Lifestyles Appeal

Crowd at Lifestyles FestivalLifestyles Festival is an extreme sports and culture festival in Hunstanton. It took a year off last year due to lack of funding and to take some time to re-organise and re-group. I got involved by offering to build an iPhone app for the festival (coming soon…), but somehow I’ve been roped into being a central part of the organising committee.

As I haven’t posted anything on here in a loooong time, I thought I’d give a run-down of what I’ve been up to. Enjoy!
Continue reading Lifestyles Appeal

Twitter Etiquette

I love Twitter. I always thought it was full of potential, and I still think it is (though it’s lost in a mass of One Direction and X Factor fans).

Firstly, let me make it clear that I’m not a perfect Twitter user, I don’t have a massive Twitter follower count, and I basically have no authority on this topic. But, I have been on Twitter since about July 2008, so I’ve seen a few trends, rises and falls, and also @StephenFry follows me.
Continue reading Twitter Etiquette

Trouble sleeping?

The modern life of a cyborg is one of little sleep. We’re bombarded with technology that inadvertently stops us from sleeping, even the basics such as artificial lighting (room lights, street lights, lamps) affect our circadian rhythm (the daily cycle of chemical changes that dictates when we should to feel sleepy or alert), tricking us into thinking it’s daytime when it’s dark.

The two main reasons that technology affects our sleeping patterns are these; too much light in our faces, and too much information when we should be winding down.

I suffer just as much as the next man, but I have a few tips that could help out!

flux preferences

  • F.lux is a small utility that alters the colour of your computer screen to try to suit the artificial lighting we use at night. I recommend this to everyone asking just install it and give it 48 hours, it takes a night or two to get used to it but it’s invaluable if you use it. Make sure to set ‘transition’ to slow (1 hour) so that it all happens without you noticing.
  • Backlight your working environment. This will help to stop the glare that you get from your computer screen. I have a desk lamp that shines up and back onto the wall behind my desk, it just helps to even out the light that you’re exposing your eyes to.
  • If you have to use a device in bed, set the brightness to as low as it can go. It’s night and your lights are off, you don’t need the full brightness that you would use on a sunny day.
  • Don’t check Twitter, Facebook, etc. just before bed (and especially not in bed). Apart from the screen brightness, the ‘infinite flow’ of little stories and tweets conditions (read as trains) you to want more and more (“Just another minute”) therefore keeping your brain in ‘processing mode’.

An example of one nights sleep tracked with Sleep TimeOn a side note, but still relevant, phones can be used for good as part of your sleeping rituals. Apps such as Sleep Time by Azumio can be used to track your REM cycles during your sleep and then wake you up when you’re not sleeping deeply. I’ve used this app for a long time and I believe it helps me to wake up at an optimum time, not leaving me feeling rough because I was woken from a deep sleep. I also claim credit for thinking of some features in it, they used to have a bright splash screen which I advised against, also they now create graphs of weekly/monthly data after I emailed suggesting it. Moral of the story, always email app developers with suggestions for improvements (but don’t forget to tell them about all their good work too!)

Finally, a nice infographic to back up all my points via

Getting in bed with Gadgets!
Infographic via

Managing Online Privacy

Keeping your personal details and identity private online is a hot topic and there are hundreds of other articles that discuss thousands of aspects of online privacy and advise different methods to keep yourself ‘safe’. This article is just a collection of my thoughts on online privacy, I’ll try to give some advice in here too to try to help people learn.

I’m not much of a privacy freak online. With very little effort, anyone could get a lot of information about me. But, I’m aware of what’s out there and I’m comfortable with it. I’m pretty sensible (if I do say so myself) so I know what I can/should share and what I shouldn’t. Thinking about if you want to (or should) share something, before posting it to the Internet is the first step. There’s less to manage if you don’t post things you’d be uncomfortable with people seeing.

An example of how some people are *facepalm* stupid about sharing their details is @NeedADebitCard. I just had to check that this is still running and 19hours was it’s most recent retweet so it definitely is. Basically, this account just retweets people that post pictures of their bank cards on Twitter. If you’re unsure; DO NOT DO THIS. If you feel the need to post pictures of bank cards, driving licences, passports, etc. then cover up your numbers!

Basically, as I see it, the problem with online privacy is a user issue. The root of the user issues is education. People don’t know what and how to manage themselves online. People assume that the tools (websites, etc.) will manage it for them. They assume that the default settings are the best. They forget that there are people on the internet outside of their network of contacts. Or, they just don’t care (maybe I’m actually in this group and I’m in denial).

Whilst reading Amber Case’s Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology I came across a phenomenon I hadn’t been aware of before. It’s called “super-logoff”. This is where people would deactivate their entire Facebook account while they were not actually using it to defend their online identity from people from posting or tagging them in things which they would not approve of. It’s easy to see why people might do this, but it’s ridiculously drastic.

Facebook is a good example mainly because it has the finest grained controls. Twitter is just public or private, Google Plus is basically just circles (which I personally think is the best method, but that’s neither here nor there). I tend to notice people are fairly polarised on Facebook, either “Lock everything down, no one but friends should see anything” or “Defaults are best” (meaning that everything’s public because Facebook are like that!).

In reality, neither of these options are how people actually consider their privacy. If you skip work to go to a gig, you might want to hide the statuses and photos from your boss, but let the rest of your friends see it. Or you might want to hide the evidence of that big night out from your family. Colleagues and family automatically put into lists so long as they’ve got their employment on their profile or listed you under family on their profile. Lists are the best way to manage sharing on Facebook (the idea probably stolen from Google Plus), just keep your lists up-to-date and customise the privacy on statuses, photos, whatever by adding or removing lists. People wouldn’t have any problems if they just learnt how to use the tools properly. Really, the onus should be on Facebook to educate their users on how to do all this.

So, in summary:

  • Think before you post! If you act under the premise that everything is public, you’ll think twice about posting personal things.
  • Learn how to use the privacy settings for each site. It’s all there, make sure you’re using it correctly.
  • Log out, or use the ‘view as’ features, to see what the public can see (and adjust settings accordingly).

Hope that helps someone :)

Room Utilisation Project

This was a large, three term long, group project. We were given complete freedom to decide on a topic. After a lot of deliberation, we all settled on a project that we titled “Attendance and Room Utilisation”. This project would improve the current method that the University uses to calculate both student attendance and classroom/lecture theatre seat utilisation.

We noticed that our University hired a small team of people to carry iPads, with a spreadsheet on, around campus popping their head into each room and quickly counting how many people are in there. This would happen once an hour, every hour, for every room on campus. This is extremely laborious and ultimately error prone.

To record student attendance (which really is only counted to keep an eye on first years) tutors have to pass a class list round where students sign there name. The issue with this is that if someone has slept in or can’t be bothered to get dressed, they text a mate to sign in for them. It is too easy to cheat the ‘system’.

Our system would counter these issues by requiring students to swipe into a room with their University allocated RFID chipped student cards. The card reader would process this swipe in adding records to a central database that counts the times a student enters a timetabled or non-timetabled session. Staff are able to log into a web interface to retrieve reports about overall attendance or specific reports about rooms, modules, or students.

MySQL data modelTo realise this system, we had to develop the database data model that would support the complex time-based data of students ‘checking in’ to both their timetabled sessions and also personal study time. This involved normalising the database structure to enable efficient storage as the database would be populated with vast amounts of data. Along with the database, we created a RFID scanner simulator (simulator because we didn’t have the funds to get a RFID reader) which was written in Java and used the JDBC library to connect to our MySQL database. I hosted the code for this on GitHub under the codename Ricky. This scanner was multithreaded so that it could continue to scan cards even if the system was running slower than usual.

Mockup of the web front endThe final part of our system was the web front end. This was written in PHP and hosted on Amazons cloud services (though it would be hosted internally on release). It provided access only to staff through a log in screen. Once authenticated, staff could view reports of the data but could also download a comma separated value file of the entire database for further processing in Excel or other mathematical packages.

For this project, we were graded 67%. Of course we’re very pleased with this mark, but we feel that we could have got a higher mark by focusing a little more on the documentation at the later stage of the project.

If you have any questions or would like more details about this project then please ask me. This was a large project and I have too much content to attach here, this is just an overview.


A preview of a Podio activity streamRecently I discovered Podio whilst looking into Client Relationship Management and Project Management systems. During this summer break from University I was invited to carry out work for Lingo Design. Among other things, I was tasked with finding a good piece of software to replace their existing solution. The main trait that I was looking for was extensibility, after looking through many free and paid services I found Podio (in the Chrome Apps store, of all places).

I was given a good idea of what I was looking for by @LingoLiz and I had already done a little work on their current Access database. Also I’ve always been fairly interested in CRMs and productivity tools in general. So, when I found Podio there were a lot of reasons to get a bit excited about it!

The Danish pair behind Podio have taken a novel approach to building this platform and have baked in some very interesting concepts. The main two that I’d like to talk about are:


Podio focuses on collaboration. It is a virtual workplace, connecting people across an office or across the planet. In the relatively little amount of time I’ve spent using it I’ve been surprised by how many people have commented on how “very Facebook” the style of the site is. This is a huge thumbs up like from me. Every item and status in the application gives users the ability to add their two cents by commenting or liking something. They’ve also followed suit of Twitter by allowing you to follow items too.

I don’t see Podios use of Twitter and Facebook’s ideologies as imitation (or, if it is then “imitation is the greatest form of flattery”). It’s a great move on Podios part in terms of user experience, everyone is familiar with commenting, liking, and following things these days so users will automatically be able to engage with Podio at a basic level right from the sign up.


Everyone has different needs. People work in different ways, store data in different formats, and see content as more vital as others. Podio isn’t a software package that you have to bend your workflow to fit around, Podio is a platform allowing you to make your own (or use pre-built) Apps.

Again, everyone is familiar with what an app is and their a big thing at the moment, so it makes sense on many levels for Podio to utilise this approach.

After working with Podio for a bit, I thought it would be good to experiment with setting up a workspace for University. I created Apps for projects, modules, books, and references. I think this will help me greatly in my final year at University in becoming more organised and having a consistent place for my thoughts and resources. I’ll let you know how it goes on when I get back to University in October.

Podio is free for up to five uses so I see no reason why shouldn’t check it out if you’re looking for a new system, or just interested. Let me know how you get on with it. Also sorry for making this post seem so much like to advertisement, I just really love this product felt like I should share my experience of it so far.