Category Archives: ota13

Over the Air – It’s now Sunday night

It’s Sunday night and before the weekend is out I should really complete the final post of this year’s #OTA13 musings.

The avid reader to the last few day’s furious blogging will notice the lack of a satisfactory end to this 36 hour story. It is only now that I can share that with you…

Our little web app terf was awarded winner in the Best Mobile Web / HTML5 category at #OTA13. I’ll tell you that as a team we were nothing short of astounded when our app and names were read out by Margaret and we received our prizes of the Hello! HTML & CSS book and four Firefox OS Geeksphones. You can watch the first person 15 second Instagram clip and check out our surprise for yourselves.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again… the bulk of the hard work and sacrifice was borne by our super developer Sunil who set the whole thing up and made it work everywhere it should work (tent front and tent stage), our amazing UXD and secret front end dev, Tyrell who worked tirelessly late in to Friday night and through the best part of Saturday to make it look like something people might actually want use and also integrate my own shoddy logo and icons into for our iPhone demo.  Last but not least there was Kjell (pronounced Shell) who took our idea and wrapped it in some presentation magic to show it off to the rest of #OTA13.

Following the closing session at #OTA13 we had a quick chat with the judges who told us that as well as being impressed with the app itself, they could see that we’d thought through what the applications of the app were, who could use it and that they could see commercial potential in it as well. I think that’s something for us all to be quite proud of.

Moments of note were primarily when terf started to work in the area’s of the tent that we’d defined using their respective long/lat references., being able to physically move from one chat to the other and back. Sunil integrating The Cat API to alow terf users to be represented anonymously by a random cat avatar (because every hack needs to use an API and feature a kitten), hearing that someone had found Tyrell sleeping inside a bean bag igloo in the marquee on Friday night / Saturday morning. There were certainly more amazing moments but the tiredness overtook most of us before we got to show terf to the masses to remember them all.

So for the bunch of first timers who were unsure that what we were making was even worthy of a hack day entry in the first place, I think we did pretty well and hopefully showed the potential of what else can come out of Blackwell’s digital development teams in the future. Well done everyone who took part and hopefully see you all again at #OTA14 (or #OTA17 if Matthew is to be believed).

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Over the Air – Our hackday submission, terf

We’ve been working since yesterday on our app for the Over the Air hack day entry and that app is called terf. terf is a geofenced hyper-local chat and information web app, built to work on iPhone 4/5 currently, that can be used within bookshops (because we work for Blackwell’s) or anywhere to create zones of conversation around content, genre and locations.

We would also aim to be able to push promotional content into the timeline (via the Blackwell’s API) about book offers and links to the Blackwell’s app and online shop, but also any local information that needs to be pushed out to that hyper local community. The geofenced area could be transient or permanent. You can have multiple areas in a space and move between conversations in each.

This app could be used at festivals, hack days, conferences, traffic queues or hyper local communities for people to listen in to local chatter and find out what’s going on.

The name comes from the thought that you’d only want to talk to people who are on your turf. Alas Heroku, the platform we build our web app on, already had turf taken, so as a tribute to our Liverpudlian team member Kjell we opted for terf, which is turf, but as he says it!

Try terf on your mobile if you are in the marquee at Over the Air 2013. We’ve entered it in the HTML5 and Mobile category so wish us luck.


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Over the Air 2013 – We’re still working

I say we, really Sunil and Tyrell are working really hard and making a cool thing that works. We’ve submitted it to hackday so we’ll see what happens.

Kjell and I took a look around the mansion house and had a chat with @herx and a go on his 3D scanner made out of a Kinect. Both Kjell and I had a go and we’ll get the 3D model mailed to us in a player that we can hopefully share. Check out the process on this Instagram video.

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Over the Air 2013 – I woke (but didn’t really go to sleep)

It’ll be fine. Sleeping in a tent in September… that’s virtually summer isn’t it? Yes, of course it is!

And Bletchley… it’s the countryside. Peaceful, pastoral, NOT! My morning has been redeemed by a hearty (veggie) fried breakfast that should keep me going until, ooh, at least 10.00? Last night, though, was an experience. In our little tent village behind Hut 12 there was a snorer that featured on the richter scale in OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD! I could have put up with that. The regular rhythm of his guttural noise may have sent me gently to sleep but it was too cold for that. Indian summer – PAH! I layered up, added blanket to sleeping bag, plus all the clothes I had including some I’d acquired! Some time around 3.30 I added a towel to the covers, alas this didn’t do the trick. Actually I could have overcome the temperature issue if it wasn’t for the quarter hourly church bells. I literally heard the time passing until I literally passed out.

A few good hours was had and now I’m plugged in to the power and ready for Over the Air, day two.

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Over the Air 2013 – Late evening update

This isn’t really that interesting but we’ve had some top notch televisual entertainment this evening that is set to go on into the early hours. The bean bags are comfortable but it’s really really cold. OK not really really but at least really cold. Considering options like a blanket, sleeping bag, onsie combo!

I think we’re finished making for the evening so perhaps there is even some sleep on the cards. All good though.

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Over the Air 2013 – Ignite Talks

It’s the evening now and we’re listening in on the Ignite Talks which are a series of short 5 minute talks about a range of subjects. My team are busy beavering away on our hacks but my ears were pricked when photographer Caz Mockett started her talk about Face Down Tuesday, an internet phenomenon that can be explored on Flickr. Because I’m as easy to read as a book my interest was piqued even further when she showed some of her Face Down Tuesday images from the final days of the BBC at Television Centre in London. Here are a few favourites…

Blue Peter Gardening Edition

Mezzanine Edition

Green Tea Bar Edition

Reception Reflection Edition

Silent Escalator Edition

Paint Shop Pro Edition

Lost its Sparkle Edition

Moving Out Edition

As a long time BBC staffer who missed out on the last opening day at TVC this brought a tear to my eye and made me laugh at the old place at the same time. Someone asked Caz ‘Why Face Down on Tuesdays?’. She had quite a simple answer, ‘Any other day and it would just be planking!’.


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Over the Air 2013 – National Museum of Computing

This is a short one. We just had our own tour of the Bletchley Park National Museum of Computing. It was a quick one around the three sections of the museum, 20 minutes in each. First off was the history of home computing from abacus to technology more modern. Then a quick fly around Collossus followed by the oldest working computer, the Dekatron. My brain is too small to compute all of these machines so here they are on my Instagram feed.

Now we’re making something for the hack day competition and eating some stunning chocolate torte.



UPDATE: I’ve just heard some exciting news about some screenings later on. Unbelievable. Very cool.

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Over the Air 2013 – The Future is Old

Teaching Machines to Sing – back in the Marquee. I’ve moved nearer the front but something smells bad here and it’s not me!  Founder of Partick Bergel

The long nose is the time it takes a product to come from concept to a useful product. So we’re talking about under exploited products. Man we’re talking fast today. Can I keep up!!!

There is data is bird song, that’s how he gets to his new product Chirp. Maybe there is data in his voice as well. Are all the bits he’s broadcasting from his mouth useful. FINGER CRAMP!!! We’re showing how Chirp works and there are a couple of people here with Chirp on their phones. He’s transmitted a photo of Daphne Oram who is a founder of the Radiophonic Workshop of which he’s a member of the new version. Still so fast!!!

Chirp launched a year ago on iOS and people liked it a lot! Number one application across the world. They were quite surprised at it’s success.

They’ve tested this with some horrendous noise including hindi heavy metal. I should google this too. Apparently it manages to cut through all of this noise. Patrick hates keyboards, there is no pairing devices and it doesn’t rely on mobile networks. It’s an asynchronous technology and decoding is done locally and can sync when needed. Why bother with the internet when you don’t need the internet.

I don’t think Patrick has breathed yet. He’s not going pale or anything, maybe he has gills?

Back to birds… there is science behind bird song that they have studied. Some tweets have a front loaded message as well before they deliver their payload. Birds have a syrinx so they can fly and breath and they can sing quickly. Tweets are 87ms long. Or short. Birds adapt their voices to be heard above ambient noise as well. They can adjust the chirp to fit anything.

Lots of thing create sound so what else can be used. Will integrate with APIs so you can share instagram/facebook/itunes content via Chirp. Possibly rights issues with sharing. They don’t care what data it is as they are data agnostic. Got to Wow, there’s a chirp extension for Chrome and Map chirps coming up. He’ll not be held to what the definition of ‘shortly’ is.

They’ve done a project a London Fashion Week where there have been chirp speakers in trees. A dream of his to chirp from trees. Lots of fashion image content and extra data with links, trailers and teasers. All cool stuff.

Phones are expensive so now they are putting chirp onto cheaper devices. Like Chirpino on Arduinos. You could embed this into things like doorbells. is like a spook where you can pick up data from one place and put it down somewhere else. There might be payments by chirp as well. There currently is no security but there could be security attached to Chirp. They can do soundless ultra frequencies. There can be low frequency chirps that he calls ‘chirpstep’ (lolz)

Still FAST and still NO BREATHING. He’s going to faint soon. SURELY!

The protocol is cheap and dumb and doesn’t require any other proprietary technology like NFC. You just need the app and a chirp.

He stopped talking. AMAZING. Now we’re on to questions. Follow him on and email at Can you believe that he even answers the questions at the same speed.

We’re chirping over the PA now. Wish my ears luck! IT WORKED…. it’s a weird picture of Patrick!

What happens when lots of people chirp at the same time? Patrick buys an island!! The system can’t cope with took many chirps at the same time so no but there are call and response scenarios that could be used for privacy. He doesn’t believe in the Zuckerberg zero privacy ideology.

That’s  all. Thanks dude.

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Over the Air 2013 – First session of the afternoon

Right, I’ve moved approximately 10 metres from one end of the marquee to the other and I’ll probably stay here for the rest of the afternoon! The first talk of the afternoon is Arduino: Robots, WiFi and extreme hacks by David Cuartielles. Just jumped in after my sandwich to hear him talking about the worst times in his life… trying to get to grips with Apple OS and his divorce. He reckons both we’re equally stressful! And on to him talking about the birth of Arduino. They made a few and thought that would be enough… 

He’s saying that no one needs to know how transistors work to use the Arduino because no one ‘gives a fuck how transistors work’ and besides, you can’t even see them anyway! We’re looking at a graph that’s showing the distribution of Arduino which is pretty impressive.

Arduino is there to help people get started with technology. To have the ability to create a coherent development and educational experience. Answer complex questions within new computing paradigms: embedded, ubiquitous, palpable, wearable… (these are not my words!!). They also incorporate user feedback into their own R&D. There’s something at the bottom of the slide about the 2,8 rule, I’m not sure what this is, but he’s not got to the bottom of the slide yet… He’s not going to tell me what it is, we’ll have to wait until the questions, I could actually Google it instead. Can’t find it, will have to wait. Now we’re looking at a car that is driving by itself (sounds like this is open source but paid work for a client!). I can see a robot on the screen that’s made out of wood. It drove the car. Amazing! All powered by Arduino.

In Mexico there are cultural centres where the kids who aren’t going to university go to learn about arts, theatre, psychology etc… they have a computer room where kids aged up to 24 learn about computers. They were coding instruments and they wanted to make robots, he didn’t want to make robots. He says Faaaaa (which is the same as F**k apparently but there are kids here so…) So he showed them how to do robotics from Arduino with these kids. There are cars and Pacmans/Pacmen(?) (search David Cuartielles on Vimeo to find videos of this stuff). Then he was asked to work with kids in Spain to make a robot. These guys take a year to make these things and every year they improve and streamline. He got involved. We’re looking at the robot Arduino video he shot in his kitchen. It’s pretty awesome. I want one, but I’m not clever enough to programme the thing. Maybe that’s the point and I should try… YIKES! €189!

He then worked to create computing curriculum in Spanish schools. He asked them not to buy books and to have it open source and experimentation based. This was rolled out to 500 kids across 24 schools. Started with a 4 week introduction. 5 weeks of project with weekly presentation and feedback leading to a 9 week sprint on their own projects. They didn’t do abstract stuff, it was more about themes like sport etc… making things and finding out how to solve problems related to these thematic projects. All of the kids did different things to create the project. Broad based group learning. More related to real life.  After a month all 24 schools made it to the final presentation (400 kids).

This is an example of how to change the mind set of people and their approach to technology.

They were asked by Sony to hack their smart watches. They even said they could keep the watches. Now the watches can run on Arduino and it’s all available on GitHub. They made games for it too.

With Arduino there is this kids who’s using accelerometers to detect earthquakes. That’s pretty cool. There’s another person who’s detecting carbon footprint to make you more efficient in your use of energy. You use just enough, if you over use you kill the plant that is providing you with energy. Fits in with a network of devices and can be found at Also another Arduino that is tracking the radiation in Fukushima with a Geiger counter that posts the measurement data to a map. It’s not scientific but it’s near enough to warm people. Not perfect but good enough to get an idea of what’s going on.

Will someone teach me how to do these things. I’d love to know but don’t have the capacity to do this myself!!

Apart from hacks they work with companies to create social appliances that connect to to a shared network infrastructure. He wants to learn his mum’s cleaning tricks and pass them off. He needs to build a new module that fits within existing technology. They were making new boards to do this and the prototype have just been submitted for approval. He won’t make a connected toaster but know’s how. He has, though, made a connected coffee machine (surprise… a developer that lives off coffee!!) There is a video of the coffee machine working but you have to wait 3 minutes for it to boil. He’s sparing us from watching that but it’s probably on Vimeo too.

Arduino is now a company but it’s all still open source. People still thing they’re crazy. They function in a fair hardware business model. Sharing. 

Arduino – we do open stuff.



Check the Arduino site for more info 

Education project

Here’s the 2.8 rule. If you are trying to sell something to a company and if they don’t buy it then multiply the price by 2.8. Then when they sell it on they multiply by 2.8. Lots of money and room to wiggle your margin.

All done now… but he wants his Sony watch back. Now where did it go….


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Over the Air 2013 – A New Theme

This is not #OTA13 related at all really but equally exciting. Having attended the first session with Julia Shalet with the chaps from my team I realised that I actually am in desperate need for some power for ALL of my devices! I’ve headed back to the main marquee where I’m hiding in a corner with an increasingly warm macbook charging EVERYTHING! Also, I changed the template of the notatwork blog so it looks like I’ve been writing it in this decade and not the last! It almost fills the screen and the text is virtually readable. I just checked on my phone and it even has a mobile version!

Hopefully everything will be suitably charged before:

  1. it’s lunchtime (1:15)
  2. my legs get burned (notebook NOT laptop!)

Now to choose some afternoon sessions before corralling the team to hack something neat this evening. I’m thinking of going to the following events…

Somewhere in there there’s some quadcopter thing and a tour around the Museum of Computing… then it’s time for tea.

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