OTA this year: How do we Extend the Web?

Over the Air is a hack day – combining an overnight hack-a-thon format with a developer conference where you can come and learn and hear from your colleagues about new and emerging technologies (and ideas) that you can pick up and use.

This year’s programme is coming together. We have some amazing speakers on tap and a few focus areas are emerging. At Over the Air we’ve always had an underlying theme of connected applications and the interconnection of things. We’ve also always had a focus on the open web, and especially the use of the web on mobile devices. This year our focus turns to how the Web can be extended – extended to the world around us (through the internet of things), extended to the way we communicate, extended to new modalities of use and extended to across diverse communities of users.

Here’s a sample of some of our speakers for the two-day session schedule:

Keynoting our event will be Hadley Beeman, someone well known to the UK tech community. Hadley is currently a member of the W3C Technical Architecture Group which I co-chair and works with me there at the cutting edge of web technologies.

Keynoting our second day will be the Léonie Watson, also a leader in web standards and as co-chair of the Web Platform working group also at the forefront of emerging web tech.

Ada Rose Edwards will be talking about the future of Web VR, moving the web into emerging virtual reality platforms.

Peter O’Shaughnessy will be talking about web bluetooth, extending the web by allowing web applications to connect to devices around you.

Tim Panton will be talking about how to use WebRTC peer-to-peer technologies to enable control of connected Internet-of-Things devices in a secure and decentralized way.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino will give us a snapshot of the IoT landscape today. Terence Eden will be speaking about some of the dangers and anti-patterns in the Internet of Things.

Charlotte Spencer will be speaking about the culture of open source and James Smith will be talking about how we can take open source / open web culture and apply it to the political arena.

…and we are still announcing / confirming speakers for both day one and day two of our program.

As usual, all of our speakers will be talking about technologies and ideas that we hope our attendees will pick up and build with. Sound interesting? Come join us at Over the Air!

We’re doing it again! And we need your help.

We’re busy planning another Over the Air event, to take place at St John’s Hoxton on the 16th and 17th of September. As some of you noticed, we recently celebrated our 8th anniversary so at this point Over the Air has firmly become a tradition and a fixture in the UK (and European) tech calendar. As always, though, we need your help to make this event happen. Our event is and always has been free to attend, and we think this is an important part of the event’s ethos. In order to keep it this way, we need sponsors – sponsors who are visionary enough to share our event’s goals: celebrating programming and hackery as a creative discipline, giving back to the tech community and providing a space where people can learn from their peers and build great stuff together. We’ve been lucky enough to have sponsorship over the years from companies you may have heard of such as BBC, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo. If you would like to join these visionary companies in supporting this unique developer event, please get in touch.

A little more on our new venue

Front Facade - With DateWe wanted to take a moment to walk you through our new venue – it’s fair to say that the new venue is not exactly a traditional tech space. When it comes to tech, hacking, breaking things and being deliberately disruptive a church is not necessarily the first place you think of. For those of you that know me you’ll also know that I left the world of tech and publishing last year to train as a Priest and with that knowledge, combined with a church as a venue it’s fair to say there may be some concerns… so let me explain why we ended up at St. John’s in Hoxton.

None of us care what your personal beliefs or values are – we only care about your hack and creating an environment where you can build something amazing – that’s the only thing that matters. We’re sure you’re going to fall in love with the space as much as we have and can’t wait to see your reactions to what we’re doing there.

We knew that in 2015 we wanted to return to London – but we wanted a venue that would hold some of the best things about Bletchley Park (mainly the camping) and the free nature of a campus type venue. They are rather few and far between in London and just as I was about to give up hope in outdoor space and start talking to universities etc I went to an event at St. John’s and realised we’d found our venue.

It’s incredibly central, it has a  ‘campus’ that allows us to camp in a secure environment, it is reasonably priced and it’s already a start-up incubator. The venue hosts start-up companies in the crypt and the chap in charge is totally into the tech scene and wants  the venue support the local community.

The venue has a track record of running events and services that are totally secular in nature – it’s an easy space to convert into a ‘neutral’ space and we have complete control over the venue which means we can pretty much do what we want there – that’s a massively important factor for OTA as I hate to say no to people who want to do things so a venue who gets shirty about soldering irons or flying drones or launching rockets isn’t going to work for us – a venue who is run by a person who says ‘cool’ when you suggest you may want to blow something up at the front of the main space is kinda awesome.

The space is being designed to be completely neutral. There will be NO church services running, you will not be expected to take part in, have conversations about, or even acknowledge the existence – or not – of anything other than your hack. There will be no vicar wandering around trying to convert anyone and we are explicitly saying the space is open to absolutely everyone.

The ethos of OTA has always been one of open inclusion, engaged debate, honesty and deliberately blowing things up for fun – it’s pretty cool that we’ve found a venue that shares those values.

Three of our themes for this year: Opening up the Smart City, Beyond Hacktivism and Next-Gen Mobile Web

I get asked a lot “what is the theme for this year’s Over the Air?” In fact, we never have a single theme, per se. From he beginning, we’ve been a bit of a grab bag, by design.  Over the Air was conceived as a “mobile-focused” hack day, but now “mobile” is not really a thing anymore (everything is mobile) so even that focus has become less important. Over the years we’ve been running the event, we’ve had an increasing emphasis, both in our talks and in the projects people work on at the event, on data (open data, data from space probes…), connected devices (smart cars, smart sensor networks, smart doorknobs…), robotics (Lego Mindstorms, telepresence, drones…) and the like. Often (but not always) these have included a mobile connected device such as a phone or tablet as a control panel or user experience linking these together.

Flash forward to the present and these technologies are playing an ever-increasing role in our everyday lives. In the private space of the home, Internet connected thermostats, smoke alarms, lightbulbs and toothbrushes are proliferating. In the public space, connected devices and sensors are also becoming ubiquitous for functions such as city management, and environmental monitoring and disaster relief. Among other topics, we’re planning to focus on both of these topics for our next event: the so-called “smart city” and the increasing role of data and, sensors and connectivity in solving issues in disaster relief, conflict zones or environmental monitoring.

We’ve been hearing about the smart city for years now. The vision of connected sensor networks and adding smarts of mundane objects of city life such as parking meters, rubbish bins and traffic lights is starting to take shape. The benefits to city planners and technology infrastructure providers are evident, but what about the direct benefit to the end user? And how can developers interact with these technologies? How can the smart city be opened up to small-scale innovation or to the prototyping of new ideas? And how can the smart city vision incorporate and preserve personal privacy in a world in which we are constantly under surveillance by public and private sensor networks?

So-called hactivism has become a common pattern now: when a disaster occurs (whether it’s flooding, storms, earthquakes or nuclear meltdown), hackers come together to see how they can help, even if remotely. These people sometimes work to augment open streetmap data, sometimes work on services that help provide early detection of environmental concerns, sometimes make use of open data to help give responders on the ground additional necessary info. Great stuff, but what happens after the hack? How can we turn the energy that go into these projects into a more sustainable force?

A third theme we’ll be focusing on this year is the next generation of web technologies, particularly on mobile devices. The term mobile web is slowly losing its meaning as the mobile is more and more becoming the center of users’ web experience. There are a raft of new features that are landing in the web platform this year – from the Service Worker next-generation off-line capability to http/2 to webRTC to advanced device APIs. These are changing the face of how people build web applications across devices – increasingly using responsive techniques and design patterns.

These are just a few of the concepts we hope to tackle in September. If you’re interested in giving a talk in one of these areas or you have technology to demonstrate or that you want developers to know about, please fill out our talk proposal form. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them here or tweet me at @torgo. Thanks and see you in September!

A Code of Conduct for Over the Air

Dan Introducing OTA 2012 Keynote Speaker Ariel Waldman

I have never felt excluded, harassed or threatened at a tech conference or hack. But I’m also not a member of a minority or otherwise marginalized group in technology. I’m a white male living in western Europe. So when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusiveness, I am out on a limb and I recognize this. It doesn’t stop me from working as hard as I can to ensure that the endeavors I’m involved in are as diverse and inclusive as possible.

These days we are all doing a lot of hand-wringing about diversity in STEM, diversity in technology conferences, diversity in technology education, diversity in the technical standards community. I can’t think of a single thing I’m involved with in which the topic of diversity (usually but not always primarily gender diversity) has not come up, and rightly so.

I personally believe that we all hold biases (for example, the much talked about mirrortocracy of Silicon Valley) and that we all need to work hard to overcome these biases. At Over the Air we try to put together a diverse set of speakers which we believe helps to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Another concrete action we have taken this year to promote inclusiveness is to put in place a code of conduct for our event. We have done this in a very webby and open source way by explicitly referencing the Hack Code of Conduct, a document that has been developed and signed by a number of hack event organizers from all over the world. We intend to run our next event and future events according to this code and to make sure the code is visible and understood by participants, our staff, our venue and our sponsors.


Hack Code


When I announced this on Twitter, I was immediately asked “Why are you doing this? Have you had problems in the past?” The answer, thankfully, is mostly no. Our attendees have largely been positive and respectful of each other and we appreciate that. Of course, there may have been problems at our past events which went unreported or which were reported but went unrecognized. We think having a clear code of conduct will help to set the baseline behavior our event and we don’t see any problem with stating this up front. Quite the opposite.

In 2013 we actually did have a problem where a disabled attendee was denied access to disabled parking (effectively turned away) by venue security staff. Would a code of conduct have helped in this case? It’s not clear, but making clear the existence and nature of such a code up front may have led to more awareness of these issues which may have prevented this incident from taking place.

Our event brings together people from many backgrounds and bunches them together in a confined space over-night, sharing shower and toilet facilities. And beer. It’s not inconceivable that inappropriate behavior could result. What this code of conduct does is to make it clear that disrespectful behavior, behavior that makes anyone feel uncomfortable or harassed, is not acceptable and will result in you getting chucked out of the event. Just something to keep in mind.

Ashe’s Dryden’s Codes of Conduct 101 + FAQ post was very influential in my thinking on this. In fact, reading Ashe’s post changed my thinking from “I don’t think we need one, but we’d better have one anyway” to “we need one and we need to be very clear about it.” I particularly like her answer to the question “If I suddenly put up a Code of Conduct won’t people think we’ve had incidents and feel unsafe?” I strongly suggest giving this a read.

I would also like to give credit to Soledad PenadésLinda Sandvik and FJ van Wingerde who have all done a lot of tweeting and blogging on this topic as well as encouraging diversity in tech.

Camping, Bean bags or Hotel?

The greatest thing about proper hack days is that you get to work as long, or as little, as you like. I find the small hours of the morning my most productive time – hanging around Bletchley Park overnight at Over The Air is going to be one of the coolest work spaces I’ve ever used.

The problem is at some point I suspect we’d all like to get our heads down for a couple of hours – so to aid in that I’ve had a little dig around to find some hotels, and even better, we’ve arranged with Bletchley Park to allow you to pitch tents on the front lawn. (Yep that nice green bit right in front of the house). You’ll also be able to grab a bean bag and find a quiet corner inside the mansion or the marquee – so don’t forget your sleeping bag.

If camping is not your thing then there are a few hotels nearby that may be worth considering – we’re in no way recommending any of these places – they’re just near.



Beanbags – the very soul of a Hack Day

Back in 2007 a gang of us got together from the BBC and Yahoo! and brought Hack Days from the States to the UK. The event was called Hack07 and there was a great deal of talk about how we’d create a space that was comfy, informal and easily reconfigurable. The answer, rather obviously, was beanbags. So off I set… I toured the worlds manufacturing facilities at great expense to the public purse (this was the BBC after all) and eventually settled on a company called greatbeanbags.com (it took literally seconds of googling).  They’re based up Nottingham way and are responsible for the now iconic Hack Day Bean Bag – the wedgie.

These bags have become a tradition at Hack Days that I’ve helped organise – especially the big ones. At every event we order about 100 of the things, print a logo on the front, chose the loudest colours and then… we give them away at the end of the event. The great thing about the bags is that apart from being all the useful things I’ve already alluded to – they’re also cheaper than hiring a pile of boring furniture that would make our Hack Days look and feel like a corporate conference.

Photo by mmorr on flickr

So here’s the thing – this year we’ve not yet quite got to our sponsorship goal so are still short enough money to buy bean bags – we’ve never not had bean bags and it’s a terrific opportunity for an amazing company to come in, pop their logo on a 100 bags and be the hero of the event. They’re properly cool, people get to keep them, they’re useful and even more importantly – it’s a damn site funkier than a stand!

So what do you say? Know someone who can help us? Point them in our direction and drop me an email…

Free train tickets to Bletchley Park

Photo By stevecadman on flickr

We have some good news. London Midland have kindly worked with us to offer 150 free train tickets to Bletchley Park from London Euston. We have 75 tickets on the Friday and 75 tickets on the Saturday. They are returns that will allow you to travel out on the Friday or Saturday and come back on either day – magic.

There will be a team of Over The Air Runners (look out for the people wearing black t-shirts with the OTA logo on the front and STAFF written on the back) who will have the tickets and details of the trains. They’ll be stood right in the middle of the Euston Station just in front of The Body Shop. They will be at the station from 7am until 1pm on Friday and Saturday.

The tickets will be released on a first come first served basis – so get there nice and early for your free train ticket.

If you’ve not registered yet there are a few places left – head over to the registration page – and remember, you can register at the event and make your donation in cash.