anthony galvin


I'm a technolgist at TodayTix, the posts below are about work, but probably don't reflect my employers opinions. If you want to connect about work related topics, then this is probably the best place to do it. Work related tweets @workoworko

Creating a connected drinks trolley

Most agencies have a Friday drinks routine. At AKQA London there’s a couple of Virgin Atlantic drinks trolleys that do the rounds. Split over 3 large floors, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly when your G&T is going to arrive. To counter this problem we decided to upgrade the drinks trolley.


The CRD team have been adding estimote beacons across the office (15 or so per floor). These give pretty good coverage, more than enough for a drinks trolley tracker. There’s a few ways you could check the location of the trolley, but it made sense to use all those beacons.


To turn the trolley into an IoT device, we used an Intel Edison hooked up to a SparkFun battery pack. The Edison is Intel’s small connected prototyping device. Think an Arduino but with a bit more power and built in WiFi and Bluetooth. 

The Edison runs a version of Linux and you can write apps in a variety of languages including node.js. Using the Bleacon library I wrote a simple script that uses the onboard Bluetooth to scan for beacons.

When the Edison finds a known beacon, it calls a service to let it know which beacon is nearby. To keep things simple we are using AWS API gateway and dynamoDB so there’s no server side code to manage. There’s a second endpoint that returns a list of places the trolley has been. We then use this data to populate a simple website to tell people where the trolley is.


It’s a fairly silly application for IoT, but it shows how you can create a proof of concept without lots of infrastructure. The good news is we now know where the trolley is. The bad news is that it doesn’t make it arrive any sooner.  


#work #akqa #beacons #serverless #location #beer #prototype #iot #trolley #edison #intel #hardware #node

2016-09-16 14:50:38 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

Creative education is core.

Next month parliament will debate the removal of performing arts from exam options for 16-18 year olds. The debate will only take place because over 100,000 people signed an online petition. MPs on all sides seemed to have little understanding of the impact that creative and performance based subjects have on students. Both on their potential futures and the needs of businesses. 

I am someone who benefited enormously from studying music and drama throughout my schooling. In particular studying performance based subjects at GCSE, A-Level and then at degree level. These studies equipped me for life and work in many ways.

These studies introduced me to a creative literacy that I hadn’t experienced before. The ability to communicate abstract thoughts or big ideas through sound, word or gesture wasn’t always part of my life. I grew up in a declining northern town in the 80s and 90s. Performing arts field trips to local theatres and concerts opened my mind to a broader view of the world. It wasn’t easy for most 16 year olds to stumble across Brahms or Brecht in Rochdale.

Beyond exposure to a broader hinterland, these performance lead studies also started to develop a set of softer skills. They gave me confidence in-front of an audience, the ability to communicate as part of a group and an understanding the importance of rehearsal time. These are skills I continue to use and develop as part of my day-to-day work. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do the job I do now.

As with most of our daily lives, technology plays an increasingly important role in performance and the arts. I spent my late teens playing with a whole range of niche and now obsolete devices. Trying to wrestle their output into some sort of communication or emotional response. I do the same sort of thing now, just with a different set of technologies.

The key skills of the future are creativity and communication linked to technical capability. We should be encouraging more children to take creative performance based subjects seriously, not fewer.

#work #creativity #arts #performance #music #drama #technology #education #politics #skills

2016-06-09 10:58:07 GMT permalink

Technology, creativity & humanities

Yesterday at AKQA London, Alec Ross took part in a Q&A. Ross is former innovation advisor to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The session was wide ranging covering genetic testing, cyber warfare and the US election. But the topic that got me thinking was when Alec described the skills that people will need in the future to be employable in a more automated world.

Alec’s answer was that people will need to combine excellence in technology, creativity and the humanities (social sciences, psychology, politics etc…). The need for “creativity in the age of automaton” isn’t a new idea. But humanities in the age of automation was a new addition!

Listening to Alec I realised that many of the best developers I’ve encountered in my agency career would already fit this profile. Developers with a background in music or fashion or cartoons or in some other discipline beyond just computer science. Some with a pure computer science background often have a hinterland - a not so hidden passion for triathlon or pickled onions.

This isn’t a plea for developers who don’t know their (pickled) onions. Deep tech knowledge, and a genuine understanding of the fundamentals is mandatory. It’s a recognition of the fact that a well turned out line of code on its own isn’t going to be enough. Solving complex problems requires deep collaboration. Collaboration with people of different disciplines and levels of technical expertise. The most successful agency side developers are not just receptive of input from designers, strategists et al. They are empathetic to the objectives of different disciplines and able to contribute to the process.

We often talk about T-Shaped individuals (especially when hiring). This sometimes masks the reality of an organisational structures and processes that make it hard for such people to succeed.

Finding ‘renaissance’ developers today is one thing. The T-Shaped developers of tomorrow are probably a bigger concern. If Ross’ hypothesis is correct then current trends in UK education policy are a serious concern. Rather than reducing the emphasis on arts and creative subjects, we should be emphasising the importance of these. Not at the expense of STEM subjects, but in conjunction with them. Perhaps I’m biased - I’m Music Tech graduate, who works in technology. 

#work #education #creativity #skills #akqa

2016-02-24 12:32:46 GMT permalink

Javascript & Me

A little while ago I wrote about some of the tools I’ve been using, but my most frequently used tool, isn’t really a tool, but a programming language which has become my default way of solving problems with software. Javascript.

The benefits, convenience and inevitability of Javascript have been well documented - to the point of ’overwhelm’. It’s not just the ubiquity of the language that’s making it the tool of choice for agencies, start-ups and corporate teams alike (though as someone who helps build agency teams, being able to double down on a single language for front-end and backend development is pretty handy). For me it’s the quality of the tooling (with the likes of PM2 and Gulp becoming part of my standard toolkit), and also the community that supports, builds and shares around this common eco-system.

It’s easy to find people who decry the rise (and rise) of JavaScript. When I started my first web job 17 years ago, it was impossible to imagine that you’d be able to get JS to run consistently in a couple of browsers (with a touch of document.write) never mind power an in cabin airline experience and more. With the rapid adoption of the latest versions of JavaScript, and the continued evolution of the language, I’ve got a terrible feeling I’m going to be writing more and more javascript for a while to come. 

#work #coding #javascript

2016-02-22 11:57:32 GMT permalink

The Honey Club made a film about the #KXBeeTrail app that Wolff Olins helped to make last summer. Warning includes me talking!

#work #bees #honey #apps #video #beacons #physicalweb

2016-01-07 12:55:04 GMT permalink

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.

#work #honey #bees #beacons #BLE #mobile #apps #phonegap

2015-09-22 22:04:53 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.

#work #tools #lists

2015-06-01 21:47:30 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

#work #tools #agile #words #story

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

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