RFID meets Daft Punk

These past few days I’ve been in Bath at #mashspa and #bathcamp.

One of the highlights for me was messing around with Nick Jackson, Elliott Kember, Phil Sturgeon and Dave Tarrant, programming RFID readers to trigger OSX’s “say” command to speak lyrics from Daft Punk’s Harder Better Faster Stronger when we touched our RFID wrist bands onto them. After an hours practise we performed to Bath Camp attendees after Julian Cheal‘s talk on RFID:

Moving Forward

Over the past week we’ve worked tirelessly to perfect our timetable import code and we’ve now got a system that is working with real data. A select few students have now been given access to iCal feeds for both their timetables and their Blackboard assignments and the Library is hoping to have their Talis Keystone system in place very soon meaning we can start producing feeds of people’s book return dates.

Our next big job is to move away from bulk imports of data and instead start developing code that will go through and validate and verify events. So this could be looking for changes in the time of events or verifying that the right students are seeing the right events (in the event of a student changing course for example). With these changes logged we can then tackle one of the top requests that students have of the University and that is to be better informed of changes to their timetables.

The main timetables are produced by the Registry department however they aren’t informed if a lecturer is ill on a particular day, and in any case timetables aren’t updated currently until the following morning, so we’re planning on developing a tool for faculty offices to use so that they can make individual amendments to timetables when rooms need changing or lectures have been cancelled so that students can be informed sooner.

The logging of these changes will be important for Blackboard too. Certain schools and faculties like the idea of personalised assignment calendars however their own internal policies don’t allow staff to set deadlines inside Blackboard because deadlines may be changed by lecturers and senior staff aren’t informed. This is why the Computing School for example release a huge Excel spreadsheet of deadlines because it means only two people have access to change deadlines. We don’t want to be in a situation where we have to create individual departments their own tools to manage assignment deadlines, we’d prefer everyone used Blackboard and so with the ability to log changes to events what we could do is delay the update of the deadline in the student calendars for 24 or 48 hours giving senior staff a period in which to change it back to the original date or leave it (i.e. approve the change).

Our plan over the next few weeks is to perfect our API for querying events, give more students access to the their iCal feeds and also start developing the front end calendar application.

My wishes for OS X 10.7

So Apple have announced a media event on the 20th October dubbed ‘Back to the Mac’. To me, the lion behind the cut out Apple logo implies that this event will preview OS X 10.7 which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve been a Mac user now for about 18 months and generally I’m very happy, there are some really fantastic programs which I rely on day to day – Coda, Sequel Pro, MAMP, iCal and recently Sparrow, and with spaces and expose I feel so much more productive. However there are a few niggling issues that I hope 10.7 will solve.


Compared to Windows Explorer, the Finder really is crap. It’s slow, using the arrow keys to navigate folders doesn’t work as expected, you can’t refresh a folder as you can with Explorer using F5 and various other little things that make it counter productive. In fact I can’t think of a single thing that Finder does that Windows Explorer doesn’t do better. Even if 10.7 only results in a new Finder I’ll be happy, and if they don’t I’m first in line to buy a copy of Pathfinder.


I don’t know why Apple haven’t bought/leased/licensed/copied Growl already. It is by far one of the most useful enhancements to the operating system there is. I’d like to see either Growl itself or an Apple version built into the OS. In terms of enhancements I’d really like a way to push things such as URLs, pictures, and textual content to my iPhone like Android users can with various browser plugins and Growl could be the way to do this.


Sparkle is a software update framework for Cocoa developers and is used by almost all of the non-Apple applications I use. Like Growl I think this should be incorporated into 10.7 so that it becomes the defacto standard for doing software updates that are intuitively simple for users.

Installing software

I love the approach that most software written for OS X takes whereby installation is just a case of dragging that app into the Applications folder. Other software uses an installer similar to Windows software with a progress bar and some have custom installers like Adobe’s software. Again I’d like to see a defacto standard for installing software because I’m increasingly finding myself moving what I think are apps into the Applications folder only to find out that they are actually the installers. I appreciate that some software requires you to agree to a license or install some other utilities into other folders however why can’t this be done on first run?

Uninstalling software

OS X also has no method to completely uninstall software. Yes you can drag an app into the trash however that doesn’t remove the preference and cache files and other junk that some apps leave behind. I currently use TrashIt but there are numerous others such as AppZapper which do the same thing. Again would it really be that difficult to have an uninstaller built into the OS, or could the process that empties the trash be improved to automatically remove cache and preference files when it realises it’s deleting an app?

Hardware accelerated apps

Now I don’t proclaim to completely know what I’m on about here but I think there is a still a big barrier for software developers to make hardware accelerated apps. Why is it that Mozilla can so easily add in hardware acceleration to Firefox 4 for Windows Vista/7 and Linux users but they can’t for OS X. Does OS X not provide the right APIs yet or is there just a lack of documentation from Apple on how to easily do this.

I think that is everything, if I think of anymore I’ll update this post.

Roll on 20th October where all will be revealed!