anthony galvin


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. 

#words #family #summer #walk #blackberry #time #seasons

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

Your API is your brand

Recently I was asked to take a look at an API as part of an advertising awards entry that we were making. As with most awards entries the assessment I was making wasn’t just about the functional elements such as the available methods, approach to content negotiation and compliance with open standards, but also the way the API was presented. Was there good documentation and tools as well as an active an easy to engage developer community.

All those elements were there, but there was something else less tangible and probably more important that I was really looking for. What did the API really say about the brand? This assessment is more subtle, but gets to the heart of how and why an organisation is choosing to expose services to third-parties.

- How does the sign-up process work
- Can I have a limited number of API calls without having to sign-up, so that I can test if this is for me 
- Which programming languages are the code examples available in (the choice of languages can say a huge amount about the brand)
- How often is the API updated, is this a live project
- Is there an easy way to submit bugs or feature requests
- Which developer tools are being used to share code and examples (can I do a pull request on GitHub?)

The most important area to understand is the value that the API is offering to developers and third-parties, and by extension what is the expected return value the business can hope to receive.

Empowering developers though your API is a form of co-development with people you might not know so well. Choosing the playing field (the services) carefully is an important way of shaping the development direction.

There’s clearly an assumption within some organisations that “having an API” (public or private) is enough, but just showing up is no longer a winning strategy. The way companies engage the developer community is a pure expression of branding through doing (show, don’t tell). If done in the right way it empowers others to realise your brand expression through their own art, copy and code. Which seems like something that is worth investing in.

#work #branding #api #words #awards

2014-06-18 10:23:00 GMT permalink


A dash for the train. Greens and brown blurred as the pedals spin and breathing hurries. The fields have a haze of green, early shoots of growth, wet with a misty rain. A pheasant fails to hide against this baize, an obvious shot, ready to be potted. 

Into the effort now. Traffic grows; plumber, Golf, Audi, school bus. Past the two small woodlands, then down and over the little bridge, and up the bailey to skirt the embankment and into a village now fortified by roads and starter homes. 

Down into the town, that welcomes careful drivers, though it does a poor job of attracting them, to make the train. Now I’m the one glistening with a morning dew. 

The train pulls away, South. From the carriage window a kestrel hovers, already at work.

#words #commute #bike #cycling #autumn

2013-10-22 16:11:00 GMT permalink

Self-driving cars: moonshot or beer wagon?

Almost every day there’s some new buzz, hype and occasional factual statement about self driving cars. The intersection (pun intended) of technology, user experience and transport policy is an interesting place. 

From a technology perspective it feels like autonomous vehicles could be the equivalent of the space race for our times. As a side effect of getting people on the moon, NASA is also credited with inventing everything from Nike Air to better dentistry. Whilst the self-driving car industry is still in its infancy, innovations in detailed mapping, artificial intelligence, motion detection, capacity planning, battery technology and machine learning (to name but a few) have already started to have a  significant impact on the technology we use everyday. 

But transport and mobility matter a lot more than as a way to get a more accurate vacuum cleaner. The relationship people have with cars is complicated. Much of what has been written about vehicle ownership, usage and urban planning doesn’t take into account the irrational choices that people make around transport everyday. How autonomous vehicles fit into real world scenarios  is going to be complicated, and based on how politicians handle most rapid technology change, I’m not optimistic about how smoothly the polity will adapt. 

In many ways the motor car has been one of the most liberating inventions of the past 150 years. If I was so inclined, tomorrow morning I could pile up the car and drive to the South of France (or more likely the west coast of Scotland) with a level of ease and freedom not possible 100 years or so ago. Yet, despite having a car I don’t really self identify as a driver. It’s something I do, but I’m more likely to say I’m a cyclist or walker. But I’m conscious for many people driving is a very important part of their identify, and for some people the self-driving car represents a challenge to the idea of what it means to be human.

As with most complex technology problems, it’s easier to get to grips with them if you start by trying to build your own version. A self-driving car is a bit of a leap, but the next step for the location aware drinks trolley I build last year is probably autonomy. Even if I don’t get as far as a universal product, a beer wagon that can navigate my office is probably a pretty good place to start.

#self-driving-car #autonomous #ai #cars #transport #mobility #words #robots #driving #work

2017-01-30 22:28:23 GMT permalink

The view.

Over the last few years, the view over the fields behind our house has become increasingly important to me. The back fields. 

It is in many ways an unremarkable view. Looking out across flat fields of pasture. A power line, a few hedges and trees. Sometimes there’s sheep but more often the fields are empty. In the distance, on a clear day, a glimpse of the Chiltern Hills. Mentmore, the Beacon at Ivinghoe and beyond. There’s certainly more dramatic views

Sometimes there is a red kite or a green woodpecker. Today it was a pheasant. But more often it’s a small flock of starlings or sparrows that provide the avian entertainment. In the summer months there are swallows. There’s owls as well, but despite my best efforts I haven’t seen them, only heard their cries on the wind.

I’ve been collecting the sunrises over the fields. Which I suppose is also a way of collecting the sky. Big and open here in North Bucks. Soon the sky might be the only thing still visible to us if the plan to turn the fields into houses is approved.

I think of it as my view, though it’s not mine, I’m just an observer. An onlooker. Not a participant. The flocks of sparrows and starlings don’t object to planning applications, though I’m sure they would given the chance.

#words #home #views #stewkley #sunrise

2017-01-15 00:31:58 GMT permalink

I’m away on holiday at the moment, which means for once I bought a Sunday paper (in this case The Observer). Jon Naughton’s column on the changing nature of photography (phones, snapchat etc..) caught my eye.

It’s an interesting piece in which he links digital behaviours to a demographic. I think this is a common mistake. It’s better to think about behaviours linked to a user need or the network effect of technology adoption. People of a certain age may have a common behaviour, but this is probably linked to a common activity. A classic example of this is the growth of video calling. This is often cross generational, due to parents / grand-parents ‘Skyping’ their children / grand-children.

Naughton quotes Chase Jarvis, “The best camera is the one you have with you”. The article did get me thinking about my relationship with photography. At home we have plenty of devices that take pictures. Our collection includes 1950’s SLRs inherited from my Grandfather, a 10 year old Nikon DSLR and ubiquitous iPhones.

Away on holiday, we’ve brought the DSLR and the smartphones. We use them in different ways at different times. Last night I was sat on the edge of the bay as the sun went down trying to bag a photo of an Otter (I failed). In this scenario, the Nikon is easily the best bet. Emma has also grabbed some great pictures of Buzzards that would be impossible on the iPhone. We’ve also got some great landscape shots with our phones. They are similar, but different tools that come into their own at different times. If you’re interested in photography it’s better to have a few different tools to hand.

The device itself also makes a difference to the subjects, not just the photographer. A week or so ago, when asked to take a few photos at a christening, I used the DSLR. Brandishing the big lens quickly got people lined up around the font.  Our two children have no interest in taking photos with a phone, but get a camera out and they turn into Corinne Day.

The idea that new forms of communication through photography (such as Snapchat) are the first time that pictures have been used for communication seems odd. Photography has been more than just holiday snaps for almost 200 years. It’s the disposable nature of communication that is changing. People today rarely save text messages in the way they previously saved letters.

Many pictures are part of this disposable communication culture, but others, like our holiday snaps are some kind of record. For our family at least.  

Photo by @emsygalvin

#photographhy #technology #memory #phones #words #work

2016-08-23 21:03:58 GMT permalink

A night on the boards

I’ve ridden lots of different bikes, in lots of different places. But this is the first time I’ve ridden fixed gear. With no brakes. On a wooden track that slopes to over 40 degrees in the banking.

But this isn’t just any wooden track - this is the Olympic Velodrome. It’s immediately familiar. I’ve spent hours watching Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton, Trott and many more speed round. Only a few days before my ride, the world championships were filling the place to the rafters.

It’s a different feel today. No crowd and instead of sitting in the gods cheering I’m stood in the middle of the track. Watching the big screen, waiting for my turn to record a flying lap time.

We’ve already had an hour or so of coaching. Learning how to move across the blue boards of the ‘Côte d'Azur’ and speed round the track. Taking just enough speed to hold an improbably high line near the top of the vertiginous banking. I adjust my seat again. In my mind channelling the great Eddy Merckx, though in reality it’s just nerves.

Then I’m off. Slowly at first. Building up speed so I can take the bend as high as possible and then swoop down to the start line. Legs pumping, gripping too tight to the bars.

Down over the line and into the first bend. I’m trying to hold the black line and ride the shortest distance. In my excitement and enthusiasm I’m way above the line. Up near the red, riding too far as I catapult into the back straight. Then round the final bend and I’m already facing the finish line, one last effort and I’m done. I’m breathing so hard that I’m not able to look up and see my time. I slow down and drift back into the middle of the track, as the next rider starts their charge.

My time is pretty terrible, but that’s ok. I’ve ridden the Olympic velodrome and I’ve got a few pointers about where I went wrong. I’ll be back to take some laps soon.

#track #words #olympics #london #cycling

2016-03-22 13:49:36 GMT permalink


Last week R/GA London had it’s first Make Day - two days of creative and technical exploration, in some ways done just for the joy of being able to make things. I was astonished by the diversity and quality of the work that people produced. Russell, has posted a round up of the different projects, which ranged from a (working) face recognition system running on Windows 8 (which isn’t even publicly available) to some marmalade. For my part I worked as part of team building a “tea and coffee roulette web app / game”.

The concept itself was pretty simple - make a webapp that would allow you to join a tea round, the twist being that the last person to set a preference and complete a simple task would have to make the drinks for everyone else. A quick 10 minute brainstorm and one whiteboard diagram later and we were underway, with @sanderkuypers doing the visual design and the rest of us (@benoitgrelard, @loopdream and myself) quickly began hacking together some working software.

From a tech perspective we decided on a web app (ie, a mobile application that isn’t device specific and can run in the browser) as the best way to get something working with our dev skills. From a front end perspective you can get quite a lot of motion data from some devices (such as an iPhone) via JavaScript, which meant we could build a ‘shake the sugar’ task for the race element of the game. Last one to a hundred shakes makes the tea.

To speed up getting to this device data and creating the UI we used the jQuery JavaScript framework. In the background the game engine was built using PHP and CodeIgniter to handle user registration and keeping everything in sync. We had thought about using node.js to handle socket connections to the devices, but with time limited we settled on using Pusher (a hosted socket service), which had us up and running in about 20 minutes. Behind all this sat a simple mySQL database for keeping everything together.

By the end of the two days we had a working game, that looked great and actually worked - user and device registration, automated email (warning users that the game was about to start), a countdown, simple game (track and field style) and notification to the winners and users - all in real time (via web sockets).

Apart from being a break from our usual client projects and lots of fun it was good to build something a little different - although we didn’t stray too far from our core competency, we did try a few new things. Russell and the management team set some pretty loose (open?) goals for make day, but as the project progressed it was clear that one of the main motivating factors of our team was to deliver working software - which is a pretty healthy team ethic.

I’ll post a link to the source code and a working example once it’s online.

– Follow Up –

Dave suggested that one of the factors for the (relative) success of the project was that the team comprised a variety of skill sets. Whilst this is true, it did come about pretty much by accident. 

#coding #development #rga #work #words

2011-12-11 21:48:00 GMT permalink

Putting the wicket to bed

It’s October. Unseasonably hot. The ‘rec’ busy with the usual early morning Sunday traffic. Tired looking fathers push energetic toddlers on the swings and dog walkers hurl mauled tennis balls vast distances with the aid of semi-prosthetic tools. The sound of the Sunday  morning footballers can be heard from over the hedge that separates the cricketers 'oval’ - though in reality the cricket ground is far from a shape that can be easily described by conventional geometry -  from the more rugged footy pitches on the far side of the rec.

But on this bright, late  summer early autumn morning there’s a another sound; a mower is working one end of the tired looking square. On the other side a scarifier is churning away - scarring the wickets with it's metallic teeth, and tearing at the turf that is seen, by some villagers (if not the local foxes) as semi-sacred ground. 

For Stewkley 1st XI the season is over, a slightly misleading name, as there’s only one team on a Saturday these days. By most measures the season has been one of mainly downs, with a second successive relegation only avoided by a rare win on the final day of the season. Next year another assault on the four counties div 3 title awaits. But that’s along way off. For now there’s some work to be done, putting the wicket to bed. 

A group of men are trying to coax the ancient petrol mower back to life. It’s shed some critical bolt into the grass box, a grass box which has already been emptied into a huge pile of cuttings on the far side of the boundary. There’s much cursing and encouragement as the 'old girl’ is primed and the hand start is repeatedly ripped with huge effort and little success. A quirk of the device is that each 'start’, false or otherwise, requires the entire starting mechanism to be rebuilt by hand. A process that seems to take an eternity. Eventually there’s a rumbling cough and the green goddess sparks into life and trundles off down the wicket. Despite her age and infirmity, the cut of the whirling blades is neat and efficient.

The square hasn’t seen many big score this year. Often a little 'green’ and far from flat (the ordinance survey could run a training course identifying all the ridges that run over the 12 or so strips)), visiting teams know that anything over 150 is going to be a potentially winning score. Teams who reach 3 figures batting first always fancy their chances. Especially if there’s been some overnight rain (there are no covers) or it’s a cloudy atmospheric day. This isn’t a ground for the batting purist, but for the 'grafting’ batsmen who plays the ball as late as possible.

Yet it isn’t the worst wicket in the league and the 'rec’ certainly isn’t a bad place to play your cricket. On a good Saturday the benches and chairs by the squat brick pavilion are filled with spectators, never short of encouragement and, sometimes direct advice. Surrounded by trees - with a couple encroaching within the boundary at the far end (only 4 runs should you clip one of those with a lofted drive) and sitting  on the edge of the village, it’s a sometime bucolic scene. The (inattentive) fielder can watch buzzards and red kites hunt in the adjacent fields and tractors buzz along the Soulbury Road, a short hit over the boundary. 

Today though there are no spectators or men in white. Instead on the edge of the 'artificial’ there’s a large pile of top soil and a bag of grass seed being mixed up, ready to top dress the square. Perhaps as an offering to the cricketing deities for more runs next year - and certainly for more consistent bounce. Though perhaps some of the bowlers are less sincere in their devotions. Wickets seem easier to come by when you don’t know if the batsmen is unsure if a length ball will shoot onto his the toe or rear up to under his nose.

The mower falls silent again, and whilst a committee of elders try and formulate a plan for one more start the younger members of the work party begin an impromptu game on the edge of the cut strips. A old tennis ball is found and a broken shovel commandeered for a bat. There’s some edgy drives, the weight of the blade and the post season rustiness combining to give catching practice to the close circle of fielders. The old machine is back in action and the game breaks up to scatter the soil, seed and odd stone over the freshly manicured ground.

And then it’s done. The rope is up around the table, suspended strangely at head height from metal poles - a test for for those wending their way home across the 'rec’ from a  late night session in The Swan. There’s time for a quick beer in the pavilion bar, the last one of the cricketing year and then it’s done. The wicket has been put to bed. The season is over. Until the next one. 

#cricket #words #sport #stewkley #autumn

2011-10-24 12:32:00 GMT permalink

next >>