anthony galvin

Early this summer the Honey Club, a social enterprise comprising of Wolff Olins, Urban Bees and Global Generation launched #KXBeeTrail - a technology powered walking tour of King’s Cross that aims to help people learn more about the relationship between bees and the urban environment.

The app uses Physical Web beacons, an open source Bluetooth technology that allows physical locations to have a web address. As people wander round the trail they can unlock information and participate in some interactive citizen science by counting bees at key locations.

There’s a companion app for Android and iOS that guides people along the route. To build the app, the team used PhoneGap a cross platform app development ‘wrapper’ that makes it easy to create native applications. By using responsive web techniques we were able to fairly quickly create an app that could work well across thousands of different devices and use the latest Bluetooth LE native functionality that’s available in most modern smartphones. The other benefit of using PhoneGap is that it allowed us to keep our usual front end workflow in place - using tools like Gulp to automate the build process.

To help fast forward the development we were indebted to a couple of key open source projects and libraries that handle the low level communication between the beacons and peoples phones - most notably the BLE library for Cordova / PhoneGap by Don Coleman.

But this (hopefully) isn’t just a worthy science project, there’s a mix of fun activities, educational content and some utility for users who get to explore an area of London that’s changing rapidly whilst unlocking vouchers for some of the best restaurants and cafes in the area.

In many ways it’s easy to see this as a technology and science project. But it’s more complex and interesting than that. To create this kind of physical and technological experience in public requires an extreme form of collaboration between different teams, disciplines and experts - including bee experts, sign makers, horticulturalist, software engineers, designers (of all types), project managers, strategists, property managers, event planners, testers and (most) importantly local people and visitors who are the end users.

The signs will be up, and the app available for a few more weeks (whilst the bees continue to work their magic), as part of what is the first phase of the project for the honey club, and hopefully a better future for the urban bees of London, N1.

Tags: work honey bees beacons BLE mobile apps phonegap

2015-09-22 22:04:53 GMT permalink

It’s becoming a bit of a family tradition. Piling the car high and driving northwards for our summer holidays. Usually to Mull, for a family holiday in and around the islands off the North West coast of Scotland. With a few detours on route, this year via the Northumbrian coast.

The holiday and the journey have become a bit of a ‘yardstick’, a marker against which we measure the year - a mid-point where it’s possible to glimpse just far enough forwards and back to take stock of another years temporal changes and what might lie ahead.

And perhaps the islands are a useful tool for this. Although they’re a permanent fixture for the people and animals who inhabit them, for us the islands are a temporary respite, a fleeting viewfinder that helps us see more clearly. There’s a liminal quality to our visits, not permanent but through repeated stays more than just temporary.

Tags: scotland photo holiday family mull islands

2015-09-22 21:49:45 GMT permalink

My Toolset

In the rush and push of the working week it’s easy to forget the tools and tricks that hold things together. Recently a colleague asked about a little workflow trick I’d been using and I realised I’ve never jotted down and shared a list of my day-to-day toolset, so I’ve posted the list below.

This doesn’t include the pure developer tools I use such as Sublime Text or Vagrant but hopefully the more general ones that might be more generally useful (I’ll post a geek tools list another time).

The reason I find Workflowy so useful is that in many ways it mirrors the way that I think. Infinite lists of bullets, searchable, taggable and sortable. And also shareable, so that you can turn a list into a collaborative workspace.

Twitter + IFTTT + Instapaper
This isn’t a single tool, but a neat little workflow trick. When I’m pushed for time or on my daily commute where I can’t always get a good data connection I often see interesting and useful articles on Twitter. When I tap the ‘favourite’ icon in Twitter, IFFT jumps into actions and pushes that article into Instapaper for me to read later.  

Google Drive
It’s not the elegant toolset of the drive apps that make it essential (though simplicity helps), but the simple power of cloud based functionality. It’s on all my devices, I don’t have to back it up, it’s pretty secure (with 2 factor authentication enabled), doesn’t run out of space (for a small fee) and I can quickly turn some private thoughts into a shared workspace. Remind me again why I want files on a local hard drive?

Some people “don’t do social media” and I respect them for it, they must be really smart. For me Twitter is often where I get lots of professional tips, articles and background info. In short it makes me look smart, arming me with facts and figures. Tweetdeck is my way of filtering and making sense of the thousands of tiny fragments of information that are flying through my feed every hour.

Slack / Skype / Hangouts
This could be called “not email”. I’m not loyal when it comes to the ever more commoditised world of realtime chat. If you’re on Skype, prefer Google Hangouts or Facetime then jumping on call is good with me. In a world where it’s about working with the best people, no matter where they are, video calls are unavoidable - but they’re not the only answer. Recently we’ve been using Slack on some global projects and the power of asynchronous group chat and file sharing on projects that run across multiple locations and timezones is invaluable. HipChat is pretty good in this space, but if you’re not tied to the Atlassian stack then Slack is probably an answer.

Pop App
Need to test an app idea really quickly or show someone ‘how it might work’. Then draw a few screens on a piece of paper and then fire up Pop App and in few minutes you’ve got a tappable, sharable prototype.

Even the cut down writing interface of documents in Google Drive can be distracting - especially mid-afternoon when my notifications are firing at a terrifying rate. OmmWriter cuts the notifications and keeps it simple, perfect for focussing on getting the words just right.

In many ways Trello is the same as Workflowy (above), it’s a fancy, collaborative, list environment. But it’s the interactions and card like system make it different and a great way to create Kanban style boards to keep you (and your team) organised.

Tags: work tools lists

2015-06-01 21:47:30 GMT permalink

Back in the mountains. 

Earlier in the week someone asked me if I was enjoying my time in the mountains “in spite of the weather” - as if somehow the wind, rain, snow and (occasional) sunshine were somehow separate entities from the Alps themselves. 

The sun hasn’t shone everyday, and the reality of bringing two small children on a snowboarding trip has meant that there hasn’t been a huge amount of actual boarding.

In the pockets of time in between (ski school, getting children back to sleep, sneaking off to grab a late lift) - it’s easy to see that it’s a great time to be in the Alps. 

The season is turning, little streams opening back up, small birds flitting between the trees on the lower slopes. A feeling that another winter has been marked off and observed. And as a family the trips at this time of year are becoming our own way of marking the end of winter. The point where we start to move our horizon beyond the next few weeks and to start to think about the spring and summer that lie ahead.   

Tags: boarding family holiday morzine spring alps

2015-04-03 16:58:30 GMT permalink

Tools are recursive. 

Increasingly the conversations I’m having in the office are about tools - digital tools, scalable tools, technology as a tool. But these conversations quickly get meta. There are as many definitions of a digital tool as there are tools themselves. And many of these tools are really incremental pieces of technology, built on a whole heap of other tools and platforms.

As an example, some people in the office have been using Slack, a collaboration and communication tool that’s been getting some press (and dollars) recently. Slack uses, amongst other things, some Amazon AWS tools. Which are tools that we also use to build tools for our clients. And you can create and integrate other tools with Slack, allowing you to create tools to extend a tool that you use to help a team create tools. 

Confused? You probably shouldn’t be. The fact that there are few new ideas and that we are building on the ideas / frameworks / shoulders of others is surely standard operating procedure in the current point of our post-sampler creative and cultural continuum.

But what’s important is not the just the originality of the 1% being added to the collective digital noise, but the story that you tell. The how, what and why matter as much as the code you write. Perhaps story points shouldn’t just be in the backlog

Tags: work tools agile words story

2014-12-11 21:53:57 GMT permalink

What is the countryside for. 

It’s a question that’s increasingly discussed, often in light of factory farming, wind farms, fracking or the housing policy. 

But it’s not just a directly economic asset. It’s also an escape route. After a genuinely difficult week for our family, we struck out on our usual short loop around the patchwork of fields and pathways that surround the village. 

This isn’t picture postcard England. The sights on our circuit incorporate the village football pitches, a couple of light industrial units, a view of Milton Keynes in the distance, some former clay pits (“the bomb hole”) and on Saturday the joy of a red kite soaring over the fields and a clear light that shone some brightness back into our family life.

The countryside is ‘for’ lots of things - but not all of them are easily measured in pounds or acres.

Tags: stewkley words walk autumn

2014-10-27 09:47:23 GMT permalink

Marking change.

It’s that time of the year when you look up and realise that summer has all but slipped away. There is a mist over the fields in the morning, and although still mild the heat has gone out of the middle of the day. But it’s still just about summer. A ‘quarter season’. A liminal time.

There are a lot of small rituals and signs associated with the coming of autumn and I have my own list of minor indicators that provide a coda to another summer: the end of the cricket season, preparing my commuting bike for the damp mornings ahead and a family walk out along the edge of the village collecting blackberries (and sloes). 

There’s been some bigger changes too over recent week: a new niece, a new start for Violet and maybe for Emma as well. Everything the same, constant change.

Inspired by the idea that temporal landmarks are important, it feels like these familial rituals need more space and emphasis. The sloes are already in the gin, waiting for another occasion to mark. 

Tags: words family summer walk blackberry time seasons

2014-09-14 10:55:58 GMT permalink

Exciting times.

Tags: work newjob wolffolins

2014-08-05 17:25:00 GMT permalink

Some things I learnt at R/GA...

A few weeks ago I left R/GA after nearly 4 years, working first as a Technical Team Lead and then as a Technical Director. I’ve learned 1000s of tiny lessons and quite a few big ones over the last few years. Here’s some key ones.

1. Multi-discipline collaboration from day 1
Complex (digital) projects require talented people from many disciplines. Casting the right team can be a challenge, but once on the ground (usually at R/GA in a war room), collaboration needs to be rapid, open and without (too much) ego.

2. Code scamps (aka prototypes) are essential
Just about working software is the best way of explaining an idea. If you can sketch in code, getting something up and running no matter how hacky then you’re moving forward. The things you learn by doing this early are nearly always invaluable as long as you’re prepared to throw away more than you keep - being over invested in the scamp is going to get in the way of iterating.

3. Really good QA helps produce really good products
The internet is everywhere and on everything (Brad Frost, also ex-rga has some great slides about this). I’ve worked on projects where the QA engineer is testing on 20 devices. Obviously there are real benefits in test automation, but there’s no shortcuts - at somepoint somebody is going to need to tap through your app on all the devices, again and again and again.

4. Work smart and work hard
The industry has a long hours culture and sometimes working hard (late) is the way to a briliant product. But it’s not the only way. From a technology point of view investing in smart work; automation, auto-scaling, developer tools that work is way better than just staying late.

5. Access to tools and permissions matter
The battle for better tools and services is constant. If you constantly put a barrier in front of getting things done then you kill the speed at which innovation can happen and in an agency environment slow projects die a slow death. If it takes a 48 hour helpdesk response to get the CI box back online or multiple paper based forms to spin up a cloud service then the velocity of your crack innovation team is being severly hampered.

6. Location doesn’t have to be important
There’s a clamour to have EVERYONE IN THE WAR ROOM ALL THE TIME. But collaboration doesn’t really work like that. Clearly facetime matters, and at the right stage of the project it really is worth having everyone sat in the same room. But having highly motivated, talented people pulling in the same direction is way more important than having them sat in the same office (or even timezone).

Tags: work rga agency lessons retrospective

2014-08-05 17:16:17 GMT permalink

Last day at R/GA London

Today is my last day at R/GA. It’s been an intense and entertaining 3.5 years. Everyone says, “the people here are amazing”. But it’s true R/GA people are talented, hardworking and (borderline) alcoholics.

I remember a couple of days after I started having to be part of a sprint review for a major web app project. There seemed to be hundreds of people on the call from all over the world plus a ragtag bunch of us in London. The review went OK, but it seemed like madness - the ambition of the project was unbelievably high and I couldn’t work out how we were going to deliver the work or get the various random people on the phone to agree about anything. I really wasn’t sure that I’d made the right decision to leave my cosy client side tech role.

But somehow we did it. The work was hard but the results were awesome, even if perhaps the client didn’t quite understand what we’d built - which is probably true for most of my R/GA projects.

What I will remember most fondly are those times when we aimed high, put our foot on the gas and delivered something that seemed almost impossible on day one.

There’s way too many people to call out individually but a big thanks to Patrick and the tech team here in London who’s hard work and talent made me look good on a daily basis and in particular the project teams on Pearson and Getty.

Thanks - it’s been fun.

This is a slightly extended version of my ‘all London’ email to the fantastic folks at R/GA London.

Tags: work rga goodbye future email

2014-07-18 21:56:00 GMT permalink

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