Available hours in a year for personal projects

While planning ahead to finish my Open University studies, I’ve been testing how well I can study in my available free time; and my recent study with Coursera has provided a pretty good simulation. It’s important to be realistic with yourself about how much time you actually have to do these things, on a sustainable basis, for a significant period of time. Especially with the tuition fees being as expensive as they are and if you’re making a commitment for a whole year of your free time. My thinking has gone like this… First I account for my time being a husband and dad, then my working hours, then sleep, then a few hours for getting/keeping fit and I’m left with around two hours per day, or 14 hours a week of ‘free’ time. For a couple of weeks at … Continue reading »

Concept Game – Simple Evolutionary Model

I’ve spent enough time on this now to submit it, even if it’s still a bit rough around the edges. I’ve included a bit of a write up below. This demo will run best in Chrome or Opera. Click to play. I’ve built a simple ‘game’ called Digital Husbandry. It’s more of a time killer as it doesn’t have any serious game mechanics, but there is a visual reward to keep the user engaged. It’s based on the idea of simulating progressive evolution through selective breeding. Much as generations of farmers have done with livestock. The player brings together critters on the screen based on visual qualities that appeal to them, and produces offspring that drive the overall appearance of the group closer to those qualities selected by the player. The ‘critters’ die when they reach the ‘deadzone’ at the … Continue reading »

Degrees of done

With life in a reasonably calm and sensible place right now, it seems like a good time to finish up something I started some time ago. About 10 years ago, when I finished art college I came to the conclusion that going to university would lead to a big old pile of debt, and that I could find a better way to navigate the requirements of professional life. My studies were in fine art which was a useful exercise in creative and critical thinking, but was never going to pay the bills. And I’m not planning to die a starving artist. Alongside my studies, I’d been building websites (and earning a few pounds doing it). I’d learned enough about writing code that I wanted to study computer science (CS) more formally, but even a distinction in fine art wouldn’t get me into any regular … Continue reading »

Learning Backbone.js and Single Page Applications

Following up my post about the backbone.js book I downloaded, I’ve been playing, testing and learning as much as I can. So much so that I’ve neglected my Coursera design course, though I think this is a better use of my time in the long run. This particular Coursera course was mainly to test out the MOOC process first-hand, and it’s pretty cool on the whole. I’ll still be taking part in the Game Theory course that’s coming up, and I’d give Coursera a big thumbs up overall. I’ve studied design previously, so the content in the course (while very good) was mostly a re-hashing of old stuff for me, whereas delving into the world of Backbone.js and Single Page Applications has been a great way to challenge my existing approach to web design and development. It’s been a real brain … Continue reading »

Menu Planner: Sequence of user needs

Here’s the next instalment from my Coursera project notes:   This has been an interesting exercise but I’m looking forward to doing some actual design and prototyping work soon. I’ve also been thinking about how much more flexible software design can be than physical product design; especially hosted auto-updating software like a web app.

A simple and flexible meal planning system

Following on from my post about stealing ideas, here’s the first instalment from my Coursera design project. I’ll share this work as I go along and then I’ll open source the project properly once the course is over (in seven weeks). Design problem definition: I am developing a simple and flexible meal planning system that generates a shopping list to help people reduce their food bill and cut down on food waste. A list of  user needs derived from interviews and observation Exclamation points indicate potentially latent needs using the Kano Model. These are basically the things users may want, but may not realise they may want; a chance to over-deliver and delight. The planner and shopping list is flexible The planner and shopping list is suitable for a weekly food shop The planner and shopping list is suitable for a fortnightly food shop The … Continue reading »

On stealing my ideas

So, as part of this Coursera design course, I’m learning a lot about how people value their own ideas. One of the discussions among the students is about “how to avoid people stealing your ideas”. Firstly, I should point out that each discreet chunk of your work is reviewed by five of your peers and you review the work of five random peers, meaning you don’t actually see the whole of someone’s project, just random bits of random projects. And with over 30,000 people taking the course,  the risk of someone nicking your idea, if you’re really worried about it, is limited. But some of the discussions are entertaining. Including a few people who are “only going to design something a bit rubbish so they don’t give away their really good ideas”. This all seems to overlook the fact that … Continue reading »

The best online page turning book/magazine

I’ve seen a lot a shiny, fancy and useless online page turner book things, and typically hate them for their reliance on flash, the difficulty of reading them and the fact that we’re combining the worst of digital and non-digital technologies mainly to impress the people responsible for publishing the content rather than the people who are meant to read it. This one was great though: http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/~ulrich/designbook.html The key difference being the link on the left: “Download the MOBI file directly”. I can flick through the book as I would at a shop, get a feel for the content, and then if it’s worth it, email the file straight to my Kindle for a proper reading experience. That’s more like it now.

Specific thoughts on the @Coursera experience

First, I’d like to say a massive thank you. I really value the chance to study this excellent material at zero financial cost, and more importantly I love the opportunity you provide to people all around the world who don’t have the finances or the circumstances to otherwise consider such an education. I also know what it’s like to maintain and develop a complex online system while supporting active users, so this feedback is by no means an accusation of negligence. You will have thought about much of this already I’m sure, and if it’s already on a project roadmap somewhere then please excuse me. In short, this is not a letter from a grumpy customer; I just thought it may be useful to hear some specific feedback and ideas that could help with the online experience: When viewing and submitting … Continue reading »

On my next pet project and @Coursera

My most recent ‘pet project’, Done by When, grew up today. It’s 3 months to the day since I announced a vague plan to test out an idea that had been floating around my head, and now it’s out of beta, taking payments and I’ve just notice our Mandrill email reputation has crept up to ‘Excellent’. Woohoo. I’m delighted with where it’s going and all the helpful (positive and negative) feedback I’ve had from the first brave group of testers. I’ve added some screenshots to my portfolio on Behance, but the interface has progressed even further since then. Now that Done by When has a “business model” and all that, it will be given a serious amount of time and attention going forwards. But importantly, as it has an active user base I won’t be using it as a playground … Continue reading »