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January 14th, 2003

Booksleuthing: a long lost childrens' novel

The excellent Abebooks' Booksleuth site (pop along there and answer some queries!) has posted my current search.

I've been trying to find (for some time) a late 1960s or early 1970s British children's fantasy, which mixed illustrations from a Victorian-style naturalist's sketch book into an ecological fable.

The plot is as follows - a pair of badgers leave the last wood, and find their way to the edges of a city. There they meet an old naturalist who introduces them to the new animals that have evolved to fit in with the mess humans have left behind. These include the Great Water Bottle, the ant-like Marbles (and in their hill, the Queenie), the Marble Eater (looking like a cylinder Hoover), the deer replacement Steer, and the twisted pylon-like trees. The badgers meet the last of the old animals, who are protecting plants underground with the intent of restoring the old world. There's a culmination in a fire that drives the new animals into the paths of traffic. As the ashes cool, the old animals bring the plants up from below ground and start to rebuild the lost woods.

I can remember roughly where it was in the Children's Library back home on Jersey, and so I'm pretty sure the author's surname was somewhere between the middle of the As and the start of the Bs... I'm also pretty sure the cover was purple...

I can't be the only person who remembers this book. Even Dave Langford and Brian Ameringen don't know what it's called!
I'm not the codepope, and it's been a while since I've done any personal coding projects aside from simple applications for some of my magazine columns. However my shiny new SPV has given me an idea, and I'm now a user story and several sketches into the initial architectural work.

The structure of an MMS message is interesting. When forwarded to an email address through the Orange MMS gateway, messages come through as a single multipart MIME message. These are then decoded by mail applications into attachments. However, the structure is such that it should be relatively easy to parse these messages, and handle various sections appropriately. One key point is that Orange generates a pseudo-email address for the sender which includes the originating mobile number.

So what does this give use? Well, it turns MMS into a delivery channel to web applications, and, more specifically, a means of delivering mobile blogging to Live Journal just by MMSing a specific email address!

So, the idea is this: a server component that handles incoming mail to a known mailbox, authenticates using the phone number in the header of the mail, determining the target account and then process the mail. Text will be assembled into a standard block, images will extracted and ftped to a known address. This will be used to construct an image location URI which will be appended to the document. Then, using the Live Journal XML-RPC API, and the authentication information stored by the application, a journal entry can be delivered. Once the message has been accepted the original message is destroyed to ensure user privacy.

Authenticating by phone number strikes me as a simple solution for multiple users, as it's a UID, and will be easy enough to parse out of the message headers. Using this approach a single mailbox can be used as the gateway for the application.

I'd be interested in understanding if other networks had MMS systems that worked similarly. If there's anyone reading using any other UK network (O2, Vodaphone and T-Mobile), could you drop me a line to see if you can send me a MMS to my LJ email address.

I know I could invoke the Lazyweb to do this, but I'd like to build it myself. I'm pretty sure it can be componentised to the level of being able to handle the Blogger API and the Meta-Blog API as well as LJ's - so all a user would need to do would be to register their target URI. However, I'm going to stick with LJ to start with - mainly as this is an application I want!

Thoughts and comments appreciated...