The Future of Web Apps Conference 2008

October 12th, 2008 by Strawp

A few notes on my first Future of Web Apps (FOWA) conference in the ExCeL centre in London.


Everyone I met was very cool and friendly, from small startups just trying to get noticed to relative tech celebraties and the larger stands like the Microsoft one – everyone came across as genuinely interested in the kind of conversations that make most of my friends eyes glaze over. I was even happily talking about XBox Media Center versus Windows Media Center and why the Silverlight IDE sucks (but the runtime is very good) with the MS guys.

My God do we all look the same though – white middle class guys with short gelled hair wearing jeans and ironic T-shirts. I was finding at times I honestly couldn’t remember whether I’d spoken to someone or not.

Out of the list of speakers, I only really spoke to Blaine Cook (ex lead architect for Twitter, current architect for Fire Eagle) who I found myself sat next to for Diggnation Live. He was a really interesting and friendly guy.


  • Reading between the lines, the reason twitter IM isn’t coming back is because it’s Blaine’s area (he did a talk on Jabber) and not really a priority for the other members of the Twitter team. In terms of bandwidth and resource use Jabber should actually provide a lower overhead than traditional polling over HTTP of the Twitter service and could even allow much of the twitter service to be decentralised to other companies – e.g. to provide SMS gateway functionality again.
  • In about 3 years Facebook should be very open. APIs for accessing/exporting your own friends to other services are on the horizon but not currently a priority.
  • Mark Zuckerberg still delves into the Facebook source code to do bug fixes, despite being head of a staff of 700 employees.
  • Despite being $1.5bn, Mark Zuckerberg still wears North Face fleeces. Who knows why.

Sites of note and people I met

  • Josh from iPlatform – a technology for embedding existing apps and communities inside Facebook as native apps (pitched his business to Jason Calacanis and about 1500 people during the Dragon’s Den section – clearly has sizeable gonads)
  • Zuz from Huddle – an online collaboration tool for businesses
  • The guys from Soocial (pronounced “Social” – they’re Dutch). Soocial is a cloud computing app for your contacts. It takes your contacts from your phone, Gmail, Outlook or your Mac address book and sticks them all in one syncable and backed up place. I’ve signed up to this and it needs work but it has a lot of promise.
  • The guys from Everycity (managed hosting) who I drunkenly found the last tube back with on Thursday.
  • Some guy from GUIMagnets (whose business card doesn’t have a name on it) which is a selection of magnets that look like GUI elements for prototyping apps.
  • Snaffleup, which is like Freecycle but more organised
  • Mapstraction – an abstraction layer for creating embedded map applications with any of the popular mapping services
  • GeoCommons – a resource and tool for finding location specific data and creating interactive maps with it
  • Rummble – a mobile discovery service. If this takes off over the next few years with the uptake of phones like the iPhone and Android based handsets it will be very cool.
  • Last but not least, TactileCRM which is an excellent, uncomplicated CRM system for businesses

There were countless other people I talked to as well who I didn’t get a business card or promotional item off, so I can’t remember their vowel-free unpronouncable domain names, sadly. It was really interesting just seeing what people are building.

The talks are being uploaded to the Carsonified events site and the hilarious episode of Diggnation Live will be up this Friday (17th).

Berocca Bribing Bloggers

October 2nd, 2008 by Strawp

They’ve clearly gotten a new marketing person over at Berocca in the past year. Having not really touched TV ads until now, they launched a campaign which is clearly targetted at the blogosphere which featured a slighty embarrassing rip-off of OK Go‘s “Here It Goes Again” and now they’re buying blog posts by launching their “Blogger Relief” campaign. You can register your blog and if they like it they’ll send you a box of free stress relieving gizmos.

I don’t need to be paid off to thoroughly recommend Berocca – I’ve been addicted to the stuff for years and it’s saved my life countless times, however the odd cheap bribe never hurt anyone.

If that still doesn’t convince you, the prospect of luminescent orange pee after a glass always brightens up a dull day (and freaks out anyone else in the public toilet).

New SVN repo: PHP Libraries

September 10th, 2008 by Strawp

Just added a new repository to the site: PHP Libraries. Currently in there are working classes or functions for:

  • Firefly Media Server – a class for direct access to the songs database
  • Roku Client – a client for Roku music players like the Soundbridge. Allows remote scripting etc
  • twitter – a bunch of functions for posting to, or getting info from a twitter account
  • Delicious – a class for (currently only) getting delicious bookmarks. Will add other methods if/when they’re needed for other scripts.

And there’s a class in there that I might work on if I can be bothered to get an App key for it.

Head to to browse them, svn co to check the lot out.

Update: Just added which currently just has my twitter command line client in it.

iPlayer Nokia N95 Stream Already Available

September 9th, 2008 by Strawp

Well spotted by Phil who’s discovered that the new N95/N96 stream for the BBC iPlayer is already available and can be viewed or even saved to file just by pointing an RTSP compatible media player at a valid URL – just like when the iPhone H264 stream came out.

More details are on our lovely Beebhack wiki

New host!

September 4th, 2008 by Strawp

I’ve just moved my site from the (once good value, now rubbish) ODSOL to Dreamhost, which is a blinding improvement.

I now have (about 1000 times) more web space and I’ll also be able to do nice things like host my own SVN projects. Yay!

Some of the links to other non-blog parts of the site might not work for a bit…

My Twitter client available for download

June 26th, 2008 by Strawp

Somebody out there wants it, so here it is

Update: I’ve moved this to the SVN server. To get them:

  1. svn co
  2. svn co
  3. chmod u+wrx tw
  4. make sure TWITTER_EMAIL and TWITTER_PASSWORD are defined

“tw h” for help text.

My CLI client gets its own ascii Fail Whale

June 26th, 2008 by Strawp

I’ve been using my own PHP-based CLI Twitter client pretty much since signing up (the Twitter API is so simple). You can view your timeline, tweet, view replies and view and send direct messages all via the command line, and I’ve just added the now-famous Fail Whale image to the error output, see this screenshot for an example.

The source isn’t published at the moment, but if you want it I’ll clean it up (take out my hard-coded username and password) and upload it – just leave a comment.

The whale is based on this one which I turned into my own version reversed with added twitter birdies.

DRM, shmee-RM

June 9th, 2008 by Strawp

Looks like I overestimated the file encryption entirely on the last BBC update. Fortunately some people still had their own “clear” versions of some programs which they could compare directly with the newly encrypted downloads, noticing that what some of us thought was a DRM scheme was actually just a simple XOR of the video stream with two repeating bytes. A quick perl script later and P Lewis, posting on Paul’s blog had a working video file just like the old scripts produced.

P Lewis has since incorporated this update into a really nice full featured script for browsing and downloading video from iPlayer.

I really hope this update wasn’t what the iPlayer team were doing for the last couple of months. Bloody waste of license payer’s cash if it was.

iPhone iPlayer hole gets DRM’d (no, properly this time)

June 6th, 2008 by Strawp

It’s looking like files downloaded from the iPhone iPlayer interface are now unplayable on devices other than the iPhone. Previously this was wide open to allow anyone to download Quicktime (H.264) video over HTTP directly from the site, but it now appears that although the video can still be downloaded it is encrypted (probably with Fairplay DRM).

More technical details on the Wiki as they come in.

(See also Paul Battley’s blog)

While I’m at it: AAC to MP3 conversion script

June 4th, 2008 by Strawp

Based on Converting FLAC to MP3 in Linux (I tweaked the LAME settings a bit though):


# Converts all AAC (m4a) files in a folder into mp3s, plus the id3 tag
# Requires faad, lame, id3v2

for a in *
  # Check the file is a flac file
  if [[ "$a" =~ (m4a)$ ]]
    # Name of outfile
    OUTF=`echo "$a" | sed s/\.m4a/.mp3/g`
    echo "$a => $OUTF"

    # Capture all the FLAC metadata
    ARTIST=`faad -i "$a" 2>&1 | grep "^artist" | sed "s/.*: //g"`
    TITLE=`faad -i "$a" 2>&1 | grep "^title" | sed "s/.*: //g"`
    ALBUM=`faad -i "$a" 2>&1 | grep "^album" | sed "s/.*: //g"`
    GENRE=`faad -i "$a" 2>&1 | grep "^genre" | sed "s/.*: //g"`
    TRACKNUMBER=`faad -i "$a" 2>&1 | grep "^track" | sed "s/.*: //g"`
    YEAR=`faad -i "$a" 2>&1 | grep "^date" | sed "s/.*: //g"`


    # Convert the audio data from AAC to MP3
    faad -w "$a" | lame -V 2 -m j -b 192 -B 224 -s 44.1 - "$OUTF"

    # Tag the resulting MP3 with the captured metadata
    id3v2 -t "$TITLE" -T "$TRACKNUMBER" -a "$ARTIST" -A "$ALBUM" -g "$GENRE" -y "$YEAR" "$OUTF"