Archive for August, 2008

CurrentCost app … take 2!

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

a Python CurrentCost appI’ve been talking about it for a while, but I finally got around to spending some time working on a CurrentCost app.

The original code was written in C# using .NET 3.5, and I used WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) to draw the graphs. For a number of reasons this proved unpopular and I got a ton of emails saying how this was no good for them. So I decided to start again.

The new app is written in Python – using wxPython and matplotlib to create the graphs.

a Python CurrentCost appUsing py2exe, I’ve been able to compile the whole thing (combining my script with a Python interpreter and a copy of all of the third-party libraries I’ve used) into a Windows executable that will (hopefully!) run on any Windows computer, without needing installing or requiring any pre-requisites.

I can also make the Python script itself available, making it something that Linux users could run as well. This means I get the low-overhead Windows experience I wanted, together with the ability to make it cross-platform. Neat!

I’ve been able to produce some more interactive graphs – the graphs in the new app can be zoomed in and out, panned, moved around, printed, and exported to images. As the amount of data in the app builds up, I can see this becoming very useful.


GPS Intermediate Driver for Windows Mobile (and getting it to work!)

Monday, August 25th, 2008

My last two Windows Mobile phones have both had GPS, so I’ve played with code to get my location from the GPS a few times. These have generally been quick hacked-together bits and pieces. In all of them, I wrote my own GPS code. I knew that the GPS device would be accessible through a serial port, so I just connected to the relevant COM port and started reading. It’s easy to parse – NMEA sentences are written with an update on each line, in comma-separated strings.

After sharing my OpenCellId client last week, I was encouraged to try rewriting the GPS code for it using the Windows Mobile GPS Intermediate Driver. So I had a quick try. I was vaguely aware of it before, but hadn’t taken a proper look. In this post, I’ll describe briefly what it is, it’s benefits over home-grown hacks such as my own, and share a couple of things that I had to do to get it to work.


SYA – thinking ahead

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Solent Youth Action started life as the Eastleigh Millennium Volunteers (MV) project. The charity was started as the result of identifying limitations with that project, and expanding on it with complimentary projects which, over time, became larger than the MV work itself.

But that heritage does show through in our aims and objectives which talk about “empowering young people to develop as individuals … through volunteering whilst making a positive contribution to the community”. We are first and foremost a youth volunteering organisation.

The last year or so have been very successful for SYA, and with v funding secured for the next three years, the immediate future looks good. But what happens next? How should we continue to grow and develop?

One approach that we’ve been discussing this week is whether we should moving beyond purely volunteering. We already have a number of objectives in trying to help the young people that we work with: around their personal development. This can be emotional development, it can be skills development, it can be educational, it can be career-focused… with an underlying theme throughout of helping young people. But always, this is done through volunteering activities.

What if we removed that restriction, and focused more generally on helping young people develop?


OpenCellId for Windows Mobile

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

I talked about this yesterday, but it’s ready for sharing now.

screenshotWhat is this?
It’s a OpenCellID client for Windows Mobile

What does that mean?
It uses the GPS device connected to a Windows Mobile device (either internal or connected over Bluetooth) to identify exact latitude / longitude coordinates.

It combines this with the cell id of the GSM tower that your phone is currently communicating with.

These two measurements are uploaded to the database at

Because if enough people do this, then we will be able to build up a picture of where each GSM cell is.

Then people without GPS (either because their mobile devices don’t have GPS, or because their indoors) can work out where they are by looking up their current GSM cell in the OpenCellId database.


OpenCellId – collecting data for mobile location-based services

Monday, August 18th, 2008

It is great to see a revived buzz around mobile location based apps and services. There are lots of new services to try. I try loads of them, the most recent was Moot just a few days ago (I love their video which I’ve embedded here – very cute), but there are way more than I can keep up with.

One problem they all share before they get to offer you their variations on useful location-based services is how to figure out where you are in the first place.

GPS is an obvious response, but not everyone has it on their mobile, and even if you do, it has some big problems – it can take a while to get a fix, won’t work indoors, etc.

Good solutions supplement this with other sources of information. Skyhook is getting a lot of attention at the moment for their service – mainly due to it being used in the iPhone. It means that the iPhone (and other devices using Skyhook) can work out where it is using GPS, but if a GPS fix cannot be made (or in the interim time while waiting for one) it can give an approximate location almost instantly using cell-tower triangulation and/or known WiFi access points.


A year in SYA

Monday, August 11th, 2008

After my post looking back at five years at IBM, time for another reflective look back.

This time: looking back at the last year’s work in Solent Youth Action. I’ve just had to write the Chair’s foreword for our Annual Report. Writing coherent English is never my strong suit, so I figure that as I spent a fair bit of time trying to write it I might as well reuse it in as many places as possible!


Five years at IBM, and a new start

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Five years ago today: 6 August 2003, 9am. I turned up at main reception in IBM Hursley Park for my first day. I was excited, dressed far smarter than I have for work since, and had absolutely no idea what I was going to be doing.

Five years later, today is the (official!) start of my new job in IBM, and a shift in my career: I’ve joined the “Emerging Technology Services” team.

I tried to find a good description of ETS on the interwebs that I could link to, but not had any luck. I found a description on a few intranet pages, which I’ve managed to mangle below:

Part of IBM Software Group’s Strategy and Technology Division, ETS focuses on emerging technologies and how they can be used to meet business needs. They work on customer problems to create innovative, bespoke technical solutions, which can include “architectural consultancy, technical solutions, demos, proof of concepts, pilot systems, and reference architectures” combining experience of working with customers with first-of-a-kind technologies.


A netbook ahead of it’s time

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Psion Netbook (left) and EEE PC (right)
I had assumed that “netbook” was a recent term that grew out of the evolution of UMPCs, MIDs, origami and EEE PC clones. And in my defence, the wikipedia article for “Netbook” says:

The term netbook was introduced by Intel in February 2008 to describe a category of small-sized, low-cost, light weight, lean function subnotebooks optimized for Internet access and core computing functions

I didn’t realise that the term has been around for a while though, until I came across an eight or nine year old bit of mobile tech history in Roo’s old office – a Psion Netbook.

Netbooks: Then and nowI’ve had a couple of Psions before (a Siena and a Series 5), but I’d never heard of the Netbook before.

It’s a similar size to my EEE PC, although a little heavier. It has a decent-sized keyboard, a 7.7″ 640×480 colour backlit screen, Opera 3.62 (with support for HTML 3.2), a Java 1.1.8 runtime, and a bunch of PIM-type apps. No bluetooth or WiFi, but it does have RS232 and infrared.

I’ve got no idea what is gonna happen to it – I will ask if I can have it, although to be honest this is largely for geek nostalgia, as I’m not sure what I’d practically do with it. 🙂