Skip to content

James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!

Archive

Category: tech

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

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.

Late last night here (4PM PST) Twitter held a press conference to make some announcements about their service.

They unveiled the new version of the user home page, which will be split into two panes – one for the timeline (which will now scroll automatically) and one to give extra contextual information on any selected tweet. A message about a video, for example, will be presented alongside the video itself.

While this isn’t game changing, it demonstrates that they’re keen to feed people a richer aspect on the information (going from ‘tell’ to ‘tell and show’), and to retain people on their site – most probably as a step towards monetisation by contextual advertising.

They claimed that currently, 70% of users access the service via their website – which surprised me given the prevalence and quality of handheld clients and power of their API. I’d expect Twitter to update their official client apps soon to mirror the functionality.

Staged roll-out of the new version of the service (#newtwitter) is happening already and will continue over the next couple of weeks. A preview in the promo video below:

They were also keen to emphasise that users did not have to post their own content to take part in Twitter- perhaps as a strike at convincing advertisers that engaged users are far more numerous than active posters, or perhaps they’re looking to directly increase their appeal to content creators and distributors.

Not mentioned in press conference, but likely relevant: They’ll be rolling out their own link shortening service over the coming months. This will give them a deeper hold on the peripheral information and the way people are using it (click-throughs, propagation, etc).

References:

Twitter’s overview page.

Another take on Twitter’s strategy from Usrlab.

A pretty low-grade, but functional associative array sorter in JavaScript:

// execution
var assocArray = new Array();
assocArray[ 'b' ] = 'item3';
assocArray[ 'c' ] = 'item1';
assocArray[ 'a' ] = 'item2';

array_dump_html( 'Pre-sort', assocArray );

assocArray = array_sort( assocArray );

array_dump_html( 'Post-sort', assocArray );

// ---
// Sort functions...
function array_sort( arrayIn ) {

	var arrayCouplets = new Array();
	for( key in arrayIn ) {

		arrayCouplets.push({

			key: key,
			value: arrayIn[ key ]
		});
	}

	arrayCouplets.sort( sort_couplets );

	var arrayOut = new Array();
	for( i in arrayCouplets) {

		arrayOut[ arrayCouplets[ i ][ 'key' ] ] = arrayCouplets[ i ][ 'value' ];
	}

	return arrayOut;
}

function sort_couplets( coupletA, coupletB ) {

	return coupletA[ 'value' ] > coupletB[ 'value' ];
}

// ---
// Fluff functions...
function array_dump_html( title, arrayIn ) {

	var output = '';
	for( key in arrayIn ) {

		output += 'key(' + key + ') value(' + arrayIn[ key ] + ')<br />';
	}

	document.write( '<div><h1>' + title + ':</h1>' + output + '</div>' );
}

Outputs:

Pre-sort:
key(b) value(item3)
key(c) value(item1)
key(a) value(item2)

Post-sort:
key(c) value(item1)
key(a) value(item2)
key(b) value(item3)

Copy and paste into an online editor to try it.

Can you improve it? Please comment!

Rob Lavender presented a spread of tools- some free, some commercial, that would be useful in a freelancer’s workflow.

Invoice Management

Bamboo Invoice – invoicing management tool built on CodeIgniter.

Commercial / hosted options:

CannyBill

FreshBooks

LessAccounting

iComptroller

Productivity

Rob introduced an organisational methodology called Getting Things Done (GTD) which aims to externalise the processes that some keep in the mind to make them more efficient. Tasks are pushed into a cycle: Collect / Process / Organize / Review / Do.

iGTD – Mac / free

Things – Mac / commercial

Tracks

Gtdify

Evernote – scrapbook / organiser

Remember the Milk – to do list

ActiveInbox – a Gmail plug-in to organise in a GTD way

43 folders – tips for life/career management

Project Management / Collaboration

Basecamp

Collabtive

Other 37 signals tools

Google Apps – business email / docs / sites / calendar / wave

Source Control

ProjectLocker – SVN / GIT hosting

Unfuddle – SVN / GIT hosting

Dreamhost - SVN is available inclusive with the hosting

Other Resources

Lifehacker – Productivity tips

1DayLater – Time Tracking software

opensourceCMS – sandboxed open source software for you to try out before you install.

Top 20 project management tools article.

Less Everything – assorted tools

Klok – time management tool (audience suggestion)

Resources

@robertlavender, Lavender Web Design

Rob’s slides:

Laura offered tips for putting together a solid CV for a recruiter from her experience running Altitude Recruitment (@altitudetweet).

Objectives

Be clear about what you want to achieve. Select your potential clients and target them with a personal application; talk about how your work and skills would enhance their service.

Only approach a few at a time, so that you can keep track of the responses.

Structure

Organise your CV chronologically. If you’re CV is skill based then it looks like you have something to hide.

Two pages is best, but this isn’t fixed. As long as it’s all relevant, it’ll be fine.

Include a Work/Experience section. This should list:

  • Your employer’s name, your position, some detail about the work they do.
  • Your responsibilities, e.g. planning, analysis, design, implementation, testing.
  • The architecture; systems and software.
  • Whether the projects were completed on time and to budget.
  • Any staff you managed (if relevant).
  • New techniques, procedures and practices you brought.
  • How you reduced time and money/increased revenue.
  • Any achievements that benefitted your employer.

You should include acronyms where appropriate. Some recruiters search CVs with keywords.

Your Portfolio section:

  • Sould include a link to a professional-looking portfolio site.
    • if you can’t build your own, take a look at: Behance Network, Coroflot, Carbonmade, WordPress).
    • or enlist the help of another freelancer to build it!
    • Keep your site professional- any personal stuff will be read and may give a bad impression.
    • Keep it up to date.
    • Give some cursory thought to SEO- work may come your way via your online portfoilio.
  • Ensure you have client approval for anything you present (don’t fall foul of an NDA).
  • Give information about how you work- timesheets, billing arrangement, etc. to give people a rounded view of your service.
  • Six Revisions has some good information.

Include a references and testimonials section. You should request content for this from your satisfied clients- it’s invaluable on your CV.

General Tips

No point including a personal statement on a CV for a recruiter. Possibly on a CV for a full-time job, if you have something ground-breaking to convey!

It isn’t worth including a personal photograph. These tend to be binned.

Don’t forget your name/address/email/telephone number… (Sounds obvious, but apparently isn’t!)

Working with a Recruiter

Be open about who you’ve approached already and ask who your details will be passed on to.

Feel welcome to ask advice on your presentation / cv / interview technique.

Expect to negotiate your fee.

Make sure you invoice and send your timesheets in good time. In return, the recruiter will look after payments and do chasing if required.

References

@lauramaddison

Laura’s slides: