Hull Blogs

Aggregated posts from University of Hull students

Going to York Technology Conference

This Wednesday I got the opportunity to go to York Technology Conference, after seeing it advertised on Twitter in Early November, I was really interested in a local tech conference, especially with York being so close. I went along with Adam representing #hullCSS and some other people from the University across different faculties. Getting Started When we arrived, we were given our lanyards and personalised agendas for the day based off what we’d chosen the week before on a Google Form, and headed off to the introduction from the CEO of Netsells who introduced us to the apps they own and have built on including YourParkingSpace and RailGuard, speaking next about their goals for the future. Becoming a Millionaire and Machine Learning at the BBC Daryll Mattocks gave us a talk on the essentials for running a digital startup and what to keep in mind when designing, planning, pivoting, pitching and funding a startup, as well as the importance of only building projects that are your actual passion. Robin Penbrooke gave us a question of how hard is it to change the way an almost 100-year-old organisation functions, and the problems the BBC has overcome to try and change the technical direction of it. The key focusses being on breaking through technical silos (stopping radio/TV being treated as separate entities), improving metadata on shows and tagging the ‘feeling’, who it’s aimed at to build a suggestion and insight system. It was really awesome, and if this type of system could be applied to an archive of BBC Redux and beyond, it would revolutionise VoD. FinTech and Blockchain Next up Rob Bellingham from Netsells gave us an overview of FinTech, taking us through how the authorisation cycle for cards works and the magic that happens in under a second when a card gets approved for a payment and security checks are run in the background. As someone who follows FinTech banks really closely, Rob gave us some cool but also scary insights about how data-informed decisions could use voice recognition, social media and IoT to inform whether loans, insurance or other services were offered to people. I also felt like I was a club member when he asked how many of us were Monzo users and half the room put their hands up. The blockchain task was especially good, as the Dragons Den pitch I did won us Amazon vouchers! We were tasked with thinking of an inventive way to apply blockchain to a real-world situation, bearing in mind the limitations of the technology as well as where it excels. Steve and I came up with the idea based on Steve’s knowledge of housing issues in Africa where property fraud means that houses are being sold to multiple people and I realised this could be applied in an open land-registry system where ownership was shown transparently. This would mean changes in ownership were on the blockchain, so transaction history was shown to stop fraud and stop Government corruption as auditable records show when ownership has been changed, something that’s achieveable with blockchain despite it’s low transaction rate. BBC UX and Castles in the Sky Next up, after lunch we went into a big lecture theatre to hear from the Mansha Manohar, a senior UX design researcher at the BBC who gave us an overview about the journey getting into doing professional UX design and asking the questions about designing what people need and how do we make sure we’re doing the right thing. We learnt about how user testing is the most important part of the design process, and how by taking a prototype to the users early on you can find big problems really quickly, we also heard the advantages of agency vs employed work and the best ways to get exposed to the widest range of experiences. Ross Sleight from Somo then gave us an overview of designing ethical businesses, and the important areas psychologically of app development, with the importance of thinking twice before you design a product that addicts and has a negative effect on people’s lives. I think this attaches quite well to what Bethan spoke about at CodePen January about the importance of taking responsibility for what you design. Tim Burnett spoke to us about the Cyber Threat landscape and what modern threats to our tech looks like, with the increase of nation-state attacks, ransomware and harder to stop attacks and the lack of enough people in the industry to actually deal with this threat. With an evolving threat landscape, we’ll have to rely more on AI as hacks become more covert and motives change, with state attacks focussing more on getting in and finding information covertly compared to the previous style of individual attackers shouting and telling-all about their hacks. We had a panel debate next, where the audience voted online and we heard a discussion on the Apple/Google difference in privacy stance, self-driving cars and technology in the next 5 years. IBM Research The talks for the day wrapped with Helen Bowyer, an inventor at IBM Research giving us an overview of IBM’s areas of focus, including AI, blockchain counterfeit prevention and lattice cryptography - an incredibly complex and cool way to secure data. I also wasn’t aware that Node-RED, the system for linking together IoT devices was designed by IBM too. Networking It was a great day out, and it was really interesting to find out about more of technologies I knew very little about before, like the potentials of Blockchain. I was also able to learn more about what really interested me like and questions I had wanted to answer but didn’t know who to ask, including the potentials for data processing with the archives at the BBC. Thanks to the team at York Technology Conference for organising the event and Mark from Careers Service for getting us there, and Netsells for the drinks after. I’m really excited about what’s coming up next year. …
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CodePen January in Hull

This week I attended CodePen in Hull again, the first one of the new year after the one where #hullCSS demonstrated SpaceApps at last November, this event we had three speakers with really different topics, Bethan who talked about ethics in tech, Sundeep who told us about SVGs and Steve who told us about some cool tech he found at Future Decoded. Bethan Bethan talked about taking responsibility for change as a developer and the importance of owning your own actions, not relying on other people to make changes and taking initiative yourself as a developer to consider the impacts that your actions have on others. It was a really interesting talk, and my description doesn’t really do it justice but it’s just a reminder that your actions, however small impact on other people both in your team, end users and beyond. Sundeep Sundeep gave us an overview of the best way to use SVGs as components in React and then showed us some really cool work from Airbnb, their tool Lottie. It’s an open source tool that converts After Effects animations to animated SVGs with JavaScript to allow them to render natively on different platforms which looks really awesome and can be seen in the animation in this post. Sundeep also gave us a run-through the best ways to optimise SVG’s for the web, it was a really interesting talk. Steve Steve gave us an overview of the talks that he went to at Microsoft’s Future Decoded this year, and went through some cool but scary stuff from Microsoft Labs like using Machine Learning with blood cells to be able to provide a list of every illness you’ve ever had - something that could save thousands of lives. He also gave us an overview of the scale of modern data production with the potential for Smart Cities to produce 250PB of data every day, autonomous vehicles producing 5TB of data daily and every person producing an average of 1.5GB of files every day. The biggest problem we’re on the verge of is how do we save such a huge amount of data, as production rates exceed the capacity we can store? Of course, what’s a CodePen event without some super cool stickers and well-illustrated books! This time, I discovered Increment Magazine from Stripe, a really cool magazine with the same goals as CodePen events, to show what teams are doing well and good practices so other teams can learn from them and do even better themselves! The issue I got focusses on security practices. I also got a Developer, JavaScript and a React sticker from Wes Bos’ collection to add to the Surface sticker set! Thanks again to C4DI for hosting the event! …
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End of Semester One (Year 2)

This is my slightly late review of last semester and what I’ve been up to! I’ve built numerous applications in projects for my course but we’ll get into that shortly; I’ve also had a lot of project management practice this semester, being in charge of delivering an agile group report as well as software. Ultra Run Ultra Run was my project for Electronics and Interfacing where we were tasked with building a timer with additional functionality using a NeoPixel 7-segment display to track a runner. I added additional functionality using RFID and serial to track individual runners and show them in a desktop application, allowing the runners’ progress to be tracked centrally. Then returning a serial communication to the Arduino to give visual feedback the card has been accepted, due to the flaky nature of Arduino serial to ensure all scans are imported correctly. More about Ultra Run Location Hub Location Hub was my project for Information Systems and Web Technologies, where I had to build an app to show staff where in the University students are at any given time, presenting to users both their current location and where they’ve been over the past 24 hours. Because of requirements for the assignment, this project had to be built with PHP and MSSQL as it’s underlying technologies. It was interesting to use these, although I’m not sure I’d use MSSQL in future projects as I prefer MySQL/SQLite. More about Location Hub Fitness Hub For Systems Analysis and Design, we were tasked with designing a system that could be used to manage members and bookings at the University of Hull’s new fitness facilities, migrating them from their current Excel spreadsheet based solution used since they opened this September. The project was based mostly around ensuring that requirements were properly captured and ensuring that the Software Requirement Specification (SRS) document was detailed and correct to build a successful piece of software. It was an interesting project and we produced a C# WPF application. More about Fitness Hub …
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Building an MQTT connected Tardis

After coming home from University last Christmas, I saw my childhood Tardis sat on my desk disused and thought, I’m a CS student - I can build something cool out of that. Using NeoPixels, an ESP8266 and MQTT, I did. Tech Choices The first thought was how was it going to work, batteries were out as it used to devour them three at a time, so USB power was the obvious choice due to its ubiquity (and who doesn’t have a drawer full of adaptors). As for the module inside, initially planning to use a Raspberry Pi Zero as I’d used previously had experience scripting on it. But improperly turning off a Pi could corrupt it’s SD - as it’s a full-fledged Linux OS on an SD card. For this project, I needed something that I could flash and restart freely as well as use minimal power, so I chose the ESP8266. After playing with various languages for the chip, I settled on MicroPython as the most familiar to me (as I’ve worked with it on a BBC micro:bit before). Getting Parts and Building I picked up another Tardis from eBay for around £20, as I wanted to keep my one as a reference (just in case I couldn’t get it back together), an ESP8266 an RGB LED and an LED strip, when it arrived I started prototyping with my breadboard, building a working version with the RGB strip broken into 4 sections around the interior of the roof and the separate LED in the lamp. I had a fully working prototype after cooking a few ESP8266’s, experiencing some horrible smells of electrics burning and learning some electrical lessons the hard way (if only I had my electronics module a year earlier!) When I measured up to fit everything back in the Tardis though and reassemble, I realised that my cable loom would be too big to actually fit in the box and I started thinking about alternate ways to do this. At a Hardware Meetup last Spring there was a lot of excitement around NeoPixels and after buying some and playing with them - they’re pretty cool and far better than my previous LED strip to light the inside as LEDs can be controlled individually meaning that they can be used for patterns. I built the circuit instead as can be seen on the right, which allowed me to only need to run 5 cables up to the roof which was more easily done and meant I could more easily reassemble after. Software Side There’s more information about the firmware on the Projects page (and on GitHub), but the ESP8266 ran MicroPython and connected to a remote server using MQTT and fetching various commands from there allowing notify50,50,50, lamp50,50,50, interior50,50,50 allowing notification lights, lamp flashes or interior colour changes based off the command and HEX colour value. I’m intending to implement this within Home Assistant to allow colour changing from Apple’s HomeKit and Alexa too. Final Product I’m really happy with what I made and the final product and the functionality that it has, and it’s a nice extra bit of Smart Home technology for me to light my room, as well as serve notifications in an eye-catching way. I’ve also learnt a lot of interesting background information on electronics which I found really helpful going into my electronics module this semester. More about BlueboxNotify on Projects Page P.S. I've saved the cross-dimensional travel functionality for Version 2.0! …
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Smart Switch

I quite like gadgets. So it should come as little surprise that I have been drawn by the bright future promised by smart bulbs. By their nature, in order to retain access to their smart functionality they need to be ‘on’ even if they are not shining. This presents a problem when faced with several decades of habit of flicking the power switch when you walk in to and out of a room. Being ‘smart’ you can voice control them using Alexa, but that has some faintly annoying lag and that is even if she understands you the first time. Plus, shouting “you damn well know what I meant, Alexa!” to turn off the bedside light can be disruptive to one’s sleeping partner. So this is about the start of my quest to find another way.…
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Design Meet Up Hull

Two weeks ago, I went along to the second Design Meetup in Hull City Centre designed to unite freelancers, local businesses and industry leaders to encourage good practices in design, share ideas and get together with likeminded creatives in the local area. Our Speaker Our talk was led Sophie Ottaway, a user experience consultant who’s worked with different branches of Government and who told us about the principles that they use in design, what works well but also areas that could be improved. We covered the perception of UX design and common misconceptions about what UX actually is, it’s not just a consideration of how a user interacts and then UI, it’s the full user journey and should start way before any kind of planning for the project, as it’s important to understand who your users are, what they want from you and how you can make this interaction as slick as possible. This is used all through GDS, like naming services verbs to go from ‘Renew your passport’ instead of ‘Fill out a passport LS01 form’ to make the users interaction quicker and more frictionless. Sophie told us about better ways to research too, and while companies can throw thousands of pounds at a market research company, if you’ve got the time you can often get better data and a more representative view by going out yourself and meeting people - and going out on guerilla research to meet your users in person can both save money and get more useful information. We wrapped the talk with an overview of the importance of metrics and how Google Analytics and hotjar can be especially important in designing products by seeing what users are drawn to most with heatmaps, and how if analysed properly data can help you make your service even better. We were also reminded it’s important to remember your service in context; with a real world example Sophie told us that to offer a rarely used service in Welsh, it would cost less to send an employee out in taxi accross the country to help the user complete the form each time they needed than rebuild it, without this early research the product could’ve been built when it’s neither needed or financially viable. Getting involved After a pizza and beer break, we formed into squads of 4 and were tasked with applying the principles that we learned in the session to a real life project and critical services, given the example of NHS 111 and how we’d transform it to a digital service for non-emergencies. Of course, as an agile task there had to be post it notes involved! We split our board into categories looking at potential users, research, how to prototype and how to test and evaluate if we’ve been successful. It was a really good task that got us thinking and a hands on conclusion for the night, thanks to Sophie for presenting! …
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Hull of a busy week - Technology events in the city

This week has been really tech filled, with a CodePen event with a presentation of what we created as part of the NASA SpaceApps Challenge (see earlier post), as well as taking part in a BJSS pair programming event at the University, filming a promotional video with a design agency, going to a hardware meetup and having a lecture from a Microsoft Intern who told us about working for the company. It’s been a really interesting week! CodePen Hull As #hullCSS we attended our first CodePen event down at C4DI on the Hull waterfront last Monday. CodePen was a really interesting event that definitely be going back to in future, the evening had five speakers each with their specialism where they gave their best practice advice and showed off their own cool projects to other developers. We heard from Mike - a local developer who spoke to us about best practises and common downfalls of people writing concurrent applications. Next was Amalia - a freelance developer who told us the issues she had trying to manage projects and tasks, not finding anything to fit her workflow and showed us the platform she wrote to track bills and show customers how far their project was in development. Matt from Sauce then gave us an overview of the best ways to do state management in Redux (for React) which was really interesting as I’d used Redux previously in my internship this year. Harry then gave the audience a demo of our SpaceApps Challenge entry and got some questions from the audience and some really positive interest about our project, which was great! Dave, a developer at The One Point then wrapped up the evening with some pretty interesting APIs for Microsoft products. All in all it was a really good night, and the free pizza and beer made it even better! BJSS Pair Programming The BJSS Event on Tuesday took place at the University, where we had 5 teams competing to come up with the most creative solution to the problem of “How can you convert a string of currency in word form to numbers” and vice versa (acceptable entries would include both ‘£21.33’ and ‘twenty one pounds and thirty three pence’). There was a catch that solutions had to be made using test-driven development, so tests had to be written before we did any programming. After spending a few minutes trying to remember the syntax for XUnit tests, we got going and made our outline tests and got a functional product going from currency to words and started on the tests to go the other way. It was really interesting to get another perspective on development, and although a very extreme approach I saw the merit of having these very defined tests before we started programming; there was free pizza here too which was nice of them. Promotional Video On Wednesday and Thursday, I’d been asked if I wanted to take part in UPP’s (University Partnership Programme’s) promotional video to show the accommodation I live in to new prospective students, other properties they own and their shareholders. It was a packed two days, where we spent Wednesday afternoon filming B-roll for the video of me and some of my flatmates touring the University and our accommodation blocks, and then in the evening I had an interview to ask about my experiences (something that was exciting and less scary than I anticipated). On Thursday we spent the day doing promotional photos, including me stood in 25 different places around a washing machine and across campus. It was a really interesting couple of days and was great to get to meet and work with the team from Hatched London who co-ordinated the days. Hardware Meetup After finishing on the photos on Thursday, I headed down to C4DI with some members of the #hullCSS exec (Harry and Adam) for a PCB (printed circuit board) specialised Connected Humber Meetup. Harry showed us some of the boards he’d designed for a multi-directional camera, we also met Hayden the creator of the world’s smallest Arduino compatible device. Paul then showed us how to design our own printed circuit boards and the right software to do it and get them made up - it was really interesting and super cool how the circuit designs were validated if they were possible to make before sending them off across the UK or to China. As it’s so incredibly cheap to do and with so much room for extension, it’s definitely going to be something I try in the future. Microsoft Seminar On Friday, Kaan, a placement year student from the University of Hull who’s currently working at Microsoft came in to have a chat with us about what it’s like working at Microsoft, career opportunities and jobs at the company. It was really interesting to find about the available schemes, but also as to how interconnected he felt as an intern being able to travel across the globe with the business and work with people at home, in the USA and in all of Microsoft’s satellite offices. At the end Kaan challenged us with a Kahoot to find out whp took the most in from the presentation with prizes; when he mentioned prizes the stakes went up and we were in for an ultra-competitive 5 minutes. I ended up coming second in the quiz and still got a pretty nice tote bag and a nifty rollable water bottle (see image to right). Overall it’s been a really interesting week and I’ve learned a lot of cool stuff and met some really interesting people. …
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Making an RSS Feed for CSBlogs

What is CSBlogs CSBlogs.com is a really useful Node.js web application serving the Computer Science blogging community, built for and maintained by Computer Scientists and designed to let people to share their blogs with each other and encourage sharing projects and cool tech stuff within the community and beyond. What have you made and why? I’ve wrote an application that parses the JSON feed that’s provided by their API and converts it to an RSS feed, I chose Node.JS to build on as I needed a flexible web based platform that’s lighter than something I could write in C# MVC, I wanted to keep on top of my JavaScript too and this gave me an opportunity. It’s a work in progress, and I intend to add features like caching to it, it’s low traffic only being fetched by Zapier for the #hullCSS Discord and Feedly at the moment so it isn’t as necessary but as a long term strategy it’s certainly something I’m looking to implement. How did you make it and where is it? Good question! You can find out more about the creation of the project on it’s project page here: CSBlogs Feed on Projects Page …
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HullPixelBots with Rob Miles

Yesterday Rob Miles, the creator of HullPixelBot, ex-lecturer at the University and now cool local tech person resident at the C4DI came to host a #hullCSS (Hull Computer Science Society) event and explain to us his work to make the robots - why he made them and how we could make our own robots. Why HullPixelBot They’re designed to be an easy and cheap intro to robotics for anyone, whether you’ve never played with an Arduino before - and is a product of modern electronics really, that anyone can build something cool and expand upon the basic robot. Operating Systems and Communication Rob spoke to us about MQTT and the advantages it has for IoT (Internet of Things) devices with its low overhead. I’ve played with MQTT before, both with OwnTracks and currently over the web with blueboxNotify, Rob told us his recommended way to hook IoT devices into Azure to control them with a serverless infrastructure, handy for anything from Robots to Rob’s suggestion of an annoying device with a light sensor that only buzzes when the lights are turn off - one that’s likely to get you into your housemates bad books! In addition to the robots themselves, PixelBots can run their own operating system on the Arduino - we had a demo of hullOS which is pretty similar in syntax to Python, especially handy for people new to programming but for those already familiar with C/C++, you can just write code straight for the Arduino. We’re also hoping to get involved as #hullCSS with Rob’s upcoming ‘Robot Rumble’ - a micro hackathon where each team is given a HullPixelBot and a minute to write software for it and time to quickly test it before sending it down an obstacle course to see who gets the furthest - a really cool event, and technically cool too as the robots can be programmed remotely straight from Azure. Rob had also made a really cool 3D printed NeoPixel lightbox that’s controlled by Arduino as you can see as a GIF on the right, something I now want to make too. You can also read about this event on Rob’s own blog here. …
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Winning NASA's Space Challenge

Last weekend as hullCSS, we went down to the C4DI on the waterfront at Hull to participate in the annual NASA Space Apps Challenge in the largest group in a hackathon we’ve taken part in as hullCSS before (and my first). Arriving bright and early for a 9am kickoff on Saturday we got set up and ready to code, installing the seemingly infinite number of Visual Studio updates and fighting over the available plugs! With the challenges we had over 20 to choose from, so we had to shortlist and shortlist again, with each of us naming a top five challenges that we thought we could develop the best solution for and eventually narrowing ourselves down to ‘Do you know when the next rocket launch is’. We looked around the internet to find out existing solutions that addressed this question and brainstormed how we could do what they do better. We knew we needed something that was fun and engaging to use, which led to us choosing PlayCanvas to create a 3D earth visualisation to build on and display rocket launches as they were taking place on a map for the user. Once we knew the project that we were building, I could take the lead on frontend development and branding, we chose .NET Core MVC as our platform to build off as the technology that the group were most comfortable with. For the brand design we wanted a bright futuristic look that stood out to the user. As the project took shape throughout the day, our graphics specialist team (Harry and Adam) made the world spin and fully interactable, the backend team (Dan and Alex) scraped data from the web, cleaned it up and stored it ready to pass over to the frontend (me)! In the meantime I made the model, view and controller to show the data to users for each launch in a nice webview using blocks to display each type of content, display livestreams and available data (which varied based off when the launch was scheduled and the operator). At 7pm we had a break and swarmed in on the pizza. We wrapped up for the evening around 9.30pm but I met back with the team in the library to get the calendar functionality up and running but decided to call it a day at midnight to be ready for our 8am Sunday start. We started Sunday with a large coffee and a proper breakfast at the cafe outside C4DI, holding a prioritisation meeting to discuss what we’d be up to today to get ready for judging at 3pm. As 3pm drew closer we polished up the application and put the presentation together, adding VR to the application for fun and testing it with a VR headset (it was pretty cool!) Rob Miles and and outside judge watched through the presentations, and as judging began nerves were high as all the entries were really awesome. After everyone had presented the judges went off to deliberate and eventually they returned announcing we’d won as the overall winner. We were delighted to be announce we were the overall winners as we were all proud of our end product, as I believe we created something both educational and fun. The project also brought us together as a closer team and we each learnt a new side of programming, I personally really enjoyed learning more about PlayCanvas, and it was a really good opportunity to get to grips with a new technology. Thank you to C4DI for organising and making the event possible and to Tim Goodfellow for running the social media coverage of the event. You can see our entry on the NASA website here, C4DI’s coverage of the event here and the other members of hullCSS’ blog posts here from Harry and Adam. SpaceTrack on Projects Page …
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UK and Ireland Programming Competition 2018

Today we fielded our first teams to the UK and Ireland Programming Competition. In it teams of up to 3 are given 1 computer and 0 internet to solve up to 12 secret programming puzzles in just 5 hours. http://ukiepc.info/2018/…
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Visiting Sky Leeds

I had a great visit last Thursday to the Sky Offices in Leeds for their Insight Day, a day based around finding out a bit more about working for Sky and the types of projects that their teams are working on. Their offices are really cool, modern and sleek and it seemed like a great working space with a big cafe and a flow of different teams of people having meetings and moving between the three Sky buildings. The office culture too seemed really good, as we walked through the main entrance we were greeted with a board of suggested improvements that people had to make office life even better which showed us from the off the teams are really open to feedback. We started the day being introduced to the team behind Sky’s Software Engineering Academy, and finding out what they were looking for in graduates as well as getting to meet their most recent grads who were able to tell us more about their personal experience of applying and the technology they work with on a daily basis; and given the opportunity to ask them some tough questions! The main part of our afternoon was spent on a coding project, with each of the tables being given a MacBook Pro between a team of 5 people and tasked with making ourselves into an agile team (more on agile here) by assigning a scrum master, product owner, developer and testers between ourselves and come up with an idea to make Sky Cinema a new phone app from a blank mobile bootstrap theme. When we decided our roles the clocks started and we had three 30 minute sprints to develop ourselves a functional product. Our product owner mapped our user requirements to stories, while our scrum master ensured the stories stuck within our 30 minute available sprint time to protect the sprint. As the developer I was then responsible for writing the app (to some pretty quick deadlines) while the two testers used their phones and our other MacBook to ensure that our application performed well on different devices. At the end of each of our 30 minute sprints we had a sprint review, allowing us to work out if our predictions on sprint effort were accurate and refine what was going into the next sprint and moving things around our kanban whiteboard! We were the only group to create a native (progressive) web app from our view, allowing the user to install our very lightweight app easily and hiding away native browser controls to increase engagement. We also used a splash screen to enforce a strong brand image as the user enters the app. Overall it was a really useful and hands on day that I really enjoyed, it was really interesting to meet and work with other undergrads from different Universities too, and was fun to be thrown into a team to develop something with them; thanks to Sky for having us! …
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The Three Thing Game

A new music cover to entice the masses to Three Thing Game. This is for the 3rd and 4th November 2018 event. https://threethinggame.com/post/2018-10-01-the-autumn-event/…
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