The ShedCode Review for 2019/20

Introduction

ShedCode is the company founded in 2011 by me, James Jefferies.

I’m a Creative Technologist & Software Engineer based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

Here are some of my highlights from 2019 and 2020 wrapped up as a 2 for 1! It includes some of the projects I’ve been working on, as well as the academic course I attended during the summer of 2020, run by UC Berkeley.

Energy Sparks

This is a project to help schools become more energy efficient and fight climate change. School staff and pupils can access school-specific energy analysis and a tailored education programme

Energy Sparks analysis

Most of 2019 was spent working on this project, we did some user research, a re-design of the site and built a whole load of new functionality. It was a pleasure to work with fellow Sheffield developer, James Almond on this.

For a while I felt that I needed to work with some other experienced Ruby developers, to knock me out of some of my bad habits and to learn some new tricks! James gracefully accepted the challenge and I learnt a lot, maybe he learnt a bit from me too.

We are also really fortunate to be able to get Simon Scott to do our re-design and Lisa Maltby to provide some brilliant illustrations.

Energy Sparks — pupil view

Mapping The Quartet

This is an exciting project I couldn’t say no to. The ‘In Parenthesis’ project is exploring the contribution of four philosophers who met as young women at Oxford University during the Second World War. They were Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, and Mary Midgley.

I’d been to hear a talk on the project at the University of Sheffield and after sharing my work on the Iris Murdoch website, they got in touch to see if I could help them with this project. The idea being that users can add connections, anecdotes and research information about the four philosophers, creating a network for potential collaboration.

The design of the site was by the super talented Sally from Morph Creative and I completed the rest of the technical work.

End of the BBC Audience Services

In 2019, the BBC Audience Services project I worked on with Rattle came to an end and was de-commissioned. Databases were emptied, servers were wiped, but it’s time had come. I’d been looking after it for a while, including doing a server migration and mild re-architecture along the way. The front end work was originally by Frankie Roberto, so although I did some work with it, I can’t claim the credit for making it look as good as it did!

Deep Search

The Deep Search project with The University of Sheffield’s Chaplaincy Centre received some extra funding in 2020, so I did some work on moving it from being in Alpha to Beta, in fact it’s just about production ready now and apart from a few bumps on the way, is now looking pretty good.

Deep Search is a tool to help you consider making changes in your life, thinking about where you are now, and where you’d like to be. It’s suitable for those with or without faith and provides a simple taster too, so you can see what it’s about.

FreeAgent

I’ve been a FreeAgent customer ever since I started ShedCode in 2011, I use it for all my accounts, bank management, invoices etc. My original plan for 2020 was to spend the first half of the year, building up my freelance network again to try and get some new project work. The pandemic put a stop to that, so I did some thinking about what I wanted to do for the final quarter.

I did consider further academic work, maybe applying for a PhD, but at the same time, I saw there was an opportunity to work with FreeAgent doing a 12 month staff maternity cover stint. This piqued my interest as although it was a job, it was a job with an end point. I started the application but also saw that they were recruiting Ruby developers for 4 month contracts too.

During the application process (mainly when we were on our only holiday of 2020!) the 12 month cover job disappeared, so I switched to solely looking at the 4 month contract, which I was pleased to be offered and to accept!

I joined the Radar team which is working on providing business insight to customers and push notifications to mobile devices. It was the best project onboarding I’ve ever experienced, a personalised Trello board with lots of sensible tasks to do in Week 1, Month 1 and ongoing.

It’s fair to say that the team is pretty great too, friendly, with a mix of experience and real support from management — even contractors like me get a 1:1 meeting with my manager every week.

Pleased to say too, that I’ve had a contract extension until the end of March 2021, so that will be keeping me busy until then.

Introduction to Computational Literary Analysis

I’d been following Jonathan Reeve on Twitter for a while, when I saw that he was going to be teaching a summer course at UC Berkeley on Computational Literary Analysis. The course essentially covers the basic tools required to analysis text using computers in ways which would be too labour and time intensive for a human. It is a lot of the foundation stones for Natural Language Processing which powers things like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant.

I’d been interested in learning more about this after I attended a lecture by Professor Peter Garrard on his research around Alzheimer’s and the works of my favourite author, Iris Murdoch.

As I had no freelance work over summer, and I could study the course remotely, I applied for the 6 week course and was pleased to be accepted to study. The course was quite intense with three works of fiction to study and annotate, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, The Dubliners by James Joyce and The Garden Party by Katharine Mansfield. As well as the reading, there was learning a new programming language, Python, along with all the various concepts and tools required.

It was hard work, especially the last two weeks where I was completing the FreeAgent application with interviews and a coding test as well as being on holiday! It was worth it though, I got an A for the course and A+ for my project work which was called “Looking for Philosophy in the novels of Iris Murdoch”. The idea was to look for common terms and expressions which appeared in Murdoch’s main philosophy works and her novels. With mixed success I would say, but still some interesting results. You can see the notebook and write up here if you’re interested.

Here is one of the heatmaps which shows the frequency of some of Murdoch’s common philosophy words in her novels.

Summary

These last two years have been really hard work, especially with the pandemic, however, I’m really pleased with the projects I’ve worked on and the people I’ve worked with.

This year, 2021, will be 10 years since I started ShedCode and at this time of writing (February 2021) I find I’m at a bit of a crossroads. What will happen for the rest of this year? More freelance work, contract work or an actual job job? Watch this space!

Technology for Arts, Culture & Heritage

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