ShedCode Review for 2018
I’m a Creative Technologist based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.
Here are some of my 2018 highlights which started with working at Yoomee on their Comoodle and Migrant Health applications.
Yoomee, Comoodle and Migrant Health
Comoodle is designed to help people share their stuff with others who might need it. I’d started working with Andy Mayer of Yoomee before Christmas in 2017, so this was finishing off what we’d started.
We also spent some further time on the Migrant Health prototype we’d built in late 2017.
It’s a real joy working on projects where the scoping and design has been clearly thought about beforehand, allowing me to build the functionality & in the end, I actually finished the work a few days early.
BBC Civilisations Explorer
There was no rest though as I moved straight on to working with the BBC R&D team again on their latest version of the Story Explorer we’d built before for The Archers, Homefront & Peaky Blinders. This was going to be different again though as this was going to be for one of the big documentaries for BBC Arts in 2018 — Civilisations.
Explore the themes that tie the show together, the origins of the artefacts or with the presenters themselves.
Once again I was able to bring in my long term collaborator, Richard Jones to work on the design. Although timescales were tight and the team was spread out throught the UK, we did ok and launched on time! You can have a look at it here on BBC Taster.
Dr. Tom Stafford is an academic in the Psychology department of the University of Sheffield, we’ve been friends for a long time, but he had an idea about creating an essay which could be explored interactively using a twitter bot.
It was a great opportunity to work together and would be launched at the Festival of the Mind in September, so I built the technology to get the bot to work early in 2018. Somewhat annoyingly, Twitter changed their interfaces over the summer, so after a minor re-write to get us to the launch, it’s currently undergoing some further re-engineering to improve reliability ready for an article which Tom is writing for the New Scientist.
In the meantime, follow the twitter bot, tweet START at it and after a minor delay, it should reply to you!
Iris Murdoch Information Service
Following the launch of the site at https://irismurdoch.info last year, there have been some improvements made, a couple more novels have now been fully incorporated and also some of the amazing illustrations by Paul Laseau.
I’m still working on full site search and hopefully will soon be able to fully add the final two novels in time for the Iris Murdoch centenary in 2019.
BBC Audience Services
Over the years I’ve supported an application built for Rattle which provides various visualisations of the Audience Services data for the BBC, this includes what’s trending in the contact centres (including phone calls, emails etc) and waiting times. This year it required a bit of a re-architecture as there were servers and databases all over the place. It took a bit of work to get it sorted, but now we have a single server and two databases making maintainance a lot simpler and providing improved reliability.
During 2018 I followed the Data Infrastructure Lead at the ODI, Leigh Dodds on twitter, mainly because we had a chat about building an Orac inspired RaspberryPi case and in March he tweeted the following which piqued my interest.
As a Ruby developer who was interested but not based in Bath or Bristol, I replied to check whether remote working might work & although it was possible that the EnergySparks project might extend to Sheffield, initially it was Bath or Bristol.
A month later I got a call from the village of Freshford, near Bath, which in my mind is forever linked with the classic Ealing Comedy, The Titfield Thunderbolt, but that’s beside the point. Would I be interested in working remotely on this project? Yes!
The EnergySparks project uses data from smart meters in schools, tied up with activities to encourage schools and children to save energy with the data to see how their changes make a difference. It had won funding from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to build new functionality over the summer of 2018 (Phase 1). As a technologist who had experience of schools (PGCE 1994) and utilities (npower/YE 2002–2007) it seemed like the perfect fit for me.
Fortunately we did enough in Phase 1 to get funding for Phase 2 which runs until January 2019 and hopefully, we’ll then get the Phase 3 funding which will extend the project in to 2020.
The application is still under active development, and we’ve now introduced some schools in Sheffield and Wiltshire — take a look for yourself and if you’d like to see EnergySparks introduced to your area or schools, let me know!
History of Parliament
When in 2014 I worked on a little project around the BBC Radio drama, The Archers, I met Michael Smethurst for the first time and really enjoyed working with him. At the time he worked for the BBC R&D team, now he works for the Parliamentary Data Service. He got in touch about a little project to rebuild an old Access Database which was the repository of the incredible research of Professor Michael Rush around members of parliament since 1832.
As the Access Database was now read only, there was a backlog of updates to be made, so the main task was to build a web application to allow the historical data to be imported in to a new database, with an editing application for adding the new entries. The design is functional within the budget, so isn’t going to win any awards, but it does work!
The data within the database is all in the public realm, but whilst the content is being updated, the application requires an account. Here’s an example though of William Gladstone’s page, which gives you an idea of the content. Hopefully it will be open to all in the near future!
A busier year than 2017 but one with some great projects! Assuming we get the go-ahead for Phase 3 of EnergySparks then this will take up most of the year, but there will still be time for some more Choice Engine work, hopefully another Iris Murdoch related project (awaiting news on funding) and a few other bits and bobs to keep things interesting!