Godspeed Commander Hadfield

Cana­dian astro­naut, space enthu­si­ast, edu­cat­or, social media sen­sa­tion, and now enter­tain­er? Yep, those are just a sampling of the roles that Com­mand­er Chris Hadifeld ful­filled dur­ing his 146 day post­ing to the ISS as Sta­tion Com­mand­er.

His Soy­uz cap­sule returns to Earth tomor­row even­ing, but as a last sur­prise, the Com­mand­er released this video rework­ing of Dav­id Bowie’s Space Oddity. Enjoy, and thank you Com­mand­er Had­field! Have a safe jour­ney home!

Using your iOS device for offline navigation

One of the coolest and pos­sibly the most expens­ive fea­ture of an iPhone or iPad is the maps / nav­ig­a­tion fea­ture.

Pock­et Earth iOS icon

On our recent vaca­tion to Maui, we wanted to have live maps, but not have to rack up expens­ive data to do it. A bit of Inter­net sleuth­ing turned up Pock­etEarth, a very cool app that per­forms exactly as advert­ised — deliv­er­ing off­line nav­ig­a­tion and map­ping without a live inter­net con­nec­tion.

Using Pock­et Earth, I simply:

  • down­loaded rel­ev­ant maps while at the condo or before I left home
  • cre­ated routes I’d likely use
  • added poten­tial points of interest
  • saved everything to my iPhone

And it worked like a charm!  Here’s a map of the stretch of West Maui where we spent a lot of time.

West Maui map in Pock­et Earth

And here’s a bit on how it’s done — from the sup­port for­um:

Pock­etEarth is designed for off­line use and makes it easy to avoid data roam­ing costs by allow­ing you to down­load maps and routes in advance and use them off­line, even with GPS.  Here is some inform­a­tion and sug­ges­tions to make sure you don’t get charged!

GPS usage is always free, how­ever down­load­ing data is often not!  To avoid expens­ive map down­loads, we recom­mend down­load­ing all of your des­tin­a­tions in advance from a WiFi con­nec­tion. Please see this for­um post for inform­a­tion on how to down­load entire coun­tries or regions with Pock­etEarth.
Once you have down­loaded all the maps you may need, you can dis­able down­load­ing to be sure Pock­etEarth won’t down­load any­thing. Just go to Set­tings > Net­work Mode and change it to Off­line Mode or WiFi Only.
Altern­ately, you may wish to pre­vent all of your apps from using up your lim­ited and expens­ive data plan, not only Pock­etEarth.  While the Air­plane Mode will cer­tainly do this, it will also pre­vent all GPS usage! For­tu­nately there is a bet­ter solu­tion which will still allow you to use the GPS in Pock­etEarth and oth­er apps while pre­vent­ing cel­lu­lar down­loads: In the device’s mainSet­tings App, just go to Gen­er­al > Net­work and dis­able either Cel­lu­lar Data com­pletely or just Data Roam­ing and it will pre­vent expens­ive data usage while trav­el­ing abroad.

Please note that using the GPS “off­line” (when both WiFi and Cel­lu­lar are unavail­able) works well, but may take longer to find your ini­tial loc­a­tion. From our exper­i­ence this is usu­ally 30–40 seconds, but in some cases can be up to 2 minutes.

My thoughts
Quite simply a no-brain­er pur­chase. For $2.99 (CAD) in the iTunes store, this is likely one of the best nav­ig­a­tion and map­ping pur­chases I’ve made. Reg­u­larly updated, com­munity sup­por­ted, and uses a lot of open data sources. Hard to beat that.


Review: Griffin Beacon Universal Remote Control (iOS version)


The Griffin Beacon uni­ver­sal remote con­trol is an inter­est­ing device. It’s a little bit lar­ger than an Apple TV2 (or a hockey puck if that’s closer to your frame of ref­er­ence) but it’s got an odd, Zen-like IR ‘stone’ on the top that’s where the con­trol sig­nals come from. Not your every­day IR blaster.

On Paper
Using Bluetooth to talk to your mobile device (iOS or Android) it uses the smarts of your device to man­age your home enter­tain­ment sys­tems. All well and good, but wait, there’s more! It’s not just the Beacon alone doing the work…


Well, actu­ally a very cool app called dijit does the heavy lift­ing. The dijit — Beacon pair is quite power­ful, with dijit not only bring­ing list­ings and man­age­ment to your mobile device, it also brings social to your TV view­ing with con­tent dis­cov­ery and social shar­ing. The duo:

  • Trans­forms iPhones and oth­er iOS devices into an easy-to-use, nev­er-lost remote for home enter­tain­ment sys­tems
  • Con­verts Bluetooth sig­nals from iOS device into infrared sig­nals required to con­trol AV com­pon­ents
  • Beacon con­nects com­pat­ible iOS device via Bluetooth with Dijit’s free Uni­ver­sal Remote App
  • iOS device’s Mul­ti­T­ouch screen dis­play becomes the remote with Dijit’s Intu­it­ive Pro­gram Guide, allow­ing users to change chan­nels, volume, input, pro­gram DVR and much more
  • Dijit App uses a con­stantly updated device code lib­rary to make set­ting up con­trols for TV, set-top box, sound sys­tem, media play­er and more, simple and intu­it­ive
  • For com­pon­ents not yet included in Dijit’s lib­rary, the App also includes an integ­rated learn­ing fea­ture
  • Beacon’s low-pro­file design blends unob­trus­ively with any cof­fee table décor
  • Powered by 4 AA bat­ter­ies, elim­in­at­ing messy wires and power cables

In Prac­tice
Get­ting the Beacon setup and run­ning is a pretty simple job of installing the included 4 AA bat­ter­ies, par­ing the Beacon with the Bluetooth on your mobile device, and installing and run­ning the dijit con­trol soft­ware.

Then it’s a simple mat­ter of let­ting the dijit soft­ware know which com­pon­ents you want to con­trol, and bind­ing those com­pon­ents to activ­it­ies.

For example, to watch TV, I need to turn on my receiv­er, my set top box, and my TV. I had to con­fig­ure those devices in dijit, then bind them to an activ­ity (Watch TV). You also can con­fig­ure the lay­out of your ‘cus­tom’ mobile remote con­trol in your mobile device — redu­cing the num­ber of but­tons to just the crit­ic­al ones needed for any spe­cif­ic activ­ity.

A sim­il­ar pro­cess is used to define oth­er activ­ity and device com­bin­a­tions. Pretty simple once you get the hang of it, and I like the abil­ity to cus­tom­ize the lay­out of the remote con­trol but­tons.


I had the iOS unit to review, and it eas­ily hooked up to my first-gen iPad as well as my iPhone 4s. On the iPad, I really appre­ci­ated the extra screen space to dis­play TV pro­gram­ming inform­a­tion and social media con­tent.

Since the Beacon runs on AA bat­ter­ies, it’s port­able, which means you can move to vari­ous rooms if you have more than one enter­tain­ment centre.

The unfor­tu­nate down­side is that the Beacon doesn’t have an AC adapter, which means that every so often, about as often as a hand­held remote, you’ll be repla­cing 4 AA bat­ter­ies when the Beacon fails to respond. Which may or may not be a big thing for you.

Watch­ing TV
In the end, this is a pretty cool unit. I must admit, it took a bit of retrain­ing for me to start look­ing at my iPhone or iPad for TV pro­gram­ming inform­a­tion, rather than using the device as a remote to con­trol the set-top box’s menu sys­tem. But once I got over that niggle, using the Beacon and dijit soft­ware is actu­ally quite nat­ur­al.

So if you’re look­ing for an inex­pens­ive mas­ter / uni­ver­sal remote con­trol unit for your home enter­tain­ment sys­tem, you may just want to check out the Griffin Beacon and dijit com­bin­a­tion.
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Libraries are dead. Long live the Librarian!


I love it when coin­cid­ence and syn­ergy lead to a blog post, this post in fact.

In a post earli­er this week, Seth God­in lead us through the his­tory of the Lib­rary and the Lib­rar­i­an. In his post, he even­tu­ally settled on the some­what alarm­ing concept that the Lib­rary was basic­ally dead:

Wiki­pe­dia and the huge databanks of inform­a­tion have basic­ally elim­in­ated the lib­rary as the best resource for any­one doing ama­teur research (grade school, middle school, even under­grad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get bet­ter and cheap­er as the years go by? Kids don’t shlep to the lib­rary to use an out of date encyc­lo­pe­dia to do a report on FDR. You might want them to, but they won’t unless coerced.

They need a lib­rar­i­an more than ever (to fig­ure out cre­at­ive ways to find and use data). They need a lib­rary not at all.

Book ware­house?
Giv­en the migra­tion of inform­a­tion from paper to digit­al forms, the lib­rary will per­haps, out­live its role as a ware­house for books. Rather, it’ll become a place where some cool tech and some very well informed people meet and do great things with inform­a­tion (and here’s where the next part of the coin­cid­ence hap­pens)  — such as Bib­li­on: The Bound­less Lib­rary, a cool new iPad app from the New York Pub­lic Lib­rary:

… go on an exclus­ive jour­ney deep into the Library’s legendary stacks. This app is designed to open up hid­den parts of the col­lec­tions and the myri­ad storylines they hold and preserve…through a unique immers­ive exper­i­ence. In this free iPad app you will hold doc­u­ments, images, films, audio, and essays — dir­ectly from the col­lec­tions in your own hands.

photo 2_480.jpg

Also earli­er this week, the New York Pub­lic Lib­rary launched the redesigned and updated Bib­li­on app. In this case, Bib­li­on is a themed approach to explor­ing the lib­rary. The first release digs into the huge archives relat­ing to the 1939–1940 Worlds Fair in New York. Down­load the free app and you’ll:

  • read ori­gin­al essays from such prom­in­ent writers as Kar­en Abbott, Wil­li­am Grimes, Henry Jen­kins, Elli­ott Kalan, James Mauro, and oth­ers
  • view Gen­er­al Motors’ fam­ous Futurama ride, in full col­or, from the ori­gin­al carou­sel!
  • explore the devel­op­ment of the Fair’s designs, uni­forms, build­ings, and exhib­its, includ­ing Sal­vador Dalí’s then-shock­ing Dream of Venus extra­vag­anza
  • rel­ish the out­rageous res­taur­ant ideas that nev­er made the cut
  • learn about the fate of the Czechoslov­akia Pavil­ion after the coun­try was invaded by Hitler
  • dis­cov­er what was bur­ied inside the West­ing­house Time Cap­sule … which won’t be opened until the year 6939!
  • fly from story to story, chart­ing your own jour­ney through the stacks…

It’s made of lib­rar­i­ans!
Cool apps like this don’t  just magic­ally appear out of thin air. Developers need to cre­ate the code, and con­tent man­agers need to pull all the inter­est­ing con­tent togeth­er in a way that makes sense to you and me, the view­er. In this case, the con­tent man­agers are Lib­rar­i­ans, and it’s excit­ing to see them cre­at­ing these mashups of lib­rary sci­ence and tech­no­logy.

What about the books?
As much as I enjoy read­ing a good book (the ink and paper type) I think their days are numbered. Except for sig­ni­fic­ant works of a his­tor­ic­al nature, many books more eas­ily stored, searched and ref­er­enced digit­ally. Which means the book ware­houses (lib­rar­ies) can evolve into their next phase. I’m not sure what that would be, but I bet we’re going to love it :smileyhappy:

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#Winning on Friday the 13th

f13a_300.jpgToday is Fri­day the 13th. The only Fri­day the 13th of 2011 as it works out.

This spe­cif­ic date has spe­cial sig­ni­fic­ance for me — and it has noth­ing to do with movies.

Since Fri­day the 13ths occur so infre­quently, and are  some­what fam­ous, I use the day as a semi-ran­dom chance to get my digit­al ducks in a row.

Stop everything
My Fri­day the 13th routine starts with a quick review of all open pro­jects and work. I don’t actu­ally do any work on those pro­jects, rather I look over everything, review­ing all the details and mile­stones, and just make sure that nothing’s being missed.

Backup everything
Next, I check out my data backup soft­ware and pro­cesses. In the blo­go­sphere, the 13th of each month  has been pro­moted as Blog Backup Day, but really, pro­tect­ing your data is some­thing that every­one should do, be it through a highly-pro­tec­ted stor­age device like the Drobo-FS, or using a backup drive sys­tem like ClickFree’s, or some com­bin­a­tion of  the two.

Vac­cin­ate everything
Then, I make sure my anti-vir­us and fire­wall tech­no­logy is cur­rent — and run a manu­al scan over all my drives. Yes, time con­sum­ing but it also provides me peace of mind that everything’s clean.

Defrag everything
Finally, I run a drive defrag­ment­a­tion util­ity over all drives that can bene­fit from it. Some oper­at­ing sys­tems auto­ma­gic­ally handle drive frag­ment­a­tion and some don’t.

Data ducks in a row
And yes, that can be a lot of work, but at the end of it, I’ve got a good pic­ture of my work­load, and the state of my data on my com­puter sys­tems. I’ve turned a day that’s fam­ous for hor­ror stor­ies into a day of good. #Win­ning 🙂

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