Road Trip

It’s time to take The Conversations Network mobile. That means two things: (1) a lightweight version of the website design suitable for all mobile browsers, and (2) an iPhone 2.0 dedicated application. The former has been on the to-do list for some time, and the number of requests has been growing steadily. The latter is (for now) just for fun, but I’d love to see what could be done. We need help for both projects.

Question: What’s the latest/best standard for mobile apps? What flavor of XML/HTML, etc? I’m so out of touch on this. The last thing I remember dabbling with was WAP when developing for mobile devices was brand new. Where should I look to ramp-up on developing for mobile browsers?

Opportunity: I don’t have the personal bandwidth to get up-to-speed on iPhone development, but if anyone wants to volunteer to create an iPhone app for The Conversations Network, I’ll gladly handle the back-end development.

AIR: And I’d also love to see an application for The Conversations Network based on Adobe AIR. From the few AIR apps I’ve used to date, I’ve been impressed with the UI as well as the cross-platform installation and update processes.

iPod/iPhone Success: The NY Times

With all of my problems and grousing about the iPhone 2.0 upgrade, MobileMe, etc., I do have something positive to say. One 2.0 application I find surprisingly good is the New York Times viewer. Not only is it a clean, simple program (which is mandatory for a small mobile screen), but it turns out to be a great way to read the newspaper. Who knew? Good timing, too, since I just canceled my home-delivery subscription. It appears to be the full stories and there’s just enough of the photos and graphics. None of the other apps I’ve tried are as interesting, and quite a few of them crash rather easily (Movies). One of them even rebooted my iPod Touch (Where). BofA is another handy vendor-specific app. Twitterific also looks pretty good. I may start using that as y primary client. I sort of like having Twitter in a handheld device even while working on a desktop or laptop machine. Something about the immediacy and separateness from my mainstream work.

The MobileMe Upgrade Mess

I predict that we’re only seeing the beginning of Apple’s horribly botched migration from .Mac to MobileMe. I’ve been following the discussions on the Apple’s forums, and I’m not the only one with some rather serious problems. My personal issues (shared by others) include:

  • Usernames aren’t necessarily carried over to Mobile Me. My .Mac ID is But apple has allowed someone else to register the ID
  • iDisk is down, and there’s no word from Apple when it will be fixed. I rely in iDisk to keep multiple computers in sync. I store all sorts of things there such as a page of bookmarks and a password database (using 1Password). This a fee-based service, and the multi-day outage is a significant blunder.
  • My fear is that when you combine the above two issues, the recovery is going to be ugly. The WebDAV configuration used to access the iDisk appears to also be hosed or at least confused.

I don’t normally think in these terms, but if I were running Apple, there are a number of people who would lose their jobs over the way the iPhone/iPod 2.0 and MobileMe migration has been deployed. I’ll cut Twitter some slack for their infrastructure problems — they’re still a startup — but Apple has no excuse. This will cost them bigtime in their efforts to penetrate the enterprise market. And I’m going to pass on buying that iPhone after all. I think I’ll just stick with my Blackberry and iPod Touch for now. I’ve lost a lot of faith in Apple over this.

Update 7/12/08 1:30pmPDT: Tried a Software Update and got MobileMe 1.1. I can know access my iDisk, but for some reason they moved it from file:///Volumes/iDisk/ to file:///Volumes/dougkaye/, so code I’ve written to use the iDisk has to be reconfigured. Still can’t login to MobileMe via System Preferences, however. Doesn’t like my auth.

PayPal Alternatives: The World Needs a Good One

PayPal is a valuable service, but there are parts of it that just suck. Here at The Conversations Network, we use PayPal (a) to receive membership dues and donations, and (b) to distribute payments to TeamITC. It’s been very difficult to balance the account because of the way PayPal holds onto funds (to their advantage) and only deposits the difference between receipts and disbursements back to our BofA account. So a week ago I decided to open a second PayPal account, tied to a new BofA account. It was easy enough to setup, link the BofA account and make a round of payments to our team.

A few days later, we got an email message that they needed more documentation: copy of a voided check, IRS non-profit determination letter, etc. No problem. We uploaded it to them the same day.

But yesterday I discovered we’ve fallen into a Catch 22. First, Paypal canceled all the payments we made to TeamITC earlier this month. (They’d never gone through, it turns out.) Second, they’ve essentially frozen the account. Third, the funds that should have gone to our team are stuck in the PayPal account. They refuse to return it to the BofA account. So we can’t make payments and we can’t get back a few thousand dollars that PayPal so happily withdrew from our bank. The reason? They say they can’t accept a “starter” check as verification of the account. (Silly, given that they don’t seem to have any trouble withdrawing funds from that account.) Since we don’t plan to use this account for anything other than PayPal, there’s no reason to print checks. As an alternative, they’ll accept a bank statement, but we won’t get our first one for more than two weeks. PayPal refuses to accept anything else such as a letter from BofA.

I’ve spent about 1.5 hours on the phone with PayPal people, none of whom had the authority to solve our problem. The last person said I’d have to email the Compliance department. We’ll see how that works and how long it takes to hear from them.

What we need is a reasonable competitor to PayPal. Neither Amazon nor Google are there yet. Amazon won’t allow us to pay people outside of the U.S. and Google doesn’t (AFAIK) support outbound payments at all.

Update: With a little help from the PayPal executive offices — it helps to have influential readers of your blog — we seemed to have resolved this quickly. It appears we fell under the compliance obligations imposed by the (U.S.) Patriot Act and financial regulators for KYC (“Know Your Customer”) and AML (“Anti-Money Laundering”). It looks as though all non-profits are now, by default, considered terrorist organizations until proven otherwise, and opening a bank account without printing checks is a red-flag warning of intentions to launder money. It’s going to take a while to sort out which payments went through and which didn’t. Some are clearly marked as “Canceled” while others are simply “Uncleared,” but we should be able to get payments to our international team of “terrorist” writers and audio editors in the next few days. (I can only imagine what a field day the NSA’s text scanners will have with this paragraph.) Not that I wouldn’t still like to see some good honest competition for the PayPal near-monopoly.

Disappearing iTunes Movie Rentals

Guess I should have read the fine print. I downloaded a movie rental from iTunes. 30 days to watch it — okay. My wife and I started watching it yesterday, but she fell asleep. We went to watch the rest of it tonight — afte rthe house cooled off a bit from all the heat here — but no luck. iTunes only allows you 24 hours from the time you start watching the movie, then it just disappears. Seems like a ridiculous restriction to me. I think I’ll just stick with Netflix for now.

Update: I complained to Apple via a web form, and to their credit they gave me another download/viewing without question. And they replied very quickly, particularly considering how busy they must be today (iPhone 2.0). I still don’t like the policy, but at least Apple’s iTunes support works.

Soundflavor: A Good Finding/Sharing Service

In my research planning our new site for finding and sharing recordings of spoken-word events, I came across Soundflavor, a site doing something similar for music. I’m still learning my way around Soundflavor, but it seems to me that it has nearly all the features we want in a spoken-word site, and it seems to be very well implemented. Looking at Soundflavor, what would you do differently for a spoken-word finding/sharing service?