Geek Camp


As Jo was cheerfully telling someone on the phone on Monday, I was “at geek camp” at the start of the week, which was the second ‘camp’ I’ve been to recently. Still not entirely sure what they have to do with camping but here’s a quick summary of what they were about.

BarCamp Southampton

Southampton’s first BarCamp was held in not one, but two bars at the end of November; I think it needed two so that there was room for all the food! Chris has posted a much more detailed report, and Tony has a gallery of photos from the day, but these are the bits I remember:

And since it was more than a week ago, that’s pretty much all I can remember. Definitely a good day though, and the food and drink (plentiful tea) was excellent!

Design London

Ok, so not technically a camp, but a small detour on the way to Monday’s home camp to visit a 3D stereoscopic visualisation system. Nigel has been on secondment from IBM to Design London, and I’ve been meaning to drop in to see what he’s been up to for a while.

I have to say, I was more impressed by the 3D system than I was expecting, even with a couple of technical hitches while I was there. (I didn’t touch anything honestly!) Essentially it’s just a wall and floor screen with two (very bright) projectors each, polarising lenses and Shrek glasses. Ok, probably not Shrek glasses, as far as I know, but the same kind of thing. Actually, one of the most interesting things about the glasses was the head tracking markers which were stuck to them. These were an asymmetrical arrangement of reflective blobs on stalks, picked up by an array of infra-red cameras. They looked like an extension of the ordinary plastic frame of the glasses, but the texture gave away a 3D printer at work. A great example of the potential of 3D printing.

Nigel demonstrated a few projects that have made use of the system, and it’s immediately clear that this is more than just a 3D monitor, or even a 3D cinema screen. Particularly with the oil rig model he showed me, there’s a real sense of scale and there are some obvious advantages to really getting to know your way round a place like this before going on site. There are just so many possibilities for this technology, but moving swiftly on to the next camp…

HomeCamp 3

After Design London, and a quick stop to have a play with a Galaxy Tab (it’s soooo shiny!), it was time for some home hacking. Thanks to Mike for getting something organised before the end of the year, and thanks to all the excellent speakers as well.

It was also great to catch up with (another) Nigel and hear about the MSc he’s doing at the Centre for Alternative Technology. It sounds like there really is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to energy, with some very interesting side effects to off shore wind farms and wave power.

It’s always good to hear what Usman and Pachube are up to. One of the things they have been up to this year was hiring Ben and I had a thought provoking chat with them about their extended tagging features. It also seems that I’m not the only one pumping data in to Pachube, but not getting much data out. Must do something about that.

Lots of other ideas floating around during the evening, including a USB 3 low voltage system with solar panels, a battery pack and some efficient AC-DC conversion which sounded interesting. Plus tablets seem like a really good way to add visuals to your elevator pitch!

The conversation didn’t slow down on the train home either, with Laura and Sophie talking about design, wire frames, nabaztag smart rabbits, exactly the kind of projects that Georgina was describing in her homesense presentation, and some very (very) cool sounding documentation automation stuff from Ana Nelson. (A bit like a micro Home Camp unleashed on a train. Maybe the Real Ale Train would be a good venue for a future event!)

So, not all that geeky really…

Update: according to Ken, that low voltage dc household power distribution system was from Moixa Technology. (23 January 2011)

It takes two


For anyone who couldn’t hear at the back (or perhaps even missed the live version completely!) here’s a recap of my slightly random BarCamp Southampton lightning talk. The loosely-connected-to-the-theme-of-the-day title on the schedule was:

AR Twinning or The perils of Town Twinning – modernising with augmented reality

As you drive in to many towns, you’ll probably recognise a sign like this:

Not the snow, although maybe that will start looking familiar, or “Hedge End”, or even the useful driving tip, but the bit in between; “Twinned with…” In this case a town in Belgium that I know almost nothing about. (I really should try and find out how to pronounce the name.)

It wasn’t the signpost that inspired the lightning talk though; it was an announcement in the local newsletter that the twinning association was dissolving. I wonder how many people could name the places their town is twinned with, know anything about it, have visited, or even know why towns have twins, so I’m not all that surprised about Hedge End’s lack of interest in twinning activities.

So is there a way to revitalise town twinning? Something that might help is lowering the barriers to participation; not everyone can commit to formal activities or take on permanent roles in a twinning association. Providing a means for ad hoc encounters between people in the twinned towns could naturally lead to more interest in finding out more and getting more involved. But how do you do that when Hedge End and Comines-Warneton are around 300km apart?

You could create some Twinning 2.0 social web site but for me that somehow loses the physical connection between the towns. Why would you choose people in one town over anywhere else in the world? Would a shared physical space be possible and, if so, would it stimulate more interest in an otherwise remote place?

So my hair brained scheme involves a signpost in each town. Not the kind you drive past, but one right in the centre pointing the way to the twinned town. A traditional sign from Hampshire might look something like this:

I had less luck finding one for Belgium, but you get the general idea:

If a town only has one twin, it might be a nice touch to switch the signs round, so Hedge End would have a sign post you’d normally see in Comines-Warneton.

Next, add some ambient indication of what’s going on at the other sign. In particular, it needs to catch people’s attention if there is anyone near the remote sign. Winchester’s Luminous Motion might provide some inspiration here:

This sculpture only reacts when it receives a text message, but the twinned signposts would need to communicate with each other automatically, and pachube could be an ideal way to do just that:

So if you’re walking past the sign post in Hedge End, and it indicates that there is someone near the sign post in Comines-Warneton, what next? With modern smart phones and augmented reality the possibilities are endless, from a simple chat, to video feeds, to exchanging town photos, to virtual tours, to AR games, to anything people in the towns come up with.

I realise of course that not everyone has these kind of devices (me included) but there’s a library in Hedge End which could conceivably loan them to people. Some of the activities would also be possible via any internet connection, but now there’s a highly visible physical focal point in each town providing an anchor to tie it all together. At least, that’s the theory!

I did finish the talk by claiming it would never happen, but it would be really nice to be proved wrong, and maybe the two sign posts could exist in a virtual form to begin with. Thanks to everyone who was there for the lightning talk in person, and thanks to everyone who made BarCamp Southampton happen… but that’s for another post.

Update: thanks to Katy’s comments below, I’m very excited to discover that Murrhardt actually has a fingerpost pointing to its twins! (28 November 2010)

Images © their respective owners :

  • Hedge End sign – Jim Hart
  • Map – OpenStreetMap contributors, cc by-sa
  • Corhampton sign – Jim Champion, cc by-sa
  • N333 sign – Faz Besharatian, cc by-nc-sa
  • Luminous motion – Sumit, cc by-nc-sa
  • Pachube – Connected Environments Ltd.
  • Noticings Layer – James Bridle, cc by-nc-nd