Charity Hack 2010

The weekend of 18-19th September 2010 saw PayPal open their doors to a bunch of developers for Charity Hack 2010.  With the combination of API’s from JustGiving, PayPal and MissionFish the idea was to create something in 24 hours for charity  or a good cause.

After much deliberation the week before over what to build (I really wanted to make a Blue Peter style totaliser using an Arduino but I couldn’t get the equipment there and was worried about setting the fire alarms off with the soldering iron) I decided to play safe and fix a real world problem I had.

As I am sure you are all aware I organise the Goodwood Roller Marathon each year and raise lots of money for charity.  While I have managed to automate a lot of the administration, the collecting and tallying up of sponsorship is a huge admin task, especially after the event when we are all tired.  The annoying part is that we send a lot of our users to Justgiving to create their pages but have no way of knowing which page they registered and so no way of tracking how much money our event has been responsible for raising!

The solution seemed simple.  If we could use the JustGiving API’s to help the user create a sponsorship page then we should get a notification of that page.  If we keep a table of these pages we can check them regularly and keep an up to date total of all the money our event has raised.

After a few shout out’s on the event twitter wall I was introduced to Nathan O’Hanlon & Justen Doherty, two PHP developers that were looking for a project.  We all talked to the lovely David Whitney from JustGiving who hinted that this sort of functionality was already in the pipeline but was never finished so we decided to show them how it should be done :-p

I’m sure I could bore you all silly with the rabbit holes we went down over the 24 hours but things are never as easy as you think, especially when you are coding fast and even more so when you haven’t had much sleep.  Nathan & Justen decided on the symfony framework and set to creating a GIT repo while I went off to register and create the webspace.

There were many questions about the JustGiving API which David helped with.  Lets just say the API had a few bugs too although a lot of the bugs were fixed in the same 24 hours.  Annoyingly the API allowed for all donation pages to have an Event ID however there was no way of finding out what a valid event ID was let along then searching for them and indexing them!  I really didn’t want to have to replicate the pages that JustGiving already had using the API but it seemed there was no choice.  By the time night came we hadn’t done much coding but had a good idea of the direction.  Nathan & Justen went home for the night and I stayed up designing the front end to the website.

I was disappointed not to be building anything with Arduino but had bought it along with the old BiscuitTrain rig.  As it was night time and I wasn’t going to use it now I donated it to a fellow charity hacker who made Wreck it or not! (picture) People donating money would choose to make the train go faster or slower until it crashed.  I’m glad it got used 🙂

Morning comes after a quick nap and Nathan returns for the day.  Justen has been up all night coding at home so is now going to bed.  We quickly add my front end to the project but now comes the integration which takes ages and all the way up to the 13:30 deadline.

After another food break (many have said it, we really were fed well) we all did our 3 min presentation.  I kinda rushed it but I think I got our point across.  The great news is that the program manager for JustGiving came to us at the end to say that he would like to talk about the project in the future.  I really hope they do contact me and listen to my calls for help, I really do think it will make their platform stronger and better… plus I have VirginMoneyGiving already contacting me and asking what I would like :-p

IMAG0230(Loads of people took pictures of the event including pics of me but it seems very few made it online)

In all the event was a brilliant first hack day for me and a got a lot out of it.  Our project is now live and while it’s not using the live API’s yet (as JustGiving haven’t officially launched them yet) Nathan has been doing lots of work in the days after the event to make sure it’s a strong and stable product that fully works.  It’ll be interesting to see what JustGiving do next, I will be sure to update you all.

A huge thank you again to Nathan & Justen for all their help and to everyone else for a fantastic 24 hours 🙂

Can you really delete a tweet?

The lovely James Firth has just announced that he will “delete all my old tweets, and only keep the last month or so”.  I think he is being foolish as I don’t believe it’s possible to delete things off the interwebs.  As such I decided to find out which of us was right!

The Test

  1. Post a tweet (Done 20th Sept 2010).
  2. Wait for it to be picked up by search engines and search tools.
  3. Delete the tweet (Done 25th Oct 2010).
  4. Wait to see how long it takes for the tweet to be deleted from these sites.

The Tweet

This is the tweet I will be deleting…

[blackbirdpie url=”″]

I’m embedding it with the Blackbird Pie WordPress plugin, It will be interesting to see if it goes from here too!

The Results

Will be posted here when I have done the test.  Add me to Twitter or subscribe to my RSS to find out! 😉

  • GoogleDeleted but took over 2 months.
  • Google RealtimeDeleted in less than 24 hours.
  • Bing – The tweet never appeared in their search.  Can’t test.
  • Yahoo!Deleted but took over 2 months.
  • TweetMeme – The tweet never appeared in their search.  Can’t test.
  • TwitpicNot much you can do if someone takes a picture of the tweet.
  • RetweetThere is nothing you can do if someone has already retweeted you
  • Embedded with Blackbird Pie – Deleted some time before 01 Mar 2019 but probably because Blackbird Pie has long since broken :-p
  • topsy.comStill appearing in the Topsy index as of 28 Feb 2011.
  • flavors.meStill appearing in embedded sites as of 28 Feb 2011.

If you have written something news worthy that someone else has blogged about or discussed then no, that content can obviously be copied and quoted without issue.  And while tweets about your breakfast may be deleted by large sites such as Google and Yahoo there are plenty more that do not honour Twitters deletion protocols.

In short, I wouldn’t bother deleting things of the Internet.  All you are doing is making work for yourself.

Any other sites? Suggest them in the comments.

The Firehose

This is not a new test.  Until recently deleted tweets weren’t removed from Twitter’s official search resulting in services such as Tweleted.  With more and more sites drinking from the Twitter firehose (Twitters name for having a live feed of public status updates) it will be come harder and harder to stop tweets from being archived which is why I think it’s important to test this every once in a while.

Interestingly Twitter have blurred the line of firehose access with the launch of their new streaming service as a lot of companies that want to drink from the firehose only actually want a subset of the data.  e.g. TweetMeme only needs to index tweets with a URL in them. The Streaming API help has this to say about deleted tweets…

Streams may also contain status deletion notices. Clients are urged to honor deletion requests and discard deleted statuses immediately. At times, status deletion messages may arrive before the status. Even in this case, the late arriving status should be deleted from your backing store.

… urge != must.  It’s not in their T&Cs either that I can see.

I believe there are at least tens of full firehose users and hundreds of streaming users if not hundreds and thousands respectively.  Either way, the number is only going up!

Oh and we aren’t just talking websites and services here. The US Library of Congress has access to every public tweet ever written 😉


  • I started creating a list of Twitter Firehose users as I don’t believe any such list exists.  Feel free to update and add to it, it’s public 🙂
  • I have been told to “play nice”, this is not a personal attack on James at all who is a top bloke, this is just an open debate and test.

Conference Bike

On Monday 23rd August 2010 I joined a conference bike for the Guildford to Southampton leg of it’s journey from John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money for Cancer Research UK (Details at

I wasn’t sure about joining them as I’m not a cyclist but checking their website a few days before the event it seemed they still needed people for the Guildford to Southampton leg which was the closest to me.  While I don’t cycle, I do have good legs from skating so I was hoping this would do me well and I didn’t like the idea of them having to do that leg with only two people so I signed up.

Details were exchanged and I found myself at Guildford station at 8am on a Monday morning.  I didn’t need to worry about having enough people as it seemed we had 10 cyclists there with one more joining us on the way down.  To spread things out more one of the pedals had broken which meant we were down to 6 riders on the half a tonne machine!

The first stretch out of Guildford was great fun.  I met up with my parents on the Hogs Back and the lovely James Firth came and took some pictures as we came into Farnham where we stopped for a while to do media interviews and headed off again.  As expected the pedalling was hard work, not because of the energy required but because of the cadence that you had to pedal, your legs had to fly around and I definitely wasn’t used to sitting while exerting myself which was very strange.

As we had so many people (and my bum was already sore) we swapped over people and I put on my skates.  I did check first and everyone seemed fine with it (although I think I scared them a little by racing the bike down a hill on a dual carriageway).  It was great fun skating along beside the bike, until the rain came, and did it rain!  If I couldn’t ride the bike all the way I kinda liked the idea of at least going the entire way under my own power but on a very long hill somewhere along the A31 I had to give up and get in the van.  The road was horribly slippery and I didn’t want to over do it and not be able to ride the bike later.

There is no need to give you a blow by blow account of the journey down, it was much as you expect, lots of pedalling but the conversation was good.  We did a bucket shake in Winchester and got held up by a closed road only to be let through by a lovely old man who told the road workers we were coming to tea 🙂

In Southampton we had a lovely tour around the Cancer Research UK centre who had all stayed late and bought us pizza.  I learned a lot from the tour and realised there was a lot more to Cancer than just a horrible word beginning with C.

In all it was a brilliant day and I learned a lot, not just about Cancer but about what is involved on doing such a huge journey.  A HUGE thank you to everyone for a great day and an even bigger Well Done to the CoBiUK crew who have now completed their mammoth John O’Groats to Lands End trip.

Some pics and video I took on the day


Dave Cornthwaite and his Aquaskipper

This week the adventurer Dave Cornthwaite made the following request…

Always interested in what he was up to next (Dave was the first person to Longboard from John O’Groats to Lands End) I set the TiVo and whacked it up on YouTube a few days later for him and others to see…

BTW, does anyone know the piece of music used in the middle of this video?  Pirates of the Caribbean?

N.B. This is a backdated post as I take some of the things I have been doing elsewhere on the interwebs and add them to this site 🙂

The Gadget Show project onto Marble Arch

After many tweets from Jason Bradbury that something was going to be happening this evening at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park we decided to check it out. OK, we were up there for the LondonSkate anyway so it would have been rude not to!

“#gadgetvader” turned out to be a projection onto the side of Marble Arch to promote the new series. They were selling it as 3D, it really wasn’t but still impressive…

I filmed the entire thing on my phone (HTC Desire) which Jason then borrowed for a photograph with the Sun!  It was fun to see my marshals vest and arm holding my phone in the entire official Gadget Show footage too.

N.B. This is a backdated post as I take some of the things I have been doing elsewhere on the interwebs and add them to this site 🙂

Bath to Bristol to Bath Skate

This week myself an fellow Camberley Skater Hannah went to check out the Bath to Bristol Railway Path.  As you can probably imagine it’s a path along the the now obsolete railway line between Bath and Bristol.

There isn’t really much to say other than it’s a really good skate.  99% of the surface is excellent to skate on and there are plenty of coffee shops along the way to get drinks and snacks.  The full route is 13miles end to end but we skated all the way into Bristol for a proper lunch and ended up doing a nice round 30 miles that day.  Very tiring but well worth it and I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to stretch their legs.

Some pictures from the day…


… and a silly video I made along the way…

N.B. This is a backdated post as I take some of the things I have been doing elsewhere on the interwebs and add them to this site 🙂

Internet Catapult

In February 2010 I was asked if I knew of a way to throw wet sponges at someone when they donated money on the internet… A few weeks later I found myself in the back garden of a house with a hand built catapult, lot of wires and enough wet sponges to make It’s a Knockout jealous.  Here’s what happened and how I made it work…

The Brief

The original brief was set by Claire Thompson as a fund-raising idea for Twestival UK.  I think she wanted a simple screen display that would show when someone donated or tweeted a donation so that a wet sponge could then be launched at her in some stocks while the whole things was streamed online.  I of course ran with this idea and by the time she had finished talking had proposed a sponge throwing catapult and automated launch mechanism that would fire automatically when someone donated.

The Build – Catapult

The catapult itself wasn’t that hard to build.  With a huge amount of help from my father and my parents garage we made it up as we went along.

Items Used

  • 2 x 4m lengths of 25x50mm externally treated wood (cut into 4 x 2m lengths to fit in my car)
  • A garden gate hinge
  • Something heavy (we used a large block of aluminium that we’ve had in the garage for years)
  • A 5 litre container cut open to hold the wet sponges
  • 2 bolts to hold on the heavy block
  • A pile of wood screws

Construction took us an afternoon.  I knew that a trebuchet would throw the sponges further but that they are also harder to setup and fire accurately so we settled on a classic catapult design, it only needed to last one day.  We built the square frame first, then the middle bar and swinging arm before adding legs and weight.

After a few test fires in the garden it worked straight away but was obvious that it would have to be pegged down to be used.  We could have made the legs bigger but we wanted to be able to get it in the boot of my car without disassembly!

The Build – Firing Mechanism

As is always the way, the hardware is the easy part, the software is the hard part!  Having recently discovered the Arduino and itching to play around with the concept I started coding up something that fitted the bill.  I won’t bore you with all the dead ends I went down however I did need to adjust the initial brief a little.

Items Used

The idea was to make the Arduino completely self running and getting it updates via the Ethernet Shield.  What is the point of having an Arduino connected to a computer, you may as well programme the computer to do the same job.  Having said that, I was running out of time and I realised that some people had already donated money to the cause.  People that had already donated were due a sponge throw so while the system had to be automated it needed a way of manually adding launches.

Getting the Arduino to connected to the internet wasn’t too hard however I would be using this in a strangers back garden with no way of knowing how they connected to the internet.  I decided to use the excellent DHCP and DNS library’s from Georg Kaindl which once set up saved me huge amounts of time debugging problems.

I also wanted a way of thanking the users that donated so used a serial enabled LCD screen to display where the donation had come from.  This also proved very useful when it came to debugging as the serial console takes a long time to start on my computer (damn you Java).  Using the LCD screen meant I could display debug information about the DHCP lease or status of the program without having to connect a computer.

The final part of the puzzle was the release mechanism.  I used the servo and some gate hooks/eyes to create a firing pin which you should be able to see on the video below.

The program was originally setup to search twitter for keywords and while I could make it work I couldn’t guarantee that tweets wouldn’t be missed.  I wanted to tie it into PayPal or another payment system but time was running out and I didn’t have any of the charity account details.  So, I decided to cheat :-p

So that I could control the catapult remotely I decided to use the excellent txtlocal service which gives a free API for incoming SMS (and very good rates on outgoing ones too).  This meant that I could send a text message from my phone and fire the catapult while displaying any message I like on the LCD screen.  This was also a hack so that I can rate limit the firing and not miss any donations but it worked well!

The Results

On the day there were a few problems.  The catapult was connected to the internet and worked perfectly!  We did loads of test fires and there was no problems at all.  Then we launched Ustream, and everything stopped.  Ustream worked fine, the catapult worked fine, but the two together wouldn’t work at all.  My hunch is that Ustream data was flooding the Ethernet shield and blocked all communication.  After much cobbling we got things working enough to throw wet sponges and much fun was had by all.

Final Notes

Seeing as this entire project was done in a few weeks in spare time I think it went quite well.  I have missed out a lot of my trial and error but please feel free to post questions in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer.


This week a group of 250 skaters (including myself) headed to the Top Gear test track (Dunsfold Aerodrome) to skate for 24 hours and raise money for Haiti. It went quite well, I managed 3 marathons (80 miles) over the 24 hours which I was quite happy with 🙂


N.B. This is a backdated post as I take some of the things I have been doing elsewhere on the interwebs and add them to this site 🙂