Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sport Relief

I just spent an unusual but worthwhile Sunday, taking part in the Sport Relief Mile (well, three miles, actually) challenge, joining thousands of other people raising money for worthy causes both here, and overseas. My three mile route took place round the parks in Southampton where there was a wide diversity of participants: all ages, serious athletes, able-bodied, disabled. Some ran, others walked; one woman using a walking frame took her own time to complete the course. Take a look here:

video



Thank you to everyone who sponsored me. If you haven't done so, but would like to, please go to this link.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

What iPhone Apps do you use?


As anyone who knows me personally will vouch, I’m a big fan of the Apple iPhone. I’ve had an “original” since they first became available in the UK, but have recently upgraded to the latest iPhone 3Gs. What makes the iPhone so special & valuable to me is the wealth of free, or really cheap, add-on “apps” that can be downloaded from the iTunes app store to bring extra functionality to the device, as illustrated by this picture from the Apple iPhone website.


If you’re considering a “smartphone”, here’s my personal recommendations:


iPhone built-in basics (other than making and receiving phone calls!) are:



  • Calculator - has lovely big "keys" for normal mode and includes the scientific calculator with trig functions just by turning the iPhone sideways. Valuable aid on site surveys (see Clinometer below)


  • Calendar - I use this for all my appointments, and would be lost without it. Thankfully, syncing with the PC (which I do at least once a week) backs up the calendar into MS Outlook. I also rely on the calendar alert facility to remind me of appointments, but this is a really weak aspect of the iPhone - the alert signal is pathetic and you can't customize it like you can with the clock alarm. Please sort this one out Apple!


  • Camera - not the best phone/cam on the market, but adequate, and really useful when out doing site survey/analysis.


  • Clock - I set different wake-up alarms for normal weekdays and weekends, as well as repeating alerts for other regular items like my networking meetings. I like being able to customise the alarm signal - wish the calendar alert allowed this. I also use the stopwatch timer when I'm rehearsing presentations and the countdown timer when I'm cooking!


  • Compass - standard app on iPhone 3Gs, excellent for surveys (especially if the sun's not out) and gives you the geographic Eastings/Northings reference too, so you can determine the sun sweep properly in your designs.


  • Contacts - I love the direct touch link to make a call or email and to go to Google maps from the address, but it does seem lacking in having no ability to group contacts into personal friends, family, social groups, business contacts (colleagues, clients, suppliers, etc). I cheat by using "keywords" in the “Company” field - I can then use the search facility on these keywords to short-list what I’m looking for. Maybe there's a good app out there for this?


  • Email - one of the essentials of any "smartphone"!


  • iPod - of course, keeps me entertained on those trips out to client sites, whether music or some of the great podcasts available from the Beeb.


  • Maps - direct link to Google maps - useful for finding clients & suppliers, though I've now got CoPilot – see below.


  • Safari - the web browser is the 2nd smartphone essential. The iPhone's ability to have many open web pages, and to fill the screen by tapping & pinch-zooming is simply brilliant.

Additional apps which I've added:



  • Classics, by Andrew Caz & Phill Ryu - excellent free set of 23 (current count) classic/kids novels to read when you've a spare moment. Good user interface.

  • Clinometer, by Peter Breitling - 2 really good uses of the iPhone accelerometer - a brilliant spirit level, and the angle measure - which is great for measuring heights of buildings, trees, etc during a survey. You need a horizontal distance measure to the object (I have a Leica Disto laser for this) then use the iPhone’s scientific calculator for the tangent of the angle read from clinometer.

  • Convert Units, by Free the Apps - although I'm generally OK with imperial / metric linear measures, it makes area, volume and weight conversions easier and saves googling how many square meters in an acre!

  • CoPilot Live UK & Ireland, by ALK Technologies Ltd - now I've upgraded to iPhone 3Gs, with the GPS facility, this is a really cheap & very effective SatNav - especially teamed with a windscreen mount and a charger-cum-FM-transmitter to get the speaking instructions thru the car radio, and play the iPod at the same time. I also got CoPilot Live NA (North America) at a bargain price of £12 over Christmas, ready for my next USA trip.
  • Dictionary.com, by Dictionary.com - for those moments of word blindness!

  • Discover, by mAPPn Inc - one of several "USB" stick apps that let you up / down load files between iPhone & PC. Let's you carry around MS Excel, MS Word documents, PDFs, etc.

  • ECB Cricket, by the OTHER media - useful when you're out if, like me, you're a cricket fan & don't always have a radio handy. Better still, Tunin.FM (or iCarRadio lite as it's now called) so you can listen on R5live Sports Extra - even without a WiFi link.

  • Elevation for Real, by homedatasheet.com Inc. - if knowing altitude is important to your site.

  • Flashlight, by John Haney Software - sometimes helps, so I keep it at top left of my home screen - so it’s easy to find.

  • Google Mobile App, by Google Inc - let's you search the web just by speaking into your iPhone. It's amazingly accurate providing there's not too much background noise, and great when you've got dirty hands from handling soil, etc!

  • Identify Tree, by Christoph Duyster - an app for doing what it says on the tin, using leaf & bark as identifiers. A bit limited in its repertoire, but it was very cheap!

  • iPhone.tvcatchup.com - not an app, but a web portal that streams live Freeview TV channels, even allowing you to pause them – but, as with all video, draining on battery charge, and streaming video’s not very good without a WiFi connection.

  • Keeper Password & Data Vault, by Callpod Inc - if you're anything like me, you'll have zillions of card pins, web account logins and all sorts of other "secret" data to keep track of. This provides a much more secure way of storing things than making up fictitious people in your contacts list!

  • Met Office Weather Application, by UK Met Office - a better weather app than the builtin one, but can be slow.

  • Milebug Lite, by Izatt International - I use this for logging my business trips – the free Lite version only holds 10 trips so it has to be emailed (so I can load it to a spreadsheet on my PC) when it’s full, but it does the job. Now that I've upgraded to the iPhone 3Gs there may be apps which can use the GPS to track trips rather than having to enter details?

  • Park’n Find, by Affinicore Inc - probably the best "where did I leave my car" app for those times when you're out in a strange place, or at a trade show / exhibition, etc.

  • Project Tracker, by collabtools - one of the many project tracking tools. I find this one really easy & useful, using a new project for each current client, and task headings such as travel, client meetings, survey/site analysis, draw up survey, concept design, design detail, construction/specification, planting design, etc. As I have the separate To-Do app, as well as the inbuilt calendar app, I haven't found a use for PTracker’s voice notes, todo list, etc

  • Ruler, by DAVA Consulting - a very simple measuring tool for those occasions when you've forgotten a ruler - would be even better if it let you specify a scale, so it became a scale ruler to read off plans!

  • SketchBook MobileX, by Autodesk Inc - an app which lets you draw / paint sketches on the iPhone, including overlaid onto photos. Can be useful for helping to convey ideas to a client on-site - providing you've become fairly proficient with it!

  • To-Do List, by Concrete Software Inc - one of many apps in this area. I used the free one for 2 years and have now upgraded to the "pro" version.

  • Toilet Finder, by BeTomorrow - can help with pressing needs when out & about, but database has some strange anomalies!

  • Travel News, by DirectGov – road and public transport live update. Can be useful when making long trips, but desperately slow.

  • Tunin.FM iCarRadio lite, by Mobilaria BV - gives you Internet radio channels even without a WiFi link when you're out & about – but beware of running down your battery!

  • Tweetdeck for iPhone, by Tweetdeck Inc - as a fan of Twitter, it's good to have this with me when I'm out & about.

  • WifiZone@UK, by WeesWares - database showing nearest WiFi locations. Occasionally useful.

What apps have you installed that help professionally, or with personal organisation?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Time for Spring Cleaning!

Back in the autumn last year, I made a plea for not tidying up your garden, because of the advantages that gave to wildlife, etc. Well, at last there are signs of an emergent spring and with this weekend promising to remain dry, the ground should be firm enough to work on, so it’s now time for me to get on with that work!

I’ve already pruned the trees (Acer capillipes, Amelanchier and Euonymus europaeus) that I need to keep under control in my limited space earlier this year, so my list of tasks is
  • start with pruning my few roses back to a good open frame;
  • hard pruning (“stooling”) those shrubs whose purpose is coloured winter stems (Cornus species) and fresh foliage (Physocarpus, coloured-leaf Spiraea);
  • clearing the dead stems & foliage of the ferns, perennials and non-evergreen grasses;
  • wire-rake over the crowns of my hardy Geraniums to take out all the dead stuff and give them space for the new growth to breathe;
  • dig out a Miscanthus grass which has outgrown the space available and looks out of balance with its neighbouring plants. I’ll probably replace it with a less dense grass such as Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’ - I have another one close by at the edge of a rain garden I made last year - and fill the space around it with some contrasting low-growing perennials such as Heucheras – you can get such an amazing range of foliage colours in them, I’m a big fan;
  • move a “lollipop” Bay tree into a larger pot that I got last weekend – partly to give it a bit more weight – it’s been blown over several times in the recent gusty high winds. I can re-use the smaller pot for a Carex ‘Frosted Curls’ which is in need of extra space;

I won’t tackle the Penstemons (which need hard pruning to stop them getting woody) yet, nor the back-to-framework pruning of the Buddleia, nor any of the evergreen shrubs, as it would encourage the new buds to break and it’s still too cold & frost-prone for sappy new growth to do well. Give it a few more weeks until late March/early April (at least in my neck of the woods!).

Then it will also be time to sow some annual flower seeds to provide more nectar for bee foraging (one of my contributions to International Year of Biodiversity) and to get my spuds (which are chitting nicely indoors) out into the spud-bin and large pots that I use on my sunny deck.

Happy days!