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About Tom Smith

I've been working with online communities in one way or another since before the web.

After a spell as an installation artist, making light sculptures in disused factories, derelict buildings and under the M6, I discovered computers and that the really interesting projects were happening in the area of education. I joined Ultralab, Anglia Ruskin's learning technology research department and joined a small team exploring what could be done with the new technologies of multimedia ( with Director ), hypertext ( with HyperCard ) and online learning communities ( with FirstClass ).

With the arrival of the web, we built our own CMS and made tools for kids and teachers and communities to create participative web sites. I created a tool called Spinalot, which ultimately took me to work with Apple's Advanced Technology Group - making web applications that ran in browsers and on the mobile eMate device and later to create one of the largest online learning communities with Oracle, called

In 2000 I moved to an unusually fantastic web development agency in London called the OTHER media - they even have their own university in an old Swedish prison. There I worked on community and ecommerce projects, from Delia Smith to Paul Smith and researched the then emerging fields of Information Architecture, SEO and usability.

After a spell in New Zealand, in 2006 I started my own company and worked with an eclectic variety of clients on very unusual projects, from local SMEs to LloydsTSB. I developed my own online businesses, created tools and realised ideas.

In 2009 I saw the "Collaborative Software Specialist" post at the University of York and have been here ever since, doing what I've always done, looking for creative and appropriate ways of using technology and helping others to likewise.



Popular posts from this blog

Inserting A Google Doc link into a Google Spreadsheet

This article looks at using Apps Script to add new features to a Google Spreadsheet.

At the University of York, various people have been using Google spreadsheets to collect together various project related information. We've found that when collecting lots of different collaborative information from lots of different people that a spreadsheet can work much better than a regular Google Form.

Spreadsheets can be better than Forms for data collection because:

The spreadsheet data saves as you are editing.If you want to fill in half the data and come back later, your data will still be there.The data in a spreadsheet is versioned, so you can see who added what and when and undo it if necessaryThe commenting features are brilliant - especially the "Resolve" button in comments.
One feature we needed was to be able to "attach" Google Docs to certain cells in a spreadsheet. It's easy to just paste in a URL into a spreadsheet cell, but they can often all look too si…

Writing a Simple QR Code Stock Control Spreadsheet

At Theatre, Film & TV they have lots of equipment they loan to students, cameras, microphone, tripod etc. Keeping track of what goes out and what comes back is a difficult job. I have seen a few other departments struggling with the similar "equipment inventory" problems.

A solution I have prototyped uses QR codes, a Google Spreadsheet and a small web application written in Apps Script. The idea is, that each piece of equipment ( or maybe collection of items ) has a QR code on it. Using a standard and free smartphone application to read QR codes, the technician swipes the item and is shown a screen that lets them either check the item out or return it.

The QR app looks like this.

The spreadsheet contains a list of cameras. It has links to images and uses Google Visualisation tools to generate its QR codes. The spreadsheet looks like this.

The Web Application The web application, which only checks items in or out and should be used on a phone in conjunction with a QR cod…

Getting CSV data into Google Spreadsheets Automatically

Today I was attempting to get CSV data from Estates' Alarm System into Google Docs as a spreadsheet. There were two ways to try and achieve this...

Create an AppScript in Google that pulled a .CSV file from a web serverWrite a (python) script on the local machine that pushed the data into Google Spreadsheet by using the API. The Google AppScript Way As you know, my JavaScript ain't great, but it initially looked like it was going to work... Some code like this below and using the Array to CSV functions from here, looked promising.

function encode_utf8( s ){
//This is the code that "I think" turns the UTF16 LE into standard stuff....
return unescape( encodeURIComponent( s ));

function get_csv(){
var url =' BA Alarms.csv';// Change this to the URL of your file
var response = UrlFetchApp.fetch(url);
// If there's an error in the response code, maybe tell someone