6 min read

Barcamp North East: Review

Last week was Barcamp Northeast 4, aka geekfest slumber party , held at the wonderful Star and Shadow. What did I learn? Lots….

Star and Shadow as venue = win

PS1 + Bust-a-move (I think)

Nice couches, a bar, and — of course — a little cinema room, the Star and Shadow was an utter dream, especially for those of us who hung around the entire time. It was nice to not have to venture out into the real world.

We also had a retro PS1 with a few games, which meant I got to play Playstation for the very first time. I avoided it as a kid as I thought I’d probably fail school otherwise. After spending a bit of time on the console, I believe I was justified.

However, no one did really know the difference between the four types of cider available. Why?

Anything really does go in terms of topics.

Whilst having been to barcamps before (namely Barcamp Auckland), I’d never actually done a talk proper, mainly as I’d never been sure I could do something appropriate as more of a designer than developer. However, I’d been told that often the random topics are the best (a topic at a London conf “how do I make a perfect curry” was apparently a real winner). And it was right. While we had some wonderfully on-topic talks such as using Drupal, Arduino, and winning at hackdays, others ranged from saving a rubber duck trapped down a wall (don’t ask), to robbing a bank.

My topic was the laziest of them all: I went and bought about £10 worth of drawing materials from Wilkinsons, and did drawing groups both days. But it was a lot of fun and I got to talk to some really interesting people (some of whom hadn’t drawn in over a decade!)

Drawing session in progress

Barcamps aren’t just for people.

You know you’re at a geek-fest when there are toys (not just toys, but twitter enabled ones) @fuzzyleo,  @dragon_365, @apeei, and @duck365 (from afar).

Toys photo courtesy of Fuzzy Leo. Really

Plan to stay the entire time

It's a Time Lord Jim, but not as we know it

After the talks was when it got really interesting, with a range of powerpoint karaoke sessions (I had a crack at improv to “GPS Enabled Cows”, which strangely enough wasn’t the only cow-themed talk of the night).

There was also a showing of Dr Horrible on the big screen (all cleared with the producers, thanks Joss Wheldon and co.)

There were plans to get a lot of people hacking through the night, and while I did stay up working on a WordPress install, James Rutherford aka @creativenucleus did something far cooler: a spirograph-like JS/HTML5 app.


Arbitrary Summary of Some Talks

(based on whether I had battery on my devices at time of watching)

Flawed Tech and Art

Art installation on video/audio addiction, using the ghosting you get from SCART cables as a type of VJing effect. Anything with original Star Trek is a win for me.

How to Win at a Hackday

Dom Hodgson

WTF is a hackday? Glad you asked

Hodgson gave a punchy and useful overview to winning hackdays (as he’s won a few of them). Given that many of them now have great prizes, there is a reason to take them seriously.

  1. Know the rules. Find out beforehand whether they require you to use an SDK, how long you have to present, team size etc.
  2. Find your team. They may not be friends, just people who are appropriate [the latter could be v important w/ big prizes]
  3. Get your environment set up.  Don’t turn up to an iOS hack day w/o XCode already on your computer (it’s a 3Gb download!), have same versions across them. When Hodgson’s team won TouchPad, they were the only team to arrive with the SDK installed. The others spent 3+ hrs installing it.
  4. Process your ideas. Know who is doing what.
  5. Get your team connected. Get an IRC set up, even if you’re sitting together. Lingr or Campfire are Hodgon’s preferred clients of choice, his teams have also used Git to keep databased and files synched.
  6. Have extra screens. Last year a person brought 24″ iMac to the hackday and was laughed at … until he won. Now everyone does. Lesson: if you can bring it on a train, bring it!
  7. The presentation is important too. How long do you have to present? how can you differentiate yourself and wake up the judges in the time?
  8. Go with what you know … You don’t have time and it will give you an advantage.
  9. … but don’t go with the obvious. At a charity hack, everyone will do/has done donating from phone apps.
  10. Take it seriously. If it’s a good prize, you may think about working in shifts!
  11. Powernaps are powerful. Going to Tesco or lying down can help you debugging!
  12. It’s not just about winning.  It can be about having fun.

Having been to (admittedly non-competitive and thus rather solo-working) hackdays and felt like the fifth wheel, I had to ask about being a designer/front-end developer at these event. The answer? “If you’re a designer at a hack day, you will be loved. We need more designers”. Given that judges will judge on aesthetics as much as anything (be it the app, or the presentation itself), there is a role for designers, and the few designers that turn up at such events are apparently fought over. Nice to know.

How to Get Noticed On Flickr

Martin Cunningham

How do you use Flickr as something more than just a place to put up your pics? Cunningham had some great suggestions:

  • Be choosy. Don’t put up scores of pictures of your cat!
  • Upload in right order. Put the best one last, as this is the one that contacts will see first in their streams.
  • Reciprocate. Don’t just upload, share other good photos, favourite them etc.
  • Spread across media (blog, twitter etc). Also worth checking out: 500px.com (photogallery site).
  • Don’t upload low-quality photos. People can’t use them!
  • Use Moo for your cards. You can get a range of photos on the back of them and use them to cheaply showcase your work.
  • Use groups. It’s a great way to get critique & get help e.g. Newcastle Flickr/Photowalk groups. Cunningham started using Flickr just to upload good pics, but now uses it as a social tool as well.
  • Tag, including geo tag. People will often look by location as well, and it may be brought in to location feeds.
  • Allow for search engines.

Some other comments from the floor:
Creative Commons: Martin has his on All Rights Reserved (ARR)as it’s the default. A number of photographers in the room have been put off CC due to being ripped off and now use ARR, but will usually give permission if asked. (As someone who works on a blog where posts have to go up on the day, I do find this annoying as I can’t always wait for the permission, but see their point.)
Flickr vs Instagram: while some say Flickr is dead, it’s still better for photographers because rights are automatically assigned to them and there are CC options.
Flickr trivia of the day: the ‘gne’ in URLs stands for “Game Never Ending” (Flickr started as an offshoot from gaming comp)


As I’ve said, this was just a few of the talks that happened over the days.  All up, it was a wonderful weekend, and I’d highly recommend coming along next year.