Last time I wrote about how I switched from Delicious to Google Reader's shared links feature only to find out that week that Google was removing the Google Reader shared links feature in favor of Google Plus social features (I'll save my Google Plus rant for another day).
Forced to find something new again, I'm now very pleased with Tumblr. Google Reader has Tumblr in its preset list of Send To sites which makes it relatively easy to add articles. And Tumblr's UX for adding things lets me easily pick a photo or video to display from the article - something which I had put together with a less convenient UX on my bespoke blogging system. For adding things outside of Google Reader I made a Tumblr accelerator to hookup to the Tumblr Add UX.
Of course they have an RSS feed which I hooked up to my blog. The only issue I had there is that when you add a link (and not a video or photo) to Tumblr, the RSS feed entry title for that link is repeated in the entry description as a link followed by a colon and then the actual description entered into Tumblr. I want my title separate so I can apply my own markup so I did a bit of parsing of the description to remove the repeated title from the description.
Sarah and I just got back home from a Eric and Jane's wedding / Sarah and Dave's vacation trip to the Bahamas (note the lack of activity for the past twelve days on my website). I've got plenty of photos and things to post but for now I'll just relate this humorous anecdote during the rehearsal dinner. I had said something about photos to Jim, Eric's brother and he gave me a crazy look. "Oh, I thought you meant like pho-tos" he said. It took me a moment to realize he misunderstood what I said as "faux toes". I laughed until I cried a little. Also works with digital faux toes.
Irritatingly, my G1 won't show me PDFs so I've made the Google Docs PDF viewer which will load PDFs on the web up in Google Docs. Google Docs has the useful ability to display PDFs in web browsers without any Adobe software and works (mostly) on Android.
This was very easy to put together as an Android activity. First its necessary to register the application as handling PDFs from the web. This is done via the intent-filter declaration in the manifest:
The action part says my activity will view PDFs, the data part says it accepts data with the PDF mime-type and with a URL that has an HTTP scheme. The browsable category is necessary to allow links from a browser to open this activity.
intent-filter action android:name="android.intent.action.VIEW"/ data android:scheme="http" android:mimeType="application/pdf"/ category android:name="android.intent.category.DEFAULT"/ category android:name="android.intent.category.BROWSABLE"/ /intent-filter
Second, the activity opens up the browser to Google Docs pointing to the PDF.
This is very simple code to invoke a new intent browsing to a newly constructed URL for the PDF in Google Docs. That was easy.
Intent intent = new Intent(); intent.setAction(getIntent().getAction()); intent.setData(Uri.parse( "http://docs.google.com/gview?embedded=true&url=" + percentEncodeForQuery(getIntent().getData().toString()))); startActivity(intent);
There's no easy way to use local applications on a PC as the result of an accelerator or a search provider in IE8 but there is a hack-y/obvious way, that I'll describe here. Both accelerators and search providers in IE8 fill in URL templates and navigate to the resulting URL when an accelerator or search provider is executed by the user. These URLs are limited in scheme to http and https but those pages may do anything any other webpage may do. If your local application has an ActiveX control you could use that, or (as I will provide examples for) if the local application has registered for an application protocol you can redirect to that URL. In any case, unfortunately this means that you must put a webpage on the Internet in order to get an accelerator or search provider to use a local application.
For examples of the app protocol case, I've created a callto accelerator that uses whatever application is registered for the callto scheme on your system, and a Windows Search search provider that opens Explorer's search with your search query. The callto accelerator navigates to my redirection page with 'callto:' followed by the selected text in the fragment and the redirection page redirects to that callto URL. In the Windows Search search provider case the same thing happens except the fragment contains 'search-ms:query=' followed by the selected text, which starts Windows Search on your system with the selected text as the query. I've looked into app protocols previously.
I've made a QR Encode accelerator around Google Chart's QR code generator. QR codes are 2D bar-codes that can store (among other things) URLs and have good support on mobile phones. The accelerator I've written lets you generate a QR code for a selected link and view it in the preview window. In combination with the ZXing bar-code scanner app for my Android cellphone, its easy for me to right click on a link in IE8 on my desktop PC, hover over the QR Encode accelerator to have the link's associated QR code displayed, and then with my phone read that QR code to open my phone's browser to the URL contained inside. Its much easier to browse around in the comfort of my desktop and only send particular URLs to my cellphone as necessary.
I've made an extension for Internet Explorer 8, FormToAccelerator which turns HTML forms on a web page into either an accelerator or a search provider. In the design of the accelerators format we intentionally had HTML forms in mind so that it would be easy to create accelerators for existing web services. Consequently, creating an accelerator from an HTML form is a natural concept and an extension I've been meaning to finish for many months now.
This is similar in concept to the Opera feature that lets you add a form as a search provider. The user experience is very rough and requires some knowledge of accelerator variables. If I can come up with a better interaction model I may update this in the future, but at the moment all the designs I can come up with require way too much effort. Install IE8 RC1 and then try out FormToAccelerator.
With the new features of IE8 there's several easy ways to integrate Gmail, Google's web mail service, for mail composition, searching, and monitoring that I enjoy using.
Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 is available now. I can finally talk about some of the stuff I've been working on for the past year or so: activities. Activities let you select a document, some text on a document, or a link to a document and run that selection through a web service. For example, you could select a word on a webpage and look it up in Wikipedia, select an address and map it on Yahoo Maps, select a webpage and translate it into English with Windows Live Translator, or select a link and add it to Digg.
IE8 comes installed with some activities based on Microsoft web services but there's a page you can go to to install other activities. However, that page is missing some of my favorites that I use all the time, like del.icio.us. Accordingly, I've put together a page of the activities I use. MSDN has all the info on creating Activities.
Activities are very similar to other existing features in other browsers including the ability to add context menu items to IE. There's two important differences which make activities better. Activities have a preview window that pops out when you hover over an activity, which is useful to get in place information easily provided by developers. The other is that the interface is explicit and takes after HTML FORMs and OpenSearch descriptions. Because the interface is explicitly described in XML (unlike the context menu additions described above which run arbitrary script) we have the ability to use activities in places other than on a webpage in the future. And because activity definitions are similar to HTML FORMs, if your webservice has an HTML FORM describing it you can easily create an activity.