Hull Blogs

Aggregated posts from University of Hull students

End of Semester One - Final Year

This is my typically late review of the past semester, it’s hit home now that this is the penultimate one of these that I’ll be writing, and the end of University is starting to feel real now - but the future is exciting. The past semester has been incredibly busy and hasn’t stopped, but I’ve been up to some cool stuff along the way. Data Mining and Decision Systems 📖 Data Mining was my favourite module of the semester and looked at what data mining is, how it works, and why it’s incredibly useful. As well as learning the fundamentals of how it works mathematically and how the tech has progressed to use deep neural networks from the simple neurons used historically, we applied the techniques to a real-world context in the coursework. Through Jupyter notebooks and using pandas to clean the data and spot patterns, building different types of models using scikit-learn. We applied this to a medical context in the coursework using anonymised health data showing various cardiac events and whether they lead to a heart attack. The coursework had an interesting problem domain, as the justification of prediction methods wasn’t just focussed on what provided the highest accuracy metrics, you had to consider the potential of misdiagnoses and how this would affect people. Overall, it was a lot of fun, and I’d recommend having an experiment with data mining notebooks. After exams, I’m planning to explore my student data record from the myEngagement project and see what new information I can find and visualise after cleaning up the dataset. Virtual Environments 📺 Virtual Environments was an interesting module as it looked at how 3D works behind the scenes. As someone not studying games modules, it gives an overview of how artificial worlds are created and made to be believable. It was also fascinating from a psychological perspective to understand how the brain fills-in gaps from what it sees that allow the creation of these experiences. For the coursework in the module we were tasked with conducting a scientific experiment to investigate how either VR and AR affect peoples understanding of their surrounding, in my group we used Microsoft HoloLens gaming, combined with CS:GO and used stroop tests and found a correlation in reduced reaction time with users physically immersed in a game as opposed to playing it on a PC. Final Year Project 📚 The dissertation is coming along well, and I’ve just had my mid-project progress review to assess how far along with it I am. Currently, I’ve built my API with the serverless framework, and have it deployed in production on AWS, using CircleCI to run my build scripts. SwiftUI turned out to be a cool challenge, with some strange and undocumented bugs along the way, but I’m fighting through them! Overall, as a way to develop apps, I’m liking SwiftUIs style. Just got the rest of this next semester to complete everything and write it up now though. I’m looking forward to sharing more about how my project has developed, and what I’ve learned along the way after submission is all complete in April. You can view my previous semester reviews here: Year 2 - Semester 2, Year 2 - Semester 1, Year 1 - Semester 2 …
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UK and Ireland Programming Competition 2019

This is a bit of a while coming, mostly down to the need to generate Mobile Devices content each week. Better late than never. Back in mid October we once again took part in the UK and Ireland Programming Competition. We fielded teams for the first time last year and this year doubled our entries with 4 teams. Each team can have up to 3 members and are given 1 computer and 0 internets to solve up to 12 secret programming puzzles in just 5 hours. http://ukiepc.info/2019/…
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Designing Smarter Train Tickets at HackTrain VI

Trains, train delays, scary SOAP APIs, coffee and zero hours of sleep were just a few of the things that I experienced last weekend when I took part in my first ever HackTrain hackathon; it was three days of excitement, adventure, chaos and code. So what is HackTrain? It’s a hackathon spent, unsurprisingly, on trains, with a focus on looking at how the rail network can be improved; with a cohort of 80, using teams of different backgrounds from across the globe to brainstorm and rapidly prototype new ideas and concepts. Now in its sixth iteration, our hackathon had a focus on ‘putting passengers first’, with all of the challenges having some emphasis on improving customer experience across the network. Day 1: Hello London Up bright and early, I jumped on the train down to London for the hackathon’s grand opening at St Pancreas Hotel and met up with Harry, a #hullCSS alumni and now Microsoft Engineer. The opening event was led by River, the hackathon founder and leader and Andrew, the Chief Executive of Network Rail. We had a host of speakers from the rail industry, each pitching us their challenge areas for the hackathon, with ideas including everything from reducing network delays to modelling digital twins and developing intelligent chatbots. We chose the latter solution and pitched it to the audience, trying to gain support for the idea and find our third member! Everyone got an opportunity to pitch their implementation of an idea, and around 45 people did. After pitching finished, teams had to convince audience members to give you one of their three stickers, and collect the most stickers not to be eliminated! After surviving the brutal team elimination and with 26 surviving teams; we found Ava, our third member and back-end developer to complete our group. After team formation, we grabbed our travel wallet with the tickets we needed the weekend and followed Thanos (see image for context) across London to Waterloo, where we’d wait for our delayed train down to Plymouth. On the train we discussed our hackathon plan for the weekend, and when we eventually arrived, set up for the night in the Village Hotel, ordered some drinks and got to work planning our core infrastructure. After planning how our services were going to work, we headed to bed as we knew it was the only sleep we’d be getting over the weekend. Our project was decided to be a chatbot that will allow you to cancel and exchange tickets using natural language, as well as suggest alternate routes if your train is cancelled for you, or find you an alternative method of travel. Day 2: Home of Computing and Rail Up bright and early, we stacked up on our breakfast before the busy day ahead of us and headed to get our train over to Network Rail’s Basingstoke Campus, an operations and training centre. After going through a lengthy security process to get into the building, we saw their test-track and got to work in one of their meeting rooms. We had a great lunch from the Taco Van at to power us through the afternoon. After a question and answer session and test-track demo from our Network Rail mentors, we headed on a coach over to Bletchley Park, determinedly programming through the motion sickness. We grabbed our table at the National Museum of Computing and set up for the evening of code ahead, once again fed well by the fresh burgers served for tea, and with the wraps at midnight to keep us powering through the night. As the night progressed, Harry continued working on his project, implementing Microsoft’s Bot Framework to understand and learn from interacting with users. Ava continued to wrangle the unusually configured SOAP API provided by SilverRail, as I continued to develop our rerouting tool and get it to find alternate walking, train and underground routes to get people to their destinations. We headed to Dragons Den at 11pm to pitch our idea and progress to a panel of mentors to get their feedback so far, we got really positive impressions from them, spurring us on to keep working through the night. We hit a roadblock with API security implementation around midnight, and all worked together to find a solution and unblock development. As the hackathon numbers dwindled, as more and more people headed to bed, we decided to plan our next steps. I became the scrum master, and we held our first standup at midnight and then every hour through the night. We found a room that nobody was sleeping in and discussed our progress so far, any blockers on our tasks and estimated how long their completion would take before we moved to implementation. As the most significant part of the project, we divided up the work on our API conversion layer (from SOAP to JSON REST), and both Ava and I kept building the APIs as Harry consumed them and trained his bot on potential cases they may be used. Throughout the night Harry would ask people to find the most awkward phrasing of a question they could, as we worked to train his bot on every edge case and get the highest answer confidence scores we could. Day 3: Code Faster and Pitch As the sun started to come up, there was a pile of empty Red Bull cans on the table and a lot of commits. We’d successfully implemented ticket cancellation and were working on exchange. We had to head over to get the train to London, so we paused work and packed up. Train delays weren’t going to stop us from finishing the app in time! When we heard that our train from Bletchley into London wasn’t running on time, we nabbed the first bench we could find at a station, jumped on to Harry’s hotspot and kept committing. As we headed over to Fujitsu’s Headquarters, I worked on the presentation for later in the day, as Harry polished off bot implementation and Ava worked on API changes. As soon as we got to Fujitsu’s headquarters, we were pulled to one side for our code review, the part of the hackathon where the sponsors check your code calls the APIs you say it does and that your implementation ticks all the boxes. We passed and impressed the judges, then heading to grab a quick lunch while Harry prepared his speech for the presentation. Then came the big moment; we had to pitch in front of the audience. Harry had only four minutes to convince the judges on our project, and be selected to go through to the next round of the judging. We made it into the final six teams and had to be ready to present again, grabbing another Red Bull and biscuits between, we prepared for the final showdown. After presenting again, and giving the audience a live demo of our platform in action, we got some great feedback from the judges and some really positive encouragement on it. Both the developers and the challenge setters from SilverRail were also impressed with the product that we created. Overall it was an exciting weekend, and it was really cool to see what the other teams had been up to throughout the hackathon too, from modelling point clouds to helping passengers request assistance with web apps. I had a great time working with Harry and Ava and was really pleased with the end products we managed to produce in such a short amount of time. Harry also has a blog, it’s available here. You can read more about how the solution worked on the project page here. …
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Festival of Daring and Excitement 2019

Another academic year has whizzed by and it always seems to accelerate to a final sprint in the summer. Subsequently, the new year is upon us and we have just finished Induction (Welcome/Fresher’s) Week for the 2019/2020 intake. The grand finale to the week is the student’s introduction to the Bored? Games! events: The Festival of Daring and Excitement. Here is a little account of what went on.…
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Staying Cool

A little while ago I was designing and printing an update to my printer to allow it to use one less motor for controlling the z-axis. The basic printer design uses two lead screws to raise and lower the x-axis. It still does, but now it only uses one motor to control both screws instead of the original two. But that is not what this post is about. Instead it is about staying cool under circumstances to drive one mad.…
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Let's make smart receipts

Over the weekend I wanted to get the fundamentals of Go, so thought that I’d make a new project to get hands-on with it. Through getting email receipts and scraping items from them, I can convert all my Wetherspoons and Trainline receipts into transaction data. Building it The application works by scraping emails over IMAP (the most popular email receiving protocol) and looking through their contents to find receipt items, quantities and costs and then converting it to Monzo’s formats and sending it to them over their receipt API. It’s pretty nice to be able to get a better sense of where my money is going, and if Flux can expand to more merchants it’ll really change banking for the good. In the meantime, my solution makes it easy to look back through transactions at the two merchants and work out what I bought and when! The API isn’t perfect though, and there are a few things that I’d change about it. A Receipt API wishlist You should be able to fetch all receipts for a Monzo transaction, possibly through passing as a parameter like getting extra merchant information, as this would be useful to be able to show in client apps. You should be able to create receipts for the old Monzo Prepaid Card transactions, at the moment if you do it, it just gives you 403 Forbidden. Developers should be able to add custom fields (i.e. Transaction ID/Reference, booking collection ID) and mandate what gets shown on the receipt, as the Spoons app makes sense being an online merchant, but you should still be able to say the address at the pub it was used in. Also, as an aside, Starling Bank should get a receipts API - I previously used them as my main current account, and it would be pretty useful to get that data matched up nicely too. I’ve written some more about how I implemented the application, you can read it here: receiptify on Projects Page …
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Going to Monzo Show and Tell Manchester

This week I went along to my first Monzo event, Show and Tell Manchester. I’ve been meaning to go along to a Monzo event for a while but haven’t had chance as I’ve either been at University or they’ve been in London; I’ve been following Monzo from a while from getting a Beta card in 2017 and writing a blog post about building on their API, I’ve always found their modern tech-stack and community-driven approach really cool. The event was held in The Federation in Manchester, a pretty unassuming building from the outside but a modern co-working space inside. I wasn’t sure what to expect, going from super quiet when I arrived to completely packed in a matter of minutes - it’s amazing how a bank of all institutions can grab so much attention from the mix of engineers, business people, managers and customers in the audience. After a bit of time to chat with other people in the audience as well as free pizza and beer (always a good perk), we got going and heard from the developers. Billing Pots First up we heard from James, a backend engineer at Monzo who spoke about the latest development, based around the goal of getting more people to use their account as their main one which is billing pots and get paid early. Billing pots were designed around the idea that people like to segment their money, so you can go on a night out and not spend every last penny! We heard about how their MVP model with constant evolution led to the current implementation (where the money is moved back into primary account just before the payment is taken at around 3 am). The community-driven aspect was really clear on this as their previous model of committed spending pots (pots for all direct debits) was seen as confusing, so with customer feedback, it could be refined before it even got released. There were then questions about what classes as a bill, would a recurring payment (i.e. Netflix or Spotify) fall into those categories, and how could that be paid from a pot - but we’ll come back to that later. It seems that now is a really interesting point at the bank’s history, as the assumptions made 4 years ago in the early code are starting to break, as users aren’t single entities with a couple of pots anymore with joint, business and investment accounts launching alongside. To be able to manage this, a clearer and simpler design system was needed for the app. New Navigation Kavi then came on to explain this process, talking about the new app design what went into building a new and simpler experience, that could be both easily understood by customers (around 2.5 million now) and easily added to by the growing development squads (15 product teams). The current app was compared to the lego you can see in the picture of the above, with the features there but bolted on in an unordered way and the new design being is a way to give a better structure, to make customers discover the things that make them love Monzo as fast as possible. The new tabs in the top bar are as part of a view to make the app the home of your financial life, where you can overview all of your bank accounts at a top-level by just swiping through (like a photo album) and then be able to work down granularly into the details of all your accounts (like a photo). The first step in this is Amex, but over time it’s looking to be extended especially with the launch of open banking (see previous blog post here) and the tabs are also going to be made the place to make you aware of new services that are available, instead of being shown as feed items. Pots, with cards? James mentioned the possibility of paying for recurring payments using pots, but the current method for Direct Debits of automatically checking, then transferring the money from the pot into the balance not being good enough for this. MasterCard requires a response in less than 200ms to tell them whether the customer has sufficient balance before they reject on the bank’s behalf, not giving enough time for two lookups. He mentioned that virtual cards could potentially be a solution to this, but that made me think how could that practically be implemented. Based on the assumption that for virtual cards, MasterCard’s Digital Enablement Service (the thing that makes the card’s virtual numbers used in mobile wallets) asks the bank for an image of the card (which would make sense due to investor & joint account cards showing differently but having the same BIN), a different image for the card can be generated based off pot colour and shown in the mobile wallet to allow the card to be shown separately and allowing only one card of each pot colour to stop getting mixed up. You can see above a few mockups I made of how this could appear in-app (using their open UI kit on their GitHub); apparently implementing this isn’t on their short term road-map, however I think it would be a great way to handle it, especially as it’ll both remove the race condition for balance lookup, and allow people to segment their spending more easily. Wrapping up Thanks to the Monzo for running the event, especially Yen (Community Manager) and James and Kavi for speaking. It was interesting to hear how more about how Monzo does development. If there’s another event happening around you in future, I highly recommend going along to it! …
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How to convert your resume to JSON

CVs have long been (for me anyway) a long list of PDFs of v1. v2-Final, v3 and so on, making it painful to work out which version is the latest and sift through to find the version I’m looking for. Last year, I migrated my old iWork Pages based CV to JSON to get greater control of both versioning and design of my CV, as well as better compatibility, as Pages files don’t always play nice when converted. I thought I’d share in this post some of the things I’ve learned along the way, so you don’t have to experience some of the confusing hurdles along the way that I did. There’s a standard! 📖 The best place to start reading is the standard schema that’s documented here, as it’s just JSON it’s easily expandable you can add categories and take them away to suit your needs. If you’re looking for some examples or inspiration for your design, there’s a load on the site to get you started (although I’d recommend at least tweaking and updating them to fit your brand). Get Started ✅ For building locally, I’d recommend getting started using the boilerplate theme which gives you a super basic setup with partials preconfigured to allow you to build up easily. The theme uses handlebars to render the partials, meaning if you decide to add a new partial for a new section, you just need to append a {{> partialname }} to resume.hbs. To build your partials, it’s super nice too as it just uses handlebars conditionals (pretty similar to the ones used in liquid for Jekyll blogs), you can read more about them here and see the example below: {{#if website}} <div class="website"> <a href="{{website}}">{{website}}</a> </div> {{/if}} You can then just add all your different sections, style it with CSS as you would a normal site (or SASS if you want to compile it). When you’re going along you can preview it live in the command line with resume serve and when you’re done, preview it in a browser and print it to PDF. I’ve found exporting by print to be the most effective way of exporting, as the built-in PDF export can be a bit flakey. The boilerplate theme’s getting started guide on GitHub is pretty good, and if you’ve got NPM installed globally - it’s pretty much sudo npm install -g resume-cli and serve. Git on it 🗂 When you’re done (or as you’re going along), make sure you commit your CV to version control (whether GitHub, somewhere else or self-hosted). Having every version stored in the repository history is great, as content revisions are only to the resume.json file, you can see exactly what changed in every update as you look back so you can see exactly what version you sent out. Always have a PDF option 📄 It’s pretty neat hosting your own resume as HTML, I agree. However, if you’re going to distribute it, you should always give an option for your users to download it. Don’t rely on the user printing from the web or saving as a PDF, as web browsers are so inconsistent it almost certainly won’t look as you thought it did when they export it. Control your brand and make sure your recipients see what you want them to! …
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End of Semester Two (Year 2)

My very late review of the last semester! I’ve had slightly less ‘building’ this time around and more work on theoretical underpinnings, which has been interesting. Through projects in the courseworks, I implemented a TCP networking stack, wrote low-level efficient code in C++ and built some databases (the projects just don’t have cool names as normal!). Networking 🌎 The Networking coursework, Location Hub isn’t the same as last semester, it does the same thing differently (and in C#, plus WPF). There was an essential part of understanding how RFC’s, specifications and protocols all work under the hood and important lessons in how to follow them. The networking coursework’s core part was building out the application and following the specification exactly. The application follows a spec to make raw HTTP requests to the 0.9/1.0/1.1 variants of the spec meaning that browsers can interact with it too, it was a really interesting task as it gave a lot greater understanding of how protocols are designed and function. I was incredibly pleased as I scored 100% for the design and implementation of the coursework. Transport Routing 🚌 The coursework for advanced programming was my first experience using C++ for an application. It was a bit weird at first but learning how pointers, references and designing algorithms for performance was a really interesting exercise and encouraged creating thinking. The application had to find you the fastest route from A-B using a provided CSV of locations and another of links between those locations, storing this data in vectors linked together allowed me to find routes between and sort to find the fastest in the most efficient way. I’m proud of this coursework, scoring 79/80 for code implementation, design and efficiency. Databases 📖 Databases was an interesting module revolved mostly around making sure you chose the right type of database for what you needed, the coursework was about structuring data, something I’ve already found useful in my final year project so far. The coursework consisted of modelling a data-set, converting it to Boyce-Codd Normal Form and explaining through methods of how to do modelling, then writing SQL queries to migrate the data over - useful but not as hands-on as the others! Summer ☀️ For the first month and a bit of summer while I still had my accommodation, I worked with Sauce as an intern on an IoT project, working with various technologies including React, React Native, the Serverless Framework and AWS, which is great as I’m working on building my Final Year Project with the framework. It was a lot of fun, the team were all great and I learned a lot! Since then I’ve been on a holiday to Northumbria, see the obligatory bonus dog picture! I’ve also made a start on my final year project, with data-modelling and design now well underway. I’m looking forward to sharing more about the project I’ve chosen and how it’s coming along. I’ve got a couple of other cool projects underway too, including one with SwiftUI which I’m planning to write about! You can view my previous semester reviews here: Year 2 Semester 1, Year 1 Semester 2 …
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Are mobile networks ready to be disrupted?

First fintech, now insurtech, regtech and everything else. Is mobiletech the next big up and coming industry as users want to understand their data and usage more, and can the Big-4 and their MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) fight back? Mobile Plans haven’t changed much in the last 10 years; sure the data you can get for your money has increased, or in some cases even decreased. Many providers have killed or price hiked their ‘unlimited data’ plans as consumers push them to the limit, but it’s leading people to question what do they actually pay their mobile network huge amounts of money for, and could it be done better. I was introduced to Zevvle a couple of weeks ago, a new concept of a mobile network that’s built from the ground up by the people with features that people want from it and as a concept it really interested me, running on the highest coverage network in the UK (EE) as an MVNO but providing a completely different service. With a summary screen that would feel at home in the Monzo app, you’re shown a breakdown of your usage in data, calls and messages grouped by day almost as if they were transactions, an instant breakdown available immediately isn’t available from any provider that I know of right now. The summary screen would be really useful with their feature that really sets them apart from different providers; SIM sharing. This will allow you to have one plan and potentially 9 other SIMs on your account, allowing you to use your plan on a tablet or home IOT devices or even share your plan with your family (who hopefully don’t use as much data as you!) If they could do something no other UK MVNO has done yet and deliver features like WiFi Calling and Visual Voicemail and eSIM support over time, they could have real potential to challenge the big players. With a good price, no contract lock-ins and a good app, I’d switch over when my contract ends to try them out. The industry really needs a challenger and one that delivers features that no other MVNO does. The app went live today, and although the price isn’t yet competitive (£5/month + £5/GB), with economies of scale they’ll be able to match the low pricing of other providers. Although I don’t intend to move over right now, I thought it was a really cool thing to share as the more people who have their say in the network, the better it will be. They also have a community site here, a lot like Monzo do. It seems there’s a waiting list that uses referrals to move up the queue (a bit like Monzo did with tickets in alpha), but if you want to see for yourself but you can register to learn more or join, you can use my ticket to learn more or register here. It’s always interesting to see what industry is next to be disrupted, and mobile networks seem a prime candidate. …
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Building Lecture Analytics at JISC's CAN Hackathon

After our success at JISC’s DigiFest hackathon, this week, the team were invited back to Milton Keynes to work collaboratively with other groups. We also built a new product to help teaching staff to understand where students are engaging and why engagement could be dropping across lectures, by anonymously monitoring student faces in the lecture theatres to calculate student attentiveness and emotion. This conference was about the Change Agents Network, a network of staff and students working in partnership to support curriculum enhancement and innovation across higher and further education globally. We decided to target our entry to this to create a product that would help staff to track if students were engaging with their lecture material, spot areas where attention dropped and get a better understanding of their audience. Day 1: Travel We started the hackathon heading down to the Open University campus in Milton Keynes, checking in at the hotel and heading straight out to tea at a local Indian restaurant where we met the teams that would be participating, found out where they came from and where their interests in tech were. The meal was great, and we then headed back to the hotel to start planning the code, building out mockups in Figma and delegating who was going to be doing what the following morning. We also saw Uber Eats robots, and they’re super cool. Day 2: Code After heading down for breakfast, we headed out to to the event and start working, got our table and initialised the Git repository. We started with a stand-up where we told everyone what we were planning on building over the event and the technologies we planned to use to realise our ideas. We started with the code implementation, Harry architected Entity Framework to manage our users and data objects, Alex worked on pulling images from our client application, processing them and returning them to the database and Dan worked on processing data through the app, building data models and our login system. I took responsibility for the frontend, using MVC to show users their teaching sessions, create graphs and diagrams to visualise sessions. By the end of day one, we were happy with how the project was going, and we had our skeleton design and data-processing working correctly. We headed off for our Gala dinner with the conference, after which all the team went back to do some late night coding in Harry’s room. Day 3: Code faster then pitch The clock was ticking on day three, only having 3 hours to perfect our application before we pitched it to the judging panel. I worked on data shown in the frontend, Harry and Alex cracked down on data processing errors and Dan fixed data models. We finished with time to spare, headed out for lunch and then set up ready to present in a trade-floor style location in the University library. The pitch went down well, and there was a lot of interest in the product we made, especially the ethical considerations we had to stop data becoming identifiable, like only recording metadata not images of students and both staff and students alike thought it could be instrumental in their classrooms. If we were to build this into a real product, we’d link the recordings to institution’s lecture recording software (i.e. Panopto) to allow playback of the session and let the teaching staff directly see where students disengage and reengage. End Product We were pleased with the end product that we created, and are planning to open-source it, if anyone wants to take it further. Very kindly, JISC covered our costs for the event - thank you to them for inviting us and giving us the opportunity to come back and work with new teams. You can read more about it on the projects page here. Detour At the end of the conference, we were about to head home when we wondered how far Bletchley Park was from Milton Keynes, it turned out to be an 8-minute drive, so we went, and visited the National Museum of Computing there. We were 20 minutes from Bletchley Park itself closing but had an hour and a half at the museum. In the museum was everything from Colossus (the first large-scale computer) to the Apple II and is certainly worth a trip. Next year we hope to visit Bletchley Park itself as a #hullCSS day-trip. Video Here's a quick summary video of our time at the hackathon: Harry has also has a blog, which you visit here. …
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Visualising what data Universities' hold

Opening doors on campus, tapping into lectures, using eduroam and logging in to single sign-on all are logged so the University can work out if you’re going to lectures, but what does this data actually look like? When I requested a list of lectures I was absent from this year from at University, I wasn’t expecting to get a 3500 row CSV back of all my activity at University. After I got over the sheer amount of data that I got, I decided it was time to do some visualisation on this data to get an understanding of it, breaking it down by categories, running analytics (like if there was correlation on any missed time-slots) and even the most commonly used University single sign-on resources. I created a tool as a personal project that allows students to understand their own files and get their own page of tiles by uploading the file that their Student Hub will provide them of their own student record. It’s a Node.JS Express application that takes uploaded CSVs and converts them to JSON objects, which are then processed and broken down by categories, analytics are performed before it’s passed back to express and shown in the front-end, with the original data file being deleted from the server immediately. All the code is open-source and available on GitHub and I have a live instance that is deployed by Zeit Now’s Continuous Integration. Both the source code and the live instance are linked from the project page. myEngagement on Projects Page …
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Going to FinTech North in Manchester

Last week I attended FinTech North Manchester, an event about businesses, potentials of technology and rules around running FinTech businesses. It’s a really interesting area of technology, with huge potential for transformation so I thought I’d attend to learn more about the industry and where it’s going. A variety of companies from the North spoke to us, including MyPinPad who delivered the first HSM (Hardware Security Module) as a service, to allow customers to process card transactions requiring PIN straight from within an app, without even needing a specialist PIN reader. This meant they only needed to insert a card into a device and enter their PIN on a phone instead of a reader, and gave us an overview the regulation changes and hurdles they had to go through to make it possible. We heard about the common issues with bringing modern technology to the banking industry, namely the plethora of antiquated and creaky old systems, where adding new systems could break it, and as a result, how convincing a bank to use your service is really difficult. Equinti, then spoke about how they’re working with the growing expectations of consumers and how lending is changing to becoming more online based and streamlined, making it much easier for people to access when they need it. There is also a potential for big players to become entrants to the fintech space, with global giants like Amazon being able to follow in the footsteps of Alibaba and their service Alipay, and with the huge amount of consumer data they already have, it would give them a significant advantage. We met startups next, including Arro - a bank and debit card solution that could work for homeless people too with the organisation performing street level validation of customers and potentially allowing people to back on their feet. Mutual Vision, an organisation showed us what was possible with cross-bank collaboration as a company jointly owned by building societies to develop a modern management system. We also met insurance disruptors who created a single policy system across insurers to make policies simpler to understand and reduce confusion about what was covered. EY spoke about how they’ve transitioned to looking at banking from a user-centred design perspective and the organisational changes they’ve had to make to do this, and what users are expecting design wise. Banks are being forced to change from being a bulk of information shown in a statement sent in a letter once a month to living up to date information, as disruptors and challenger banks like Monzo, Starling, N26 and Atom all provide similar services but do it in a more personalised and interactable way. In the closing panel we spoke about the future of transaction handling organisations like Visa and MasterCard and how they will survive when payments are moved to merchant straight to customer, but the overall consensus that especially with Visa and MasterCard’s work on tokenisation, that means that every transaction uses a unique card number to protect customers from both malicious parties and to ensure their privacy (more about how that works here). The overarching message of the event was that consumers are expecting more from their financial providers, as they are now more engaged in their financial lives than they have ever been. As new legislation, like PSD2 comes into action, people will have more opportunities than ever before to get insight into their financial lives. The biggest change expected in the next 5 years is going to be customer experience as open banking becomes global, with Australia adopting the practice from next year too. It was a really interesting event, I met some really interesting people and it’s always great to see what local tech events are taking place. …
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Winning JISC's DigiFest Hackathon

Last week a team of members from #hullCSS and I went to the JISC Digifest Hackathon at the ICC in Birmingham. If you don’t know about the organisation, chances are you’ve used their services as they provide the Janet Network and eduroam for the UK, as well are a non-profit providing solutions for the education sector. Over two days we built an initial version of an ‘intelligent campus’ application which allows students to engage with student services, find out their schedules and be notified of changes by their institution more easily. Our Motivation We were driven by the array of poor apps published by UK institutions, offering limited functionality with mostly web views. Hull’s current app also consists of a timetable which is only available when the days of the week you want are manually selected and correct week number in the term is ticked, providing an extremely poor UX. Through the massive advances made in smartphone technology over the last few years, we realised we could harness native applications to provide access to PassKit and allow smart card use as well as simplifying the onboarding process for students to set up Eduroam, Mail Services and more automatically which would help reduce the number of calls to our IT Service Desk. We knew that iBeacons would also solve the problem of tapping-in to lectures, as they allow automatic detection of when a student enters a lecture theatre at the correct time so they can be signed in. We realised that there’s a vast amount of fragmentation across Universities and that there are many different services requiring plastic cards, and with the University’s goal to eliminate single-use plastics on-site through plastic pledges, we thought we could do this and eliminate plastic cards from over 16,000 students on campus. Day 1: Travel We spent Monday afternoon driving down to the ICC in Birmingham, checking in to our hotel, discussing our plans for design and making some wireframe mockups in Sketch to understand conceptually how our app was going to function before heading into the hackathon on the following day. After our brainstorm, we headed down to The Indian Brewery for a get-together with the other teams participating in the event (including another team from Hull!) We got to know the other teams, enjoyed some amazing food and then headed home for the night to be ready for an early start on Tuesday! Day 2: Code Starting bright and early and getting to the International Convention Centre (ICC) for 8.30 am, we split up our team, decided what we were working on for the day and got straight to work. I worked on building wireframes, mapping out user journeys and designing our interface then moving to work on implementation in XCode later in the day when I’d designed all the interfaces. Harry was our lead iOS Dev and worked on implementing my mockups and bringing them to life as they came in. Dan and Alex were working on building out our backend services, building login, timetable data, bus tracking and weather to connect up to the app. The pressure ramped up as we got towards 5 pm, where we had to stop work for the day. We ended our first day of code with a functional app but no authentication and were then invited down the Digifest’s delegate meet-up, where we spent a couple of hours meeting interesting people from different organisations, seeing some cool robots and talking to JISC’s team as well as developers from Canvas and Instructure about interesting ways we could use their APIs. In the evening JISC took us out for a wood-fired pizza at OTTO, the meal was incredible and the venue was lovely, we pretty much filled the venue with hackathon participants. After tea, we headed back for a late night of doing some work with Dan and Alex building out a background-image grabbing service and me doing some mockups for the last day of work. Day 3: Code & Present Waking up bright and early on the final day of the hackathon, with a solid 5 hours of sleep we headed down for breakfast and then back to the ICC, where we knew we had very little time to complete our solution and make up a presentation. I got on implementing my mockups from the night before in Swift, while Harry worked on the Campus page and the presentation. Dan and Alex got the backend services into AWS and Harry configured log-in to work through the app against the server. As the clock ticked down, as we got the final version of the presentation, I headed over to the projection artists to make sure our presentation ran properly and there were no issues with HDCP or Keynote. It was then time for our presentation (available to watch fully here on YouTube). There were some really interesting projects given by the other participants. End Product We could really see potential in the product that we created and were incredibly pleased with the end result of the hackathon. We’re continuing to build on our work as a side project and you can read more about it on the projects page here or contact me to learn more. Very kindly, JISC covered our costs for the event - thank you to them for inviting us to the event and giving us the opportunity. It was really fun to bump into the other team from Hull too, and meet Ollie and Luke to see their cool lecture engagement project. Thanks to all the other teams in the competition for keeping us on our toes, and the really cool end products you created. Harry has also done a write up of this event, that you can read here. Video Here's a quick summary video of our time at the hackathon: …
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Joining Hull Makerspace

On Saturday I went along to the new Makerspace in Hull with fellow #hullCSS members Harry and Adam to see what was happening in the space, as I hadn’t been before - and they said it was really cool. After doing an induction session, being reminded to stay away from sharp things and all the normal health and safety stuff, I was set loose on the space to build whatever I wanted. After three of us spent nearly an hour trying to suss the brand new digital embroidery machine, we finally managed to work out how to correctly thread the needle so it would work properly (the instructions were harder than we thought at first) and we got a design made up of the Makerspace logo, then sent it over serial to the machine. The embroidery machine was pretty cool, as you can see by the picture to the left, it showed the progress of what it was embroiding as it went along. As a community it’s a really nice idea, as it allows people to learn from others and implement the best practices of other people as well as having experts to help you use machines. I was able to help a guy who was just getting started with Arduino fix some debounce and variable errors in his code and get his circuit working, and it’s nice to think if I have issues too there’s a friendly group of other makers and devs around to get a second pair of eyes on an issue. I’m looking forward to going back and making new things there, especially doing some 3D printing, CNC cutting and making some Vinyls for my laptop. With so many projects that I wanted to do but didn’t have the tools to, the space will allow me to make the crazy prototyping ideas I had a reality, which is awesome. …
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