Monday, January 12, 2009

Turn Firefox into an iPhone HOWTO

At Sogeti Netherlands we've done our fair share of development for Mobile Devices, but we've only recently started developing specifically for Google Android and Apple iPhone. As we lack experienced colleagues in this field to teach us the tips and tricks, we've got to go out on the net to find out how things work. Sometimes you end up in the weirdest places.

We're an IT company and have a massive amount of laptops and desktops, but guess what, just two Macbooks. One specifically allocated to a client account and one we bought to get a good and working development environment to start programming for the iPhone. There are a few options to develop without a Mac environment, but they're a real hassle. Maybe I'll get into these later.

With only one environment to develop (and a few iphones) we started looking for emulators. Developing and testing Native Applications requires a bit more than developing web applications, so turning your browser into an iphone would help. And in this case we wound up in a strange place... ismashphone. Well, not really the strangest of places when developing for an iPhone, but the context wasn't exactly office material.

Back in may 2008 the ismashphone team reviewed the new Zinio magazine reader for iPhone. Zinio is a distributer for Technology magazines and they were offering a number of magazines to iPhone users for free, including magazines like Penthouse and Playboy, which do have some bits about gadgets and tech to let you have an excuse. The ismashphone team was kind enough to provide you with a hack so you can update your Firefix or Safari browser to act like an iPhone and be recognised as an iPhone.

It seems the hack still is pretty hot, also judging by the fact that the same article (Read MacWorld...) on the Aplletell blog is among the fastest rising blogs on Technorati this week.


In case you're looking for pictures go their, if you want to try out the hack inside your office for serious testing, here's the version without distracting piccies. The hack is rather easy and gives webmasters an easy tool to check how their websites look when visited by an iPhone. Here's the 7 steps to walk through:

Turn Firefox into an iPhone - HOWTO

(by ismashphone)

The Issue: With a few steps you'll be able to turn your computer's Mozilla Firefox into an iPhone browser. This is similar to our post on turning your computer's Safari browser into an iPhone browser.

Why? To access iPhone only websites with your Firefox browser in order to preview them, or to obtain data from iPhone mobile-web targeted sites.

The Lesson:
1. Open your Mozilla Firefox browser
2. In the URL bar, enter "about:config"

3. Right click anywhere on the page, go down to New and over to String

4. You will be prompted to enter the preference name. Enter: general.useragent.override

5. You will next be prompted to enter a "string value". Enter: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/4A102 Safari/419 (United States) 6. Once you have hit OK, you have morphed your Firefox into an iPhone mobile browser! Woo!
Here is a sample of what Google now looks like: Associated Press has made an iPhone only website: http://www.apnews.com/
Without this configuration you would not have been able to access this page.

To reverse this process and return to regular Firefox mode, you must go back into "about:config".
Then scroll down to the "general.useragent.override" and right click it. Select Reset.

You're back to regular Firefox.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

The Forbidden City - an ancient site

The Forbidden City

Today I strolled around the virtual Forbidden City once more to drink in some of the ancient Chinese history, thinking of great tales of Marco Polo, the Silk Routes or the terracotta army. I must admit, I'm a sucker for history.

Speaking of which, here's a short history of the Forbidden City, which launched october 10th and to which I already devoted two blogposts:

Exactly one week later, the number of registered users has grown to 128.101 users, which I think is great. This isn't exactly a social world but more like a dedicated virtual environment. Dedicated to one single real life space that spins a thousand tales. Over at the Eightbar blog, IBM's Metaverse evangelist Ian Hughes finally blogged the Forbidden City today in a blogpost in which he gave us a little insight into the history of this build.

John (Tovla) was exploring options for the project that rolled on from his previous one of Eternal Egypt. John specializes in running large innovative projects that use the web for more philanthropic reasons as part of what is called corporate community relations.

So there we were in SL, I had my personal shiny new island Hursley and he and his team were looking at how they might represent the forbidden city in the growing world of the virtual, non game metaverse. So I loaned the team the island, and a massively detailed chinese build started to form in the sky over the next few weeks whilst they procured their own official island. [read full article here]

What I do like to point out is that once again, it clearly names Second Life as the catalyst, the testing grounds for dedicated virtual environments. The other thing that excited me was the mention of Eternal Egypt.

I'd hoped this would be yet another virtual endeavor, which unfortunately it wasn't. It's a great resource website on the ancient Egyptian culture. This however does bring me to my next point.

The first time I walked the city and marvelled at its detail, I thought back to my days at Ancient Sites and wondered how it would be to walk from this city, to say ancient Rome or Athens, to have multiple sites like these exist. Given the current meme one would start talking interoperability right away, but I'd like to turn the other way for now.

Ancient Sites

The Ancient Worlds community started in the early 90's I think , under the name Ancient Sites, as a bulltetin board based community which initially focussed on history, but later developed into a widespread community with a lot of roleplay as well. Initially it was split up into 4 cities, Rome, Athens, Babylon and Thebes if I recall correctly and was later expanded with Machiu Piccu and the Ancient Celts. It grew in the early 90's to about 120K users, which historically speaking in pre-web2.0 times was pretty good. In the late 90's it went bankrupt, but started up again shortly after 2000 under the name Ancient Worlds but in 2005 returned to its former url: http://www.ancientsites.com/. In this second evolution of the community it was no longer strictly focussed on cities but more regionally. It was also extended with the Orient (hence the Forbidden City association) and the early German tribes. It never rekindled this old spark though, and now holds about 35K members.

Inside Ancient Sites I created my first internet handle, Johannes Nestor. It had about the same user format as Second Life has, predefined last names and free first names. These last names were familynames from well known historic people and families from these ancient cities. My initial interest in this site was history. At the time I was writing my senior thesis, titled "The Alternate Word - A comparison between Fantasy Literature, Mythology and Religion" and was looking for resources on various myths, both ancient Roman and Greek as well as Scandinavian and Etruskan. Through the bulletin board system I could easily find the tales I needed and came into contact with experts from around the world to find out more on these topics (who ever said the social web is a post 9/11 thing?)

I got caught up in Roleplay pretty soon though and one of the roleplays I got into was the recreation of the Byzantine Empire in which I tried to set up an economic system which earned me an estate on the isle of Naxos, made me a Patriarch and finally earned me the title of GrandMaster of the Knights Templar.

The plot thickened and we were up for war. So I created my second handle, Uriah Atrahasis, a Hetite named after Bathsheba's husband Uriah, which became one of the leading generals in the Byzantine army. We 'blogged' our travels to Syracuse and waged war on the Moors. It was a sport to do this as historically accurate as possible. So everything was checked against Sun Tzu's Art of War (which wasn't untill much later and on a different continent, but that made me win the wars), I dug up every scrap of information I could about old Roman galleys and other seavessels of that time, got into smithying, Phoenician and Hetite cultures, etc just to get the facts straight. In my roleplaying days at Ancient Sites I learned more about history and culture than I ever learned in school.

My third handle on Ancient Sites was Finn Folcwalding. In the initial plans for the extention of the ancient sites with the Germanic Tribes the creators focussed on the Goths and other tribes like Blatand (Blue-Tooth), Meroving, Habsburg and Scylding I urged them to included the Frysians as they were one of the strongest tribes fighting the Romans. Hence, the Folcwalding family was born. Not that it's a typical Frysian name, but Finn Folcwalding appears in (e.g.) Beowolf as one of the Frysian Kings.

From about the day I signed on to Ancient Sites I've had the believe that this had the potential to change our Educational system in the way which students could globally interact, learn languages, geography, history, art and you name it. Shortly after it's revival I worked shortly with the creators of the site to see if we could find a more 'immersive' way to set up the site and we experimented with flash based maps of the ancient cities. Unfortunately this wasn't sponsored by IBM, as is the Forbidden City, and had to make do with limited funds and knowledge so we never got that makeover work out.

The Eduverse Foundation

A couple of years later, i.e. present day, I still see potential behind this site in order to change education. Last year I encountered a recreation of Ancient Rome in Second Life, and again I wondered how this would work out at Ancient Sites. A short proposal didn't work out, the crowd there isn't into VW's much, but in the end it was one of the reasons I got involved with the startup of the Eduverse Foundation, which tries to chart the educational benefits of virtual worlds for educational purposes.

No doubt you'll find all sorts of arguments of why not to do this. Within the Eduverse Foundation itself I've had a number of discussions on this topic. Quite a number of Metaverse Evangelists are of the opinion that recreating Real Life things in a virtual environment is a bad thing, and shos a lack of understanding 3D-ness. I partly agree, but cannot deny its power to explain present and past as well.

In this regard I'd also like to point out the "Otherland" series by Tad Williams. When speaking of the Metaverse we always name Neil Stephenson and William Gibson, but I think Tad Williams should be mentioned in the same breath as it comes to visionaries on the Metaverse. In the Otherland series he describes a virtual world which has two aspects:

  1. A digital city, sort of a mainland area where people spend their time socializing and shopping, somewhat alike Stephenson's "The Street" from Snowcrash
  2. A vast realm of simulators, like Second Life Islands, which are connected through a river. Each of these simulators has its own theme. These themes range from scifi to fantasy.

A number of simulators described in the Otherland series are historical sims. We find ancient Egypt and Troy for instance. I would recommend reading this series to get an idea of what could be created in Networked Virtual Environments and what this could do to aid education.

Image from the upcoming Otherland Game

Concluding I'd say: IBM, please go on. Not from an innovative point of view, but from a historical point of view I'd like to see more environments like the Forbidden Citycoming

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

First peek at Hangout

Last week I wrote a first piece about the new 3D environment called Hangout, on hangout.net which currently is in Private Beta. Fortunately I have received an invite for private Beta testing.

Step 1 is registering and creating your avatar. It's pretty sleek, flash based and has a limited set of options right now, so could not make an exact replica of the mighty handsome VeeJay Burns that walks Second Life, but this'll do for the time being.

Step 2 is to download a 400Kb app installer to render your room. This is the amazing Unity webplayer, amazingly small, yet powerfull and full of potential.

Step 3 is to log in and get going. However, something went wrong and I crashed about six times


My Hangout


What I intended to show you was a 3D embedded version of my hangout. Something went wrong there. I'll keep you posted

What you see now is a snapshot of my Hangout... Well, I still have a lot of decorating to do. If you want to see the real thing, you'll have to add 3D to your browser.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Geek Meet - the Celeb Edition?

Another Geekmeet Friday with a show packed with Second Life goodies went down at Dr. Dobbs island again. Tonight's lineup:


  • MSo Lambert and Sensual Casanove from Synthetic speaking on the Subscribe-O-Matic.
  • Navillus Batra, aka Jacob Sullivan of i3D demonstrating the brand new LSL unit testing tech that Linden Lab commisioned his company to build.
  • Felix Wakmann and Diva Canto of the SLBrowser giving a demo of the new 2.0 version.

Since this was a first (full) voice edition, it was a bloggersnightmare, but a great show once more.

The Subscribe-O-Matic is basically tying to work about a couple of problems business owners face when trying to use groups to stay in touch with their customers, or potential customers. It is a networked system of devices that sellers can use in their shops, which customers can simply touch to "subscribe" to their Subscribe-O-Matic list


The best way to say something on the Unit Testing done by i3D is by giving a quote from Metaversed:



"Scriptors will be able to plug individual units of code into the system and stress test and debug with verbose reporting. They'll even be able to track individual functions performance within different units, helping to narrow down bug hunts, and tune performance of complex apps. "



read full piece here




The final stand was made by Felix Wakmann on the SL Browser, which is to some extend a mash-up of the Metamart hud and the Electric Sheep Search Engine.




Perhaps due to the talks on i3D's testing unit the Geekmeet turned out to almost being a celeb-edition with several Linden employees attending and also Aimee Weber was sighted.



Aric Linden, Linden Labs' QA has enjoyed working with i3D pretty much:



"We've really enjoyed working with them and we're very excited to be able to collaborate with folks. We hope to be doing more of it in the future."



Aimee has told me a few weeks ago that she was too busy to keep up with stuff, but has been meaning to come to one of these events for some time now. This time she finally found some time to squeeze it in her busy schedule.


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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mystical Benchmarking

Mystical Cookie, creator of Mystitool, "your Swiss Army knife for Second Life", brings a new cool app for Second Life; Benchmarking Server Performance

NickWilson, at Metaversed wrote this:
"A new tool, released just hours ago, aims to benchmark the performance of Second Life servers by running resource intensive scripts within a region, allowing residents to compare performance statistics before shelling out hard earnede Linden dollars on a new home. Mystical Cookie, creator of Second Life's favorite swiss army knife utility, the MystiTool, today released her "benchmark sim tester", that once rezzed, will perform a number of tests upon the island it inhabits, producing a score that can be comared against other islands."

Below you'll see Nick in awe

Performance is a well known issue in Second Life, and Linden Labs themselves are trying to find ways to pull together the ultimate performance testing strategy. However, it's hard to get 3.000 people to jump on one sim for stress testing. Professionally speaking that would costs thousands of dollars for a single stress test.

Will this new app be the desired tooling? Or will it 'just' be a gadget?

I put it to the test and had a Sr. Test Engineer from Sogeti's Expertunit "Process of Automating Quality Assurance and Testing" (PAQT) have a look at it.

"It is a nice tool for users who want to have some quick info on their sim, see if it's up to speed. In no way it is a performance testing tool. In performance testing we look as much as possible to realistic usage. During testing we monitor various systemresources of several servers. This can't be done with this tool (yet), but it's worth to have a look at it and see how it develops."

Sofar, a gadget, but with the right progging it might evolve

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Pownce Review

Here's a short review on Pownce, the new IM social networking thing from the States. We've had Twitter and Jaiku and suddenly there is Pownce.

Pownce launched on june 26th into Alpha testing. So after barely one week of existence it is a little short to draw conclusions. Too early to tell if Pownce will be the next killer app or will be doomed before it leaves alpha or beta testing.

In my twittergroup it kinda hyped and everyone was screaming for invites. Why? I think two reasons:

  1. One of the makers of Pownce is KevinRose (from Digg) and
  2. Robert Scoble (Scobleizer) is on it as well.
The early signs were promising, but over the weekend Pownce saw an onrush of new users resulting in scalability and stability problems. The slick looking Adobe AIR driven client crashed several times.
There are a number of features on Pownce which I really like.
The screen below is the webinterface. Pownce has a number of very nice features, when compared to Twitter or Jaiku.
  1. You can reply to messages (and rate them)
  2. You can send files and plan events
  3. You can divide your friends in various subsets (see last pic)
Off course, there's always a downside. The first two "weak points" may not be that bad at all though, depends on how you look at the world of Ol' Bill's Crap.
  1. Not every setting works when changed in IE, works fine in Firefox though ;)
  2. My current templates works with alphachannels and transparency. Doesn't work in IE6, so the background of white text becoms white, ergo non readable.
  3. After the sudden onrush of new twitter-seasoned folks it seems as if Pownce is experiencing some problems with scalability.
  4. There's no support for mobile messaging

Finally there's some points that the lot of them (Pownce, Jaiku and Twitter) could take notice of: In this day and age of social networks and metaverses we all know eachother by different names, our real name, our social name, our metaverse name and what have you got. An extensive addressbook would come in handy.

Anyway, here's a few other blogposts

Worth mentioning is Tao Takashi's notes on the lack of mobile support and RSS:

"What Pownce is missing is the mobile side of things. You cannot yet send or receive posts via SMS and additionally only one RSS feed is there right now which is the feed of your and your friend’s posts but not the one of the main timeline. Moreover an API seems to be there as they created an external application using AIR themselves and somebody made a Facebook application but it’s not open or documented it seems."

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pushing the Limit on SL

Most sims I've visited are maxed out on say what... 50 visitors? Something close to that. Why? If it gets above that Second Life gets slooooooooow, al those textures to be streamed to your client and all those prims. Wait a second, prims? Prims are the things you build, not the things you wear, right? Well partly.


Okay, here's a short short version to Second Life noobs [skip if you're well metaversed].

An island is a server, with server space and capacity. If you build things (buildings) on the island, you build them on the server. For building you use the Second Life building blocks called prims and you create objects. These objects are stored onto the server (with a usual max of 15.000 prims / building blocks), but the textures on the island/server/sim are stored in a central database or asset server. Both are streamed to your desktop as you come to the sim. Avatars (your virtual YOU) aren't made of prims but do use textures for clothing, which need to be uploaded to your desktop as well. Now there's one thing more. Quite a few residents of Second Life have tailored hairdo's, wigs that are made from prims, sometimes even upto 500 prims for a good looking hairdo.

So if everything has to be transferred to your client, you can imagine that 50 visitors bring more textures to stream than 25. If it's getting too much to load, Second Life becomes laggy. Which means you'll see gray people, your movement is slow etcetera.

All in all, I've been told that 99 people was an absolute max. Well it isn't. I just came across the island of mediascape, home to TJ's Icepalace, a danceclub and noticed there were 103 people present. Absolutely undoable I thought, since I've been at several sims wtih 50 people present and that was really laggy. This one wasn't! How do they do it?

It's a proper build, landscaped, buildings, boats, terraces etcetera... so how do they do it?

SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/mediascape/110/144/22

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Dutch get a Testlife

Friday the Testlife sim opened up for public. For once there's a test intitiative that's not been initiated by Sogeti's TMAP, but this comes from the testers Four Oaks in Arnhem
This is somewhat an a-typical sim, as it absolutely has no explicit branding except for the four oaks dominating the foresty sim. It's a paintball area where testers can meet and community-build in a fun environment.
The builders are the Dutch DNBMedia corp who're also working hard in the 0031 area.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

User Acceptance in a Virtual Environment

FYI

I just ran into an interesting report on User Acceptance in a virtual environment:
http://www.fetscherin.com/UserAcceptanceVirtualWorlds.htm

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Linden gets a grip

Last week saw Linden's response to the Project Open Letter. Their statement that they are devoting more people to solving scaling and stability. Their statement was received with certain scepticism. In this blog I was a little critical as well.
Nonetheless there are a few things in Second Life that have to be noted at this point. Last month Second Life became slow and unstable when the online resident count reached about 37.000. This week saw a steady rise to 41.000 simultaneous logins without notable disturbance to stability or lag.
As Second Life gains momentum, Linden Lab itself is growing as well. In the past week I have had several discussions with Linden employees. They are working hard on Quality Assurance and getting a structured test approach up and running to avoid more ineffective patches.
I still like to see some big improvement in certain areas, but have to say that indeed they are working on it. Second Life's growth does require a revision of Linden's Tao.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Virtual World, Real life Governance

Project Open Letter update


This weeks Town Hall meeting waspretty much all about the Project Open Letter. The POL has been signed by many respected virtual residents and is about one of the first complaints that's been taking serious by Linden Labs. The wrap up is that we're worried, and they're worried.

The POL names a few problems that need to be fixed and Linden addressed a few problems (here's A detailed response to the open letter ). They're gonna sort out the Inventory backup issue and devote 3/4 of their DEVmembers to scaling and stability.

The thing that bothers me is we're talking about issues, Linden is talking about bug fixes and patches (which don't always work - Perhaps Linden should call us for a little advice on how to perform structured testing (TMAP)) but no one is talking IT Governance here. Have we rooted out the source of these nuisances and is there an alternative to patching?

Some new and noteworthy tidbits are that Linden is considering opening up a server park somewhere in Europe to spread the residential load and segragation between basic and premium account members.

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