O'Really?

March 4, 2014

CoderDojo, CodingDojo or CodeJo?

CC-BY licensed picture of a Hacker Dojo by Mitch Altman.

A dojo (or a dōjō) is an event where people train to perform a given task. So for example, software engineers organise code dojos to hone their skills in making software. The term has become widely adopted, so much so, that you’ll often find many flavours of dojo in your local area. In Manchester, there are at least three variants and these often get confused, usually by me. So here’s a quick explanation of what the different dojos do and how they are different.

CoderDojo: @coderdojo & @mcrcoderdojo etc

CoderDojo.com is an open source, volunteer led, global movement of free coding clubs for young people. You’ll find Coder Dojos all over the world, the Manchester Coder Dojo meets once a month in The Sharp Project, and like many coder dojos is very popular and frequently over-subscribed.

CodingDojo: @uomcodingdojo & @codingdojodotco

A group of students at the University of Manchester organise a Coding Dojo @uomcodingdojo see fb.com/uomcodingdojo. They practise problems in TopCoder and other puzzles [1-5] in order to compete in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. They do this because it’s fun, improves their skill and prepares them for the kind’s of problems that are commonly found in a Coding Interviews  - a variant of the infamous Microsoft / Amazon / Google / Apple / Facebook / Twitter interviews. [6,7]

(The Manchester Coding Dojo are nothing to do with codingdojo.com  an outfit in Seattle and Silly Valley who claim to “teach you programming in 2 weeks” see @codingdojodotco.)

Codejo: @manc_codejo

The Manchester Codejo is monthly coding meetup in Manchester, where developers improve their skills by performing Katas - exercises designed to improve coding ability through repetition. So at their last meeting for example, Gemma Cameron @ruby_gem recently ran a Codejo session on the Class-responsibility-collaboration card at manchester.techhub.com.

In other words…

So @coderdojo ≠ @uomcodingdojo ≠ @manc_codejo ≠ @McrCoderDojo etc. Hope this clears up some confusion…

References

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dining Philosophers
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight queens puzzle
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower of Hanoi
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travelling salesman problem
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two Generals’ problem
  6. McDowell, Gayle Laakman (2011) Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Solutions Career Cup ISBN:098478280X
  7. Poundstone, William (2013) Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? Fiendish Puzzles And Impossible Interview Questions From The World’s Top Companies Oneworld Publications ISBN:1851689559

July 19, 2012

Is word play friendly branding the key to successful technology?

βατόμουρο / Raspberries by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

The Raspberry Pi (not pictured above) is currently blowing raspberries at its competitors at an impressive rate of four thousand per day. Creative Commons licensed picture of Rasberries by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos on wikipedia.

The key to successful technology is not just the tricky combination of innovation, determination and investment but also word play friendly branding.

Consider two technology companies, Google and Raspberry Pi:

So is word play really the key to technological success? Successful technologies often encourage word play, but word play does not make technology successful. Correlation does not imply causation and the examples above are very anecdotal.

Still, word play is fun and probably helps brands without doing them any harm [2]. Raspberry Pi is a particularly ripe brand for punning, are there any other #TechnoWordPlay examples?

References

  1. Rory Cellan-Jones (2012). Raspberry Ripples from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, BBC News
  2. Guy Swillingham (2005). Shop Horror: The Best of the Worst in British Shop Names, Harper Collins ISBN:0007198132

July 13, 2012

Animation 2012: Computer Science for Schools

Animation 2012 at the University of Manchester

Computer Science as a subject in mainstream UK secondary education is in a pretty sorry state [1,2,3] but it’s not all doom and gloom. While many long suffering school children are being force-fed a nauseating diet of Excel, PowerPoint and Access others are enjoying a nutritious platter of Raspberry Pi, Hack to the Future and Animated fun.

Here’s a brief report on one of these tasty appetisers: Animation 2012, a UK schools animation competition now in its fifth year.

The day kicked off with prizes being awarded for the animation competition. To get a flavour of the creativity and skill involved, you can see winning examples online.

Following the prize giving there was a carousel of activities which included:

Animation 2012 was great fun for all involved, congratulations to all this years winners, hope to see you again next year. There were 526 Schools involved from across the UK, with 914 entries. 58 students were involved in the 35 winning entries from 31 different schools. Thanks to Toby Howard, all the organisers, supporters (Google, Electronic Arts and NESTA) and associates (Computing at School, CS4FN and BAFTA young game designers) for putting on an impressive show.

References

  1. Steve Furber et al (2012). Computing in Schools: Shut down or restart? Royal Society Report
  2. James Robinson (2011). Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system: criticising division between science and arts, The Guardian
  3. Keith Stuart (2011). Michael Gove admits schools should teach computer science: education secretary recognises the failings of ICT courses, The Guardian

June 22, 2012

The Silicon Valley Meme: Coming to a Technology Cluster Near You …

Oracle by (nz)dave

Oracle Inc. Headquarters, Silicon Valley, California. CC-licensed Picture by (nz)dave on Flickr.

… if it hasn’t done already

In California the streets aren’t paved with Gold, they are paved with Silicon. Many a Californian has made their fame and fortune from Silicon-based commerce. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Oracle, Apple the list goes on and on. Silicon paves the streets of Silicon Valley.

Silly Valley is often imitated but rarely bettered. Here is a small selection of imitators from a fully blown stamp collection of silicon valley places in wikipedia:

  • Silicon Alley, New York
  • Silicon Fen, Cambridge UK
  • Silicon Roundabout, London
  • Silicon Glen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Bonnie Scotland
  • Silicon Gorge,  M4 Corridor-ish (Bristol, Swindon, Oxford etc)
  • Silicon Mill, Manchester and North West England
  • Silicon Shipyard, Newcastle, Middlesborough etc

If you don’t have a Silicon Valley cluster near where you live, there’s an easy part and a hard part to creating one. The easy part is, just prefix the name of your local area with the magic S word Silicon. Easy. The hard part is building the universities, businesses, technology, communities, start-ups and investment that makes a technology cluster like Silicon Valley successful [1,2,3]. How can it be done?

Refererences

  1. Mietek Jaroniec (2009). Silicon beyond the valley Nature Chemistry, 1 (2), 166-166 DOI: 10.1038/nchem.173
  2. Paul Graham (2006). How to be Silicon Valley paulgraham.com
  3. Chris Vallance (2012). Silicon Britain: Inside the country’s tech clusters BBC News

June 15, 2012

Alan Turing Centenary Conference, 22nd-25th June 2012

Alan Turing by Michael Dales

The Alan Turing statue at Bletchley Park. Creative commons licensed picture via Michael Dales on Flickr

Next weekend, a bunch of very distinguished computer scientists will rock up at the magnificent Manchester Town Hall for the Turing Centenary Conference in order to analyse the development of Computer ScienceArtificial Intelligence and Alan Turing’s legacy [1].

There’s an impressive and stellar speaker line-up including:

Tickets are not cheap at £450 for four days, but you can sign up for free public lectures by Jack Copeland on Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age and Roger Penrose on the problem of modelling a mathematical mind. Alternatively, if you can lend some time, the conference organisers are looking for volunteers to help out in return for a free conference pass. Contact Vicki Chamberlin for details if you’re interested.

References

  1. Chouard, T. (2012). Turing at 100: Legacy of a universal mind Nature, 482 (7386), 455-455 DOI: 10.1038/482455a see also nature.com/turing

May 23, 2012

Who is the World’s Largest Advertising Agency?

Massive Golf Sale!

The British Monarchy are preparing to exploit new advertising opportunities and boost royal revenue during the 2012 Olympics in London. Photo credit: gokart.co.uk.

Advertising agencies are everywhere, there is no escaping them. But who’s the daddy of the advertising world? The mother of all ad agencies?

According to wikipedia, WPP is the “world’s largest advertising group by revenues”. This is hogwash. Some of the world’s largest ad agences are technology companies. For example, in descending order of revenue:

So Google Inc. is currently the world’s largest advertising agency by revenues, followed by WPP then possibly Facebook. It will be interesting to see if the “best minds” [1,2] on Planet Facebook can catch up with WPP and Google by encouraging it’s user’s to click on ads more and buy more stuff in their store.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click on ads. That sucks.” – Jeff Hammerbacher [1]

References

  1. Ashlee Vance (2011) This Tech Bubble Is Different Bloomberg Business Week
  2. Bruce Robinson (1989) How to Get Ahead in Advertising Handmade Films

* Revenue figures from wikipedia. Can’t really vouch for their accuracy but they look reasonable.

May 3, 2012

Need to re-invent the Web (badly)? There’s an App for that!

The Mobile App Trap

The App Trap: Why have just one Web App when you can have hundreds of mobile Apps? A selection of popular Android apps from Google Play, also available for iPad and iPhone from the Apple App Store

I love the convenience of mobile applications but hate the way they re-invent the wheel and are killing the Web. What can be done about it?

I’m in love with the mobile Web

I’ve been smitten with the Web since first venturing out on the information superhighway back in the nineties. This love affair is taken to a new level with the advent of the mobile Web. As an incurable information junkie, having access to news is on the move is great. Using location based services like Google Maps is fantastic, on foot, bike or in the car. I love nerdily scanning barcodes to read Amazon book reviews while browsing the shelves in bookshops, much to Tim Waterstone’s annoyance. And it can be great to have wikipedia in your pocket to settle arguments down the pub.

I hate the mobile Web too

But there’s a big problem with all this appy clappy mobile fun, it’s killing the Web through fragmentation, both for producers and consumers of information. Let me explain.

One of the great things about the Web is that you there is one app to rule them all; a “killer app” called a Web browser. There are several flavours, but they all basically do the same thing using similar technology: they let you surf the Web. One software application (a browser), gives you access to an almost infinite number of Web applications. Wonderfully simple, wonderfully powerful – we’ve got so used to it we sometimes take it for granted.

Now compare this to the mobile Web where each page you visit on a mobile suggests that you download an app to read it. Where there used to be just one application, now there are thousands of glorified “me too” Web browsers apps many of which have re-invented the Web, badly.

Consider the applications in the table below and illustrated on the right. They are all accessible from a Web browser on one of the “four screens ”:  desktop, mobile, tablet and smart-TV:

Native mobile app Purpose Web app
Amazon mobile Online retailer Amazon.com
BBC News mobile News and propaganda news.bbc.co.uk
The Economist mobile More news and propaganda economist.com
eBay mobile online garage sale ebay.com
Flickr mobile photo sharing flickr.com
Guardian mobile Even more news and propaganda guardian.co.uk
Google Reader mobile Feed reader reader.google.com
Google Maps mobile Maps and navigation maps.google.com
MetOffice mobile UK Weather metoffice.gov.uk
PostOffice mobile Postcode / Address finder royalmail.com/postcode-finder
Google Search mobile Search engine google.com
Google Translate mobile Language translator translate.google.com
Twitter mobile Entertaining time-wasting application twitter.com
Wikipedia mobile Encyclopædia en.wikipedia.org/wiki
WordPress mobile Blogging tool wordpress.com
YouTube mobile Videos youtube.com

As you can see, users are encouraged to download, install, understand and maintain sixteen different apps to enjoy this small part of the mobile Web. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s bucket-loads more apps like this in Google Play and the App Store. As a user, you could just use a mobile Web browser on your phone, but you’ll be discouraged from doing so. We’ll return to this later.

Producers and consumers both suffer

As well as being a pain for users who have to manage hundreds of apps on their phones and tablets, the pain is magnified for producers of data too. Instead of designing, building and maintaining one Web application to work across a range of different screens (a challenging but not impossible task), many have chosen to develop lots of different apps. Take twitter for example, in addition to the desktop and Web apps, twitter currently makes no fewer than five different applications just for tablets and phones:

    1. twitter.com/download/ipad (for iPad)
    2. twitter.com/download/blackberry (for Blackberry)
    3. twitter.com/download/wp7 (for Windows phones)
    4. twitter.com/download/android (for Android)
    5. twitter.com/download/iphone (for iPhones)

So a challenging task of delivering content onto a range of different devices has now been transformed into an almost impossible task of building and managing many different apps. It’s not just Twitter, Inc. that chooses to play this game. Potentially any company or organisation putting data on the mobile Web might consider doing this by employing an army of android, blackberry, iPhone and windows developers on top of the existing Web developers already on the payroll. That’s good news for software engineers, but bad news for the organisations that have to pay them. Managing all this complexity isn’t cheap.

Not Appy: How do we get out of this mess?

In the rush to get mobile, many seem to have forgotten why the Web is so successful and turned their back on it. We’ve re-invented the wheel and the Web browser. I’m not the first [1] and certainly not the last [2] to notice this. Jonathan Zittrain even predicted it would happen [3,4] with what he calls “tethered devices”. One solution to this problem, as suggested at last months International World Wide Web conference in Lyon by some bloke called Tim, is to develop mobile Web apps rather than native mobile apps:

There are lots of examples of this. Sites like trains.im provide train times via a simple Web-based interface, no app required. Many Web sites have  two versions, a desktop one and a mobile one. Wikipedia has a mobile site at en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki, Flickr at m.flickr.com, The Economist at m.economist.com, BBC at m.bbc.co.uk/news and so on. But in many cases these sites are poor cousins of the native mobile apps that software developers have focused their efforts on, diluting their work across multiple apps and platforms.

Maybe it’s too late, maybe I’m suffering from the suspicious of change” syndrome described by Douglas Adams like this:

  1. everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
  2. anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
  3. anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

The mobile Web makes me suspicous because many apps re-invent the wheel. I’ve argued here that it is against the natural order of the Web, we’ve waved goodbye to the good old Web [5] and its the beginning of the end. I really hope not, it would be a tragedy to carry on killing the Web as it’s given us so much and was designed specifically to solve the problems described above. Let’s hope native mobile apps gradually turn out to be alright really.

References

  1. Gary Marshall (2011). Could smartphone apps be taking us back to the days of “best viewed with … ”? Net Magazine
  2. Jason Pontin (2012). Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps: The future of media on mobile devices isn’t with Apps but with the Web Technology Review
  3. Jonathan Zittrain (2007). Saving the internet. Harvard Business Review, 85 (6) PMID: 17580647
  4. Jonathan Zittrain (2009). The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It Penguin, ISBN:014103159X
  5. Hamish MacKenzie (2012) Web 2.0 Is Over, All Hail the Age of Mobile, Pandodaily

July 8, 2009

California Googlin’

The Googlin' Gate BridgeSo, I’m going to San Francisco and on to the Googleplex in the heart of Silly Valley, California for Science Foo Camp (scifoo) 2009. As I put the Flowers In My Hair (what’s left of it) and confirm my booking at the Hotel California I’m not just California Dreamin’ but California Googlin’. Just how many American and Californian musical clichés it is possible to cram into one blog post and accompanying iPod playlist? Now there’s no shortage of lyrics to choose from, which is handy because it is a long journey from the UK to California and I’m extremely bored waiting for a flight westwards. So with a little help from a well known search engine and just like in the novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby here is a (personal) top twenty-ish all time greatest hits:

  • Let’s start with The Beatles since they played their last ever gig in San Francisco (at Candlestick Park), so it seems appropriate. On Get Back Paul McCartney sings

    Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner

    But he knew it couldn’t last

    Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona

    For some California grass

    Get back, get back, back to where you once belonged

  • And what better to follow with than some Beatles-inspired rivalry in the shape of The Beach Boys who when they’re not Surfin’ USA they are singing about California Girls

    I wish they all could be California

    Girls, girls, girls yeah I dig the…

    I wish they all could be California Girls

    Are The Beach Boys possibly the band with the most cliches-per-album in the history of mankind?

    (more…)

May 9, 2008

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Googling For

Filed under: tom-foolery — Duncan Hull @ 8:03 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Irish GoogleTwenty one years ago this month, in May 1987, Irish rockers U2 released their classic Joshua Tree single, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Those twenty one years have seen incredible technological change: the adoption of desktop computers, mobile phones, the birth of the Web and the widespread use of search engines like Google. So with sincere apologies to Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry, it’s time we updated the lyrics for the 21st century. So, I give you “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Googling For” (21st anniversary, 2008 webby edition)… (more…)

July 19, 2006

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