Sketching with Code

Hack, Play, Learn.

The 0 hacks that inspired this site.

I make web things quickly - some in half an hour, some over a few days. Generally I do them without getting paid directly. Sometimes they turn into projects that turn into day-job material. Some were at hackdays, some were on the kitchen table over a weekend. They're what the last few years has been all about, and it would be silly to be writing about hacking without showing the work itself.


Really simple event sign-up pages

About this hack

I get really annoyed by the event systems people use for their events. Why do they never remember me, why is the text so tiny, why is it all so crappy and looks like 1999? (Looking at you Eventbrite). Facebook requires facebook and nobody serious uses that stuff, right?

I just want a page that I can send some people to, with some details of an event and a nice way of showing who’s going, with social profiles.

I did this app in a day - I just wanted somewhere nice to send some people for my Sunday blogging project Sunday Post.


Making Crunchbase more useful by adding Datahug

About this hack

After a throwaway tweet by Scott Sage, I spent six hours or so, making a tiny little app that shows you which startups have raised funding recently, and by combining Datahug, how you and your team have connections to them. We’re expanding on this idea and developing the core idea - “Deal flow for investors. Serendipity for startups” into a more developed two-week hack. Let’s see.


Ten minute mentoring

About this hack

A winning hack at Do Lectures 2013.

It’s a simple idea - allow people who have been at an event together to reconnect afterwards by asking and answering questions in only ten minutes.

It’s like micromentoring via chatroulette.

Do Lectures 1 day


Easy to create online courses

About this hack

One of two hacks at Do Lectures 2013.

A very simple online course builder that allows people to make a landing page for a course that starts on a given date, build a series of pages (with embedded content and downloads), take payments and run the course over time.

Participants receive a daily/weekly/monthly email as each piece of content is released, and because they’re doing it simultaneously with others, there’s value in linking off to a Facebook group for group conversation.

Do Lectures 1 day


Enrich a mailing list of emails with more data to make it more useful.

About this hack

A hack for 3 Beards who wanted to find a way to analyse their email list and find 60 python/mongo developers to invite to their event. Based just on email. Using various APIs I made a tool that can do that - put in an email list, out pops a rich spreadsheet of metadata about people.


Get sponsored to give your skills to Comic Relief charities.

About this hack

The most ambitious of this hack series - it takes those annoying “You’ve been endorsed for x” emails from Linkedin and makes them useful.

Exploralaboratorium 5 days

The Last Laugh

Put a gift to Comic Relief in your will.

About this hack

A simple but potentially powerful idea - could you encourage legacy giving by providing an app to make will-writing funny and easy?

Exploralaboratorium 5 days

Mega Miles

Runners raise money by running long distances.

About this hack

Could you raise money for Comic Relief by being sponsored to run hundreds of miles over a period of time?

Exploralaboratorium 5 days


Simple visualisations of history

About this hack

An Eigg Box hack.

Eigg has a fascinating history, and other than Wikipedia I can’t find much online that brings together that history into one page. Lucy and I thought that there might be scope for a general, embeddabale little tool that helps you create a simple timeline of dates and “facts”, with associated media.

Linetime is that first little experiment, done on the 5hr train from Mallaig to Glasgow!

It’s not yet set up to allow anyone to create one - I need to work on the interaction there, but it’s obvious it could be useful. We’ll perfect it for the Eigg history society and see where we get to.

Croft 6

A git-powered site for a small museum

About this hack

A hack from my Eigg Box residency.

I’ve been concerned about doing hacks with the islanders where there’s no way for them to maintain the site afterwards, and also where there’s the danger of things “falling off the internet” should someone leave the island or no longer be involved in the history society. That’s a common issue and sites can die unless there’s someone to maintain them.

A good way to tackle that is to do things in the open in some kind of public way.

I’m thinking a Github for History, where histories are git repos and are replicable and editable by others.

Spinto is a great little service that provides a web front end to a Jekyll site and allows people to edit the pages using a web editor, but crucially, each edit is a git commit. So you get the best of both worlds - a database of “tracked changes”, a good way to package up all the assets (images, text) and a simple way for novices to edit pages.

Taking all this thinking, we made a site for Croft 6, a croft on the island that was left abandoned by its owner, and maintained as a “time capsule” of island life. Fascinating place, so I photographed each room, and built a tiny site using Spinto. Camille, one of the islanders is now adding all the text descriptions and historical images, and feedback from her was “it’s very easy to use”. Pricing looks like it will be about $40 per year but that’s not yet set in stone.

Fence Subscriptions

A way of supporting a record label via monthly subscriptions

About this hack

An Eigg Box hack where the idea was to build the simplest possible way to set up a paid subscription service for Fence records (and eventually Eigg Box itself).

How it works:

  • Authenticate the user as a real person with an email account (using Mozilla Persona, which is brilliant)
  • Ask them to set up a direct debit via GoCardless
  • Confirm the direct debit
  • Let the user download some stuff via Dropbox

Eventually there’d be an admin system and lots more features, but we’re going to test this out initially and see if folk are interested in subscribing to exclusive content - it’s a “1000 true fans” system.

Geek in Residence 2 days

Topic Telly

Educational video content for Schools from Comic Relief

About this hack

Comic Relief have lots of great content that could be used in a classroom setting, so working with the Comic Relief Education team, we prototyped what a video site for delivering that content to schools that do Red Nose Day could look like.

Exploralaboratorium 5 days

Dare Roulette

Get your mates to do stupid stuff for money.

About this hack

Could you use the silly high-school “dare” as a way to encourage charitable giving?

Exploralaboratorium 5 days

Data Necklace

A wearable visualisation of your personal data

About this hack

Inspired by my residency on Eigg and the experiments I’d done in data visualisation I’d been working on, I spent the two days of Digital Sizzle creating a series of data-driven necklace designs.

I booked some time with a laser-cutter and made six different pieces using plastic, silver and felt.

It was picked by the judges as one of the pieces to be exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery the following month, and went on to appear on the BBC Technology homepage for the day.

I continue to produce bespoke pieces using this method for people.

2 days


Use Dropbox to create and manage a small website

About this hack

As part of my Eigg Box residency I’ll be doing some hacking and making.

This is the first - a tiny little service that lets you create a simple and easy to maintain website using your Dropbox account.

This was inspired by the story of Camille, the Eigg (Scottish Island I’m resident on) local historian who lost a website that she had collaborated on when the developer disappeared.

Wouldn’t it be better if your own content were in your own storage that you’re paying for?

That’s what this is.


A mobile nature game

About this hack

A tiny little hack when I was at Wild Thing, a weekend all about reconnecting kids with nature. This game lets you build and play a game about collecting things around an area, with clues. Leaves, bugs, plants, trees, the kids could learn about their surroundings.

Good For Nothing 1 day

The Lockin

An experiment in reinvigorating the After Dark TV format for the digital age

About this hack

A very quick little hack for Andy Gibson from Mindapples.

Taking the “After Dark” TV programmme format from the 90s and applying some 10s thinking, we did an experiment one Friday night to see what would happen if we set up two cameras, three sofas stuffed full of smart and fascinating guests, and filmed them for two hours having a dinner-party style conversation about “The Mind”.

We didn’t get much activity on Twitter and so on, so what we learned is that you probably need more than a hack and some interesting folk, you need marketing too. But that was the point - we just wanted to see whether the idea was good or not. We think it is, and you might see more from this idea soon.

Tales you Win

Make it easier for artists to create locative art games

About this hack

For Culture Hack East. Inspired by the work of artists, such as Blast Theory, who work with stories and location, this is a tool that could enable artists to create their own locative artworks. It’s not all based on geolocation, just simple text-based instructions and a series of “steps” that make up a “tale”.

A player would start off at a location and then follow these steps, which consist of some text, an embed of some content (youtube, soundcloud, etc.) and through following the steps, and moving from location to location, experience a story of the artist’s creation.

The idea being that by making it easier for artists to create this kind of work (basically for almost nothing), we could see some interesting locative art happening.

Source code for Tales You Win is on Github under an MIT licence.

Culture Hack East 1 day


A James Joyce Ulysses page generator

About this hack

To celebrate the first Bloomsday when James Joyce’s work is out of copyright, this is a “stream of (artificial) consciousness” generator that creates fake, but semi-believable pages of Ulysses.

I pulled the text of Ulysses into a MongoDB database and using Silly Markov as a starting point, made a simple Markov-chain text generating web app. Clicking “Another” gives you another randomly generated page.

Oddly, the first command-line-generated page included the phrase “I am risen from the dead”. Ooh-err.

Source code for Ulyssize is on Github under an MIT licence.

Culture Hack East 1 day


Shakespearean eBay anyone?

About this hack

This must win the prize for the fastest hack ever or something. In the last half hour of the event we realised that nobody had done anything with the RSC Banquo API, which monitors Twitter, Flickr and eBay for Shakespearian mentions, so we quickly came up with “YeBay” - imagining an eBay of yesteryear.

Source code for YeBay is on Github under an MIT licence.

Culture Hack East 30 minutes!

Through the Lens of Demarco

An accessible archive of one man's photographic record of the Edinburgh Fringe

About this hack

Richard Demarco attended nearly all of the Edinburgh Fringe festivals over many years, documenting artists who were there with his camera. A lot of money was spend taking 15,000 of his images, scanning them, adding metadata and putting out on the web.

Trouble is, it was 2008 so it’s a Flash site and it’s really hard to find anything.

This was a quick hack. I’m not kidding - the last two hours of the event! Taking the images and making a better experience of viewing them on ipad, mobile and web. Thank you Twitter Bootstrap!

Culture Hack Scotland 2 hours


How could we crowd-fund artistic residencies?

About this hack

A collaborative fund-raising tool a-la Kickstarter, but specifically for people to help fund artist residencies and bursaries.

Culture Hack Scotland 1/2 day


User-contributed stories about Scotland made readable on mobile devices

About this hack

For Culture Hack Scotland. The Scottish Book Trust are collecting stories and poems about places in Scotland with the BBC. It’s a lovely idea, and all I’ve done here is to collect the stories and put them on a map. Crucially, though it’s all about typography and design, bringing the writing right to the front so that it is a good experience to read the stories on an iPad and on mobile. This might now be taken forward by the Trust as a project - let’s see.

Culture Hack Scotland 1/2 day


Tackling the problem of poor home insulation for older people

About this hack

This was for National Hack the Government Day by Rewired State and won “best in show”, and I got to take home an utterly random but wonderfully perfect collection of prizes.

Essentially one of the biggest challenges that faces us as a country in reducing our emissions is that much of our housing stock is leaking heat by not being well insulated. Loftify is a demonstrator for how to tackle that problem by enabling families to group-pay for older relatives’ loft insulation.

National Hack the Government Day 2012 2 days


Charitable giving with your circle of friends

About this hack

A tool that lets you set a monthly charitable giving amount and divide it up into the charities you care about, or the friends you want to delegate the money to.

Hacked it, then we presented the four hacks that came out of the event at CEO Summit Africa with various president-of-a-country-level speakers.

Code Africa at the Times 2 days


Realtime multi-user anonymised conversation tool

About this hack

A web-app to make sense of hundreds of conversations happening simultaneously at a conference or event. It allows for real-time display of what’s being said, and visualisation of the trends that emerge.

Built as an integral part of Accenture Ireland’s hugely successful “Festival of Ideas” event, that we won an award for.


Visualise two sides of a debate

About this hack

Initially I got irritated with the quality of the debate and communications around the AV referendum, so I built a debate visualiser in a weekend. It’s now turned into quite an active little site!

Twitter Backup

Download all your tweets as a JSON file

About this hack

A very quick little hack. Limited to a fixed number but it gets most of them.


An urban pollution game

About this hack

A cute little Javascript game idea about pollution. A hack for the GLA with Rewired State. Very silly.

Is it smoggy in London?

Mobile and web tool to find out about pollution levels

About this hack

A paid-for hack for the GLA with Rewired State. Taking a newly-published API feed of air sensor data around London to answer a simple question.

Mini Pub Crawl

Make it easy to arrange a multi-venue evening out with friends

About this hack

This was a little sketch with my friend Paul Birch around a serendipity accelerator idea involving collecting people together at multiple places in a night. Cute, might still do something here.

Phenomenal People

A quick experiment at a content site for Women of the World festival

About this hack

A quick demonstrator for a content site about inspirational women. We went with Tumblr in the end instead, but it’s pretty and could be used for something else.


Mobile serendipity accelerator

About this hack

An aborted startup idea where the idea was to have a “networking” tool for people attending an event so they could get info on people in the room without being online. There’s never a decent 3G signal at events and you can’t be bothered with slow downloads, so you get a download of everyone’s social profiles in advance. Shame it was aborted - good idea.


Youtube app for online-and-offline parties

About this hack

A Rewired State Social TV hack. A Youtube party app, where you put this app on your internet enabled TV, and control a playlist of video and music using many mobile devices. It also syncs up people who are watching together via the web. We won actual cold hard cash for this one at the hack day, too!

Mo' Monsters!

The precursor to my company More Monsters, lets you generate random monsters

About this hack

The precursor to my new company, this is a generative monster hack I did in an afternoon that randomly creates monsters using some basic rules. Pretty and pretty pointless.


Data visualisation of all UK public film screenings per year

About this hack

The result of a failed Culture Hack idea, this is a hack to visualise a database of all UK public film screenings in 2010 using an SVG heatmap that I created for the project. Since doing it, the BFI have come in with some financial support for the idea and we’re looking at using it for policy-making - where are the areas of least specialist film availability by head of population, for instance.

Since the hack, I worked with the BFI on further development to turn this into a policy-making and data analysis tool.

CultureGrid Mobile

Simple mobile interface to CultureGrid's database of millions of cultural artefacts

About this hack

Taking several million records in the CultureGrid database and adding a quick JQueryMobile front end to it. Also exposed their API as JSONP.


Given a URL, find the most likely "main image" on the page

About this hack

You’re using Culturegrid and would like to display a large image of one of the results. Oh - it only supplies a thumbnail? No fear - run the URL of the resulting web page through this scraper and it will try its best to give you the image on the page most likely to be the image you want.


Rottentomatoes reviews for what's on FilmFlex tonight, on your mobile

About this hack

A Culture Hack. A mobile app that lets you see what’s on on Filmflex tonight, but crucially mashes in ratings so you get trustworthy reviews on what to spend your rental money on. Should probably update this, but the site moved so it would need re-coding. I’d totally use this if it were legal.


Microformats to JSONP? Useful? Don't know.

About this hack

Let’s say you want to consume microformats from an external website using javascript on your own website. Browser security prohibits it. Send a GET request of this format to this little web service and you will receive all microformats contained at that url, parsed and converted to jsonp.


A postcode to geo lookup Ruby gem.

About this hack

A simple Ruby gme (you’d think it would already exist) that looks up a postcode and gives you a geolocation back. That’s it.


About this hack

Title:Spiro Short: Arduino spirograph drawings

An arduino hack for drawing spirograph-style images using a spinning drawing area and servo-controlled arm with a pen (or pens) on it.


Photographer portfolio app

About this hack

A pretty gallery-site builder for 23HQ-hosted images. I also do photography and thought I’d make a thing that would let me me make a little portfolio service for others.


Open source tool for creating mashup sites (like this one)

About this hack

An idea for how you could build a website (like this one) that is built entirely from external services, with no database. Much of the code here got distilled into the Padrino app that runs this site.

Later shelved when I discovered Padrino.


British Council hack with the people of Plzn

About this hack

The British Council invited me over to do something in Plzn, Czech Republic and this was the result - an interactive map about geolocating ideas for what the future of the city might look like. More a demonstrator than an actual product, but it had an interesting political/conversational effect…


Write words in the air using your mobile

About this hack

A little mobile app that flashes dots on a screen so as you wave your phone it writes letters in the air. A toy for gigs and clubbing.


Cached REST API requests

About this hack

Building on top of Weary, a RESTful web service consumer for Ruby, this caches the results in Memcache for a period of time.

I don’t use this any more - it was handy for learning.


Extending BCCDIY to every council in the UK

About this hack

Extending the BCCDIY idea and generalising it for every council in the UK. An auto-generated tool for making a readable, accessible, non-stupid council website for every local authority in the UK. Gave up when I saw what GDS were up to (with money), and also when Directgov’s API was canned. Still not really been done…

I stopped work when GDS started talking about Single Domain for government, but this still hasn’t been done. Sadly, it’s a bit of a thankless task and people get pretty upset about folks like me messing around with stuff for free that they’re charging a lot of money for. Life’s too short.


Geolocated consultation responses

About this hack

A tool for getting responses from the people who live in a geographic area as to what they think, by tying opinions to geolocations. Hence “geopinion”. Initially developed for a project in Moseley but it was never used. Sad - nice idea that has potential.

Email Your Candidates

Send an email to the people standing for office, to ask them all the same question

About this hack

A service that let you email the people who were standing for election in your local area about a particular issue.


Visualising the votes of MPs on the Digital Economy Act

About this hack

Extracting the voting report for the digital economy act and showing who voted for/against, with some stats.


Comedy hack using a proxy to swap words for their opposite on the website

About this hack

A political/satire/comedy hack - replace all the positive words on with negative ones, and vice versa. I was going to do it for all the parties but the Labour site had some strangeness about it which prevented it. Nice demonstrator on using regular expressions for comedy.


Ruby interface to GeoAPI

About this hack

Ruby interface to the GeoAPI service, who got acquired by Twitter while I was building this, so I stopped.


If your wordpress site died, scrape it back from the Google Cache using a sitemap.

About this hack

If your wordpress site died, scrape it back from the Google Cache using a sitemap.


A silent radio station

About this hack

A “silent radio station”. A playlist of tracks that you can hum or listen to in your head without actually having to deal with all those tricky legal rights issues….


A pregnancy twitter service that would direct-message you child development information in the first person.

About this hack

I used to do a lot of little hacks with Andrew Dubber. This was one such hack, thought up in a cafe and quickly made into a real service. Funny / strange / useful / disturbing in equal measure.


A community-designed idea for what a council site could be like

About this hack

Birmingham City Council spent a lot of money on a new website. It was a bit crap. Then they said that one of the reasons it had cost so much was because moving content from one system to another is a big deal and you have to pay a lot of people to do it (they were doing it manually, copy-paste style), and they couldn’t have things like RSS feeds because it would all be a bit expensive and difficult. So over breakfast I scraped the site and built a bunch of the missing features, then over a two week period collaborated with a few other folk to create a wish list for what a council site could and should be, the results ending up as BCCDIY. It’s a two week experiment, so it’s shaky in places, and remains online only for reference purposes.