Developing Ionic (Cordova) apps in the cloud with Cloud9


A couple weeks ago I decided to tinker around with building a cross-platform (Android and iOS) app. The best option for me seemed to be Cordova (or in some incarnations, PhoneGap), which allows developers to create apps in HTML5/JavaScript and deploy them as “native” apps by wrapping them in a native container. The most powerful way to start working with Cordova, of course, is to set up a development environment on your own machine. But despite having a clean Ubuntu install on a spare laptop, I couldn’t get the installation to work. Further, I couldn’t develop iOS apps anyway because I don’t have a Mac. Cordova requires the developer to have the platform software development kits installed to actually build the apps, and the iOS SDK is only available on the Mac. And if you’re not familiar with Node.js and SDK’s and PATH variables and the command line, getting started with Cordova on your own machine could seem overwhelming with all the steps, different pages, and downloads the Cordova docs send you to.

So I ended up looking for an easier way. There are a few options out there for people who want to build apps the “easy way”. Some look quite simplistic. Others are very powerful but proprietary. I ended up choosing to use Monaca because it offers a cloud-based IDE, creates standard Cordova apps, has an on-device debugger that grabs the app code from the cloud, and is free for up to three apps at a time. It also integrates well with the same company’s Onsen UI framework, which is an AngularJS-based app development framework. It was easy to get started, and with the live debugger and cloud build features there was no need to install an SDK or muck around with the command line. (Though I do love the command line. My first computer was an old hand-me-down running DOS 2, I believe.) Even better since I was travelling a bit at the time, I didn’t have to lug around an extra laptop with Linux installed or bog down my system trying to run a virtual machine. I could just log in from my laptop or any computer.

It worked great for a few weeks. I learned AngularJS and hacked together a working prototype with half of the planned functionality. But then I ran into a problem. I needed to use a Cordova plugin that wasn’t available on Monaca’s cloud platform. To import an external plugin I would have to upgrade to a $500/year developer account. Continue reading

Penguin Religion and Mythology

The bookseller’s categories

It’s always an enlightening and somewhat disquieting exercise to explore a book store and see how they categorize their books, particularly in the areas of social science and religion(s). How books are categorized says a lot about how we think (or think we should think, or are led to think) about the contents of those books. Does hagiography belong in the history, biography, or religion(s) section? Perhaps all three? Will some book stores arrange them differently, and why?

Today as I was setting to go out and enjoy some of the 17 hours and 22 minutes of daylight we have today, I glanced at the back cover of a book I’m using as background for my thesis. At the very top, in bold print, it reads,


And directly below, a quote from the book, titled The Orthodox Church,

‘Orthodoxy claims to be universal’.

I wonder how the author, Timothy Ware, now Metropolitan Kallistos, auxiliary bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, feels about this arrangement, the quote ‘Orthodoxy claims to be universal’ following directly after the classification ‘mythology’. What does it say about the publisher’s view of the subject that religion and mythology form a single category? Why religion and mythology, why are they apparently distinct within the category? What is the relationship between publisher, author, and reader, and does this categorization exert any sort of influence on the reader’s perceptions of the content or the author?

I’m not saying this is a bad category per se, and of course I realise that sometimes these arrangements are often the result of ‘pragmatic’ decisions, but the direction our ‘pragmatic’ decision-making takes says a lot about our priorities and values. Categories and systematizations are not neutral, not always even benign. It’s always worth stepping back and taking a second look at things we ordinarily take for granted. The Orthodox Church: New Edition

Image: back cover of The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. Credit: Daniel Favand

Screenshot of the Finnegans Reverse Food Truck web page.

The vanity of giving

There’s a beer company in Minnesota that donates 100% of their profits to end hunger. They also run a reverse food truck that collects food and monetary donations instead of selling food. Awesome, right? You buy beer, they turn it into food for the hungry. It’s turning capitalism on it’s head, showing how “business as usual” can be turned around for the good of society.

It’s actually pretty neat. Finnegans donates profits to a community fund which purchases locally grown food for local food pantries (or food shelves, as they apparently call them in Minnesota.) I’m a fan of this part, local, fresh food going to the local community. I’m also a fan of businesses that decide that their business is not to turn a profit for shareholders, but instead decide to focus on social returns. (Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with getting a return on investment, or that businesses can’t do both or work to improve society in a multitude of other ways. Then there’s the nagging, impolite question of how much goes to salaries, etc., which aren’t considered corporate profit.)

It’s also incredibly vain. By buying Finnegans beer, one buys into a brand that allows oneself to project a sense of social responsibility, even benevolence. You get to think that you’re doing something good for society, and it didn’t even hurt. It involves no commitment, no actual shift in focus to the untidy corners of society that we’re being so benevolent to, no commitment to systematic change. This type of giving is easy, and it makes you look good. It’s hardly even giving.

The Reverse Food Truck is more problematic; not because I don’t like companies using their resources to help drive social change, but because of the gross inefficiency of it. It’s the same inefficiency that irks me about every food drive: the food producer sells the food to the wholesaler, the wholesaler sells food to the supermarket, the supermarket sells food to the consumer, the consumers, having paid supermarket mark-up and spent time and energy, donate small batches of food to the food bank, which then must sort and store the food before distributing it. How does that make sense? Why shouldn’t the food bank, using individual, corporate, and government contributions, buy food directly from the wholesaler or the food producer? Because it’s not sexy.

To be fair, the monetary donations to the food truck go to a regional food bank that buys bulk food at below-retail prices, including local produce, and this is part of the practice of the regional food bank in my home town. But donating cans and other foods purchased at retail prices and turning the purchasers into a highly inefficient volunteer system is just silly. It’s worth noting that the founder and CEO of Finnegans calls the food truck “a mind-blowing marketing idea.”

If the Reverse Food Truck is a marketing ploy based on a highly inefficient system of giving, that’s not all it is. It also drives awareness. (Pun intended?) I’ve had discussions over the merits of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, which some criticise as taking advantage of the individual when a celebrity solicits donations for a project he or she could easily pay for. But it builds awareness and makes people get involved because they feel that they’re part of something. And that’s not all bad, I think. The same could probably be said about the Finnegans Reverse Food Truck. It creates awareness by upsetting expectations of what a food truck does. It gets a bit of news coverage. I might think that it’s a highly inefficient way of mobilizing resources, but perhaps it mobilizes resources that are otherwise untapped.

If I liked beer (and despite repeated tastes, I don’t), I’d probably buy Finnegans if the opportunity afforded itself. I like the idea of businesses using their profits for social good. Founder and CEO Jacquie Berglund is charismatic, energetic, and driven; and I like that, I could imagine working at such a company. But, even as companies such as Finnegans are themselves the embodiment of a structural change in society, these efforts do little to actually change the structures that result in hunger and other problems in the first place. It’s great marketing, and it does a bit of good, but for the consumers it’s almost entirely vain.

My friend Greg commented to me: “It’s a perfect American good deed”.

Image: screenshot of the Finnegans Reverse Food Truck web page.

The internet is old, and never forgets.

The Passage of Time

The Passage of Time (Photo credit: ToniVC)

In all this hullabaloo about the EU ‘censoring’ Google search results by requiring the company to remove ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’ data about individuals upon request, an important technical and legal distinction has been largely overlooked. Further, the case raises significant questions about the nature of time in a largely timeless internet.

Some columnists, such as the CBC’s Don Pittis, have likened these developments to Orwell’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ in 1984. By requiring Google to remove links from its index on request (though with due consideration of public interest), critics argue that individuals—and more worryingly, governments—will be able to control information and ‘truth’ as it is known and available to the public. While it is true that items removed from the search index will be more difficult to find, in the case that was considered, the newspaper was permitted to keep the original content online. Google just isn’t allowed to link to it. The reason for this distinction? The Guardian’s Charles Arthur explains in one of the better articles on the issue:

Q: Why is it Google is being hit by this and not the newspaper?

A: Because the newspaper gets the protection of being “media” under European data protection law (which offers various protections and exemptions for journalistic work). Google has explicitly opted out of being described as a “media” company.

But the judges decided that because Google collects lots of data and then processes it, and that that data includes information about people, it is a “data controller” under the meaning of the EU data protection directive. “Data controllers” have special obligations in the EU – including the responsibility to remove data that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”.

This actually makes a lot of sense, though I’m curious as to why Google has opted out of being considered a media company. By requiring data controllers to maintain accurate and relevant records (or to at least correct their records on request of the individual), the EU works toward maintaining the integrity of the information publicly available about a person. In a more extreme but quite possible case, imagine one has been accused of murder, but is then acquitted. A data controller that only provided information about the accusation, and not the acquittal, would be sharing data that is at least ‘inadequate’, and would certainly sway the opinions of the reader (or searcher) in a negative light. Media companies, however, should be exempt in the interest of legal and historical archives.

I’m not entirely sure this is the best solution: people going to Google expect it to be an archive of links to everything, and removing links can make it appear as if those items don’t exist at all. Perhaps it’s time we learned to use other indexes. (I’m coming to think that’s the more and more the case anyway as it is often difficult to find particular information on specialized topics.)

But all this raises more questions about the nature of the internet itself. For all that is dynamic about the internet—computers added and removed, data presentations that are accurate up-to-the-minute, messages sent, received, deleted—the internet as a whole acts as if everything is static. Computers (and the resources they provided) that were there but aren’t anymore simply don’t exist. Other pages that were published ten years ago are accessible just as if they were published yesterday, and sometimes look just like it too. Now that the internet is ‘old’, this turns into a real problem.

Take, for instance, this blog. If you go back into the archives six years, what except the publishing date indicates the age of any of the posts I made back then? There is no yellowing of paper, no searching through the library shelves, to find the articles that I don’t even remember, might not even agree with. Indeed, much has changed, such that I’ve considered (and am still considering) removing some of the old content, though the archivist in me rails against it. Even with the timestamp, posts appear deceptively recent, much worse for sites where the date isn’t posted or isn’t easy to access.

The Guardian’s Viktor Mayer-Schönberger makes this salient observation on the nature of the internet:

With digital memory, almost global access, and easy retrieval through search engines such as Google, we essentially have undone forgetting. The past has begun to follow us, and all of our misdeeds remain remembered. But it is not just that we find ourselves in a straitjacket of the past that we cannot shake. When we Google someone, we get a mosaic of information that straddles decades of our existence, creating an image that is both incomplete and strangely devoid of time.

Even with timestamps on articles and resources such as that ‘remember’ old but no-longer-existing pages, the internet is ‘devoid of time’. Any chronology is imposed upon it, necessarily perhaps but not natively to the timeless networks of cables and data. It makes it as difficult to forget as to remember that there was something forgotten. While there are legitimate concerns about the implementation of the EU ruling, it’s a generally good step toward humanizing the internet.

Christian ‘Renewalism’

A new word came up in my Twitter feed today:

Renewalist Christians? What does that mean?

Of course the term isn’t actually new—this classification has existed for several years now, as a blog post by Roger Olson illustrates. But he, like I, was curious about what this term meant. I could think of a broad swath of movements that might be termed ‘renewalist’, from revivals to right-wing crusades for cultural (moral) renewal, and even social justice and earth-care movements. Indeed almost any Christianity could be termed a renewalist Christianity given 2 Corinthians 4:17: ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (KJV). So what makes these American Hispanic Christians particularly ‘renewalist’?

Olson thinks that ‘the sociological “center” seems to be passionate belief in and commitment to spiritual renewal of individuals and churches through experience of God including the contemporary supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.’ It includes various sorts of Christians who believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, despite diverging on a large range of other and related issues.

The Pew report describes renewalist Christianity thusly:

These lively, highly personal faiths emphasize the spiritually renewing “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” such as speaking in tongues, divine healing and direct revelations from God. Together, these religious traditions are sometimes referred to as the “renewalist” branch of Christianity.

The authors go on to note that this group includes both Protestants and Catholics with a note on terminology:

In this report, the term “Pentecostal” is used to describe those who belong to Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or the Assembly of Christian Churches.

The term “charismatic” is used to describe Christians, including Protestants and Catholics, who do not belong to Pentecostal denominations but who nevertheless describe themselves as either charismatic or Pentecostal Christians.

“Renewalist” is an umbrella term that refers to both Pentecostals and charismatics as a group.

It will be interesting to see how this term plays out. Clearly it is being used by Pew as an etic, scholarly, analytic term to categorize groups and individuals based on their observable practices and professed beliefs. But will it become (or is it already) an emic term used as a point of unity and identification among those who fall within it’s classification? And what will that do to perceptions of boundaries between the various groups?

Olson is an example of someone who is in fact using the term in this way:

I still have enough of Pentecostalism in me to believe this, Renewalism, is an extremely important movement beneficial to Christianity today (even though I do not speak in tongues and do not believe it is for everyone). Conservative evangelicals have been pushing correct doctrine as the path toward church renewal for quite a while now (even in the mainline churches). I don’t think that alone will do what needs to be done. If we want to see revival as it is happening in the Global South in North America and Europe, we will have to be more open to the present operation of the Holy Spirit in very emotional ways.

This is an example of how boundaries between analytic and popular terms are permeable. It’s always interesting to ask ‘whose term is it anyway?’, for such exploration exposes how language is fluid and political.



Organ Dramatics: Mixing Favourite Genres

Little-known Daniel Fact™: I played the pipe organ for a year or so. Where by ‘played’ I mean managed to keep my feet and my fingers in relative-but-not-at-all perfect sync, much to the absolute joy of the classes being taught in the rooms next to the auditorium. With that disclaimer, you may discount my assertion that the pipe organ is The Best instrument of them all. But really, what instrument is as versatile, as subtle, as grand, as the pipe organ?

I also have a fondness for film music. My interest in both of these streams of music has flared up after some dormancy after stumbling onto this beauty:

Koyaanisqatsi, if you’ve not seen it, is an audio-visual experience. One you might not stay awake through, but worth trying out.

(These tracks are best listened to through headphones or speakers with quality bass – not your tinny laptop speakers.)

Going into the mainstream then, here’s a medley based on the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean. Medleys are usually questionable to me, as they often seem particularly disjointed, but this organist seems to make it work fairly well.

That recording unfortunately doesn’t have quite the omph that I really love about the organ. But this next one delivers a bit better on that aspect, being played on the largest theatre organ in the world (and probably recorded with better microphones.) Just imagine being there and feeling the building reverberate with those deep notes. That’s probably what I loved most about playing the organ, honestly. And this piece is just fun:

And of course I have to include this classic, which strictly speaking didn’t originate in film. This recording utilizes more than just an organ, but that’s probably what I really loved about the original versions of this piece. (Unfortunately the video features shots of the crowd that really work against the mood of the piece.)

These are just some of the Organ arrangements I’ve come across today. Right now the Koyannisqatsi piece is probably my favourite, but the others really show the versatility and grandeur of the instrument.

Photo: Organ in John White Chapel, Geneva College. Credit: Daniel Favand