App of the (last) week: Disk Inventory X

Originally published on the Melbourne blog.

In the era of “the cloud”, it seems odd perhaps to be concerned about how much free disk space your computer has left. But there are still plenty of reasons why you might run out of disk space. In my case, my Mac laptop has a relatively small solid-state drive (SSD) and I’m one of those annoying people that decides he wants to use both Mac OS X and Windows, via Boot Camp.

So where the hell has all my disk space gone? It’s not just the fact I’ve donated 20 GB to Windows. My Documents folder is only a few gig, as I save the majority of my work related content to a office cloud server.  And my Applications folder isn’t big enough to justify the lack of space.

Enter my app of the week: Disk Inventory X.

This invaluable – free – app scans your hard drive and shows your usage in the form of a treemap. Essentially, a quick visual way of showing which files and file types are consuming space on a drive. You can home in on problem files just by hovering over them, or get an idea of whether you need to move your photo library somewhere else.

Disk Inventory X treemapAs you can see above, I’ve got a big file taking up quite a large amount of space – though clicking on it shows it’s actually my Mac’s sleep image. The last time I ran this, it showed me a large archive of old emails that I didn’t need anymore too.

Disk Inventory X works on Mac and Windows partitions, though it’s a Mac-only app, so it is helpful if you’re trying to diagnose disk issues on a Boot Camp partitions. However, there’s the similar WinDirStat if you’re a full-time Windows user.

Think it’s useful? Download Disk Inventory X here.

App of (last) week: GIF Finder

Originally published on the Melbourne blog.

If a picture paints a thousand words, then an animated GIF almost certainly livens up a 140 character tweet.

So when your only response to a tweet or awkward moment is to issue an animated GIF, the time it takes to search Google Images, memegenerator or Tumblr can suck the fun out of it.

Enter GIF Finder. This brilliantly simple and free iPhone app offers “All the fun of gifs, none of the hassle of finding them.”

There’s not really much to how GIF Finder works, which is refreshing given the endless bells and whistles you find in most free apps. Just search for the GIF you want, pick from those returned and then share to wherever you want it to go.

GIF Finder uses Tumblr as its source for GIFs, so there’s usually something that hits the spot. And conveniently, it’ll share to clipboard as well as Twitter, Facebook etc so you’re not required to use the built-in iOS sharing.

gif-finder-1 gif-finder-2 gif-finder-3

GIF Finder is a simple concept, well executed and fills a surprising niche. It’s free on the iOS App Store, but there’s no Android version yet which I suspect might go down well with ‘droid-toting teens.

Download GIF Finder now.

The Best Bike Route Planning Startup You’ve Never Heard Of – 30 Days of Biking: Day 29

Following yesterday’s blog post about the brilliance of OpenCycleMap and the Wikipedia-like service that it’s built on, OpenStreetMap, I’ve been thinking: wouldn’t it be useful to be able to plan a complete bike-friendly journey, complete with turn-by-turn directions and maps? 

That’s where journey planning startup CycleStreets comes in.

CycleStreets is not-for-profit cycle journey planner for the United Kingdom. Founded in 2009 as an outgrowth of a Cambridge bike journey planning tool, CycleStreets uses the power of OpenStreetMap and other open data to generate sensible cycling routes from and to virtually any point in the UK.

Even though it’s described as “beta”, I’ve found CycleStreets’ journey planning to be far superior to that provided by Google Maps. Their secret sauce is their mapping engine which properly uses bike routes marked on OpenStreetMap and accounts for factors like slowdowns on  hills, traffic lights and other crossings.

CycleStreets offers a desktop site, mobile site and mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry (all open source).

CycleStreets screenshot

Try this journey from Chorlton to MediaCityUK – perfect for the new BBC commuter. Each route conveniently gets its own URL that can be shared easily and in addition to the map view, there are turn-by-turn directions below. 

CycleStreets offers a choice of route suggestions: fastest, balanced and quietest, each catering for a different type of rider, and also offers timings based on your average speed (I choose “Unhurried!”). Usefully, there is a ‘quietness meter’ which gives an indication of how quiet/busy the roads will be, based on their size and also an elevation profile so that you can see at a glance if there are any big hills!

That particular route isn’t the most complicated, as there’s designated bike route for most of the way (NCN 55). The difference between the three options is that the fastest route briefly follows a dual carriageway, then offers a slightly hairy right turn (!). Not for the faint-hearted, but you get my drift.

This exposes one of the major flaws with any automated mapping service – the lack of intelligence, but also giving you what you asked for – the fastest route, as calculated. CycleStreets, though, is designed for cyclists by cyclists so a lot of work has gone into making even the fastest routes reasonably sane so as to offer options to stronger riders. The default mapping style also emphasises the quality of the bike infrastructure installed (if any) so users can make an informed choice about the routes suggested. For more info, you can project the route onto other map layers like Ordnance Survey, Google Maps and its Satellite view.

The turn-by-turn instructions below the route also help inform riders of what they’ll experience along the way, including: surface conditions, whether cycling is legally permitted (as you could be routed over a footpath if that’s the best way) or things to watch out for like bollards and level crossings. All of this is based on data submitted to OpenStreetMap.

Conveniently, there’s a link to Google Streetview at each stage but where possible, there’s also a link to CycleStreets’ user-generated Photomap. This means you can see photos of potential pinch points or areas of concern that are bike-only and where Google’s Streetview cars simply can’t reach.

As an example, I added a photo of the Latchford Locks on the Manchester Ship Canal from last week’s bike ride to Liverpool. The map suggests the locks can be crossed – and they can – but adding a photo and some detail can help riders choose a route that suits them. I, for one, would not cross those giant locks at night!

For such a young organisation, it’s a shame that Google stole a bit of their mojo by adding cycle maps in 2012. Still, CycleStreets happily acknowledge that putting cycle route planning into Google is likely to help more people get on their bikes for short journeys. This is a good thing for making cycling sexy… or at least, normal.

Unlike Google though, CycleStreets is free and does not show advertising. However, they’d love a donation, or maybe you know a local authority or organisation that wants to promote alternative travel options? CycleStreets will also happily build a custom mapper or perform a site integration for a sensible fee. Developers are also welcome – check their API and code on GitHub.

CycleStreets is an invaluable, free resource that harnesses the data freely available and volunteered by the public, as well as open data sources, to suggest reasonably sensible bike routes.

Discover new bike routes in your area and try CycleStreets now.

Breakfast – 30 Days of Biking: Day 5

A really short post from me as it's been an action-packed day. This morning, in search of breakfast, we dropped into London's famous bike cafe: Look Mum No Hands!

It's a brilliant place – part bike workshop, part cafe-bar where bike bits hang side-by-side with bags of coffee and boxes of bananas. It was busy of course on a weekend, but served up breakfast til 1 pm – ideal for assuaging a hangover.

It's a place that you pop into, find a table then order at the bar. We were warned our veggie breakfast and orange juice might take some time, and they did. Still, this gave us a chance to absorb the array of bikes hanging from the ceiling and also the Look Mum branded puncture repair kits, which were just some of the memorabilia available. I resisted buying a pack of pants.

The veggie breakfast was okay. Sourdough toast was a nice touch as were the almost endless sea of scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, the onion and black pepper sausages were pretty tough and overdone and I wasn't quite sure what to make of the spinach leaves. The coffee was pretty good though, coming from the Square Mile roasters.

I did love the vibe and atmosphere. Old Street is particularly busy for passing cyclists it seems, despite lack of dedicated infrastructure, so it benefits from a regular stream of drop-ins kitted out in everything from ordinary street clothes to full Lycra bodysuits. The breakfast just felt a bit below average for what we could've got elsewhere.

To be fair, the friendly staff did warn us that it was busy and I'm sure I will go back on a future occasion. I'll also be reviewing Manchester's own answer to bike cafés: Popup Bikes.

Takk Manchester review – 30 Days of Biking: Day 4

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m off in London for a couple of days so posting new content and riding is a bit more difficult. Still, I’ll try and do my best. No riding today, but here’s something I wrote earlier as part of a series featuring bike-friendly businesses in Manchester.

Earlier this week, I met a colleague at Takk, one of the (relatively) new cafes on Tariff Street at the edge of the northern quarter.

Always nice making a trip across the Pennines. Finally got to check out @takkmcr. Really excellent coffee.

A post shared by Village (@village_leeds) on

Takk is an Icelandic themed cafe occupying a space in what I think was formerly a fashion warehouse or outlet. It prides itself on the fantastic selection of coffee on offer, including: espresso-based drinks; good filter coffee and also Aeropress. They also offer cakes, some pastries (which are gone by 10 am) and freshly-made sandwiches at lunchtime, made on bread baked down the road at Barbakan.

I’ve been into Takk a few different times during the day. It’s a great place to grab a cup of coffee and do a bit of work, or just meet people who might be stopping by: think of a common room, particularly for creative and digital types, which explains the number of Mac users. Takk happily caters for them: there’s decent wifi, ample power sockets located around the room and the mix of individual and communal tables is ideal for having some quiet thinking time or getting a group together to flesh out some ideas.

They also do a stunning Brie, apple and jelly sandwich.

Takk is notably bike-friendly: whenever I’ve been in, there have been a few bikes stacked up nearly beside the coffee counter. It’s a warm welcome to riders, if ever there was one. It helps that many of the staff cycle into work too. Unfortunately, there’s no official bike parking outside and a neighbouring local grinch business wasn’t too happy with cyclists locking up against their railings opposite. Takk gracefully responded by inviting anyone who cycled there to bring their bike indoors.

This isn’t a problem unique to Takk: Tariff Street is one of these new bits of Manchester that has yet to benefit from bike parking. Hopefully, we’ll see bike racks appear nearby very soon. It’s something that I raised at the nascent NQ Forum.

Saturday at home! #coffee #pancakes @takkmcr @cliftoncoffee

A post shared by Christopher Charlton (@chrischarlton) on

I’m looking forward to returning to Takk soon. I still think about that sandwich. But if you can’t be a regular, they do offer roasted coffee ready to take away so you can try and recreate it at home. Just make sure you have an array of Mac laptops to complete the experience.

Takk Manchester, @takkmcr, 6 Tariff St M1 2FF

9-6 every day (I think!)

Review of the HP (Hewlett Packard) v165 USB Flash Memory stick

As published on the product page…

I selected this model on the basis of the fact it’s very small, has no flashing lights and carries a relatively huge capacity.

I wanted to use this in my HP Microserver as a USB boot drive, so that I could have maximum hard drive storage capacity. It worked as expected at the start, being successfully formatted under Ubuntu Linux and acting as a boot drive (no swap file). I was concerned about wear, but as a boot drive, it generally wouldn’t be accessed apart from at boot or to launch media management software (Plex) which generally runs a service. I also took steps to minimise wear by installing Linux without swap and creating my media library and transcoding scratch drive on a real hard drive in my RAID array.

It worked well for a while – but an order of magnitude slower than a hard drive. However, one day my server stopped providing service and, on reboot, wouldn’t respond to ping.

Unfortunately, the worst had happened: somehow the USB boot drive had been corrupted, taking details of my RAID array with it as well as my settings for Plex media manager.

I couldn’t even access data when I plugged the USB drive into another computer – it shows up as a “USB Composite Device” under Mac OS X provided by Integrated Technology Express, Inc. but I don’t even get a prompt to initialise the drive. This suggests to me a microcontroller failure.

Ultimately, this only caused inconvenience as I rebuilt the server with Ubuntu and a new content setup (had been replicated) – but I would strongly reconsider using a USB flash drive as a boot drive of any sort and especially this particular model. Unfortunately, I’m beyond the return date now but if I could, I’d be getting this swapped. It’s fine as general data storage but definitely not something that needs reliability or integrity.

I suppose you pays your money and you takes your choice – but think carefully about where you’re using it.

iMessage @MelbourneHost with #iOS5

An unedited original of this was posted over at Melbourne.co.uk

Now that iOS 5 has finally come out of beta, I’ve been having fun setting it up on a number of Apple devices at home and work. By waiting until Thursday morning to install it, I seem to have avoided the issues reported by some users at launch. Everything downloaded smoothly and was verified by Apple’s servers without delay.

One of the features I’ve been most interested in seeing deployed on a wide scale is iMessage, which is Apple’s answer to BBM (BlackBerry Messenger). iMessage allows users of all iOS 5 devices like iPhones, iPads and iPods to exchange short messages, pictures and audio or video. It should be automatically set up for iPhone users, acting as a transparent SMS replacement to friends with iOS 5. On iPad and iPod Touch devices, iMessage needs an email address registered with Apple so that other users can get hold of you.

I had a go at setting up iMessage for Melbourne – so if you want to get hold of us, send us an iMessage: inbox@melbourne.co.uk.

iMessage is just another way we’re trying out for people to get in touch. It’s probably best to stick to the usual support channels for directed responses, but if you just want to say hi or ask a quick question, then go ahead and drop us an iMessage.

Five ideas for using the new Foursquare brand pages for your business or organisation

Foursquare logoToday, Foursquare launched the ability for anyone to create their own ‘brand’ page on Foursquare. This means that brands or organisations can now quickly set up a presence on the rapidly growing location based network, and share their tips and advice about what to do and where to go.

Let’s take a quick step back – remember, Foursquare is more than just a game or a tool to announce your location. It’s a social recommendation engine: it lets people find out where their trusted friends and contacts hang out and allows them to share tips and advice about places, from where’s good to eat, to special offers. I wrote a blog post primer on this titled How to win Foursquare friends and influence people.

Why is this new? Until recently, Foursquare had a lengthy and manual process for approving your brand on Foursquare and many organisations nominated an individual to be followed instead who could be their ambassador.

Now, to create a Foursquare brand page, all you need is your brand’s Twitter account, some logos, at least five tips and in about half an hour, you could be up and running and being featured in Foursquare’s page gallery. I had a go this afternoon setting up a page for #smc_mcr in Manchester and came up with some ideas for you to harness the power of Foursquare pages.

Creating a page is a bit like using making a Facebook page. You log in with your own personal Foursquare account and then create the Foursquare brand page. You can then ‘act as’ that Foursquare brand page while setting up the page and leaving tips.

Just one word of warning: if your brand or organisation already has a Twitter account linked to a personal Foursquare account, you won’t be able to create a Foursquare page for it using that Twitter account. If this happens, just un-associate (dissociate!) the brand Twitter account from the existing Foursquare account before you try and create a page.

So, once you’ve got your page set up, what can you use it for? Pages let you do two things: leave tips at locations and ‘check-in’ to a location as a brand. Here’s some ideas for how you can use both:

1. Invite users to your stores or physical location

Foursquare’s all about recommending places, so why not recommend your own? Leave a tip inviting someone to pop in for a cuppa, browse your shop or have a chat. Digital technology often works best when it enables unexpected positive real-world interaction, so make it happen. Even if they don’t take you up on that offer, at least people will remember that there’s a physical location nearby.

It’s even better if you’ve registered any relevant locations and have added “Special Offers”. Also, some cities like Manchester, have a scheme which means that venues can opt-in to allow people to use their toilets for free. This is another idea for a tip and invaluable to know if you need to spend a penny in town!

A note about tips: your tips pop-up on someone’s screen when they check-in nearby, if they’re following you. They also pop-up if they’re not following you, but only if there are no other unread tips from their friends nearby.

Make sure you check-in whenever you visit one of your venues or offices too.

2. Leave tips about things you already like doing

Being on Foursquare is means you’re part of a community of people sharing advice, so get involved. As a brand or organisation, are there fun places that your staff or employees like to hang out? Where do you go for lunch, or a drink after work? Tell Foursquare and tell us why – is it a cheap place to get your daily bread or does it have a great vibe to wind down after a long day in the office?

You could also leave tips relevant to the type of location. For example, is there a really useful information resource that someone should check out?

This is a great way to engage in the general conversation – after all, it’s what most people on Foursquare tend to do. If you have staff parties or outings, then you can check-in to those venues using the Foursquare app. It’s a good way of showing that you represent real people who do ordinary things. And, it’s a great way to spread the love in your local neighbourhood.

3. Holding an event? Let everyone know how to get involved

This is a no-brainer: if you’re having an event that people might be interested in, let them know by dropping a tip at the location. It’s a simple way to promote your event and spread the word to those who might not even know you’re doing something in the area. When the event starts, you can also check-in to the location as a page and tweet that you’re there and it’s going ahead.

This is especially good for community-based events or non-profits, but equally for one-off visits to town by brands like pop-up fashion sales or book-signings. Make sure you add a web link and a Twitter hashtag to your tips and check-ins, so someone can tweet it straightaway.

4. Avoid disparaging tips about competitors (leave that to the punters!)

“My burritos are better than their burritos”. While this may be true, it’s not really the place of a brand or organisation to leave negative comments about the competition. Yes, there are negative tips on Foursquare, but what individual users do is up to them (and will carry far more weight than seeing effectively a self-serving tip.

5. Go global

With Foursquare, your brand or organisation can have a presence way beyond the locality you’re based. Say you’re a non-profit sponsoring projects overseas: leave a tip near there letting local users know how you’ve helped and how they can get involved. If you’re a manufacturing brand or cottage industry, why not leave tips near where you source your raw materials? Or, if you’re a sports team with a global following, let people know where you can meet other fans.

It could be interesting for those local users to know just how far something travels and where it’s used, and it helps raise awareness of your online brand. And of course, if you go travelling or exploring new places, check-in as your brand wherever you go and say what you’ve seen and how it influences your business.

In conclusion, try to make your use of Foursquare relevant, quirky and interesting: plain, irrelevant ad-spam is an instant turn-off and can lead to a negative response on Twitter.

Also, set up your page quickly! Don’t worry if it’s not perfect: I’ve no doubt that we’ll see these pages mushroom, just like they do on Facebook, and it’s best to put something up quicker than it is to wait around to see what happens.

Go ahead and try setting up your brand page now. Do you have any other good ideas for how to use Foursquare pages? Leave a comment below.

Review: Share your food eating habits with Food Feed

Food Feed logoBBQ Food by @cubicgarden, licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0It’s barbecue season in the UK and, in between the downpours, there’s nothing more satisfying than getting out in the sun and charring some meat or veg.

Unfortunately, like Christmas, this can mean your eating habits suffer. Whilst attending a barbecue chez @cubicgarden last weekend, I discovered an interesting Twitter based app called Food Feed, which bills itself as an easy and simple way to track your food habits.

Using Food Feed is very simple. You just need to go to the Food Feed website and sign-in with your Twitter account. Then all you have to do is follow @having and start tweeting.

By tweeting “@having” at the start of your tweets, Food Feed can aggregate all your food tweets in one place, which means you can find them at foodfeed.us/username (like mine). Adding a picture in to your food tweets can make it more memorable or sum up a large meal!

You can share this public feed with anyone you want – your doctor, nutritionist or even your mother. It’s a great way to link up with other people eating the same kinds of foods for inspiration or, in my case, to improve my eating habits and put all my food tweets into once place. If your friend on Twitter following @having too, they can see your food tweets without it interfering with your wider stream.

Unfortunately, Food Feed doesn’t offer much more than a simple search and aggregation tool. It would be great to see it integrated with an app like Meal Snap that estimates the calories in your meal through a photograph. However, the downside of using Meal Snap is that you have to photo every item of food and the data gets sent to Daily Burn, rather than being quite as simple and easy to share as Food Feed.

Check out Food Feed for free and see if it could be useful for you.