• New New Blog, New Old Blog

    So I’ve decided to replace my previous blog with a WordPress blog.

    That was the first line I put on my WordPress blog, which I’ve now replaced with Jekyll. The first post on that was in October 2006, so nearly 11 years ago!

    Over the past 11 years I’ve moved away from doing anything PHP, or anything server-side really. I have no particular need of the online editing that you get with WordPress or any of the other features really. I’m also trying to be quite paranoid about what daemons I run on my hosting server. I came across Jekyll (again) as part of a documentation project in my day job and was impressed by how easy it was to use so decided I would start migrating some of my own stuff over.

    My first migration was actually the website for my CamViewer iOS app which was already based on Gollum the markdown wiki so should have been quite simple to migrate (actually it was still a bit of a faff due to different markdown versions).

    I hoped migrating Wordpress would also be easy as so many people use both technologies. As it turned out there was still plenty of work involved. I ended up using two migration tools. The main Jekyll importer didn’t seem to do a great job of pulling the HTML in but pulled all the comments across nicely so I ended up using exitwp and writing a yaml copying tool to pull the comments from one to the other.

    This blog hasn’t actually got any comments functionality at the moment, I figure people can ping me @mcknut on Twitter if they want to make comments but I’ve copied the ones that were on the old site.

    My previous blog made use of whizzy fun modern technologies to allow me to host my entire site on Google Base, Google Pages and del.icio.us. Unfortunately, because it was something I had just knocked up there was no comment support, and of course it did require Java and JavaScript to be enabled in the browser.

    That original blog was quite a weird thing, I tried to make it so that all the content was hosted online. Unfortunately as it was JavaScript based not much has been saved on the Internet Archive. It does seem like all the original posts are now lost but with any luck I’ve got the content… somewhere.

  • Long time no see

    It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything here. I thought I’d like to write up a small project I did recently, but then there would be a bit of back story, and then a bit more, and oh yes I haven’t blogged in 4 years so I should really do something about that.

    As such I’m going to try to write some year reviews. Not promising to make them in depth but it’ll give me a chance to look back and see what I’ve actually been doing all these years (actually it’s pretty obvious to me given that the last post was 4 years ago and a major thing happened just after that but here’s goes nothing..!)

  • Adding a Wiki to MapMe.At using Gollum

    I recently added a wiki on my MapMe.At site and found it quite tricky to get working and difficult to find just the right information I needed so I thought I’d write it up.

    MapMe.At is still on Rails 2 which seemed to mean I couldn’t install Gollum as part of the site.

    I created a separate Rails 3 project that runs alongside MapMe.At and simply hosts Gollum, using instructions from here: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/13053704/how-to-properly-mount-githubs-gollum-wiki-inside-a-rails-app

    I wanted it to use the user information in MapMe.At’s session hash so switched MapMe.At to use activerecord based sessions and used information on here to make the rails 2 session load in rails 3: http://www.kadrmasconcepts.com/blog/2012/07/19/sharing-rails-sessions-with-php-coldfusion-and-more/

    I’m not actually using the rails2 session as the main session, I just load the information in. I have the following in config/initializers/session_store.rb

    module ActionController
      module Flash
        class FlashHash < Hash
          def method_missing(m, *a, &b;)
          end
        end
      end
    end
    
    MapmeAtWiki::Application.config.session_store :cookie_store, key: '_mapme_at_wiki_session'

    Then in routes.rb:

    class App < Precious::App
    
      before { authenticate }
    
      helpers do
        def authenticate
          oldsess = ActiveRecord::SessionStore::Session.find_by_session_id(request.cookies["_myapp_session"])
          if oldsess and oldsess.data and oldsess.data[:user_id]
            u = User.find(oldsess.data[:user_id])
            email = "#{u.username}@gitusers.mckerrell.net"
            session["gollum.author"] = { :name => u.full_name, :email => email }
          else
            response["Location"] = "http://mapme.at/me/login?postlogin=/wiki/"
            throw(:halt, [302, "Found"])
          end
        end
      end
    
    end
    
    MapmeAtWiki::Application.routes.draw do
      # The priority is based upon order of creation:
      # first created -> highest priority.
    
      App.set(:gollum_path, Rails.root.join('db/wiki.git').to_s)
      App.set(:default_markup, :markdown) # set your favorite markup language
      App.set(:wiki_options, {:universal_toc => false})
      mount App, at: 'wiki'
    
    end

    I wanted a wiki on the site to allow my users to help out with documenting the site. Adding their own thoughts and experiences and perhaps fixing typos I might make. I’m not sure that’s really started happening yet but at least I have a nice interface for writing the documentation myself!

  • WhereDial Ready to Ship

    A good few years ago I blogged about making a clock that showed location, similar to the clock that Weasley family had in the Harry Potter books. Well now you can buy one! I’ve spent the last year working on the design and getting the hardware ready. Take a look at the photos below and head over to the website for more information on the WhereDial!

  • OpenStreetMap at Social Media Cafe Liverpool

    I gave a talk last night at Social Media Cafe about OpenStreetMap. I actually haven’t been too involved in the OSM community of late so it was nice to get back into it a little bit. It was also good to find that a large portion of the audience was not already aware of OSM so it was nice to introduce it to people.

    You can find the video of Social Media Cafe on USTREAM. The video will be chopped up soon at which point I’ll link to or embed my own talk here too.

    I ended up with 63 slides taking up about 100MB so I’m going to try not uploading it to Slideshare this time, instead I’m going to summarise the talk here.

    OpenStreetMap - John McKerrell @mcknut - Freelance Software Developer

    Why do we need OpenStreetMap?

    • Geodata historically isn’t

      • Current - things change so often maps quickly become outdated.

      • Open - if you know the map is wrong, wouldn’t it be simpler to let you update it yourself?

      • Free - You want me to pay how much for Ordnance Survey data?? Especially an issue when you’ve helped build the map.

    • Wiki is obvious next step

    • It’s just fun

    We make beautiful maps…

    …which we give away

    Beautiful OpenStreetMap map

    It’s not just Liverpool, or even the UK, in the talk I showed maps of the Hague, Washington, DC and Berlin. You can pan and zoom the map linked to above to browse the coverage.

    Some Quotes

    “It’s absolutely possible for a bunch of smart guys with the technology we have today to capture street networks, and potentially the major roads of the UK and minor roads”

    Ed Parsons, ex-CTO Ordnance Survey currently Geospatial Technologist for Google

    “If you don’t make [lower-resolution mapping data] publicly available, there will be people with their cars and GPS devices, driving around with their laptops .. They will be cataloguing every lane, and enjoying it, driving 4×4s behind your farm at the dead of night. There will, if necessary, be a grass-roots remapping.”

    Tim Berners-Lee

    “You could have a community capability where you took the GPS data of people driving around and started to see, oh, there’s a new road that we don’t have, a new route .. And so that data eventually should just come from the community with the right software infrastructure.”

    Bill Gates

    Some big names in technology who clearly think user-generated mapping data is a good idea.

    Isn’t Google Free?

    A lot of people ask the question “Why do we need OpenStreetMap when Google Maps is free?”

    Current?

    Google Map of Liverpool showing places that are no longer pertinent

    http://maps.google.co.uk/?ll=53.40407,-2.985835&spn;=0.010937,0.031693&t;=m&z;=16

    This picture shows a Google Map screenshot that I took on 16th February 2012. In the centre of the map you can see the Moat House Hotel. This was bulldozed in 2005 but still shows up on Google’s map. You’ll also see the Consulate of the United States in Liverpool. This was also closed down some time ago. So you can see that Google Maps isn’t perfectly current (and, for the record, I have now reported these problems to Google).

    Open?

    Google have launched their own project to map the planet. Map Maker allows people in many countries to edit the data of the map, adding roads and POIs in a similar way to OSM. Unfortunately Google doesn’t then provide full access to this data back to the people who have made it! Map tiles are generated and shapes of the data entered can be retrieved but the full detail of the data is kept by Google. The license offered by Google also restricts its use to non-commercial usage, stopping people who have put effort into creating the data from being able to derive an income from it.

    Free?

    Though Google’s mapping API is free to use initially they have recently introduced usage limits. Though they claim that this will only affect 0.35% of their customers, it has already affected a number of popular websites that simply can’t afford to pay what Google is requesting. Some examples will be given of these later.

    Google Support OSM

    It would be unfair to talk about the bad parts of Google without mentioning the good. Google has regularly supported OSM through donations, sponsorship of mapping parties and support through their “Summer of Code” programme.

    As do other providers

    It also wouldn’t be fair to paint Google as the only supporter, for example:

    • Mapquest sponsors and supports OSM efforts.

    • Microsoft Bing Maps sponsors and supports OSM efforts, even allowing their aerial imagery to be traced.

    Workshops

    Or, Map as Party (Mapping Parties!)

    The first mapping party was in the Isle of Wight. At the time the only “free” map data available was an Ordnance Survey map that had gone out of copyright:

    Isle of Wight OS Map

    A group of people went to the island for a weekend and collected GPS traces of all the roads:

    And from these made a great looking map:

    We also held a mapping party in Liverpool in November 2007 which allowed us to essentially complete the map of the centre of Liverpool.

    That video shows the traces of everyone involved with the mapping party as they went around Liverpool and mapped the streets. It was built using the scripts referenced on this wiki page

    Editing OSM

    Visit openstreetmap.org and sign up for an account. If you have GPS traces, upload them, don’t worry if you don’t as you’ll be able to help by editing existing data or tracing over aerial imagery.

    Data Model

    • Nodes

      • Single point on the earth - Latitude and Longitude
    • Way

      • Ordered list of nodes which together make up a long line or an enclosed area
    • Relation

      • A method of relating multiple ways and nodes together, e.g. “turning from way A to way B using node C is not allowed”
    • Tags

      • Nodes/Ways/Relations can have key=value pairs attached to describe their properties.

      • Example node tags:

        • amenity=place_of_worship, religion=buddhist

        • amenity=post_box

      • Example way tags:

        • highway=primary

        • oneway=yes

    An online flash editor is available (Potlatch) simply by clicking the “Edit” link when looking at any map on OSM. An offline editing desktop app built in Java is also available, JOSM

    There are hundreds of tags that you can use to describe almost any data, use the wiki to find more information especially the Map Features page.

    License

    CC-BY-SA

    This license lets anyone use the OSM maps for free so long as you mention that the source was OpenStreetMap and you share what you produce under a similar license.

    Very soon the license will change from CC-BY-SA to Open Database License which offers similar freedoms with more suitable legal terminology. Do read into it if you think it will affect you.

    OSM in Action

    Nestoria, a popular property website, has long supported OSM. A few years ago they made use of OSM data by using the maps generated from the Isle of Wight mapping party to replace the non-existent data in Google Maps. More recently they have been affected by Google’s plans to charge for its map data and so they have switched fully to OpenStreetMap data and maps.

    CycleStreets is a great website for finding cycle routes. They offer a directions engine that gives detailed descriptions of routes, allowing you to pick between Balanced, Fastest and Shortest routes. They also offer lots more information and a database of photos to give more insight into a journey. The routes they recommend are ideal for keeping cyclists off the busy dangerous roads and onto the quieter safer more direct routes.

    mapme.at is a website that I have built for tracking people’s location. People use it to track places that they visit and journeys that they take. I use it to track everywhere I ever go. Adrian McEwen wrote a script that puts the location of the Mersey Ferries into mapme.at and that’s what you can see in the map above.

    A few years ago I worked with ITO World to create some animations of my data. They created great animations which you can find on my vimeo account but below is one showing every journey I took in January 2010 with each day being played concurrently.

    All travels in January 2010 run at once. from John McKerrell on Vimeo.

    Geocaching is a popular pastime based around GPSes, treasure hunting and maps. Their website used Google Maps and they also had issues when Google started to charge. As a result they have switched to OpenStreetMap too.

    Mobile

    Lots of mobile apps are available to let you use and contribute to OpenStreetMap

    Android

    Not being a regular user of Android I can’t recommend any apps personally but there is a large list of OSM Android apps on the wiki and I’ve selected the following based on features they claim to offer.

    gopens and MapDroyd both allow you to browse OpenStreetMap maps on the go and claim to offer offline support, allowing you to view maps even when you’re not connected to the internet.

    Skobbler Navigation provides a full Tom-Tom style satnav for navigating on the go, all based on OpenStreetMap data.

    Mapzen POI Collector is a handy way to collect POI data while out and about, or to edit existing data.

    iPhone

    Skobbler Navigation is also available for iPhone, again providing a full Tom-Tom style satnav for navigating on the go, all based on OpenStreetMap data.

    NavFree is another full satnav app based on OpenStreetMap data.

    Offmaps is an OSM map viewer that allows you to download large chunks of map tiles in advance so that you have them, for instance, when you go on holiday. I would recommend the original Offmaps over Offmaps2 as I believe the latter restricts the data you can access.

    Mapzen POI Collector again is available for iPhone and is a handy way to collect POI data while out and about, or to edit existing data.

    Humanitarian

    OpenStreetMap has been heavily involved in Humanitarian efforts, these have resulted in the formation of HOT - the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Projects have included mapping the Gaza Strip and Map Kibera a project to map the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. These projects have many benefits to the communities involved. Simply having map data helps the visibilities of important landmarks: water stations, Internet cafes, etc. Teaching the locals how to create the maps teaches valuable technical skills. Some people build on the data to provide commercial services to their neighbours, building businesses to support themselves and their families.

    A hugely influential demonstration of the impact of OpenStreetMap involvement in humanitarian efforts occurred after the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Very shortly after the earthquake hit, the OSM community realised that the lack of geodata in what was essentially a third world country, would cause massive problems with aid workers going in to help after the earthquake. The community responded by tracing the aerial imagery that was already available to start to improve the data and later efforts included getting newer imagery, getting Haitian ex-pats to help with naming features and working with the aid agencies to add their data to the map. You can see some of the effects of these efforts from the video below that shows the edits that occurred in Haiti around the time of the earthquake.

    OpenStreetMap - Project Haiti from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

    Switch2OSM

    If all of this has piqued your interest then visit openstreetmap.org to take a look at the map, sign up and get involved in editing. Find more information on the wiki at wiki.openstreetmap.org or find out how you can switch your website to OpenStreetMap at Switch2OSM.org

  • YAHMS: Revisited, Upgrading to XBee with Wire Antenna

    A good few months ago I blogged about my YAHMS project and my YAHMS Base Station. It was a funny time to get the project complete, just in time for the summer, but it has ended up being useful. Being able to turn the hall light on when we come home in the dark is really useful and, with the summer we’ve had, the heating has gone on from time to time too.

    It hasn’t been without its problems, though fortunately they have been relatively few. Power ended up being an issue for the temperature probes, using four AA batteries would keep the probes running for about a week. This isn’t bad but would mean replacing them regularly, also when the voltage went low, the voltage detector didn’t seem to work and I would see rising temperatures. In the end I decided to use some wall wart power supplies, unfortunately that means the probes are less portable and also means that half of the circuit was unnecessary, as the wall warts never provide a low voltage.

    I’ve also had problems with the Base Station falling off the network after around 5-7 days of use. There was originally a problem with the DHCP lease expiring so I made some changes to make it re-request the lease when it was near to expiring. This didn’t entirely fix the problem so to be sure I switched to a fixed IP. This led to the 5-7 day uptime, I’m not really sure what is happening here, I’m guessing some memory usage problem whereby there are not enough resources left to create a new Client object but I haven’t been able to track it down. When the problem occurs the system still manages to turn the heating on and off at the right times so it isn’t entirely useless, but it does become unresponsive to new settings and won’t send back data either.

    Final problem, and the one I’m going to fix today, is that the XBee modules sometimes have issues transmitting data to the base station. I originally wanted to have one upstairs but couldn’t get that to work at all. I ended up putting that one in the conservatory to get “outside” temperatures but it still has issues quite often and has to be positioned right by the door to even sometimes work.

    A few months ago I was approached by someone from Farnell who wanted to know if I would like to receive hardware to review on my blog. The arrangement is that they will send me hardware in exchange for a review on my blog and a link to the product on their website. So, here goes…

    XBee Wire Antenna Module (Series 1)

    Previously I’ve used the chip antenna versions of the XBee series one modules. These were great and really simple to work with but when I tried to use them in a network around my house I had real issues trying to get the signal to pass through walls and ceilings/floors. The best solution would likely be to replace all of the XBee modules with alternatives with better antennas or with more powerful radios. To replace all of the modules would be quite expensive so I’ve decided to go with replacing just the module on the base station and hope that it does a better job of receiving the signals sent out by the other modules. This may be foolish but I’ll give it a go and see what happens.

    To replace the module should be a pretty simple job, it’s the same format as the chip antenna module so physically I just have to switch it out for the new one. Before I can do that though requires that I send some settings to the XBee to configure its ID and PAN ID as mentioned in my post about the temperature probes. To communicate with the Xbee I’m just going to use an Arduino Uno and wire the Din/Dout pins on the XBee to the RX/TX pins on the Arduino. I then load a blank sketch onto the Arduino and use the Serial Monitor to communicate with the XBee. What I’ll be sending to it is:

    ATMY=0,ID=1234

    Which broken down means:

    • AT _ - Attention!_

    • MY=0, _ - the ID of this unit_

    • ID=1234, _ - the PAN ID for the network of XBees_

    To send those settings open your Arduino software, choose the right serial port in Tools -> Serial Port then open the serial monitor with Tools -> Serial Monitor. Choose to send no line endings from the drop down at the bottom and send +++ then as quick as you can manage change to Carriage Return in the drop down first and send the above AT command. After the +++ you should see OK and after the AT command you should see OKOK.

    You must also send an ATWR command too to write these settings to the flash memory.

    Once I did that I started seeing random bits of binary data appearing in the Serial Monitor. Fortunately this was a good thing, it was the temperature data from my probes starting to show up!

    I popped the newly configured module into my YAHMs hardware and waited to see if it worked…

    As mentioned it was already receiving data so I started to see temperatures show up straight away. The conservatory probe was working straight away which seemed positive as it had issues before. When I took it upstairs it didn’t seem to work at first so I tried angling the box so that the chip antenna would be “pointing” at the base station. This seemed to do the trick and I started collecting temperature readings. Unfortunately as time has gone by I’ve found that it works less and less. I’ve now moved it closer to the base station which got me a few more readings but again it has stopped working. It looks like I’m gonna need a bigger boat aerial!

    Hopefully I’m going to be able to try out an XBee with an external aerial which should work well on the base station, by this point I’ll have a few spare XBees, including one with a wire aerial so I should be able to get a much bigger range of readings.

  • Reversing the Brain Drain

    An unfortunate tweet from a friend yesterday suggesting that he might have to leave Liverpool to get a job, led to a little exchange:

    That got me to a realisation:

    Tweet text: "Recent tweet just made me realise that at @DoESLiverpool we've already recovered/rescued 4 people from working outside of Liverpool"

    Now that comment is certainly meant to be taken as tongue in cheek, but there’s some very real truth in it. To start with the more tenuous examples. Paul Freeman (@OddEssay) contracts for a company in Eccles, near Manchester. Since setting up DoES Liverpool Paul has been able to spend more time in Liverpool. Yes he’s still working for a company in Eccles but he’s now buying lunch from Liverpool companies and engaging with the Liverpool tech community more regularly.

    Let’s move onto Paul Kinlan (@Paul_Kinlan). Paul is a Developer Advocate with Google. He’s based in their London office but also spends a lot of his time travelling around Europe and the world promoting Google Chrome and HTML5. His main reason for being here is to work with developers who are using Google products in the north of England, but by supporting DoES Liverpool and taking a desk with us Paul is now able to spend more time in Liverpool meaning he gets to spend more time with his family who are still based up here.

    Finally we have Andy Hughes (@andyhughes86) and Andy Powell (@p0welly). They work for a company in Manchester who had offices in Stockport. Andy and Andy are both developers who worked in an office full of sales people. These were people who spent most of their time on the phone trying to make sales. Not the best environment for a pair of developers who need to get their head down and concentrate. Their company was moving into an office in Central Manchester, a smaller office in a trendier area which was going to mean Andy and Andy would either be in closer quarters with their noisier colleagues, or have to find somewhere else to work. Fortunately they came across DoES Liverpool and came in for their free hot desk day (bringing donuts!) They liked what they saw and took two permanent desks with us. Andy H lives in Runcorn, Andy P lives in New Brighton. Andy H unfortunately still has a long bus ride (but we’ll come back to that) while Andy P now has a 20 minute commute! As it turns out, Andy H is now moving to Liverpool. I had a chat with him recently and asked if he was planning to move to Liverpool before they joined us at DoES Liverpool. He told me that while he really wanted to move here he had resigned himself to living in Manchester. So not only do we have two people who are regularly coming to Liverpool and supporting businesses in the city centre, we’ve also got someone who would have had to live elsewhere being able to live in Liverpool as he’d hoped, paying taxes and again supporting local businesses.

    So this blog post certainly isn’t meant to suggest that other places are bad. Generally at the moment though if you want to work for a digital company in Liverpool your choices are to join a digital agency or go it alone. If you don’t want to do this you’ll probably need to work elsewhere. I also recognise that in all of the examples given the person is still working for a company based outside Liverpool. It’s nice though to recognise that even at this early stage DoES is supporting local people and even changing their lives for the better. Hopefully in the future as people start building new businesses based out of DoES those businesses will expand and will start recruiting more and more people from the city who will no longer have to leave just to find a good job.


    We also got some more news coverage recently, on Friday getting in the Daily Post for hosting the OpenLabs Developer Breakfast events, and an article 2 weeks ago that we only heard about because someone came into DoES for a look around, as a result of seeing it in the Metro. As it turns out that one was syndicated so we were mentioned all over the place!

  • Another Catch Up, Week 157

    A month since my last update, I felt I had to post an update today though as it is in fact the third anniversary of the formation of my company, MKE Computing Ltd!

    I’m intending to post a bit of a retrospective sometime over the weekend but thought I’d better update on the general stuff first.

    Oh, one other housekeeping note, it seems that for the last few months of updates I’ve managed to mess up the week notes numbers, I first randomly added 3 weeks and then accidentally added 10! This week’s update number was actually lower than the previous one a month ago. I’ve gone through the past updates and updated them to make sure they’re right.

    The biggest thing I’ve been “working on” recently is DoES Liverpool. In my last blog post I mentioned that we’d been finalising details of the bank account and the venue. We moved into our space shortly after, spent an intensive week decorating, cleaning up and laying out the space and opened to the public on the 18th July! We’re really happy with how the space has turned out, we’ve got a lovely big open workshop space, a cosy little office space for more intensive working and concentration and then a bright meeting room for when people need a private area or are holding small events. Everyone that has visited so far has been really impressed with our set-up and it’s regularly been compared to a Manhattan loft, we do have a great view onto the gorgeous 1880s built Stanley Building.

    Since opening we’ve had various people coming through the doors, we had an open day on Friday 22nd which saw us get two write-ups in the Daily Post and this week we welcomed in another “permanent” desk user (as opposed to the various hot-deskers). Take a look at the website for more information about co-working, hot-desking and workshop space at DoES Liverpool though there’s a few more posts up on the website for the Maker Night regular making events in Liverpool. (The DoES website is actually brand new so you may not see it yet while the DNS propagates but it’ll be there soon)

    Besides DoES I’ve actually been relatively quiet for client work. This has been useful for getting things done on DoES but I definitely need to start getting my hands dirty with code again. I’ve started looking at making some upgrades to my CamViewer iOS app and there’s a few more client apps that should be kicking off soon.

    I’ll leave it there for the update but hopefully I’ll get my “year notes” up soon to give a retrospective of what I’ve done in the first 3 years of MKE Computing Ltd.

  • Catching Up, Week 152 (was 165)

    Long time since an update but there’s some important things going on so I wanted to get up to date.

    In the weeks after my last update I continued to work on the Colour Match app for Crown. I’ve added various features to try to help users find the right colour better including adding in a new set of colours that need to be mixed on-demand, and then a set of colour palettes to let you browse the colours similar to the one the app has selected for you. I submitted that app last Thursday and Apple approved it around Tuesday of this week so that’s now available from the app store.

    Seagull

    I then went on holiday for two weeks! Apart from a really crap start to the holiday courtesy of US airways and a cancelled flight meaning we were 24 hours late into our destination we actually had a really good time. We started our holiday in San Francisco, eventually having 2 full days there. This was actually my fourth trip to San Francisco but my wife’s first so it was nice to be able to take her around and show her some of the sights I’ve previously enjoyed. The first day was spent within SF doing a bit of shopping, visiting Chinatown and then over to Fisherman’s Wharf to do a boat cruise under the Golden Gate bridge (a first for me actually). On the second day I hired a car (an hour spent in a queue, thanks National!) and we explored a wider area. We drove into the Presidio and I took a photo of my wife with the Yoda fountain at the Lucasfilms HQ. We then continued on to the Golden Gate bridge, we drove over and parked at the viewing spot on the other side to take a photo, we then drove back over and to Baker Beach for a few more photos. The weather wasn’t really beach weather, more gray and cool, but it was still nice to see and take a few photos.

    After this we went onto the Golden Gate park. I was originally looking for the Japanese Tea Garden but we ended up getting lost and ending up at the rose garden. This was nice enough to walk around so we had a look and I took some photos. From here we headed south, I was aiming to take the coast road but unfortunately I relied on the GPS too much and it took us mostly on a boring highway to our next destination - Half Moon Bay. The weather still wasn’t really playing ball so we didn’t spend too much time here but drove a short distance north to visit Barbara’s Fish Trap. This is a great little fish restaurant that I found last year (with a WhereCamp friend John Barratt). We both had a mixed seafood selection consisting of a big selection of breaded seafood delights. In the evening we headed back into town to join the WWDC2011 European developer gathering. Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to get a ticket for WWDC (but can you imagine how annoyed I would have been missing the first day due to cancelled flights?!) so it was good to be at least a little involved. I enjoyed a nice micro-brew beer and a good chat with Dave Verwer of Shiny Development and the European Apple developer liaison David Currall.

    After San Francisco we flew to Detroit to see friends. This was a great relaxed time, it was good to catch up with friends and meet their new 9 month old twins! We didn’t get up to much while we were there but we did go on a quick trip into Detroit to see Michigan Central Station and even drove over to pay a quick visit to Canada on the other side of the Detroit river. On our last day we made the two hour trip up to see our friend’s grandparents who live on the shore of Lake Superior. They were actually on the shore of Saginaw Bay, so not the main part of the lake, but it was still huge and an impressive sight.

    After Detroit we carried on to New York City. We stayed near Times Square and did all the tourist things including visiting Liberty and taking in the view from the top of the Empire State Building. There’s been a few links dotted through this post but if you want to see all my photos take a look at my set of America photos over on flickr.

    Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse

    So, finally, week 165. Just before I went away we signed the paperwork to register a new Community Interest Company - DoES Liverpool. The idea behind DoES Liverpool is to create a space in which people can come together, can use a workshop to design and build products, can co-work on desks and ultimately can build businesses. Much of this week has been taken up with organising paperwork for the company and the bank account and finalising details of the venue. If you’re interested in hearing more about DoES Liverpool then be at GeekUp on Tuesday in Leaf on Bold Street from 6:30pm to hear all the details.

  • Launching Bubblino and Client Apps, Week 146 (was 159)

    I spent most of this week updating the Crown “Colour Match” iPhone app that I’ve previously made a few small changes to (I had nothing to do with the original codebase on this app). There was a few false starts while I waited for the graphics for the app, there was a few issues getting them through in just the right formats for the low and high res iPhone screens, but once I’d got them I did manage to make some headway.

    The other thing I did was to launch the new version of Bubblino & Friends. This new version offers some great new graphics, new animations and audio that has been created just for the app. I’m really happy with the app and have enjoyed using it to follow some hashtag searches myself but I have to say that sales have actually been quite low since it launched, lower than I’d like anyway. I think that it’s not clear to people why they need an iPhone app to help them use twitter’s search features. As I say I’ve enjoyed using it but, as ever, people are just never sure about putting down that 59p/99c for something they don’t know they need. Hashtags are in use so much though, from the Eurovision Song Contest Final today (#eurovision) to episodes of The Apprentice (#apprentice OR #theapprentice) people are hashtagging tweets all the time and I do hope this app will become a great way to consume these. I can think of a few things that could improve the experience including finding a way to see more of the tweet text (without, of course, hiding Bubblino away!) with one obvious thing being an iPad version. I’ll be listening carefully to any feedback I get and pushing updates out as soon as I can.

    Finally, this week we held two of our Maker Night hacking evenings in the Art and Design Academy of Liverpool John Moores. With a 7-9pm session on Wednesday and a 6-10pm session on Friday we all made lots of progress on the various projects we’ve been working on. On Wednesday I got more involved in the Cupcake 3D printer we’ve been building so that I could spend Friday looking after it (as Ross Jones who has led the build so far couldn’t make it). Friday night’s event was actually part of a wider event going on in Liverpool called Light Night with events occurring all over the city. This was great as it meant we had lots of visitors coming down and finding out about what we were doing and looking at our mini-exhibition of hardware hacks (we had my location clock versions 1 & 2, Mycroft’s Radio, Bubblino and an Internet connected temperature guage). While it was great to tell the visitors about what we were up to it did delay my work on the 3D printer! We eventually got the final few bits done and everything wired up and managed to test the plastic extruder and the platform stepper motors that move everything around. While it was great to have some success I’m afraid the most we managed to “print” was things like this. Next month’s Maker Night should be great as finally the first real objects should be printed, just a shame I won’t be there to see them! If you’re interested in going, head over to the Maker Night website.

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