Using Swarm and the new Foursquare app

I promised an update on using Swarm/Foursquare, and since I’ve been doing some travelling on the last week or so, I’ve had a chance to put both apps through their paces.

The first point is that I don’t use the actual Foursquare app much. I check in to places using Swarm, and only go into Foursquare to wrote reviews, or to check who else has checked in at a particular location.

Secondly, Swarm is easy to use, and seems to work better in poor signal locations than the old Foursquare did (which is definitely a situation that I encounter regularly). I would like more ‘stickers’ (which give information about what you’re doing at a given time, e.g. working or drinking coffee!), but apparently you unlock these by checking into different places.

So I conclude that it is still possible to use Swarm/Foursquare to record my travels, which was my main aim with the previous app. Adding reviews of places is something I’m happy to do. All the lists I set up are still there, and I can still add places to them. Having invested over 4 years in using the app there was no question of uninstalling it. (Many of the new features, like ‘plans’ on Swarm, and local search on Foursquare, are of no interest to me, so I don’t see myself using them).

I’m sorry about the loss of points and mayorships, but don’t see them coming back any time soon, sadly. Judging from the various discussion groups, the Facebook page etc., it seemed that a significant number of users were going to uninstall Foursquare, but whether this is enough to persuade the company to reverse some of these changes is questionable!  We’ll have to watch this space and see.

The new Premier League season: finance and hype

With the start of the new Premier League season less than a week away, I find myself not exactly looking forward to it. All the top teams have been busy spending ridiculous sums of money to strengthen their squads – OK, it’s what you have to do, but it has diminished the sport so much that the financial clout of club owners is almost more important now than the skill of their players. It was almost inevitable that Manchester City won the league last season given the amount they spent!

I loved the World Cup because it was possible to enjoy the football for its own sake, with no particular team allegiance, especially after England’s somewhat rapid exit. Watching a game and admiring the skill of the players with no concern for the outcome of the game was an unusual experience!

Then there’s the hype and general nastiness between rival fans which has been magnified by social media. This has led me to  try to avoid seeing football related Tweets and Facebook status updates, which is a challenge to such a frequent user of social media as myself!

My team, Manchester United, had a terrible season in 2013-14, which can be put down to a number of factors which I’ve discussed in previous posts. Of course I hope they’ll do better this time, but for my own sanity I will be avoiding all kinds of media reports on their performance in the coming season. It can be very emotionally draining, and at the end of the day, it’s only a game!

So here’s to a good season. I’ll be watching how it goes from a distance, but for my own sanity (and the sanity of those close to me), I won’t be commenting or getting involved.

The new Foursquare Android app: initial reaction

The new Foursquare Android app became available from the Google Play Store last Wednesday, 6th August. I’ve been using it pretty continuously since then, and can offer an initial appraisal.

I’ve already discussed at length my disappointment that Mayorships, badges and (finally) points were lost, so I judge the app as it is and not as I hoped it might be!

For a start, checking in has to be done via Swarm. I held off using Swarm for as long as possible, but now I’ve used it for a bit I don’t mind it. At least it still taps into the Foursquare past checkin database, and comments when you return to a location, etc. That was essential for me, since I use Foursquare as a travel diary, and was one reason why there was no question of uninstalling Foursquare! The Swarm app itself seems nicely put together and I have no issues with it yet.

Returning to the Foursquare app, the emphasis is now on local search and writing tips and reviews of places. In general I don’t need local search as I normally know where I want to go (!), but I can see that it could be useful if I’m in a place I don’t know. As for writing reviews, I did a few with the old Foursquare, but now I will do more, since the app provides motivation with its expertise ratings.

I am just returning from 2 days in London, and while there I did a lot of check-ins and wrote some reviews. The experience was good, and Swarm and Foursquare do work seamlessly together.

Finally, the changes to Foursquare have changed my check-in habits. While there were points to be gained (and especially when there were Mayorships to retain), I would go out of my way to check in at lots of locations. Now that motivation has gone, I’m more sparing with check-ins, so it’s a less time-consuming process. I’m still sorry that the points have gone, but in general I can make the changes work for me.

I’m doing some more travelling next week, so I’ll have more opportunities to test the app. Expect an update in due course!

Waiting for the ‘new’ Foursquare …

While the wait for the new Foursquare continues, news comes that ‘gamification’ is being ‘reintroduced’ into the new app – details here. This sounds complicated, and how many users will engage with it is an open question! In the meantime, I’m continuing to check-in via Swarm, and getting my points tally on Foursquare (yes, this still works). What will be interesting to see is if it is still possible to find your points on the new app, and whether lists will be preserved (since there’s no sign of either of these on Swarm). I’ll be travelling quite a bit in the coming week, and normally this would be a ‘check-in fest’! But whether it still is remains to be seen.

Eurodim 2014: a brief report

Eurodim 2014, the 12th Europhysical Conference on Defects in Insulating Materials, was held at the University of Kent from 13-19 July 2014. I have attended the Eurodim/ICDIM series of conferences fairly continuously for the past 30 years; previously I organised Eurodim 1998 at Keele, and helped organise the programme for ICDIM 2008 in Aracaju, Brazil. I had a small part in helping organise Eurodim 2014, although the local team deserve most of the credit (Maria Alfredsson, Alan Chadwick, Emma McCabe and their very capable band of postgraduate students)  !

Over the years the conference series has evolved in its coverage from mainly colour centres to the inclusion of ion transport in solids and wide band semiconductors. The attendance has had its ups and downs, but is typically around 100-200 delegates, depending on timing and location. It features plenary and contributed lectures and poster sessions, and depending on the organisers it can have parallel sessions as well.

This year’s conference included plenary lectures from:

  • Richard Catlow (University College London, UK)
  • Mauro Fasoli (University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy)
  • Brian Sales (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA)
  • Philippe Smet (University of Ghent, Belgium)
  • Francois Treussart (ENS Cachan, France)
  • Marie-Genevieve Blanchin   (University of Lyon, France)

There was also a special session in honour of Patrick Jacobs, who died in 2013 and who made such important contributions to our field (see my post about him here). This session included contributions from Alastair Cormack, Phuti Ngoepe, Miguel Moreno, David Smith and myself. Alex Shluger was unable to attend due to illness, but his paper was presented by his co-author Dr S Ling.

There was the usual spread of interesting talks and posters at the conference, and I returned full of ideas for future work. I hope to post about some of these later in the summer, before the semester and the ‘mad times’ return!

The conference had some excellent social highlights, including the welcome reception which coincided with the World Cup Final (Germany versus Argentina, which Germany won, much to the delight of our German delegates), and the conference excursion to Whitstable, which included beer tasting courtesy of Shepherd Neame. And I shouldn’t forget the conference dinner in Darwin College.

Finally, I’m in the process of putting together a gallery of photos from the conference, and they will appear shortly on my web site,

Connecting a USB memory stick/drive to a Nexus 7 tablet

Following my post of the end of last week about using a tablet instead of a laptop at a conference, another unforeseen issue I encountered was how to read a USB memory stick using the tablet. The conference provided all the information on a memory stick, but I couldn’t read it with the Nexus! (It didn’t matter on this occasion because I was able to access the information online, but this might not always be the case.)

So, after a bit of quick research online, I found the solution, which was to purchase a cable which connects the Nexus’s micro USB port to a USB adaptor which you can plug a memory stick into. You can find these on sale online for less than £10 (UK). You then need to install a good file reading app, like Total Commander, from the Google Play store, and download the USB plugin (free for a 30 day trial but then very cheap). It works perfectly, and also provides a sneaky way of expanding the Nexus’s memory!

Foursquare closes another door

With the latest update to its Android app, Foursquare now forces check ins to be done via Swarm (my workround involving uninstalling Swarm no longer works). This means that points are harder to get for frequently checked in locations. It’s still possible to get them if Foursquare itself recognises the location you’re at and invites a check in. But otherwise you have to check in via Swarm, and it’s a points lottery. It remains to be seen if, when the new Foursquare app is finally rolled out, it’s possible to earn points at all!

Chemistry, Academia, Travel, Technology, Politics and Music


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