Monthly Archives: September 2008

BarcampLondon5, eBay, London – day two

After a bit of a hot-cold-tossy-turny night on the funny chair arrangement, I woke up at 8am to find half of my fellow crashers were already up and eating dead piggy butties. I found some muesli and soy milk. Most luxurious and very rare for a barcamp were the on-site showers, the eBay offices are very modern and plush, so it was nice to have a watering and feel less grobbley.

The first round of talks have started and I’m presently listening to Ian Forrester talking about Boxee and other home entertainment systems.

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My next talk of choice, is with Christiano and Melinda, her write up is here. We’re sharing and playing with our gadgets. I’ve just watched a gaggle of geeks nearly decapitate each other with a tiny helichopper in a very small space and there’s a lot of peeking and poking with various laptops, such as OLPC, Acer and Eee PC. I’ve brought my DS and a load of games, as well as the Xacti video camera. Oh yes, there’s a lot of camera comparing and general poking too!

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Cathy’s calligraphy workshop

Cathy gave us amazing Chinese caligraphy lesson. She told about her experiences when she was learning at 5-6 years old. Cathy tells us that when you first start to draw you have to train your muscles . You’re supposed to prctice without touching the paper. The 9 grid is what you use – you might think writing bigger paper is easier, but it isn’t. You still have to get the characters in proportion. Sit up, have a good posture and go slowly in time with your heart. The main challenge is how to stay calm and not wobble with people watching you!

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Geek girl (and one boy) karaoke

I’m presently having the best karaoke fun, with the Lucky Voice beta player – it’s amazing and I’ve truly murdered some great songs but my companions are far too polite to say anything! Oh yes, it wasn’t supposed to be a strictly girl event, just that except for one fine chap, all the other guys refused to come and sing – scaredycats! ;-)

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BarcampLondon5, eBay, London – day one

Well, after a bit of a late start due to a slowwww train and getting a bit lost in Richmond, I’ve arrived at BarcampLondon5 at the eBay offices in leafy Richmond. I’m in a hellava bad mood, so and probably look thunderous, thus I’m not suprised I’m sitting on my own.

Okay, so far there’s been some welcome talks, the usual ‘your 3 tags’ – this time mine were ‘geeking, gaming and cats’ and people are pining their talks up on the board. I don’t really feel like talking about a subject as to be honest I haven’t had time to do any prep, but my colleague Ian is prodding me, so am doing discussion instead. I’ve billed it as ‘Lets, talk about diversity: why aren’t there more girly techie speakers’ – which as an opener should promote some lively discussion. It’s been really irking me that at most conferences I go to there’s a serious lack of women techie speakers and the last couple, there were none!

Lunchtime is winding up and brought some vegan noodles with me, which was good because I couldn’t tell if there were any vegan sandwiches or cakes in the lunch spread. I should prolly do a talk on ‘how to survive being a conference junkie if you’re vegan’ – what do you reckon? ;-P

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Jay cousin – ‘Flat folding cups and things…’

Jay presented an idea on Dragon’s Den for a range of flat-packed crockery for back-packers. He turned down two of the Dragon’s offers because he wanted a higher investment than was offered. He got £100,000 from a bank and has a production centre in China – he’s happy with this and optimistic for the future.

Today, Jay talked to us about design IP, he said ‘if I create a design, put it online and share it, anyone can produce it’. He’s interested in how companies can be more open about the design process. He’s not a fan of patents and wouldn’t want to patent his products. In his experience, having a patent doesn’t really protect you unless you have IP insurance, which costs at least £10,000 and is too expensive for any small company. IP is all about control – who actually has control and who has the right to tell us what we can own. The IP process is dictating that to us at the moment.

Demand = supply

The ongoing success of sites like Etsy and Threadless has got the big companies interested in how small groups of people sell things in small quantities, but together make up a big turnover – some go on to evolve into a bigger business. Changing the perceptions of big groups of people to buy more homegrown goods is a possibility that the big companies want to explore.

This reminds me of viral marketing going on at the moment – big companies employing ad companies to create homespun and kooky looking ads for them, which are seeded on places like YouTube and Facebook.

If you don’t design a tool that works properly, people end up using it badly or hacking it to their own means – this leads to user innovation and is something that companies need to take notice of. More companies should be looking at how to make user innovation as easy as possible, finding the incentives and benefits and make it their goal to make it easy for people to buy a product they want at the price they want it – then they will end up with an incentive to shift a product.

Here’s a link to an interesting tool that Jay mentioned: Ponoko – it lets you design, make and sell items to your own schematics – ie you can make items from drawings!

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Imp’s coming out talk – http://www.consumingexperience.com

Improbulus is a blogger who values their anomynimity. Imp told us about how they keep their identity secret and the not inconsequential hoops he/she goes through to keep it so. Why do they go to such lengths to stay anonymous? So they can be honest and frank about what they write. For example – if they criticise a product their employer or themselves won’t get hassled and they also think you can speak more freely and say what like about products and not be worried.

Limiting the jigsaw pieces you give out:
*Be careful of getting your photo taken
* Watch out for tags
* Addresses – but there’s a myth about PO boxes – they reserve the right to keep your address – uses British Monomarks
* Hide your voice – I have a distinctive voice – uses a Screaming Bees Morph Vox Junior
* bmace
* Use webmail or spamgourmet.com
* Have a pay as you go phone – most companies ask for address, but you can give a false name and address & temporary/disposable phone no
* Domain name – anonymous registration – registered to GoDaddy
* Use a false date of birth
* Use a fictional ‘mother’s maiden name’, etc on forms which require a test question

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My contribution to BCL5 wasn’t talk as such, but a discussion that opened with ‘Why are there so few techie women speakers at conferences?’

There’s certainly a lack of girl geeks talking tech at conferences and I’ve been to a couple recently where they didn’t even have one women speaker! My personal opinion is that there’s a bit of a tech glass ceiling for women in certain companies and areas. It looks to me like men are pushed forward up the career path and women don’t enjoy the same encouragement – I’m stressing looks like – I don’t know for sure, but time and again women don’t get the roles or the keynotes.

The discussion was enlightening as we heard each other’s experiences and opinions, for example, taking affirmative action was mentioned – doing a temporary thing as a necessary thing – ie making sure women are on the speakers list.

It was also mooted that the lack of women speakers was a reflection on if and how women are made to feel knowledgeable in the company of male techies – ie if included in conversation, if they’re made to feel inferior to their male counterparts.

A certain recent developer day was mentioned, where a photographer went round taking photos and the resulting shots of the day shown on the screens and on Flickr were mostly of men and hardly any women. It was really unrepresentative of the day. Also little inclusive things such as having the commemorative t-shirts in women’s sizes were mentioned as missing. I did mention the lack of female speakers at this event in a feedback form, but didn’t hear anything back. The conversation also went on to conferences and meets where there hadn’t been any women even in attendance, such as a recent Rails camp.

Interesting there was a lady executive from an Australian company (apols, I didn’t get her name) who told us that in her company there were a lot of women working in IT. She thought that there may be a cultural thing going on in the UK and also said that if more women blogged their opinions would probably become more visible and therefore asked to talk more often.

We were also talking about our experiences in education and how we could possibly get students to feel more confident about themselves and about how to get good careers information into the schools curriculum.

We chatted about the popularity around the world of Girl Geek Dinners and about how it may have become too ghettoised, and too corporate for some, but very inclusive and helpful to others. There are mixed opinions on GDD – whether they are evolving in a good way or not – it was interesting to hear these opinions.

We discussed what we could do to get more women speakers at conferences, by doing things like setting up a list to show conferences where women aren’t coming forward, to poke companies or just show some statistics. Tom Morris who is organising a semantic camp soon – is going to look into ways to recruit more women speakers.

UPDATE: Suw Charman-Anderson is running a panel discussion on similar thoughts at Web 2.0 Expo Europe, read her blog post to find out more – it’s more in-depth than my notes and has some very interesting points!

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It’s the evening now and a very nice chap got me a vegan mushroom pizza specially as there were none in the pre-order.

As usual, people at barcamps stay up really late playing Werewolf and other games, but at about 2am some people started getting tired and started camping out in one of the rooms, so I grabbed my chance to get some sleep. After missing out on one of the huge beanbags I put some designer chairs together to make somewhere to sleep on.

Scripting Enabled, London 19-20 September

On Friday, I attended day one of Scripting Enabled, a two day event looking at ways to make social software more accessible. Day one was a series of talks on barriers to accessibility and what needs to be done and day two was a hack-day with a mixture of developers, designers, advisors and interested folk working together to find solutions and build prototypes.

The event was born out of Mashed08, where Christian Heilmann presented a prototype for accessibility, which caused so much interest that he decided that accessibility was an area that needed to be looked into a lot further. From this Christian came up with the idea for the Scripting Enabled event and said in his opening remarks: ‘Open your ears, hearts and minds – if we remove some of the barriers then we are on the way to win already!’

All in all, this was a great day and I heard a lot of passionate and enlightening stuff. The videos are presently being transcribed and I’ll link to them as well as mentioning any updates from the Scripting Enabled event when I hear of them.

First on stage was Denise Stephens– Enabled by Design

Denise is passionate about good design, she has a condition which means her needs change on a daily basis, she uses a mixture of tools to help her with tasks most of us take for granted and the web has often been her lifeline to friends, resources and entertainment. Frustrated by dull and inadequately designed products Denise created and runs Enabled by Design, an online community who help each other find assistive products and equipment. They aim to make independent living more accessible by innovative design principles. They would like to make design accessible, aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable – often the disability experience is serious and not much fun. Christian summed up how many disabled people feel: ‘Just because I need some aids my flat shouldn’t look like a cheap hospital’

Enabled by Design wants to spread the concept of Universal Design – the design of products for everyone and designed to make them easier to use for as many needs as possible and they aim to set up focus groups to liaise with designers. In December there’s a social innovation camp and everyone is invited, including developers, to find out more, get in touch via http://enabledbydesign.org

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Kath Moonan, Abilitynet – Why I hate the interweb!

Kath’s heart sinks when people say to her they hate using the internet. Some users get such a bum deal that they only use the internet when they have to and it’s especially sad that most of the fun stuff isn’t accessible.

Why is the web still not accessible?
* It’s still prohibitive and expensive!
* Assistive technologies not fit for purpose?
* A lot of users don’t know about the good stuff!

Kath works for Abiltynet, who work to improve accessibility for disabled people and they conduct very diverse tests with varied users. Many of the issues they come up against reflect patterns of needs for different groups of users. She feels that if we solve many of these needs then we will have a good user experience for everyone. Abilitynet sent out a survey to their users asking about issues they have and what their wish list would be and they got a really broad range of what their users needs are. She emphasised that you need to be really careful not to pigeon-hole people and treat everyone as an individual – everyone has different needs and many people have a mixture of needs.

Amongst disabled users, there is a great gap in technological knowledge and experience, many have been burnt in the past and have had problems for example with installing software. YouTube isn’t great for screen reader users, common issues include page layout being too crowded and with no heirachy, as well as the typography being hard to read and problems with Flash.

Kath has collected lots of user quotes together: forms, scrolling, typography, too much tabbing and complex layouts are a few of the things which make using the interweb really hard. We heard about how Facebook is really difficult for visually impaired users to use and is now even harder to use since they updated the design. Jaws users report that Flash is ‘inaccessible full stop’ and so they skip it. A steep learning curve is a real barrier to a lot of users using the web. Forms, especially on travel sites are really hard to use and time consuming. Custom stylesheets should also be on the accessibility for the web wish list.

During question time Kath was asked about online games, she said in the 2.5 years she’s been at Abiltynet they’ve never had anyone from the gaming industry talk to them. Apparently there’s some research going on at City University with Second Life and Kath emphasised the importance of exploring fun and leisure issues. The audience was asked if they were interested in games? The answer was a resounding yes!

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Antonia Hyde, United Response – Opening doors: online content for people with learning disabilities

United Response was set up over 30 years ago and they work with up to 1500 people at any one time. They support people with learning disabilities and mental health needs as well as people with physical disabilities.

There’s over one million people in the UK with a learning disability, this covers a wide range of conditions – these affect some people moderately, some seriously – but they all have common factor that they have a condition that impairs their way of learning. There’s no quick fix solution though as there’s no typical person, for example people have different communication preferences, many can live normally, keep a job, etc, but some find it very difficult to live without a lot of help.

Barriers to using the web
• Log in/out – where to go
• Captcha
• Navigation / information architecture
• Content – what is a website about?
• Control
• Generating content – user interaction

How do people use the web? Often with someone else to help and support them. There’s some great innovation around AT (assistive technology) for people with learning disabilities.

Key points
• People feel excluded
• Possible solutions: bigger pictures less text
• Break down sites into chunks with easy to read text
• Be inclusive
• Don’t create disability ghettos
• Balancing the ‘specialist vs mainstream’ – making both accessible and in both directions
• Making online language more accessible
• Include people with learning disabilities in the accessibility debate
• Use images / symbols instead of text

Widgit is a language that you can make pages with pictures. Symbols are a language to get across content, grown out of a need to communicate and there’s a huge amount of interesting stuff to be found around the use of symbols browsers. The difficulty is that are these are languages and software that you have to pay for and need a licence to use. Symbols are icons with a lot of politics – open symbols would be good!


Leonie Watson & Artur Ortega – Screen readers and JavaScript

What’s out there:
Technologies that are available for people with visual impairments cross a lot of medical conditions, from clouded sight to colour blindness and also people with corrective sight conditions. The longer we live, the more chance we’ll suffer from visual impairments. People use various technologies such as screen readers, browser functionality and magnifiers. A screen reader turns text into electronic speech or brail on a refreshable brail display. So far Windows has been the dominant operating system that accessibility technology has been developed for and it is quite expensive, although Apple have recently introduced a screen reader to their operating system which is free. On Linux you have all sorts of choices, for example: Orca, Emacspeak and Speakup. System Access to Go will install itself and is a good one to look at if you haven’t had a go of a screen reader before. Lunar and Freedom Scientific’s Magic are popular windows apps. There are comprehensive integrated packages within Mac and Linux systems, custom style sheets and apps are good for interfacing with browsers and web widgits are useful for accessing web content.

Screen readers and how they work with web pages:
Forget about your mouse, screen readers work with pages in a linear way, it can be irritating, slow and frustrating – but quick navigation keys can help this process. To read a web page there needs to be an underlying mark-up in the page in the first place – if there’s no hooks then there’s no way of getting through the page quickly.

Most of the popular screen readers have a virtual buffer which interacts with web content, for example when a page loads the screen reader takes a virtual snapshot and allows shortcut keys to interact with the page and navigate around it. Web 2.0 technology has created more problems for screen readers, making it difficult to work out pages and changes, this can also be a very slow process and is not always accurate. JavaScript works with a virtual buffer to improve accessibility.

Some accessibility wish list items

• an application that looking up images instead of words
• custom stylesheets – so you can have your own preference for colours and fonts on favourite webpages. Also, when you visit a site again your custom stylesheet will be linked to a cookie
• searchable flash and subtitling, so hearing impaired people can listen to Flash content

Damon Rose from BBC Ouch said that Facebook was probably the messiest site on the internet for a JAWS user. Submit buttons for changing status are hidden for JAWS users, headings and page structures too, but the real problem is the applications that are running on top of Facebook because generally they’re not built by people who are thinking about accessibility. Artur has had a look at the new Facebook design and he feels it’s worse than the old one. Many developers who make applications for Facebook don’t realise that they’re creating inaccessible applications.

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Jonathan Hassle – Head of Accessibility, BBC – Dyslexia Barriers

As the subject of games came up earlier in the day, Jonathan briefly talked about gaming and accessibility. Gaming is a very visual and aural medium and descriptive subtitling is very important, for example, if you’re playing a game you need to know that someone is coming up behind you to kill you and if you’re missing this information you’re not going to get very far in a game. All the commands and controls should be accessible by tabbing and if you want to see some tabbing in action look at one-key Space Invaders and Chess at OneSwitch.org In 3D immersive worlds such as Second Life there has been some work to make it accessible and fun, for example people with mobility difficulties have enjoyed engaging in pursuits such as flying and visual audio will help you have fun if your visually impaired. Jonathan emphasised how games designers should have a ‘multi-modal’ approach to building games and immersive worlds and think across all disabilities.

Jonathan went on to talk about literacy difficulties in the UK, research has estimated that 1,900,000 people have dyslexia in the UK and 1,100,000 people have a reading age of 5 or less and 500,000 have AHAD. His talk about dyslexia and the web gave us some pointers on how to make web content more accessible. Web 2.0 is all about contributing, but if you have a problem writing, you might have difficulty having your say and be embarrassed about, for example, making spelling mistakes.

Barriers and common symptoms of dyslexia:

* Letter reversal – d for b
* Word reversal – tip for pit
* Inversions – m for w or n for u
* Transpositions – felt for left
* River of words – being driven to the spaces
* it can be a combination of things that make reading really difficult

Solutions: dyslexia and web / print for reading:

* non-white background
* colour gels
* easy to read fonts
* try not using words, for example images instead of words, podcasts, video, audio, a diagram or animations

On dyslexia and web personalisation

* look carefully at word spacing, line spacing, fonts, colours, backgrounds
* people can be self-conscious, especially if they share their computer or fear of people looking over their shoulder
* Most people don’t know about customisation apps and tools such as stylesheets or how to use them
* The Textic Toolbar was developed by a dyslexic developer (Phil Teare) to help people with dyslexia

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Phil Teare, of Textic.com followed on from Jonathan, he describes himself as a hacker, a disability nut and dyslexic, he talked candidly about what it’s like to live with dyslexia.

Phil’s on lots of forums and by his own admission often posts a hideous mess online and empathises with people are embarrassed about posting to forums when they may have spelling problems. He was diagnosed as dyslexic when he was 10 years old, he is uncomfortable with the fact that you have to pay to be assessed and told by an education expert that you’re dyslexic. He realised that he wanted to be a programmer that dealt with writing tools for disability and access issues and one of the first applications he wrote was a test for dyslexia and it works by testing for a variety of cognitive attributes that may tell you if you’re dyslexic. Educational psychologists spend a long time training to test for dyslexia, so it’s difficult to create a simple tool to test for this.

He went on to tell us that over 50% of people in prison are dyslexic in a nation where 10% of the population is dyslexic. This reflects on how difficult it is to get a job with dyslexia in a world that is becoming more and more text based. A lot of people know about assistive technology such as JAWS, but not many people know about technology for dyslexic people.

Dyslexia can be a severe impediment on your ability to read and write, for example, Phil’s reading speed is about 1/6 of the average reading speed which makes filling in forms or reading books for work / education really hard. Spelling is hard too and makes life difficult, this is not down to laziness and often creates problems due to other peoples attitudes. It’s a difficult for people who aren’t dyslexic to empaphise with and put themselves in a similar mind set.

He is also very easily distracted by visual or audio noise which stops him from concentrating. There are a lot of unnecessary distractions on the web such as advertisements and widgets, for a lot of people these make sites unusable. He hates forms – long form filling is difficult, simple forms are better. When he became self employed and had to fill in his first tax form he got into a big mess with spelling mistakes, etc. The tax office sent it back and he was really annoyed. He created a online form for filling in his tax form but it kept timing and the only way he could do it was to get someone to help. This is when Phil finally decided that dyslexia was a disability.

He loves assisted environments, such as integrated development environments (IDEs) that have code completion (code prediction) which highlights and assists completing tasks. Dyslexia is all in the mind, it’s entirely confined to the human brain, which only has to be slightly different to affect mental behavior. Phil also has a slow bandwidth between his eye and his brain so it means that he has a fuzzy image of the last word like a lo-fi webcam – think about how this makes you feel – this is also aural and tactile.

Is it legally a disability? As far as designing a website it is – as it should conform to certain standards and it’s incorporated into the disability legislation act.

What can you do to help dyslexics? Make everything simpler, but not simple, after all Einstein was dyslexic. Offer low-contrast web options as this makes things easier to read. Add spell checkers, font options and educate people – show people how to use the browser or technology and make it easier – people will not see all these tools though if links to them are hidden at the bottom of a webpage.

What can web 2.0 do? Phil’s building a web-based proxy called Masher Nations, written in Python – the idea is you make a web proxy that you can submit your own specifications to and then build a web community around it. It uses Yahoo’s ‘build your own web’ service. It’s a proof of concept (you can find this at http://mashernationsdemo.appspot.com) and is free and open BSD. You can offer your own style sheets without having people have to figure out all the technicalities and is a way of adding functionality to most of the sites you use. It uses layers assistive technology on top of web pages, it’s simple to use – you just type in your name and it configures to your requirements and is available on Google Code.

At the end of the day Christian Heilmann chaired a discussion panel with the audience, here are some quotes:
• ‘Education is going to be the key to letting people know what they can do’
• ‘People need to go out and talk to people about what’s out there’
• ‘My web My Way is the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s out there’
• ‘We need to develop tools as simple as the Wii as it works with symbols rather than words’
• ‘We need to get behind the RNIB Toolbar’
• ‘It’s easy to say shutdown unaccessible sites like Facebook, but we really need to talk to the geeks so we can fix it instead’
• ‘Could the BBC swap their homepage for a day to a CSS naked day? ‘
• ‘Why can’t we use ad space for informational video /ads instead – maybe something that people would actually like to look at?’
• ‘If an accessibility app can be used for mainstream things like mobile then people may take more interest in it’
• ‘Older people are telling us that young people are making things for themselves rather than older people’
• ‘Nobody likes to think of themselves as disabled – so lots of people ignore content aimed at disabled people because they want to use what everybody is using’

What would the panel like to have tackled at the hack day?
* Kath Moonan: Trying to make everything built in a simple way on one screen and uncluttered
* Artur Ortega: New innovations for making things more accessible such as solutions reusing existing code
* Jonathan Hassle: I want something that brings it all together. I’d like to see some modding – eg take a site that is presently not working for audiences we talked about today and then make them accessible and prove that they can be better.
* Phil Teare: A means of collapsing a web page – most well structured web pages – and make them simple
* Christian Heilmann: An easy way to distribute Grease Monkey for YouTube – it’s a great tool, but far too geeky

Haylp: Epic Mac Fail or how I survived Salem, my Mac’s HD clicker-death!

Last week, Salem my 15-in G4 Powerbook died unexpectedly. He was fine the night before and the first thing I knew about it was the scary Mac question mark folder blinking at me. I tried booting from the Leopard disk and looking for the hard drive with the disk utilities. Unfortunately Salem’s hard drive was making a worrying clicking and the hard drive could not be located.

So, accepting the worst, today I went to Tottenham Court Road and purchased a new 120GB hard drive for £39.99.

There’s an awful lot of screws to undo, so a Phillips screwdriver and a tiny allen key was necessary. It’s a good idea to use a static wristband and my tweezers were really useful for picking out screws in awkward places or fishing them out of the Mac when they’d dropped into a hard to reach place. I also had to get my torch to hunt for screws that fell on the floor and under the settee – I needed a cup or something to put them in really.

Anyways, first thing I had to do was lots of unscrewing. I took out the battery and there’s about 6 screws on the underside of the Mac and then a couple inside the battery compartment. For some reason I needed to take off the memory case shield and the screws inside – not sure why, I was just instructed to do so online!

There’s 3 screws each side of the Mac and the top two on the side at the back. The allen key is needed to unscrew the two on either side of the keyboard. Once these were out, some gentle manipulation got the top/keyboard open, but there’s some little latches just inside the CD drive opening that are unlatchable (if that’s the right term?) very carefully. When the keyboard / top comes off there’s a bit of electrical tape holding a teeny tiny connector that connects it to the board – this needs to be stuck back on when reassembling!

Anyway, with the top off, to get the hard drive out there’s a small bridge thing that needs unscrewing and taking out, next there’s a couple of screws around the CD drive to remove and then it can be propped up against the screen, with a hankie or something in between so it doesn’t scratch it – see the photo below to see how it was propped up!

The hard drive is attached to the logic board by an IDE ribbon cable and needs to be gingerly lifted, without pulling and then gently manipulate / pull the old hard drive away very carefully without bending/breaking the pins. The hard drive is wearing a little clear plastic insulator jacket, so this needs removing by unscrewing the pins holding it on.

Woo, so with the old hard drive out, the new hard drive fits into the clear jacket and then connects to IDE ribbon – making sure it’s the right side up. Also there was an ickwl bit of rubbery stuff on the end of the old hard drive to help it fit it snugly into the Mac that needed to be transferred. If all goes well and all the connections are correct – wahey – the hard drive fits into its hole okay!

Everything then has to be put back together very carefully!

The first attempt sadly failed as the new hard drive didn’t show up in disk utilities on booting, so annoyingly it all had to taken apart again and the old hard drive was put back in in case it wasn’t b0rked at all. On booting it was still making the clicking noise. So booted it from the open firmware to have a look at what was going on, but this didn’t really achieve anything from this as it turned out to be probably a loose connection and so went through the whole rigmarole again to take out the old hard drive and put the new one back in, which on second attempt happily did get recognized when looked for in the disk utilities!

I must also mention that I did have a bit of a faff with Time Machine as it didn’t restore automatically as the Leopard disk implied, so I had to install Leopard from the disk first and then restore from Time Machine. Anyways three hours later I had my old Salem back and was very happy!

What a hoohar!

So here’s the kit I needed
* tiny allen key
* tiny phillips screwdriver
* anti static wristband
* tweezers
* pliers for tight screws
* vessel to collect the screws
* 2.5-in 5400 IDE HD

Disclaimer: this isn’t a tutorial, just a summary of the process! If you need to do it yourself I suggest looking up a proper tutorial with all the correct technical terms ;-)

Oh yes – don’t forget to back up regularly mmm’kay!

PS I have to thank Ciaran for his help and advice in getting this sorted out!

Google Developer Day 2008, Wembley Stadium

Well, me and a few hundred geeks are crammed into Wembley Stadium, not the terraces silly, but in the conference centre. We’re here for Google Developer Day 2008 – after registration and being told to put my badge/lanyard on before being allowed on the escalator to join the fun – I’m here sitting with Sheila, Ian and Ed. I have a small cup of tea with no soy milk – I wish I’d brought some!

It’s underway now and we just saw a demo of Android – the Google mobile OS / platform – we were shown an interface and a little app that the developer had made of a mysterious blue bouncy ball, it had an accellerometer so he could do a little impression of pong with it. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops and competes against the iphone – I certainly hope it gets Apple to open things up a bit more.

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The first talk I went to was in the ‘Atari’ room – oooh very Barcamp – it’s a Gears overview ;-)

Google Gears overview

 

* it’s open source and anyone can use it for free
* Motivation & goals – writing a rich mobile application across a wide range of mobile devices is an impossibly difficult challenge today
* Why gears? Mobile web apps suck – they are slow, unresponsive, have high network latency – low bandwidth, slow CPU
* Fluid and location aware
* Fast persistent controlled storage
* Geolocation API
* Location based mobile apps
* Goal – easy free and secure
* Technology uses GPS, cell ID, IP, WIFI Location providers
* Method – getcurrentposition – watchcurrentposition –

callbacks

There followed three demos of Gears mobile applications:

Google search with My Location, Andre Popescu

He gave us a demo of how Gears finds his location on a mobile; it used this location information to find local pizzerias in the local area to Wembley Stadium.

Marco of lastminute.com was next – lastminute.com sells a variety of products for going out such as hotels, theatres, restaurants, etc. They were interested in apps for spur of the moment choices. In research people said they expect devices to know where they are, so lastminute.com have looked into relationships with other operators to find location-based data apps. Apart from the cost problems are associated with this, these apps don’t work on roaming and also there are so many APIs you need to call up. Also you have to write lots of different code for all the different handsets. They’

 

ve launched a mobile app with Windows on a HTC device.

It can take a while to get a GPS slot and you need to be outside, so it can be quite a long and painful experience. They’ve come to a compromise with the location data, so may not be so accurate for location but works. It works with a cell ID, it’

 

s free and they hope that as time goes on it is available on more platforms.

Clive Cox CTO at Rummble

Rummble is:

* Social discovery site
* Social network and special user generated content
* Trust network analysis
* Individual subjective recommendations

ITN Offline News Ave Wrigley –

head of technology at ITN ON

ITN is a commercial company that produces multi-platform video products, in news, showbiz, lifestyle, and sports. They produce content for other people. on multiple platforms: M.itn.co.uk When you’re travelling you’re on and offline – there’

s no constant connectivity. You can sit on a train and the offline user app will keep downloading stuff.

* They talked to Google about making a unique experience in offline browsing. M.itn.uk + Google gears
* Offline edition for when you’re in ‘flaky mode’ – when you are getting patchy coverage – you can get the news even if you’re not connected.
* It uses geolocation for things like weather and news.
* The user sees configuration interface which shows them what sort of subjects they can browse – they can choose what they want to see.
* Graceful degradation
* Important that the device can detect whether you are in online or offline mode. Mode detection – simple code xttp request
* Dealing with video is very different from dealing with other content because it takes so long to download, so this app has download confirmation / stats as well as video format support. Only providing the right video format for the users handset. Simple approach to video and mime types –

* Querying the browser his tells you what video formats the phone supports.
* In the future could like to provide local news service using geolocation and geotagging

The lunch was decidly un vegan, but a friendly restaurant manager asked the chef to make me something and came back with some hummus, roasted veg, salad and a roll, which I was very grateful for as I’d been watching everyone eat lots of chocolate and pastries during the morning session and was starving :-)

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From the lightning talks, I was very interested to hear about Glasgow Green Map a volunteer driven map for reuse facilities in Glasgow.

It takes the ecological data trapped in any community and frees it for people and communities to use. It lists reuse facilities and places like second-hand shops.

People from the local community have got involved because it was fun and a cool project. Having a meeting place for their regular Thursday meets means gives the group momentum and they’re also motivated by each other. People who haven’t got much technical experience get to work with professional developers and they learn skills in areas such as agile planning and coding.

You can find a link to their code is here: http://www.appletv.co.uk/greenmap/devteam.html

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Made it through the evening and to be honest I enjoyed the selection of quirky, fun, interesting and varied lightning talks more than most of the schedule. I’m now at the after party and sitting among some Mega Bloks – hang on I’m going to have to take a photo to illustrate this!

 

I have to mention that I’m rather disappointed that I didn’t see/hear a single geek girl do a tech presentation all day – wonder if it’s because girl developers feel intimidated, or they’re just not pushed forward career-wise in the developer industry – hmm! I had a good chat with Aral of the Head (Singularity) online conference – he’s been finding it really hard to find women speakers for his conference next month. I think this topic needs addressing further!

Large Hadron Collider excitement t-shirt!

Oook, I was so excited about the switch on of the LHC on Wednesday that I forgot to blog about it. I’m sure you’ve all seen enough links now, but incase you didn’t see my t-shirt designs – yes, I got all excited about the sillyness of word-play too – here they are :-D

Heeee!

Serious Virtual Worlds, Coventry

Having a quick coffee before Serious Virtual Worlds - can’t wait for the uncanny valley (sorry ;-)) to begin!

I’m actually really looking forward to a day of hearing about what’s new and hot from some of the leading lights in Virtual World technology. Here’s my notes from the speakers, there was tons to take in, so I’ll add more as I digest it all…

The conference has a theme of interoperability between virtual worlds.

Presently there are no standards for virtual worlds for interaction, for example you can’t take your Second Life avatar to visit a mate in Twinity or in an MMOG, although it must be said that you probably don’t want to take your Second Life avatar into World of Warcraft as they’d be anhialated pretty quickly ;-) There’s also a mix of open source and proprietary software which causes the usual problems and discussion about free apps vs. subscription apps/worlds, funding, etc.

*warning* – I got a bit carried away with my notes, consequently this is a very long post, so click on the ‘keep reading’ link if you’re not rushing off anywhere!

Continue reading

Carsonified at London Geek Dinners

Just got home from a lovely evening at London Geek Dinners run by genial hosts Cristiano Betta and Melinda Seckington, at the Thai Smile in Holborn.

This month’s talk was by Ryan and Elliot of Carsonified. They’re a small company based in Bath and specialise in events for web industry folk, such as FOWA (Future of Web Apps) as well as creating web apps and fun geeky items!

They’re not your usual company and their ethos is about working hard – but at the same time having a good attitude to their work / life balance. In fact they’re so intent on enjoying life that they only work a four-day week: Monday to Thurs, which I’m very envious of! Ryan Carson, founder, said that he tells his staff to treat their Fridays off as a ‘gift and not to work or do errands’ – which sounds just dandy to me. He also said working a four-day week was like ‘having a Saturday and then another one’ – which must be great – ‘it’s important to draw the line and have a life!’ – *me_nods_lots* :-)

This means of course that during working days, everyone does work quite hard, but they say they get a buzz from being busy and getting things done. The Geek Dinners audience were quite taken aback by this arrangement and had lots of questions about how this all works, for example: how do they ensure that they don’t employ slack staff, how do they recruit and does their way of working make the team too competitive? Ryan replied that so far they haven’t had any problems, they interview people on beanbags as it humbles everyone and taking a potential employee out to lunch helps them find out more about their personality. Ryan and Elliott also encouraged everyone to try and do something to ensure they had a good work / life ethic and not be a worker bee 24/7 – hobbies are important!

Apart from the selection of events and workshops for web peeps, such as FOWA, FOWD and FOM, Ryan likes to set his team fun challenges, their latest one was Matt (Multi Account Twitter Tweeter), which they built in four days in Django Python. They had a very intense time building it and not without a few problems to get it working for launch on the Apache server, but it was all okay in the end! Apparently, Matt went down really well and was short-listed for a dot network award. Another four-day project was ‘HugmyMac’ where the team got away from the screens and made Mac and mobile covers!

Oh yes, London Geek Dinners is populated by several hungry Werewolfgeeks – meep!

BarcampBrighton3, Sussex University – Day 2

After a week of travelling, conferences, meetings and drinking, I think my *self_preservation_wotsit* kicked in and made me go to bed about 3am, before I could give myself another huge hangover. I left the BarcampBrighton3 party in full swing with tons going on – fantastic gaming, interesting and intense conversation, and big drinking. Many of my friends were not so sensible and there are many casualties holding their heads this am.

After catching up with peeps, I enjoyed some really yummy vegan cottage pie, veg and red wine gravy ☺

I attended ‘30 minutes of the unknown’ – Carl Jeffrey

Carl didn’t know what he was going to talk about today, so that’s why he gave his talk the intriguing title. He attended the last BarcampBrighton and decided to amalgamate and share his thoughts and perceptions of events such as Barcamp and open up the discussion to everyone in the room.

His background is as a designer – he describes himself as as ‘creative midwife’. He does a lot of work with academic institutions and sustainability in the environment on areas such as brand strategy. He’s brought a collection of books from his studio for people to peruse.

He’s interested in creativity and perception – how we approach things from all different backgrounds.
Intrigued how twitter, etc, can help us develop and aggregate communications, he’s not a developer, but is enjoying being with people at BarcampBrighton to hear how websites and technologies evolve and work together. He’s also interested in how the emergence of technology helps students’ work and develops cultural alliances – ‘the hustle and bustle’.

He’s likes maps – pseudo technical kind such as XKCD’s map of online communities http://xkcd.com/256/

Blip.fm – creates your own radio show and plugs in onto twitter, a couple of people pointed out how this application has been driving them mad as friends and contacts overuse it and it bombards their Twitter feed.

Phreadz.com – closed beta conversations – is an interesting community of experience and shared knowledge– users post video and people will reply – ie if someone posts that they’re going to Rome, then someone else will post their holiday photos or tips, etc.

Geekonbury – getting geeks out from behind their computers and out into the world – it is a bolt on to other festivals. This was very popular and resulted in lots of people watching online getting jealous of the geeks who were having fun outside and so started up Deskable and so played guitars at their desks and stuff live online.

www.sustainablewidget.com is his latest project.

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An A – Z of game design – Cennydd Bowles cennyd.co.uk

A is for Avatars – semiotic presentation of yourselves – how do we present ourselves (slide of FFantasy 11)

B is Bosses – testing what you’ve learnt so far and apply it to get on in a game (Monkey Island slide)

C is for Cheats – release for frustrations with a game – helps particularly with linear games – have negative connotation

D is for Difficulty level – you have to get this right – ie too easy people think its for kids and too difficult and people give up (motor sports slide)

E is for Environment – something that is now better because the technology is now good enough to do cool stuff – you still have to be careful though to get it right

F is for Flow – psychological state of productivity – being in the zone

G is for Grinding – a period of sustained flow for little outcome – getting on in levels in MMOs

H is for Hacks – can ruin a game

I is for Iterative deepening – piecing together stories, looking for clues or objects

J is for Jobs (kingdom of loathing slide) – eg bandit, accordion thief, etc – getting this right is difficult

K is for Killing people – violence in games (Doom slide) hack and slash

L is for Leader boards – combative, competitive spirit of gamers

M is for MMOs – (FF11 slide) unquitable, immersive, time investment

N is for Narrative – is more important for some genres than others (Fahrenheit slide)

O is for Optional elements
– getting all the stars or coins in a game, killing all the bosses – like sub-plots that a select few get and enjoy

P is for ePenis – showing off – getting a gold sniper rifle – ‘ego pride’ ‘e peens’ ‘EP’

Q is for Quirkiness – (Captain Blood slide) interesting designs, language, and strange quirks – games like Vib Ribbon

R is for Rewards – blatant Pavlovian stuff – Tekken has Japanese schoolgirl character (shown in slide)

S is for Speed runs – for example Super Mario speed run – displays of skill

T is for Tutorials – (Vib Ribbon slide) how to get around a game and are increasingly well crafted

U is for User generated stuff – making stuff that is fun to play with

V is for Virtual economies – strategies is games such as hoarding items for hard times to trade – free market capitalism (FF11 slide)

W is for Win

X is for Xylophone (Cennydd ran out of things to name, but I think this should be X-Men – a beat em-up game from the 80s! )

Y is for Yacht – (our speaker couldn’t think of something for games beginning with Y – but I’d submit ‘Yay’ for this!)

Z is for Zombies

BarcampBrighton3, University of Sussex, Day 1

Okay, I had too much fun at out party for dConstruct last night – well too much whisky anyways!

I’ve must say that the vegan food at the dconstruct party at Audio last night was fantastical (a big well done to Oli from Juniper Catering) especially the wonderful macadamia brownies – nom nom nom!

Well we made it to BarcampBrighton3 for the opening speeches, but missed our introduction by about a minute due to looking for the repository for bags – eeep!

If you’re unfamiliar with Barcamp events, they run as an ‘unconference’ and it is hoped that everyone who attends will participate by giving a 30 minute session on something they’re into. Attendees add their sessions to an open schedule grid, usually reflected as half hour slots aligned across a number of small rooms or presentation areas. They usually run over two days with a sleepover incorporating games, hacking, socializing and lots of fun!

Despite scandalous accusations that I tried to scupper our talk by distracting everyone with a fire alarm and especially Ms Emma Persky with some fit firemen, I’m pleased to report that Ian, Ant and myself survived ‘Ask the BBC anything…’ open discussion – yay – woo and hoopla ;-)

There were varied questions asked of your intrepid panel, such as why Radio Pop wasn’t working so well for someone, BBC Blogs and should staff members have their own blogs aggregated publicly for everyone to read, iplayer and copyright, and what BBC Backstage gets up to.

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Ant Miller, BBC – BBC Micro for the 21st Century

Question?
Should we do this again?
Should we WHAT again?
What did we do?

What is the BBC micro? it wasn’t a BBC machine, it wasn’t for kids, it wasn’t for schools…
Ant showed a clip from a Horizon film from the 70s on the silicon chip and how computers of the future will affect everyone’s lives – ‘the micro-electronics revolution’ – with John Radcliff talking.
About now is about the 25th anniversary of the BBC Micro…

The back story – at the time of the Micro’s development…
• Strong confident BBC
• Strong influencing engineering division
• Strong educational depts.
• CEAC – BBC advisory forum
• Pressure from enthusiasts & academics
• DOL and MSC concerns
• The Project conceived around 1979

Although the BBC Micro was quite expensive compared to the Spectrum and the Commodore 64, 1.5 million Micros were sold and also 400,000 books.

ARM (advanced risk machines) sprang out of Acorn – there are billions of Arm chips – they’re in all sorts of things from mobile phones to handheld games consoles, Tom Toms and more. Ant showed us some examples of courses and students studying and playing with combinations of platforms.

How do we get people to become interested in the fundamentals of computing and hardware rather than just accepting the consumer goods? Apparently CompSci course applications are going down – how can we encourage the young of today to have the same fascination for computing and fiddling under the hood as we had when we were young?

For example Sparkfun sell all sorts of fun and cool stuff to add to your Arduino, plus the differences between microprocessors and microcontrollers allows for all sorts of development. Also Rapid Prototyping is fun.

There followed a lively debate on how do we get people interested in coding, electronics and tinkering, and do we actually need to learn all this stuff now? The views of the room were interestingly divided. The OLPC was discussed as an example of the West perhaps patronising the Third World by saying they should use our computers – when they could probably do with other items first, such as shoes. The rights and wrongs of the West’s meddling reflect culturally interesting issues.

It was also mooted that the UK is becoming a services nation rather than building products for its consumers – if so is this a threat to anyone? Maybe the threat is about the possibility of being locked into other people’s (country’s, culture’s, company’s) systems – examples given included the iphone being locked down, planes having a switch that can blow it up to stop them being used as flying missiles in the case of hijack (really? *boggle*!). Also, how we can and should handle vast amounts of data if we don’t own, understand or have access to the systems that control it?

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Right, some hours have passed and a free bar, thanks lovely Osmosoft guys, has been open for some time. I had a lovely vegan balti, cheers to our wonderful chef who has been here all day and worked his arse off for us.

I’ve watched a game of War on Terror as well as Semantopoly and got killed by the cheeky bugger I suspected in Werewolf.

I’ve met some lovely people today, everyone is ever so friendly and it’s lovely to hear the stories of new Barcamp peeps who’ve pushed themselves to come along alobe and are now having a whale of a time – it’s making me all misty eyed – aww *sniff* :-D