Goodwood 2014

Me and my dad have been watching F1 for about as long as I can remember. We've been to Goodwood's Festival of Speed event a couple of times before, and it's a great chance to get right up to the cars. It's pretty damn rare these days in F1.

So anyway, we had a look around the paddock, watched some of the runs up the hill and got up to see the rally stage at the top. Here's some of the pictures:

Bikes panorama

McLaren panorama

Some pretty neat panoramas created by Google+'s auto-awesome feature. (As much as you can hate on it, this stuff is pretty cool).

Pedro de la Rosa in the 2011 Ferrari

Oliver Turvey in the 2011 McLaren

2011 Mercedes

Totally got lucky with the timing here. The cars were just pulling back into the paddock after their timed run (much easier to take pictures...) and we were just in the right place at the right time.

2014 Williams in the paddock - pole sitter in Austria

Damon Hill's championship winning 1996 Williams

2011 Ferrari

Vettel's 2014 Red Bull

Renault's cars for testing the new 2014 engine specs

Michael Schumacher's championship winning 1994 Benetton

Jackie Steward's 1970 Tyrrell-Cosworth

Some of the cars in the paddock. To be honest, it was a bit of a shame that there wasn't too many 2014 cars. They can't be run due to the new testing regs but I hoped they might show them off. Would been interesting to see/hear them in person.

The classic cars are always nice to see, but the Schumacher collection of 1992-1994 cars was a nice tribute. (Hoping for a speedy recovery, Michael :) )

Suburu Imprezza (I'm not so up on my rally I'm afraid)

You can get really close to the rally, almost to the point of being dangerous - in most places there's only a wire and wood fence separating you from the cars... I'm not really up on rally, as I am with F1, but it's impressive to see the speed carried through the forest. Unfortunately it's a bit dark under the trees and all of my pictures were a bust. I did, however, get to see Sebastian Loeb really going for it in his new Citroen.

Jackie Stewart driving his classic Merc Silver Arrow

Finally, here's Jackie Stewart in his - I'm assuming it's his judging from the Stewart tartan on the seat - classic Mercedes heading back down the hill.

All in all, it was a pretty fun day out, despite the ridiculous sunburnt face I'm now sporting.

Back from the dead

So I've finally got round to rescuing this blog from the dead. My last post was nearly 2 years ago. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it up for a while this time!

Originally hosted on Posterous, I started back in April 2009. In the process of bringing it back I've been looking over some old posts, and to be honest it was pretty shitty writing... But I guess that's how everyone sees their O.G. writing.

Unfortunately however, Posterous shut down in April 2013 and deleted all of their user's (my) data. Which I wasn't particularly pleased about, for obvious reasons. Luckily they did offer a backup service to download their data. Since then the blog (and the domain) kind of languished. Partly because I'm fantastically lazy, but also partly because I didn't feel like I had the technical skills to run a server. This is important to me as I'm interested in the indie web movement. I want to own my content in a place that I control.

Anyway, I used their backup to restore my data (by way of Wordpress) into a Ghost.org instance running on DigitalOcean. Hopefully, now that its under my control it won't be going down. I may even experiment with Ghost and other personal projects here too.

Why Ghost? I like they're "it's just a blog" attitude, and the Node, Express & Ember.js underpinnings. I'm patiently waiting on the plugin ("apps") architecture to have a hack around with it's guts.

UPDATE: I just remembered that its possible that there's some dead links on the blog. I've tried to restore as much as I can, but no guarantees :)

WikiVLE open sourced!

WikiVLE is a Virtual Learning Environment that I built for my Web Client & Server coursework in Winter/Spring 2012

WikiVLE

It's a VLE based around the concept of a wiki - all users can work together to create awesome notes about a particular topic that they're learning about. It's kind of a focussed Wikipedia (but nowhere near as good!). Users can upload files such as Powerpoint slides, PDFs and images; edit notes using Markdown syntax and log in using the built in account system or via the University of Portsmouth's LDAP server.

I've decided to open source it, mainly because I'm a big proponent of open source and I want to practice what I preach, but also because I wanted you guys to help me out! Hopefully we can work together (using the magic of Git) to make it awesome :)

The source is available now on Github, and I'm planning to put up a live demo sometime soon. If you're interested get in touch (see alasdairsmith.org.uk) or fork the repo and submit a pull request.

Exciting News...

I haven't blogged in a while, which seems to be the way I start every post here...

Radweb logo

If you've visited my nameplate (alasdairsmith.org.uk) site in the last few months you might have seen a big banner at the top, shamelessly promoting myself :) I'm really pleased to announce that I can now take it down! For the next year, I'm officially part of the small but growing team at Radweb. We (feels weird to write that) create awesome stuff for the web, from WordPress and Magento sites to full blown, built from the ground up, web apps.

I'm going to mainly be working on InventoryBase, a brand new web app that is designed to help landlords keep track of their inventories. We just released a promo video, with an insanely catchy tune that's been playing all week in the office:

InventoryBase is built on BackboneJS, with a backend built from FuelPHP. This is a pretty big step up in level of coding complexity for me, and I'm really excited to dive in some more. At the moment it looks like I'll be full time on this project at least until September, to help bring it fully up to it's potential.

In addition, I'm going to open-source my big coursework project that I've been working on for the last couple of months. Check the blog post, or view the source code.

PS. Try the super-secret cheat code on inventorybase.com - press up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A on your keyboard to see what I mean.

Government sponsored identity APIs?

gov.uk homepage

I came across this interesting article on O'Reilly Radar yesterday about gov.uk, the new (beta-ish) upgrade to direct.gov.uk. It's mostly about how the site was built (yay for open source), comparing with traditional government IT development.

But there's a really intriguing nugget in there - hints of an "idenity services" API. Here's the full quote:

With regard to API's, our long term plan is to 'go wholesale,' by which we mean expose data and services via API's... We are at the early stages of mapping out key attributes, particularly around identity services, so to be fair it's early days yet."

I'm presuming by "identity services" they mean ways of programically identifying someone's online account as an actual person - somewhat similar to OAuth. In fact, since the development is all about open source, I wouldn't be surprised if they actually built it with OAuth.

This is a really intriguing path for government to take, and I'm pretty sure that I would be controversial... I know for a fact that many (especially in the US) distrust government getting involved in the web and would hate this idea.

On the other hand, this has potential for some really great innovation in Gov 2.0 - the concept of "Government as a platform". What if I was able to sign in to something like my bank account, or something similar with my driving license? Or my passport? This admittedly has some flaws, as there's nothing to stop the government tracking you this way. But, again, some would consider this no worse than Google or some other corporation tracking you.

I personally can't make my mind up whether I'd use something like this. What I will say is that I think that they should go right ahead and test it out, as the worse that can happen is that nobody would use it... (Actually they'd probably be torn apart for spending "X million pounds on failed IT project")

Alternatively, I could be reading way too much into a single quote and they're not considering anything like an identity API.

We Don't Need No (Computer Science) Education

(x-ray delta one on Flickr)

I'm cautiously optimistic about Michael Gove's reform of ICT to become more like Computer Science. It's deperately needed (and has been for about 10 years) as outlined in these articles in the BBC and the Guardian:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16493929

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jan/11/michael-gove-boring-it-lessons

I personally feel like I was massively let down by IT lessons when I was at school. I never felt like IT lessons were remotely fun or interesting - they were typing lessons merely that taught us how to be good worker drones. I was far more interested in science (which I still love), and so I started Biochemistry at Cardiff. I found that this wasn't the subject for me, and started to become more and more interested in the web and it's possibilities. Now I'm studying Web Technologies and I love mucking around with code. I'm extremely lucky to be able to do switch like that, and I'm sure that there's others out there who aren't.

The revamp is great news as it seems to focus much more on creating rather than only consuming, a path that I think has dangerous consequences.

However (you knew it was coming), I'm not convinced about the so called "open source" curriculum. Feels very much like a buzz word to please the geeks, rather than a concerted effort to change across the country. If "schools and teachers [have] freedom over what and how to teach" what's to stop a school that is unmotivated and/or incapable of updating the curriculum from doing so?

If we're serious about creating a new generation of makers and hackers then the government needs to step up and provide a concrete curriculum. I realise that this top-down approach is very much against the hacker mentality, but I worry that we've neglected technology education for so long that we've lost the skills to teach it.

I'm also skeptical of how the government will handle this guidance, and only listen to the huge corporations that have pushed hard for this. While we must thank them for bankrolling this change Microsoft, Google, IBM and others should have equal input as (real) open source initiatives and small scale hackers. Raspberry Pi springs to mind. As does Apps for Good. And Codecademy

So that's education sorted. Now we just need to overturn the Digital Economy Act and invest heavily in internet infrastructure, and we'll be golden :)