Starbucks vs. Costa – a dairy-free battle (Spoiler: Costa win)

Our daughter can’t have dairy. She’s not vegan – she’ll plough through her weight in spicy chicken wings or my weight in bacon rolls – but milk and milk products make ill. She’s only six so we try hard to make sure that she doesn’t get treated differently and still gets a choice of things to eat. Life’s hard enough without having a food complex. Most places this is fine – whether we’re at home or travelling we’ve found great food and lots of good choices for an adventurous young foodie. That is until we get to chain coffee shops.

The mini one’s swimming lessons happen near a Starbucks and last weekend we popped in for a rare post-swimming treat. I was disappointed to hear from the Starbucks staff that there’s not a single Starbucks sweet, cakey foodstuff of any kind which doesn’t contain dairy. The six-year-old wasn’t surprised and told me Costa was better (known from her elephant-like memory, not her frequent visits).

Here’s the breakdown of all dairy-free food available according to the current Christmas Starbucks allergen menu (available here):

  • Breakfast products
    • Luxury Fruit Toast
    • Soy porridge
    • Dried fruit mix
  • Snack bags
    • Almonds, Cashews, Cranberries & Raisins
    • Smoked Almonds
  • Impulse range
    • Raw Raspberry & Nut Bar
    • Peanut and Cashew Bar
    • Sugar-Free Peppermints
    • Sugar-Free Spearmints
    • Sugar-Free Gum
    • Sweeties
    • Dark Chocolate Bar

That list seems long but the store didn’t have the full Impulse range so didn’t have any cereal bars, it wasn’t breakfast time and a bag of nuts isn’t going to cut it when everyone else wants to eat a bit of cake.

Here’s Costa‘s menu (found here and here):

  • Christmas
    • Vegan Christmas Cake Slice
    • Gingerbread Biscuit (Jumper)
  • Blueberry Muffin
  • Impulse
    • Fruity Crumble
    • Chilli And Lime Mix
    • Fruit And Nut Mix
    • Dried Mango
    • Gingerbread Biscuit (Lion and Elephant)
    • Mini Pecan Pie
    • Mini Bakewell Tarts

Seven decent, kid-approved cakey choices from Costa vs. a big, round zero from Starbucks. The ball’s in your court Starbucks – how’s your 2017 spring menu going to look for six-year-old cake lovers?

Search outside your world

Like a lot of people, I sometimes ponder new ideas for apps and websites. I wanted to play around with Axure so I thought I’d have a quick go at mocking up my app idea. I’ve discovered 2 things – Axure’s power is limited by a frustrating lack of a few basics, and just playing around with really basic text/images took me down an ugly 90’s path! For that I’m sorry! With a little longer, I could make it less awful but I think I’ve done enough to show the thing. So…

Sometimes you want to search outside your world, you want to search in another country’s search engine, in their native language, but without knowing that language. Google’s great but when you reach the end of sites with translated content you need to hit the manual route: start on translating terms yourself, searching, translating back, and repeat. Google deprecated their search API to stop the creation of apps which are too close to Google’s own features but I still think this app is achievable using Google Translate’s API and a bit of web scraping. I’m not building it, just thinking out my idea. You say your search term and pick which country and language you’re searching and the results are returned in both the native language and your own. What do you think?

Mockup - Search outside your world

Mockup icon image credits – all images are from the Noun Project:

What’s exciting in Social Media right now?

The pre-election period means there’s a lull in blog posts at work so I thought tonight that I could blog for my own pleasure and share some of the things that are interesting me in the land of social media and marketing right now.


  • Live broadcasting is massive right now! Twitter are to stream NFL games live via their Periscope app and Facebook are in the process of expanded their Facebook Live trail out to all users. A few high profile content creators have been paid by Facebook to use their platform (including the Game of Thrones red carpet evening) and it seems to work well. From a viewer’s point of view the incessant notifications and awful map of who is live right now (without any filtering) are both in serious need of some user experience work but the overall UI for a viewer is pretty good. A few tools are already popping up – I can’t wait to check out BumeBox live prompter – it looks like a great way to keep things organised when doing a live cast. Remember to read the best practice tips! Bonus: here’s what it’s like when the Zuck turns up in your office.
  • Encryption is a hot topic right now and WhatsApp have just announced end-to-end encryption on their messaging app. There’s a huge debate as to whether or not law enforcement agencies should have access to messages (and how that should be managed locally, nationally or internationally) and I think that this will continue to be a newsworthy topic for some time to come.
  • Campaigns for use of Plain English have been going since the 1970s but as the internet grows and its demographic expands to include a greater number of non-English speakers the need for using simple language grows. Although it’s an arbitrary and somewhat silly limit, the EasyWrite text editor limits you to only the 1,000 most commonly used English words… fun as an experiment but it proves an interesting point.
  • In-app video ads are growing in popularity… and research shows that users actually like using video ads as a way to pay for in-game content. I agree that this has the potential to benefit marketers (who see higher engagement from video ads), users (who pay for content with time/eyeballs rather than cash) and game developers (who have the potential for more ad revenue) but I also think that it could be massively detrimental to the game experience if not handled correctly. There still needs to be an improvement in how the user interaction of ads in games and advertisers need to appreciate that they aren’t necessarily going to target someone on the right medium at the right time but that person may still be warm to them. Ad networks need to work on offering a “I’m playing a game right now, but hit me again in an hour” button! (Read the report/summary)


The art of the recut

Sometimes the version of a movie that you watch isn’t quite what other people want to watch. Directors cuts have been around since the 1980’s (Blade Runner being a pretty important film where director Ridley Scott had a very different idea of what should be released when compared to the original final cut). Similarly there are a few amazing amateur film editors out there who re-cut or piece together parts of films, tv shows and music videos to create their own preferred version.

Amateur edits of movies have probably always been out there but Baader-Meinhof phenomenon kicked in recently and I started spotting recut versions of films EVERYWHERE so I thought that I’d share some of my favourites.

To fans of the Harry Potter series Severus Snape is a very important character – this recut takes only Severus’ story and puts his most important scenes into chronological order. It may seem whimsical but this makes Snape’s story seem so much sadder than it seemed when told as only a part of the bigger saga.

There is an amazing cut of Pulp Fiction which has the entire film put back into chronological order – unfortunately it looks like it’s been removed from YouTube but it’s worth doing a bit of a google to see if it’s out there somewhere. Something really interesting here is that you don’t need to pay anywhere near as much attention – much of Tarantino’s art as a storyteller has been removed as the interesting leaps are all gone. It feels weird to me – dumbed down without making any changes to the content, just how it’s ordered – but that makes it all the more worthy of a watch. [There’s also a chronological cut of the entirety of the Lost tv series – I’ve not watched it but I’ve heard that it totally wipes out the mystery!]

Star Wars VI:Return of the Jedi featured the epic space battle… but it was muddled up with the Ewok battle and also Han and Darth duelling it out – this video is all pew-pew, no Ewokese. If you’d asked me how long the space battle lasted in ROTJ I’d probably have said 2-3 mins, not the eight and a half that it actually has. Putting it all together totally changes my impression of the film and, in fact, puts the star wars back into Star Wars.

To finish off… there’s Marvel. The Marvel universe is truly massive and the film series is expanding at an insane rate to try to catch up. This summary is 13 minutes of awesome, really giving you the history of the Avengers and all the other characters. But there’s something else out there – all of the movies with all the segments recut into the correct order! I love the idea of this project so much. Needless to say there’s nowhere available for you to download this, you’re going to have to do the epic work yourself

Shit’s Goin’ Down app

Paper-prototype: click for full-size
Sketch: click for full-size


At the weekend I spent a couple of hours sketching out some ideas for a new app. This app will probably never become anything more than some ideas on paper. CAVEAT: I’m fully aware that there may already be this exact app idea or this exact app name out there but I thought of an idea and drew it out so whatever is out there already isn’t mine and this isn’t theirs either.

The whole app is centered around a map and a button – click the button to alert people to stuff that’s happening (good or bad), pulsing markers appear on the map to show that stuff. Apps need catchy names so this one is called “Shit’s Goin’ Down”. I’m not normally a sweary person… but what the hell!

Main screen. Button to alert people, map to show alerts.

What could people send alerts for? I was imagining you could use this in bad situations such as flood waters rising, rivers bursting banks, looting, fire, police cordon, fights, powercuts… all mostly centered around warning people. Good alerts are more marketable – bands playing, events, flashmobs, freebies, etc.

Good Shit Bad Shit


M💗P = Minimum Lovable Product


M💗P: the minimum that I think that this app would need in order to be useful and fun for people:

  • Twitter Authentication (to allow the app to send tweets from your account)
  • Location (to grab your geolocation and add it to the tweet)
  • Access to Twitter’s API (in order to collect the data to map it)
  • Location map (to see where things were happening)
  • Time Degradation (misspelling!) (to allow markers on the map to fade over time)


An example tweet
An example tweet

Button pushes would post tweets. Independent from this the app would then be able to monitor Twitter to gather markers to add to maps.

So… what do you think? It’s a bit of a fun project but I think it has potential.

Raspberry Pi Camera Trap (Part 1)

Meet my latest purchase – a Raspberry Pi! A recent trip to the Edinburgh mini Maker Faire inspired me and I’ve decided to build a night-time trap camera to use at my parents’ and in-laws’ gardens to see if we can get any night-time nature photos.

The shopping list:

Steps to cover what I’ve been up to so far:

  1. Set up and turn on the Pi. I was stunned as to how fragile the little thing looked! I was also puzzled as I hadn’t realised I’d need a micoSD… and then pleasantly surprised to see the SD I’d bought was microSD inside an SD converter – phew! (Maybe Past Jono was paying more attention!) I dropped it into the case, added SD, added power, added HDMI to TV, added wifi dongle, keyboard and mouse and it worked like a dream.
  2. Typed startx to load the GUI. Went into wifi settings to add my wifi network. Restarted
  3. Typed hostname -I (note this is capital i) to find out the Pi’s IP address
  4. Connect with Putty – loading IP address above and logging in as “pi” with the password “raspberry”. If you aren’t using Putty ssh pi@XX.XX.XX.XX (where XX.XX.XX.XX is the IP address of your Raspberry Pi). Alternative is to use the Adafruit Pi Finder to find the IP address.
  5. Update the OS sudo apt-get updatesudo apt-get upgrade -y
  6. Attach the camera – “The dedicated camera bus is the ribbon connector closest to the Ethernet port. It’s a zero insertion force (ZIF) design; pull up the two side clips to release the retaining bracket. You need to place the ribbon with the conducting edge-connection pointing away from the Ethernet port and towards the power-connector end of the Pi. Hold the ribbon square in place and push the clips down to fix the ribbon in position.”
  7. sudo raspi-config and select ‘Advanced > Memory_split’ and set to 128. ‘Enable/Disable Camera support’ and select Enable. Select Finish and choose to Reboot.
  8. Take a test photo
    • raspistill -o image.jpg
    • sudo apt-get install gpac then press y
    • sudo apt-get install omxplayer then press y
    • raspivid -t 20000 -o video.h264
    • MP4Box -add video.h264 video.mp4 (this now means you can watch as MP4 or use omxplayer filename.h264 to watch as h264)
  9. Plug in separate infrared illuminator and take another test photo
  10. Bed time! sudo shutdown -h now

My next step will be to set up the sensor and start to code up the automated image capture.

Tea-Stained Map Making

Staining paper with tea bags
Improvised drying line
Drawing the maps… X marks the spot!
Drawing the maps… sunbathing on the beach
Drawing the maps… a mermaid!
Drawing the maps… my attempt!
Drawing the maps… my attempt at a tea-stained map.

2014 End Of The Year Roundup

Happy Hogmanay!

I’ve made it my tradition to look back over the year come December 31st and it seems to me that this year has been seriously busy and, as a result has flown by. As well as much great music, film and tv which I’ve mostly enjoyed alone (all below) as a family we’ve had great food, great holidays (Durham, Braehead, Norfolk, Hawick, Berwick, camping and Ardnamurchan), great gigs (God Help The Girl and Penguin Cafe), great day-trips (falconry, the Highland Show, the Kelpies and the wildlife park) and so many great Martha moments (the Nativity and the Ryder Cup photoshoot to name just two!). Ruth did the Moonwalk, made cakes for Cakes For Kids and joined a choir – all great to be involved in with her. We also fitted in a fab wedding (and Stag Doo), the Book Festival, Fringe and Festival Fireworks, I went to Rome with work and I brewed approximately once every month… what a crazy year!

Music – My Favourite Music From 2014

Aside from the Disney Princesses playlist, Nick Cope and the Frozen soundtrack here’s what I was listening to:

  • Nine Inch Nails – saw them again and listen to them loads at work
  • Foo Fighters – loving the new album and the documentary that went with it
  • Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Gone Girl awesomeness
  • Muse – loving the Live in Rome performance
  • Royal Blood – so much noise from a 2 piece!
  • Ленинград – some crazy Russian-ness
  • God Help The Girl – a real labour of love
  • King Creosote  – From Scotland With Love is a pretty impressive album
  • Machine Head – the heavier end of my year’s listening
  • Chvrches – saw them… it was great

Films – My Favourite Films From 2014

  • Argo
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Contagion
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Safety Not Guaranteed
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • God Help the Girl
  • Where Eagles Dare
  • Gone Girl

Films – My Least Favourite Films From 2014

Nothing could beat “Plan 9 From Outer Space” from last year… but I have seen several films that I gave less than 40% to

  • Priest
  • Godzilla
  • Bullet To The Head
  • Cleanskin
  • Green Lantern
  • Rock Of Ages
  • Now You See Me
  • Riddick
  • Oldboy

TV – My Favourite TV From 2014

  • The Walking Dead
  • Twin Peaks
  • Agents Of Shield
  • Under The Dome
  • The 100
  • Game Of Thrones
  • House of Cards

Books – My Favourite Reads Of 2014

I’ve done even less reading than last year 🙁 but here are the highlights:

  • Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl
  • Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash
  • Tom Acitelli – The Audacity Of Hops
  • Dave Eggers – The Circle
  • Andrew Davidson – The Gargoyle

2015 Resolutions

There are so many things that it would be awesome to achieve and I’m not so sure that resolutions help… instead I’m going to try to just keep aiming for awesome in everything that I do!