Today I took part in the BCS Women Appathon Guinness World Records Challenge, an attempt to set a world record for the largest number of people learning to write Android smartphone applications at the same time.
Hundreds of people took part around the country, and I was at The Crystal in Docklands with a lovely group which included several families with young children. When our trainer asked who had programming experience, lots of tiny hands shot up.
Turns out the under 12s had a significant head start after using Scratch at school. I also spoke to some kickass teenage girls who were in their school Robot Club, building bots which could pick up and throw objects. As most of my school IT education was about making spreadsheets I am well jel, as they say.
The programme we used to build our apps was MIT App Inventor 2, a free, web-based system for creating simple apps using drag-and-drop coding techniques, very similar to Scratch. To start with everyone made the same app: a picture of a cat that meowed when clicked. Then we developed it a bit further so that the cat meowed when the phone was shaken, and purred (vibrated) when clicked. This, my friends, is the future of mobile.
We spent the rest of the afternoon planning and building our own apps. I confess I went in with a vision, which I have now made (more or less) into reality. Behold, the Shipping Forecast Lullaby app! Sailing By followed by the BBC Radio 4 Shipping Forecast on tap, for as long as you want, whenever you need those maritime tones to lull you to sleep.*
It’s simple and rather scrappy but I’m pleased with it. It’s the digital equivalent of the wonky pot you make in pottery class. If you’re another Android-using Shipping Forecast fan you can even download it if you like. There’s an .apk file here or a QR code below. You might need to temporarily change the settings on your phone to be able to install an app from an unknown source.
The appathon was a great way to start learning a new skill in an inclusive environment. It was genuinely inspiring to see everyone coming up with their own great ideas and building them, especially the kids. Here we all are with our certificates:
*I got the audio from a very old episode of the Shipping Forecast which had been uploaded to YouTube. Obviously the app is quite copyright-infringey, so I’ll happily take it down if I get any complaints.