18 March 2019
As expected, the past couple of weeks have been really intense: Monday and Tuesday up in Manchester, teaching the Digital Technologies module up at Hyper Island, before three days at Bulb back in London.
Teaching has gone well. Lots of content delivery up-front in the first week – skewed that way perhaps more so than was ideal, owing to time. As well as my usual lectures on Innovation & Trends (picking apart how technological trends are perceived and the major ones that have really underpinned the past decade) and AI (“How Computers (Don’t) Think”, a favourite of mine) I ran an afternoon workshop on programming.
I’m always wary of teaching programming and coding – especially in short periods of time. It can be really unsatisfying to deal with syntax errors or tooling issues early on when you have a very limited window; I’d rather spend that time usefully learning something. So what I did was focus on the feel and practice of programming. We used Google’s Blockly visual language, and, having learned a little about it, focused on its visual interpretation of Logo.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Seymour Papert and his team’s work on Logo. It’s such a smartly designed domain-specific tool – but it also manages to take us on some useful journeys. By using it with the visual Blockly language in a browser, we avoid needing development environments or having ugly syntax errors. My idea then was to anchor what was happening in the Logo world back to programming practice. To that end: we learn about algorithms, and iteration, and variables and function (nouns and verbs) – before going into problems that require more conceptual modelling. Logo even gets you to debugging and ultimately refactoring quite nicely – going from describing individual turtle movements into abstracting them into verbs like
HOUSE, and then improving those to take sizing as a variable. You go on a useful journey without having to do too much tooling.
As a first run of a new workshop, it was alright – it’s a little longer than I realised, and it’s appropriate to spend a good while on the first few training runs to get everyone up to the same level. But hopefully some insight emerged, and it’s certainly something I’d like to revisit.
We also got a brief from our client in the first week, and much of my time in the second week was spent coaching the teams on their responses, helping them focus their discovery and ideation phases. In week 325 I’ll be doing some more coaching and then visiting their client to watch their final pitches.
Back in London, Highrigg entailed a moderate amount of coding and refactoring, a decent number of (useful and/or interesting) meetings, prepping a short talk for an offsite workshop, an excellent day workshopping with a good number of colleagues, and beginning to write that workshop up. Hopefully I’ll finish that delivery in week 325.
And that was it. A circuit board arrived for build-up, but I’m not going to have space to do that til at least week 326. In the meantime, it can sit on my desk, tantalizing me.
04 March 2019
I’m sat in a hotel bar in Manchester. I’m teaching at Hyper Island for the next two days, and for a handful of days across March. The same course as before, but with the full-time students (in Manchester) rather than the part-time students (who come into London once a month). Looking forward to it. I’ve just revised a pile of talks, and a new workshop on programming, and I think we’re good to go.
Another couple of weeks on Lambrigg: reading documentation, writing code, having meetings, moving office, inching software closer to deployment.
I sent off the SAMD21-based circuit board to America for fabrication – that should be back in a few weeks’ time, to bash together, and see if I can make a micro-USB port work on it. But for now, waiting for factories to do their thing.
Otherwise, I spent the days between Lambrigg prepping for teaching, and having some impromptu meetings: I caught up with Charlie from Museum In A Box to talk audio, electronics, acoustics, and fabrication; I also spent some time with a few friends talking about sound and augmented reality, and have been continuing to think on that ever since.
And now: bedtime, before an intense couple of days.
17 February 2019
Weeknotes are quite (deliberately) simple this week.
Over at Highrigg I did a little writing, a lot of talking – some meetings, and one meaty design chat that got us to a good place – and a moderate amount of programming. That code took a project to some much better places: it’s now working off live data, which is easily replaced over time. To do that I had to wrap my head around Knex‘s approach to migrations and querying (which turned out to be largely sensible). I also discovered that whilst I still flail a little in lots of deeply nested React, Typescript on the backend is working out OK for me. I still miss Ruby, though.
And then, not on Highrigg, I:
- finished bagging a bunch of kits and posted them to Thonk (after having my bacon saved by Clerkenwell Screws – what a shop!
- nearly wrapped the design of this SAMD21-based circuit board, and ordered the rest of the parts for bringing it up.
- kicked the tires on some ideas for a programming workshop I’ll be running next month. Nothing massive – 1-2 hours – but using some visual programming tools to explore some key ideas around programming, whilst telling a meaningful story about it at the same time. We’re going to be doing a bunch of logo-ish work in a Scratch-like language, and hopefully go from ‘driving the turtle’ to ‘making programs that make sense to other people’. I think some of the pillars of the session are emerging. I should be writing that late next week.
And look: I did my Weeknotes on time, too.
10 February 2019
A lot of Week 318 spent writing on Highrigg. For a lot of my work, writing is a solitary activity. I’m writing for myself, or I’m writing to deliver to someone else. Here, it’s more important that it’s a team sport: something that origins within our team, but passes a series of eyes to fettle, fact-check, and generally improve it. I’m learning to navigate this process, but also working out how best to embrace it and write for a team. By the end of the week, the piece was looking up and had been through some good drafts.
The team’s also been deploying code, which is exciting. Pull requests are getting approved, other colleagues are commenting on them, and by Thursday of week 318 I had a whole back-end tool going through the wash (that is, continuous integration), getting deployed, and working correctly. Small steps, but I’m always a big fan of getting to end-to-end fast, and this is a big chunk of this.
Back at the studio, I started putting together a new Foxfield order from Thonk. Stock levels meant it just required some new parts from Europe – which is good, because Chinese New Year means that anything coming from there would take a while. Those parts should be arriving towards the end of week 319, and then there’s a morning of kitting to be done.
I also returned to the project with the EFM32… and set about replacing the EFM32. Yes, this is yakshaving, but there’s a plan behind it. My plan is to make the final product easier to hack or update. To that extent: something you can hack in the Arduino IDE is an order of magnitude easier than getting going in Simplicity Studio. And: something that you can upgrade firmware on just by dragging it over a USB connection, rather than having to use the Arduino IDE. To do that, I’m moving to SAMD21 and UF2. The SAMD21 is what’s in a lot of the new Adafruit boards (and the Arduino Zero), and UF2 is a magic bootloader that handles all manner of IDEs and platform and seems to Just Work. An afternoon in EAGLE had a new layout routed; another morning had the firmware ported back to Arduino. So that’s something to get fabbed up soon.
Over at my personal site, I wrote up an e-ink display I made for my living room, a continuation of years of interest in e-ink displays, and something to keep tinkering with.
I spent a lot of Week 319 being ill – the dangers of working in a large office, I fear, as there’s definitely something going around. A couple of days on Highrigg made some good progress with pairing on code, and continuing some comms work.
27 January 2019
Finally, a week with the regular number of days in that began on a Monday! (From my perspective).
Over at Bulb Labs, there was a good groove of thinking, writing, and talking. Sounds so vague, doesn’t it? I worked on a pile of research and writing, where synthesis – writing – was as key as the research itself, so that felt good. I’m looking forward to seeing how that went down next week. I also spent some time just talking to colleagues on Slack as a way of building work-relationships; there were some fire-emojis by the end of the week, so perhaps I was doing something right.
Thursday, I went back to Captionhub – Selworthy – for a day I owed them prior to Christmas, that illness got in the way of. Nice to see the gang again – I managed to wrap the feature I was working on end-to-end, leaving it in a good place to get to deployment. I also helped debug a slightly strange feature in code relating to a file format I’m reasonably expert in now – turned out the bug was just some naive code I’d written a long while ago, and the fix wasn’t too hard to roll out. Exciting to see lots of other developments there, too – so nice to drop by.
I paid my taxes. Boring, slightly stressful, but out of the way. And now there’s some time in the coming week to sort out some accountancy. Admin has been a bit of an overhead recently: there’s not been too much, but finding space in the week to do it has been more challenging than normal. Hoping to get back on top of that fast enough.
16n got featured on Hackaday, which was pretty nice!
And finally, at the end of the week, I went along to Parallel Worlds at the V&A. I had a great day out, and it did what I hope conferences will do: blow some cobwebs out of my brain and open up some new ideas. My notes are reminders of small projects to pick up and continue with, alongside things I learned from the sessions. It was also great to catch up with friends across the London games scene, and hear what they’re up to. A good end to a good week.