What you need to know for tomorrow

Getting Ready for OTA15

The Marquees are up, the Bean Bags are fluffed and spread around the building, lots of lovely mysterious packages have arrived, and we’re raring to go!

Getting to the Venue

The gates of St. John’s Hoxton will be open for registration at 9:00, with coffee and tea on offer in the main building until the whole thing kicks off at 10:00. You don’t need a physical ticket, we have your names at the door.

The Venue is a short walk from Old Street Tube Station, and you’ll need to head up to the western side of the grounds for the main gate.

If you’re driving, there is parking in the neighbourhood and a number of paid parking spaces close by. Here’s a handy overview of the options.

There is wheelchair access throughout the entire venue.


What you Need to Bring

Bring your own devices and chargers, we’ll provide you with all of the WiFi details on arrival and there will be power throughout the whole venue.

Bring a tent and/or sleeping bag if you’re staying with us overnight. There is plenty of space to camp on the grounds and lots of quiet corners inside the main building to roll out a sleeping bag. We also have showers and extra washrooms out on the grounds.

Bring your business cards to keep in touch with all of the great new people that you’ll meet, and to leave with the workshop session speakers you would like to follow up with you afterwards.

Bring emergency rations – we’ve done our best to make sure you’ll be well fed, watered and caffeinated throughout the whole event, but haven’t been able to cater to all of the dietary considerations that we would have liked to. If you have special requirements, we recommend that you bring a few things of your own just in case.


Plan your Programme

As always, it’s an action-packed programme with lots to choose from. Take a browse through theschedule on Lanyrd and “track” the talks you’re interested in for a handy personalised mini-programme that will show in “your sessions”.


Check out the Hack Day Categories

If you need a bit of inspiration about what you might want to work on during the Hack Day, the list of Challenges, Categories and Prizes are now all posted, and there is some very cool stuff to be won!

We’re looking forward to seeing your hacks and ideas at the Show & Tell on Saturday afternoon. We’ll be posting an online form tomorrow where you can submit your hacks, and indicate which categories they fit in.


Join the Conversation

There is lots of buzz already happening on Twitter with the #ota15 tag for this year’s event, but we also have a dedicated Slackline set up as well – making it easy to find each other and collaborate throughout the two days.

Although there is lots we’ll share on Twitter, we’ll use the Slackline for event specifics such as the Hack Day entry forms, and hot fresh coffee. You can join the Slackline here: https://slackline.io/shared_channels/overtheair

If you have any questions or trouble joining the shared channel, you can contact the Slackline team at contact@slackline.io or via the in-app chat athttps://slackline.io – You will also be able to find them hacking at Over The Air!  


FREE Azure Passes, courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft is sponsoring a free 1-month Azure Pass for all attendees at Over the Air.  Developers and makers can build and scale their projects with up to $100 of Microsoft Azure cloud resources on demand– from analytics, computing, database, mobile app services, networking and storage to web. To get a head start, find out what you can do atwww.azure.com or go to learning resources at Microsoft Virtual Academy

Thank-you to our Supporters & Sponsors

And last but not least a huge thank-you goes to our Support Partner and Sponsors for making OTA15 possible – we can’t do it without them!

Sponsor Footer

Microsoft and BBC Help Kids to Get Creative with BBC micro:bit

Microsoft rallies UK developers to help kids code with micro devices.

On 25th September, Microsoft is launching an initiative to engage developers across the UK in helping kids learn to connect with devices and code with the BBC micro:bit.  The programme will start in London at Over the Air – where BBC micro:bit learning workshops will take place.



Developers and Makers at the Over the Air event, who share a passion for technology and for helping others in the community, are invited to join with Microsoft Technical Evangelists to support the Coder Dojo event on 26thSeptember, where kids will bring their ideas to life, and learn to code with TouchDevelop and the BBC micro:bit.  Kids will have an opportunity to show their creations on stage during the afternoon, alongside other developers and Makers from the Over the Air Hack Day.

After the event, the role of these newly trained community advocates will be to help inspire kids in their own communities and support workshops for the BBC micro:bit later in the year, when they will be rolled out across the UK to help every child in Year 7 to learn computer science.  These community advocates will encourage kids to participate in a variety of simple coding challenges and games such as building a Minecraft Creeper Face, a digital pet, an LED emoji, and more using the BBC micro:bit.

  • Howard Baker, “Father” of the BBC micro:bit will tell about it’s making during his Keynote Talk on Friday morning at 10:00 lanyrd.com/sdrxmd
  • Microsoft will be teaching you how to Teach Kids to Code with the BBC micro:bit and TouchDevelop on Friday evening at 17:00 lanyrd.com/sdryhk
  • CoderDojo will be running a workshop that includes the BBC micro:bit and TouchDevelop on Saturday morning at 9:00 lanyrd.com/sdrpzp (Registration for this is separate – please check your inboxes for the e-mail with the direct link)

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.

WiFi for OTA13 – What it Takes

WiFi for Over the Air 2013

Guest Post from Rob Pickering, remedy  

A few folks have commented (in a nice way) about the WiFi for Over the Air 2013 at Bletchley Park last weekend. It stood up pretty well to 100s of developers with lots of devices each and I’ve been asked a bit about how it was done this year…

Raw Bandwidth

Our biggest challenge was time. We got involved only a few weeks before the event and, story ironically, mind the week after the event Openreach were due to deliver a new 1Gbit/s fibre bearer to site that had been ordered months ago.

The current Internet capacity to Bletchley Park is pretty heavily used Mon-Fri by the on site technology businesses here and prior to the upgrade doesn’t have the 70Mbit/s headroom during the working day that we knew from previous experience would be eaten by OTA. Weekends are fine as the business usage goes down, but that crucial bit between 10am on Friday when OTA started and 6-7pm when the site residents drifted off for the weekend was a bit of a bandwidth gap.

Thankfully, our friends at Host-IT had suggested antennaa rather appropriate “over the air” temporary microwave link via a local tower block. They knew a company that could do the neat radio stuff so with a week to go before OTA, contracts were signed with Skyline Networks, access to the tower block arranged via the council and on Tuesday morning they arrived on site with cherry pickers to find a suitable location for the dish.

It took a while to find a decent location. Bletchley Park is pretty green and whilst it all looked OK on a map, there was practically nowhere on-site that didn’t have a tree blocking the line of sight. Drilling holes in listed buildings to provide Internet access via thick bits of co-ax is a bit frowned upon so it also needed to be somewhere that we could get easy access through a window or similar to put a small rack inside the building and connect on to the rest of our network. No joy in any of the obvious places, either no line of sight, no easy way to get cabling into the building, or no way to connect from there to the network we were putting together for OTA.

In the end we worked out that if we used the roof of the National Museum of Computing in H-Block, we could get down into their boiler room and from there connect to the Gigabit fibre that runs down into our main comms room. The microwave L2 was running at 150Mbit/s at installation so it all looked great.

We subsequently had a few problems with the actual achievable Internet speeds on the link that had ourselves and Skyline tied up until the early hours of Friday morning, but in the end everything went brilliantly with the bandwidth.


The WiFi challenges we knew plenty about from previous OTA events. The Mansion is a hard space to get radio capacity into because of its construction. The Leon’s just didn’t have WiFi in mind when they built extension after extension on to the outside of the buildings. Most of its “internal” walls started life as 60cm or more thick outside walls which means there is very little consistent 2.4Gz or 5GHz propagation horizontally between rooms. This wouldn’t be so bad but there is often excellent vertical propagation to the upper floors which now house lots of technology businesses that rely on their WiFi so we have to be pretty smart about how we manage spectrum, especially in the crowded 2.4GHz band.

Drilling holes in panelling and running permanent cable around decorative finishes in the downstairs rooms is apparently very naughty so we tend to be somewhat restricted to making permanent access point installations in the upstairs areas. Very careful surveying and manual colouring of the spectrum map gives us pretty good coverage downstairs foraverage conference use but OTA is anything but average.

This year we added four temporarily rigged access points to the Ballroom/Billiard Room area where lots of development was going on (two on the only vaguely available bits of 2.4GHz spectrum and two on 5GHz). Lots of velcro and cable ties meant that it could all be ripped out at the end of the event so that you would never know it had been there.

We also put a wired network into the Marquee for this event – made easier by relocating it a convenient 90M cable throw away from our nearest fibre in the Hut4 catering building. We really wanted to do this for last year, but there wasn’t the budget for it so we resorted on that occasion to directional antenna on nearby buildings which didn’t work at all well for OTA scale load.

ota13-tentThis year we pulled out the stops and put key bandwidth consumers like the AV folks and lecterns on hardwired connections and put 7 hardwired access points in themarquee (1 omni on 2.4GHz in each of the four corners of the tent and 3 on 5GHz in the middle and stage area). We could have used highly directional antenna to stripe the coverage inside the marquee but instead took a bet that the 2.4GHz omnis would be adequate provided enough folks used 5GHz. This also gave us the advantage that a reasonable amount of coverage leaked well outside the tent onto the lawn and camping area.

2.4GHz vs 5GHZ

Most cheap WiFi kit uses 2.4GHz spectrum. This spectrum is easiest to make work on a small scale as it has better propagation through objects so you get a better signal radius. It is also very crowded with only 4 useable 20MHz wide frequency bands and lots of noise and competing uses.

5GHz on the other hand has many more useable channels in most environments. It isn’t as easy to cover large areas from one base as it’s propagation is more limited, but this is a very good thing if you have lots of bandwidth hungry clients in a small area. You can deploy a high density of access points without any spectrum issues and without resorting to low power/directional antenna which are required to do a similar thing in the 2.4GHz band.

To make OTA WiFi work well we needed to get as many clients as possible onto 5GHz. This is a challenge as many devices only support 2.4GHz so we needed to get as many as possible of the devices that do support 5GHz onto that band. One technique we used was a bit of social engineering that I first saw at Google Campus in London. As well as the standard SSID, broadcast on all APs, we also broadcast a “Fast” SSID only on 5GHz and told people to use it. That way, folks with dual frequency devices were persuaded to associate their devices only with the 5GHz bases rather than letting the device make an arbitrary choice. Of course we also made sure that the 5GHz access points were faster by allocating them 40MHz bands and leaving the standard SSIDs on them so that hopefully 5GHz capable device would choose them anyway.

The good news is that all of this worked well as nearly 50% of all sessions were on 5GHz access points this year – thank you Apple & Google Nexus which seemed to be the most numerous devices with this support.

End results

This is what the Internet usage looked like over the 2 days of the event (5 minute average utilisation graphed):


A big spike overnight, but pretty much everyone had nodded off by 4am and a bit of a slow start on Saturday. Lots of frantic uploads and downloads up to the start of judging at 2:30 and then pretty quiet until the AV guys started pushing videos up just before we took the network to bits.


To everyone who helped us put this together:

Hostit and Skyline Networks for providing a 100Mbit/s link in less than a week!

The National Museum of Computing for letting us crawl all over their building to install it and steal the Museum Directors keys so that we could be in and out of their boiler room until 2am.

The Bletchley Park Estates team who did all the hard work getting an overhead cable into the Marquee and Matt who single-handedly rigged the marquee network on thursday evening while I was Internet router wrangling.

Matthew Cashmore and team for organising OTA. It was great to see the Mansion and grounds buzzing with innovation once again and a pleasure to be involved in the event.

The OTA13 Round-up

Marquee OTA13 smallerIt’s hard to believe that a whole week has gone by already, since the 6th edition of Over the Air at Bletchley Park, on the 27th & 28th of September. A huge cheer to all of you who attended, spoke, sponsored, donated prizes and participated in the Hack Day – YOU are the ones that make it awesome.

It was a more intimate event this year, with 465 in total attending – which is a pretty good turn-out considering we capped ticket sales at 450!

DevLabThis year’s highlights include the launch of DevLab and their DEVICE initiative, together with UCL Decide. DEVICE is part of the new IDEALondon centre in Shoreditch, and will provide developers with hands-on access to a wide range of devices for exploring and testing from across all platform ecosystems.

tnmoc_logoThe attendees of OTA13 also raised an amazing £6,000+ for the National Museum of Computing, thanks to a Justgiving Campaign by PayPal, where they matched the donations from attendees 1 for 1,  which will be matched again by a benefactor of TNMOC. (The campaign is still live – so make sure you get your donation in quick!!)

3d scanning3d printingThe Bletchley Park Mansion was augmented this year with a 3D scanning set-up brought out by Hercules Fisherman and his Thingmaker crew, and a 3D printer brought out by Terence Eden of O2 Labs. Watch out for many freaky plastic heads showing up on TwitPic in the near future…

As always an amazing range of creativity, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing was on display – too much to mention in a week of blog posts, let alone one round-up! You can get a pretty good feel for the event at this Eventifier Round-up, as well as our own Storify Page. (ping margaret at over the air dot org if I’ve missed anything…)


Speakers Presentations


The Over the Air Flickr Pool

Blog Coverage

PodCast Coverage


Video Coverage

Francesco Frison has put together a great clip of his experience of Over the Air 2013, including the tour of the National Museum of Computing:


On 36 hours of mobile development…

A Guest-Post event round-up

By Julie Gould, Citizen Cyberlab

Image you are asleep in your home, comfortably wrapped up in your duvet, oblivious to the burglar that is making their way along your drive.

Also imagine your dog is deaf and your burglar alarm has stopped working, how would you raise the alarm?? How would you know there has been a break in? How would you scare the intruder away?

The answer comes from the Nottingham University coders team at this year’s Over The Air event (27th and 28th September), an overnight Hack Day. Their solution: your bog-standard (a-ha) toilet.

Using an accelerator like the one in your phone, you can measure the ripples in the toilet bowl water, which are created by vibrations. If the ripples are sufficient to raise an alarm, the accelerometer would tell another device to automatically flush the toilet, leaving the burglar to think that you are awake and in the house, and hence frighten them away. Obviously.

This is just one of the weird and wonderful creations to come out of last weekend’s event at Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park3Bletchley Park, a beautiful country house just a few hundred meters away from the rail tracks is the birthplace of modern computing. Seeped in code-cracking history, what better place than here to host a hack-fest weekend.

Dan Applequist, one of the ‘Three Hackateers’ that organised the event described OTA as “a celebration of software development as a creative discipline.”

OTAOTA is a combination of a traditional developer conference, with sessions led by people from within the community and an overnight Hack Day competition. The talks were about all sorts of things: relevant issues that the developers can use over the weekend, for example building applications on a Windows phone, or  something a bit more futuristic like white space radio, a new radio technology that might replace the wi-fi and GSM that we rely on today.

Groups of computer coders, hard-ware coders, soft-ware coders, tinkerers, gamers and more come together to learn, play, and work. And the results are quite unique.

I’m not a computer tinkerer myself, I understand how to use one for what I need it to do, but those that attend this event understand the ins-and-outs of modern technology, and can make it do some great things.

3D LED Cube 1One hacker put together a 3D LED cube that he could control using a roller ball. He had brought all the materials with him, soldered it all together, and then built some software on the day.

Another used his phone network to give a light instructions as to which colour to shine.

A third made a tracking device for a house pet so that the owner would know which room of the house the pet is in.

Air Pollution meter5An other group put together a device that would measure the level of pollution in the area you are in. You could combine this with a bike ride and GPS tracking system, and them know which areas you’ve travelled through have the highest levels of pollution. You can thus avoid the route to work with the worst air pollution, or provide your local council with more information on levels of pollution at different times of the day.

These are just some of the wonderful things created at the 6th edition of Over the Air. You may be thinking, what is the point? Why not make something financially viable? Well,that’s exactly opposite to what the event is all about. Although the things created at OTA may not become the next lucrative app for your phone, they may one day develop into something people will use every day. OTA was the first place where phones were turned into “light sabers”, which can now be found on many apps and games.

So who knows, maybe one day your toilet may become your bulgar alarm! But for the meantime, I would recommend a dog, or you know, a regular one!

Whilst I was there, I thought I would hack together a bit of a podcast about it. You can find it on the Pod Delusion episode 207 (4th October 2013).