• Week 41

    29 July 2013

    Weeknotes for Week 41 will be brief, I think, if only because they’re late.

    Lots of little bits this week. My main work for myself this week was pushing ahead on Sore; by the end of the week, I had an end-to-end demo video to send to my collaborator and producer. I like video for this simply because it’s a hardware project; ultimately, there should be no visible computation, so being able to show it working end-to-end without manual intervention is exciting progress. Really satisfying work.

    I did a short internal talk on Wednesday evening for a company, so a few days were spent rejigging it for the specific new audience. That seemed to go down well.

    There was a short piece of work to slowly decommission Concert Club, which has reached the end of its prototype period. It was nice to take the time to wind something down properly: disabling long-running processes, scaling back server resources, leaving it up as an archive. Nothing’s worse than removing a site you worked on from the face of the world, and having to rely on archive.org to recover it.

    I had another mentoring session with Michael, the film producer I’m working with through CreateInnovate. Good to catch up, and to see how last month’s session had percolated and come to fruition.

    And, on Tuesday, I spent a day with PAN, working over some of the snaglist on Hello Lamppost and thinking a little about the future.

    I have one of this weeks every couple of months: lots of little fragments, winding some things down, building others up; it feels bitty at the time, but lots of things move on as a result. It’s the kind of week that makes weeknotes really valuable.

  • Week 22

    18 March 2013

    Week 22: time for a new project. This week I kicked off Detling: a seven-week or so web prototype around social listening, which I’m working on with Caper and BBC Radio 3.

    We began with a week of discovery: exploring the fabric of the product a bit, deciding what it was we were really making. Lots of sketching and blackboards, a day or so prodding a spreadsheet until I could tear it into reasonably satisfying chunks (and prove that doing so was feasible), some graphic design exploration. It’s another project with a tight timeline, but we’re focusing on making it deliverable, manageable, and self-explanatory. Should be an interesting one.

    I wrapped up Dundry in some spare moments, and the BBC Knowledge & Learning team seem very pleased with that.

    And, otherwise, set up some meetings in April and May that sound promising for the summer.

    Next week: more on Detling, some work on Playable City, and off to Serbia. A bit about that in another post.

  • Week 21

    11 March 2013

    Very busy this week.

    Early in the week, I helped Amblr with a workshop in Bristol as part of their REACT Sandbox project, The Next Time[line]. Coming into a short project very briefly, I wasn’t quite sure what role I’d take – design? Code? Something else?

    In the end I bounced between people, in a role very similar to what we used to call “Sheriff” in Berg workshops: holding people to their word, making sure explanation is clear, being firm, pushing through to get decisions made. Hard work, but it was a productive two days, and everything’s lined up for the final weeks of the sandbox. Always interesting to work on other projects like this.

    However, the bulk of the week was focused on bringing Dundry in to land. That means: implementing one last feature, just enough polish to make it feel less hacky and more like it has the potential to be a thing, and lots of documentation.

    I’d produced wireframes early on to sketch the interactions in the project – but they’re not the only documentation I’ve been working on. I’ve also been making notes on the data structures within the project – simple explanations of the schema, of course, accompanied with some of the reasoning behind how they ended up there – and talking a little about the decisions made in the rendering layer, which, though not the focus of the project, turns out to be where a lot of the engineering meat of the prototype lies, and which needs to have a very carefully considered architecture in any future versions.

    And I’m probably going to produce a short screencast. Videos are useful cultural currency – easily shared – but also serve as documentation, illustration, and proof of a project that works even offline; live demos are great, but not when you haven’t got a network connection. I’ve been making little videos throughout the project to demonstrate it to the client, and it appears to have been helpful.

    I’m hoping to ship final documentation and code – or at least, nearly final – before the beginning of Week 21.

    And then it’s onto new things: next week sees the beginning of Detling over at Caper, which should be really interesting: a tight, creative project, about social listening.

    Busy, then – and a learning experience about how to slot various projects together, how to make sure that timelines don’t collide too much, and how to push myself forward at a reasonably rate when I need to get things done. As ever: onwards.

  • Week 19

    25 February 2013

    A busy week, entirely spent working on Dundry.

    Dundry is an interaction prototype for BBC Knowledge & Learning. The goal is to bring something to life in just enough fidelity to get a feel for how it works – to feel the material of the product in our hands, to see what works and what doesn’t, and to leave it in a state that product owners and stakeholders can play with for a while once I’m done.

    To that end, I worked on some wireframes and interaction design to understand the scope of the project – and now I’m both bringing those to life, and tweaking the design as I go, based on the understanding I get from using it.

    I’ve made good progress, I think, though it’s a very intense process. I go on deep dives into tangled knots of D3, emerging a few hours later with marked progress, and a sore head from callbacks and closures. Needless to say, it’s really satisfying: full of the best kind of fiero. It’s also been heartening to already see some of the interactions I hoped would be satisfying turn out to be exactly that.

    There’s also a degree of material understanding going on. There’s a lightweight Rails back-end, but most of these interactions are within the browser, and written in Javascript. To that end, I’ve been wrestling with the DOM event model.

    For instance: one interaction involves highlighting an element when the mouse moves over it. This was working reasonably well, but would occasionally flicker as the mouse moved vertically. It turned out that whenever the mouse crossed a “cursor” line I was drawing (representing the X-position of the mouse), it would fire mouseout on the hovered element – because in the browser’s model, it had moved out of the hovered element and over the cursor. I could have left the flicker in, but this is a really central piece of the work, that someone’s going to interact with a lot. So I rewrote the code, checking to see which element the mouse’s co-ordinates resided within… rather than which element was firing mousemove events. Was that more work? Absolutely. Was it the right thing to do here? I think so. Even in a prototype, certain elements need more polish than others, to show that they’re what we’re looking at – and in this case, the hover interaction needed to be solid.

    And then, having done some work like that, I zoom back out to the high level to see how the whole thing is fitting together, before diving back down to some fine-grained Javascript.

    Like I said, most of the time, hugely satisfying.

    In other project news, given that Steve Bowbrick has announced my involvement, it’s probably worth decloaking Firle as Radio 3’s Musical Map of Britain. A nice tight project, and I’m really glad the Breakfast Show team are so happy with it.

    Next week: more deep hacking on Dundry, with a short detour to Cambridge to speak at Culture Hack East 2013 about Spirits Melted Into Air.

  • Week 18

    18 February 2013

    Everything’s getting busy. I kicked off the week pushing through a bit further on Crowborough: getting to an end-to-end demo, checking everything works out.

    I met a few people for various lunches to see what they’re up to, including some of the Makeshift crew.

    In the middle of the week, I kicked off work on Dundry: lots of wireframing and thinking. Though the wireframes and interaction work were sent off on Friday, there’s a lot of detritus – felt-pen sketches all over my desk, exploring other avenues, seeing how things felt, before I committed them to vectors. Dundry is going to be occupying me for the remainder of the month, and the first week in March; it should be an exciting, busy project, with some really tangible outputs – once we’re happy with the sketches, the rest of the sketching will happen in code.

    On Friday, Firle launched, and seems to have been well-appreciated by both the client and it’s users; always good to have a successful launch.

    And at the end of Friday, I took Crowborough down to Berg, where I showed it at their Friday demos. I’ll write more about it soon: it’s a Little Printer publication, which takes a fairly obvious product – the to-do list – and re-interprets it in somewhat unusual ways. Playing with the various materials involved (paper, Bergcloud, SMS, and Little Printer publications) was entertaining and illuminating. And: a lovely platform to write code for.

    Things are ramping up, then. Week 19 is primarily going to be solid, head-down work on Dundry.

  • Week 16

    4 February 2013

    Tuesday saw a trip to Bristol, to the PM Studio, where PAN, Gyorgyi and I kicked off Hello, Lamppost with Clare and Verity. A good long meeting, with great insight and conversation, and then an afternoon wandering a grey, damp Bristol, looking at the materials we’d have to work with – the streets themselves.

    The rest of the week was spent primarily on business development. Enough research to put together a quote for Chanctonbury – a brief but super-interesting data-wrangling project.

    And, separately to that, a long meeting on Monday, followed by subsequent thinking, writing, and developing for Dundry: a meaty prototyping project that could likely consume February. Dundry has the potential to sprawl and overflow, but I think it’s most interesting when it’s ratcheted down, nice and tight: expressing the concept through a couple of core conceits, rather than trying to let it be anything it wants from the start.

    A few other meetings filled out the week – one about writing, rather than technology, which was really interesting – and a bit of illness laid me lower than I’d like towards the end.

    The usual, then: developing, pitching, lining things up for February – one or two things are almost on the starting blocks.