Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Sharing Facebook Events with Google Calendar

One of the most useful web applications is Google Calendar and I find myself using it everyday to organise my life. It supports pretty much anything I can think of relating to calendars including the ability to make calendars available to the public so they can have your calendar availability in their Google Calendar too. I just wish that Microsoft would realise that their Outlook Web App is a terrible terrible corporate alternative I have to endure and grimace at the work place.

Anyway I found myself falling into a routine of checking both Google Calendar and Facebook when I am checking my availability. Surely there must be a way to bring Facebook's events into Google Calendar! And there is! And it's easy peasy! Just follow the following simple steps.

Get the URL

You'll need a URL for your Facebook calendar.

> 'Events'
> Clog
> 'Export'
> 'upcoming events'
> Right click 'Copy link address'

If you go to a text editor and paste the link it should be in the following format. If this is the case then you can continue to the next and final step.


Oh yeah in one of the screen shots above you'll see an option for 'Settings' if you need to refine the events that gets exposed to Google Calendar you can change the settings there.

Add to Google Calendar

Google Calendar
> 'Other Calendars'
> 'Add by URL'
> Paste the URL in your paste buffer

By all means rename the new calendar listed under 'Other Calendars' to something obvious like 'My Facebook Events'.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Close Shave

Facial hair it is a funny thing. Some people need to shave twice a day and others barely need to shave and do it purely for the routine. I'm somewhere in between. I don't struggle to grow a moustache for Movember but I don't have a five o'clock shadow by the time I get to work. However I have been participating in the removal of facial hair for over 20 years and for the most part it's something you just do.

Over the years I haven't really been that convinced by the razors on the market. I remember the Gillette and their twin blades. Then with some moisturising strip. Wilkinson Sword would have a similar product. Then it became 3 blades! Woo hoo! Of course we want more blades because more blades means better right! Wrong! Most of the time I found that the blades often clogged up rather quickly during one shaving session. And to add to it every time I went to stock up on more blades I'd always be rather surprised by how much it was costing. But why is it costing more and the shaving experience become less satisfactory? I couldn't help but feel rather trapped by my ever regrowing facial hair.

It wasn't until I saw on a facebook update mention that someone had recently moved over to double edged safety razors. I had completely forgotten about them and it brought back memories of Dad's double edge razor when I was kid. What have I got to lose, I might as well get myself one and give it ago.

Google quickly found a few websites that seemed to stock a good selection. and I spent more time looking and comparing and I eventually shopped with Traditional Shaving. I bought a Merkur 34C HD pictured below. It's quite a short shaft but had good weight to it which seems to steady the stroke when in use. The set I bought also came with Truefitt and Hill 1805 Shave Cream and an Edwin Jagger Badger Shaving Brush. Of course I need some razor blades to go with it all and decided to try some Astra Superior Platinum Razor Blades.

Naturally the first time I shaved with it I was careful and took my time. However over time as I become more familiar and confident, even when I'm half asleep I get a very good shave. By good shave I mean

  • No skin irritation
  • A much closer shave compared to the multi-blade cartridges
  • No blockage from beard bits collecting by the blades
  • No catching
Of course there is the cost aspect. It is up to you how much you want to invest, and I do mean invest as you will be shaving for the rest of your life (unless you decide to not and just grow a beard and not trim the edges at all). The brush will last you a while if you choose a reasonable one and take care of it. The shaving cream I can see will last a while too given my frequency of shaving and how much I lather I seem to get out of it. The blades vary from 15p to 25p or more depending on what razors you prefer using. Cost wise it feels like it's cheaper in the medium/long term but  the shaving experience is much better. It's what grown up shaving is about!

I can't see myself going back using the over priced Gillette cartridges. I wish I had tried doubled edged razors much earlier on in life but then again, maybe it is after the years of disappointment that's made me appreciate double edge razors much more. Maybe I should try straight/cut-throat razors next? Anyway I recommend giving double edge razors a go. If you're looking for a good gift for a man, a shaving set is definitely a sophisticated solution for your gift dilemma.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Nexus 7 with Tips and Tricks

With the recent launch of the Nexus 7 I was intrigued as to whether it had a place amongst my gadgets. I already have a main laptop, a netbook and an android smart phone. Anyway I thought form factor would be be perfect for mum and if I got it now I could try it out for myself. The price definitely made it much more accessible for the more frugal 'gadgeteers' out there. Apple's iPad was interesting but for the price I would rather other people spent their hard earn cash first. £160 for the 8GB in a smaller less cumbersome form factor, built on a platform that generally offered more choice was a much more persuasive offering to me.

Initial thoughts

  • Build Quality - It felt compact without excessive weight and solid enough to use without being paranoid.
  • Design - Clean with nice textured back and unobtrusive power and volume buttons (the only sticky outty bits). I was a little puzzled by the front-facing camera with no applications to utilise it. Miss the camera on the back but it absence means I don't look ridiculous using the tablet like an oversized phone - I did see someone doing exactly this with an iPad at a conference recently.
  • Performance - Smooth and responsive


  • Taking a screenshot - They finally added this as standard feature. Hold the power and down volume buttons down simultaneously which will trigger a sound and animation. You can either find the screen shot under 'Screenshot' in the gallery or you can click the 'Share' symbol in the 'Notification Try'.
  • Damage management - People will have different ideas on whether they want to cover up their shiny gadget. And different views on what to cover it with. I was going away and got something quickly which I hoped would be not too bulky yet smart looking. It also has a magnet so it powers on when you open it up. Google Nexus 7 Tablet Case - Black Carbon Fibre Print PropUp Stand Case Cover
  • Extra storage - TBC :)


Here is a list of applications I found useful and/or interesting that you can install from Google Play
  • Camera Launcher - Now you can do something with that front-facing camera.
  • Amazon Kindle - Books on the move without the bulk and weight.
  • TweetDeck - For your twitter-like activity, twitter or facebook status updates.
  • Evernote - Notes and checklists in the cloud with clients with clients for multiple OSes
  • Linode Android - Control your servers remotely
  • Pocket - Store webpages for reading offline later.
  • GSRemote - Remotely control Grooveshark running on a desktop somewhere.
  • uTorrent Remote - Remotely control uTorrent running on your desktop

That's all folks!

Well not really. I'll come back and update this blog as I discover more.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Mounting a Nexus 7 on Ubuntu 12.04

..or any other Android 4+ device really. Here's a quick step by step guide to get your Nexus 7 (in my case) mounted on Ubuntu.

1. Install some modules
sudo apt-get install mtp-tools mtpfs

2. Create the file 99-android.rules in /etc/udev/rules.d/

sudo vi /etc/udev/rules.d/99-android.rules

Pasted in the the following..
# Nexus 7

SUBSYSTEM=="usb", SYSFS{idVendor}=="18d1", MODE="0666"

2. Make it executable
sudo chmod +x /etc/udev/rules.d/99-android.rules

3 Restart udev
sudo service udev restart

4. Create a mount point

sudo mkdir /media/nexus7

chmod 755 /media/nexus7

5. Plug in device and ensure MTP is enabled

On the Nexus 7 bring down the menu, select usb connection and make sure the 'Media device (MTP)' is sticked and then..

sudo mtpfs -o allow_other /media/nexus7

Remember to umount the device

sudo umount /media/nexus7

df -h
.. to report storage levels

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Joining giffgaff

I heard about giffgaff from a coworker after I was once again cursing the lack of signal in the office with my previous network provider. I recently (last week) migrated over to these guys. Here's a brief summary of what it is all about.

  • Pay As You Go - contract free and free sim! No lock in means I'm not tied down to them if I'm happy and so my options remain open.
  • Monthly Goody Bags - for a fixed fee there are packages you can add when you know your usage is going to be high.
  • Genuinely unlimited Internet usage - though after further reading they don't allow tethering (which is fair enough - there will be people that will constantly stream content otherwise). Googling a little more and searching their community forums it seems there is an unofficial 20GB limit. I really don't feel this is particularly restrictive cap given my usage since I've had a smartphone.
  • Free calls and text to fellow giffgaff users - this is quite common but useful to know.
  • Runs on O2 network - I've used O2 for 14 years and their coverage is capable enough in my experience.
  • Community support - plenty of forums supported by existing customers
  • Cash back scheme - spread the word and earn cash for using. I wouldn't personally go out and push a product unless I believed and used the product myself.
It sounded perfect and other people that were already on giffgaff were happy with their experience. So I decided to move over to them. It really wasn't very difficult either.


  • Requested free SIM to be delivered with email confirming it had been sent


  • No sign of it, but I suspect Mr Postie being overwhelmed with Christmas post.
  • Requested PAC from Vodafone.


  • Entered code on their website to active the SIM and created an account. Unfortunately it was after 10pm and would be active in the morning according to documentation. If I had done it before 10pm it would have been done in 30mins. I don't know why they can't activate throughout the night but I'm not too bothered.
  • PAC texted to my phone. Ready to leave!


  • SIM is active with PAYG credit I added via their website. Also setup auto topup.
  • I enter PAC to begin transfer. Later in the day I got a message (via there website dashboard) from one of their agents confirming that it would be transferred tomorrow.


  • Midday number has transferred. Woo hoo!
  • No Internet access - a quick search gave me information for Android Settings.
  • Added £10 GoodyBag to get me going.
That's it! Looking back I reckon you can realistically change over to giffgaff in 2 days if you didn't have to wait for the SIM to turn up. For those people interested give me a yell in person as I have a few SIMs to hand out people in interested in trying it out. It comes with a free £5 credit. And I get something out of it too! Or you could click this link to request a SIM to be sent to you directly.

So far the biggest noticeable change is that I have better connectivity (the issues I had with my previous provider you can find here) and have much more control about how much I spend or not spend on a monthly basis. The process of configuring my handset could be automated or eased by a simple settings request form as part of the dashboard. The experience overall is positive. We will see..

Send me a free SIM

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Goodbye Vodafone

I have been a customer of Vodafone for almost 2 years and during this time there has been little interest or effort put into understanding if I was a happy customer. This is a common problem with big businesses - they lose the personal touch that the successful smaller businesses provide and finding new business is more important than keeping existing customers happy. The individual experience very quickly disappears into a statistic in a report appearing in some manager's email.

Prior to signing up for a 24 month contract with Vodafone I was with O2 for over 14 years. The reason I stayed with them for such a long period was because my experience wasn't plagued with frustration and dissatisfaction. The reason I wandered to another provider was purely because they didn't offer the handset I wanted at the time.

So what was it about Vodafone that was disappointing?
  • 3G coverage - its poor.I live and work in central london - within zone 2. I rarely use my phone for calling people in favour of texting and mostly Internet browsing capability. I don't really care for any statistics or maps indicating how excellent their coverage is. What really matters is when I'm out and about I have connectivity rather my battery being drained from my handset trying to connect.
  • 'Unlimited' Internet - it was labelled as such at the time. It was my first smart phone and I didn't really know what my monthly usage was going to be. Vodafone charged £5 for 500MB and the contract included 500MB for the month. This was generally enough on a quiet month when I wasn't doing much. Quiet months are usual for me. So this meant I spilled over 500MB often. When I was moving flat (before and after) when I didn't have Internet access at home I easily ended up using 2GB. For the amount of money I spent I was convinced I could get a better offer else where.
  • 24 months minimum contract was the only one that was available to me to get the phone for free. This is too long and is a bad mismatch with the frequency of new handsets reaching the market. During the 24 months I did resort to buying a new handset outright. Also the price plan I was on was quickly became expensive with other market offerings.
  • Website - unreliable and user unfriendly. This included java stack traces ofNull Pointer Exceptions in their web application. This does not make for a good user experience and just shows incompetence.
I had requested a PAC to pass to my new provider and  shortly afterwards a representative from Vodafone called me to try persuade me to stay with promise of lower monthly bills. It was a case of too little too late and I find it hard to justify continuing giving them my money. For those interested I moved over to giffgaff and I'll be summarising my experience so far in a future entry.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Agile Tetris

Tetris. Reading this should strike a nostalgic chord with most if not 100% of us born into the computer generation. If you've never heard of it then you're either less than 3 years old or you're asking what a computer is. Well for the benefit of those people I'll try to summarise.

Its a puzzle game based around the idea of having different shapes made up of four blocks falling from the top to the bottom of the game area and settling at the bottom. The idea is to complete a row by filling in the gaps, at which point the row will disappear. The game space is a fixed number of rows so you need to be careful rows are removed regularly else the entire game area is filled up and the game is over. To the side of the game area usually it'll show you the next piece - this is invaluable in planning where to drop your current block. As you remove more rows the speed of the falling blocks will increase and it becomes a challenge of how fast you can think and plan the blocks.

Its unbelievably easy to pick up. It seems to do well you plan ahead so you can utilise the 4 blocks in a row which means you can resolve 4 rows at once which means big points! And the number one thing that will bring your game to an abrupt end is if you don't deal with the gaps in the rows in a timely manner as the rows will quickly stack up and fill up the board.

Now take this game which you've probably wasted so much time playing in your youth and in your mind put it side by side with software development. They are very similar. No really they are! Okay you might have to squint a bit at this point. Look at the grid. The blocks falling as pieces of work being worked on by a given team. The rows on the board represent the ideal technical solution that if time and other pressures weren't an issue - I did say ideal. We all know in reality this is never the case and as passionate technologists we strive to reach technology utopia and every day we're hindered by imposed deadlines, often magnified by a legacy system with little/no test framework and maybe insufficient resourcing. So we have no choice but to compromise our solution. This is represented by the gaps in the lines. Over time we deliver more changes and more functionality to the business and this will be peppered with 'we wanted to do this but..' holes. These crop up in future pieces of work and usually means that the amount of effort needed to complete a relatively small piece of work has been inflated by a dependency on something that we skipped over in a previous project. And of course we never got around to addressing it after the piece of work was delivered because we immediately got reallocated to a new project. It got swept up under the carpet.

I like this Tetris analogy. In fact I like it so much I feel as part our Agile approach it should incorporate the 'What did we skip and why?' as a process step. This has amazing impact on providing additional information for decision making and ultimately effective prioritisation. We would effectively have technical debt backlog stories immediately available whilst its still fresh in our minds and if categorised effectively with any new project the business would have immediate indicators of sizing - "We've skipped two big system changes that were necessary to meet the deadline and after the project they were sized at 40 story points each for a project that completed 200 story points". "Oh dear! We probably shouldn't have skipped those.. why did we skip them?" The documented reasons for why scope was reduced means we can provide clear ways to improve. Whether that means sufficient resources to start with, sufficient time for the project (which should be helped by the Technical Debt stories, or a sufficient effort in understanding the problem and its scope.

When a situation builds up where we have a number of sizeable stories in a particular area then this could potentially be spawned off as a piece of work in its own right. Think of it as your vertical 4 block that removes 4 rows. You know, the really satisfying ones!

Lets summarise what we've learnt about how to play Tetris effectively.

  • Plan the gaps on your game board by utilising the look ahead - being able to see the next move means you can potentially have a plan or more precisely a Technical Roadmap. This hopefully allows you to have horizontal and vertical visibility of the impact when taking on pieces of work
  • No one piece will complete an entire row - software is never ever 100% complete or ever ideal. Accept this by acknowledging the compromises that have been as soon as they were made. Compromises have to be made somewhere to meet the project constraints. This is normal business as usual with software development (and other sort of development?).
  • Being able to see the entire board means you can plan future moves - being able to visually see the gaps in the product due to compromises means the business and the project team is aware of its weaknesses. You can provide visibility of this by documenting them as part of the Project Retrospective. What, why and a size against the original project sizing should provide enough information. These stories (or epics) need to be categorised according to your product such that when people have a project initiation they can easily find these. These stories will also provide invaluable information as to where to improve with regards to why we don't have a much better product.
See games can be productive too ;)