The Dawesome Digest #5 — made in England.
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The Dawesome Digest

Issue number five in which I fall in love again with making iPhone apps

I always enjoy the process of making things, but having recently started to make iPhone apps again, there's something inherent in creating these small handheld experiences that I find really appealing. 

I remember having a discussion with Mark Porter — designer of the Guardian iPhone and iPad app — about how what appealed to him was the consistency of the experience and the control he has a designer. There's no need to worry about what happens if someone views it in this browser of that operating system and yes whilst there are now a few screen sizes to consider it's nowhere near like the nightmare of designing for Android with its crazy fragmentation.

However, more than the appeal of these wondrous constraints, and conversely the freedom that brings, what I think really appeals to me is that I'm holding these things I make in my hands rather than looking at them via a detached screen. When you hold something in your hands your relationship to that thing is wholly different to something you can't hold, touch or cherish.

So, along with details of a very exciting new partnership with Mailchimp, this edition of the Dawesome Digest includes news of my newly released weather app that kind of appeared as part of the process of learning something new, as well as a sneak peek of the next app I'm working on and how to sign-up to the Almost Dawesome beta testing team...

Now Next Later

“The whole point was to do it with the minimum of means.” 

— Armin Hoffman

Having never made an app using Geolocation I thought it was about time I learned. I don't know about you but I always find it easier to learn things when I'm actually working on something, be that a commercial project or something I'm making for myself. So I thought in order to learn about Geolocation I'd make a very simple weather app that would tell me the weather for wherever I happen to be at the time.

There was also another reason I wanted to create a new app; I had chanced upon Sketch as an alternative to Photoshop, created especially for making user interfaces and the like. I've got to say it was like a breath of fresh air. When you start using it you realise how bad Photoshop is for the job of UI design. Working in Sketch was and is a real joy so if you've not discovered it yet and you're on a Mac, download it right now. 

Of course a weather app needs weather data so I first started to use Openweathermaps.org but I have to be honest it just wasn't reliable; it would fail quite often and there was no way to combine various queries such as forecast and current. Eventually I went for the API provided by Wunderground.com which seemed much better though ironically one part of the API went down for about eight hours just after I launched the app!

It took me a few days to get the app together and then a few more to test it with the help of Philip my brother-in-law and a few other testers. One of the main points of difference with this app is it doesn't use any of the usual weather symbols that you may find in other weather apps. Instead I use a simple particle system that can show abstract representations of clouds, wind speed, rain and snow.

I also wanted to have the background colour change to indicate what the temperature was. My first approach was to write a complicated algorithm that mapped temperature to colour. Try as I might it couldn't get it to work how I wanted. Instead I realised there was a much simpler and in fact better way. I simply created a gradient with all the colours I needed going left to right, then mapped the lowest and highest temperature to the range of the width of this gradient and sampled the colour at that point! Now it was very reliable and much easier for me to see what colours I get for certain temperatures. 

One thing I forgot to do on the first release was to add the ability to choose Fahrenheit. That's the danger of making something for yourself then releasing it to the rest of the world. Not everyone is like you! Version 1.1 has already been updated and allows you to tap the numbers to toggle between the two different temperature scales. As of the time of writing the new version is waiting for approval by Apple before it goes in the App Store.

Download Now Next Later from the App Store.

Partnership with Mailchimp

Readers of the last issue may remember how I was working with a company in the states on a series of Internet of Things related objects but at the time I couldn't say anymore.

Well since that last issue hit your inbox Mailchimp have announced their partnership with me and right now I'm working on a set of six physical objects that will explore our relationship with email.

You can read more about it in this press release from Mailchimp. Below are a couple of photos of things that are very much a work-in-progress.

Kennedy

You may remember the little electronic device I prototyped a while back that allowed me to press a button and "capture the now" — marking a moment in time in the context of what else was happening in the world including news headlines, weather, time of day etc. That project then went on to become an installation in Cincinnati that created a print-out of the now, receipt style.

Well I'm now taking that idea and turning it into an iPhone app called Kennedy. Why Kennedy? It's because there's the old adage that people of a certain generation remember where they were when they heard President Kennedy was killed. That's what this app is all about - marking a moment with the surrounding context. It's part diary, part news app, part data visualisation.

I'm aiming to release the app in September but join the Almost Dawesome testing team and you may get a chance to play with it whilst it's in development. 

Here's some work-in-progress screenshots though the design of these has changed already.

Satellite Office

As a famous New Yorker cartoon once stated, "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." Whilst this mostly talked about how you can create whatever persona you want for yourself on the net, I took it to also mean you can be pretty much anywhere and still get work as if you're in a large city or huge creative hub.

I once had a meeting with a very well known music company who had asked to see me via a contact in New York. Stepping out the elevator I could see some surprise on the guy's face as we shook hands. Later in the meeting he revealed that he thought I was an eighteen year old living in London, not a forty-five year old, mostly grey haired bloke from a small town in the North West of England. Turned out he also thought he could get away with paying me peanuts.

Whilst I still continue to work from this Victorian seaside town I'm very happy to announce I'm now being represented by Chicago based Satellite Office, alongside such wonderful people as Stefan Sagmeister, Joshua Davis, Chuck Anderson and others, handling all new business enquires from this point forward.

Oh, and that arrow on the postcard? That's my dad.

Fun with LittleBits

I've been a longtime fan of LittleBits — a kind of Lego for electronics using magnetic snap together components to quickly make electronic stuff — but it wasn't until a recent trip to New York that I finally managed to pick-up one of their kits.

They really are a lot of fun and allows kids of all ages to get into making things without the need for soldering or worrying about the complexities of electronic circuits. Myself and my niece Elena made a super-simple game we called "capture the monkey" whereupon you had to try and sneak up on the monkey (cut out of a sticker book Elena had at the time) without lighting up its eyes! 

You can find out how to make your own Capture The Monkey game on the LittleBits project page.

Elsewhere

As usual, to wrap things up for this issue of The Dawesome Digest here's a list of things that I've recently bumped into...
How to pronounce European typefaces, a synopsis of The Wizard of Oz, my Sugru solution to stop me plugging USB cables in wrongly, great talk from Ideo's Tom Hulme on Desire Paths, The Makers of Things — short film series from Anne Hollowday, interview with me by the FWA for their digital pioneer series, wonderful typefaces (and stunning site) from Playtype, UK Police release data APIOpen Source 3D printable SLR camera, forget everything you know about computers.
Thanks for reading this issue of The Dawesome Digest. If you liked it please feel free to hit one of those share buttons below. Until next time, happy making.
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