• Week 76

    31 March 2014

    Most of the week was spent working on the talk for FutureEverything: writing, a bit of research, a bit of continuing to tinker with electronics (a project called Hutton). The electronics are part of a prototype that’s important to the talk – a demonstration of a conceit. It’s not going to be complete before the conference, but worth continuing to push on with: having at least some work to talk about in a space feels important, so I continue to hack on things. And perhaps I can hint at some work in progress.

    Otherwise, a few quick meetings, some work getting Hello Lamp Post ready for Designs of the Year, and my last few days of code on Contributoria.

    And, on Tuesday night, PAN, Gyorgyi and I all descended on the Design Museum for the Designs of the Year nominees’ party. As previously mentioned, it’s a great honour for Hello Lamp Post to be nominated. It’s on display there for the next few months, along with the rest of the nominees, so do check it out!

  • Week 75

    24 March 2014

    In one sense, a straightforward week: entirely spent on Contributoria.

    In other senses, more complex: I’m wrapping up my time on Contributoria, and thinking about what’s coming next. That’s increasingly looking like working on a few personal projects – various things have fallen over, thanks to changes in the Foursquare API; various things need pushing forward to the next phase, and dedicated time would be good.

    Adding to the complexity is dealing with clients, which is always – for good or ill – the complicated part of business. In this case, the thing I’m finding hard is working out how to say ‘yes’ and how to say ‘no’ – especially to good projects I’m interested in but can’t, currently, see a way to take on.

    This is all much harder than sitting down and writing code or sketching or building circuits, and it takes its toll from time to time. This is why downtime – be it for projects, or for rest – is important, especially if the business is to be successful and sustainable. Monday, then, was spent wrapping up a long weekend away, looking at the sea and striding over hills. A space to empty my head, consider what might be coming, work out how to do some things, and how to say others.

    And if that all sounds a bit honest: well, weeknotes tend to go better when (within reason) I say what’s in my head.

    I also spent some time on Friday on the phone to Kars. We occasionally have catch-up calls with one another. Nothing formal; just some time spent talking to one another about our practice, how work is, seeing what small business in Europe looks like from different angles. It’s always interesting to hear what Hubbub is up to, and it’s a useful perspective on my own work – and much appreciated!

    Next week: wrapping up a few things, and preparing for FutureEverything.

  • Week 74

    17 March 2014

    A fairly focused week. First, two days of workshopping and sketching on Botley, the goal of which was to narrow down which of a variety of prototypes the team would be taking forward. Intensive, and the kind of days fuelled by coffee and marker pens that leave you reeling a little by the time they’re done. But: good work done, good decisions made.

    Then, the rest of the week on Haddington/Contributoria: primarily setting up some loose project management, and writing a lot of documentation. This is my last month on Contributoria, and I want to get a lot of things in place so that it’s easy for other developers to dive into the project.

    Not much more to report, really: a lot of running around and typing. Next week is a bit more settled – at least, on the running around front; the typing is a bit of a constant.

  • Week 73

    10 March 2014

    A busy week – not in the sense of absolute volume, but certainly in terms of the number of different things I was working on.

    On Friday I was in Coventry for the Random String symposium. I think the talk went down alright, and I had a lot of interesting conversations with artists and practitioners. I’ll try to get it online soon: it’s a talk called Technology as an Artist’s Material, and it takes a slightly different slant on some of the ‘materials’ based talks I’ve done in a while.

    Quite a bit of the week was spent working on that. However, I also fitted in a day of meetings for Haddington/Contributoria, about how we were going to get to 1.0, planning the next few months work, and seeing what else was on the horizon. Good to have the whole team in the same place, it always leads to strong conversations.

    I also spent a day on Seager, making the website for the connected-object degrade gracefully from Websockets to AJAX-based long polling when Websockets weren’t available. It’s easy to do this when you’re testing if the browser supports Websockets. The more important use case, though, is when a browser supports websockets but (for whatever reason) they’re not being transmitted correctly – for instance, if an HTTP proxy is blocking them. It was a reasonably day of fine-grained code and testing, but the end result was not just the correct, seamless functionality; it was also better-abstracted code that more clearly expressed all of the site’s functionality. Very worthwhile.

    A busy week. Week 74 is more focused, and less dependent on the muse sticking around long enough to write 30 minutes of flowing lecture. Onwards!

  • Week 72

    1 March 2014

    Four focuses this week:

    • continued work on Contributoria, in advance of the March issue going live on Saturday the first. Mainly tidying up loose ends, adding a few useful features, getting things shipshape.

      • a day fettling the Hello Lamppost code, in advance of two installations of it.
      • working on my talk for Random String, which was coming together after a day, but will still need some time in the week before the event to really haul its disparate influences together.
      • continuing to prod some hardware/software integration tests for Hutton. As part of that, I shared my somewhat-documented demonstration code on Github. It’s a very straightforward demo – retrieving a random number from a web server via an Electric Imp, and then pushing that number over a simple serial protocol to an Arduino. It doesn’t do much, other than illustrate how the components fit together. Except: it’s an end-to-end demo. It covers each part of the service – Arduino code to handle serial data; Squirrel code for the Imp to request data and process it – and more Squirrel for the agent to make the HTTP request and return it to the device. Now all that remains is to swap out the server being used, the data being sent, and the representation of that data on the Arduino. By understanding the end-to-end process, I’m now in a better place to focus on the unique aspects of my implementation. It felt worth sharing, as it’s a little conceptual hump to get over.

      And the usual comms management: handling inquiries about my availability, meeting people to talk about future projects. My March is wall-to-wall busy, with two talks to write and deliver, more work on Contributoria, some IOT work, a workshop for BBC R&D, and, if there’s time, a bit more work on Hutton. Blimey. For now: onwards.

  • Week 70

    17 February 2014

    A week of being head down. Primarily, on Contributoria: working up lots of new templates and a new workflow, discussing this with Dean and solving a lot of problems; fixing a few issues and deploying the new features.

    When I wasn’t doing that, I spent an afternoon poking some electronics for a project I’m calling Hutton. Most of the time was spent with an Electric Imp, and I was really impressed with the out-of-box experience: not too long to get it connected, and with some canniness, there’s a lot you can do. It’s certainly a very responsive platform, and I can see myself using it a lot in the future. Otherwise, I was mainly soldering headers onto devboards and just poking some libraries. I hope to return to Hutton in week 71 – both the web-end of things, a browser-based prototype, and then rigging up some components that were befuddling me last week and seeing if a physical demo is possible.

    And, in amongst all that: the usual tranches of email and planning, which never get faster.

    Oh, and I almost forgot: we got to announce that Hello Lamp Post had been nominated for Designs of the Year. Needless to say, Ben, Sam, Gyorgyi and I are all very proud.

  • Week 69

    9 February 2014

    Back to the swing of things after a week away.

    That primarily meant getting back in to Contributoria: adding some small features on the back-end, tracking down various snags, and getting up to speed on where the codebase was after a month away.

    I also spent a day mentoring as part of the ODI’s Open Data In Practice course: feeding back on various exercises the attendees were completing, as well as helping them in their own personal exercises, writing code that went beyond their levels of experience. By the end of the day, there were some great presentations, and it’s always a delight to help people come to new understandings and see what’s possible with the information they have.

    In amongst all that: various meetings, lots of thinking, and lots of getting back to velocity for what now feels like 2014 proper.

  • Week 66

    17 January 2014

    Pulled in lots of directions this week:

    • A day wrapping up the month’s work on Contributoria/Haddington, laying the foundations for Dan’s work for the rest of the month.
    • Paying my tax bill.
    • Various meetings and lunches with friends, about interactive theatre and games culture, which were a nice tickle for the brain.
    • Wrapping up a final set of bugfixes on Seager, which led to the startling discovery that 3G connectivity providers may will strip websockets from port 80 because of their lousy proxies – we lost some time to that one.
    • A day of workshopping for the BBC on a project that I’m calling Botley for my references.

    Fun, though: two concrete days at either end, and lots of little bits in the middle, tidying up and poking some other bits of technology in my spare time. One potential project has fallen through for the time being, though thankfully this isn’t too much of an issue; a couple of speaking engagements have emerged. Lots of focuses, then, but a solid week. One more like that, and then I’m heading to the hills for a week’s R&R.

  • Week 65

    12 January 2014

    The majority of the week was spent working on Contributoria (Haddington), following its launch the week before. No major errors to fix, but lots of features to roll out ASAP. It’s very much an “early” beta (rather than a perpetual beta) and we’d like to get the features people are expecting into the product as swiftly as we can; I’m hoping by February/March I’ll be focusing more on polishing and plussing, than on crawling through the critical backlog.

    So that meant building core functionality, helping Dan set up outbound email, fettling servers, and getting our deployment tools polished and working for all of us. That went smoothly, and we’re now delivering at a nice pace.

    A Monday spent at the Guardian offices also meant that we could show the product off in an editorial meeting, and we had a decent response – some sharp questions and good feedback. At this stage, almost all feedback is helpful, and it was nice to get a response direct from all the journalists on tap in those offices.

    I also spent a little of the week debugging some issues with Seager, primarily around latency. Connected object need a degree of polish in their mere implementation to file off rough edges, even in this early prototype: how often they report to the network, what first configuration feels like. Lots of that’s been ironed out, and I’m going to talk more to the Bergcloud team next week about my experiences with the project.

    And of course, handling email and inquiries about the future – and lining ducks up for the tax payment deadline.

  • Weeks 63/64

    4 January 2014

    Very quiet over the Christmas break.

    That meant there was time to write this year’s Yearnotes, which put a lot into focus, and reminded me how much to be proud of this year there was. If you missed them over the holiday period, they’re probably worth your time.

    On the first of January, Contributoria went live. This is the project I’ve been referring to as Haddington. I’ve written more about it here; suffice to say, it’s early days, and whilst I’m not hugely instrumental in the work, I’ll be continuing to lend a hand for a little longer – tightening various screws around the place. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

    To that end, I spent the 2nd diving back into the project. On the 3rd, I largely wrapped up the work on Seager – the connected object prototype – and shipped it off to the client to see how it suits them.

    Week 65 is when we begin again in anger: a few meetings, and a whole week on Haddington/Contributoria. Onwards, into 2014!