Category Archives: unconference

BarcampLondon6, Guardian Offices, KX London

I’m in a very warm room with about 120(?) people in the swanky new Guardian Offices in Kings Angry, London. Emma Persky is doing a good job of the welcome and *stuff* – there’s a lot of familiar faces and a few Barcamp Virgins who shyly stuck their hands up when asked :-)

So far I’ve had a strong cup of coffee – glad I brought my soy cream – am am being cooked by the very warm lights!

Backstage are one of the sponsors and I have a load of pens and stickers to give out and will also hopefully capture some of the thoughts and happenings on my ickwl Xacti cam – so do come up to me and say hello :-D

Emma has just announced a Lego competition to make a letter and then the grid (the scheduler) will be open for people to add their sessions!

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I put myself down on The Grid for the first round of talks – mine was a discussion on Arduino, electronics and how tinkerers can possibly shape the future of product design and research by designing their own wish list products…

This turned into an interesting discussion as people who attended were a mixture of those who had recently heard about arduino/tinkering with electronics, people who were interested in playing with this technology, those who were really experienced in using this technology and me, who has tinkered a bit and wants to learn more!

Peter Knight, from tinker.it made the point that arduino technology was a good platform for prototyping, but you probably wouldn’t make a gadget of the future from it. We went on to discuss various types of hacks and bending such as ‘sustainability’ ie hacking existing technology – for example someone has hacked the doorbell of The Hub so that people can let themselves in with their Oyster cards. We also talked about large scale tech that is made only to last a few months until the next upgrade – ie mobile phones – how can we reuse this technology?

Finally we talked about custom builds – how we make technology we want from our own wish lists – this is very prevelant within music enthusiasts. I talked about how making custom accessibility hacks/tools could help shape the future of accessible products.

There are several groups and companies who are evolving who are looking at this:
Open Hardware Hacking Group
HomeCamp
Hackspace
tinker.it

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Next I went to a talk on Current Cost meters – these a gadgets that you use at home to track your usage of electricity and make you aware of how much you are using/spending. People are creatively hacking them to show data in different ways, from getting their data to appear on Twitter (and even writing code to make it appear they’re still using power if they’re on hols), to building hardware that glows in relation to how much electricity you are using. We heard about a hack created at Mashed08 – a prototype using XBOX to make a game/competition to see who out of a group of friends is using the lowest reading totals over different times of the day and also making suggestions how you can fix things to make your usage more efficient. They also created some widgets so that you don’t have to go to a specific site to see the data, but can put the data on sites like Twitter or your blog and also in different ways of presenting and visualising.

He also gave the example of a friend who was leant a Current Costs meter noticed that he was using more electricity than anyone else in his friend group, some investigation tracked down that the electricity for the whole blocks showers was being attributed to this chaps bill.

Current Cost meters can also show how using an old fridge will cost more in electricity than buying a new more efficient fridge. You can borrow Current Cost meters from libraries to see test your home usage and some electricity companies even give them out for free. Even if you think you know your usage, some surprises can be outed – such as leaving a surround sound system on or halogen lights in your kitchen!

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My next talk was on Safe Stoozing!
This was all about how to make money from no interest credit card deals, for example maxing them out for a year and putting the money in a high interest account or an ISA. There are hidden terms and costs to be aware of such as a small interest charge per month, but if you are clever these are minimal!

Some tips for Stoozing:

  • Be clued up about what you are doing – read the small print
  • You are not going to spend the money – don’t buy toys
  • Do not spend on the credit card – as soon as you’ve transferred the money you chop up the card
  • You have to be meticulous with payments – set up a direct debit
  • Stoozing isn’t for the faint-hearted or be careful or you’ll end up paying back a lot of money!

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/cards/stooze-cash-credit-cards
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoozing

Remember it’s not your money!

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Processing with J4mie

We heard a quick tour of coding language: Processing, what it is, the interface how it’s code is comparable/different from other languages such as Java. Also about the book Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham – which argues that programming is an act of making and included some analogies to the creative process of painting and music making.

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Flashing Lights with Nigel Crawley

Nigel showed us how his interest in ambient info lighting was piqued by the Tabard Square housing project which has ambient light cubes which change colour by measuring air pressure on top of buildings and reflects this in various hues of light.

He’s been experimenting with DMX (like midi for lights) lighting since attending a workshop at tinker.it and started wondering how you could get Flash/Air apps to talk to lights. He created an prototype using arduino and Processing sketches with a DMX sheild, which in turn talks to Adobe Air and using all the colour hues fed out as RGB data. DMX is a serial protocol with 512 channels and can work with 32 channels . You can daisy chain items such as different lamps all with different channels such as red green blue white. OSC (Open sound control) works over local network or internet so you could have a lamp ensemble – it’s great for controlling lamps, sound synths, multimedia, etc. Nigel also has an iPhone using OSC (an app costing a couple of quid) working over wifi via a laptop to control lighting. He was also using Patchbay & Pachube air monitoring data to create baromic ambient lighting.

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Hacking with ikea and other simple pleasures – @kenlim

Ken Lim works at the Guardian and one of his pet pleasures is hacking with Ikea products – here’s what he told us…

Objective: to encourage people to make and break stuff

Why:

  • 2.0 envy
  • make 2.0 exists
  • it’s fun

Hacking in the real world is fun! We should encourage more hacking fun in the real world…

Why ikea?

  • It’s cheap
  • modular in nature
  • functional, minimalist design

Ken realised that he could make a bespoke table top and take ikea legs to make his own bespoke table.

Example: Ikea TERTIAL lamp – it has ripped off classic anglepoise lamp design and costs £6.84 – it’s quite cheap and this has enabled people to play with it, for example, someone has made a tertial lamp chandelier with 3 lamps.

Another example KROKEN towel rail that sells for £1.95 – Ken used it for a DVD mount using two of them.

  • Extremely cool example* – a guy took an Ikea table top and carved out an electric guitar from it for £15 and could, the table top was big enough to carve 3 out of one table top

Case study and lessons learnt:
Requirements
• need documentation pictures
• need both hands free
• I don’t want to hold the camera over the workspace
Solving – need documetatio pictures
• Tripods are too restrictive
• Tripod with a boom too expensive
• Solution is the tertial arm ☺

Lesson1 – don’t stress it test it

  • Solving the need for both hands free
  • the solution is the robot finger – has built an arduino box to work with a servo and cat5 cable – works with 5 lines of code!

Lesson 2: servos are awesome!
Another example is the Guardian build monitor which will let you know if the build is going okay – if they break it they get ‘the chicken’ from their build architect Phil

A proposal to managemt
The build lord
• audible warning
• obvious indication
• proactive
light saber that goes off and then you can take out the offender!

Lesson 3 – work with what you got

Things to consider
• no copy and paste… yet – cheaper 3d printing is coming
• you will break things – buy spares – stress on hardware build quality
• look around – so much awesome stuff around – prob is where you’re going to keep it all
• be a kid – have fun

There followed much fun and frivolity, and cocktail drinking into the night, here’s a nice photo of The Hodge in his jams – not a sight often seen in the Guardian Offices!

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Day two

I was woken at about 7 or 8am, depending on whether you count the clocks going forward, by a chap informing me that the floor I was sleeping on was about to be used for a talk, so I sluggishly dragged myself up after about an hour and a bit sleep – I think it was way past 5am that I looked for a floor to crash on after the Werewolf and cocktail fun – meep!

After spending some time trying to wake up and make myself presentable, I greeted my fellow BarCampers both IRL and on teh intertweets – who were also in various stages of sleep/unsleep.

I decided I needed to do something drastic to get myself going and coffee wasn’t doing it, so I joined a chi gong class – which my body did it’s best to resist, but did wake me up a little and found myself getting to know a couple of developers better by the power of push hands!

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Peter Knight from tinker.it talked about his arduino tea measuring gadget, which comprised of a set of scales with a infra-red protocol from & an oscilloscope in audacity sending 0s & 1s.

He also showed Auduino – a synth which generates audio tones, which also included some LEDs to create a very cool effect. Finally he talked about DMX for LED lighting, like midi or serial port – you can play with mains lighting that’s isolated. Tinker.it have a specially made shield All the code is on http://code.google.com/p/tinker.it

Lots of fun was had by the audience inspecting and playing with the gadgets after!

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Alex from tinker.it talked us through a list of infamous products/gadgets over recent history such as the smart fridge, nabaztag, iphone to micro printer that talks to twitter – from successful large products, to ones that didn’t get anywhere to very small, but beautiful gadgets.

She went on to break down products into five categories and discussed our relationships with them :

  • Me
  • My stuff
  • My home
  • My people
  • My city

A very interesting and thought provoking talk (unfortunately my notes aren’t very comprehensive) especially some of the questions and thoughts about micro production of products for specialist users and micro markets that came at the end.

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Ask the BBC Anything – Ian Forrester joined by any passing BBC bunnies

Basically we invited people to come and ask us questions, as usual Ian took centre stage – so I gave up trying to get a word in ;-) or videoing the session as I was craning my neck as Ian was kinda standing over me – not great for camera angles & some of our answers were personal thoughts, rather than official answers so decided it was more fun to enjoy the session than try to film it.

Questions ranged from subjects such as the BBC Archive, to the future of the BBC & licensing, to Backstage & beyond.

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Well, sadly BarCampLondon6 had to end, but it was great and I thought it was very well executed, thanks to everyone involved. Note to self: remember to *poke* the organisers of the next one very early for vegan food ;-)

Bettr at Demos, 14th January 09

On Tuesday the 14th I went along to the cosy Demos offices with some of my colleagues to Bettr – a one day education unconference coinciding with the BETT education and technology conference at Kensington Olympia.

It was an interesting day with some very cool people and ideas. Here’s a few snapshots…

* I heard the BBC described as ‘a quasi arm of the government’ which certainly raised a few eyebrows and caused Geeorge Auckland to remark “bollocks”!

* I watched Ian Forrester nearly go into meltdown on the suggestion that schools should be ‘Apple-isd’ the ensuing discussion was quite interesting as Cubicgarden made the point in reply that Apple is a very closed entity and that using open source tools is a good idea – ‘just use Twitter – you don’t need to rebuilt it!’

* Dave Pook (Sqoo) – did a good session on web services and education. This generated lots of thoughtful comments and conversation.

* Heard an interesting debate on ‘what can we learn from from 2.0 learning apps?’ The audience discussed technologies that have come and gone or ended up in ghettos.

* A chap from www.tinker.it talked about experiences of unconferences – from planning to organising forums and publisising events on sites like Upcoming.

* Ant did a session on a BBC Micro for the 21st Century, which intrigued and was enjoyed by quite a crowd.

* My partner in crime at Backstage, Ian Forrester, gave a talk on our new Ideas Store – an area to submit and talk about ideas. Hannah, James & George talked about Open Lab (Open Learning) and George fielded some unexpected questions on the BBC Archive.

* Dave Green talked about the London Games Fringe.

* JISC dev8D – developer happiness days were talked about.

* People from the Young Foundation gave a quick talk – they’re keen to give away money to social entrepreneurs aged 14-25 and are looking for scaleable and sustainable ideas.

Backstage networking event: ramping up to Saturday!

Just 48 hours to go till the Backstage networking do and it’s going to be great – more soon!

BeeBCamp, Media Village, W12

Today at work I attended BeeBCamp, a cheerfully titled unconference. I’ve been to quite a few BarCamps in the past, which are similar in principle, but not at work so this was going to be a special experience. It wasn’t arranged by manglement, but by a few interested bods around the BBC.

If you’re not familiar with unconferences, they work by getting everyone to participate, usually by speaking on a favourite subject or taking charge of one aspect or generally helping with the running of the event.

I guess the impedus for having this was to get people together to share ideas, especially those who don’t meet and who work in different departments around the country.

Anyway, in the usual style, BeebCamp started with a welcome and an invitation (by Philip Trippenbach of News) to add talks to a schedule, split into time slots and various areas, so people could chose from up to 6 talks going on at the same time. Before I could think of my 3 word sum-up [this is BarCamp-ism where you go round the room and introduce yourself with 3 terms that sum you up – last time mine were: games, geeking and cats – which I didn’t need today, but maybe something to add to BeeBCamp2?] everyone was off and looking tentatively at the schedule boards.

Some people were more familiar than others with how unconferences work and also were more used to speaking on their favourite or expertise subjects, so they were first to fill in the gaps on the schedule. Talks were varied ranged from blogging, to gaming and ‘how to make awesome video’!

Anyway, you get the idea, so here’s a few rough notes from the talks I attended. I should add that these are my interpretations and simple overviews of discussions and definately not direct quotes, some talks I missed & these are not the views of the general BBC – or about to be made policy, strategy or turned into the moon on a stick (afaik)!

* Dave Anderson talked about his experience of MMOGs
– beta testing
– editorial policy
– partnerships
– issues to consider
– what’s a MMOG?

* I chaired a discussion about women in tech at the BBC – this was really interesting and became more about how people get into tech, for example:
– how career stereotypes at school shape who goes on to study / work in tech
– the rise of women only tech meets – is this a good thing?
– gender aptitudes for careers – are women better in ‘caring’ professions eg teachers, medicine, childcare? Devils advocate stuff!
– why would women want to code / get out of coding, isn’t it boring?
– how women find working in tech, attending conferences and meets generally – attitudes, moving up the career ladder, glass ceiling anyone?
It was quite passionate and I need to write some of this up properly when I have time!

* Jasper from Children’s led a discussion about games at the BBC
– cataloging and evaluating existing games (maybe!)
– the importance of games
– how we could use MMOGs for innovative content
– our favourite games, which turned out to be a good way of finding out about someone ;-)

* Tristan Ferne of A&Mi lead a discussion on ‘what should we build next?’
– future apps
– tech shaping the future of training
– being more open / sharing
– accessibility

* Roo Reynolds, Social Media Exec chaired a discussion on ‘External blogging: can I – should I?’
– different approaches to blogging
– value of blogging
– how many people know about the different subjects / areas covered by blogs?
– role of guest bloggers
– responsibility of taking on / starting a blog
– types of blogs: team / genre / personal
– barriers to blogging eg time, self-censoring, dilemma between work / personal blogs
– prioritising time for blogging
– rules for personal blogs: disclaimers, not giving anything confidential away (notice how vague I am ;-))!

* Daniel Bennett(?) talked about News blogs
– using blogs in the news
– storytelling: linking up, weaving narrative
– reportage & citizen journalism
– barriers to blogs in the news: trust, getting things right, not being mundane
– time consuming: fact finding, moderation, checking
– microblogging
– liveblogging
– ambient intimacy
– ambient journalism

Finally, I attended a round up discussion on where to go next, facilitated by Tom van Aardt - we were overunning and about to be booted out of the conference area as the facilities team were setting up for another function!
– ‘i want my commissioner to understand…’
– finding colleagues have similar ideas and needs
– what can be done to get things done?
– be good to have a toolkit for getting things done
– a good opportunity to find out more about each other: twitter, blogs, wiki, keep in contact
– Backstage internal mailing list is a good way of keeping up with ideas
– meet again in the spring to discuss what we’ve been up to!

All in all it was a good day, lots of positive discussion from very passionate and informed people. Nobody hogged the discussions and nobody felt that they couldn’t ask a question or admit they needed something explaining.

Gosh, it’s 2 am and I need to go to bed now – I need to be up in 4.5 hours for a trip to Kingswood Warren – wish me luck getting up! What an amazing day – we even had snow in Central London in October, how bizarre is that?!