Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Dissatisfactory Doily, Revisited

This one dumb post of mine, "The Dissatisfactory Doily" about my 2010 SIGBOVIK paper of the same name gets way more traffic than most of my other posts combined. Here's a graph of the pageviews over the past month:
It comes out way ahead, even compared to how-to articles ("Buy a SIM card in Dublin," "Reading Google Spreadsheets from an Android App") that you think would naturally have Google juice.

And somehow the spammers have figured out as well. This post regularly (1/week?) receives spam posts of the "Dude I love this post, please check out my link" variety. Blogger is smart enough to label these posts as spam and not post them, but I still get an email every time. Thanks Blogger.

I can understand why you would want to leave your spam on the most popular article, but why is this article popular in the first place? Maybe the mention of the Terrible Towel? And I have this unproven suspicion that the traffic itself is fake.

I don't know... what do you think?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Flanders' Fields to Westvleteren

Today a friend and I planned a biking trip to visit the cemeteries and memorials of WWI around Ypres, Belgium, more or less the home of the legendary "Flanders' Fields." It was a great idea! The perfect, flat biking paths of Flanders. It's the 100th anniversary of WWI. I had the day off of work because of a Belgian holiday (Ascension, if you're curious). They even have a nice, 35k biking route planned out by the office of tourism in Ypres.

But somewhere along the way we realized that Ypres is only 16k from the Westvleteren Abbey/Brewery. Westvleteren is one of the 6 Belgian Trappist breweries, and it is famous for Westvleteren 12, occasionally referred to as The Best Beer in the World. Notoriously hard to buy, etc. etc. I had had this legendary beer once before, but still, it sounded like a great idea to me, since I had not yet visited a single Belgian brewery.

So our historical tour became a beer tour. It was definitely great, and I would do again. Here's the route we took:

It was nice and easy. Here's some advice if you're thinking about taking the trip yourself:

  • We drove to Ypres, but you could take the train there as well.
  • We rented bikes from this place. (10 Euros each for the whole day.)
  • We got a map from the Ypres tourist office, which is right in the center city. The map was the "Westhoek Zuid" cycling map, pictured below. The paths are really well marked in Flandres, and you just match up the numbers on the road with the numbers on the map. (Seriously, they are super well marked.)
A few pictures:

Sadly our trip was not without incident. About 1k from the brewery my friend's back tire blew out. We walked the rest of the way to the brewery, where we had a great meal and some great beer, but then we had to walk 5k to the town of Poperinge to take the train back to Ypres. Could have been worse, but could have been better too. 

All in all I rate it 4 beers out of 5.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Announcing "Number 'N Date"

Hi folks!

Today I'm releasing the first version of Number 'N Date on Google Play. Number 'N Date is both a proof of concept and a useful Android application. It is a very simple way of adding a number and the current date to a Google Docs Spreadsheet. Take a look at the interface, it's pretty simple:

The basic idea is, you add a number and it, plus the current date, will show up as a row in the Google Docs Spreadsheet that you have chosen in the properties menu. I find it useful for keeping track of daily numbers like my weight, money I've spent, miles I've run, etc. But with the added benefit that the information is all in my own Google Docs Spreadsheets. So I've free to do whatever kind of processing I want to do on the data (plus not have to trust one more company with my information).

Number 'N Date is also open source! Which may be useful! You might not trust me, some Internet weirdo, not to squirrel away a copy of your data somewhere.

Actually the whole open source thing brings me to the second important feature; Number 'N Date is a proof of concept. Specifically, it's an end-to-end application that does something useful, gets authorization from accounts on an Android device, and reads and writes to Google Docs spreadsheets. Information on doing those latter two things together has been pretty hard to come by on the internet. I've written about reading Google Spreadsheets from an Android App before, but in a sort of limited way. This is a follow-on, an end-to-end example that shows everything together. 

I hope you find it useful, either as an app or as a code example. Please, send me feature requests, report bugs, ask me questions, etc. 

Known issues:
  • Spreadsheet must have 'number' and 'date' columns in the first row, or must be completely empty (so the app can add them).