Mobile Camp Brussels 2010

The insights and considerations MobileCamp Brussels #mcbxl triggered on options, technologies and tools for developing applications for mobile devices.

Some weeks ago I heard some echos over the twitter channel about #mcbxl. On Saturday, May 8th, 2010, the first edition of MobileCamp Brussels would be organized by some guys that I was following. I decided to register so as to check out the state of art of mobile computing, mobile internet and the real-time web in general.


This event would also be my first barcamp,  so I was pretty excited about that too. A barcamp is a free, user-generated unconference by means of  open, particapatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by the participants themselves. So, you can summarize this event as an unplanned geek gathering. Hey, if you know most participants only by their Twitter names … But what an experience that barcamp was! I love the small scale. I adore the interactivity. Energizing! A big thanks goes to the sponsors for the first class venue, catering, etc; to the organizers @emich@steffest@kodel and @janosizoltan for … well, organizing this event; and to all the speakers for sharing their experience and knowledge.

State of the mobile development art

Now off to mobile apps. Well, this subtitle says it all. That’s what I seem to have learned at #mcbxl. Development for mobile platforms still seems more of an art than craftsmenship. Yes, for mobile apps you have a totally different target audience and medium, so, yes, you should therefore completely realign your apps. This is what @kodel also explains in his presentation on Mobile Interaction Models. But, as proven by @Steffest‘s geek’o’tar and his presentation on cross-device development, while a fantastic exploit, it makes one wonder whether the mobile devices are becoming to mobile development what the browsers are to web development: a testing nightmare. The mobile devices apparently have even more variability in features than browsers have bugs. @gregone shares his experiences during his talk on Designing for Touch Screens.

Largest common denominator for mobile applications?

The cases presented at #mcbxl, have fairly specific requirements. Indeed, not everyone wants to write his own keyboard application, isn’t it? However, MobileCamp Brussels wasn’t too clear about what features cross-platform development tools like Titanium offer and up to what point  mobile web applications can take us. @kodel explicitly mentions to stick with native apps for now, forcing you to choose your deployment platform. Hence, he rightfully says to very carefully choose, depending on your audience!

Or limitless possibilities of the mobile devices?

The reason to go native? Remember that a good mobile app takes the user’s context into account for the services offered. Therefore access to the full features of the mobile device are most likely a key requirement. Hence, the need (for now) to choose for native applications … to fully exploit all possibilities of those devices, only limited by our own creativity.

TIY = Try It Yourself

As with everything in technology, you can only thoroughly make up you mind, after you Tried It Yourself. Mobile web, cross-platform or native, MobileCamp Brussels certainly stung my desire 😉 to experiment myself. I’ll be rigging my mobile development environment pretty soon.

So please check back once and a while if you are interested to read about my findings. On the other hand, If you yourself have some ideas or experiences to share, please do not hesitate to leave a comment!

MIT Personas, more than a stunning data mining and -visualization project

MIT Personas proves the existence of your publicy and to be conscious about it. But it also shows the opportunity and possibility to control just that.

By way of some interweb connections, I also came across this amazing MIT project, Personas. It’s actually quite a strange thing, that leaves you pondering about a few things internet related. To quote the project’s site:

Personas uses sophisticated natural language processing and the internet to create a data portrait of one’s aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.

MIT Personas result on Wim Van Leuven
MIT Personas result on Wim Van Leuven

What is Personas?

The basic idea of Personas is actually rather simple:

Just enter your name and Personas scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person – to fit them to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive corpus of data. The computational process is visualized with each stage of the analysis, finally resulting in the presentation of a seemingly authoritative personal profile.

So, from a technical perspective, Personas is much more than a more than clean website design and Flash application. It is intrincsically just an amazing combination of huge dataset processing, stunning data visualization, but also gorgeous algorithm visualization. On the latter topic: you just see the algorithm mining the dataset, which is fabulous! What I find so intriguing to appealing infographs, is that they tend to address the right hemisphere of our brain more than the left.

MIT Personas working on Wim Van Leuven
MIT Personas working on Wim Van Leuven

But what does Personas mean?

If you think about this neat technological result, there’s more to Personas than just “showing how the internet sees you“. On the one hand, it does give you that idea about the ubiquity and long-time persistence of your online profile . Meet your publicy, as this facet of the internet has been coined. Stowe Boyd has a very nice article written about the 3 facets of one’s person: secrecy, privacy and publicy. Welcome to the decade of publicy, where interactions and tools “default to things being open and with open access, rather than concealing things and limiting access to those explicitly invited“. So, Personas is again a very good reminder to be careful with the breadcrumb trail you create across the internet. Well, not to be careful, but be conscious. Being self-conscious about your publicy, gives you control, because you are careful about your paper-trail.

On the other hand, the Personas project also points out another very important aspect of the current state of the internet:

In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer’s uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.

As the internet is run and scavenged by computers, which are just algorithmic and not intelligent (“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.” – Edsger W. Dijkstra), one has to be careful about the information retrieved by searching or mining the net. On the other hand, regarding publicy and its constant tension with privacy, the Personas project proves there’s a realistic risc in retrieving confusing information coming from alternate sources. So it’s a matter of being master of Google’s first pages (Dutch) as Bart De Waele states it. Otherwise said, control the conversation about your profile. Become the only source of information about yourself. Or your company for that matter. However, as this might be a very labour intensive undertaking, as a last resort, there is not only a possibility, but also an opportunity, not only in falsifying information (p. 28) to protect one’s privacy. but in smoke screening your publicy by actively dropping false information, maybe even using mirror identities.

Self regulation

Which proves a conclusive point, stated also by Laurent Haug: “Self regulation is already underway“. Which works in both directions: “You want to spy on me? I will feed you with fake data to push the envelope to where I want it to be … In the contrary, if you give users a system they can trust, one where they can control what is controllable, then they will share the data advertisers need.

What can I do with the concrete Personas result?

In short? Nothing! It is what it is: an animation and final visualization … that indicate something, but nothing concrete. It can give you an idea or overview of what can be found on the interweb when people search you. You can use it as such in your internet toolchest.

Scrum Guide

The Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber on ScrumAlliance is a condense (14 pages) and recent (May 2009) pocket guide on the major principles and guidelines of Scrum. It’s also gives very practical advice and tips on concrete issues when implementing Scrum.

Just thought I’d share … Yesterday, I came across a nice piece of reading material for everyone interested in Scrum as agile methodology. The Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber on ScrumAlliance is a condense (14 pages) and recent (May 2009) pocket guide on the major principles and guidelines of Scrum. It’s also gives very practical advice and tips on concrete issues when implementing Scrum.

I think this is an excellent reference manual for anyone interested in a good overview on Scrum. Even a document  to keep at hand when working with Scrum on a project.

Design Driven Development

Design Driven development (D3) starts from the premise that the design of any system is an accident that kicks in at conception. Hence, maximizing the opportunities to make that accidents happen is the key for (product) innovation. Thereto D3 integrates design games into the project iteration at the start of the sprints, where the design games can provide input to the product backlogs. However, no process can guarantee a better design; creating the right environment with the right set of people is the only way to bring innovation and design. The Design Cube defines the people, culture and environment aspects that contribute to an innovative organization.

Anybody that is working on software engineering, software development and/or agile methodologies, will be very interested in the ideas from the Design Driven Development (D3) website.


The premise they start with is that the design of any system is an accident that kicks in at conception. Hence, maximizing the opportunities to make that accidents happen is the key for (product) innovation.


Thereto, the author(s) define procedures and practices on how to integrate design in your iterative product life cycle. D3 makes the clear distinction between the management, engineering and design aspects of product development. Most current agile practices focus on the former aspects, whereas D3 introduces the latter by integrating design games into the project iteration, nl. at the start of the sprints, where the design games can provide input to the product backlogs.

Design Games

D3 turns the design practices into set of games, which brings different sets of people, skills and experiences together to make design decisions in a collaborative way. D3 describes 11 different design games, which are grouped into five different categories: Startup, Understand, Question, Design and Experience.

But first and foremost, D3 is about focusing on the solution and not the problem. D3  can be as simple as the hilarious example laid out in their blog.


D3 defines 4 fundamental elements of good design:

  • Innovation is larger level breakthrough in solving the indented problem
  • Interaction is about how software or products behave with the users
  • Information is how you arrange the different elements on the screen
  • Intelligence focus on little things which can change the usability of an application.

In this way, D3 tries to bring design to the higher level of the solution space, whereas design used to remain at the product’s code and/or architecture level. The solution is the boundary where the product ends and thus where you as a solution builder can have impact. The higher levels of business and life on the other hand need to be impacted by other means.

Design Cube

D3 also recognizes that no process can guarantee a better design. Creating the right environment with the right set of people is the only way to bring innovation and design. Guidelines to this are laid out in the Design Cube, which defines the people, culture and environment aspects which can greatly contribute to build an innovative organization.


The ideas laid out in the D3 approach seem to be very viable. However, they have to be tested into practice to prove if they do bring enough value to the solution development in the form of product innovation. Most certainly, more practical guidelines, best practices, procedures and tools will have to be defined.

I do have some projects on my radar that might be helped by incorporating the ideas of D3. But in the mean time, does anyone have any practical experience with the D3 or other principles on entailing product innovation in solution development?

Kindle … 1st impression

As Christmas gift, I received an Amazon Kindle from my loving family. Thank you all!

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Kindle

The amazon Kindle is an electronic book reading device, that spurts wireless connectivity to, amongst others, shop and download e-books. The e-book reader comes in two versions: the standard version with a 6″ display, and the Kindle DX with a larger 9,7″ display. However, only the standard version supports global connectivity … 3G! So, I got the 6″ version.

In a couple of blog posts, I’d like to share my impressions and experiences using this device.


The Kindle and matching leather cover was ordered through (of course) and got delivered after a few days at home. No complaints about that. Both came as separate parcels, in a nice dark blue gift wrapping with yellow ribbon and to-be-filled-in greeting card.

Kindle tear off strip

Unwrapping, reveals sturdy cardboard boxes marked as “guaranteed 100% frustration free packaging“. Indeed, a tear off strip on the side allows the top side to fold open. It’s shown at Warwick Poole‘s and Obsessable’s.

The box contains the Kindle obviously, a getting started guide and power cable. The power cable actually is an microUSB to USB to power plug cable. Thus you can take off the power plug to get a standard USB cable. The power plug is an American plug, which is incompatible in Europe. I don’t find this is a problem, because I’ll most likely hook the device up to my laptop … to charge also.

Uhhh? Is that the screen?

Kindle screen cover image
Kindle screen cover image

Taking out the actual device, shows a drawing on the screen surface on how to start the device and hook it up to the power cord. OK, let’s peal off that protective paper cover and have a look at this nice, comfortable feeling device.

And than it hits you in the face … that is no sticker! That’s the device’s screen actually showing the drawing!!! As seen on Obsessable, it is razor sharp, just like a printed drawing. And how is it even possible to maintain that drawing without draining the battery?

Electronic Paper Display

The Kindle uses an electronic paper display (EPD) enabled by electronic ink (e-ink) that results in those razor sharp drawings and texts that are actually qualitatively equal to printed paper. Reading on the Kindle is thus a real pleasure and I couldn’t imagine any self respecting reading device adopting LCD, which is so tiring for your eyes. On the Kindle you can actually read an e-book for hours. And that’s what it is meant for.

On the other hand, however, the EPD limits the Kindle at being a reading device. It only can do grey scale, no colors, and it reacts rather slowly. Going to the next page of a book, actually kind of fades out and in to the next page. This seems to be inherent to the technology and takes about a second. It is however not a problem during  normal reading, but you can not quickly page through a book.I do not experience this as a big problem, but sometimes it’s  a bother if you’d like to quickly browse back a number of pages for something you just read.

A few other advantages of EPD: bright, high contrast, full viewing angle, sunlight readable, thin, light weight, shatterproof, flexible. Ideally suited for e-book reading devices.

Low power consumption

But 2 specific characteristics makes EPD ultra low on power consumption. First, there is no need for a backlight; second, the screen does not need energy to maintain the ‘image’ on the screen, only to change it! Charged, the Kindle should be able to last for weeks, when being somewhat ‘economic’ (e.g. turning off wireless). I’ll keep you posted on that aspect of the device.

Kindle's splash screen
Kindle's splash screen

But, not needing energy to maintain the screen image, is the feature Amazon uses to install the startup screen that you see when unpacking the Kindle. It’s also used to give the device a nice schwung: on stand-by a random image from some famous writer or book is put out on the screen … and stays there! Always a nice surprise when you finish reading. Note here the wording … stand-by… I left it at that and my kindle was out of battery after a few days.


So, my first impression is that the Kindle is perfect at what it is: a great reading device for electronic books. But it can do much more … I’ll be posting more articles on my Kindle experiences in the next few weeks. So check back once and a while.