Things what I writ

I sometimes write nonsense about things to try and sound clever


Hacking NFC

Not strictly speaking hacking the protocol or platform or whatever you want to call it, because that might require rather more technical knowledge than I have left and implies something that is probably illegal, but hacking, in terms of using the near field communication infrastructure to muck about and produce something akin to a chocolate fireguard that you can show other people and say ‘look! I did a chocolate fireguard!’, as they add the finishing touches to their ‘tap-to-space travel’ demo.
Last week, the UK’s first NFC hack event was launched in Norwich. It’s a pretty ad hoc affair, under the Hot Source banner, that Proxamaare supporting by making their NFC technology platform available to anybody who wanted to enter a team. All you have to bring to the party is your creative minds and a willingness to stand in front of the other 17 teams at the end of the month and show them what you’ve managed to build. And show them you can. With an NFC-enabled phone, access to Proxama’s hardware and software, tags and tech, you really can build an NFC-enabled technology solution. You just write that HTML5 stuff that displays a monkey, loyalty card, free gift or whatever, when your programmed NFC tag is tapped with your phone. Of course, since your team defines the experience, owns the code, has the idea in the first place, you can do much more than monkeys. If you want to write a bunch of HTML that’s loaded in webkit, or the Proxama app, and then have that web content do something else, like, say, integrate with your ecommerce platform, turn on the lights, leverage location services on your device and send a message to the queen specifying exactly where the bloody cake is to be delivered already, then you can do that, just with a tap of your phone on the programmable tag.
You see what’s possible here? It’s not just about using your phone to pay for a banana. I mean, the platform could support that if you wanted to do that, but, like, you can already do that. The idea of the hack event is that armed with the technology platform, you create something new, innovative, quite possibly ridiculous, but definitely original and potentially commercially viable. And, if it is, all well and good. Take that idea away with you and make it commercially viable. Proxama aren’t going to steal it, it’s your IP. Do with it what you will. What the event is about is demonstrating what you can do with the NFC platform. And I’m leading the Flow team. There’s also a Foolproof team, but, you know, I don’t give them much hope for winning the competition. I mean, I can’t see how anyone is going to top my shark tank escape game. It’s simple – you get dropped in a shark tank with your NFC phone and have to tap on the hidden tags to open the escape hatch. You either tap all the tags, in the right order, within the time, or, well, the demo gets really interesting. I haven’t decided which team member is going to demo it yet, mind.

How I got found as a user experience designer

User experience design is a proper job. At least, user experience designer is a proper job title. It’s a job title I’ve given to myself for years and it’s worked for me to describe to others what I do, without necessarily having to describe to others what I do.

Three little words

More importantly, ‘user experience designer’ works as a job title when you want to be found. When I was hawking my freelance self around a couple of years ago, I made a decision on how I wanted to be discovered, and how easy I might facilitate that discovery. That decision was to bet the farm on 3 words – user, experience and designer – hopefully in that order. How I used those 3 words, and where I used them, was an important part of the strategy, but it is the 3 little words themselves that were to describe me to others.

Optimising for search

From the outset, I intended to capitalise on the visibility of those 3 little words and how they might somehow be associated with my own name. I thought at least having my name appear on the chunk of content returned by a search query would be a start. I like to think that the eye-tracking results would show a strong relationship between the user experience designer title and a real name in reasonably close proximity such that it fired some neural connection in the brain of the user that suggests I might be actually the embodiment of a user experience designer and therefore justifiably and majestically hoisted to the top of a mental list that someone is keeping.

There were a number of places I wanted that to happen:

  • My personal sites
  • CV/resume hosting sites
  • Recruitment sites
  • Job sites
  • Related sites (job title on flickr, linkedin, facebook)

Some of the searches I imagined were public searches, via google, bing, altavista, lycos, grep –r ‘user experience designer’ /theinternet, or something, for which I optimised on page titles, prominent usage in content blocks, page data, and so on. No black arts there. Others were more specialised, internal searches, such as cv/resume scans on recruitment databases, or paid-for searches on job sites. In these cases, I made assumptions about the data that was being interrogated, often based on the forms that collected the data, and tried to optimise based on that. For instance, I knew that no real person would actually read my uploaded resume until it passed at least round one of the keyword scanrobot, so if you’re not being specific about your job title, job categories and experience, then you stand less chance of rising to the surface, like Keanu Reeves does, when he’s dropped out of that slimepod into the machinespittle and chooses to breathe. I mean, a bit like that.

It takes a little patience to consistently optimise across multiple sites, with different search methods and black-box operational models, but the most important thing, as far as I was concerned, was to retain the focus on those 3 little words.

Maximising metadata

On its own, however, optimising for search using ‘user experience designer’ alone, was not enough. It got me closer to being discovered and considered, but I also needed something more unique that I could associate with the job title, that would filter the outputs to make them more about me.

Knowing that being found by virtue of someone looking at my own web site would be nice, but unlikely, I targeted those other sites that held my data, such as cv/resume sites and recruitment sites and picked a set of 3 attributes that I would bet my other farm on. Since these sites are largely form-based in their data-collection, and have reasonable overlap in their data sets, it is easy to pick the attributes you want to focus on and map that to the metadata they support.

The 3 attributes I picked were:

  • Location
  • Type (Freelance/Permanent)
  • Rate

It’s here that I had a special case, which was really the determining factor in being found. If I were wanting to stand out from a crowd of user experience designers, who had all optimised for search, and, for example, all lived in London, I’d be faced with a bit of a challenge. A user experience designer in London is like a bicycle in Beijing, right? They’re all over the place. Saying you’re in London doesn’t make you stand out at all.

Location, location, location, location

But what about if you’re in, say, Norwich? I mean, a user experience designer in Norwich is like a, well, I can’t think a good analogy for there not being many of them, suffice to say, there wasn’t. Which was to my advantage. Type and rate were pretty simple to define, more a case of setting a level of expectation and screening out derisory and pointless offers. Location, however, was my unique selling point. Except it wasn’t a selling point at all. When I moved out to Norwich about 8 years ago, with the support of a previous employer, I knew I’d put myself out on a limb. What I did (user experience design), just wasn’t done in Norwich, so, should I no longer work for that employer, I would have been pretty stuck. One day, I was no longer working for that employer, which is where this story begins.

Nevertheless, Norwich was where I was, Norwich was where I wanted to stay, and so Norwich was the location I added to my data set. And I stuck to it. Which is the point – pick your data, optimise, and stick to it, because if that’s what really defines you, that’s how you’ll want people to find you.


What I’d really narrowed myself down to was:


  • User
  • Experience
  • Designer


  • Location:Norwich
  • Type:Freelance or Permament
  • Rate:£ A number larger than the last number I thought of

What I got out of it was emails and calls from recruiters and robots that were slightly biased in favour of user experience design, and more or less centred on ‘the south east’ (including London), but, since I also included a number of other attributes as part of any upload, application or registration process, I also got a large number of administrator, programmer, database, design and other jobs as well. I got lots. Which was nice, but things weren’t really narrowed down to the degree that I had hoped for. Still, I hadn’t expected to get a perfect match, since, well, there wasn’t one.

What I had bet both my farms on was that one day, there would be a job, and its title would be User Experience Designer, and its location would be Norwich. When that job came up, if anybody was looking for a candidate, I would be the top of their search list. And that search list would have one name on it. And that name would be mine.

I had to wait a while. I had to do freelance work in London for a while. I had to travel 3 hours, each way, every day, for a while. But one day I got a call from a recruiter. I got lots of calls from recruiters, but this one sounded interesting. They had a user experience designer role. Duh. It was in Norwich. I’m listening. It’s permanent. It meets my criteria. Am I interested?

Have a plan

That call was for the job I’m currently in at Foolproof in Norwich. This job is the only job I want to do in Norwich. It’s a perfect job. And, because I was so busy travelling and sleeping and working, I hadn’t even noticed when they’d put the job posting out. I’d pretty much resigned myself to a London commute, and was actually considering an offer of a permanent user experience role based in Hammersmith. Which would have killed me.

But my bet paid off. When the recruiter searched for ‘user experience designer norwich’, I was indeed top of the list. There are others in the list now, as indeed there are other jobs that have appeared in the last year, but when I really needed it most, my plan was good. Have a plan, people, and stick to it.

caught by the fuzz

its easy to get overexcited about things in norwich because when they actually happen nobody seems that bothered. such was the anticipation/apathy contradiction at the Lightly Crowded Room at the uea last night as the mighty supergrass found themselves in east anglia when they probably expected to be in the astoria where everyone would go mental and clap their hands and things like that. the last time I saw supergrass was in 1994 when they were supporting shed seven at the boardwalk in manchester which was a spectacularly upside-down night as clearly supergrass should have played after shed seven who were already the also-rans of 90s british alternative music that hailed from york and miserably underachieved except for dolphin or that one about rainbows which chris moyles probably likes because they’re from yorkshire and what else you might need to know about them I’m not sure. the boardwalk was also was also a canny little venue which crammed students and townies in all week and had, well, a boardwalk kind of thing in it from where you could pour red stripe onto teenagers on club nights but was the right size for the amount of people who actually went to gigs like that in those days before everything was sponsored by o2 or top man and you have to barter on ebay to pay double just to see the congolese nose-flute orchestra playing hex enduction hour backwards at the art centre.

so there was a little squeak of anticipation as I left the house after putting the bins out and filling the dishwasher and sorting out the recycling. 14 years later, supergrass and shed seven are still shuffling around the country peddling their indiewear but supergrass never went away and have popped out some super sparkly albums in the meantime and so are now touring to support their new album which I haven’t heard and don’t know what is called whereas the aforementioned shite seven have recently ‘done an abc’ and reformed because they apparently had nothing better to do and are hawking some kind of greatest hits tour which must be a pretty short affair and is undoubtedly rubbish. on arrival at the uea I parked the zafira under a street lamp in the hope that the wing mirrors would still be there on the way out and tritted down the hill to the concrete bastion of acoustic deconstruction which was by the time I got there a little bit kind of full but with gaps in the way that says its not sold out but the middle-class middle-aged have bagged all the steps round the edge and so you’ll have to push through them to mix with the teenage fanclubs and stoners who will undoubtedly lob their plastic pint over you at some point which they do. expecting the support to come on at any time I took my nasty-but-cold pint of 1664 and sorried and thankyoud my way through 5-deep of people even older than I and after nearly failing to negotiate the last step down to the pit arranged myself neatly in front of someone who was far too short to go to gigs at the uea anyway. I checked a couple of emails on my phone, like a w*nker, and then suddenly it went that kind of half-dark and on trolloped the other band from oxford (I’m not counting ride), and proceeded to rock out with a track from the new album. and another. and another, I think.

even though they had a rather splendid lcd backdrop (although not, unfortunately, an lcd soundsystem), by the time they’d rattled off some tracks from the new album and gaz had informed us that we’d probably be regailed with pretty much the whole of the new album, people were getting a bit twitchy and shuffling around and rather than taking pictures with their phones they were talking calls with their phones. but wait, salvation. deep enough to submerge dubai is the back catalogue and so we will be treated to a smattering of hits-u-like which will keep us amused enough not to leave and amuse they do. they obviously save caught by the fuzz right until the end, but in between the borderline prog-foo fighteriness of some of the new stuff they clasped our hands and walked us right into the 90s when the sun was always shining and I had hair. it was at its best when members 4 & 5 of the live band disappeared off stage or picked up a tamborine and gaz poked us with the whimsy stick with sublime renditions of late in the day and a soaring moving and you remembered why you came. they can rock out just fine but you don’t want to be doing that at the uea because it just sounds like a jet taking off without any wheels when it gets mashed unceremoniously through that arcane speaker stack although brecon beacons sounded nice until my eyes started bleeding with the sonic james bond laser attackness of the sound system even though some people were actually jumping up and down a bit which must have meant something.

I make it sound half-hearted but it wasn’t but it was. they did what they do very well which is crack open a song box and let it pop all over the stage like a looney tune. we did what we do very well in norwich which is gawp like goons and start a mock fight while one hand claps and a stoner bounces of everyone shouting oi! oi! I think I may have enjoyed the whole experience much more if I hadn’t had to know in quite so much detail who I was surrounded by. there is an unfortunate trend currently to arrange a large number of lights on the rig so that they shine directly into the audience and mostly directly into your retina. at far-too-frequent moments in any given set, those lights will cascade over those assembled, presumably so that we can somehow join in with the signing bit where we’re supposed to join in but really, for about half the night we were bathed in an effervescent glow which only served to highlight the fact that you’re surround by people you don’t want to be surrounded by. I am quite happy for all the lights to point at the bloody band like what it always used to so that I can remain comfortably numb of my immediate surroundings and focus on the action. they do it down the waterfront too, but I don’t mind it so much there because in general what you see is akin to what you would see if david lynch made teenage pop horror, which is often better than what’s on stage, but at the uea, well, its just unpleasant. its not as if we need help in norwich to kill the atmosphere, but turning all the lights on like its the end of the school disco doesn’t really help.

the end of the week as we know it

thaas loomoo 117
thaas loomoo 17 by Tim Caynes

nahaahah. stop ut. naahahaaeah. waas at? thaas a chair innut. waas at for? what? thaas a chair. thaas fer sittun stoopud, innut? neeehaahaha. I wanna go on the flyun chairs, dunt I. come on. aaaah, goo orn. for me. nah. I’m gonna get suffun else to drink. int they got export?

notwithstanding the mammoth packing task waiting in the upstairs bedroom and the live chat waiting in the office, in French, we troop up to chapelfield to check out the travelling fair that never seems to travel anywhere except maybe round the ring road and back to where it was last time there was some civic event which was probably last month but it feels like last week but we normally forget about them until it’s too late and we’ve taken rolls and capri sun to Waxham instead where there’s not enough wind for the peter powell stunt kite but enough to pull the windbreak out of it’s moorings even though you spent 2 hours crushing your palms against the 6 wooden stakes wondering why the hell you don’t have a mallet but you know that anyway.

we saw the usual unfolding containers that started out as badly painted boxes on wheels and unfolded into spectacularly unpleasant painted deathtraps on wheels which at least one of us thought looked like it might actually be fun all things considered while the rest of us instinctively touched our limbs, subconsciously musing on life wihout them following a tragic accident on the swirling bench ride that left us traumatized for life but never made it bigger than the local 6 o’clock news whereas if it had happened at Alton Towers there’d be questions asked in the house probably blaming video games and crack cocaine for something totally unrelated. naturally we did the rounds twice to check out the awfulness and succumbed to a couple of experiences that were about as exciting as standing on badly balanced milk crates for 2 quid each and oh joy, we also spent 2 quid each on hooking a plastic duck, brown with algae and age, and now we’re the proud owners of 2 inflatable aliens in David Beckham Manchester United shirts with purple heads that do a really annoying squeaking noise when you move their arms which someone has been doing for the last 2 hours while I’ve been trying to finish the design framework for the inernational rollout of the integated telesales program across the global sites.

we’re going to a stay in a monastery in the Dordogne on Thursday.

it’s just the same over here you know

Boulder. Norwich. they’re just like the illegitimate children of upper-middle class families separated at birth and rehoused on different sides of the atlantic. I mean, the nucleus of these places is like the result of an illicit conflagration between two drugged-up psychology students from the university on the edge of town, but peel off a few layers and progress a couple of miles into the suburbs and further out to the wilderness, then things get much more like the unfortunate in-bred collision of two disenfranchised and disaffected 15 year olds on crack who stumbled out of elementary with a working knowledge of woodworking and a lovebite on the neck. this is where people start building their own houses out of pieces of wood they salvaged from the local authority rather than getting the thursday edition of the local post and leafing through the property pages thinking about the next progression up the stakeholder lifestyle ladder and how much the difference between what they currently own and what they really need to work from home and walk to school and have an acre and have that one extra room that would make all the difference would be.

and there’s a great big community of hippies that won’t go away. they came to the university in 1975 to study geology and life sciences before there was such a thing as life sciences and they just never went back home. they just moved into the golden triangle with their afghans and tabalas and hung tie-dye on the wall and CND in the window and opened up the alternative pulse shops that Tesco and Walmart are now buying up and turning into drugstore expresses to cater for the burgeoning population of 2005 hippies that come to study, well, geology and life sciences, but have already got cars and mortgages and actually, are soo busy they can’t begin to think about the G8 summit or even cooking their own dinners so they congregate at the microbrewery and pretend to like football and try to shag each other, but in a polite way, cleaning up after themselves.

but always creeping in from the outskirts are the indigenous population of the unintelligable underclass that really own the city. they have been here for generations, often never leaving their own self-made house in the country. mostly they’ve not had any social intercourse outside their own extended family. mostly they’ve had no intercourse at all outside their own extended family. they suddenly appear over your shoulder when you’ve been busy checking out kites in the window of ‘kites and things’, their dribbly grin poking out of their bleached fringe, which is poking out of a baseball hat that you’re wondering just how it could get so unclean. they don’t want anything. they just do that looking at you thing and then gather together again like some idiot mercury in the middle of the high street and laugh. you’re not sure whether it’s at you or just in general, but you check your purse and head into a book shop all the same, because you’re safe in there, if a little grubby after the experience.

I’m only joking of course. I was born here and I’m quite normal.