(Bar)Camping It Up In Blackpool Again

BarCamp Blackpool #5!

BarCamp Blackpool #5!

Last Saturday saw the fifth annual BarCamp Blackpool held in the seaside resort. I missed last year, so have only attended four times since 2009, and this was the first time I had seen it in its new home of the Norbreck Castle Hotel. What a strange place! But great for session rooms and main space.

Fancy Ballroom Roof

Fancy Ballroom Roof

There were craft and tech stalls, folks from Roller Derby and Hackspaces throughout the north west, and the usual opportunities to catch up with friends from afar.

A Crafty Dog

A Crafty Dog

I must confess I didn’t have a chance to see many sessions during the day as I was still preparing my own! I showed a selection of images from my recent stint at BBC Television Centre after it had officially closed, and showed off the new section of my website (which I built at Hacked last weekend) while recounting a few stories. It went down well. As did the afternoon ice creams and evening nosh!

Once again, Lally and Les did a grand job organising the event, which seems to go from strength to strength.

See the rest of my pictures from the event:

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Hacking Around

Hacked: Learn, Build, Share

Hacked: Learn, Build, Share

Last weekend saw the huge geek event Hacked.io at the IndigO2, organised by Geeks of London and O2′s The Lab. It was attended by almost 500 hackers keen to learn, build and share stuff with each other.

Event Thoughts

Before the event, I had been a little worried that it may be a bit too big for its own good. But apart from the “cosy” seating arrangements, the numbers were handled well.

Sheila, Tom & Alistair at their desks

Sheila, Tom & Alistair at their desks

There was plenty of food and drink available at all times, and the idea of giving us vouchers for the O2 restaurants to have our free Saturday evening meal was a great one.

The big fly in the ointment for any hack event is working wifi. Unfortunately, for much of Saturday afternoon it just wasn’t working for many people, due to the sheer loading issues. They did their best and eventually most people got some wired access at their desks, which seemed to lighten the load on the wifi network pretty well. I had to rely on it though, as my new slimline laptop does not have a full sized ethernet adaptor and I had no converter to use the CAT5 cable. I also made use of my Mifi, once it was established that using them wasn’t upsetting the rest of the network.

Still, there were plenty of other things to occupy us while we were waiting for the internet to be available – notably Heather and I spent a couple of hours building a Meccano helicpoter which was provided for our table to tinker with if we wanted to.

What I Built

After my recent moan that I rarely build anything at hack days, the night before Hacked I had an idea! I had been meaning to do something with my personal archive of images made while I was working at BBC Television Centre, so decided to put together a whole new section of my photographic website to showcase the pictures:

Interactive TVC

Interactive TVC

It wasn’t going to meet any of the challenges or win me any prizes. But thanks to Dom’s comments on that post, I was encouraged to build it anyway, and present what I had done at the closing show-and-tell.

Tom & Dom Dressed For The Awards Ceremony!

Tom & Dom Dressed For The Awards Ceremony!

Presenting to large numbers of people doesn’t particularly worry me, since I’ve been thinking on my feet as a Photographic Judge for 13 years, and lecturing on various photographic topics to large audiences for a while too. But I think in the past, I would not have done the demo as I thought nobody would be interested if it wasn’t using the Sponsors’ tools or data.

Goodbye!

Goodbye!

Huge thanks to the GoL organising committee (@cbetta, @nicwhatmore, @kevinprince, @mseckington and @leeky – apologies if I’ve missed anyone else!) and the small army of volunteers who made sure it all ran smoothly. Same time next year? ;-)

See all my pictures from the weekend:

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The Curse Of The Generalist

Or, Why I Don’t Do Well At Hack Days

Hack Days

Hack Days

What do all of the hack events on the right have in common? Can’t see the link?

Well, they’re all Hack Days/events which I’ve attended but never hacked anything worth demoing. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t wasted my time. I’ve usually redesigned my website or noodled about with something trivial, as well as just hanging out with friends. Which is great, but there hasn’t been much to show for it at the end.

Most hack organisers encourage you to play with this or that API or data provided by the Sponsors. They probably don’t want to see the new WordPress theme you’ve written for your own personal photographic site during the demo sessions.

So what? You could have done that at home, anytime.

Why Don’t I Do Specific Hacks?

My problem is twofold. Firstly, I just don’t seem to have any original ideas for cool stuff to build, even if given the data and other info in advance. Some people are ideas people, and they come up with amazing projects in their sleep. I’m just not one of them.

“Ah, well team up and make someone else’s idea!” I hear you say.

This is where we come to my second problem.

I’m a generalist. I always have been.

I know a bit of stuff about a lot of things. But not many of them in much depth. As I lone freelancer building mainly “brochure” websites for SME clients directly, I have to know a wide gamut of things from database management right the way through to visual design and UX. So when other hackers ask what I do, it’s tough to say where my strongest skills lie. And because I usually work on projects on my own most of the time, I don’t have much self-confidence to team up with other people. Sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? But that’s how it is.

Like it or not, there’s also a lot of latent (and not-so-latent) snobbery amongst some of the dev community. What do I mean? Well, the vast majority of other hackers seem to use Macs, they don’t write PHP and they use completely different dev tools to me. Most of the “OMG you use Windows and PHP and Dreamweaver?” jibes are meant in jest, but they don’t do much to inspire self confidence in people who are already lacking in that department. And it can be difficult to get these disparate environments to play nicely together anyway.

Learn Ruby! Get a mac! Use TextMate! are all “solutions” to my problem. Apparently. As if I didn’t have enough things I know a bit (but not enough) about…

There Have Been Exceptions

Which Tee - Leeds Hack 1

Which Tee – Leeds Hack 1

Built Hacks

Built Hacks

There have been three notable exceptions to the usual Caz-Goes-To-A-Hack-Event-And-Yet-Again-Doesn’t-Achieve-Anything scenarios.

Culture Hack in London saw me build a rough and ready searchable database of the Radio Times. You could look up what was on the telly on the day you were born. Exciting eh?

I worked on it on my own using my familiar tools. For once, I had an idea. Just not a very useful one.

At Leeds Hack 1 I teamed up with Alistair and Martin to put together a silly app helping geeks not to wear the same tshirt as their mates each day. We just about cobbled something together, but we had teething troubles and I didn’t really feel like I had contributed very much :-(

We won some biscuits – yay!

OTA ’11 saw me throw my hat into the ring and pick up a saw to help Ewan and Leeky build a little Enigma machine! We didn’t win a thing, but we had fun.

So maybe I should do more hardware hacking? But that’s often not as easy as it sounds as most hack events are heavily biased towards programming, even if you are using some “hardware”.

I haven’t bothered to attend some recent hack events in light of the issues above. You probably think that’s a cop out. But it does stop me stressing about this stuff. It just doesn’t help to address any of it. Which is why I’m a bit apprehensive about attending Hacked.io this weekend. If you see me faffing about with my local camera club’s website, you’ll know why. :-(

Maybe my biggest problem is, I know a lot of very smart people and therefore feel so left behind with my skills. That’s certainly not an easy thing to put right in 24 hours, although I’m trying to chip away at it bit by bit, whilst still attempting to earn a living.

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Customising A Domo – BarCamp Workshop

For this visit to BarCamp Slough2, rather than do a tech talk, I decided to run a workshop on Customising Domo Toys. Some of you may know that I’m a bit of a Domo addict and have a few spares floating around. So I took them with me, along with various crafty bits and pieces such as rainbow Sharpie pens, sequins, glue and various materials.

Tom and Paola

Tom and Paola

Spreading Out Our Stuff

Spreading Out Our Stuff

Michael, Lally, Tom & Paola

Michael, Lally, Tom & Paola

Heather & Materials

Heather & Materials

Some of my own Custom Domos insisted on coming along too, to give folks a few ideas. Then we set to work on our creations – what a great range of styles emerged!

Mini Dom made by Heather

Mini Dom made by Heather

Masked Robin Superhero by Michael

Masked Robin Superhero by Michael

A Thing Of Many Arms by Tom!

A Thing Of Many Arms by Tom!

Part Fairy, Part Unicorn by Lally

Part Fairy, Part Unicorn by Lally

My invention of the day was a little Minion Domo with dungarees, huge milkbottle glasses and a big attitude. I’ve not quite finished him (he needs black gloves and a few spiky strands of hair) but this is what I achieved during the session:

Minion Domo by me

Minion Domo by me

It was great to do something crafty for a change. I’ve enjoyed hands on sessions at other BarCamps in the past, and I would certainly think about running something similar again. Here’s a group pic taken at the end of our session:

Group shot at the end

Group shot at the end

Thanks to the folks who came along – it was a lot of fun!

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BarCamp Slough 2

Shiny 02 HQ

Shiny 02 HQ

Where's David Brent?

Where’s David Brent?

As if one visit to Slough wasn’t enough, last weekend we did it all again for BarCamp Berkshire2, once more held at O2′s HQ on the Slough Trading Estate. Eat your heart out, David Brent!

It was another smoothly run operation. There were lots of varied sessions, good company and tasty food. Plus a bit of booze, great craic and games long into the night. Thanks to all the Geeks of London organisers and helpers for making it another fun event.

Without whom...

Without whom…

The Fake Crew were in evidence again, manning the Fake Help Desk all weekend and generally having a bit of fun:

Fake Hair & Fake Radios

Fake Hair & Fake Radios

Dom Gets Some Help On The Fake Crew Desk

Dom Gets Some Help On The Fake Crew Desk

Sheriff Caz And Her Rug

Sheriff Caz And Her Rug

Fake Grid With Fake Sessions!

Fake Grid With Fake Sessions!

 

This time, rather than doing a tech- or photography-based talk I decided to run a workshop on Customising Domo Toys. It went down well and some of the folks who attended surprised themselves with their creativity! I also enjoyed attending talks by @paolability, @JamieKnight and @leipie, amongst others.

Joost Attempts To Teach Us Dutch

Joost Attempts To Teach Us Dutch

Jamie & Lion In Their Session

Jamie & Lion In Their Session

So all in all, another enjoyable event. You can see more of my pictures from the weekend on Flickr. I’ll no doubt see some of the attendees again soon at BarCamp Blackpool4! But that’s for another day…

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