Category: Events

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…

BarCampLondon7 was awesome

Oct 26
Posted on October 26, 2009 13:44 in Events, Photography

So we did it. We ran another BarCampLondon. It was awesome and it would have been impossible without all the organisers, volunteers, IBM people, catering, and most of all the attendees.

It’s sad it’s over already but at least we still have the photos.

Data Visualisation @ News Innovation London

Jul 17
Posted on July 17, 2009 10:26 in Events

I gave a little talk at News Innovation here in London 2 weeks back, at which I quickly ran through a long list of data visualisations to show how it can help people understand things easier. I promised to put the list on my blog and forgot till now.

Here they are. Most of them come from Dan W’s Tumblr which has a lot more, but some of them were my own finds.

Music Hack Day 2009

Jul 12
Posted on July 12, 2009 22:43 in Events, Technology

So we were at the first London Music Hack Day this weekend, held at the beautiful Guardian offices where we held BarcampLondon6 a few months back. I’ve been to a few hack days before, mostly organised by Yahoo and the BBC, and sice the last one I promised myself to always at least prepare some hack and present it. The first few times that I went to Hack Days I didn’t, and it never felt right. My track record so far on these last two hacks is pretty good, with the last one getting an article on the Guardian blog, and this weekend’s one actually winning a price. But before that let’s look at some of the other hacks.

Some of the cool hacks

There was an amazing amount of hacks put together over the weekend, leading to a presentation session of well over 2 hours. A full list can be found on the Music Hack Day wiki but I handpicked a few that I really liked.

Percussion machine by @alistair

Alistair and Mr Duck set off to make something pretty crazy and play with Arduino boards and servos. They created a percussion machine that made most of us laugh.

Music Bore

I’d like to describe Music Bore as the death to Radio DJ. Powered by IRC and Mac OS X’s text to speech API they created a DJ like experience.

Lonely Harps

The dating website Lonely Harps helps you find potential partners based on matching Last.FM profiles.

Last.FM events on iPhone

Handy little iPhone app that gives you a map with all the upcoming Last.FM events in your area. Very handy if you’re stuck ina  foreign city looking for a party.

My hack

My hack was really simple. I had the idea to map song lyrics onto locations around the world per decade, but discovered most lyrics actually don’t have that many place names in them. Instead I decided to go along the same route and explore other ways of visualisation musical culture shifts.

I decided to go for analysing the lyrics of the top 10 songs per decade an give them multiple visualisations. I only ended up doing a Wordle visualisation in the end, but I think it’s pretty cool. Go ahead and have a look at and have a look at the different decades.

The hard part of this little app wasn’t actually the visualisation, but actually getting a top 10 list of UK songs per era. There is simply no API for it so I had to opt to make my own API (JSON) for the EveryHit site. For now it’s just JSON and only the cumulative decades (not the single years), but if anyone’s interesting I might write the rest too and maybe add a SPARQL layer too.

Should I Backup My… – The Video

May 12
Posted on May 12, 2009 16:16 in Events, Software, Technology

I knew that someone must have made a video of my presentation on, and this is the first one I found. It only shows a little bit, but I think it’s the best part probably.

For those who don’t get the joke regarding GeoCities: read and shiver.

Yahoo OpenHack 2009

May 10
Posted on May 10, 2009 21:31 in Events

Melinda and I spent last weekend at the Yahoo Open Hack Day 2009 here in London. I have been to both the previous London Hack Day and the BBC Mashed Hack Day last year, so I was eager to meet up with a few 100 hackers again and see what will come out of it.

Yahoo! OpenHack Day in London

During the last two Hack Days I didn’t really get around to making or finishing my hacks, instead I spend time making swedes, which meant I never had a hack to present. This time I didn’t have any genius ideas either until the Friday before when we were having some food with some fellow Geeks after watching the new Star Trek movie (more on that soon).

The idea was to have a single-serving-site that would tell you wether or not it’s smart to go and backup your Yahoo data. It started as a joke, but I noticed the potential of it being both funny and an interesting way for me to explore some of the new APIs that I wanted to play with. For those of you who are not too familiar with Yahoo and therefore not totally understanding the joke: Yahoo has been having some financial issues lately and recently decided to close their ones popular hosting service Geocities by the end of the year, spawning an angry response from many geeks who think that web sites should stay online forever.


I ended up going a little bit further though by setting up (currently hosted on a sub domain until my DNS registry changes are processed). The idea was to set up a site a bit like (currently no longer enabled) where the is able to type in any word to get an answer to the generic question, obviously with some hilarious results to its effect.

So I quickly registered the domain, setup a symfony project, got the basics to work and then went to drink some beer. This all left me to do the cool part in the morning at 8am when I was only half awake. I played a bit with the new Guardian APIs (which is really easy to use and thank you Simon for helping me out with the API key process) and imported some relevant articles, then threw them through the YQL term extractor and made a decision on the state of the company. 

The resulting pages show the user a guess on wether or not it’s wise to backup the data or not, show a link to some backup tools, and some news articles surrounding it. I added a little admin interface for myself which allowed me to quickly customize some of the pages with some other details (other colors, custom answers, logos) and all was done.

I finally presented my product on stage with the following keywords: geocities, magnolia, yahoo, flickr, delicious, google. I honestly thought the Yahoo search would have lead to a “probably not”, but it turned out all the Yahoo products returned a “probably” which made me look more brave on stage than it should.

I didn’t win a price (really didn’t expect too either) but I’m glad that quite a few people did like the idea and thought I should have at least have won the prize for “best mockery of an event sponsor”. In the mean time I will just keep on continue using a lot of the Yahoo services and hope that they’ll survive and run more hack days, and I then hope to hack something more impressive together at the next Hack Day London.

Facebook App Development Slides – BarcampLiverpool

Dec 9
Posted on December 9, 2008 16:28 in Events, Slides

Last weekend saw the first Liverpool Barcamp and I have to admit it was a great one. I gave two presentation, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The Saturday one was an introduction to Facebook App Development and the slides can be found below. The slides actually made it to the frontpage of slideshare! On Sunday I gave a talk based on my blog post from a few days back on how to integrate OpenID in WordPress.