Weeks 48 & 49

Yerba Buena

Week 48 seems a very far away place. It started with a couple of days on El Morro with BERG, wrapping up bits and pieces and turning hacky prototype code into something a little more solid. I can’t wait to see what they’ve produced whilst I’ve been away.

And then into the SXSW accelerator. Fantastic company, lots of laughter, and great to put some faces to names. A handful of good panels (Design Fiction, and Maps, Books, Spimes and Paper) made up for the social media dross. And we made a newspaper, which people seemed to like.

I remember something Matt Biddulph mentioned to me when we were talking about Dopplr once. That scaling and growing a service/site/thing isn’t a smooth curve upwards – there are inflection points where things jump forward and which force you adjust to a new state. This seems sort of obvious thinking about it, but I think Newspaper Club just experienced the first one of those.

But now I’m in San Francisco, and this is holiday. Everything is sunny and new and fresh and beautiful. F arrives in a few hours and I’ve missed her greatly. We could be here for longer I think. It would be good.


Week 47

I always enjoy reading other people’s weeknotes. It seems like a good excuse for maintaining writing momentum, without needing to think too hard. So here’s mine.

I almost started writing them at the end of last week, but it was a terrible week for a variety of minor reasons. So, rather than start on a grumpy note, here’s a good week: week 47 of self-employment.

Monday was busy, trying to wrangle software for BERG‘s El Morro project. I’m helping out for a few days doing dark things with some software that never quite expected this to be done to it. I’m just a small cog in this project, but I’m looking forward to seeing the product in action.

Also, it smelt like spring.

Tuesday was an bitty day, catching up with Newspaper Club, fixing some bugs, getting a haircut, writing a presentation, and generally hanging around The BRIG until catching a train in evening to Ipswich with Tinker.it to help run a workshop.

On Wednesday I woke at 5:30am in a Holiday Inn, and somehow managed to be coherent enough to give a talk to some senior business folk about cloud computing and hardware hacking at 8am. The rest of the day was a satisfying whirlwind of teaching and making. All to be shared in due course.

Thursday: early breakfast with the team, coffee, coffee, lunch, office, won our Designs of the Year category, did the dishes, bed.

Friday: There was a lot of sun and laughter in the office. Champagne lunch, thanks to Matt. It was a great day.

I’m enjoying the mix of work at the moment. I regularly write code in four or five different languages. I do things ranging from what I think people call design, to writing code, to handling support requests and doing businessy stuff. I’m not overwhelmed, but I’m comfortably busy. I’ve got space to think and breathe, but I’m never without things to get on with. This feels healthy.

Week 48 awaits.

Fear iamnear

You wanted your data free and open, and here it is. The darker side of happy-clappy openness is Helvetica Neue, accurate to 1 decimal place, leaderboards of fear iamnear. Stay safe out there.

Extractomatic in Sinatra on JRuby on Google App Engine on the Internet

The other day I threw together a little service which I’ve nicknamed Extractomatic. It’s a very simple web-based API to detect and extract the main content from a web page, removing all of the clutter, such as headers, footers, advertising and so on. I guess it’s somewhat similar to Readability or Instapaper, but more suitable for building into your own applications. Watch this space.

Under the hood it uses a Java library called Boilerpipe, which is excellent. Not every page comes out perfectly, but it’s more than good enough.

Extractomatic is written in Sinatra on JRuby on Google App Engine. Which is sort of worthy of a blog post in its own right. If you’re interested in doing something similar, appengine-jruby is what you want to be looking at, but it’s still a bit bleeding edge, and you might find yourself trawling the Google Group and pouring over stack traces. But when it comes together, it’s going to be a great way of getting little bits of HTTP glue onto the web with very little effort.

Oh, and there’s some code for Extractomatic on Github.

If I Concentrated Hard Enough

I seem to remember reading a story, perhaps aged 10 or 11 13 or 14, about quantum physics. It might have been The Time and Space of Uncle Albert, but I can’t find the contents anywhere to check.

Anyway, I was struck by a line in it. The line said that there was no particular reason that time travelled forwards, and that it was a possibility, albeit an unfeasibly small one, that an event could occur in reverse, purely by chance, in the everyday. I seem to remember it used the example of a diver, leaping backwards out of the swimming pool and onto the diving board.

This completely blew me away. If it was possible an event could ‘jump’ backwards in time, however infinitesimal, then surely it might have already happened? Or be about to happen somewhere? Or right in front of me? Perhaps, if I looked hard enough, it might.

I started thinking about laying physical models on top of the world, and laying the world on top of physical models.

Perhaps, as the water sloshed side to side in the sink in front of me, that moment, just then, as the water splashed up the side, would be the fastest velocity that those particular Oxygen and two bonded Hydrogen molecules would ever reach, in the entirety of time. What will be the knock on effects of those two ripples meeting? If I touched one, would a plane fall out the sky? Maybe, in that unexpected splash, out of the corner of my eye, next to the overflow drain, the one in a googolplex event occurred. And I missed it, because I was doing my teeth.

Perhaps, if I concentrated hard enough, all of the data would pour out of the surfaces and motions surrounding me. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what it would be like to be god.

It was a good book.

In The Future

In the future, maybe by the year 2010, our watches will be able to tell us when the next bus is coming.

Muni Watch

This is my Sony Ericsson MBW-150 bluetooth watch, showing the next few SF Muni bus arrival times for a nearby stop. The code to fetch the arrival times is running on my Droid phone, and communicating with the watch using Marcel Dopita’s OpenWatch software for the Android platform.

Smart stuff by Joe Hughes.

The Practical Application of Codes and Pictures

Noticings code

It still amazes me that with the Practical Application of Codes and Pictures, 1145 lines of gobbledegook and 554KB of compressed images can be turned into this:

Why did I go out with my bike in this weather? For points on @noticings? Feel silly & soaked & prey my front wheel safe from thieves.

I mean, that’s fucking magic.


I might be wrong, but right now, and in lieu of a better alternative: Atomkraft? Ja Bitte.

Atomkraft? Ja Bitte

Also: SVG, EPS, AI

No idea where the original “Nein, Danke” logo came from, so it seems cheeky to license this as anything other than public domain.

Simulated failure

A circular from the Civil Aviation Authority (PDF), picked up byChris Fleming on the OSM Talk-GB mailing list:

NOTIFICATION OF GPS JAMMING TRIALS – NORTH SCOTLAND 16-27 NOVEMBER 2009.The purpose of this Circular is to give notification of the trial to be performed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Air Warfare Centre, in which Global Positioning System (GPS) signals will be intentionally jammed.

Date: 16-27 November 2009.Time: A maximum of 6, fifteen minute periods between 1100 and 1500.Location: The trial uses a 500 Watt airborne jammer at 10000 ft amsl, transmitting to the west along a 50 nm flight path on a 270° T radial from Kirkwall, Orkney Islands. The aircraft will fly between two points, situated at a distance of 10 nm and 60 nm from Kirkwall.


Infrastructure is only noticed when it’s not there. Failure, simulated or not, is sometimes the only way to remind us what we smother ourselves in.

Tomorrow: leaving my phone at home.