Tag Archives: audioboo

Geekery in 8-bits and more

In which I get misty-eyed and nostalgic, geek out over electronics, and think about mobile and the cloud.

Then

On Saturday I went along to the Horizons 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum event, organised by Paul Squires and Leila Johnston and held at the BFI in London. The event ran on both days but I wasn’t able to stay on the Sunday, so I missed at least half of the fun!

Steven Goodwin reads Sinclair User

Although I’m full of nostalgia for the 8-bit era, I have to confess I never actually owned a Speccy or any Sinclair hardware. My friends did, but I was primarily an Acorn enthusiast and our first home computer was an Electron (although the first computer I used at primary school was a Commodore PET).

I fondly remember some of the hacks I did on/with/to the Electron, including soldering a pair of headphones into the motherboard to avoid annoying my parents with the music from various Superior Software titles 🙂

Regardless of “allegiance”, Horizons was a really great day. Highlights for me included a fantastic history of computing by PJ Evans from The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park (if you haven’t been there yet, you should visit!); Spectranet, an Ethernet adapter for the Spectrum which had me wanting one for no good excuse that I can come up with; and the mind-blowing live composition of a chip tune by Matt Westcott which I saw, but I struggled to comprehend. Matt’s ability to reverse engineer a tune in his head was remarkable.

Oh, and if you haven’t downloaded or bought MJ Hibbett‘s Hey Hey 16k yet, or at least streamed it, you really should.

aside: since Horizons was part of SciFi London, I tried to get Micro Men director Saul Metzstein to drop some hints about his upcoming S7 Dr Who episodes. All he would say was that the western episodes were filmed in Spain (knew that), and that the script for the Christmas episode hasn’t been written yet (didn’t know that).

Now

Components

After the event on Saturday evening, I found it a real struggle to avoid crazy, nostalgia-fuelled eBay purchases, but I did manage to resist! Instead, I resolved to finally get around to building the Fignition I’d picked up at the Hack to the Future event a couple of months ago.

For those who are not familiar with it, the Fignition is a credit card sized build-it-yourself 8-bit computer based around the ATMega chip (the same one used in the Arduino and Nanode Open Source hardware boards). It’s really a remarkable little device – I guess it took me about an hour to assemble and solder, although your mileage may vary. The build guide is excellent and very clear. After performing a couple of power on tests with and without the ICs inserted, it was time to connect up to the TV – and it worked first time. It boots into a simplified Forth environment, which was reminiscent of that BBC BASIC> prompt I am so familiar with from my childhood. The only real downside is that the keyboard – built from 8 clicker buttons – is a bit fiddly to get to grips with, but hey – I just assembled a complete 8-bit computer including video out and keyboard! It’s hard not to be excited.

The board I built was a RevD – the new RevE board has onboard audio in/out (get ready for some fun loading stuff from audio cassettes, again!), and is also slightly modified so that in principle, it is possible to add Arduino-footprint shields. That’s kind of cool, as it means that it might be possible to add a PS/2 keyboard or a network interface.

Ready to test!

What’s “the point” of something so simple, by today’s standards? Well, actually – the simplicity. I went from a bag of components, to a fully working computer in the palm of my hand – no surface-mount components – to a programmable device. It’s “primitive” by the standards of today’s machines, but it’s not that hard to understand how an 8-bit “brain” works, in comparison to the 32 or 64-bit mulitcore CPUs and GPUs in modern laptops and mobile phones. In my opinion, the Fignition, Arduino and Nanode fulfil an important role in helping youngsters to understand the basic principles of electronics and computing.

Next

Last night I headed along to the fantastic Mozilla offices in London.

Mozilla Space, London

The main LJC event was Simon Maple from IBM showing off the new WebSphere 8.5 Liberty Profile running on a Raspberry Pi. I’d hooked Simon up with Sukkin Pang recently so that he could get one of the smart enclosures he provides for the Pi. It was pretty cool to see a full Java app server running on such a small computer – actually almost exactly the same size as the Fignition, only considerably more powerful of course.

The whole talk was live streamed on Mozilla Air – but if you missed it, there’s a video available (complete with semi-professional heckling from yours truly!)

Boot 2 Gecko

What stole the evening for me, though, was two other glimpses of what lies ahead. First, Tom Banks from IBM Hursley came on stage after Simon and showed off the Liberty profile running on a mobile phone. Let me clarify – he was running Android 2.3 on a Nexus One (an “old” phone), running Ubuntu Linux as a virtual image inside of that, and WebSphere inside of that. Kind of mind-blowing! A proof-of-concept and arguably not very useful… not sure when I would want to put a full JEE app server in a phone… but extremely cool. Finally, @cyberdees let Tom and I have a play with Boot to Gecko – Mozilla’s new mobile play. B2G was something I’d heard about, but not touched. I have to say that even in an early form, it’s looking very slick, boots extremely fast – much more quickly than any Android or iOS device I’ve seen – and the device integration (GPS, camera, access to hardware settings, etc) was impressive.

With the Open Web as the platform, ubiquitous mobile devices, and increasingly sophisticated cloud-based backends to interact with, the future is looking pretty cool.

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Broadcast on the web – ipadio

One of the first people I met at SOMESSO on Friday was Giles Bryan, who is one of the founders of ipadio. I mentioned that I was experimenting with a tool called AudioBoo on the iPhone recently… well, ipadio is similar, but there are a few key differences. It works from any phone; it records and streams live as you talk (the audio quality is not as good as AudioBoo, but the uses are arguably more flexible); and you can conference in multiple people to a call, so you can effectively have group chats or interviews live on the web from any phone.

Giles was good enough to let me have a look at a development pre-release version of their forthcoming iPhone application, and this morning we had a discussion about ipadio, some of the celebrity users, and some of the things you can do with it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m honestly not sure how often I’ll be using ipadio, but I have a “phlog” (phone blog) over on their site, so feel free to follow it if you’re interested. It’s clear that there’s a lot of interest in the online audio space so it is interesting to see these services develop.

SOMESSO summary

The nice folks from AudioBoo caught me for a quick interview after my presentation yesterday and you can hear the short summary of what I talked about on their site, or by playing the embedded audio here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I was also interviewed on camera by Daniel and Eduardo Vidal (hope you feel better soon, Eduardo!)… and my whole presentation was recorded as well, so those should appear over the next couple of weeks.

Oddly I seemed to spend a lot of time discussing Poken after the talk! I guess my use of Poken as a prop at the start of the presentation raised a lot of interest. My mention of Home Camp and sustainability also generated some additional conversations. I also detected a lot of interest as to how IBM had achieved the cultural changes required to adapt to a social web (answer: I’d argue that openness has been in our corporate DNA for some time now), and also in how we put together our Social Computing Guidelines. Again, I would draw attention to one paragraph in the guidelines which I think sums up the approach and background:

In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Internet—at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees’ Internet access. In 2005, the company made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere and to encourage IBMers to participate. We continue to advocate IBMers’ responsible involvement today in this rapidly growing space of relationship, learning and collaboration.

I thought the SOMESSO London event was just superb. A series of short (15-20 minute) presentations from some smart people who I was quite frankly honoured to be on the same bill as; and I really didn’t think that there was anything superfluous, it was just great content and information. The Emirates Stadium was a great venue, too… once I’d found my way into the conference centre in the morning, avoiding the queue of contestants lining up for X-Factor auditions! If my camera battery had lasted I would have posted a lot more to Flickr, but I’m afraid there are only a few shots up there.

Thanks to Arjen Strijker, Mary Harrington, Susan Kish and others for putting the day together. On the basis of yesterday’s conference, I highly recommend future events in the series, and would also encourage you to get involved in the SOMESSO community if you are at all interested in social media in the enterprise. I’m really looking forward to following up all of the new connections I made yesterday.

Finally, some links to some of the books I referenced in my talk or during the backchannel conversation:

Say Boo!

If microblogging wasn’t crazy enough… you can now audioboo!

AudioBoo is a free iPhone application linked to a website of the same name. It lets you record short messages and upload them to the site, where people can then comment if they so desire.

I heard about it a few weeks ago, and installed it on my phone, but never actually launched it. It wasn’t until yesterday that my interest was really piqued, when the boys on the Dan Logan Show talked about it (I dropped them an email to tie it in with my RSS chat, since AudioBoo quite naturally provides RSS feeds). I’ve noticed folks like Phil Campbell using it quite a lot too, so while I was waiting for some software to install today I thought I’d actually try it out.

Sign-up was a breeze… I was delighted to find that it autodetected my Gravatar so I didn’t have to upload a profile image to yet another service, and it used the new Twitter OAuth support to link to my Twitter account without needing me to hand over my password. Even better – the audio quality is brilliant, as it records locally on the phone and then gets transferred, rather than being recorded on the server side with all the crackly quality of a phone line. The iPhone app works beautifully, too, as you’d expect. Oh, and you can subscribe to AudioBoo feeds in iTunes, which is pretty neat.

At the moment I can’t see how much I’d use this, but it’s fun. I see via the AudioBoo blog that the Guardian used it to cover the G20 protests in London. Cool idea.