Tag Archives: geeky

UX hack at London Green Hackathon

At the London Green Hackathon a few weeks ago, the small team that had coalesced around our table (Alex, Alex, Andy, and me) had got to about 10pm on Saturday night without a good idea for a hack, in this case a piece of cool software relevant to the theme of sustainability. We were thinking about creating a UK version of the US-based Good Guide app using on their API to which we had access. The Good Guide rates products according to their social, environmental, and health impacts; the company makes this data available in an API, a format that programmers can use to write applications. Good Guide uses this API itself to produce a mobile app which consumers can use to scan barcodes of products to get information about them before purchase.

Discussing ideas
Discussing ideas

The problem is that the 60,000 products listed in the Good Guide are US brands. We guessed that some would be common to the UK though. We wondered if it would be possible to match the Good Guide list against the Amazon.co.uk product list so that we could look up the Good Guide information about those products at least. Unfortunately, when we (Andy) tried this, we discovered that Amazon uses non-standard product IDs in its site so it wasn’t possible to match the two product lists.

The equivalent of the Good Guide in the UK is The Good Shopping Guide, of which we had an old copy handy. The Good Shopping Guide is published each year as a paperback book which, while a nicely laid out read, isn’t that practical for carrying with you to refer to when shopping. We discovered that The Ethical Company (who produce the Good Shopping Guide) have also released an iPhone app of the book’s content but it hasn’t received especially good reviews; a viewing of the video tour of the app seems to reveal why.

Discussing ideas
Quite late at night

By this point it was getting on for midnight and the two coders in our team, Andy and Alex, had got distracted hacking a Kindle. Alex and I, therefore, decided to design the mobile app that we would’ve written had we (a) had access to the Good Shopping Guide API and (b) been able to write the code needed to develop the app.

While we didn’t have an actual software or hardware hack to present back at the end of the hackathon weekend, we were able to present our mockups which we called our ‘UX hack’ (a reference to the apparently poor user experience (UX) of the official Good Shopping Guide mobile app). Here are the mockups themselves, along with a summary of the various ideas our team had discussed throughout the first day of the hackathon:

Mosquitto and Facebook…and OggCamp

Roger Light (@ralight) has just posted on his blog that Facebook are using MQTT for their new messaging system and, specifically, they seem to be using some part of Roger’s Mosquitto project in it.

So why is this a big deal to me?

Last weekend was the third OggCamp conference, OggCamp 11, at the Farnham Maltings in Surrey. Two years ago, at the first OggCamp (a one-day event at the Connaught Hotel in Wolverhampton), we invited Andy Stanford-Clark (@andysc) to be our opening keynote speaker. Andy co-invented the MQTT messaging protocol about 10 years earlier and, while there was a server implementation of MQTT (Really Small Message Broker; RSMB) that you could download for free from IBM’s website, it was proprietary and there was no open source implementation available.

Andy wrote a new presentation, especially for OggCamp, describing the geeky innards of his Twittering house (as seen earlier that year on the BBC). The presentation was a fantastic kickstart to the day and (somewhat predictably for a conference with its foundations firmly in the open source world) Andy was questioned about what bits of his home automation system were built on open source software and open standards. The one significant part of the system that was proprietary was RSMB (the core part that enabled all the parts of his house to communicate).

Then OggCamp started, we had a good time, and we went home exhausted but happy.

And then, just two weeks later, Roger announced that he’d registered a new project called Mosquitto (as in MosQuiTTo) on Launchpad. He’d been inspired by Andy’s talk at OggCamp to write an open source alternative to RSMB. Within what seemed like days he had a working bit of code which was taken up and tested by others in the open source community and hardware-hacking communities like Homecamp.

I cannot claim any credit at all for all the hard work that Roger and others put in developing and testing Mosquitto. I’ve always been proud, though, that Mosquitto was born at OggCamp – we played our small part in helping connect the previously mostly corporate/business MQTT with the open source communities.

That Facebook announced they were adopting MQTT for their new messaging system the day before OggCamp 11 meant we could vicariously revel in Roger’s glory while we tried to find out just whether Facebook had adopted his code or their own implementation. The answer seems to be somewhere between the two.

And while I’m proud for OggCamp (of course), I’m also excited for Roger in his own right that his name is now in the licence agreement of apps from the mighty Facebook – that kind of recognition for your hard work must be such an amazing feeling!

1 week till OggCamp 11!!!

It’s just one short week until OggCamp 11! Each year we’ve done this event, it’s grown. This year has a really special feeling about it.

It’s brilliant that there are people who have taken the event name literally and are camping for the weekend. Hopefully the weather will favour them! The Farnham Maltings venue has a really nice feel to it and is ideally located for the park and pubs. The attendees at OggCamp really make the event what it is and the best bit (well, one of them) as an organiser is seeing everyone arriving at the venue on Saturday morning!

We’ve got three stages, two of which are being run as an unconference. That means that the wonderful OggCampers volunteer talks and others vote for the ones they’d like to see most! We’ve had some really great talks submitted this way in the past. It sounds a bit chaotic and it is, but it works! We’ll be using CampFire Manager by Jon Spriggs to schedule these talks for the first time this year so you’ll be able to propose and vote for talks by txt msg and see the schedule up on the digital displays around the venue.

Our main stage schedule is basically complete. The Ubuntu Podcast team will be joining forces with the Linux Outlaws for the traditional live podcast recording. There will be a panel discussion and a raffle (of course) too! Our wonderful main stage speakers include:

We’ve got some exhibitors, including

We’ve also got some surprises planned for the weekend which you’ll only find out about by being there. If you want to come along and join in some or all of the weekend’s activities, you can. It’s free. That’s right, it doesn’t cost a penny. There are a few tickets left and you can get your hands on them here: http://oggcamp11.eventbrite.com

It’s free thanks to our lovely sponsors:

This week is always the quickest of the whole process. Before we know it we’ll be standing in the William Cobbett pub sharing a drink or two with the lovely OggCampers on Friday night and won’t touch the ground until after the Sunday night drinks! The plan for the weekend (and lots more information) is available on the OggCamp website.

One of the best parts of the weekend is meeting people who listen to the show, so please say hello! See you there!