Barcamp Liverpool

My round-up of the first two-day BarCamp in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

It seemed like every major city in England except Liverpool had had a Barcamp until the first Saturday in December, when Katie Lips and friends arranged for a weekend of talks at the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre. It was a full two-day BarCamp, and there were about eight slots each day, so I saw a lot of stuff. Here’s what I saw, and what I made of it:

Saturday

Lateral Visions 3D Web - Stephen Clibbery

I started off with Lateral Vision’s 3D Web demo. This is an attempt to give web developers and designers the option of 3D worlds rather than text-based web pages, viewable via the browser using a rich content plugin developed by Lateral Visions. It has an advantage over existing 3D worlds such as Second Life as it can be run inside the browser (once you’ve actually installed their plugin.)

The technology doesn’t seem to be intended to replace traditional speedy point-and-click web browsing, but to be applied in certain situations which suit it. The use in online shopping was illustrated with a mock-up Apple store which you could walk around and view products. The application to viewing property online was obvious, although I don’t know if many estate agents have training with 3D Studio Max. Microsoft Photosynth is probably a better option for that, as you can build a half-decent 3D world out of a series of photos.

I know things like this have been around for a while (VRML has been around since the start of the web) but it’s definitely a problem worth working on.

How To Be A Dead Good Speaker - Phil Winstanley

I’ve had a lot of advice about public speaking, and this talk overlapped with a lot of it, but it was so well put together that I really enjoyed it.

Top tips that I picked up included:

  • Never read from slides, as the audience will always read them faster.
  • Instead of saying “erm…” say “so…” Although Ian Forrester made that point that he just ends up saying “so” even more.
  • Don’t talk directly to one person for too long.
  • To help with timing, make a mental note of the slide that should appear 1/4 of the way through, 1/2 of the way through etc.

It was nice to have Phil mention that Bill Gates used to be a very dull speaker, but has improved over the years. Even the big guys have things they need to work on.

He also recommended Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen book which had been on my Wish List for a while and I finally bought myself for Christmas.

Writing an iPhone App - Dave Verwer

Dave gave tips for would-be iPhone developers (although a show of hands indicated that nobody was planning on writing an iPhone app) and showed off his Charades app which he has released just in time for family get togethers at Christmas.

The key points I picked up were:

  • Registering as a company in the US so that you can get your application on the App Store is a major PITA.
  • Your application needs to look nice. “Apply polish liberally” is how I think Dave put it.

I’m afraid I didn’t make any notes about this talk, which I feel terrible about because Dave is such a nice bloke!

What Type of Gamer Are You? - Bizarre Creations

I didn’t catch the name of the two guys doing this talk (like I said, I’d stopped taking notes for some reason) but I remember that one had changed his middle name to “Danger” for a bet.

This talk was about the four types of gamers, and how different games are aimed at them. The 4 types of gamer are:

  1. Achiever - has to complete everything, unlock all the bonuses.
  2. Killer - likes to frag.
  3. Explorer - likes to explore worlds.
  4. Social - likes to play co-operatively with their friends.

There was audience-participation as we voted with A4 sheets to decide which game was aimed at which group. World of Warcraft has been a massive revenue-generating smash-hit as it targets all four.

Getting Started with Arduino - Adrian McEwen

This is a talk that I knew about before the schedule was put together and looked forward to a lot as I’ve been meaning to play with an Arduino for a long time but just haven’t got around to it. Adrian had dismantled a simple toy gun and attached the Arduino to the switch. The Arduino was waiting for a Perl script to notify it that someone had posted a #bcliverpool tag on Twitter, and would turn on the toy gun. Adrian had also put together a similar device that blew a bubble whenever the tag appeared:


Bubblino in action from Adrian McEwen on Vimeo

Adrian has also been gathering data on energy consumption in his house using the Arduino, and uploading it to pachube, an environmental data site that I had not heard of.

I still haven’t bought an Arduino (I’m too busy with software to move into hardware!) but if I do, it’ll be from here. Unfortunately their Starter Kit no longer seems to be available.

Quiz - Dominic Hodgson & Tom Scott

Somehow the team I was on won Dom Hodgson and Tom Scott’s brilliant and well prepared quiz. The questions weren’t just on technical topics, and laptops were encouraged in a “Google Fu” round.

My prize was a MSDN toolkit (literally a toolkit, a hardware one.) There was only one copy of Windows Vista Ultimate, and I didn’t grab it, but now wish I had!

Screencasts Online - Don McAllister

Don makes a living out of producing screencasts, usually about Mac software, and gave a lot of good advice on making screencasts of your own.

His recommendation for screencast recording software on the Mac was ScreenFlow. Snapz Pro X was popular a few years ago, and iShowU is good if you don’t want to spend too much money. He uses Final Cut Pro for post-production.

TechSmith’s Snagit and Camtasia Studio are good on Windows. Their Jing project is intended to be cross-platform.

I didn’t make many more notes, and can’t find the slides on the web, but it was a good talk!

Facebook App Development - Cristiano Betta

Cristiano has developed Facebook applications for Nudge London, and talked us through what he has learnt. The main tip was to start at the Facebook Developers Wiki and not to start from scratch - use one of the Facebook API libraries that are available for your langauge of choice. His slides are available in his blog post.

After Party at Leaf Cafe sponsored by Microsoft

Microsoft kindly paid for the beer at the after-party at the end of the Saturday night, and there was lots available. I know I didn’t run out of drinks vouchers.

There was also a Startup Stars pitching event organised by Katie Lips. I couldn’t hear exactly what was going on because I was at the back of the room, but it appears that Adrian McEwen won it.

I spent most of the night talking to Chris Alcock whose daily .NET news blog is becoming very popular. Award winning blogger, Microsoft employee, and ex-Liverpudlian Steve Clayton was also around, but I didn’t get to speak to him!

Sunday

Meat Licence Proposal - John O’Shea

This was an art project which proposed a law that would make it illegal for anyone to eat meat unless they had killed an animal and got their “meat licence.” It was a good presentation, and I could see the twisted logic behind it, but I still can’t see any government going for it!

The highlight of the talk was when John mentioned that the red “Something is wrong with your Drupal installation.” message on his website for the project had eventually become reassuring, because if any content was appearing then that was better than nothing. I’ve spent some time with Drupal, and can totally understand what he means.

Codewiki - Julian Todd & Aidan Maguire

I’d met Julian and Aidan before the Barcamp, and have followed Julian’s work on Public Whip (the web scraping code behind TheyWorkForYou.com) and UN Democracy (a project to scrape PDFs of United Nations meetings and present their contents on the web - eventually doing things like this.) I haven’t been able to help with UN Democracy however, and I know he is keen to get some.

This presentation was about a proposed wiki of scraping code. The code will be executed via the site, and will regularly collect data that can then be used in mashups. An example of a scraper that Julian showed collected entries in Merseyside Police Force Helicopter logs. The data will end up in a simple database table with columns such as (Summary, Time, Post Code, Northing, Easting etc.)

There was a lot of interest from the crowd, but I don’t know if Julian and Aidan managed to grab many contact details. The Codewiki isn’t public yet, but I promised Aidan I’d write some scraping code. It will probably be in Ruby with hpricot, I assume Julian has been using Python. I’ll be sure to update this post when the codewiki is live!

UPDATE: The Codewiki project is now live as ScraperWiki.

Homebrew Multi-Touch - Thom Shannon

This wasn’t a talk, but was one of the highlights of the BarCamp nonetheless. Thom, the organiser of the Liverpool GeekUps, put together a multi-touch screen using a row of LEDs, a piece of perpex, some cardboard, some tracing paper, an old webcam, his laptop, and a multitouch framework (I didn’t ask which one, but I assume it’s WPF based.) It worked very well considering what it was made of!

Conclusion

I’m afraid I didn’t see anything more on the Sunday, because I had made plans to see Zack and Miri Make a Porno (not exactly worth leaving for I know.) I sincerely regret leaving because I missed out on the game of Werewolf.

I think Liverpool’s first Barcamp can be considered a runaway success, and all of the organisers, speakers, sponsors, and attendees should be applauded!