Where does he get those wonderful toys….

Further to my earlier post about CIIF, I think it’s important to point out what an amazing opportunity this is for web and mobile companies in Northern Ireland. I remember the first time I saw a CSS-based parallax scrolling background (Example) and I marvelled. And then I saw the Safari tech demo pages (Example) and I marvelled again. I just loved the falling leaves demo and I absolutely love what Paul Hayes did here.

It cannot be underestimated what the creation of toys can bring in terms of eyeballs. For a talented web developer team, they might get 100,000 hits from Hacker News but it only takes one new client (resulting from the coverage) to pay for the investment in the tech demo. The Creative Industries Innovation Fund can help a smart development team make great amazing toys.

For instance: look at this Kickstarter for A Canvas and WebGL Programmer’s Text Editor by Robey Holderith. He’s seeking $4,096 in order to “pay” him to build this. CIIF is offering up to four times that amount of money to get people to build amazing stuff.

I also look at the recent release of Kindle Cloud Reader which, although not perfect, really shows how good a web app can be (especially on iOS if you pin it to your home screen and therefore lose most of the Safari borders).

CIIF is looking for 50 great projects. Some of them will be tour guides, some of them web apps, some of them promotional videos but I’d love to see some really REALLY inspiring HTML/CSS stuff. I want developers and designers to thin hard about breaking the laws of (web) physics with this stuff. Do something that makes your peers go “wow”. Make it kick ass with WebKit and use your network to test and refine it.

And if you’ve already made some wonderful toys then please send me the link for it. We need to showcase talent when we see it. I want to rave about my colleagues and countrymen and tell everyone about their talent because while there may be appsterdam, we were doing it first with XCake.

Now, I know this isn’t always going to be possible but I am reminded of when the XCake folk have been able to stand up in front of their peers and tell them all about their latest view controllers. It’s gobbledygook for the rest of us but it shows the talent of the teams involved.

What I’m saying is: Make something awesome. Make a wonderful toy. And tell everyone.

They Make Games


Of course, they don’t make any yet, but they will. And I went for the retro Battlezone-type graphics because I have zero skill with Photoshop and Illustrator any more (never mind not having a copy that would run on Snow Leopard) so my varied tweets last night are generally about finding folk who can put together something for me (for a reasonable price).

The aim of the company (as you can tell from the Twitter profile) is to apply game-like experiences in mobile, mhealth and e-learning. I’ve a heap of ideas in this and my next steps will be to start to put together people who will be important to the development of the company.

Alien Salvage will be contributing to the Digital Circle-initiatived BLOC54 collaborative network focussing on the Games Development Industry in Northern Ireland.

Ten Apps I Want…

Ten Apps that I’d like to see on the iPhone. I’m also suggesting names for these. To be honest, I’d like to pull together a team to build them but that seems to be a lot more difficult than I’d hoped. If anyone wants to call me and work with me to pull together funding, then you know where to get me.

  1. MeetFreak/TrendSeek
    Helps people find each other by abusing Twitter trends and trying to suck Location Data in there. This is a lot easier now that Twitter is supporting GeoTags. So, let us see a map of trends? People are talking about #RED, where are they talking about it? Let us see every tweet with the Trend on a map that we can see. Then you’re more likely to be able to congregate with people
  2. Multitool
    Uses the five tabs along the bottom to give you a view of
    1) IMAP account
    2) Web Browser
    3) Twitter
    4) Mapper
    5) Converter/Calculator
    Redirects all http:// and mailto: seen inside the app, to the app and not outside so doesn’t launch Safari or Mail. A lot of this is kinda redundant when we have decent clients for much of this inside Safari. But some offline caching is a big deal for those of us who tend not to be inside the city centres where you can get decent 3G.
  3. Screen shot 2009-12-01 at 11.32.12

  4. Verifriend, Reputato
    This is an online reputation profiler. Yes, it’s going to be a popularity contest but essentially it all depends on trust. Adding your rating to someone is not something to be done lightly. In some ways it needs to be a trust engine – and it can be as simple as giving a trust rating to a new friend based on the trust ratings that others have provided. There needs to be some sort of anonymity (maybe like the reviews process on iTunes you only get a rating when a certain number of reviews have been processed) but unlike FaceBook it should provide that extra level of security.
  5. Screen shot 2009-12-01 at 11.30.26

  6. Director
    Allows me to text directions to someone who asks me on the street. In plain text. Or Bluetooth them. Or even just email them. Or something. Or magic them straight into their brain. Any of these things would be fine. Just so I don’t have to try to explain the directions to someone.
    This one was so good, someone asked me to take it down. 🙂 Suffice to say it was AR related.
  8. Tweet16
    Twitter lists are all very well but they don’t solve th problem I have. I follow about 1000 people but there’s probably less than 150 or so (that magic Dunbar number) whom I regularly interact with. There’s probably only 10% of those whom I really want to pay attention to. I’d like a Twitter client that shows me my timeline, my mentions, my DMs and finally, my Tweet16 – 16 people from whom I see all of their public messages rather than not seeing the ones who are at people I don’t follow.
  9. Plannity
    So, I fill in all of this information into my calendar and that includes times and dates and, most crucially, locations of my meetings. Why hasn’t there been a social app that runs via Exchange/Outlook, on iPhone, iCal and other formats which takes this location information, munges it up with my social network and allows me to see when I can grab lunch with friends or when I’m in the same town as someone I like. I think that Tripit is meant to do this and today I read about Plancast which promises to do something about this. But this is a hot topic, guys. Location is the big thing for 2009/2010.
  10. Echelon (or TwitterBug)
    I mentioned this a week ago – a cool idea for Twitter and other social networks which again uses location. So – get this – all of your messages are geotagged, or if not now, a lot of them will be. So, Echelon ‘listens’ in for anything said in an area rather than things said about trends or by your friends. The default set is seeing tweets which are in your immediate area – the killer part though is being able to drop a ‘bug’ (for bug, read ‘pin’) on a map and be able to sample the Tweets going through that area and the surrounding radius. So, in effect, you’ve dropped a Twitter Bug somewhere and you’re able to listen in. The Freemium version could monitor one location, the PayFor version could monitor several. ( ECHELON is a name used in global media and in popular culture to describe a signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated on behalf of the five signatory states to the UK-USA Security Agreement (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States)
  11. photo

  12. The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception
    Perfect for the Sandbagger or Spook among us, this is a recently published book derived from an official manual. As most of them are small pictorial sessions, they’re ripe for viewing on the iPhone, turning the iPhone into the ultimate tradecraft manual. You can see clips from the book on Gizmodo. So scan it, make it searchable so you can quickly flick through and find the perfect tradecraft for the perfect moment.
  13. Pollenator
    For public debates, a simple push notification which opens the app and gives you a simple couple of choices accompanied with text, audio or video. Push one, it’s recorded (with time, place, ID, IMEI and whatever other data you have collected and after a certain amount of time, the poll times out. Poll answers should be “Yes”, “No” or “Whatever”. If you choose to ignore or “Whatever” it, then you’re counted as an abstention. I’d love to see this app running and see visualisations of what it could bring in terms of demographics, location and other meta data. I sat with Stuart and Phil (and with PJ on the end of a Skype call) one evening and we mocked up some stuff for this based on Stuarts idea of “Pirates versus Ninjas”. But the actual implementation could have led to entirely other applications.
  14. Polls widget from Google Wave
    Polls widget from Google Wave

I’d love to see all of these on my iPhone. Id love to talk more about these apps to people who are interested. I’d love even more to be involved in the group/company/whatever that was going to make some of these.

Please comment if they inspired you or if you’re working on something similar.

XCake Belfast November

XCake, the local developer group for folk who use XCode had an interesting meeting last night. It was held in the very impressive University of Ulster Belfast campus and was catered for with cake and traybakes by Digital Circle.


The first presentation lasted about an hour and detailed the developments in the OneAPI, a GSMA Reference model for interoperability of network services for telecommunications operators. That’s the long way of saying it’s an easy way for developers to get access to call control, SMS and location services from cell networks. We had three clever folk (Seamus, Richard and Michael) from Aepona who very ably demonstrated the services and answered developer questions. More usefully, however, they were asking the developers about their opinions regarding the use of SOAP and JSON. This is all above me – but it was entertaining to hear the opinions (which were essentially: making XML for SOAP isn’t an issue for most developers but JSON is lighter and simpler).

After that we had a short discussion about our future meeting with Translink, the developments we’ve had with accessing their data and the renewed enthusiasm considering that the Ordnance Survey in Great Britain is opening up it’s 1:10000 map dataset to the public. I hope you’ll join me in encouraging the Ordnance Survey in Northern Ireland to do the same. For what it’s worth, we also have our baleful eye cast in the direction of the Postcodes held by the Royal Mail. At the end of the day if there was government money (our taxes) used to pay for datasets, then I’m determined not to pay for them again.

And we finished with a discussion of future events:

  • An Intro to InterfaceBuilder
  • NimbleKit, PhoneGap and Titanium: do they do what they say or is it all bollocks?
  • Developing for iPhone without InterfaceBuilder
  • Unit Testing for iPhone

We’re kinda unaware of other developer-related events in Belfast but we did mention that Monday night is Demo Night at MobileMondayBelfast.

iPhone Course at the Urban Arts Academy

By now the second day of the Urban Arts Academy course “Beginning iPhone Development” will be well underway. The course started yesterday and has 18 folk, one of whom flew over from England to attend it, sitting down and learning from Philip Orr, programmer for Infurious and Blue Pilot Software.

iPhone Training Course

The machines they are using are borrowed from Giant Associates, Mac-Sys Ltd and a local school. A lot of this wouldn’t have been possible without some quick thinking from Marty Neill (head bucko at NoMoreArt and Digital Circle Steering Group member), the rest of the folk at Trans and a heap of other folk.

Is this going to create iPhone experts?

Of course not. The attendees range from some who have never used a Mac, to one used to OpenGL|ES programming (the API used to program 3D graphics on iPhone as well as other embedded platforms. mobile devices and some consoles).

What it will do is remove some of the fear for some. And spark an interest for others. For some experienced programmers, they should be able to get a taste for Interface Builder and XCode and see whether jumping to that platform is something they want to do. For others, it’ll be the start of something. Or maybe not.

The Cocoa Cooking Class

This came out of two ideas I had.

The first was Code4Pizza – the idea that people, in order to learn, would be willing to spend their time coding for open source projects. I still think this idea is a winner for getting younger folk involved but as an evening class, it fills in many gaps present in the current market for young and really smart folk who want to use computers for more than FaceBook and MySpace.

The second was Tuesday Night Cocoa – something the lads up at Mac-Sys were doing – on a Tuesday evening when the Enterprise Park was open late, they would gang together and learn Cocoa from the books, helping each other through tough problems.

So, the Cocoa Cooking Class was born.

First off, I’m not even sure if Tuesday night is the best sort of time for something like this but it’s catchy, sosumi.

The Background:
Due to my organising of DevDays and generally being loud about the iPhone, I’m inundated with people wanting to learn how to do stuff on the iPhone. How to write applications and generally take part in the gold rush that is the iPhone. I’m working my way through the books but as my time is ‘expensive’ (in so far as as it’s really bloody hard to find ‘free’ time), I’m thinking I need to formalise something in this respect. My idea is that an experienced developer guides a workgroup on a weekly or biweekly basis through an application specification, design and build. The workgroup then owns that app and can do whatever they want with it. I’ve spoken to an experienced developer about it and he’s on board, details yet to be discussed. It’s unreasonable to expect him to dedicate this time for free so we have to take that into account and allow for him to help people ‘online’ in a forum or via email. Holding it on a Tuesday night might make sense but the idea is to get someone who knows what they’re talking about to come in and spend time instructing people and get paid to do it. If it’s not worth the money then we stop paying them and we hack it together on our own time. We even have the option of varying our instructors.

The Pitch:
Take one room with enough seating for 11 people.
Fill with 10 or so eager would-be application developers. Do not over-fill.
Add in one seasoned instructor. Mix for twenty minutes.
Establish base level of capability and break the people into 3-5 groups.
Distribute skills liberally through the groups to attempt to maintain consistency.
Start to build projects, one for each group for 90 minutes.
Break for 15 minutes to check consistency and share experiences.
Return to the room and continue to build knowledge for a further hour.
Stop activity and get each workgroup to show and tell for 5 minutes each.
Rinse and repeat weekly or bi-weekly.

To cover costs, everyone hands the instructor a £20 note. This covers room hire, instructor time and during the week support. That’s a reasonable night out.

It’s my belief that this will create multiple opportunities for Mac and iPhone developers in the province. It will provide a collaborative approach to building applications with some real potential for IP creation and future revenue generation. Mix this with XCake and other initatives and we’ve got something to talk about. Would be even better if we could get some sort of funding for it (or even just a free room somewhere for the evenings).

What do you think?

Dublin XCake.org Meet, Thurs 26th March, 7 pm

@Steve Troughton-Smith tweeted:
“There’s a Dublin Xcake.org (for Mac and iPhone Developers) meetup tomorrow (Thurs) in Le Cirk, Dame St. at 7pm.”

XCake was started by myself and John Kennedy (@craicdesign) last year due to our mutual interest in iPhone development. John has currently got three apps in the App Store. It’s also notable that some of our “local heroes” are going to be attending. It’s a great opportunity to meet, to network, to learn and to maybe get a little business.

We had a meeting in Dublin and another in Belfast earlier this year and it was very well attended – I have an inkling that this weeks meeting in Dublin will be even bigger.

Steve also adds: “Also if any art/design people are interested in coming to tomorrow’s iPhone developer meetup (Dublin), is a good opportunity to get clients!”

I’d also say that might work out well for musicians who want to do sound effects for games/apps.


Last night I was lucky enough to be out at the Science Park with a group of smart folk from several companies and education institutions – examining a process to engage Northern Ireland’s growing technological and design assets to attract mobile operators from Europe to consider our region as a centre of competence. Frankly, the amount of information shared was amazing and as Eoin Lambkin put it “In no other region in Europe, and perhaps the world, could you get such a cross sectoral group together in so little time.”

This morning, this conversation was continued with Eoin’s presentation on the European Connected Health Campus, based in Northern Ireland and dedicated to a platform-agnostic resolution on best practises in Connected Health (also called Telemedicine, Telecare).

Then, I read this

“Imagine – AppleStores with shelves of niche, stylish sensor products for sale in a year’s time – pollution sensors, particulates analysis, spectroscopy, soil analysis, cholesterol? All for the price of a Nike+ or so?”

This comes on the back of a demo of a Diabetes sensor talking to an iPhone and reporting information to the owner, as well as possibly sending reports to clinicians and care workers. This was on-stage at the recent preview of iPhone OS 3.0 – Connected Health is obviously a major talking point for Apple.

That blog post also points to Tellarts open source NADAmobile project which allows you to easily prototype physical/digital/sensor apps on the iPhone through a cable that cleverly connects to the audio jack.

People don’t realise that they may already have two medical sensors – the Nike+ and the WiiFit – already in their house – never mind others. These devices have snuck in the back door and there’s a realisation that health technology is probably going to be even more profitable selling to the healthy than it ever was selling to the sick.

I’m excited to see the possibilities coming out of this – where will the technology lead us – I want ‘sensor shoes’ for my iPhone and remote sensors to pick up information. Why? Because I can? What sort of geek wouldn’t want this info?

XCake 1st Meetup

After several months of talking about it, we’ve had our first XCake meetup.


We had 20 people turn up, all told. They ranged from the education sector (Belfast Met, The University of Ulster and Queen’s University of Belfast) to the private sector (sole traders, bedroom developers, partnerships and limited companies) including some companies which have a distinguished history of software development.

Philip Orr’s Home of Serendipity has another XCake writeup.

It’s to be followed next Tuesday (24th) by an XCake meetup in Dublin.