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Gopher is dead, long live gopher

Some months ago, while preparing a lesson for my Internet Technology class, I was doing some research on old protocols just to give my students the feeling about how the Internet used to work some years ago, and how it is much, much more than just the Web. During this research I found some interesting information about good old Gopher and how to run it from android devices... Hey, wait, did I say android devices? Yep! The Overbite project aims at bringing gopher to the most recent devices and browsers. As Firefox &co. from their latest versions have stopped supporting Gopher (shame on you), guys from the Overbite project have also decided to develop a browser extension to let you continue browsing it (well, if you ever did it before ;)).

What struck my  mind is not the piece of news per se, but the fact that there was a community (I thought a very small one) that was still interested in letting people access the gopherspace... To find what? So I spent some time (probably not enough, but still more than I planned) browsing it myself and checking what is available right now...

What I found is that the gopherspace, or at least the small part of it I was able to read in that limited time, is surprisingly up-to-date: there are news feeds, weather forecasts, reddit, xkcd, and even twitter (here called twitpher :)). Of course, however, there are also those files I used to find 15 years ago when browsing the early web from a text terminal with lynx: guides for n00bs about the Internet, hacking tutorials, ebooks I did not know about (the one I like most is Albert Einstein's theory of relativity in words of four letters or less, that you can find here in HTML). Moreover, there's still people willing to use Gopher as a mean to share their stuff, or to provide useful services for other users: FTP servers (built on a cluster of Playstation 3 consoles... awesome!) with collections of rare operating systems, LUG servers with mirrors of all the main Linux distros, pages distributing podcasts and blogs (well, phlogs!). Ah, and for all those who don't want to install anything to access gopher there's always the GopherProxy service that can be accessed using any browser.

After seeing all of this, one word came into my mind: WHY? Don't misunderstand me, I think all of this is really cool and an interesting phenomenon to follow and I really love to see all of these people still having incentives in using this old technology. And it is great to see that the incentives, in this case, are not the usual ones you might find in a participative system. I mean, what's one of the main incentives in using Wikipedia? Well, the fact that lots of people will read what you have written (if you don't agree, think about how many people would create new articles in a wiki which is not already as famous as Wikipedia). And how many readers is a page from the Gopherspace going to have? Well, probably not as many as any popular site you can find around the Web. But Gopher, mainly relying on text files, has a very light protocol which is superfast (and cheap!) on a mobile phone. It has no ads. It adds no fuss to the real, interesting content you want to convey to your readers. And quoting the words of lostnbronx from Information Underground:

"... I tell you, there's something very liberating about not having to worry over "themes" or "Web formatting" or whatever. When you use gopher, you drop your files onto the server, maybe add a notation to a gophermap if you're using one (which is purely optional), and...that's it. No muss, no fuss, no dicking around with CMS, CSS, stylesheets, or even HTML. Unless you want to. Which I don't. It defeats the purpose, see?"

Aaahh... so much time passed since the last time I have heard such wise words... It is like coming back to my good old 356* and listening to its +players! Let me tell you this, I like these ideas and I am so happy to see this new old Gopher still looks so far from being trendy... Because this means that a lot of time will need to pass before commercial idiots start polluting it! And in the meanwhile, it will be nice to have a place where information can be exchanged in a simple and unexpensive way. Maybe we in the richest part of the world do not realize it, but there are still many places where older but effective technologies are widely used (some examples? Check this one about Nokia most popular phone, and read why we still have USENET), and if something like Gopher could be a solution in this case, well... long live Gopher :-)


Android apps you can live without (but that I like)

I had decided to write a post about SL4A (Scripting Layer for Android) this week, but I have just started learning it and do not have much to say yet. What I learned, however, is that the space on my Hero is quite limited, especially now that more applications (highly) above 1MB of size are available.

I have always tried to keep my list of apps as clean as I can, but of course many times I have forgotten something clearly unuseful between them, or left something that I thought would have been useful sooner or later... Now, trying to free some space in my phone, I have started to classify apps as "removable" for next time I run out of space, "unremovable", "probably going to be useful sooner or later" and so on (I don't know how many of these classes one should have, I just made up some in my  mind - let me know if you think I should add more or remove some). Here are some of the applications I have now on my Hero and the categories I have associated to them.

Apps I'd remove if I could

These are apps that I cannot (easily) remove because they come with the firmware, but I'd really like to remove them:

  • Stocks and Footprints: I am not using them at all;
  • Peep: I found it nice at the beginning, but later realised it is pretty limited especially if compared to other Twitter clients for Android;
  • Teeter: this is a really nice app, but I have already finished it plenty of times and got bored. It would be so much better if it had more levels...


Well, at least for now... This is the list of apps that I use regularly, but I might change them if I found better alternatives.

  • Dropbox: I find it very useful whenever I want to bring something with me (like a pdf that I want to read later while I'm commuting) or, conversely, when I want to copy something to my PC without using the USB cable;
  • Game Dev Story: this is a game that is totally addictive for me. The same night I have tried the free version I have decided to buy the full one. Only now, after plenty of hours of playing and twenty years in the videogame, I am starting to get bored (as now it starts to get a little too repetitive);
  • Lazy Geek: I am not using it that much, but when I did it it has proved to be very useful, allowing me to run batch scripts to quickly check server-related stuff from my mobile;
  • Of course Perl for Android, even if I still haven't still extensively used it;
  • Scan2PDF mobile: ok, this is not the kind of app you use everyday but I found it useful in many circumstances, from scanning documents I had to email to quickly PDFfing notes taken on a whiteboard during meetings;
  • Sipdroid, to connect my phone to my VOIP account. I like it much more than Skype, it works perfectly with my Messagenet account and all in just 860KB;
  • TED Mobile: I like to watch TED talks and this is my favorite way to see them while I'm travelling. I think I will also install RSA Vision soon for the same reason;
  • Tubemate: I use it to download YouTube videos for my son and watch them while offline;
  • TuneIn Radio, to listen to streaming radios (and in particular The Bone!) from wherever I am;
  • Train timetables for Italy (Orari Trenitalia) and Switzerland (Timetable Switzerland), absolutely indispensable for me :)

Nice, but only for a while

  • Air control lite: a cool game that I played a lot... after a while it gets a little too repetitive but I'd suggest it for a try;
  • Overbite Android: actually you must be a little more into gopher than I am to really appreciate it, but I think it is great to know not only that gopher is still alive, but also that you can access it from mobile devices. Indispensable if you want to access online resources in a very cheap way, but they need to be there and you need to know where they are. By the way, I think this is a great topic for a new blog post, so stay tuned;
  • Skype: one word: bah! Of course some might need it at all costs, but fortunately I can use something else for cheap calls (see Sipdroid above) and avoid having people bug me all day long with IM. And the size... That's what I call an overbloated app! Next one I'll remove when I need some space;
  • SMS Backup and restore: simple, free, and works perfectly. Of course, unless you're paranoid about losing your text messages, you won't need it very often. I used it once when I was upgrading Android on my phone and it worked fine... even if next time I'll probably just backup messages without restoring them ;)

Useful, but substitutable

These are apps that I consider useful, but that probably can (or sometimes need to) be substituted by other applications: any suggestion about this is welcome!

  • Aldiko: this is a really cool ebook reader. I liked it so much that I decided to support it and buy the Premium version. But damn... it is SO huge for an ebook reader! Should I switch to something smaller?
  • Droid Comic Viewer: this is a nice app to read comics in different formats (such as CBR, CBZ, JPG, and so on). I found it nice, albeit not perfect... So I am open to alternatives if you think there are better ones;
  • ES File Explorer: it looks cool but I think I am not using at its full potential. I guess there might be another, less powerful, lighter app that's probably better for me;
  • Note Everything: a very powerful note-taking application. I use it very much and like it, but again I think I'm not exploiting its full potential;
  • Taskiller: the first task killer I have installed. I don't know if it is better or worse than others, but it works fine for me;
  • Shuffle: it's a free GTD todo list manager. It is quite customizable and the nice things is that it allows you to check your list according to different facets: for instance you can see all the tasks you have to do today, or the ones related to a specific context or a given project. This app is at the same time one I would not live without (I always keep many todo lists), something you might get bored of (I am currently not using it much) and something that can be substituted (in my case, lately, by lists on paper!). The main reason I stopped using it is that I'm experimenting with another, more physical, medium, and I kind of like it, but apart from this I still think it's a very good app.


Well, this is more or less the list of apps I have now on my Android. Of course there were many others I have already uninstalled, however I thought it wouldn't have been very useful to describe them too... ;) I hope that in this list you can find something that might be useful to you too. However, I'm always fearing that this list is too biased by the fact that most of these apps are the first ones that appear in the market for popularity: this always leaves me with the doubt that there might be something very good in the long queue but that I'll never have a chance to try. So, please, if you have other good apps to suggest, especially lighter substitutes of the ones I already have, but also new ones that you think I might like to try, just let me know: I'll be happy to try them.

Filed under: android 4 Comments