Two days at Over the Air 2011
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to travel to the beautiful Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes for an event called Over The Air, a community-run conference for mobile development featuring an overnight hack-a-thon.
Despite running for the past few years, but this was my first attendance, and it definitely won't be my last! It was an incredible experience to spend a few days in such a beautiful venue, talking and hacking alongside some incredibly bright minds in the mobile sector. The huge range of people, interests and technologies made for a genuinely unique atmosphere as talks took place across five tracks on Friday and Saturday on a wealth of topics including BBC plans for their Digital Public Space; improving Mobile Security; developing with LEGO Mindstorms and some in-depth technical talks from Googlers who had come down for the weekend.
Every one of the talks that I attended was fascinating, but some were particular standouts. I've been a fan of much of Adrian Hon's stuff since I got far too involved with Perplex City when it was originally running, so it was great to hear him talk about his latest work with Six to Start; particularly because I really agree with the importance of content driven apps that seem to be a huge opportunity for growth in the mobile market.
There was a great session on solutions for offering mobile payment going forward; and I'd be remiss not to mention the masses of fun involved when so many people are playing working with such a large number of LEGO sets.
The Ignite session on Friday night was a great way to pass Friday evening. (For those who've never had the fortune to attend an Ignite event, they involve a series of speakers speaking on any subject for a precisely regimented five minute period, with their presentation progressing behind them with a new slide every 15 seconds. There are Ignite events around the country - including within Bristol - and I thoroughly commend them to you). I will forever look upon the Eurovision Song Contest in a new light!
Overnight, a large number of the four hundred attendees stayed in sleeping bags in the mansion or in tents on the lawn working on developing some great apps to demonstrate on Saturday afternoon. I had a great time working on some small problems through the evening, and it's frankly bizarre to stay a night in the Drawing Room of a place as revered by computer scientists around the world as Bletchley Park. Incredible!
As were the apps which were demonstrated on the Saturday. Of the dozens of completed apps, the winner of the eventual audience vote was a system that can transmit lengthy data streams using video QR codes; there was an Android phone that had been modified with an attached physical telephone receiver to operate as a payphone using Paypal; and the overall winner was a traditional arcade "grabber" game, modelled in LEGO and operated using a mobile phone and webcames. The list of winners is available online.
Finally, the organisation of the event was awe-inspiring. The event was free to attend, and the economics of that are beyond me (they did ask for a £5 donation to Bletchley Park). And for that, the provisions of lunch, dinner, breakfast, snacks, coffee, beer and pizza were all included. Having volunteers walking around the mansion into the small hours offering beer, pizza or chocolate was indescribably awesome.
It was a brilliant event, and I look forward to attending next year.
(nb. Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing are massively important institutions both for the profession of computing and in the history of our country, and any support you can offer would be put to great use. If you can't visit, then there's also a facility to donate online.)