Little Printer hack day

Chris' photo of MetaLoca

An early draft of MetaLoca by Chris

I don’t make it to many hack days. Domestic life with two kids and the tendency of my day job to spill into the weekends make it tricky. But I couldn’t pass over the chance to play with BERG’s Little Printer yesterday the weekend before last. Conveniently it’s also Kari‘s workplace, so she and the kids came along and were ably entertained by the BERG team (special thanks to Helen for keeping an excited three year old busy).

Mostly it was a day of enjoying the camaraderie and creativity of an assortment of friends. BERG do a very good job of bringing together a delightful bunch of people and the day had a nice pace. There was focussed activity but no crazy up-all-night race to the finish and plenty of time to share experiences and observations. Dan, Tom, Lanyrd, and BERG themselves have all written about the day too.

Chris, James and I had been chatting a bit before hand about exhibitions. For several years Chris has been running LocaLondon and I’ve been playing with some related ideas for a while. So building an app that would provide a weekly summary of what’s opening and closing in the next week seemed a good place to start. Chris had started a sinatra app and I focussed on tying that in to the BergCloud API while he and James began making test prints as PNGs. We just about got it all pulled together in time for the show and tell. We learned that the publication we wanted to make would use too much paper, that when you want to print recognisable, usable maps of bits of London it’s hard to beat the A-Z; and that Heroku’s perfect for these events, but getting seed data imported can be a bit of a pain.

The way we were working meant I had a bit of time to play with some other ideas. James had previously been working with another printer-of-small-footprint to make a little “what’s in season” publication that pulled in from the BBC Food site and Maureen‘s cookbook to provide suggested recipes. I took that code and amended it to work with BergCloud. It took all of about five minutes and worked pretty well.

I was also wondering about the use of something like Little Printer in more public spaces like large arts complexes. Places like the Barbican often have screens showing what’s on that day but they’ve never felt quite right. It’d be nice to be able to grab a strip of paper flagging the things going on that day, and especially those which aren’t sold out. To probe that a bit I scraped the Southbank Centre‘s website to grab all one-day events taking place that day and had them printed out using some of the styling for LocaLondon. It wasn’t quite right: lots of festival events made it hard to judge how everything fitted together, and while I could flag free events I had no way of showing what there were tickets left for. But it worked reasonably well given it was squeezed in around our main project.

After a day of working with it, I’m increasingly looking forward to owning a Little Printer. As a device to sit in the corner of a room spitting out reminders of things I might otherwise miss I’m sure it’ll be delightful. But I’m also increasingly interested in how it could be used in more public spaces (or at least shared ones, they’re increasingly privatised) to offer a little welcome and summary to those passing through. Wherever it goes, it’s great to be reminded that devices like this can have nice simple, basically webby APIs. And to spend time playing with friends.

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