Reading Geek Night–July 2015

Went to my first Reading Geek Night tonight, coincidentally their first at the new venue.

They used to convene downstairs at the Outlook (decent draught beer) – just like Skeptics in the Pub – but now are upstairs at the Walkabout (shite draught beer).

Agenda for the night was

  • 8:05pm Ethical Engineering (Chris Hoult)
  • 8:50pm Internet of Browsers (Ben Foxall)
  • 9:20pm Oculus Rift DK2 (Simon Morris)

although, unfortunately, the Oculus Rift session was postponed a month. Mildly annoying as that was what I was most interested in seeing.

Chris mentioned at the start that his  ‘Ethical Engineering’ presentation was a cut down version for the night and that showed. I wish he had given us the benefit of the doubt and removed the ethics primer to leave more time for discussion of real-world examples. As it was, we were mostly left with talking about how social media data was aggregated by DataSift (“Provide Insights. Protect Identity.”) so that individuals couldn’t be identified (e.g. by homophobic governments).
(Reminded me of how Microsoft handled internal polls where survey results were never broken down below a certain population size to try and protect anonymity. Doesn’t always work – it was usually obvious which happy soul in the team chose the negative options for everything to try and make a point (no, not me).)

Ben had a particularly impressive impressive demonstration of controlling people’s smartphones through their browser. The concept was pretty simple – the phone owners would browse to his site and establish a network connection between the Javascript application and the back-end server which Ben controlled via his laptop. He started off simply – making the phone screens change colour, vibrate and beep on demand or displaying a diagram on the screen representing how many phones reported supporting a particular functionality. Next users had to tap on-screen buttons when he pointed in their direction to calibrate where they were in the room from left to right and front to back, after which he was able to make waves of colour and bird sounds play across the room in waves. Apparently, with large audiences, this has an unexpected side effect in identifying anyone with ornithophobia who get spooked by the sounds of flocks of crows flying in from the back of the room. Q&A followed, including crowdsourcing data, such as identifying regional illness patterns through smartphones reporting temperature.

Overall, a good replacement environment for the event – spacious with comfy seats – and a couple of decent speakers. Roll on next month.

Audience photo from @RDGGeekNight’s Twitter feed:

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