The end of an era…

Jan 14
Posted on January 14, 2012 0:38 in Projects

Six years ago at university I embarked on a journey that changed my life: I started my first company with Melinda, Jeroen, and Reinier. We weren’t doing it full time and we didn’t succeed, but that didn’t matter. We learned to work in a team that went beyond 9 to 5, and it formed friendships that lasted ever since. We learned what made a startup work, and we learned why it failed.

I’ve always been involved in startups ever since, either of my own or others. When we left The Netherlands our original startup had slowly pivoted into a new company called TipIt. We didn’t get involved with it, but we still felt part of it. It wasn’t long though until I got distracted again, roped in to make that next crazy idea work.

I could never stop resisting the start up vibe.

I learned a lot since then. I took one year to work at an agency to pay the bills and get experience, and then I quickly went on to freelancing. I became a better programmer, moving from horrible code to using Symfony, to Rails, back to Symfony, and in the last 1.5 years again back to Rails. I met some great people that had great ideas, and I learned that having a non-technical co-founder (@uniquejosh) can be fun, mind broadening, and probably the best thing that can happen to any techie. I went to hack days to expand my technical knowledge and I formed lasting teams (@pizzapowered) at these events that still persist today.

I worked for small companies and big ones in my time as a freelancer, but in the end there was always one thing that I missed ever since I started my first company: working in a great team. And so the end of an era is near. In 2012 I will be working in a great team at EmberAds, the startup founded by Baz, Caius, Dom, Melinda and me. We will be trying to tackle the boring world of advertising and make it a little less boring. What started off as a PizzaPowered product that we were working on in our free time, will now be something that will be developed by us full time.

It’s crazy how the end of an era can feel so familiar and so different. Six years ago I  had no idea what having my own business meant, but decided to start one anyway. Today I do the same, but the exhilaration of starting a new venture is still there.

We don’t know what 2012 will hold, nobody can predict the future, but all I know is that from this Monday forward I can truly say: bring it on!

*Also read up on Caius’, Dom’s, Melinda’s and Baz’s thoughts about the end of their era.

A year of using the Boris bike

Aug 12
Posted on August 12, 2011 12:33 in Problems & Solutions

So it’s been about a year that I’ve been using the Boris bike (the Barclay’s bike hire scheme in London). Has it really been a year? Well apparently it has because I got a notice that they want to renew my contract. So it made me think: was it worth it? I think economically it was. The key was something like £40-something for a year and I think I used it more than 50 times (where 1 trip would normally equal about £1).

But I have to admit that it hasn’t been a smooth ride. The big problem for the foreseeable future is still going to be the problem that has been there since the start: not enough bikes, not enough bike stands. It happens to me over and over again, I walk to a stand, there’s 3 bikes, all of them broken and none of them for me to use. No panic, I’ll just grab a bus (I need to make my TFL donation some way, right?).

But the really bad thing actually is the opposite situation. You take a bike and start on a relatively short trip (maybe 4 bike terminals between your start and end point) and when you arrive at your destination there’s no more free slots. Yes, I know there’s a website and loads of mobile apps, but somehow they’ve become very unreliable recently. So you start driving around looking for an alternative spot to park the bike and behold, before you know it you’re so far away from where you wanted to be that you might just as well have walked or taken a bus.

So this made me think about why this is such a problem? Clearly there’s a bit of dual tragedy of the commons going on here: not enough bikes and not enough bike stands. But then I realised: didn’t we solve this problem already with shopping carts? Shopping carts don’t suffer the dual tragedy of not enough carts and places to leave them. Admittedly a bike is a bit more of a high value item than a cart so it would take a bit more than a little chain to keep them tied together, but the beginnings are there.

But I’m getting off topic.

Lately the experience has just been getting worse and worse. More broken or half broken bikes, more and more bike stands that are broken too (and may I note, barely any way to report these). I’m not sure if this is due to wear or vandalism, but I do know that it’s making the whole thing a more annoying experience. Not to mention unreliable.

So will I use the bikes in the next year? I probably will ’cause I’m too lazy to cancel my key. But much like how the Netflix model traps people into having 2 DVDs on their shelves for 6 months @ $14.99/month, I wonder how many people keep paying for their bike key but never actually use them.

The 3 things so many APIs are missing

Aug 11
Posted on August 11, 2011 16:23 in Problems & Solutions, Technology
  • A way to create a new API access token and secret…
  • …without having to email or call their support
  • …and without directly invalidating the old one (allowing for a smooth transition).

Having recently had a small and potential security risk I decided to reset all the API keys for a lot of the APIs I use. A lot of these use open standards like oAuth but interestingly only a few allow you to do the 3 things above.

Sites like LinkedIn, Pusher and Eventbrite don’t have any documentation on how to change your API tokens and so far only Eventbrite managed to change theirs for us after lots of emails.

Other sites allow you to change the tokens but directly invalidate your old tokens. This means that for the 30-odd seconds it takes you to change the key in your application your app is prone to errors because of incorrect keys. If you get more than 1 request per minute (and that’s most of us, right) that’s an issue!

Luckily there are some sites that do take this seriously. So here’s some praise to MailChimp, Amazon S3 and Yahoo for providing developers with a grown up API.

GoFlickr – The Gowalla to Flickr photos exporter

May 6
Posted on May 6, 2011 17:14 in Projects, Software

Been a while since I blogged but here’s a little thing I made during the International Geektrip we had last week. The trip included a 2 day HackCamp and my entry was something I’d been wanting for a while: a way to automatically export my Flickr photos to Gowalla.

GoFlickr

So here it is: GoFlickr, a simple too to automatically have your photos exported from Gowalla to Flickr. Built in Rails 3, deployed on Heroku. The hardest bit was getting the Gowalla and Omniauth gem to work nicely together, and getting the Gowalla gem to not fail on Heroku. The source can be found on GitHub.

A Mobile History of the World in 100 Objects

Jan 25
Posted on January 25, 2011 10:00 in Events, Projects

Last weekend was HistoryHackDay and unlike CultureHackDay the week before I decided to make something this time and participate besides enjoying the free food and beer. My hack can be found here but read on for a bit of an explanation.

I’ve been a fan of the BBC & British Museum’s podcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. I’ve listened to a few of their episodes admiring the objects on the BBC site or Wikipedia, but I eventually gave up as I realised I wanted to see the actual objects instead.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t a good iPhone/Android/Web App for someone to enjoy the audio/transcripts when they were actually at the British Museum. I would have loved to walk through the museum, be guided by the list of 100 objects and listen to the podcasts.

Sadly all the data on the 100 objects was spread out over Wikipedia, the BBC site, and the British Museum, so I had to start off scraping as much data from all the sites as I could. Once I had this I was able to quickly create a mobile app using jQuery Mobile.

Working with jQuery Mobile was a breeze. I’ve never done much mobile web development but it was very easy to make a nice looking site in a very short time. I think I spent about 2 hours making it all work nicely and then maybe another hour to add some nice extras like the header and the in-page audio playback (might have nicked some code from HuffDuffer).

The result is a fully working mobile site that actually also looks quite nice in most other browsers. It’s also one of my most complete hacks. I didn’t feel like I needed to spend 5 more weeks “finishing it up” before I could deploy it. Instead it’s live now.

There have been a lot of feature requests but to be fair unless someone wants to reimburse me for my time I’m probably not going to be able to do so. Therefore I’ve put all of the code on GitHub for others to use. Maybe, who knows, the British Museum might be able to use this to make their own mobile version.

My thoughts on Hack Days

Sep 21
Posted on September 21, 2010 14:41 in Events

You all know that I love Hack Days. I even got involved in organising a Hack Day (HackCamp1 @ Google) at the beginning of the year. September was a bit interesting though, with 3 Hack Days in a row – MusicHackDay, Over The Air, and CharityHack.

It got me talking with some people about some of the problems we see that are solved in some events and ignored in others. This is my attempt to plot some of them down for others to read and comment on. In order of descending importance:

A Hack Day should promote teamwork

PayPal introduced a new concept at CharityHack last year. Instead of having a prize per winning team, they had a prize per winning team member (with a max of 4 team members per team). Now, I fully understand there are a few reasons why PayPal did this: they have a lot more money than most Hack Day organisers do, and they want to send up to 4 people to their conference in San Francisco.

The great thing though is that this promotes team work. At many Hack Days I see people work mainly in pairs or alone, because we all know it’s a pain if you are in a team of 5 and you win ONE prize. Who is taking it home, who will eBay it, who put in the most effort in the hack, etc. I worked in a team of 4 this year at CharityHack and it was the best Hack Day fun I had in a while. I wish more Hack Days would somehow promote team work, either by prizes per team member or any other way.
read more…

My Bookmarks For August 14th – September 11th

Sep 11
Posted on September 11, 2010 11:00 in Links

PadAddicts Episode #2 – It’s a Ludo

Aug 12
Posted on August 12, 2010 19:24 in Games, Podcast

Make sure to head over to PadAddicts.co.uk and get the latest episode of the podcast. This week Dom and I rant about some of the coolest games we’ve been playing. Alternatively get your episode from iTunes.