Portable TV Music Visualizer

A while back I took apart a Magnavox BH3908 portable TV and promptly turned it into some sort of DIY Oscilloscope. Well another fun thing to do with these things is to hook it up to your stereo and get a music visualizer. Take a look at the video to see what I mean.

BarCamp Boston 5 - Day 2

There were some more great presentations at Barcamp Boston 5 day 2, here are some comments on the ones I went to.

Your Website Sicks! But it can be saved
This was a great presentation, he showed a lot of examples showing how things can go wrong when the balance between form and function are skewed. One example he gave was the geeksquad website, which has lots of information but doesn't have an easy way to get an overview of what they do. After the presentation a few people volunteered their websites for critique. He had a lot of great feedback for them including "You have a FAQ section, has anyone ever asked these questions?" - which got a good laugh. There was only time for two, so I didn't have a chance to volunteer this site.

He referenced smashingmagazine.com as a good source of design info.

Agile Programming Methods
This was sort of a crash course on Agile but had some nice group discussion on what tools people are using, and on what parts of Agile methodologies are really important. For continuous integration a few people were using Hudson, he mentioned Cruise Control; no one else was using Electric Commander though. Not many people using pair programming, it will be interesting to see if that ever really picks up.

When Will Immersive 3D Web Arrive? And: What you will need to do to get ready: Maria Korolov, hypergridbusiness.com
This lady was either crazy or a visionary, either way I didn't realize 3D social environments like SecondLife were getting so big. She had a whole bunch of predictions about where this technology will be in 5, 10 and 15 years.

There were some fun-facts thrown in there too, for example, some companies use this technology and enact dress codes on the virtual characters; Some platforms like SecondLife require you to use a fantasy name rather than your real name so imagine executives with names like "Star Catcher".

She also used the early adoption curve showing that this technology was still before "The Chasm".

Rule Based Programming in Interactive Fiction; Or, How I learned to stop worrying and love them declarative languages
This was a neat view on a very specific programming problem: How to design text based adventure games. It wasn't what I was expecting at all, but was a good peek into an area that I knew nothing about. He started off by describing some pitfalls to a simple Object Oriented approach, his design got bogged down by edge cases and special conditions. He finished up by talking about a prolog-esque rule based language (I'm not sure if it exists or not) where you create many rules to describe the objects and rooms and let the language crunch all the rules for a given action and give you a result. At one point he mentioned "You need a language built from the ground up which is designed to hack itself".

Don't Be a Douche - Best Practices for Game Mechanics in Your Webb App: Sachin Agarwal
This was probably the most entertaining presentation of the day, he started out using a Wii controller to advance slides and made some wrestling characters represent people in a business. A lot of his presentation was inspired by this presentation "Design Outside the Box", you should check out his blog for more.

There were some amusing quotes that stuck out:
When describing badges / achievements "evil evil awesome shit"
"Does the house win in the app your making? It should..." response to a question mentioning online poker.
After mentioning Emoticons / Emoji are popular with Japanese girls: "You know that when shits big in Japan that its gonna come here eventually"

Version Controller Discussion: Shankar
This was a round table discussion about what people are doing with version control. Most of the group were using free centralized / distributed solutions. A handful were using commercial things like clearcase/perforce/accurev. Noone used something valled Versioning Filesystem or Visual SourceSafe. A couple funny things people mentioned was having a lava lamp automatically switched on when someone breaks the build, and having a "break the build" jar where you put some money in if you broke the build.

The event wrapped up with the programming contest winners and some feedback from the audience on the event. If you have feedback update the wiki at wiki.barcampboston.org.

BarCamp Boston 5 - Day 1

Barcamp was a lot of fun, tons of interesting talks and learned a lot too. Here are some notes and reflections from the ones I attended. Unfortunately I hardly got any of the presenters names.

Hacking the Brain
This was really neat, the guy has a way to turn neurons on and off using light. He has a small worm with about 300 neurons that he tracks with a camera and shines light on to see what the different neurons do. Interesting discussion at the end about the technical limitations he's hitting regarding latency between taking a picture of the worm and being able to calculate where to shine a light.

User Experience Design for Developers
This guy (Dennis, I think) really seemed to know is stuff. He had some interesting ideas on how to design successful software and some insights that really made the points stick. Here are the notes I took:
*The end user is the worst person to ask "What do you need it to do?"
*Develop for a specific persona, be very specific.
-Jane Doe, drives a 3 year old civic because she likes value.
-Apples persona is Steve Jobs, part of their success is having a very targeted persona
-This also helps with feature creep because you can ask "Does the persona need this?"
*Describe how the software works, ensure stakeholders agree
*Create very non-visual wireframes to demonstrate the UI. "Not a prototype"
*Ask the same question 3-4 times in different ways.

openFrameworks: C++ for artists & designers : Theo Watson
This was all about a really neat framework for artists. The technical part was extremely brief so that he could get right into showing a bunch of videos of projects people have made. Probably the most surprising part was that I had already seen / heard of many of the projects he talked about! Here's a link with some videos: http://fffff.at/author/theo/

3D Printing & MakerBot/RepRap Demo
I've been a fan of the RepRap 3D printer for a long time, and the MakerBot this guy had was even cooler; Complete with blue LED's. He went through the process of how to load up a 3D model someone else made into the printer and kicked it off. Unfortunately the session ended before it finished printing!

Quick & Dirty Usability Testing: Christine M. Perfetti
This had an interesting contrast to the other usability talk. The morning one seemed geared towards making sure the software is usable to begin with and making sure the design will work, while this one was based on how to get reactions from people to find out if the design did work.

Here are the notes I took:
*Just watch the user use it
*Don't use high-tech usability labs (makes the person uncomfortable and they know they're being watched anyway)
*Bring user in, introduce the observers (first name), sit by them, watch what they do
-explain test
-give them task, observe problems
-general Q&A (How was the Experience? What was good? Bad?)
-Debrief with observers
*5 second page test
-simple, can take less than 10 minutes, can use mock ups, tells a designer if the page is clear
*Paper Prototype #1 way to start testing
-draw the screen
-user points at drawing
-person swaps paper based on what the software will eventually do
*Comprehension Test
-sort of like SAT comprehension test

Mobile Apps & Analytics
This was almost like google analytics except for mobile devices. There is a special storage component so that 100% internet connectivity isn't required. Check out http://www.localytics.com/ there is a free version of their service.

Connecting the world of cooking with Plummelo.com
Plummelo.com looks like a really cool site, I really like the allrecipies.com iPhone app though. It sounds like its getting better every week so I'll have to give it a shot.

Game programming in Ruby
Given by the same guy as plummelo.com. There were some technical difficulties so he couldn't show off the stuff he was doing. It sounded like he was using Ruby to make some sort of MMO, which sounds like crazy talk. It was also web based though so maybe the server isn't doing much?