Something has been bothering me for a while. I have a colleague that needs to post some files on a site every week, and she needs to do it via FTP. FTP is ‘geeky’ for most people. Their PC does not come with an FTP program installed, they never need it for daily web usage and they’re not sure how it is different from email/web upload. I ended up installing Filezilla for her and she manages, but it would be so much easier if I could tell her: just email it to XYZ@example.com and it will arrive on that FTP server. Sending email, everyone can do.
Another issue I had is that I would like to offer a service (that involves audio manipulation of WAV files) and I would like people to send an email with the file attached and I send back the result. In both cases, the problem is the same: email now arrives in a mailbox and is expected to be handled manually. I would like a platform service: I pay for the usage of an email address, and every mail that arrives there triggers a number of actions that are automatic.
Not just a service, a platform
Of course I’m not the first one to think of this. Flickr allows for posting pictures via email (I use that a lot), you can send your blog posts via email with Tumblr, Posterous and even WordPress. Customer support services allow auto-responding on incoming emails with suggestions for resolutions. It’s just that all these services are specific to the provider. To do it, you have either poll for incoming email (check your POP3 box every N minutes) or build/configure an SMTP server that handles incoming email. If you’ve ever encountered the black magic involved in configuring a sendmail/postfix/qmail server, you know that’s not for everyone. Me as a web developer/hacker, I want to configure: mails sent to XYZ@example.com are posted to my web page with the email body, sender, attachments (as URL), or published via a private RSS feed, and that’s how I get them into my workflow.
The funny thing is that a much more limited communication method, SMS/texting, has these platforms. There’s Twilio, Fortumo, Tropo, that allow you to receive text messages and make them trigger things. The US providers even allow for setting up automated IVR (Interactive Voice Response – a.k.a. “Press 1 for …”) application through these services.
So, the idea
So what could this platform look like?
- I register for the service and I get the prefix ACME
- I then start defining my services: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- I configure acme.upload to save attachments to an FTP server and send a confirmation email.
- I configure acme.support to send a confirmation email with a unique number and forward the email with this unique number in the subject. Also, I get an SMS.
- I configure acme.register to take .XLS files, convert them to TEXT and post them to a web service I have created. I also get the sent emails in an RSS feed.
- I now create my ‘public’ addresses: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com and forward these to the email addresses I created above.
- I get daily/weekly reporting, spam detection, and unlimited scaling.
Do anything like this exist?
I remember that before I started photography on a serious level, I had some understanding of shutter speed, but none of aperture and focal length. Even when I read what they meant, I still couldn’t ‘picture’ it, had no feeling for the numbers. Let’s leave ‘aperture’ for another time and just concentrate for now on the concept of “focal length”
First of all, the focal length of a lens is not the same as the actual physical length of the lens. Yes, 200mm and 300mm lenses (telephoto lenses) tend to be longer, but they’re not exactly 200mm and 300mm long. For instance, the Sigma 55-200mm F4-5.6 DC HSM is 85mm (3.3″) long, while the 70-200mm F2.8 II EX DG lens is 184mm (7.2″). Same maximal focal length, but more than twice as long.
So what is focal length? I could explain that it is “the distance from the center of the lens to the principal foci (or focal points) of the lens“, but that wouldn’t make it more comprehensible, would it? Well, I read through the theory, with tangens of the viewing angle and stuff, and I think I understand it (I’m an engineer, I actually like trigoniometry). A 200mm lens gives a viewing angle of 12° on the diagonal. Still not clear? That’s when I thought: let’s invent something more tangible: the “portrait distance“. Say you need a surface of about 72cm x 48cm (28″ x 18″) to make a portrait of a person (not just a headshot, but with some torso on it too). See some examples below:
Well, the distance between the camera and the person you’re making the portrait of, will be +- 20 times the focal length.
Continue reading ‘Focal length for the common man: “portrait distance”’
I was downloading a free iPhone app at noon, and I thought: some of these applications have no good alternative in the browser world. Imagine everyone could start using/buying the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch applications right in their browser. You give your Apple ID, you purchase an app like ColorSplash and off you go. Some of the multi-touch interface would be hard to emulate, but still. It would have to be an Apple application that does it: like e.g. iTunes. It’s got your Apple ID anyway. Why not run a virtual iPod Touch in there?
- some applications for iPhone/iPod just have no worthy counterpart in the ‘normal’ world.
- an application would run immediately on Apple MacOSX as well as Windows XP/Vista/7
- the iPhone developers wouldn’t be looking anymore at a potential audience of some X million iPhone owners, but at all iTunes owners.
Research analyst Sam Bhavnani, of the market research firm Current Analysis, says that iTunes has 200 million users. Research analyst Shaw Wu, of the market research firm American Technology Research, gives a figure of 100 million. Oddly, Apple itself gives a much lower number: 10 million.
Seth Godin came up with a visualisation of ‘means of communication’: bandwidth vs sync(chronicity). He took a number of ‘old’ (postal mail, radio) and ‘new’ (blogs, Youtube and -of course- Twitter) technologies and ranked them on a 2D graph according to ‘quality’ (density or bandwidth) and ‘sync’ (speed of reaction).
Although it is an interesting way of visualizing things, and I consider Seth a very bright and creative guy, I am bothered by the fact that the graph is neither clear, correct nor complete.
Continue reading ‘Seth’s bandwidth vs synchronicity graph: it’s a start’