Reasons to be (h)appy

Monday afternoon I made the long, though surprisingly fast journey down to London from Hull. Not only was it fast, but it was actually enjoyable as it was a nice day and travelling with First Hull Trains means you don’t have to make any changes, which is usually a hassle, and you get free wi-fi the whole way without any need for a credit card. All good stuff.

The Humber Bridge from the Train
The Humber Bridge from the Train

I then stayed the night in Bayswater, near Paddington at a cosy 3 star hotel. I say cosy but frankly I was glad I was only spending the one night there. 😛

Tuesday morning I got up bright and early for the 10am start, unfortunately the Circle line, which I needed to get from bayswater to Kings Cross St. Pancreas as part of my journey to the conference, was suspended. This caused severe delays, including to me and meant I was a tad late, fortunately I didn’t miss anything though and made it just on time.

The conference itself was held at LSO St. Lukes near Old Street tube station. What I didn’t realise was

1) LSO stands for London Symphony Orchestra and

2) I was looking for a church rather than a conference or office building. Yes, that’s right a tech conference about state of the art technology was held in an old church. 😛

The venue was beautiful inside and out, the outside was traditional and the inside was a stark contrast being ultra modern.

The Old Church Exterior of LSO St. Lukes
The Old Church Exterior of LSO St. Lukes
The Modern Insides of LSO St. Lukes
The Modern Insides of LSO St. Lukes

Upon entry I checked in and was given a lanyard with my name on, to allow me to freely enter and exit the building through the day. I thought it was quite nicely designed — almost metro style with the extra-light fonts and coloured squares, which being a Windows Phone Developer I thought was pretty cool.

Reasons to be Appy Lanyard
Reasons to be Appy Lanyard

Peter Gregson – Playing the Cello Game

As soon as I’d done checking in Peter Gregson was ready to take the stage with his interesting session on using technology in Music. In response to  how the performer plays — no matter what instrument — his application goPlay can provide changes which would normally be achieved using a set of pedals.

Being a non-musician I wasn’t 100% sure of the advantages of the application, I must admit. However, I did enjoy watching peter play the cello, which was incredibly beautiful and an instrument I haven’t seen played before.

Christian Heilmann – Moving your App-Mind to the Web

After a 15 minute break to get drinks and a sandwich after Peters session Christian provided what was one of my favourite sessions of the day. Christian is the Principal Developer Evangelist of the Mozilla Developer Network, and spoke about how he felt that using HTML5  and the open web we could replace the need for mobile apps, such as those on Google Play and the iTunes App Store with interactive mobile web apps that work on all devices.

Christian made the point that the HTML5 specification has alternatives for a lot of native APIs which native applications enjoy using and often say web apps don’t have, such as geolocation and access to devices cameras, however a lot of these have not been implemented fully in mobile browsers — possibly to protect the revenue the application marketplace owners make. One particularly weird case is that Apple have full OpenGL support in their Safari Mobile Browser however you can only use it if you’re accessing the web page from an in-app web browser control. Is this an attempt by Apple to stop interactive 3D applications and games on the open web and restrict games on the iOS platform to their Marketplace? Who knows.

The session was delivered in a humorous way, and I agreed with a lot of what Christian said. The idea of write once, run everywhere on all mobile platforms is a great one, but one I feel wont happen for a long time. Too many companies have too much invested in their app stores, both money and resources.

One particular quote that has stayed in my mind is “A few years ago Furbies were awesome. They were cool new technology and delighted kids all over. Now they are forgotten and just look stupid and creepy. The apps of today will have the same fate – as they are not build to change but to sell. The best performing apps are targeted at kids and have an attention span half-life of a few months.” It puts an interesting spin on what is a good app, one I hadn’t thought of before.

You can read more about Christian and view the slides he showed at Reasons to be Appy on his website.

Andrew Spooner – We, Human

After another break Andrew Spooner from Microsoft took the stage to talk about how we should be creating applications which provide a great user experience to the people using them — and how the idea of making a simple, effective user experience for people… not just computer scientists lead to the creation of the Metro User Interface Design Language.

One thing I must say is that Andrews slides were the most beautiful and well made I’ve ever seen, I was genuinely impressed by a PowerPoint presentation! The presentation itself followed metro design rules and featured the same colours and icons as the Windows Phone 7 OS and the upcoming Windows 8 Desktop OS.

Andrew made the point that the user experiance, not the exact computation going on was what was important to the user, which reminded me of my own blog post “UX, not Specs”

Remy Sharp – Mobile Debugging

After an hours lunch it was Remy’s turn to take the stage and talk about different methods of debugging mobile web applications over all the operating systems and browsers available to users, which until recently has involved the time consuming task of downloading  every browser on every operating system and checking for faults.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was looking forward to seeing Remys session as he was one of the people whos websites taught me html and web development and got me into programming, so it was really great to see him talk about something he is obviously passionate about.

I’ve been thinking about improving the mobile experience on Worldwide Lighthouses and having to debug on multiple platforms — each with multiple browsers and OS versions — could have been a pain. Remy’s methods don’t allow for desktop type debugging, that’s the holy grail, but it brings us a step closer.

Ultimately, Remy concluded, we can only have desktop level debugging on Mobile OS’s with the help of the browser vendors and we should pressure them into improving their tools!

You can read more about Remy’s methods for mobile debugging from the man himself here.

Tim Ahrens – New Font Technologies for New Media

I like developing for Windows Phone, one of the reasons I like this is because I like the style of the applications, and one of the reasons I like the style of the applications is the use of fonts like Segoe WP. I like fonts, they can make or break a design as any graphic design student would tell you, but to be honest I know nothing about fonts — or I didn’t before Tim Ahrens session, which was absolutely fascinating.

Tim spoke about everything from how fonts actually work in the browser — detailing the differences between the new woff format, the older true type format and the internet explorer only eot format — to the differences in rendering on screen using black and white, greyscale, cleartype and Microsoft’s new DirectWrite.

I honestly never realised how much effort goes into designing and developing a font for use on screen or in print media, I’m astounded. Fonts are one of those things I’d always just taken for granted but they’re weeks, if not months, worth of work each. This session taught me a lot.

You can see some of Tim’s font design work on, and see TypeKit, the font to browser solution which he consults for here.

James Alliban & Keiichi Matsuda – Cell – Revealing the Digital Aura

James and Keiichi are both artists rather than programmers, but they made an awesome interactive art installation using Microsoft’s Kinect called Cell, you can view a video of it on YouTube.

The duo spoke alot about working in a team and collaborating on such a big project, and some of the technical aspects of the installation itself, but to me the most interesting part of their talk was about what they call the “Digital Aura”. A digital aura is a persons online presence — both the obvious stuff like their Twitter and Facebook accounts and the less obvious stuff like comments they’ve left on blogs or reviews they’ve written or check ins on Foursquare.

A lot of the digital aura is good stuff, connections with potential employers, connections with friends, a place to make your point and say what you think, but there can be some bad stuff, which is where “identity curation” comes in. Identity curation is the process of deleting or hiding the negative things about you on the internet and highlighting the good.

Everyone does it to a greater or lesser extend, whether its untagging a photo of yourself on Facebook or using a web app like Delete My Tweets to remove all your previous messages on twitter, as I did recently (before making my twitter public for #r2bappy)

Mark Boulton – Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass

The beginning of Marks session was interesting, a first class quote from him which I tweeted was:

I take pictures of taps in public toilets. I’m THAT guy.

His point was that we need to think about things as real, and genuine and truthful. Those taps in McDonalds restaurants that pretend to be made of marble are “Liars” and that annoys mark. Having application on computer screens, which are digital, trying hard to be like real items is lying too, one example Mark picked out was the Leather Bound calendar application in OSX. Its fake, its digital, why is it trying to be real?

Mark called the idea of having things being “authentically digital” Digital Patina, and called the Metro Design Style out for being good at it.

Some of the things Mark spoke about were actually at odds with what I was taught at university this simester, which got me thinking. Application user interface design is like any other creative form, subjective. Whereas my lecturer thought that designing things to be like real like items — for example the recycle bin in windows — was a great idea because it allowed people to learn about computers faster, Mark thought the same idea treated the user as if they were thick and according to him

Thats not a good way to start designing a user interface – thinking your users are thick. Its offensive.

Seb Lee Delisle – PixelPhones

Pixel Phones
Pixel Phones

The last session I saw — due to having to leave one session early to catch my train — was a more light hearted one. Seb wants to set the world record for the biggest display made entirely of mobile phones, unfortunately he has been denied it for using audiences phones rather than a set laid down on a table, but what he can do is in my eyes more impressive.

Seb explains PixelPhones as a

crazy project where I turn each phone in the audience into pixels in a large display. It runs in your phone browser so you don’t need to install an app

Live in front of us PixelPhones connected to over 100 devices using two Apple Airport Extreme Basestations and allowed seb to make an animation using the audience and play a game of nyan catch, videoed at another conference here — its crazy stuff.

For an in-depth explination of how it all works you can check out Sebs website here.

For now that is all, I’d like to thank Phil Cross from the Microsoft UK Student Developer Group and Abhilaksh Lalwani, also from the group, for being good company all day!

Thats all for now,

Blogging Conferences Life

Reasons to be Appy – All Booked

Today I booked up my train ticket and hotel reservation for my first ever Tech conference, Reasons To Be Appy — which by the way is a name that I cannot decide if its brilliant…or not?

It started when Phil Cross, Academic Audience Manager at Microsoft, posted in the Microsoft UK Students Developer group asking if anyone wanted some free tickets, in return he asked

For you to blog about the event, post stuff on your facebook page, the UK Student page, we will link to your blog and for you use relevant #tags to tweet about it. Maybe a target of a couple of tweets per session? Basically so the organisers and MS can see you being active!

This seemed like a good deal and I emailed Phil asking if I could go, and he replied saying I could!

In particular I’m looking forward to a talk by Remy Sharp — who’s work helped me get into web development, especially through his role as curator on

Also of interest to me are talks by Christian Heilmann, who works at Mozilla and Andrew Spooner who works at Microsoft, most recently on “applications for Windows 8 and Windows Phone and explorations into Natural User Interfaces.” — all of which sounds interesting.

You can see a full list of sessions at the events website.

I shall keep this blog updated, possibly including a live blogging of some sessions, and as mentioned in the brief I will also be tweeting and posting on the Microsoft UK Students Facebook page.