Thanks to Ed Costello, via Andy Stanford-Clark and Laura Cowen, I managed to get my hands on a ticket to the latest event run by Monki Gras organisers Red Monk: this one going by the name of ThingMonk (do you see the theme yet?). This event promised to host talks on all [Internet of] things connected.  From demoing how to fly drones with fruit to sharing experiences of manufacturing tiny printers with beards;  the speakers walked us through the protocols and transports that make up our Internet, and brought us back to the physical world to present the Things themselves.

As far as Monday mornings go, the morning of 2nd December was about as good as you could ever hope for: having to write a note to a traffic warden explaining the finer points of why a parking ticket isn’t the solution (properly testing the ticket machines on the other hand), and arriving on the platform without a ticket as the train is already kicking out commuters. Despite the set backs I met up with my fellow conference goers and we blundered our way into Shoreditch.  The morning was forgotten over an espresso and a pastry, and the first day of ThingMonk was underway.

Monday of the conference was a sort of hackday/IoT workshop. I shamelessly joined the n00b table to listen to the first talk of the day – an introduction to node.js for IoT.  After getting my laptop (which is not archaic, just big-boned thank you very much) set up with the latest and greatest software, I learned me some node (, and with the help of Nuno was shown some of the magic (read: dark art) of JavaScript, specifically that I can pretend I’m not using JavaScript at all and am instead using a functional programming language.  It was quite early on in the day that James (Mr ThingMonk himself) realised that “although we have internet, we don’t have many things”, and an emergency crusade to Maplin was launched, returning with actual sacks full of Arduinos and cables.

Starting the conference
My spirit animal – I have no idea what I’m doing dog

Now equipped, we were able to start playing. The Arduino, with its bare minimum design and all its innards on show, had always seemed like it came with pre-requisite electrical engineering degree – not having one meant I had never gone near the Arduino. Thankfully ThingMonk was the perfect environment to try this kind of stuff out – with the attendees being a mixture of experts and newcomers, asking questions was easy and getting answers was even easier.

Asking questions and getting answers
Asking questions and getting answers

After the usual standard of lunch to be expected at RedMonk conferences (amazing), the afternoon continued morning’s playtime, with a couple of lightening talks thrown in to mix things up. This nicely set the tone for the Tuesday session, giving us a brief introduction to both speakers and topics that would be reappearing during the next day’s talks. Becky from Codasign did a talk about their work with non-technical organisations, and afterwards I joined her workshop on using the Arduino. This was great – she stepped us through the basic exercises and got us set up with an array of components – potentiometers and pressure sensors among them.

Going back on the earlier comment on having internet but no things, the power decided to go down, leaving us with plenty of things and no internet. Undeterred (learning is just too fun), we continued, noticing that now was the perfect time to put the light sensors to use. By candlelight/backlit by our laptops, fellow IBMer James and I hacked together a system that turned on an LED when it was dark, and turned it off when it was light. Simple but extremely satisfying!

Arduino by Candlelight

Laptop batteries and my caffeine levels flagging, we decided to leave the hoard of guys flicking every different combination of switches in the fuse box to their fun, and headed to the pub for a burger and some quiet reflection (mostly how can I make this my day job?).

Thanks to Jon McNamara and Tom Raftery for the photos.