Tag Archives: geeksoflondon

Hacking your input and outputs

Hacked... Learn, Build, Share

I had the pleasure of supporting and attending Hacked.io which was a hackday in the most traditional sense of the word. Run by the Geeks of London for 02 Labs, it couldn’t have been more fitting to hold it at the 02 arena (the old millennium dome). Now I knew the plans ahead of most people but I didn’t really think that I might have been a good part of the inspiration for the event.

Melinda broke it down for Ankur Oberoi at 5am.

“Ian use to run Geekdinners which we use to go to. Then went on to run BarCampLondon 1, 2 and 3. After which he ran the first hackday and over the air. Most of the Geeks of London went to the events and once Ian moved on, he passed on geekdinners to me and Cristiano. So we did that and formed the geeks of London. Then we took over Barcamplondon. Now I guess we are taking over hackday. Taking it back to the original idea of sharing ideas and knowledge” (power phrased of course)

On the walk back to the hotel at 5:30am I thought about this… Not only am I delighted to be a inspiration but I’m also over the moon that they have given these events a level of professionalism and sustainability which I could not. No matter what I say about hacked.io, I was blown away by the little things and the ultimate aim of open sharing.

I’m kind of gutted I didn’t hack something myself, but talking to people I learned a bunch of things and some of those things I’m following up with.

Hacked.io promised a lot and deliver much back many things…

Very long queue outside Hacked.io

Of course this is the same team which mainly wrote the controversial hackday manifesto. So it would make sense to compare Hacked.io against there own thoughts…

Announcing the event
Once you know when and how your event will take place, you’ll want to tell the world about it. At a bare minimum, you should decide on a canonical place where all public information about the event lives – this might be a dedicated web site, an event on an existing event online service or some other place which is publicly accessible.

Once you’ve decided where that location is, use tools like Twitter and Facebook to make people aware of the event, and also consider which Google Groups and mailing lists developers relevant to your event may be hanging out. Don’t spam them, though – nobody enjoys that.

On Announcing everything seemed perfect. Everything you needed to know was at hacked.io and the almanac seemed to have all FAQs ready to go. I also felt they hit the right level of communication. Not too much and not too little. Maybe from a supporter side a tiny bit more might not have gone a miss. But generally it was all good.

Registration was cool but my allergy information did get post in the mix. And I did feel sorry for those who were waiting in the massive line for a long while.

The venue should be relatively easy for people from outside of town to locate, with good public transport links. If it’s difficult to reach, try to provide alternative means of transportation, such as coaches to/from local transport hubs throughout the event. Provide a full address, and if necessary, additional instructions to all attendees well in advance of the event.

Include instructions/contacts/getting in arrangements, too (i.e., what to do at reception/security desks).

Print big signs that will guide your attendees to the venue (and in some case inside the venue).

Hacked.io starts

The venue was top class and a dream to be able to use. The transport links to the 02 are great and I do remember the first time Cristiano and Kevin told me they were looking to use the 02. I was gob smacked. How on earth did they pull that one off?  I had looked at the 02 when we were working on Hackday but it was far too expensive. Transport wise its got plenty going for it and heck its easy on the tube. Many signs and even billboards pointed people in the right direction. There were even helpers guiding people to the right place. Of course getting back was easy even at 5:30am due to the 24hour buses which run to central London when the tube stops.

Of course the venue was accessible with lifts and what not, maybe the stage needed a lift too? And I found the security staff quite firm but nice. I think they were a little bemused by the whole event.

Date clashes. One of the most frustrating things for attendees to see is two similar events on the same day in the same area. To avoid this, check places like Lanyrd, Eventbrite, Meetup, and ask on Twitter “is anything going on in X on X?”. Remember that people may be travelling long distances for hack days, so even if an event is a few hundred miles away, you are still diluting your potential audience.

Always a hard one to solve but they got it out there early enough and the only clash I saw was with Mozilla’s Party Hack which I believe was cancelled when the clash came to light.

If attendees are staying overnight, then a separate (dark, quiet) area should be available away from the hacking should people decide to sleep. If possible, this should be several areas potentially including dedicated areas, for example male/female/mixed, minors (+chaperones?), snorer/non-snorer, night-owls/early birds.

I didn’t check out the sleeping arrangements because I stayed up till 5:30am then walked to my hotel in Greenwich. I noticed there were areas upstairs for sleeping and I assume they were separated or whatever. While downstairs was a place for hacking all night. Of course some people fell a sleep at their computers.

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The Network. Hack days have special requirements: don’t just trust anyone who tells you that “it’ll be fine”. Think about the networking issues, and verify that they work for the kind of capacity you are going to have. People from the venue or their commercial partner will tell you all sorts of things you want to hear but keep in the back of your mind that they may not have any clue what they are talking about. Given the importance of network access, if you are operating a commercial event consider requiring network performance as part of your contract with venues and suppliers.

One of the bug bears of almost any hackday event. Unfortunately hacked.io was effected pretty badly by 2.4ghz wireless problems. There was a figure banded around estimating 4 devices for every single person in the room. That means supplying wireless for 2000 devices! When we did hackday we estimated roughly 2 devices per person. There seems to be plenty of bandwidth in the backend pipe, because once plugged into a switches (the solution to most of the problems) it was fast and reliable. I had to download the JDK and I blinked and it was downloaded.

So what was the problem? Seems some device was spitting out packets into the 2.4ghz space and disrupting the network at the same time. I have some experience of this when the Nimba virus was prevalent and daily Ravensbourne IT staff would have to go find the suspect before they switched to 802.11x authentication. Nimba would just consume the network and all its resources, before you knew it. All spare 802.11 space was crammed with packets

They had the best guys involved in the networking and wireless. Nexus Global networking battled away till most of the machines were on wired network but it was a black eye on a perfectly run event.

Power wasn’t a problem thankfully, lots of spare power sockets all over the place.

Food & Drink…Not everyone in the technical community is hypercarnivorous. Be sure to check with your attendees for dietary requirements: food allergies, vegetarians, vegans and people with dietary restrictions. Make provisions to ensure they are provided for equally. If you’re on a budget, prioritise allergies and vegan alternatives; the vegan alternative will satisfy most non-allergy based requirements. Common food allergies include milk, eggs, nuts, fish, shellfish, soya, and wheat (gluten).

Food was good (mainly salad pots) and there was pizza as a midnight surprise. The dinner was good because there was tickets for 4 different restaurants in the dome. But most people said the portions were quite small and seeked out more food elsewhere. For example my work friends were lucky to get the thai silk tickets which I gather were in high demand. GBK seemed to be 2nd. Last place was dinner at the 02 lounge Which I got stuck with. The last thing I really wanted to eat was mash potatoes and sausages. Weirdly I couldn’t mix the food according to the lady serving!

For the midnight surprise Pizza hut delivered Pizzas but the word didn’t quite get out so quickly so most of the meat ones were gone and we were left with cold pizza. That will teach me to sit and chat upstairs.

There was some confusion over alcohol too but it worked it self out. There was plenty of Fruit and Chocolate, Crisps, Soda and Water around all day and night too.

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APIs and Datasets was a interesting angle because unlike other hackathons, there was no set API or datasets to play with. You could use what ever you liked but there were challenges for those who couldn’t think of something themselves or needed to be challenged.

Hacked.io demos

Anyone who hacks should be a allowed to Demo at the end of the event, regardless of the quality or completeness.

Each demo should be given a fixed time limit, standard times are 60, 90, 180, and 300 seconds. Tell presenters ahead of time, let them know how much time remains (either half time cards or an on-screen count down), and don’t let them run over.

Try and communicate clear expectations for the demos to all attendees from the beginning of the event. Some attendees will become frustrated when they see others demo-ing paper prototypes or Photoshop mockups when they believed a working implementation was required. If hacks do not meet these base requirements, they should not be able to win a prize.

The demos were by the book. I was very impressed by the use of Hackerleague. Never used it before but I like it a lot. Now if Lanyrd and Hackerleague could connect together… 90 secs was about right for each hack. The only down side was being split up from the hackers presenting but honestly it was for a short time only.

I was really impressed with the range of hacks, I wrote some down which I’d like to follow up on from a BBC point of view and of course hackerleague makes it nice and easy to follow up.

Hacked.io demos

The amount of Philips Hue hacks was impressive and makes sense because I think a lot of people thought it was a totally closed system which was tied to Apple. The amount clearly points the fact Hacked.io was comfortable. People were willing to take more risks and actually learn something new. That makes hacked.io a success right? A return to the learn, build and share ethics of hackers.

I’d also like to say it was amazing all the extra effort the team put in. There was a theme of dogs over cats, be more curious, plus fun and fake facts in the toilets, magically boxes on the tables, the tag line everywhere and finally the first 100 through the door got a prize! Talk about attention to detail! Now thats how you run a hackday!

Massive thanks to the Geeks of London, 02 and everyone who attended and made it a great event. Like everyone asked me after hackday, so whens the next one?

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BarCampMediaCity the after thoughts

BarCampMediaCityUK

Its Monday evening and BarCampMediaCity is still deep in my thoughts for many reasons.

It was a classic BarCamp with lots of incredible talks mixed in with a feeling of something new was happening.

As we opened the door on BarCampMediaCity, people started to making there way into the Quay house space and were impressed by what they were seeing. Everything was running smoothly with security plus registration and people were slowly spreading out through the 5th floor complex. By the time of the welcome talk we had just under 200 people in the room.

BarCampMediaCity Welcome talk

BarCampMediaCity Welcome talk

The make up of the 200 was a mix of new and old faces, but what was remarkable was the percentage of woman. Compared to other BarCamps I’ve been to, this one ranks up there with the likes of BarCampLondon in gender equality maybe. Quite fitting that we had the geeks of London (the people now running barcamplondon) producing this barcamp. BarCampManchester have always been slanted towards male but with the help of the Geeks girls in residence, BBC hosting it and lots of thought from the barcamp team, the results were incredible.

Registration

Not only that, the age range of BarCampers incredible! I had only seen such a diverse age range at BarCampLiverpool, now thats something BarCampMediaCity certainly beats even BarCampLondon on…

We had roughly 225 confirmed for the BarCamp after the original waves of about 300 public tickets over all. On the day we had just over 200 people come along over the course of the weekend.

During the welcome talk one of the team jumped in with a clarification on the overnight stay. This caused a disturbance, with people wondering exactly what the situation was. This came back to bite in a major way later in the night.

The event shifted along well during the day as the sessions kicked off.

I thought I’d put in my talk early in the schedule, in the end I decided to bring up the paper I’m about to start reading titled piracy is the future of television. I used trakt.tv as example of whats possible when you look at what the cutting edge/darknet/early adopters are doing. It was a nice session but I picked the wrong space for a good talk. I should have picked one of the spaces with a more intimate feel. Anyway a nice discussion kicked off with the diverse crowd, which included content producers, artists, early adopters, etc.

There was a nice, chilled vibe throughout the event which was great. Everything seemed to be going to plan. The talks were all really interesting and so diverse which was excellent. I went to talks on dynamic Bayesian networks for working out real smiles vs fake smiles (something I’m sure BBC R&D will be interested in), How to rob a bank, evil overlord’s guide to security, The culture of the dj, the true dubstep, a demo of future iplayer development, how to get a job at the BBC, hacking the kinect, What you don’t know about American TV shows, would you take your clothes off in public, mixing cocktails, etc, etc…

Looking at the session wall

Another series of talks centred around inspiring the next generation into the tech sector. Computing in schools was a theme for sure with at least 3 different talks around the subject. The most surprising was the code lab one, which was presented as an BBC initiative. In that talk I turned and looked at Simon and gave him the look of, “what on earth, do you know about this?”  to which he replied with a blank look on his face saying… “I know nothing, do you?” By the end we had tweeted about it and it had been re-tweeted to death.

Should kids learn programming in school?

It turns out, but we didn’t know at the time, it was a proposal rather than a commissioned thing. It was a little cheeky but you got to hand it to Alan O’Donohoe who was behind it and brought some amazing cookies to BarCampMediaCity from the kitchen of the school he works at. Actually its maybe worth giving the school a little plug on Alan’s behalf, Our Lady’s Catholic High School in Preston

A packed out Code Lab session

Its actually worth noting most of the talks at BarCampMediaCity were amazing, its well worth going into some details about some of the better ones. Here’s my favorite ones…

How to Rob a Bank

How to rob a bank from Tim

I can’t explain how amazing this talk really was. Tim’s energy drives you through the different problems you would encounter if you were going to rob a bank. Want to know what the answer is? Well Tim points out that a large percentage of robberies are inside jobs, so getting a job at a bank is maybe a very good start.

A little known fact about US TV (or, Why you don’t exist)

What you don't know about American TV shows

Katie one of the girl geeks in residence, gave a great talk an area of Fandom which I had never really seen before. She put up the talk notes on our lanyrd page thankful, so you can read the notes there and check out this massive interlinked map.

Since American TV shows love doing crossover episodes, it becomes apparent that if St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street both exist in the same TV universe, so do many other TV programs. Nerds on the internet have established a network of over 280 shows (and counting) which all coexist, implied by crossovers, cameos or references – and when we delve deeper, some interesting facts can be deduced…

Mixing Free Cocktails

How to mix tasty cocktails

Following one of the most famous BarCamp talks ever – How to mix the perfect Margarita at BarCampLondon3 by Andy Budd

Chris Garrett decided to bring cocktails to BarCamp. He even went as far as creating a special version of El Presidente and named it the Ian Forrester *blush*

If you want to make your own Ian Forrester, have a read of Chris’s blog post

This would be my go-to drink when I lived in Bristol and spent far too much time in Haus Bar. A heady brew of White Rum (double measure, preferably of Diplomatico’s very good blanco reserva), a measure of triple sec (or Cointreau depending on preference), a measure of Vermouth and a dash of grenadine. Stir (don’t shake) with ice, strain in a cocktail glass and sip, slowly

I actually forgot to take any Vermouth with me to BarCamp, so ended up using Slow Gin in the El Presidente. I added in a dash of Mint Bitters too, and thus the “Ian Forrester” was invented, named after the Presidente of BarCamp.

Would you strip naked in public if I asked you?

Would you take your clothes off in public for an art project

This session was one of the funnest I’d ever been to… It was a Art project by a guy who wanted to see if woman would take there clothes off in public if he asked them. Yes you heard me right… When I heard about it, I thought it was a wind up but the guy seemed deadly serious. Listening to him talk about the project, I instantly thought about the end sequence of A complete history of my sexual failings.

Things started to unravel when a lot of people asked many questions about his art project. The main line of questions seemed centre around what kind type of person does he ask? For example does he ask Men? does he ask older woman? etc, etc… He said he only asks woman who he found physically attractive…! I think everyone laughed out loud at that moment. His justification was even more funny, comparing taking pictures of beautiful objects and landscapes with only asking attractive woman. “You only take pictures of things you find attractive or beautiful…”

I honestly hadn’t laughed so much recently!

What is happiness talk

Happiness session

Its another one of those interesting talks which you would only get by running an open event like Barcamp. Alistair kicked it off and a whole bunch of theories were thrown around about helping people understand happiness but no conclusion was hit.

There was plenty of food but not a wasteful amount, everything which was put out was eaten and lunch, dinner, etc all went down well. Unforgeable I had to drive to a Chinese takeaway near Manchester to have dinner at 11pm because the curry had coconut in it and the veggie curry had chickpeas… I didn’t fancy eating even more carbs, specially if I was going to survive all night.

There was plenty to do for night time entertainment, including a massive gaming rig complete with xboxes and kinects. We had planned to set up the virtual maestro but with help from others, we still couldn’t get it to run correctly. Simon Lumb played a dj set in the cafe area, which set up the mood for the night. Unluckily I didn’t get a chance to play because I didn’t really have much chilled stuff and I had to make the trip out to the Chinese. Andy Mace, who was instrumental in helping us setup the Intenet connection for Will of Nexus Globalnet to setup the Wifi  on top of. And frankly the wifi was flawless all weekend once it was setup and running late Friday night.

BarCampMediaCity werewolf game

About 2330 we did an announcement to tell people who planned to stay late that the last tram will be leaving soon after midnight. What we should have done was made it clear what the situation was, and that might have been ending the event for the day.

Officially we could have people stay over if they don’t fall a sleep but unofficially if people fell a sleep security would give them a little nudge and ask them to have a coffee, redbull or go get some air. They would also have preferred people to stay together with active people, meaning people can keep an eye on each other, while they did close there eyes. Unforgettably this wasn’t communicated well and so a terrible rough night of trying to stay awake, finding hotels, sleeping on other peoples floors was had by about 30+ people.

I can say personally I am deeply sorry to everyone who had a terrible experience on the night, it was never meant to be that way and even I had brought my sleeping bag, indoor tent, change of clothes and towel to take advantage of the showers. I can’t put my finger on exactly what happened but its being taken very seriously and we are contacting everyone affected.

It did cast a shadow on a excellent event and I totally understand some of the questions people have been asking about the organisation of the barcamp. The Geeks of London are not to blame for this error of judgment, they delivered an excellent event, our job working as the hoster was to supply a canvas they could work on.

I always said the event will be a one time deal, I’m hoping next year Salford University become the hosters? But this is the end of my running barcamp experience. I had always wanted run one at the BBC and maybe 5 years of trying had warped my perception of risks and potential problems to the detriment of friends and participations. 5 years is a long time and like BBC Backstage maybe its that time…

Adrian and Mark

So looking back, at the event. I will always remember Sunday morning and seeing the tired, angry and disappointed looks on friends faces. But I also remember Lalita D’Cruze’s face when she saw herself on a internal BBC flyer and when she took to the stage to replace the hired comedian and did a excellent job. Turning to Nicola and saying “Wow she’s really really good!” Seeing Katie Steckles present the total inside baseball Fandom which goes into tracking references to other TV shows inside of TV shows, (didn’t write down the site!) Feeling very proud of the massive audience Matt from BBC R&D got to his talk on Saturday. Loosing one of my werewolf cards on Sunday morning only to later have Mick give me his entire werewolf set because he enjoyed barcampmediacity so much. Slightly nervous why we didn’t know about BBC Code lab, specially with all the work Ant Miller had done in this exact area?

I did enjoy the event even with the Sunday morning problems. It was a great event and serves as a great introduction for a lot of people into the BarCamp/Unconference field. If we got more people interested in BarCamps, then great stuff. Hopefully some of them will go to other Barcamps and tell there friends, maybe a couple will even consider setting up there own?

Without the great sponsors the event would never go ahead…

Bytemark BigV hosting platformOpen Labs at Liverpool John Moores UniversityIndigo clothing who supplied the Tshirts which I didn’t get before they were all gone, Techsmith who supply the excellent screen capture software Camtasia Studio and TEK systems a recruiter of tech people globally

BarCampMediaCity

Great event which will go down for its excellent talks, fantastic location, great atmosphere along with the lack of clear signs about staying over.