Archive for November, 2009

We’re moving

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Warwick Court - front

Solent Youth Action started life as a youth volunteering project at One Community (then Eastleigh Community Services). With only a couple of staff in the early days, we didn’t need a lot of space.

Even after we spun off as an independent charity in 2006, we still remained based at One Community – moving from being a project there, to a tenant, renting a serviced office.

As we’ve grown, we’ve managed to rent a couple of extra offices in One Community, which helped us stay there for a little longer. But as we’ve continued to grow, and as more staff joined the team, we’ve run out of room and had to start looking for our own space.

This week finally brought completion – we finally signed the lease for what will be our new main offices.


How much did I spend on electricity to do that?

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Selecting a chunk of a graphTime for number 73 in my never-ending list of ever-so-slightly-different things to try with a graph of home energy usage data


This time… working out the electricity used (and the cost) of doing… well, something in particular.

We already have live graphs (Switch something on and watch the graph shoot up. Switch it off and watch the line drop.)

And we’ve already got graphs with hourly, daily, or monthly totals.

But if I boil a kettle, how do I know how much that cost?

The live graph shows you the shape of the usage curve for a particular appliance.

What I wanted was to be able to start the live graph running, switch something on, then after it’s finished, go back to the live graph, see the bump in the graph for when I did that, and measure the area under it – giving me my total energy usage for that time.

A quick bit of Python-tinkering later, and here we go

Click-and-drag to highlight a span of the graph, and the Python script calculates the area (more-or-less) under that part of the curve, using this to calculate how much energy I used during this time.


What happened to the integration?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

A bunch of social networking updates arrived tonight for the Xbox 360. There has been talk of twitter integration in the Xbox 360 since E3 last summer. And after all the wait… I was a little disappointed.

Because it isn’t integration.

It’s a simple stand-alone twitter client app, that you can run on the Xbox. It joins the main menu becoming something else you can run, instead of play a game or media.

That’s not integration.

If they’d added the ability to receive replies/mentions and direct messages through the Xbox messaging platform while you’re in a game (as it does already with MSN Messenger messages)… that would be integrated.

If they’d built it in to Xbox’s Achievements system, so that when you complete an achievement it offered the chance to let your followers know what you’ve achieved… say by popping up a text box prefilled with a message and a link to more info about the game you’re playing… that would be integrated.

If they’d added the ability to capture a screenshot of what you’re doing, upload it to twitpic (or some similar service) and tweet to show your followers something cool… that would be integrated.

If they’d added the chance to see compare your twitter friends list with your Xbox friends list, and add any that aren’t on both… that would be integrated.

If they’d included a twitterfone-type service to let you tweet without typing, just by talking into the Xbox headset… that would be integrated.

I’m not saying that any of these are good ideas (they’re just the first few things off the top of my head), but the point is that this sort of thing would make twitter feel like it has been integrated into the “Xbox Experience“.


Your data. Mobile. (a hackday hack)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

screenshot stored on PhotobucketWhat do the following have in common?

Weather Channel Max – an iPhone weather app. StockWatch – an iPhone stock prices app. CNN Mobile – an iPhone news app. FlightTrack – an iPhone flight updates app. Tweetie – an iPhone twitter app.

They are all apps which provide users with updates to their phone when some information changes. The information in question is different. But they’re all ways for users to get information that they are interested in, while they are on the move.

Having a dedicated hard-coded app for each type of data is great for information that a large number of people are interested in.

For example, there are enough people who are interested in the weather that it’s worth having an app dedicated to it.

But what if you want updates for information that isn’t so widely needed? What about niche interests?

We’re all different. There is going to be something that you’re interested in that not everyone else is. Or at least a particular set of interests that noone else exactly shares.

People’s needs and interests are almost infinitely varied, so we can’t come up with enough applications to meet everyone’s unique needs. Particularly for more esoteric topics, which are too long tail to each justify a specific mobile app.

For these situations, we need something generic that individual users can customise.

This was an idea I played with on the last IBM HackDay. I managed to get a proof-of-concept working on the day, but not had the chance to share it before now.

What I tried to create was:

  • a generic mobile application – something that can display an arbitrary number of bits of information
  • a browser extension approach – some way that a user can pick any bit of any webpage, adding it to their list of information that will be pushed to their mobile

I’ve recorded a video of it running. (Difficult to see without full-screen – sorry!)

To summarise, the steps involved are:

  1. User visits a webpage at their computer
  2. User highlights a portion of the page, and uses a Firefox extension to register this with my notifications server
  3. The notifications server informs the mobile app of the new topic of interest
  4. The notifications server continues to monitor the webpage
  5. When the highlighted portion of the webpage changes, the updated contents are pushed to the phone
  6. The mobile app notifies the user of the change


Augmented reality for Hursley

Friday, November 6th, 2009

screenshot : click for better resolution imageOne of the themes at openMIC this week was augmented reality, and a topic that came up a couple of times was Layar.

Layar is a mobile app for Android and iPhone that lets you display location-based information overlaid on a real-time camera view.

For example, the screen normally shows a viewfinder-like view from your mobile’s camera.

Search for “coffee” and a bunch of markers appear on the view, showing you where the nearest coffee shops are.

As you move the phone around, the markers follow the approximate location of the places they are showing you.

That’s assuming you want to search ‘Google Local’, but that’s not the only option. Location data is provided through “layars”, and there are layars available for location-tagged Wikipedia articles, Flickr photos, brightkite users, and more.

The interesting thing talked about at openMIC was the Layar API which lets anyone create a new Layar with their own information.

So I decided to spend a quiet Friday afternoon in the office creating a Layar for around Hursley. 🙂

This means a phone with the Layar browser installed can browse and search for points of interest around the site.

It was really very easy, so I’ll quickly outline the steps involved.