Category Archives: York University CS Student Blogs

Summer 2014 – Morgan Stanley and Google Glass

Some may be wondering what I am up to this summer.  Am I just beaching it back home in Cornwall, enjoying the sun, or travelling?  None of the above unfortunately – instead I’m doing an Internship at Morgan Stanley, again working on a large-scale backend engineering project (but this time in Java).

This does mean I’m in London all summer (10 weeks) – something I never thought I’d do!  But like last summer, I’m taking every opportunity that comes my way (whether it’s trying bouldering, kayaking through London, exploring ridiculously busy markets and trying cultures that I didn’t even know existed), and it’s certainly been an enlightening experience so far.  For one thing, I now appreciate Zürich so much more than before – the city and citizens are so much more happy and cheerful, happy to help and smiley, and they have more respect for their city – London is full of not necessarily selfish people, but people who never seem to think of people other than those they know – people who, for example, see it as their right to have a door held open for them.

Ok – England bashing over (Switzerland – please give me citizenship!).  What have I been up to, and what’s been significant so far?  Obviously Google Glass has been a big piece of my life for the last 9 months, and since I arrived in London before it became publicly available here, I was keen to find out what people’s reaction to it was.  With that in mind, I went to the Tate modern (a famous modern art gallery in London) to enjoy the art and get peoples perspective on it (without actually asking them).  Loads of people recognised it, and I ended up doing a lot of demos, as I had expected.

Glass really came into it’s own at Wimbledon (where a Glass demo helped me get a great ticket for court Number 1 on the penultimate day) – I got some great footage and was kept aware of an ongoing server outage without having to use my phone – so much more natural!  I will add that the Wimbledon staff were not happy with me wearing it in Centre Court, where the dress code is more smart – but that’s fine – it is bright blue after-all.

Another awesome use I’ve had for Glass in the couple of weeks is with advertising/fundraising.  Last week I took part in an event at Morgan Stanley where we fundraised for The Princes Trust, who give disadvantaged or vulnerable young people the practical and financial support to stabilise their lives, undertake training and develop self-esteem, so that they have the skills for work.  We cycled around London for the day, doing the ‘Tour de Londres’, whilst seeking donations from the public.  Whilst out and about, it was important that we kept a steady stream of contributions coming in, and Glass certainly helped out with publishing media and updates of our progress.  For example, when we were cycling along by the Thames, I was able to post videos and photos of our journey so far to encourage donations (I had earlier posted with how-to-donate information and had said I would be posting media throughout the day).

When Glass was announced as being available in the UK for developers, I was interested in what the reaction would be – would there be a sudden influx of Glass into the hands of the public, like there now is in the US, or would it be more subdued?  I was expecting it to be the former, but I have to say I was wrong – apart from at this Hackathon, I have yet to see another Londoner with Glass, after 5 weeks here!  I think I know why though – since the public launch, the vast amount of media coverage in the UK about Glass has diminished to, well, nothing.  I haven’t read anything in the media about Glass since then, and people who see me with it and ask for demos (who have obviously read about it) don’t know they can buy it now.  Perhaps after two years the media got bored of writing about this product that would one day make it to general availability?  Whatever it is, I think Glass needs some advertising in the UK right now.

The Challenges of Studying a Software Engineering Module – how well does it reflect industry?

One of the 2nd Year Computer Science modules at York is the Software Engineering Project (SEPR).  In this module, you work with a team of ~6 randomly allocated peers on a project to simulate an industry environment. Since I’ve had a good amount of industry experience I thought I’d write something about the module and how it simulates industry.

First, let’s talk about SEPR – what is it?  The idea is that it simulates your team working within a company to produce a product. Different members of the module leaders act as the ‘customer’, module support team and ‘managers’ (i.e. for if you’re having major problems in your team). The customer gives all the teams a specification document of the product he wants to be produced, and this simulates industry in that the document is vague at points and has gaping holes (where the customer doesn’t know what he wants).

A number of things are been testing in SEPR:

  • how you work with a team (i.e. if you’re a team player),
  • how you work collaboratively (i.e. are you emailing code or using collaboration tools like Git),
  • the structure of your product (i.e. is your product expandable – is it easier to add more classes to enable more features?),
  • the quality of your code,
  • how you market it (at two stages in the course you are required to take up another teams code and to try and convince other teams to take up your code).

For our year, the project specification was to create an Air Traffic Control game, where planes would come onto the screen, with a route marked as a series of way points.  The players job was to prevent collisions.  In the revised specification for the final assessment, we were required to implement a multiplayer game mode.

So, how well does this simulate industry?  In my opinion, it does a pretty good job.  The structure of the SEPR module means that you have a wide variety of personalities that you have to work with, which can of course be difficult at times – some people have only worked in isolated environments in the past, but it works out well and it’s rewarding when you work out how to work together.  Specifically with my team, I think it’s fair to say that a couple of members would not be friendly with each other outside of the module, but it didn’t take too long for everyone to learn to work together, and that’s a very valuable skill.

Collaboration tools are of course a big thing in industry – it’s not possible to develop just by sending code by email and on flash drive to people, although up until the SEPR module I’d say a large proportion of students in my course had been surviving that way.  A team of 6 is big enough that you need to use these tools, which is great as they’re the same (or very similar) tools as those used in industry.

It’s obvious, but it needs mentioning – in industry you’ve got to write very maintainable code – code that will remain within a product for 10+ years.  Since the module is marked on this (and UML diagrams should be provided in the written reports), it represents industry well, although perhaps with less consequences if you do screw up!

The only imperfection in the module that I was aware of was how teams are created and managed.  Teams were selected almost entirely randomly by the SEPR module leaders, under the justification that “in industry, you can’t choose who you work with”.  That means that each team was made up of people with vastly varying skill levels – some teams had multiple people in them who couldn’t program at-all (which, in my opinion, is not good to say they are passed their first year of study in Computer Science).  But – in industry, you do work with people of a similar skill level – that’s why companies have interviews, to ensure that their new employees meet the level of the current employees.  And poorer quality companies don’t end up with a random group of 3 geniuses (or at least, they normally don’t), because those 3 people know they could go and get a better-paying job at a better company.  So I don’t think this was done well in the SEPR module – teams should have been made up of groups of students of similar ability, so that good students got good marks and vice versa, rather than students of extreme (either poor or great) ability levels having a great influence on the mark of the overall team.

So, to conclude, other than with team selection, I think the SEPR module does a great job of simulating industry – the right things are taken into account (team skills, working collaboratively, and code quality), and the structure of the module in terms of lecturer leadership accurately simulates the various levels of management in a company.

To take a look at and try the three games we created, check out the SEPR section of my projects page.

Google Glass Takes Awesome Quality Videos – is this the end of the GoPro?

I had the opportunity to ride the SkyWire (the largest and fastest Zip Wire in England) at the Eden Project last week, and took Google Glass with me to record my flight.  When I got back, I was so impressed with the footage recorded I created this short movie showing my trip (includes brief footage from an iPhone).

What subsequently struck me was, if the video quality is this good, is there that much space left for the GoPro for the hobbyist?  The video quality and battery life are only fractionally better, and those benefits cost you a device that’s much more bulky and that actually requires a hand to operate!

Venturefest 2014 – Demoing Google Glass

I was lucky enough to be asked to come and demonstrate Google Glass at Venturefest Yorkshire 2014 last week month (time ran away!) (representing myself, a Glass developer).  Venturefest is a free one-day event showcasing the latest technologies and businesses, and it’s very popular with entrepreneurs.

Venturefest ID

Venturefest ID

As Glass hasn’t become publicly available yet, this was an exciting opportunity to demonstrate Glass to some of the UK’s most innovative and creative minds, many of whom haven’t yet had the chance to experiment with any wearable technology in the past.  My goal was to demonstrate it’s potential and to spark an interest or idea that may lead them to start developing for wearable devices – development which just isn’t mainstream in the UK yet.

So, bright and early on the 14th of March, I headed out to the York Racecourse where the event was been held and setup my demo – simply Glass, a power cable to re-charge it at every possible opportunity and a laptop showing videos of Glass been used from the Glass YouTube channel.  From 9AM through 1PM, I was constantly busy – it was definitely a very popular device.  So, what was the feedback?

The first thing I noticed was that nobody seemed to know how to use it!  This is different to the US where someone asks you to try it and with the smallest of hints they’re away and navigating through features.  Perhaps this is down to the additional media coverage it’s had in the US compared to the UK, but I was still surprised at how few people had investigated it in the year it’s been about, bearing in mind it seems to be the future.

The general feedback was that people were extremely impressed with Glass – specifically, a number of people commented on how unobtrusive it was when it was switched off (you can see right through it) and on how incredible Google Now on Glass was – two distinctive questions that it correctly answered were “What’s the capacity of the Riverside Stadium?” and “What is the nickname of the Bank of England?”.

One specific piece of feedback I did keep getting was that “It would be really useful as an Augmented Reality device for my …”, which is an area that, up until now, I haven’t thought hugely about.  It does seem obvious though, as it’s a much more natural device for augmenting your vision than, for example, your phone, which you must constantly hold up in-front of your face.

All in all, I think it went well and that people enjoyed the experience.  Fingers crossed that I managed to persuade a few more people that wearable technology and Google Glass really are a viable future.