Category Archives: Projects

Quantified Self

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Process, Productivity, Projects

I like numbers. Maths was always one of my favourite subjects, and I went on to do Maths with Maths (and more Maths) at university. Part of the appeal is measurement, because it can lead to insights and optimisation. Things like Nicholas Felton’s amazing annual reports fascinate me. This led me towards Quantified Self, and it sounded like something interesting, and like something I wanted to do.

For quite a long time I used Daytum. It’s pretty easy to enter data, and its output options are simple and appealing. The entering of the data was a little too time-intensive, though. To get the most value out of it, you need to track a lot of things, which means investing a lot of time.

So I dropped Daytum and used Moves for a while, but found it a bit limited. I took the (monetary) plunge and acquired a FitBit (The One, since it seemed the smallest and least dorky). In the end, it was much like Daytum, though. It track some things easily, but most of the data was fairly long-form manual entry, and it gets dull after a while.

Reporter

When Mr Felton released Reporter the other day, I decided to give the whole QS thing another go. The thing that interested me the most was Reporter’s approach to gathering data: short, randomly timed bursts, with simple answers. Logging every single thing that happens might give you some deep insights, but it’s a pain to do.

I’m also finding that I don’t mind being interrupted by it. I’ve turned off just about all notifications on my phone, except for personal, just for me, ones like Twitter Direct Messages. I found myself spending too long playing with my phone, and wanted to remove some of the temptations to pick it up. Reporter somehow goes under my radar for, though.

I’m intrigued to see if I stick with this, and what extra little questions I’ll add myself. I’m not quite sure what I want to track, but I suspect a pattern will emerge after using the app for a while: blank spots that I want to fill, or things I’m recording that I actually don’t care about.

An exciting start to the year

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Projects

The past few months have been a little busy, but also very exciting. The general theme seems to have been change.

Awesome new job

At the start of January, I joined Flow Interactive as Lead Front-end Developer. It’s a fantastic place to work: I’m surrounded by smart people doing interesting things all day, and it’s giving me the chance to learn a lot. I’m not just doing Front-end dev, either: I’m getting involved with the Usability Test and Product Discovery work that we do too. All of the testing was very interesting, but one of the big discoveries was that people don’t know what the hamburger nav menu icon thing means. Just because we’ve started putting it everywhere, doesn’t mean that people get it.

Cape Town Front-end Developers

It was all change for our January meetup. Our regular venue wasn’t available, so we ran around trying to find another one that had the right set up for us. We went to 6 Spin Street, and it worked out quite well. I’ll be happy to get back to our regular venue in February, though.

We also changed the format. Instead of one speaker for the whole session, we had three lightning talks. Our three speakers were great, but after chatting with them and the attendees, we’re thinking of doing just one or two speakers an evening, so that they have a bit more time to get into their topic.

There was a bit of a mix up with the dates. With the changing venue, we also had to change dates, and I neglected to update the details on our meetup group. Luckily, Shaun spotted it a day or two before, and I sent out a panicked announcement to all the attendees. The mixup, which was my fault, made me realise that I’m involved as an organiser in a few too many meetup events. I’m going to start dialling down my involvement with some of them. CTFEDs I’m going to keep: I helped start it, and it’s all about my day job.

RailsBridge Cape Town

The weekend just gone saw another RailsBridge Cape Town workshop: the third one that I’ve been involved with. This also had a couple of big changes. Most of the organisation (food, venue) was taken care of since it was part of the upcoming rubyfuza, but there was still the wrangling of teachers and students to be done, and the updating of the documentation to bring it up to date with the parent organisation overseas.

Another thing that was a bit of a change was the entrance criteria. Our tagline is “Free Ruby on Rails workshops for women and their friends,” but this was relaxed a bit for this workshop, promoting diversity in a more general way. I’m a bit conflicted about this. We didn’t groom the attendee list at all, but we ended up with about a 50/50 split of male and female attendees, which is great.

The workshop went well and, as usual, we’ve got lots of great ideas for how to make the next session even better. We’re taking a break for a week or two before diving back in and getting ready for our April event.

Photography

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Process, Projects

camera

I enjoyed Craig Mod’s “Goodbye, Cameras,” but his follow up “Photography, Hello” really got my brain cells jingling. I really enjoy taking photos (me on Flickr, me on Instagram). I know I’m not creating art, but I like to think that some of them come out okay.

I shot film for a few years: everything from full-on SLRs down to flea market finds that just about worked. At the moment, I have a digital SLR that I occasionally use, and the camera on my phone (an iPhone 5). Of the two, I prefer shooting with my SLR. Craig’s articles got me thinking about why, and about how much the tools I use change the process and the end result.

Phone vs SLR

I find that I’m taking quite a few pictures on my phone these days, but that’s partly to do with opportunity. When I was working from home, I would have time to go out on photo missions during the day. Now that I have regular working hours in an office, it’s only every few weekends that I manage to get together with my photo geek buddies and haul out my SLR; I always have my phone on me, though.

Posting more photos from my phone hasn’t been the result of the rise in the quality of the lenses. I don’t mind rough edges: I like lens flares, film shots with light leaks, and so on. It’s much more about being connected and therefore having greatly reduced friction of sharing and publishing.

With the phone I find myself having lower standards about what’s good enough, and I think that’s partly because it’s so easy to share. My SLR is not networked, so the process of sharing pictures is slower and more deliberate. I’m forced into having time and space to review the pictures I’ve taken before publishing them: I review them later, hopefully more objectively and with a harsher eye. I usually only post a handful of pictures from each photo outing even though I usually take a double-digit number of pictures.

Tools changing the process

Using the SLR feels physically different. Taking photos is more paced, structured, and considered. Using a different tool changes the process quite dramatically, and I think it changes the kinds of pictures I take as a result. Of course, I can do silly selfie snaps on either, but I’m much more likely to do so with my phone. A wide shot of the mountain can be taken on either, but I’m more likely to take one when I’m carrying around my SLR. Perhaps this says more about me than it does about the tools, but it’s made me look at what tools I use to build sites, and how they might be influencing how and what I do.

Thoughts on Ouya

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Industry, Projects

A few weeks ago, I got myself an Ouya (trigger warning: newsletter signup doorslam): it’s a $100 games console, powered by Android. I bought it because I’m an avid gamer, and the market and interface tingles my professional interests.

The console itself is beautiful: it’s tiny, and feels solid and nicely weighted. The controllers are disappointingly crappy by comparison: hollow plastic and cheap-feeling. The buttons are particularly bad, but the sticks are actually quite nice and solid.

User Interface

The dashboard set up is interesting and different, but is a little clunky and immature compared to other systems. I’m sure that this will improve over time as they tweak bits of it. The on-boarding sequence is also kinda cool and not too painful.

The messages and notifications try to be more friendly, less formal, than other consoles, and it mostly works. It makes you feel more a part of a community than the other big name consoles: like people wrote the text rather than the marketing department or a back room developer.

The market

The marketplace is the most interesting thing about Ouya for me. Their USP (Unique Selling Point) is that every game is free to try. That’s quite something. Trials can be downloaded in one click from the dashboard, and the biggest, brightest, call to action on every game’s page is the “Download for free” button.

Most of the games that I’ve checked out are small in size (less than 100MB), so it’s not a problem or a worry to download lots. It seems odd to download from the dashboard, though: do people often want to download a game just based on the thumbnail image and the name?

Pricing

I have a few problems around the pricing of the games. The first, and biggest, is that you have to dig to find the prices. They are only displayed in a pop up window from the game’s individual page: they aren’t displayed in listings anywhere, or on the Ouya site.

This makes the “Download for free” button feel a little disingenuous (“Download trial for free” or “Try for free” would feel more truthful). It also explains why sales stats don’t seem to be very good: Ouya makes it very easy to download trials, but almost hides away the buy call to action.

The second problem, which is mitigated a little but the first (but not in a good way), is that prices vary wildly: from $1 to $35. Some developers are pricing like the App Store or Google Play, some are pricing like console and PC games. In a way this makes sense: many of the games are crossovers from other platforms, and the prices on Ouya match the ones there.

However, this ties in with the problem of hidden prices and could result in disgruntled users. They may download the trial, come back to buy the game and find the pricing is more like Steam, when they were expecting more like App Store.

Other thoughts

For game developers, I think the market is great. There’s a small (compared to the other platforms) audience of passionate and interested gamers, and interesting things are happening here. I think that there’s a real choice to have your voice heard.

I think that the Ouya is fun and could become a home for awesome indie things, but it needs some changes.