Tag Archive: Wikipedia

Mar 03

iPod Touch Review: Wikpedia on your iPod Touch!

Wikipedia on the iPod TouchArguably, one of the greatest current contributions to the Internet is Wikipedia, a solid encyclopedic resource for general knowledge of topics spanning literally millions of articles. Though the accuracy of some of its articles is questionable, overall, Wikipedia does an excellent job of presenting generally reliable content. A point of note that any researcher, student, or general Internet user should know, is that because of its susceptibility to error and vandalism, Wikipedia, should not be used as a difinitive research resource, it should be considered a great starting point for researching a topic.)

Like searching on Google, Wikipedia is fast and intuitive to use. On the iPod Touch, the Safari Web browser renders Wikipedia pages very well. But accessing Wikipedia from the iPod Touch has one major drawback: you must be online. Recently, however, there have been several sfforts to provide Wikipedia content in an offline format. This article covers two such offerings:

Wikipedia.app

Wiki2Touch  (My Pick!)

I review what I like about them, what I dislike, and which I like best, so read on for a full review of these two applications….

Generally speaking, offline Wikipedia implementaions require several components to work including a huge data file containing the text content of Wikipedia’s articles, some supporting files, and an application that handles the searching and displaying of the article content. Fortunately, getting Wikipedia’s data isn’t that difficult because Wikipedia makes this English languave data readily available in the form of a downloadable XML file. (If you require foreign versions, a number of foreign languages are available as well.) Currently, the data weighs in at about 3GB, so it may take a while to download the data. But downloading this 3GB+ file is just the start. You then need to convert the file into a format that the offline applications can manage. Fortunately, this is not a difficult process–time-consuming, but not difficult.

Wikipedia.app

The first application in this review is Wikipedia.app . This was the first offline implementation I tried, and it was simply amazing! It provided quick access to almost all Wikipedia text content. Entering search after search revealed just how much data could be packed onto an iPod Touch.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia.app is not without its issues as it’s not too hard to crash the application, particularly when following links from redirects. There are some simple workarounds, but this is still a drawback. The display is very simple, providing a nice scrollable display, but that’s about it. There are no bells and whistles, so if you are looking for a small, lean application, this is it.

On the positive side, Wikipedia.app gave me my first taste of using Wiklipedia offline, and it provided adequate access to its articles. Searching was quick, and the display layout, while spartan, looked great. Many articles include internal links referencing other articles, so tapping any of the links displays that new article. Other than the occasional crash, it did work well.

Another positive is in setup. Setting up Wikipedia.app was very straight forward. The first thing you need is the Wikipedia text data. Wikipedia.app provides a large pre-built data file that weighs in at just over 2GB in size. It’s an English language snapshot of Wikipedia text content from October, 2007–a few other lanugage versions are also available. Instructions are provided to manually build a more recent version, but the currently available version is fairly recent, so using the pre-built file makes isntallation much easier. You also need to download some supporting files and the Wikipedia.app application. Installation was as simple as downloading everything (which took a while because of the size), uploading everything to the iPod Touch, setting some file permissions, and restarting Springboard. It was very easy.

Once set up, you end up with a new icon on your Home page that launches a simple Search application. Enter your search text, and Wikipedia.app displays results in real-time as you type. This is great, because you get immediate feedback. Tapping any of the results will do wone of two things: Display the article, or display a redrect page. In most cases, tapping the redirect will either display the article, or display a new redirect. Occasionally, this crashes.

Here is the Wikipedia.app start page:
Wikipedia.app Start page

Here is the results page that displays results as you type:
Wikipedia.app Results Page

Here is an example of a rendered article:
Wikipedia.app Article Page

The articles display in a nice scrollable page with embeded internal links, and there is a button at the top to take you back to the search page. And at the top of the search page is a button to take upi back to the last-viewed article. There is no history, so if you follow internal links, going back will take you to the search page. And when you exit and relaunch the application, no history is saved.

I’d love to see the Wikipedia.app program be stabilized and some features added, but for now, it works well enough. Features I’d like to see added include saving search result history, retention of articles between sessions, and the ability to save “favorite” articles for quick reference. Despite its quirks, it’s an excellent solution.

Wiki2Touch

Wiki2Touch takes a different approach in implementation. You still have a huge article data file, but instead of using a custom client application to search and display the articles, it includes a local Web server application that runs in the background, providing access to the local data directly from Safari. When you point Safari to the local Web server address, it displays a Wikipedia search page. Entering a search request searches the local Wikipedia data file and returns the article results in a nicely-formatted, iPod Touch-friendly page. It’s quick and reliable, and if a result is not found or a link is broken, you simply get an “Article not found” error page–no crashes, no hassels.

Setup is not quite as easy as with Wikipedia.app because you must build the indexed data file yourself. While this may sound daunting, it’s actually very easy–it just takes lots of time. And one advantage to manually building the file is that you can build it using the latest snapshot ensuring that your data will be as current as Wikipedia provides. To build the file, you first have to download the 3GB+ XML data file from Wikipedia. Depending on the speed of yout Internet connection, this could take a while. Next, download the Wiki2Touch program distribution. It’s a small package, so it will be a quick download. You then build the “articles.bin” data file (the actual data file that will be uploaded to your iPod Touch) from the downloaded Wikipedia XML data using a simple “indexer” application. (For Windows users, the process is done by issuing a single DOS command.) The indexer.exe program converts and repackages the XML data into a format usable by the Wiki2Touch se
rver application.

When indexer.exe completes, you upload the new data file and the application files to your iPod Touch (this can take a long time over WiFi) set some file permissions, restart Springboard, launch the Wiki2Touch app, start the server, launch Safari, then point Safari to http://127.0.0.1:8080/index.html. If everything went as expected, you should see a nice Wikipedia search page.

Using Safari to access the local Wikipedia data has several advantages over Wikipedia.app. Because articles are displayed through Safari, you use Safari’s User Interface features such as zooming and screen rotation to your advantage. This makes reading articles more consistent with reading other Web-based content. Second, if you enter s search request that does not find any results, or if a link or redirect happens to be bad, you simply get an “Article not found” error instead of a potential crash. And because articles are returned by Wiki2Touch as a “valid” URL within Safari, you can use Safari’s history, Bookmark, and Web Clip features to better manage and organize your searches and search results. (Oh, and get this: if you have the Wiki2Touch server running, and have WiFi turned on, PC’s on your local network can connect to your Wiki2Touch server via a Web Browser to your iPod Touch and submit queries! While this might potentially cause some security concerns, it’s still pretty cool.)

This is the “start” page:
Wiki2Touch Start page

This is an example of the real-time search page that displays search results as you type:
Wiki2Touch Search

This is the resullting article. Note that though there is no image displayed, it is formatted to accommodate images:

Wiki2Touch Article page

A potential drawback to Wiki2Touch is that overall, you will be using up to 50% more memory (3GB+ compared to 2GB+) than with Wikipedia.app. If you are using an 8GB iPod Touch and want to also carry lots of music and video with you, you may be out of luck. But for me, it’s not an issue, because I’m using my iPod Touch more as a PDA than a media player. You just may need to make some choioces to prioritize what content gets loaded.

Conclusion

So which do I recommend? They are both great implementations, but in the end, I have to recommend using Wiki2Touch. For a quick install and easy-to-use offline access, Wikipedia.app shines. Though it’s not without its quirks, and it occasionally crashes, it was simple to install, and it provided the content I was looking for. On the other hand, while Wiki2Touch required more up-front time to get things set up, once installed, it was so easy and stable to use. And the fact that it leverages Safari’s additional features makes it stand out as my offline Wikipedia search tool of choice.

In either case, once you get the taste of having Wikipedia articles accessible and available anywhere, any time, you begin to see just how exciting this really is. Being able to have pocketable, offline access to Wikipedia content alone, for me, justifies what I paid for my iPod Touch.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-wikpedia-on-your-ipod-touch

Feb 25

iPod Touch Review: “Jailbreaking”

Jailbroken iPod TouchI’m going to get this topic out of the way early on, as it is a topic that is taboo in many circles, but important, none the less. I am not going to explain here how to Jailbreak your iPhone/iPod Touch–a Google search can lead you where you need to go for those details. I am going to explain what Jailbreaking is, the reasons behind Jailbreaking, some cautions, why I Jailbroke my iPod Touch, and what you can do with a Jailbroken iPod Touch. So read on to see my experience with Jailbreaking my iPod Touch…

“Jailbreaking” is a method of hacking your iPhone/iPod Touch such that you can install and run third-party applications. It is typically done by taking advantage of one of several vulnerabilities in the iPod Touch’s software. These vulnerabilities, could conceivably be used to spread malicious code such as trojans and viruses, but in this case, it has one intention: install a small, yet powerfull application called Installer.app. Once installed and launched, Installer.app provides several important functions: Connect to one of many user-definable application repositories to select, download, and install those applications; manage updates; uninstall applications; and to manage the sources of those repositories. It’s currently at version 3 and is a very solid and well-developed application.

One of the original (and for many, current) intentions of Jailbreaking was to be able to unlock your iPhone so the user could use a different SIM card, thus “freeing” you from AT&T. I’m not going to address the legal ramifications of this, but suffice it to say, a huge side effect of a Jailbroken iPhone was that you could install and run other applications as well. Thus the Installer.app was born. Obviously, the iPod Touch does not have phone capabilities, so the only reason to Jailbreak an iPod Touch is to provide the ability to run additional applications. And it is proving to be a very useful feature.

As a word of caution, it is important to understand that Jailbreaking your iPhone/iPod Touch is not supported by Apple. Any applications you install are considered “unauthorized” because they are not digitally signed or distributed by Apple. It is obvious that one of Apple’s design goals is to provide a product that requires as little support as possible. By Apple controlling what gets installed, the likelihood of support issues goes way down. When you let the user install whatever applications come along, you raise the potential for support issues. In fact, there have actually been a couple instances of malware that slipped into the applications available to Jailbroken devices to which Apple promptly says, “I told you so.”

Further, some methods of Jailbreaking, if not followed precisely, can leave your iPhone/iPod Touch in a “bricked” state turning it into a sleek-looking multi-hundered dollar paperwight. And some people have either had problems with the Jailbreaking process, or simply don’t understand the process resulting in a messed up device. The bottom line here is that as an iPhone/iPod Touch owner, you really have two choices: Follow Apple’s upgrade and support path, or venture out on your own into the world of jailbreaking. (One point of note is that currently, in almost all cases, simply doing a simple “restore” through iTunes will bring your Jailbroken iPod Touch back to a “stock, non-jailbroken state.)

So once you have Jailbroken yout iPod Touch, what can you do? Well, launching the Installer.app application reveals a modest list of available applications. One of the categories is called “Sources” which, if installed, add yet more application repositories, expanding your list of available applications. And all of these applications are true, honest-to-goodness applications ranging from very simple to amazingly sophistocated. From eBook readers to games to UI enhancements, the list is vast. And yes, you can even install Apache, turning your iPod Touch into a full-blown Web server!

So why did I Jailbreak my iPod Touch? Installation of third-party applications is obvious, but it went deeper. My original goal was to try out the various applications that were being developed to get a feel for the true capabilities of the iPod Touch. Folks, the results really were amazing. Many of the applications I played around with showed off what the iPod Touch can do, and many were amazingly professional. If the skill and imagination of the authors of Jailbroken applications is any indication of what is to come once Apples releases it’s forthcoming Software Development Kit (more on tha later) we have lots of exciting times ahead of us!

I’m currently running firmware v1.1.3, and I purchased the “January Update” applications (more on that later.) After jailbreaking, I have installed a nice suite of applications, utilities, and tools that have transformed my iPod Touch from an advanced media player to a powerful entertainment and information resource. Here is an example of what I have installed and use regularly:

advanced calculator
eBook reader with the full text of the KJV Bible, many of the U.S. Founding documents, several works of Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe, the five books of the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, and a number of other eBooks
Dictionary containing one of Miriam Webster’s dictionaries
Sketch Pad to jot hand-drawn notes
Wiki2Touch, an amazing offline Wikipedia application providing the entire text content of Wikipedia–offline
And a few games

Here are some screenshots of several of the applications:
Books - eBook Reader Wiki2Touch - Offline Wikipedia Reader

Sketches - Freehand drawn notes PDFViewer - View PDF files

iSolitaire - Beautiful card game Term-vt100 - Internal Terminal window

MACalc - Advanced Calculator

And all this leaves me well over 4GB of space to load up my favorite photos, songs, and a few videos.

I have high hopes for Apple’s direction in releasing their SDK, and I hope that even a small portion of what I’ve seen on my Jailbroken iPod Touch is “officially” made available. But until then, I’m enjoying the vast resources in my pocket.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-jailbreaking

Oct 24

Gmail Tip #64: Gmail Rolls Out IMAP!

Gmail has finally rolled out its long-awaited IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) compatibility enabling users of such email clients as Outlook, Lotus Notes, Thunderbird, a host of others, and even Apple’s iPhone to now take advantage of IMAP instead of the more limited POP connection.


Google is rolling it out, and it needs to migrate to many accounts, so it may not be available on your account yet. To enable IMAP, click on the Settings link on any Gmail page, and look for the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. Click that, and follow the instructions in the IMAP Access section. For some general Gmail help information on IMAP, click here. This help section contains configuration information, FAQ’s, and troubleshooting links–very useful. You can also find a list of supported IMAP client applications here. Also, here is a link to Google’s official blog announcing and explaining IMAP.


This really raises the bar for Gmail by opening up more and more of its functionality to client apps. POP has served many well for Gmail, but this opens the door to many more uses, especially for some mobile devices.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/gmail-tips/gmail-tip-64-gmail-rolls-out-imap

Apr 10

My Journey Begins

It seems that the topic of Freemasonry can pop up just about anywhere. I was having breakfast with a friend from church when the subject of Freemasonry came up. My friend is not a mason, but he told me that a number of our church members are. I had seen a lapel pin here and there on several of them, but I never gave it much thought. But after hearing a brief list of some church members who were Masons, I was intrigued. My first thought was, “How can these blatantly Godly men be Satan worshipers?” Obviously, I had some pre-conceptions of Freemasonry, so I decided to do some research to see just what it was all about. So began my journey.

Being an Internet geek, I started at the obvious places: Google and Wikipedia. As with most topics on the Internet, I was overwhelmed by the volume of information. It was also a bit discouraging because it seemed that for all the positive and informative Masonic sites I found, there were just as many if not more negative and anti-Masonic sites. On one hand, I read information on pro-Masonic sites that sounded above board and legitimate, and on the other hand, I read the conspiracy theories and claims about Freemasonry’s supposed “true” origins, involvements, and agendas. Some of these sites are quite convincing, and they do have some excellent information, but after a while, I became skeptical of many of the claims of the anti-Masonic view. I was reading one  anti-Masonic blog that appeared to have some excellent and interesting information…up to the point where it referenced the “Moon Landing Hoax”! That’s when the alarm bells went off, and I realized that my perusal of Masonic information had simply confirmed what I have always known: The Internet continues to be filled with lots of crackpots and paranoid people sporting tin-foil hats.

Are some of the anti-Masonic sites worth reading? In fairness, I have to say yes. After all, I believe that it’s important to understand all sides of an issue. Just try to be discerning about what both sides have to say. It was at this point that I stumbled upon the site MasonicInfo.com. At first, I thought it was yet another anti-Masonic site. But it turns out that it is a very pro-Masonic site that includes lots of interesting anti-Masonic information with responses, rebuttals, and explanations from a Masonic perspective. I found it to be very informative, and I was impressed that it presented both sides of the story. I especially liked the “Masonic Primer” section which contains lots of interesting historical and practical information about the “who”, “what”, and “why” of Freemasonry. For anyone interested in Freemasonry, I suggest you check this site out. It is rich with information, and well worth the read.

One interesting consistency I found with many pro-Masonic sites is that they tend to provide just enough information to get you interested in what Freemasonry is, but they don’t reveal everything about it. Many Masons will tell you that there are many things about Freemasonry that simply need to be experienced. In contrast, many of the anti-Masonic sites tend to want to reveal everything to the visitor. Again, this makes sense, as the apparent goal of many anti-Masonic sites is to “expose” Freemasonry. If you want to read the details of the rituals, and learn all of Freemasonry’s “secrets”, there are numerous sources, and they are available. But if you are at all interested in joining, then I’d recommend that it’s probably best to avoid those sources and just experience things as they come. I’ve chosen not to dig too deep, for should I decide to join, I don’t want to “spoil” anything.

Do take the time to research and learn. There are lots of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what Freemasonry is and isn’t. Heck, if nothing else, you are in for some interesting reading!

This is my first article about my experience in Freemasonry.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/masonic-tips/my-journey-begins

May 05

Joomla! Review: Jom Comment

I was browsing the Joomla Extensions site , and stumbled upon a very cool Component / Plugin called "Jom Comment " that adds very nice article "commenting" capabilities to Joomla, giving your site visitors the ability to read and post comments about articles. Jom Comment leverages AJAX, presenting a clean, slick Web 2.0  style commenting system. It’s very complete, but its strength is in its simplicity.

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Read on for a quick review….

To preface this review, I have to say that I have never installed or tested any other commenting Components in Joomla. I have used them on countless other Joomla-based sites, but I never actually researched and tested them out for myself for use on my site. There are a number of other commenting choices out there, so by all means investigate them, but Jom Comments really caught my eye, and it delivers.

Jom Comment is found at http://www.azrul.com/ , and adds very simple, yet elegant Web 2.0 style commenting capabilities to Joomla. While reading an article, a site visitor can read any existing article comments as well as write comments of his own. And because it uses AJAX, it all happens right within the page without requiring full page reloads between actions. This saves bandwidth for both the site and the user, and it makes the user experience much cleaner. In fact, Jom Comment can even be configured to "auto update" so that you can see new comments as they are posted! Very cool! It also includes an RSS feature letting your site visitors link to article comments through any RSS reader!

Jom Comment is a commercial addon, but don’t let that scare you off. The Standard verison only costs $8.50(US) and it is really worth every penny. The author jokes about the low price on his site, but the fact is that because it is so low in cost, even if it doesn’t work out for you, you aren’t out that much at all. A limited trial version is available, and there is a "Professional" version in the works, but the Standard version seems to have just what I wanted in a commenting addon.

What it looks like

When you are viewing an article, you see a new "Add Comments (n)" link below the article:

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When you open the article by either clicking the article link or the Add comments link, you see the article normally, but now, at the bottom is a comment section:

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 When you submit the comment, it immediately appears below the article vor you to view:

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So from the site visitor’s perspective, that’s about it. It’s clean, simple to use, and nicely implemented.

But what about the back-end? What kind of control does the site administrator have? Here is a look at the Settings….

The Settings

Jom Comment is very configurable letting you tailor many functions to your needs. For example, you can determine if guests can post comments or not, you can determine on which sections comments will be displayed, you can determine if the comments will be moderated or automatically posted, and a host of other goodies.

You can even configure Jom Comment to email you whenever a new comment is posted. This can be nice to help keep an eye on comments and to help to prevent abuse without requiring moderation. And here’s a tip: Use a "plus" email address as your notification address. For example, enter "some.user+comment@gmail.com". If you have a Gmail account (or any email provider that supports "plus" addressing), set up a Filter in Gmail to automatically label these emails. This makes managing frequent comment notifications a snap!

Here is a screenshot of the main Settings screen showing the main settings:

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Security

Unfortunatly, there are unscrupulous people who abuse open systems, so security must be addressed. Jom Comment provides several levels of security to help prevent or reduce comment abuse. Here is the "Spam" settings screen:

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Layout

Youcan also tailor the layout to your needs.  Jom Comment is template-based, so presumably, you could create some very interesting and flexible layouts for your commenting. Here is the Layout screen:

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Captcha

You can also leverage Captcha http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captcha authentication to help reduce automated comment spam. Captcha presents a graphic image containing a string of random characters. The user must correctly enter the characters to successfully submit the comment. One thing I like about this implementation is that the characters aren’t so distorted that they are too difficult to read–a problem with many Captcha implementations.

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Support

OK, so my initial install had some glitches. I installed the Component, and then said to myself, "Now what?" Unfortunatly, the .ZIP file did not contain any documentation, and seemed to be missing some pieces. So, I emailed Azrul, and literally within minutes, he replied with an appology and a fixed file. Apparantly, he was in the middle of updating some things, and a bad version of the distribution slipped in. Anyway, I uninstalled and re-installed the new version, and it has been smooth sailing since! Thanks to Azrul for your swift and effective support!

Bottom Line

Overall, I think Jom Comment’s strength is in its simplicity. It seems to embrace the "UNIX way of thinking": Build a solid, simple program that solidly and simply does what it’s meant to do. It was easy to install, easy to use, and best of all, it’s unintrusiveness fits very well into my site!

So check out Jom Comment and see if it is something that would enhance your site to provide your visitors a better experience!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/joomla-tips/joomla-review-jom-comment