Since a month or so we're lending money through Kiva. Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. (Check it out).

After deciding to participate the next question was, what type of loans do we want to support? We came up with some simple criteria (Education and Health sectors) and searched for loans that matched these criteria using the Kiva Lend page. Unfortunately no loans matched our criteria. So I subscribed to the RSS feed that's available using Google Reader assuming loans matching our criteria would pop up in Google Reader on a regular basis. But....almost no loans popped up and if the did appear in Google Reader, by the time I noticed it the loan was already fulfilled by other lenders at Kiva (which is good of course!).

This last observation led to some further investigation and by checking Kiva Lend page for loans with status "Paying back" and sector "Education" I noticed that several loans did start recently but did not show up in Google Reader. Probably caused by the fact that Google Reader is not checking the RSS feed frequently enough and, by the time it is checking the RSS feed, the loan is already fulfilled and removed from the feed. Also, I'm not really on-top of my RSS feed all day so if a loan request did appear in the feed, by the time I notice it, it was already fulfilled.

So, I need another way to spot loans that meet our criteria. A more real-time notification kind of service. I googled a bit and was not able to find such a service, but did find the Kiva API documentation. Using the API it is possible to create a simple service that would frequently check Kiva for new loans that match our criteria and notify me via Twitter Direct Message. (Twitter notifications pop up on my Mac or iPhone immediately). This way I get notified shortly after the loan request is submitted to Kiva and can immediately check if it's a loan we would want to support.

To make it a learning experience for myself I decided to use Scala as the language and created a little program that does just what I want (see example screenshot on the right). So now I get notified when a new loan is submitted to Kiva that meets our criteria and I can immediately check it out and act on it.

Let me know what you think of this. If more people are interested I'll put a bit more effort into it and make it available for others to also use this service.

About a year ago I had some fun integrating Google Maps into the JAlbum Chameleon skin. Recently a couple of comments had been added to this blog post suggesting some improvements, so I sat down again, tried to remember how this worked and realized a couple of improvements. IMHO this solution could now easily be integrated into the standard JAlbum Chameleon skin.

What's improved?

  • For album directories that contain multiple index pages, the Google Map on each index page now shows the images for that index page. Previously only the first index page contained a working Google Map and it included pinpoints for all index pages.
  • The old version used an iframe to plug the Google Map into the JAlbum pages. This is no longer necessary because you can now use your Google Maps API key for a complete web domain (no longer bound to a specific directory). This now makes to generate all that is needed from JAlbum itself, no need to use an extra HTML file for the iframe that you had to manually put on your server.
For some examples, see this.

If you'd want to use this Google Maps integration then:
  1. Get yourself a Google Maps API key. (Just specify the domainname and not the subdirectory where your webalbum is hosted.
  2. Download the slide.htt and index.htt files and place them in JAlbum/skins/Chameleon directory (make of backup if the originals).
  3. Specify the following user setting in Settings/Advanced/User Variables:
  • # The root where the webalbum will be hosted
  • # The Google MAP API key that you've have created for your site (see step 1)
Note that I'm still using JAlbum version 8.1.5, it might not work (without changes) on newer versions of JAlbum. Actually, I'm hoping for a JAlbum skin to integrate this solution out of the box...

I've got all my photo's managed by iPhoto '09 on a Mac Mini and wanted to have a subset (like the last 6 months) of these pictures on my iPhone. I sync my iPhone with my MacBook Pro (not the Mac Mini), so the challenge was to get the pictures from iPhoto on the Mac Mini to iPhoto on the MacBook Pro and from there sync them to the iPhone. Piece of cake you'd think: iPhoto has a sharing option, simple create a smart album on the Mac Mini that has all pictures of the last six month, share that smart album and subscribe to that shared album from iPhoto on the MacBook Pro. Almost done, now I only have to tell iTunes on the MacBook Pro to sync that shared smart album to the iPhone.... bummer! It is not possible to sync shared albums you subscribed too to your iPhone :-( Now what?

I don't give up that easy. iPhoto also has a possibility to subscribe to RSS photo feeds and low and behold...these can be synced to the iPhone using iTunes. I create my webalbums using JAlbum and a while backI tweaked the JAlbum RSS feeds a bit to:
  1. make them work in regular RSS readers like GoogleReader and NetNewsWire, and
  2. ensure that items in sub folders are included in the main feed
That all worked fine but and when I subscribed to one of my albums feeds from iPhoto '09 it all seemed to work... initially. But taking a closer look I noticed that iPhoto was only downloading the thumbnails and not the high resolution version of the images. Bummer again, now what? The <media:content url="..."> tags in the feed were correctly pointing to the high resolution version of the images, but iPhoto was simply ignoring that (strangely it did use the <media:thumbnail url="..."> tags to download the thumbnails). A little Googling and searching in the iPhoto support forums would surely teach me what Apple requires for a feed to work in iPhoto.... no luck. I then took a look at some photo feeds published on Apple's MobileMe and subscribed to them from iPhoto. These worked fine. Only when I took a look at the contents of these MobileMe RSS feeds I quickly decided that I was not going to implement all that Apple proprietary tags in my feed. Increadible how much stuff was in there.

I forgot about the whole thing for a while and this week did a bit more Googling and stumbled on Photocastr:
"Making it easy to turn flickr photos into iPhoto v6+ compatible photocasts"

If they can figure it out, then I should also be able to reverse engineer that. After taking a closer look at the RSS feeds they created I noticed that they had a few iPhoto specific tags included and most importantly they used the tag. Adding that enclosure tag did the trick. No need for iPhoto specific tags, no bloated RSS feeds and the feeds still pass the tests. The enclosure tag is defined in RSS 2.0, and Apple iPhoto is properly working without requiring all kinds of proprietary tags.

Now I can sync the pictures to my iPhoto, not directly from the iPhoto on the other machine, but since I automatically publish a subset of the iPhoto to my JAlbum webalbum, this works fine for me. There is still one drawback: iPhoto '09 "Faces" functionality does not work on pictures in RSS feeds, something left to wish for ;-)

Note: to get the original (high resolution) images available in your JAlbum webalbum you have to set "Link to originals via scaled images" in the JAlbum Settings/Navigation tab.

The updated album.rss template file can be downloaded here, see the original blog post for how to install and use it.

I recently turned on Google Sync for the iPhone to enable wireless syncing of my Google calendar and contacts with my iPhone. A limitation of the current version of Google Sync for the iPhone is that it only supports 5 Calendars. I've got more than 5 Calendars in Google Calendar so that's a problem. Fortunately, many of these Calendars are read only (e.g. public/school holidays, your favorite teams game schedule, etc.) and by combining multiple read-only calendars into 1 read-only calendar it is possible to get them all sync-ed between Google Calendar and you're iPhone.

Now all we need is a utility that merges the calendars. Enter merge-ics, a Python script that reads all .ics files in a file system directory and merges them into one new .ics file which you can then import into Google Calendar. Instead of syncing the individual calendars to you iPhone, you now simply sync the combined one. You loose the per calendar color for the merged calendars, but that's acceptable for me.

Of course you can manually download the .ics files of the individual calendars and then import the combined .ics file into Google Calendar, but wouldn't it be nice is this is automated? Do do that I created a shell script that:

  1. downloads individual calendar .ics files. The URLs of these calendars are stored in a text file.
  2. kicks of the merge-ics python script to combine the .ics files

In addition I'm hosting that combined .ics file on my webserver, subscribed to it from Google Calendar and scheduled the script to run on a daily basis. So now I'm able to sync these read only calendars to my iPhone without further manual intervention.

Below are the shell script and an example text file contains the calendars to be merged. If you'd want to use it, make sure you update the variables at the beginning of the script and also update the variables in the Python script. Needless to say that you'll need to download and install that script form the merge-ics site.

# Script takes one argument: filename containing the URLs of the
# Calendar .ics files to be downloaded.



# Get new copies of the ICAL files
for url in `cat ${ICALSFILE}` ; do

# Only successfuly downloaded files are copied to
# ${TARGET_ICS_DIR} to be able to deal with temporarily
# unavailability of a calendar.
rm -f ${TEMP_ICS_FILE}
wget -q -O ${TEMP_ICS_FILE} ${url}
if [ $? -eq 0 ]; then
cp ${TEMP_ICS_FILE} ${TARGET_ICS_DIR}/`basename ${url}`
echo "Calendar ${url} could not be retrieved"


# Run the merge_ics script

Example text file with input: