Around middle of April I came across an interesting site + service called IdeaPress. It’s actually an open source project on GitHub. IdeaPress converts your WordPress site into a Windows Store App. Best part is it gives you the option to download the generated code or the appx file, you pick!
As an experiment I built an app out of this Blog, downloaded the code and put it up for approval. Within three days the app was approved and it is now available in the app store. So if you are a big fan of me blogging lazily away, go ahead and download the Windows 8 app from the app store http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/app/the-lazyblogger/b4002d78-7cb3-48d3-bd06-ef3ba2317e67
The UI layout is neat and it utilizes images in the Blog reasonably well to create graphical tiles for the UI. Currently the app shows this as my homepage. As you can see it starts off with Pages on your WordPress site, then uses the ‘Recent News’ feed, and thereafter shows your WordPress categories! Super neat!
After initiating the publish I realized that the code is not picking up the first image for the tile as it appears. Instead it picks the first image that the WordPress API returns. Well fair enough, so I took to the code and was able adapt it to pick up the file that started with the name 01. Thinking of expanding it to include more declarative rules, haven’t got a chance to spend any more time with it yet.
Good Starting Point
Frankly with my ‘lazy’ blogging at the rate of 1 blog every two months or less an app for it is an overkill. However, if you blog regularly and want to showcase your articles, this is really a nice way to get started. It comes with Search integration and Live Tiles support built in. With a little bit of design flair you can turn this bootstrap into a pretty looking app.
Best part is now you will be more careful about your blogs. The first thing I realized is all my blogs needed a header image for each post I write so that it shines through the app and looks attractive.
Next I have a couple of pages with no images on them and as you can see above it looks rather bland. So I’ve to think of something to make these two tiles look better. But since I control the content I can potentially ‘fix’ it without having to worry about the app.
Bare Minimum Customizations
The default app, has a set of images that you should update. As you can see above the tiles that don’t have any image get the default “LazyBlogger @ www.sumitmaitra.com” tile. I made that to replace the default IdeaPress logo. Not that I mind IdeaPress’s logo but it will give your users the feel that you spent ‘some time’ to polish the app off. My app currently has my picture as the logo. I am going to change that, so I suggest you think of a nice logo for your app also. With these bare minimum customizations, you should be good to go.
Cookie Cutters and the App Store
When the Apple iOS AppStore started getting popular these type of Cookie Cutter services sprung a plenty. I didn’t use any of them, but Apple soon clamped down on them. I hope MS doesn’t do that. As I said my app got approved in the usual 3 days and it now has a grand total of 3 downloads so I think you should be fine if you use this service to bootstrap your app.
So I wrap up with a thanks to IdeaPress for the idea and the service. Hope to be able to look a little deeper and maybe do some pull requests too.
My Windows 8 Desktop seems to have trouble staying connected to my Wireless network. I haven’t gotten down to debugging exactly what causes it to go bonkers but a quick peek at the EventViewer shows this cascading failure of services that ultimately takes down the Wireless network service with it.
To recover, reboot always works, but when you have 5 tabs in browser, three instances of Visual Studio and 2 office documents open at the same time, reboot is not a good idea. Solution in 3 easy steps:
Step 1: Hit Windows Key + R, type Services.msc and hit enter
Step 2: Locate the WLan AutoConfig Service in the service Manager
Step 3: Right Click it and start the service. Voila! You should now be able to connect to your wireless again.
Someday when I have more time I’ll sit down to figure out what causes the cascading service failures in the first place. Looks like Hardware related. But the Wireless issue in Windows 8 is universal as of today, so this is one of the possible workarounds!
Yesterday, I came back from a visit to the kiddo’s doctor. Doctor had prescribed a medicine that we couldn’t find in the nearby pharmacies (in India you are allowed to walk out with a prescription and get the medicine from any pharmacy). The med prescribed was not available and the doctor was unreachable on phone! Pissed, I turned to the Internet to look for composition.
Start IE10->Type Name in and hit enter and helpful Bing gives you result right? Well I ended up with the following for the search “Doxycof for kids” (Doxycof was the medicine the doctor had prescribed)
Then I did the same search on Google and it gave me the result as you can see above.
I was flabbergasted and mad, so I took to the “international cribbing machine” aka Twitter (apologies for the swearing).
Today morning I got a message from @Bing
Which needless to say leaves me a little red-in-the-ears, but it ended up in this blog post.
Search is hard but it gets better over time
I started using Google almost 11-12* years ago and soon after I started using Gmail. Like it or not, Google has a boatload of context about ‘Sumit Kumar Maitra’ or whatever hash their robots use to represent me and my online history. This is after I have turned off my site tracking (not sure if some EULA change has turned it back on) in Google settings. A result of this 11 years worth of context when I search of “dexycof for kids” google checks the entire phrase instead of finding the first auto correct word and doing a search on it. This amount of context sensitivity can only come from maturity of a machine learning algorithm and contextual data.
*UPDATE: I looked up and it seems I got my GMail invite on December 10, 2004 but I am pretty sure I was using Google search from much before that.
Back to the beginning (How Microsoft and Yahoo lost it)
Now here is the sad story of MSN Search->Live Search->Bing all different names for a Microsoft product.
I had a Hotmail account when it was Sabeer Bhatia’s brainchild (before he sold it to Microsoft). My Hotmail account was my ‘Live Id’ until recently when I switched to outlook.com. But today I don’t have any of my mails from back in 2000? Why? Because after Microsoft bought Hotmail it couldn’t wait for me to ‘come back’ to it, and in stretch of 3 months where I didn’t use Hotmail (it was NOTORIOUSLY SLOW at the time), Microsoft decided to wipe out my mailbox! Also I never really used Live for logging in to much else other than Hotmail and MSN chats, but that move completely pushed me away from their services. The bottom-line is I never used Microsoft’s online services because of the perception they are notoriously slow (when compared to Google) and next they didn’t have any of my ol’ stuff, so there was nothing to go ‘back’ to.
All the above is true about the Yahoo accounts I had. The history for those is gone!
Thus I slowly moved away from their online services and started using Google till I realized how Google is sniffing my a** and knows more about me than I care to tell it!
A Possible Turnaround
I started using IE (and kept the default Bing) since IE9. Between IE 5 and IE 8 (both included) I had stopped using IE almost entirely for ‘my stuff’. That’s a valuable chunk of time Microsoft lost.
I couldn’t care less if Microsoft’s search was called Live Search, MSN Search or Bing. A search engine is useful to me if it returns relevant results, fast. I respect the fact that Microsoft is not sniffing my mails and I am willing to cut it some slack when it logs me into all MS affiliated sites using my Microsoft ID that I use for logging in to Windows 8. In fact if it knows what I am looking for in MSDN and StackOverflow good for me, it knows 1/2 my search requirements better.
Also search engine relevance building is a chicken-and-egg problem. You can’t build better search relevance unless you know people better, you don’t know people better unless they use your product and people don’t use your product because you are returning gibberish search results.
Fact is MS and Bing is 10 years behind schedule (thanks to their own bungling)! So while Google’s search engine is in it’s Preens, Bing is a toddler. Can technology beat time? Last I looked they were nowhere close to building a Time Machine. We can only wish Bing best of luck! I can only promise my first search will be on Bing, but if the first result is not relevant my next search will be ‘unfortunately’ on Google!