Archive for June, 2007

Hack Day London 2007 (3)

June 19th, 2007

Well, guess what, we won the best hardware hack with our blimp. We don’t actually know what we have won yet, but I suspect it will be one subscription to an O’Reilly magazine publication between five of us, so it is probably academic. Prizes are good, but the recognition does mean more to me so I am not upset in the least. Also knowing that I can create a Pascal HTTP server in under 10 hours (just don’t ask), and that I can learn the Yahoo Maps API and produce a mashup in under 3 hours is is also rewarding, and slightly concerning. The part of my brain that should deal with spelling has obviously decided it prefers coding. :-)

One thing I did forget to mention in my prior posts was that I did go and see what everyone else was working on through the night, and this was most enjoyable. Everyone was happy to show what they were doing, I learned quite a few things, and got to chat with a lot more people. Thank you for letting me interrupt your work. Personally I got very little from the 90 second presentations on Sunday, but this made up for it.

After the event, that was running ahead of schedule, there was a live performance by the Rumble Strips (with a strong Dixie’s Midnight Runners influence IMHO) that I intended watching, but despite the offers of free beer I was just to excused to enjoy it and plodded home.

Just a quick update on the beanbag front. I managed to grab a spare beanbag from the hall after the presentations, and (as a little bird told me) we were able to take them home after the event. I did later see my original beanbag across the entrance way one last time, and am pleased to see it is going to a good home. :-)

Hack Day London 2007 (2)

June 17th, 2007

We are still here at hack day London sitting thought people presenting there hacks of the event. I am a little annoyed at the moment because my beanbag, that I have been sitting and sleeping on since the lightening strike (mentioned in yesterdays blog), has been nicked while we were waiting to do our presentation. If you are reading this now and have a black bean bag with a loop of string attached to the zip I would appreciate you bringing it back to me at the blimp.

Now, on to the the blimp. We have had a few technical difficulties. We did run out of Helium, not helped by certain people using it to make there voices squeak late last night. Fortunately the people concerned were able to track down a local supplier to fill the balloon for us in the morning. We needed to loose the camera that was going to upload for flickr and Shawn helped us out by replacing the PDA with a microcontroller because of weight.

As we needed to have a link to a Yahoo or BBC service to qualify for the competition, and now the flickr link was dead, I decided to take the requests sent to the blimp and mirror(ish) the action on a Yahoo map. This could also demonstrate the system should the blimp fail.

We were up against the clock, not helped by being told we may be moved up the running order, and being bothered by TV and radio reporters. In the end the microcontroller could not cope with the 250 bluetooth devices that were in range so we had to carry around the laptop with the blimp to demo it. Another problem was that BTClosedZone let me down again while waiting next to the stage so we used Niqui’s laptop on stage and I ran to the back to run a required service. The presentation went okay but it could have been so much better if the technology held up. On the positive side many people in the audience voted for where for drive the blimp in the presentation and yesterday’s Pascal server code coped with the many hundreds of votes without a problem.

I will pack up now as it is dark, there is nowhere to sit, I am tired (only having a couple of hours sleep this morning), and I am just not enjoying the demos (that would be so much better and enjoyable if they were presented in less formally IMHO).

Just a quick note to say thanks to the blimp team of Thom (blimp hardware), Miqui (Flash front end), Stephen (testing and decoration), Shawn (microcontroller) and the helium testers (for consuming and replacing the helium, and giving us beer). Also thank to all the Yahoo and the BBC team for making the event happen. Granted it was a little overly “commercial” for my liking, but we still had a great weekend and was made so by there efforts.

Finally it was great to catch up with everyone again, and sorry for not catching up with you if I did not. There are several people I did want to say hi to, or continue a conversation with, but I just can not find then, so see you next time.

Hack Day London 2007

June 16th, 2007

Today I am at Hack Day in London. This in it’s self is against the odds as I traveled down yesterday when the A1 was closed at Catterick and I needed to improvise on local roads, but that is another story.

The purpose of Hack Day is for a group of geeky programmers and the like to get together, attend a few seminars and then spend a day coding software together and create something exciting. I have joined Thom’s team to control a blimp by using online voting. I am working on the server end that collated the votes and passes them to the blimp’s PDA controller.

The day has not gone overly smoothly. The first problem was that a rogue p2p wifi network called BTOpenZone that was propagating on Windows laptops and causing problems. This was apparently fixed, but then there was a big bang, skylights in the roof opened, and the rain started coming in. What had happened was the building was struck by lightening, the fire control system was triggered (and partly fried) and the smoke vents opened automatically.

We were okay for a short while, but when a second shower arrived the power needed turning off and we needed to move in to the entrance hall. While here we started to mashup some code. A while later we were able to return, but the wifi started to fail as bits of the hardware died because of the power surge. For reference I have now used BTOpenZone twice and it has failed dramatically both times so I am now calling it BTClosedZone. This lack of connectivity is why, and this might seem a little weird, I did not code server in PHP but wrote a full HTTP server in Pascal. Look, it works, it’s secure, and it was created without the need of an SQL server (that we could not download) or online reference (that we could not access).

Anyway, it has been an interesting day and although nothing has gone to plan the Yahoo and BBC teams (who are running the event) have done a stunning job.

Just a final note for now. While I was writing this the blimp’s tether broke and we needed to retrieve it from the roof of Alexandra palace. Fortunately with two smaller balloon, a length of string and some tape we were able to retrieve it.

I can not log in to your beta

June 14th, 2007

As someone who is interested in web developments I sign up for many beta programmes. I tend to use differing passwords, and many with non alphanumeric characters. It is rather frightening that on many occasions (yes, many) I have not been able to log in because I used these characters and the site creator needed to intervene manually. This is more frightening because I bet most times what I have typed has just been pasted in to an SQL query and is open to SQL injection. This is a personal request to all developers to always escapes special characters when accepting input form the user, and consider using OpenID for authentication.

I have an Upcoming t-shirt

June 14th, 2007

When merged fully in to Yahoo! a number of t-shirts were offered to users. Annoyingly they were only shipped to the US and Canada.

You can not really blame Yahoo as the postage would have been costly to send then from the US, and setting up a distribution in multiple countries would also not been justifiable for such a promotion. Was did annoy me and others was that it was not obvious this was the case until you had entered most of your contact information. I was so annoyed I clicked the send button anyway on the incomplete form and forgot about it. Unexpectedly I received an Upcoming t-shirt in today’s post, so thank you Yahoo, I think I will be showing off at the forthcoming HackDay event.

NE1fm is on air

June 13th, 2007

It has taken about seven years to get here, but our new community radio station NE1fm finally launched on Friday 8th June 2007 broadcasting on 102.5 FM.

The whole story about how we got here is long and complicated so I will save you from that story for now.

On day two and three we broadcast live from the Newcastle Green Festival bringing live music and the capturing the whole atmosphere.

Currently we are broadcasting live on week nights between 7 and 11, and will be expanding the schedule over the next six weeks. Why not tune in now and then and you might find something you like.

Goodbye 123 Reg

June 7th, 2007

If you have read my blog for a while you will know that I have had the odd problem with 123 Reg over time.

Well, today one of the domains has been returning partial record to several ISPs (again) and email is being bounced at a time when we really could do without the hassle. I have already moved the critical domain hosting to another server, but with this continuing to happen I will be moving all of my domains and the companies domains to another supplier over the next few weeks.

Google developer day 2007 (3)

June 1st, 2007

It is now the morning after the night before and I am finishing off some work before the weekend.

After the US keynote we headed across to a local drinking establishment. The bit I liked best was the large sign in front of the place that was shaped like a Google Maps waypoint marker. It just tickled my sense of hummer.

The drinks and the food kept on coming with a free bar until late. I was pleased that I was not the only one who was disappointed that there was no real ail, but you can’t have everything, and what we did have was great.

It was here that I managed to have a chat with a lot of other people from the day and exchange ideas, views and put forward alternative perspectives. This interaction is the real reason why I go to most events and somehow had not had the opportunity to mingle as much as I would have liked in the day.

I did manage to grab a word with Chris DiBona about his podcast (FLOSS Annually ;-) ) and am please to report it is not dead, it is just waiting for a little spare time.

One final note is that I will hopefully see most of you I chatted with at Hack Day in a couple of weeks time, and if you are not attending then I am certain our paths will cross again so please say hello.

So in summery it was a great will run event and I thank everyone involved in making it so. Also as special thank you (as they appear to have been forgotten) to the staff at the venue and the bar who was extra organised, helpful and extremely polite.