Monthly Archives: January 2009

Truly useful apps: my iPhone home screen

The iPhone offers up to 9 pages of 16 apps. Sounds like a lot but with the number of apps out there offering an immense wealth and variety of functions, combined with the trial and error required to find truly useful apps, these can quickly fill up.

As iPhone app pages fill it becomes all the more important to organise the pages, making the most useful close to hand; those apps that are called upon daily to organise, plan, inform or entertain. Below is a guide to the iPhone apps I regard as essential and hold pride of place on my iPhone’s home screen. Now naturally the prominence of apps is something of a personal choice; each person probably places a different amount of weight on different tasks and their respective apps. These simply are mine. I don’t profess they’re the life-changing for everyone but I would certainly feel poorer without them. Non-default apps in bold.

Home page iPhone apps
Home page iPhone apps

1. SMS – Yes there’s e-mail and Twitter but many tasks still require the simplicity, immediacy and obtrusiveness of the text message. The iPhone’s SMS display is the best I’ve ever accounted, displaying messages to/from each contact in the style of a conversation.

2. Clock – Yes other, more attractive clock apps are available and I’ve got a couple installed but when it comes to setting the alarm for work I still call upon the default clock.

3. Calendar – To be fair I don’t use the default Calendar a great deal but it has its uses, such as the alert. For tasks to-do I use Things, below.

4. Weatherpro – A fine improvement over the default weather app. I’ve reviewed Weatherpro in detail separately but its highlights include detailed weather forecasts for throughout the day, animated satellite and rain radar maps and favourite cities, all combined with the best weather information for Europe available on iPhone.

5. Maps – The default Google Maps and still the best, utilised by many of my favourite apps. Simply superb and indispensible.

6. Settings – Default iPhone apps, always useful to have handy.

7. Contacts – Again, necessary to have at hand.

8. Night Camera – An improvement on the default camera app, Night Camera’s most useful feature is the movement detection, whereby it takes a photo only when it detects the camera is still. This makes it superb for clear, unblurred photos in all manner of conditions and I have it on this setting by default. Also offers timer and normal camera modes.

9. TubeStatus – This free app tells me the status of each of the London Underground lines. Clear, nicely laid out at-a-glance guide to how my commute will be.

10. Pro RSS – All the newspapers and other news sources you want easily at hand with what’s widely regarded as one of the best RSS readers for iPhone. I check the news and tech news websites each morning on the way into work.

11. WunderRadio – This glorious app turns your iPhone into an Internet Radio. It seems to be regarded as best in class and certainly offers the best selection of stations of any such app that I’ve found, including, crucially, all of the BBC radio stations, often with multiple bit-rate options.

12. Facebook – Does what it says on the tin, the Facebook site optimised for iPhone through this app. I like it a lot of quickly and easily checking what everyone has been up to. I find the chat element of it doesn’t work so well but on the whole it does the job. Allows you to update your status and post images, so it’s a good on-the-go option too.

13. MyDiary – Simply a replacement for a written diary. I use Things to remind me what I need to do, however MyDiary is a fine app for logging the progress of the passing year.

14. Things – An excellent to-do app which does have a desktop Mac equivalent that I haven’t yet used. I find this app does a fine job of managing my to-do requirements as it is and I know I don’t use it half as much as I could (and probably should) do.

15. YouNote – While Things reminds me what I need to do and MyDiary logs what I have done, if I come across something in my travels I need to quickly note down, be in in text, as an image or in audio then YouNote is the eminently flexible way of doing it.

16. Tweetie – Last but certainly not least – as I find the bottom-right location really quite handy – is this very well regarded Twitter app. It does pretty much everything I’d call upon a mobile Twitter app to do with its location-based features adding an impressive extra dynamic to Twittering. Not only can you search for Twitterers nearby (my favourite option) but you can also use the GPS to update your profile location and post your location in a map link.

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The apostrophe cretins strike back

Following on from  my post about the seemingly insoluble problem of people simply not bothering with apostrophes in signs and place names, Birmingham City Council has officially decided no longer to include apostrophes in any street signs. See here for further details.

They claim it’s consistent. Well, surely it would still have been consistent to put the apostrophes in properly? Such an opportunity missed for educating the masses of Birmingham.

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The advantages of a hamster hoover

When entertaining Eddie, our resident hamster, I knocked a bag of his food on the carpet, spilling some of the contents. Although I could have tried to sweep it up I had a better idea: employ the hamster hoover to clean the carpet. To this task Eddie applied himself with distinction, as illustrated below:

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Muffins: Fast and Fantastic?

517aso-0vvl_ss500_ We’ve become complete muffin freaks at Dara Cottage. Having bought a Jamie Oliver silicone muffin tin from Lakeland in Windermere over New Year, I started with breakfast muffins from Waitrose’s site and then used that idea to make blueberry muffins last week. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than buying coffee shop muffins and they substitute for almost any meal in an emergency.

Over the next however many weeks, I’ll be working through this recipe book on the left, which is by a Canadian author, so should be a bit more authentic than sites from the UK. That’s my thinking, anyway.

This week we have lemon and poppy seed muffins, a Caffe Nero favourite. If these things aren’t seriously lemony, I’ll be very surprised. We have lemon rind, lemon extract AND lemon juice in here. I’ve stuck very closely to the recipe, other than having to substitute about 100g of wholemeal flour for plain flour, as I hadn’t any more of the latter in the cupboard.

You mix together the dry ingredients (plain flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt), then the wet (an egg, sugar, lemon rind, lemon extract, water, oil, milk and lemon juice), then combine the two. The mixture was much drippier than the other recipes I’ve used, so I’m hoping for lighter muffins. Very clear instructions (if you want the actuallemon quantities, you’ll have to buy the book or leave your email address!).

So, to the taste test. Discovered that I really should only have filled up the tin three quarters of the way, as the tops have flopped to the side a bit (and I’d have more than the eight that made). Just off to pop the muffins out and transfer them to a cooling rack (the rack from my grill doubling up…).

The taste test: somehow (and I really don’t know how), they’re not as lemony as I was hoping for. Texture’s good, though – very light and fluffy with a firm top. Susan Reimer clearly knows what she’s talking about.

Rating: 7/10 Dara points.

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Twitter: reaching critical mass?

It’s been almost impossible to avoid Twitter in the media over the past few weeks. Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, two of the most popular UK Twitterers (user names @stephenfry and @wossy respectively) discussed Twitter on the return of Wossy’s show last night. Philip Schofield (@schofe) gave Twitter a mention on This Morning – which is about as mainstream and ungeeky as it comes – and just now passed a total of 7,000 followers to his Twitter stream.

London was recently proclaimed the top city for Twitter use, indicating that the cult of Twittering has taken hold in the UK more than anywhere else with Twitter now the 291st most visited website in the UK. This excludes the considerable mobile use of Twitter, which is massive with iPhone users and would surely push the stats higher still.

If you’ve hitherto failed to hear about Twitter, it’s a social media system allowing messages of up to 140 messages to be posted and shared with the world. It’s rather akin to the status updates on Facebook and you can choose to follow the Twitter streams of others, whose updates you can be instantly alerted to. It’s the immediacy of the system which is part of its success as is its simplicy, which has nevertheless been employed to share a huge variety of information.

We’re not just talking about people boringly posting the minutiae of their lives. Although there’s an element of this, which in itself leads to users sharing experiences, knowledge and interacting socially, Twitter is also used more broadly to alert and offer the opportunity to interact. Most major newspapers and news organisations feed their headlines through Twitter with some actively engaging with the userbase and requesting input on the stories being covered. The potential for enhancing interaction in the democratic process is also being explored with a number of MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates on Twitter, conveniently indexed on the Tweetminster website.

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Bibliohooliganism: A volte-face?

When I was about 8, I voraciously devoured every Enid Blyton school story I could get my hands on. Literally. The covers were gnawed off almost obsessively. Folds were made that marked the boundaries of which bit would be torn off that day.  By the time I was 11, I looked back on this habit with loathing and gave out mini codes of conduct with every paperback I lent, so that they would return to me pristine and unsullied by the grubby hands of my excessively carefree friends. My brother is still regularly made to suffer for sitting on The Complete Sherlock Holmes (a Christmas present) and bending the cover irreparably. I would never, ever, ever have dreamed of actually writing in any of my books.

However, I’ve found more recently that the increasingly poor editing of (specifically, but I doubt exclusively) certain ancient history books has led to me read with a pen (yes, my children, a PEN) to hand in order to correct errors. You might be marvelling at my unbounded hubris, but let me show you what I mean (errors coloured green):

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The mule twitters

Regular visitors to the blog will have noticed the new Twitter feed on the right of the page. Yes, the mule now offers instant news and updates through Twitter in addition to the more considered musings here on the blog.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter, it’s a popular site that allows you to post 140 character long messages, viewable to anyone who chooses to follows your feed. Its popularity has been growing steadily over the past two years and as with other websites noted for tapping into the zeitgeist is reaching a critical mass. Twitter’s growing influence is growing the following of an ever broader and important user base. Media coverage reaching a high point yesterday as the first photo of the plane in the Hudson River reached world attention through Twitter, making the poster an instant, if temporary, celebrity.

So it is that the Mule joins the Twitter and hopes that visitors will enjoy how the immediacy of the tweets complements the blog. Let us know your thoughts and please follow our Twitter feed.

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Eddie the Hamster

This is Eddie the Hamster, resident pet of Dara cottage. Although over 2 years old, Eddie remains sprightly, enjoying runs in his wheel and exploration beyond his cage. Eddie is perhaps the least fussy eater of the house and will try anything once, if not several times, including fingers until disuaded.

Always active unless alseep in his penthouse apartment, he is notoriously difficult to photograph, especially on a sluggish phone camera when he’s out and about, however here’s a snap when he’s enjoying the comforts and facilities afforded to him in his cage:

Eddie the Hamster at home in his cage
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Welcome to Metroland

The mule comes to you from the heart of Metroland, that area to the North West of London along the Metropolitan line of the Underground, publicised as the enticing Metroland by the Metropolitan Railway (as was) during the inter-war years of the 20th century. Thanks go to local blogger Brady Rafuse for bringing Diamond Geezer’s excellent guide to Metroland to my attention. In it he revisited the stations and places, past and present along the Met line.

Back in the summer we also explored a few other pleasant corners of Metroland, including charming Old Amersham and the canal at Rickmansworth:

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