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James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!

A while since I’ve updated, but I’ve noticed some traffic due to a recent project, so a quick update…

Binaudios is a collaborative piece with Dominic Wilcox, as a commission by Suzy O’Hara (Thinking Digital Arts) for Thinking Digital.

More on the art side of the piece can be found in Dominic’s portfolio, and I’ve given an interview to the Raspberry Pi Foundation for their Art Showcase to introduce the techie side.

I’m interested in creative technology, open data, visualisations, and work as a ‘gun for hire’ for tech startups. You can find me here on Twitter.

Apologies that this is long. It’s maybe indulgent too (no apologies for that). Like a the automaton I am I’ve added headings if you’d like to skip sections.

Wedding Tales

I started 2011 by seizing a huge opportunity.

I was approached by Oli, a techie looking for someone to partner with to try a business idea. We knew of each other from social circles but we’d never worked together. The idea was similar to a project I’d tried to launch a few years back (WedCommunity) but with a different focus; and it was accepted for The Difference Engine tech accelerator programme (TDE).

TDE hosted ten participating teams in a large office in Sunderland for three months. Each team exchanged a small percentage of their company for a little seed funding and was introduced to a series of mentors to help shape the idea and strategy.

We developed Wedding Tales – the online service that makes it very easy for a wedding couple to collect in the photos taken by their guests. We also built a non-wedding version for events and parties.

TDE was pretty intense – a get out what you put in affair – so there wasn’t much going on in my life outside.

We’re very happy with our baby. For most weddings, we collect in 300-400 photos, and our top performer has grossed close to a thousand. We’ve also had some great feedback and recognition (including Start Up of the Day). We’re sure there’s a useful and profitable service here but think our main challenge is catching couples at the right point (2-3 months before their wedding). We’ve met some good people in the local wedding industry and have built a foundation to resell through photographers and venues.

Will next year be when Wedding Tales hits mainstream? We hope so! Please consider it if you’ve getting hitched, or want to give an excellent modern wedding present- [chums discounts available on application!]

TDE itself has been amazing for my personal development. I met some smart people who I’m sure will be friends/co-conspirators for a long time, I have a much more honed attitude and understanding of what makes an online business tick (and rock), and Oli and I have cemented a friendship that we’ll continue to enjoy through our mutual love for building tech projects.

Health and Welfare

2011 is the year I became aware of, and interested in my health.

A couple of weeks into TDE, I was struck with a bad back. For ten days I suffered lumbar pains, and for five of them my posture was pulled to that of an octogenarian. It was an incredibly humbling experience- to be unable to get out of the bath, to be unable to walk more than a half-step at a time. I’m fortunate that a few days of strong pain-killers and rest allowed me to leave it behind.

Later in the year, I popped in to see my GP to ask about a few things that were concerning. Foremost, a small lump I found on my upper leg and associated pain lower down- which was diagnosed with near certainty as a (benign) lipoma. I was thoroughly pleased with both my GP and NHS hospital visit (aside from long wait times at the latter).

I also took part in an MRI scan for a psychology experiment somewhere within the Campus for Ageing and Vitality in Newcastle General. It’s both fascinating and disturbing to see a picture of the inside of your own head. Turns out there’s an organic fleshy thing inside.

My family and friends also remain more-or-less healthy with the exception of my Grandma, who passed away. She’d been taking blood transfusions for a few years and her condition deteriorated rapidly within a few weeks. I don’t feel upset- she had her family around her and outlived my Grandad by many years. Her last few days were made comfortable in a hospice. I’m pleased that I got the chance to spend a little time alone for a personal chat- something I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never done before.

I know of two couples who’d like a family, but have had troubles in pregnancy. I hope 2012 gives them what they wish for.

Travel

I haven’t travelled much, save for a couple of trips down to Brighton- during which I’ve shared some rare, but enjoyable time with my cousins.

This year I’m looking forward to meeting my Dad and a couple of U.S. chums for a conference in Arizona. I hope that I’ll also get out to New Zealand again!

Finance

The first half of 2011 was pretty hard going. Oli and I decided to pay ourselves very lightly from the business while we developed it- and it was more than full-time work. Latterly, I’ve been fortunate with work connections, and have had a lot of stable freelance stuff to do. It means I’ve been able to pull my credit back, but really haven’t had much free time. I apologise to everyone who asked how I was to receive the answer ‘busy’; it’s a very boring answer.
Despite my love of shiny stuff, my needs are thankfully fairly meagre. I’m squeezing my iPhone 2G as far as it will go- it now decides not to ring on a whim and regularly scrambles outgoing messages- but I’m hoping that fashion goes full circle and the stylings become trendy again.

I’d like to balance my time a little better next year- when finance has properly righted then this may be possible, though it may well not… for an exciting reason to be mentioned shortly!

Tech Interests

I continue to be involved with the local tech social scene, and still consider us fortunate for it in Newcastle. I’ve attended PHPNE, NENT, Freelance Romance, TAAD, BarCampNE, and put together an evening about videogames for SuperMondays. I was pleased to have the chance to write a short note for the local newspaper, The Journal (and will release the original in its unedited gory glory at some point soon).

I attended a couple of conferences, GameHorizon and Thinking Digital which were, for the most part, excellent.

I’ve met with the other SuperMondays committee members for our quarterly meetings. I feel that we need to fight to shine. We’ve clearly established, which is great, but it’s easy for that to slip into a rut of regular meetings. There are now many (more) groups catering to domain specific discussion (some of which I’ve listed above) which we can complement. I’d like us to do this by (1) pulling bigger speakers into the region and (2) offering intellectual variety – each of our meetings should contain something to inspire or educate every regular SM attendee.

‘Office-share’ Rob and I had been talking about starting a group for a while- and in October we pinned the first meeting of Design Interest. We saw that there were a number of meetings catering for different programming languages, but a big hole for our talented design community. We’re aiming for it to be varied- with talks from areas of design, illustration, photography, etc. We’re also aiming for it to be practical- to foster a supportive environment for ‘bring your own for criticism’ session. We’ve been smart in putting together a sharp, lively advisory board- to whom I’m grateful. The first few meetings have far exceeded our expectations and been very warmly received. I look forward to seeing it develop this year, and maybe going national and global… really!

At the end of the year, Newcastle was host to Ignite100 (a spiritual successor to TDE). The buzz this created was brilliant, and I was pleased to get to know some of the projects and teams (particularly ArtSpotter, Blink Collective and Unmagnify). I hope that I’m able to stay in touch with the luminaries. It was a bit strange to feel ‘on the other side of the fence’ and, when I attended the pitches-in-progress, I was amused that the three of us who had been on TDE (myself, Oli and Tristan) were giving them the biggest Q&A battering- I think it’s an indication of how TDE has developed us (…or perhaps given us a misplaced sense of entitlement to question).

Work and Life

I continue to share an office with Rob within easy walking distance of where I live. It’s still a nice, cosy arrangement. We’ve worked together on a couple of projects and share leads. We also set up Design Interest together- it’s an interesting experience to collaborate on something amorphous, but I’m enjoying how it’s working out and am trying, for his sake, to reign back my inner control-freak.

I mentioned in the 2010 round-up that five of us were meeting regularly to discuss developing a tool (now ‘Usable HQ Ltd‘, developing ‘Requirements’). They decided to form a company while I was on TDE and submit it to Ignite100. I understand that I was involved in a comparatively short phase- but was disappointed not to be involved further for consultancy, nor to receive any recognition for some of the groundwork. Upon reflection, I don’t think I would have been happy in the team dynamic, and it looks like the product has diverged from the idea that originally held my interest, so I wish them good luck.

I continue to be surrounded by lovely, generous and inspirational friends, though, as mentioned, I’ve been neglectful of them due to workaholism. I’m particularly pleased that Gemma has relocated back to Newcastle with Chris, and that Gareth and Karen have tied the knot and moved to exciting prospects in New York.

I haven’t seen the Manchester crowd much this year, and that’s something that I’d like to change. Facebook is great for keeping drip-fed on people’s lives, but insidiously supplants the requirement for regular real contact.

I met Ashleigh in the middle of the year, and spent a lot of fun time with her. Some of you will have met her; for those that haven’t, she’s smart, generous (to the self-confessed point of being a mug), scientifically nerdy, attractive, sociable and CAT LOVING. She also tolerates my sense of humour. A potent combination.

2012

I’m very much looking forward to this year. I currently have engaging and rewarding regular work with some fast-moving companies, Diagonal View and Addiply, and occasional tidbits from third parties and with existing clients (including my chum Tim’s Toddle About). I’m refocusing from web-developer to a core component in start-up tech businesses- which feels a great natural progression.

In the meantime, Wedding Tales is stable and we have a little arsenal of interesting things we can do with it, so I’m interested to see whether it can raise some waves.

The really exciting bit: I hope I’ll pleasantly surprise some people in the early part of the year with a new project I’ve been intellectually incubating. I think I have a great idea for a new business and I’m grabbing odd moments to develop it. It’s based on an idea I had a few years ago, and I think it’s very appropriate now for my skill set and for the state of consumer tech, social networks and brand interest…. Watch this space!

So, to conclude, I wish you a very happy and successful 2012 and offer my thanks (and condolences) for ploughing through all this. Hi mum! :)

An inspirational speech by Steve Jobs to Stanford University graduates.

  • Follow what you want to do.
  • Believe in serendipity to join the dots.
  • Find what you love.
  • Be driven by mortality

…Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable… – Henry Ford

Well worth watching…

The basic elements of creativity – Copy, Transform, Combine.

As a counterpoint for the rant about startups and politics yesterday, here is a selection of fine new web tech businesses that are gathering their wings in Newcastle:

Happiest

Happiest helps positive attitude flow, encouraging happy habits for self improvement and facilitating a happy peer support network.

The project is fuelled by a very respectable and eclectic team of local talent, is currently in private beta, but should be going for full public launch very soon.

Take a look at Happiest.

ScribeSub

ScribeSub has a different take to traditional article publishing models, allowing individual authors to release their content on a pay-as-you-go $1/read basis. It permits a more direct, rewarding bond between reader and author.

It’s in early public launch phase and hopes to gather a decent critical mass of users/content in order to get traction.

Take a look at ScribeSub.

65 Hours

Time banking turns time into currency. 65 Hours works as the centralised bank for individuals wishing to share their skills with each other, but not wishing to involve the complication of cash.

65 Hours is launched to the public and ready to try.

Take a look at 65 Hours.

Love Your Larder

Love Your Larder is an online marketplace for artisan foods. Local-scale producers can benefit from the site’s ready-to-go structure and social reach, selling with little time investment and for a minimal percentage cost.

The site launched before Christmas and is continually adding new producers. Any intermediate-expert PHP developers interested in helping to build the project further should get in touch with them.

Take a look at Love Your Larder.

Wedding Tales

My own business… writer’s privilege. ;)

Our first release from MemoryMerge is an online service to make it as easy as possible to collect in photos from guests’ cameras at a wedding, keeping them privately shared just for those who were at the event to enjoy.

We’ve currently launched to private beta (i.e. it’s working live, but we’re limiting the release). Please get in touch if you’re interested in the service for your event.

Take a look at Wedding Tales.

Other hot tips include…

Poster-child of the first Difference Engine, ScreenReach, currently rolling through funding rounds and picking up critical acclaim.

The enterprising folk behind 1DayLater, the King Brothers. Currently keeping other projects warm, but always full of ideas.

The Usable HQ team. Their first project is still under wraps, but expect some noise from them in the latter half of this year.

CustomerSure – a SAAS solution for customer service, shortly to launch.

Say ‘Hello’

It’s been exciting to feel some of the buzz from these projects. Interested parties should check out SuperMondays and the Geekest Drink meetings to rub shoulders with these folk!

The Government has backed a new ‘Startup Britain’ initiative. I find it hard to see it as much more than a spin of optimism to smooth over a messed up economy (…cynic that I am…) “Recently lost your job? Don’t be too upset.. it’s an opportunity – start your own business!”.

It comes at a time when the funding axe is hitting Regional Development Agencies. These will either be reconfigured or will disappear. The days of generous match funding are closing.

This is both a bad and good thing.

Bad because it’ll make it harder to start a business – and good for exactly the same reason. Free-flowing funding has encouraged the seeding of new businesses which don’t have solid models, and supported business owners who don’t have total commitment to their ideas. Alongside this, many third-party benefactors of funding (i.e. suppliers) know that the system has been abused by inflated costs and unsuitable delivery.

I’m not sure where this twin prong of startup evangelism and tight purse-strings will lead. I hope it will enthuse a slice of smart entrepreneurs with well-formed business ideas and lean spending trajectories, but there’s a risk that it offers false hope to many who fall into starting a business because it seems like the only open door, one that the government is ushering them towards, and one that they’ll painfully fail at.

That’s not to say that new businesses can’t get money. For tech businesses, funding is available via loans (via JEREMIE in the North East) and private capital is available at a few levels- both will are likely to cast more scrutiny on your plans than has been the case for RDA match funding. This is a good thing.

For the first three months of this year I’ve been running a new business through The Difference Engine tech accelerator with my business partner Oli. It’s been an honour to do so and an amazing personal journey. Our project idea was selected by potential to allow us to enter the programme- and we’ve been able to bounce it round some very sharp business types to hone it into something that has a decent chance of success. We have some seed funding in exchange for a small amount equity and had a fostering environment to grow it so that it’s now market launched (though currently private for testing). The scheme has been an fantastic launchpad, because it combines practical help with a smatter of capital for some promising ideas/teams – and we’ve all worked damn hard for it.

The strongest element has undoubtedly been the steering we have received. All rookie entrepreneurs should harbour a strong desire for mentorship to help them along.

Due to the RDA kickabout, I’m not sure what will be happening to The Difference Engine next year- I hope it continues to run in some potent form. It’s worth keeping an eye on alongside its spiritual sister, Springboard, which is entirely privately funded.

2011 is a year of opportunity for me.

First- big news. I’ve been accepted as part of a team on The Difference Engine (TDE). This is an acceleration programme for tech businesses, similar to the more established TechStars scheme in the U.S. By all accounts it’s an amazing course- well respected, a great intellectual environment and supported by some very clever people. They accept ten teams to develop over three months – with the aim of slapping, moulding and building our ideas into something commercially successful. It’s the second time it has run- and I hope our teams replicate the stellar success of the previous intake, many of whom now have valued businesses.

I’m co-founder of a company called MemoryMerge with Oli – this is the project we’ll be taking on TDE. I met Oli somewhere around the local network- he’s into electronics, cooking quirky food and brewing his own drinks. I expect he’ll be taking the lion’s share of technical development while I add design and some code into the mix. If you’re interested in following our progress, we’ll be maintaining a development blog and a Twitter account- I think it’s going to be a blast whatever happens!

Alongside this, I’m making plans with a friend of mine, Rob- another great guy I met around the Newcastle tech network, who is a rock solid web developer/project planner. We’ve worked on a couple of jobs collaboratively through 2010 and have a great idea for a web service which we’re expecting to kick off relatively soon.

Finally, during the latter part of 2010 I was meeting regularly with a few tech friends of mine to discuss a software development tool we might be able to build. I’m not going to be able to take much of a hand in initial stages (TDE will be taking up most of my time) but it’s hopefully something I can put something of myself into a little further down the line.

What about my existing work?

My current web clients needn’t panic- I’ll be able to find a small amount of time for general maintenance; larger jobs may be tricky in the near future, but I have the backup of Rob and others around the network to cover if needs be.

I’m really looking forward to the phenomenal opportunities opening up here, and wondering what I’ll be looking back at this time next year!

Dropbox gives me storage space for my files on the internet and appears on my desktop like a normal folder.

I can allow a number of computers to access the same Dropbox account, to share files between them quickly and easily. It also permits me to share certain folders within my account with specific other Dropbox users, or a group of people. This means that I can swap large Photoshop files with my clients very simply- without having to set up a special FTP area, or post a CD.

Pro Tip: Be a little careful when sharing files that may be edited by more than one person- with some software it’s possible to overwrite each others’ changes.

You can sign up for Dropbox here. Their free tier offers you 2GB of space to play with, though you and I will both get 250MB extra space for free if you use my referral link. Not bad!

TweetDeck helps me manage Twitter.

It’s especially useful for managing multiple accounts, or to keep a search stream running on particular terms or hashtags.

Pro Tip 1: By default, TweetDeck notifies you of any new posts, which is distracting. You can turn this off by finding the ‘Settings’ menu (the icon that looks like a spanner), selecting ‘Notifications’, clicking ‘Advanced Options for columns’ and unticking the alert sound boxes. I have streams set up for new posts, mentions and DMs on my main Twitter accounts, but alert notifications just on the latter two.

Pro Tip 2: You can filter out stuff you’re not interested in by using the ‘Global Filter’, also in the ‘Settings’ menu. I currently have mine set to filter out: ‘@runkeeper, rnkpr.com, 4sq.com, gowal.la, go.nike.com’.

You can download TweetDeck here. I also use TweetDeck on my iPhone- it’s a little buggy, but still my favourite Twitter client.

Spotify keeps me fed with music.

It’s a little like having your own personalised radio station- you can choose from a large catalogue of music, cue up and create playlists.

They no longer offer the tier that I have, but you can get 5 hours usage a month (ad-supported) for free. Paid for accounts offer uninterrupted music and the facility to download it to listen to offlline.

You can find out more about Spotify here.

TrueCrypt gives me peace of mind. Last year, my computer was stolen (and thankfully, recovered intact). TrueCrypt seamlessly locks a hard-disk drive with a password.

Pro Tip: Best time to set this up is with a clean, fresh computer! I have essentials (Windows, TrueCrypt software, web browser and virus software) on my primary drive and am trying to put everything else (programs and data) on my larger, encrypted drive. The justification being that [1] I should be able to operate on a basic level with the primary drive and [2] That I can remove the second drive and use it elsewhere if the primary drive fails.

You can download TrueCrypt here.