Sketching with Code

My Eigg residency, part two

It’s the end of my second visit to Eigg and it’s been eventful! Lucy and I are using this blog post as a way to take notes while we talk through our plans.

One of the main problems is having too many ideas and too little time! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Off the boat on Thursday

The Data Necklace

We sat and showed folk the necklaces, and talked through the new Data Necklace project that’s come out of the residency. Last time I saw Lucy all I had was a bag of wool that Jenny had given me, and on my return I had laser-cut necklaces made out of felt (not the original wool sadly, it would have combusted!).

Showing the felt data necklaces

I’ve got some amazing video of showing the islanders the results I’ll upload, and the suggestion of a Data Sporran. For inspiration Lucy pointed me at Jen Cantwell who runs Sporran Nation. I’m not sure Jenny quite knew what to make of it!

Lucy and I did some pricing work on the Data Necklace, and came up with the idea for the Text Necklace, which I’ll be beta-testing over the coming weeks.

The data necklace

After that we talked through our list of projects, about some that we’d dropped, and how we could make some of them happen.

Skit, the story so far

Skit, which has spawned about 80 little sites, sadly I think, has proven to be a bit too tricky for people to use. So we’re talking about whether to follow through on that work, or to drop it altogether. I think it’s a great beginning of something, but perhaps it’s more to do with using Dropbox in new ways rather than building self-contained little websites. We shall see.

Then I went to my accommodation and got connected to the wifi and chatted to folk online about Data Necklace which I put online and asked people for feedback. Lucy, that evening did some research about similar jewellery projects.

We’re all in agreement that having something tangible like this come out of the residency so quickly, makes it clear that what we’re doing isn’t “here’s something fancy on the internet”, but actually a process of being part of the island while I’m here and doing things that relate directly to the people and things in the place.

Friday morning

Waking up I was treated to a pretty amazing view!

First morning on Eigg

I wasn’t in London any more.

Johnny Lynch from Pictish Trail and Fence Records

I had a couple of hours with Johnny, talking about interesting and useful stuff he could use to support his work on the label and the various events he runs. GoCardless came up in conversation and that looks like something that could have a big impact for small labels - the cut per transaction is capped, and there is only a 7 day remittance delay, which could save a lot of stress and cost for a small festival.

Screen Shot 2012-09-24 at 15.09.36

Johnny had an idea about a subscription service aimed at offering something to his 1000 true fans on an ongoing basis. I won’t go into too much detail until I’ve spoken to Johnny about how open he wants to be.

This overlaps with something that Lucy wants to offer for Eigg Box, so we decided to wireframe the product.

There’s obvious issues here - if I were to build a prototype and then head back to London, could we make a service that Lucy could take on and grow, or would Johnny need to find funds to develop the idea further? But best not to worry too much about that, and just get on and build the MVP and see what we can learn about whether it would work.

Friday afternoon - Thinking through video

Eigg - the beach by the pier

In advance of the first day I’d asked Lucy if she had a tripod. Turns out that there’s a Canon 5DMkII and associated sound kit on the island, so we borrowed it for the day and went off doing some short videos.

Mainly it was me in front of the camera talking about the data necklace and the residency. The results will probably be online as two pieces of edited video once I’ve got a bit of bandwidth - while there’s mostly good internet here, the other islands nearby have been brought into the network so there was some disruption. It’ll wait until I’m back tomorrow.

It was an opportunity for Lucy and I to make something together, which was really valuable. We talked a lot, and actually simplifying the idea of the residency into something that could be spoken to camera really helped us both understand what it is that we’re trying to achieve here.

We started talking about how we could approach the branding for Eigg Box and that led me to do some research into a web site builder we could use. And talking through Johnny’s idea helped us think a little about how Eigg Box could benefit from the same code / approach.


Rainbow over the standing stones

We were very pleased with ourselves, so we dropped into the cafe to check the footage and have a pint of Guiness with Marie and her family.

It had been nothing but sunny weather since my arrival but there was a short downpour and out came an amazing rainbow over the bay.

I rushed back to the car to grab my ultra-wide lens but Eddie hadn’t spotted we were using the car for storage and taken it to the other side of the island! Luckily I still had my 24mm so I grabbed a few shots, particularly this one of the standing stone on the hill above the cafe.

After a good chat with the islanders and a couple of volunteers I grabbed a lift back up to the Glebe Barn where I’m staying, and had an early night.

Saturday morning - Alex, iScape and lemon drizzle cake!

Johnny’s MVP

I got up early (6am!) and started hacking Johnny’s app together. I used some interesting stuff that I’d not played with before.

I always get tired of writing a user authentication system for the sites and apps that I build. For a while I’ve been using Twitter and Facebook for login, but Mozilla have come out with Persona, which uses your email account for authentication. So I used that and i was so easy with a little Padrino app.

Within about 4 hours, including time for a shower and some breakfast (my daily 4 pieces of bacon and 2 eggs), I had a pretty, functional app, just waiting for Johnny’s content and GoCardless links from him.

I sent it over to my friend Dubber who validated it for me as a “this could work”, and then I downed tools so I could meet Lucy.

Along the way we sent it to Johnny as a surprise - I’d not said I’d actually make the thing for him…

Helping refocus iScape a little

On Friday we’d bumped into Alex, who is chair of the Eigg History Society and manager of iScape - a research project into how to build the economies of the Small Isles using digital technology. He’d invited us over for a chat about how my residency could fit into what they’re doing (so we don’t duplicate work!).

Eigg Box and iScape had already collaborated on a short film production training weekend and we talked a bit about how we could bring the two together again for another project.

iScape is a fixed-time research project, with one of the outcomes being a public-facing (as opposed to academic-facing) web presence for the Small Isles. Alex and his team had been struggling with how to reflect both of these quite separate ideas in a single website. We spent a little time talking through some options and came to a couple of useful conclusions.

The main one being that Alex could separate these tasks creatively - having a good, academic record of the project that they could publish now that doesn’t need to fulfil a tourism/local business need, and then find a way to build something else entirely that could focus on a more commercial, general audience.

A Wilderness Hack?

Alex has some great market research that hasn’t yet been published, but it shows that people visiting the islands are really drawn by the idea of “wilderness”. Good For Nothing currently are trying to get people more connected with the outdoors and nature, so I’ve made a suggestion that perhaps there’s a hack weekend in here somewhere where we could bring in folks who are interested in helping bring people from the city to Eigg and the Small Isles to experience that wilderness first hand.

Eigg Audio Stories

Because of Alex’s History Society role, we also talked about my idea of making an audio app for the island. The idea being that people arriving on the ferry would be able to download/install/somehow get an app onto a device and then wander the island listening to the islanders talk about the places and people of the past and present.

It would be pretty simple - a Dropbox account with some audio files in a set of folders, and a simple map (there’s no Google Maps without internet!), and then a really simple interface for flipping between the two so you can navigate and listen while you explore.

Eigg Timeline

While the History Society has a website, there’s no publicly available timeline of the history of the place, and it’s quite a different function to “this is this History Society and this is what we do”.

So I proposed a simple little two-column website. A list of times and key moments in chronological order on the left, and some content on the right. Clicking/tapping the list would tell you about that time in history.

It’s what I built Skit for, so I’m thinking of using that to build it.

Alex thought it was a great idea, and I should crack on with Camille who’s the resident local history force of nature!

Tea party with Maggie

Toca Teaparty

After a couple of hours we said our goodbyes and headed over to Marie’s place for some awesome home-made lemon drizzle cake. We had a dose of island realism with a sad story of some lost lambs who’d been found locked in a rarely-used outhouse. How they got in, nobody knows, and they didn’t survive sadly.

The cake was lovely, and Maggie, Marie’s grand-daughter was enthralled by my iPad and the brilliant Toca Boca game Toca Teaparty. If you’ve not seen it and you’ve got a young child in the family, you should check it out. It turns the iPad into a top-down view of a table, and by putting your teddies around the outside you can pretend they are having tea and cake together. Entralling for everyone.

We had another chance to show off the Data Necklace, and Marie’s family had all had a look at the site after I’d put it up. I got some good feedback - everyone seems to like these things, which is real encouragement.

Branding for Eigg Box

We took the cliff path back to the tea room, near the pier where the ferry comes in, and along the way Lucy and I talked a little about the branding work that we’re doing for Eigg Box itself while I am here.

Currently, because it’s such early days for the project, there’s no branding other than a photograph on a moo card that Lucy carries with her, and the name.

Before I came I’d done a few hours of branding work based on a logo that I’d knocked up very quickly in Illustrator during the last conversation we had around her kitchen table on my last visit.

Lucy was happy with it - it’s such a simple identity. Just six coloured circles that recall a box of eggs viewed from above and the six (arguable I know) continents of the world, and the six colours of the rainbow (six, not seven, I tell you!).

Eigg Box Colours

I’d chosen the six colours more or less based on rotating a hue six times and making it look balanced, but there wasn’t any meaning behind the choice.

Lucy suggested that we could find colours on the island itself and use them as the palette - the yellow of primrose flowers, the blue of bluebells, the purple of the heather, the red of the rowan berries, the reddish brown of the clay and bracken, and so on. So I took photos of these things along the cliff path for reference.

We talked through what Eigg Box should be online, and decided that we probably needed to move away from the blog-based Wordpress site, and what that would mean.

Balancing being modern with the perspective of the island

We had a conversation, that we didn’t fully resolve that because to some degree there’s an opinion of people in the city thinking that Eigg is a remote, unconnected place of the past, whereas what Eigg Box is about is to challenge some of those opinions. The brand that we’re going to produce needs to have a nod to the traditions of the place as well but really be focussed on challenging some of the stereotypes that people might have about the islanders and making it clear that Eigg is a pretty futuristic place in a lot of ways.

Walking and talking

Walking and talking is a really great way of getting things decided. You’ve got a time-boxed period to talk about a specific thing and a definite end-point - the destination. That’s probably one of the themes of my time on Eigg - you can get a lot done in a short space of time, especially away from the screen and walking as you talk.

A place to make and do

After we’d picked up some food from the shop (the local, line-caught smoked mackerel is very tasty) Lucy and I took a walk back up to the Barn.

Along the way we had another of our time-boxed walking and talking meetings.

This time on the subject of Eigg Box’s branding and how we communicate what it is in its current phase, rather than it “being a building that doesn’t exist yet”, which is quite an odd thing to try to explain to people.

We did the “what’s the strapline” piece. I’ve been involved in so many projects that have the word “creative” in their “one sentence to describe the idea” that I was determined to suggest something different and avoid it if possible. I think Lucy has a similar wish.

Here’s the current one-liner: “Eigg Box will be a cultural enterprise hub, bringing together local creative businesses with artists from around the world”.

We shortened and refocussed that to “Eigg Box is a place to make and do”.

That opens it up to all sorts of activities that could happen - “make” and “do” suggest more of a connection with the maker movement that seems to be a growing thing, and that it’s more than “creative businesses” and artists who’d benefit.

Crucially it’s about making it clear that Eigg Box is already up and running, and provides a way for anyone to come to the isle of Eigg to do their thing, and that Lucy will provide support - offering space, sorting out accommodation and travel to make that an easy process.

Space is also about the island, and space to think. The island is physically remote from the city, but it’s very connected. They’re rolling out 50Mb broadband across the Small Isles, so you really can come to the island to focus on your project away from the distractions of the city.

Building the community first

We’re taking inspiration from Alex, cofounder of Indy Hall in Philadelphia who told me once that the way to get a co-working space of the ground is to build the community first, and then get the space later. Not the other way round. Lucy’s taken that on board and is doing just that.

A video welcome

Whilst talking about the new site for Eigg Box, we realised we needed a little welcome video for the home page.

Having decided on the strapline, we stopped, turned around and set up my camera, mic and microphone with Lucy standing in the spot where the Eigg Box building is going to be, or as we’re now calling it “the home for Eigg Box”.

Lucy did three takes in front of the camera and we had a video pretty quickly.

Then we called it a day, and I went back to do some experimentation with various web site builders (we don’t want Lucy to have to call me every time she needs to update something).

A portrait for Lucy

I took a portrait of Lucy for her profile on the site, and generally for her to use when she’s speaking at conferences about Eigg Box:

Lucy Conway

Website wireframing

For a few minutes we looked at what we could do with the site, wireframed it a little (by then I was pretty tired), decided a content plan for an initial build, and pretty much decide on Squarespace 6 as what we would use to make the site.


Starting making the site

New Eigg Box Website Sketch

In the morning I woke up and quickly implemented a responsive home page layout using one of my photos, some copy that I wrote, and chose the new colours from the photos I’d taken the day before.

Lucy popped over and we did some more thinking about the site before we had to leave.

Musical circles

On the way over, Lucy came up with an extension on an earlier idea - doing a quick logo animation for the site, and as a sting in web videos/presentations (we’re allowed to be as cheesy as we like, surely?).

Using the six circles, we could ask islanders to write six-note-only pieces of music and animate the circles based on when the notes occur in a short piece of music. Cute idea, and I think we will make it happen for our Shetland demo.

Canna and the Birdsong / Gaelic Song project

St. Edward's Chapel on Canna

Sunday came and I had my arm twisted by Lucy to take the day “off” and join her and some of the islanders to go and see a performance on the nearby isle of Canna (population 12). We more than doubled the population just by taking the trip!

Walking on Canna

I was retiscent because I wanted Lucy to get the most value out of my time, so I was prepared to sit by myself for the day and make stuff.

It turns out that having the conversations with the islanders on the way there and back was probably of more value. Particularly my chat with Struan, who’s one of the boys on the island and wanted to talk to me about his Java programming and Minecraft mods. I’m going to see if I can find a Raspberry Pi and bring it back for him in October.

Air falbh leis na h-eòin

We took a charter over to the island, where Suzy Glass was producing a choral performance with three singers in the most remote of remote churches I think I could imagine. St. Edwards is a disused church building (with something of a sad story around it’s disasterous Millenium refurbishment project) with amazing acoustics. After a 45-minute hike over the hills and round the coast of the island the handful of folk who’d travelled to be there were treated to a short performance of gaelic song Air falbh leis na h-eòin based on mimicry of the birdsong of the birds that inhabit the islands. Fascinating, reminiscent of some of Steve Reich’s rounds, and it added to the feeling of isolation, wilderness and solitude.

Geoff Sample was doing the audio recording, and we chatted about the audio Eigg project.

We caught up with Suzy, gave her an update about the stuff we’ve been doing on Eigg and then headed back, with a quick pass-by of a recent shipwreck.

shipwreckSunset over Canna

And then I slept. Phew.


Camille and history projects

After a quick breakfast Lucy and I went to meet Camille, who’s very productive in local history on the island.

We talked through some ideas and now have about four projects I’m hoping to kick off:

Eigg Timeline

As I described above, a simple little site that contains an overview of Eigg’s history.

Genealogy time-saver

Camille gets lots of emails from people searching for genealogy information.

She has tons of documents that aren’t on the web.

So I suggested that we dump them all into folders in Dropbox and then use Skit to generate a simple website that lets people find the answers to their questions, as well as leaving notes for others. Perhaps just using a Disqus embed for comments. Could be pretty quick and save her lots of time.

Audio Trail

Audio Eigg 1Audio Eigg 2

We refined the idea of the audio tour / story explorer app of the island and thought that perhaps focussing purely on crofting and its history would make for a good and simple prototype to test the idea.

We wouldn’t want to make anything that caused too much cost or time for Camille so we’d keep it small.

A future development of the idea could see it being available in Gaelic and English and be extended to the whole island, and to the other Small Isles.

Croft Number Six

I’m going to go into the crofter’s house and photograph it, and its contents. Then I’ll use Skit to make a tiny website. That’s it really - just a nice, simple set of pages and photos. I’ll CC licence the photos so the photos can be used easily, and maybe use some in the audio app - we shall see!

I think that’s quite enough!

Gosh. Just writing this has taken an hour and a half but a useful process for us to go through.