Thursday, 9 April 2015

Pebble Meetup London

There’s a definite buzz in the air around watches this week — with the Apple Watch due for pre-order tomorrow and Pebble Time just finished its Kickstarter…

Here’s my notes from tonight’s Pebble Meetup — a big turnout of mostly developers and lots of people interested in building new apps.

pebble & evernote

Damian Mehers (@DamianMehers), Senior Software Engineer, Wearables, Evernote

  • have to wait for iOS app to be released for store to be updated (?)
  • initially limited to 120 bytes in messages sent to watch
    • bigger messages allowed now
  • Evernote app pages data into watch (using most recently used caches)
  • attaches a data structure to each window
  • had to implement an Evernote sync engine in Javascript…
    • using local storage
  • timeline allows contextually relevant info
    • possible to query timeline to join with other info?
  • want to get wearable use to be partly subconscious
    • making use of the basal ganglia :-)
  • to keep a pebble timeline continually updated, need something running continually
    • JS in Pebble app doesn’t

pebble time & new SDK

Matthew Tole (@MatthewTole), Pebble Developer Evangelist

  • colors all have names :-)
  • PNG & APNG (animated) support (auto-conversion of GIF files)
  • AppFaces — 3.0 launch only for system apps
    • a peek into your app’s current status
  • pebble drawing commands
    • will have conversion from SVG — some kind of extension of GPath
    • define an SVG in a cyclical form — easy to morph to new forms


  • will have built-in calendar & weather support
  • can have actions
    • initially just open app with parameter
    • but will allow more later
  • can push notifications through server-side web api

new designs

  • encouraged to make all apps backwards compatible
  • recommended to stick each screen to one or two colours

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The easiest way to use Raspberry Pis in primary schools?

I really like the idea of Raspberry Pis for education, but I've not yet managed to get them to work in the primary school where I run my Code Club. The school has roaming laptops, iPads and iPod touches and no easy way to plug in Pis to screens and keyboards — there's just no room available for them.

Browsing through Simon Walters' (@cymplecy) latest exploits with ScratchGPIO and Scratch Interface Device (SID) got me thinking a little… I wonder if the following is possible:
  1. Set up Pi with DHCP server to assign 10.x addresses (school laptops are on 192.168.x) and to have its own address set to
  2. Set up Pi to run a script on startup that waits for Scratch remote sensor connections on — then run ScratchGPIO with as its host
  3. Connect Pi to laptop with ethernet cable and USB (for power) — no other cables required!
  4. Laptop should have wired IP of
  5. Open Scratch on laptop and enable remote sensor connections
  6. ScratchGPIO should start on Pi and be available to the laptop
  7. Plug some hardware into the Pi and start controlling it!
Can anyone help test this out?

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Web Is... Day Two

Took me a little while to prepare my notes for the second day of The Web Is… conference, mainly due to an ‘orrible cold that developed over the last week. I hope I haven’t given it to the lovely people I spoke to over the last few days!

Thank you once again to Craig and Amie Lockwood and all their helpers for a fantastic conference. I know they had a lot of trouble getting the conference organised, but the end result was very definitely worth it.

Craig — please keep organising more conferences! You have a rare skill in finding and curating talks that connect at many different levels —- and that challenge us to do better and improve the world.

Here are my notes for day two, complete with the additional Creative Morning session.

Creative Mornings: Crossover

  • creative mornings: 99 cities around the world
  • meeting once a month with a common theme across all
  • this month, the theme is Crossover

David Hieatt, Hiut Denim @davidhieatt

  • co-founded Howies
  • runs the Do Lectures
  • entrepreneurs fall in love with things so they don’t quit
  • have to choose something that you’re interested in
    • it will get tough and test you
  • vision: what have I seen that others haven’t
  • intersection of skill, interest & vision
    • where you’re most alive
  • fight a battle you can win
  • denim factory in wales used to be biggest jeans factory in UK
  • employed 400 people, made 35K pairs of jeans a week for decades
  • tried to be cheapest — not the right battle
  • in UK have to use our creativity
  • dreams should not be logical or sensible
    • should scare you!
  • currently employing 14 people — quite a way to go
  • but everyone in the town has decades of experience making jeans
  • there are people in the factory who have 50,000 hours of experience
  • the elite makers club
  • but quality isn’t enough
  • need to find ideas to act as multipliers
  • hiut denim: an ideas company that makes jeans
  • Richard Seymour: the more you operate in the future, the less competition you will have
  • lots of small experiments
  • small company — move fast
  • jeans have history tags on them
    • 6 photos of them being made
    • plus you can upload new photos for their history
    • when the jeans get handed down, you can see their history
  • 80% of environmental impact is the washing, not the making
    • hence no wash club
    • people doing crazy things to not wash for 6 months or more
  • people want to wear used jeans
    • so sent out jeans to people to break in
    • they would get their deposit back when returned
    • then receive 20% of resulting sale
  • facetime store
    • will create a custom fit for you from a facetime call
  • instagram is going to change stores
  • your best project is the one that’s in front of you now

The Web Is… Like Water

Scott Jenson @scottjenson

  • standardising pull to refresh, just like the steering wheel…?
  • but steering wheels started as tillers with rear wheel steering
  • User Unfriendly, Joseph J Corn
    • people preferred the tiller at the time
    • needed irreversible steering to prevent too much feedback from potholes
  • browsers have a DOS prompt on the top…
    • the browser needs a browser
  • the web = Loki — proud, vs iPhone = the Hulk
    • “I am a God, you dull creature. I will not be bullied”
    • …body slam…
  • the web is currently following native, not driving the future
  • we have app myopia
  • “thin crust of effort” around apps
    • people will only install them if they’re important
  • apps are our technology tiller…
  • Apple iBeacons are per-app at the moment
    • go into a mall — install one app for each store…
    • then delete them all afterwards as they’re all crap
  • the web is good at the long tail
  • break down the internet of things into several layers
    • coordination
      • devices talking to each other
      • toast automatically ready when you come down for breakfast
      • cool but will take a while
    • control
      • where we are right now
    • discovery
      • commonly ignored — usually “download our app”
  • think small — just a bit of information for each thing
  • Bluetooth Low Energy beacons just broadcasting a URL
    • like QR codes but without having to get so close
  • URL with information
    • bus stop
  • URL that sends info back to the device
    • vending machine
    • GSM modems are really cheap
    • Sigfox offers $1/year plans
  • URL with javascript talking BLE direct to object
    • object can make use of all the capabilities of the phone
    • so much cheaper per device
    • Chrome already has Bluetooth library but behind Chrome apps
    • but creating a proposal with Mozilla to put into web sandbox
  • two kinds of ideas:
    • truck ideas — products
    • road ideas — infrastructure
  • Malcolm McLean — invented container shipping
    • created lots of patents then gave them away
    • realised he would make more by having a smaller percentage of larger market
  • physical web beacon
    • currently no security etc — just for testing
    • configure it by pressing the button
  • the Google Chrome team is staffed by boy scouts
    • just want more URLs in the world

The Web Is… Still Young

Benjamin Hollway @benjaminhollway

Slides available at

  • how can we support young coders under 18?
  • cheap/free tickets for conferences
  • opportunities to speak
    • unique perspective
  • alternative after party venues
    • accessible to people who can’t drink or are too young
  • help introduce kids to computing
  • mentoring
    • work experience
    • paid internships — 2-3 weeks during summer holiday
    • deeper insight into how the industry works
  • future
    • inclusivity
    • < 5% use IE, but at least that or more have disabilities

The Web Is… Turning Difficulties Into Opportunities

Robin Christopherson, @USA2DAY

  • AbilityNet: leading experts in technology & disability
  • also do assessments: one of first was Prof. Stephen Hawking
  • technology can really help people with disabilities
  • light detector
    • helps to see if lights/indicators are on or off
    • especially for enabling oven light (they don’t make speaking ovens)
  • talking goggles
    • reads any text from camera
    • also recognises some images
  • word lens
    • translates and can then read out using voiceover
  • TABs — temporarily able bodied
    • it’s likely everyone will have some kind of some kind of disability eventually in their lives
  • also mobile use cases are often very similar to accessibility cases
  • a blind date with an iPhone
    • woman prepares all her responses before the date…
  • google glass captioned audio
    • speak into Android phone, see captioned audio on glass screen
  • FaceXpress
    • identifies emotions from faces
  • live facial recognition
    • identify people coming to your door if you’re bed-bound
  • directions in maps apps
    • audio directions are very powerful
  • Moto Hint
    • Google Now as an earbud
  • IBM Watson now has a developer kit
  • self-driving cars
    • 30% of city driving is looking for a space
    • eliminating human error accidents
    • need to have speech output
    • otherwise can’t tell if arrived or just stopped at a traffic light!
  • direct brain interface
    • completely paralysed woman able to move a robot arm
  • technology4good lifetime award given to Prof. Hawking
  • 73% of people with a vision impairment are out of work
    • there’s no longer any reason why they can’t work

The Web Is… Too Slow

Andy Davies @AndyDavies

  • shopdirect (run littlewoods brand):
    • on average, each purchase is across 2.4 devices
  • Tammy Everts: only 12% of top 100 US retail sites render feature content under 3 seconds
  • we perceive delays around the 1s mark
    • 100ms appears instantaneous
    • 200-300ms fast enough
    • 1s start to feel it
    • > 1s we start to task switch
  • the web is for everybody …but only if we make it that way
  • Chris Zachariah: made youtube pages faster
    • but time to view video went down
    • turns out they were reaching new audiences
    • that hadn’t been able to use the site at all before
  • Guardian’s new design:
    • speed was a feature in the press release
  • Walmart have released conversion rate vs load time
    • all conversions concentrated in first 4 secs of load time
  • Staples increased conversions by 10%
    • cut 1s from median home page
    • 6s from 98th percentile
  • we’re more tolerant of slow experiences in some cases
    • when we’re more committed, e.g. further into conversion funnel
    • when we’re used to it
  • kayak study: we don’t trust comparison sites that are too quick…
  • Matias Duarte: “design is finding solutions within constraints .. if no constraints, it’s not design but art”
  • need to set a performance design constraint
    • e.g. an event that matters to the user happens within a certain time under certain network conditions
  • doesn’t mean anything to measure page sizes or number of objects
  • Etsy: have lots of feature flags
    • all staff see a performance bar at the top of the page
    • indicates if the page has met requirements
  • PerfBar
    • plugins for different browsers and sites
  • WebPageTest
    • can run tests & set a budget based on competitor sites
  • speedcurve
    • used by the guardian
    • have a performance chart outside the financial director’s office
    • performance budget lines coming in November
  • headline network speed doesn’t include latency
    • often matters more than bandwidth
  • network connection closer to a bucket brigade than a pipe
  • TCP has a slow start algorithm that directly affects initial page latency
  • rendering:
    • CSS Object Model blocks Javascript execution
    • Javascript blocks DOM construction
    • complex CSS can really slow the initial rendering
  • dealing with fonts
    • Ilya Gregorik suggested new font-timeout & font-desirability properties
    • would allow us to choose to render the page without the font
  • HTTP/2 has server push
    • server can push additional files that it knows the browser will want
    • if the browser has a cached version, it can reject the push

Slides will be available at (eventually)

The Web Is… Our Responsibility

Sally Jenkinson @sjenkinson

  • concept keyboards provided touch-based input to BBC Micros back in 1984
  • symbiotic relationship between technology and experiences
  • remember it’s as much about people as it is about development
  • all the roles need to work together
    • e.g. performance cuts through all layers
  • responsive design mostly seen to be to do with screen widths
  • but there’s much more (especially in CSS level 4 draft)
    • whether the device supports hover affordances
    • the current ambient light level
  • invisible requirements
  • Open Data Institute guest book
    • iPad with keyboard
    • can sign in with touch or typing
    • or can add an existing RFID card (e.g. Oyster or bank card) to check-in in future
  • GE Healthcare adventure series
    • MRI scanner dressed up as spaceship
    • children can imagine the spaceship rumbling through space
    • much less scary
  • be aware of the choices we make
  • try to think beyond ourselves
  • you are responsible for things you build
  • if someone presents you with something that you don’t agree with, then question it
    • even if it’s not officially your responsibility
  • try and educate people as to why things should be done differently
  • if you are in a big project that you disagree with, try and make little changes

The Web Is… Read/Write

Owen Gregory, editor @FullCreamMilk

  • acts as a conduit between writer and reader
  • the web has a closer relationship between writers and readers
  • publishers & editors need to be advocates in their community
  • jason santamaria: where is the cultural and aesthetic discourse on web design
    • writing is mostly about the new techniques and looking forward
    • where does a common language for web design discourse start?
  • jakob nielsen: we should accept that the web is too fast moving for big picture description
  • book: nicely said: writing for the web with style and purpose
    • nicole fenton & kate kiefer lee
  • Sir Thomas Browne: The Garden of Cyrus
    • drawing parallels between lots of different fields
  • W G Sebald: The Rings of Saturn
    • new style of writing, referring to the author
    • tracking Thomas Browne’s work
  • deploying a text can be a continuous process — Mandy Brown
    • comments, talks, reframing, etc.

The Web Is… Progress

Mr Bingo, @mr_bingo

instagram: mr_bingstagram

  • apparently the web is blue…
  • D&AD brief: put the fun back in to the web
  • hand-drawn aesthetic — much easier in flash…
  • 2010 selling prints of drawings for £5 each for Haiti earthquake
  • internet commenting is like toilet graffiti
  • worried that if I die, when my life flashes before my eyes, all I will see is square pictures of food
  • weird stock photography… (just watch the talk!)
  • opened a service for sending people insults on postcards

The Web Is… Progress

Brad Frost @brad_frost

  • web enabled linking to anything we want (was a radical change…)
  • open by default
  • the most sharing community in the world
    • e.g. css-tricks license
    • “I want the web to get better and being all Johnny Protective over everything doesn’t get us there”
  • pittsburgh food bank
  • why share?
    • because we can — it’s cheap
    • but it can be really uncomfortable
    • other people can contribute
  • trying to solve everyone’s problem is in some cases easier to solve just your own
    • an idea can snowball into a plugin just a few hours later
  • our first drafts can have their own value
    • in some cases they can have more value than the finished work
  • the web is for everyone — but that means all the violence, hate and anger as well…
  • guardian, bbc and designing in the open
  • other companies and even other countries can use this as a blueprint for their own work
  • each of us is individual and has unique different experiences
  • knowledge is an iterative and cumulative process
  • depending on sharing and combining our different perspectives
  • even if lots of people contribute similar things, they still contribute
    • e.g. 162,000 youtube videos on how to re-wire a plug
  • your post might not be the most original, but it might be the one that tips over the scales
  • it has never been easier in the history of the world to contribute to the knowledge of the world