA". It would seem to be a blessing from God if I were to be put in a situation where my freedom was slightly restricted but my life was managed by others. That's not what God is doing in my life at the moment.

So what did I learn from my musings?

We tend to put Blessings in human terms. When we say "God, please bless me" we generally want him to bless us by our own definitions. God wants to bless us but he blesses us in his OWN way. God wants to bless me by putting me in a position of dependence on him not in a position of delegation to others. Part of that will be transforming me by renewing my mind and part of that will be keeping me dependent on him.

Also - never get the latest version of iPhone, you'll save money and it'll only be old hat a few years down the line.