A lovely geekend: Interesting2007/Hackday EU

Last weekend was crazy.

Webb & Gyford - Bunting Technicians

Nearly everything interesting on the planet seemed to be scheduled for those two days – including – Interesting2007.

Interesting was put together by Russell Davies, who is an interesting chap himself, but moreover is incredibly interested – in nearly everything. He figured that instead of spending money on going to an expensive conference he could put one on himself and not have to go anywhere – and still see as many interesting things. I think he may be on to something.

I turned up early and helped with the bunting in the Conway Hall. A fantastic setting, steeped in decades of interestingness. Alan Moore gave a performance here of what would become his wonderful magical/philosophical tract “Snakes & Ladders”, illustrated by Eddie Campbell.


On the same day, both the H.G. Wells Society and the “Community of Interbeing” were meeting there.

I’m not sure they had bunting.

The terrifyingly-high standard of talks for the day in terms of content, entertainment-value, thoughtfulness and enthusiasm was set early by log-choppers, fake-knot-historians and librarians of human happiness.

The highlight, possibly of the day, possibly of this young millennium – was Rhodri Marsden playing Wichita Lineman on a Saw…

Rhodri Marsden plays Wichita Lineman on a Saw at Interesting2007

By lunch-time I was terrified – I’d been put on to speak last. BP: Before Pub. Ben NoisyDecent who’s Design Conspiracy had made some wonderful souvernirs of the day compounded this by saying how much better he thought the 3 minute talks were than the 20 minute ones. I told him I was doing 20, and drank the half of dutch courage kindly bought for me by Jonathan Imagination.

Matthew D’Ancona
‘s 3 minute screed on brevity linking Orson Welles with YouTube via an uncanny Al Pacino impersonation didn’t help matters, and then the guy before me Dave FunkyPancake had the hall in stitches with a torrent of visual non-sequiters from his flickrstream.

For my part – I thought I would present things that interest me that I think are some how linked, without proscribing those links for the audience, that they might make their own.

A Rorscarch test in powerpoint format.

It was “just another future song” – only significant in that it was all the stuff that in my R&D years at Nokia I thought about a lot and talked a little bit about in various venues and now as I’m moving on from that, I thought I’d put it all together and tie a bow round it.

I went over my time. Twice over, almost – but it seemed to go down well – my slides and notes are here. I was pleased to get it out there and out of my head so it can (hopefully) fill up with the new stuff.

The best bit about the day is the old cliche that it was the people and the conversations.

It really was the people and the conversations. It felt like my “tribe” whatever that may be was in the minority – but Russell, the arch-connector mixed and mashed us with advertising and branding people, traditional design people, theorists, academics, journalists, craftspeople and it worked wondefully.

I left feeling knackered but dosed with blatant optimism.

Thanks Russell.

Then – it was Sunday and on to day 2 of HackDay.

Turned up late in the afternoon, having missed most of the action – but caught the presentations of the hacks. There is a long list on Frankie Roberto’s site, but the one’s that caught my eye were mainly geo-related

Both of Matthew Somerville’s hacks were excellent – first there was the whimsical ‘along the same lines’ which allowed you to navigate geotagged photos along lines of latitude and longitude.

Then, there was an extension of the fabulous fixmystreet.com to allow mobile posting of geotagged photos to be submitted as things to be fixed. A simple, but great example of the powerful pattern of ‘mobile-as-in-context-stubmaker’

I liked team Moo’s “net twitchr” – a playful piece of practical psychogeography allowing an inquiring mind to see who happy, upset or ‘meh’ a neighbourhood is – although was disappointed it didn’t feature tiny birds anywhere.

Jeremy Keith et al’s HackFight was very nicely put together – almost a slightly-more active extension-pack to PMOG, that pitted ‘players’ against each other based on stats accrued from their net-use.

James Wheare’s bus-stop hack was fun, but seemed like it had a lot more to offer, as did Peel’d – a cross-breed of listings from John Peel’s sessions with Last.fm.

The stand-out for me was probably the simplest – Paul and Candace’s AboveLondon: taking data about observable satellites and letting you know via twitter, but first (and this is the simple-but-genius bit) cross referencing it against the weather (to see if it’s worth letting you know)

There were lots of ‘physical/digital’ hacks in evidence – some more successful than others, and plenty of what seemed to be very user-centred, genuinely *useful* hacks on display.

It really does seem that the hacker crowd in London/Europe at least is crossing over more and more with the interaction design crowd, and a new school of developers is coming through who are starting to become excellent interaction designers – who really know their medium and have empathy with users.

This is an awesome thing.

I didn’t stay for the band, and left feeling I’d missed out on a lot (lightning strikes! Dr. Who!) by not being there the entire weekend.

It was great to see so much creative fun had, and ‘mad props’ as the kids say to the team who put hackday together.

The dearth of such wonderful, inspiring – AMBITIOUS events in the UK and Europe used to be lamented by those of us stuck on east of the pond. But on the evidence of this weekend – plus the excellent ReBoot just gone; and with DConstruct and Picnic07 to come – I really think that Europe is proving a better forum/stage/platform/intellectual toybox for the new community of creators that is emerging over here.

My aging body and brain can’t take too many weekends/geekends like this last one, but what a way to go…

Where next?

I’m sitting typing this the day after my last day at Nokia.

I’ve got about a week before I start back at the BBC, where I’ll be working in the “Vision” department with content creators and commissioners investigating and demonstrating (I hope) how better to use the internet to help deepen/broaden the stories being told and worlds being built.

I’ve worked at the BBC before – done a couple of tours in fact, but not worked with the storytellers before.

Exciting stuff.

That’s going to be four days a week and on the fifth day… Well, I’ve been working in my spare time since January on Dopplr with Mr. Biddulph and the other dopplristas and I’m very happy to be having some more time to spend whittling that with him.

After 12 years working on digital stuff for other people it feels amazing to do something so directly and get such direct feedback from people using something you helped make. Very stressful but highly-recommended. I’ll be writing more about Dopplr over at blog.dopplr.com.

Also, I’m hoping to get some other neglected things up-and-running again, like this place. More drawing and also I hope some teaching. By which, of course, I mean learning… as in, if you have to tell people what you think, you have to listen hard and think harder – which is learning!


If you see what I mean.

So if anyone has a gig teaching who would indulge me in coming along to crit/tutor/talk – let me know!

The ‘D’ is for Divergent

Tim O’Reilly wrote that his company is now creating aggregated speaker pages for everyone who’s every spoken at one of their conferences. I’m lucky enough to have spoken at a few, and even lucky to end up with two speaker pages – even after ‘The Unification’.



I’ll be losing the D in a couple of days, so maybe along with updating my bio, I’ll have my multiple-personality disorder seen to…

My last week at Nokia…

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Manifesto going in., originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

This was my manifesto going in.

It’s been three and a half years – which is longer than I thought, but maybe also shorter than I thought at the start of the year.

It’s a long story but maybe we’ll talk about it some time.

It involves beer, the ever-present draw of a spiritual home, and an offer I couldn’t refuse from a man I wanted to work for.

And on the other hand – a small, perfectly formed idea I really wanted to build – with people I wanted to build something with.

Oh, and listening to Will Wright.

On the high-faluttin’ fancy talk above – maybe a start has been made, maybe I’ll reconnect with them on the next Orbit (2012? Timewave-0! Singularity! SolarMax!)

The team at Nokia Design are smart, funny and like to cause trouble, so I wouldn’t bet against it, or them…

Geonerdery getting easier…

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Played for the first time this evening with the Nokia Sports Tracker app on the N95. I placed it in the front pouch of my Brompton bag and set off for the station from the office.

The GPS usually acquires satellites painfully slowly, but it got a fix fairly quickly – helped by being in the middle of semi-rural Hampshire, with the tallest thing for miles being a squat 3-storey technology company HQ…

There’s an “autopause” feature on the app which seems to notice when you’ve been at rest for a while, which is a nice touch – but the best thing was once I’d got home and discovered the ease at which you can export it to something like Google Earth.

It was a three-click operation to save and send the file to my Macbook, where I just double clicked it and swooped in on my little bike ride from orbit.