Film Star for a day

On Friday, a film crew came to visit me at home for the day to film some of my home automation inventions, and talk to me about the process of innovation and how it sometimes leads to products and solutions for IBM.

The background to this is that our ad agency were hunting round the Corporation to find something “cool” to talk about in some advertising material on the web. They heard about “this guy in the UK who has electronic mousetraps”, and knew immediately this was what they were looking for.

A video conference and a few conference calls later, we’d scheduled a film shoot at my house on the Isle of Wight (a little island just off the coast of Southampton in the UK). I had been sent a “brief” about what they were planning, but I still didnt know exactly what would be entailed. So the key thing for me with regards to preparation was to make sure all the bits of my home automation system were up and running.

I’ve been playing with home automation projects for a few years now, all based around the IBM “microbroker” and MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocol for publish/subscribe messaging, which is just perfect for hooking in wizzy new gadgets in a very short time to enable me to try out new ideas.

So three car-loads of people showed up on Friday morning – 2 had flown in from the US just for the occasion – I felt very honoured already! There was the obligatory “IBM Minder” who lurks in the background making sure I don’t say anything “illegal”, or at least “highly regrettable”, or “significantly off-message”; the producer, interviewer, camera-person, sound-person, stills photographer, “key grip” (you always have to have one of those when you’re making a film, even though everyone knows that nobody fully understands the exact details of the job role!), um, er, oh, and a make up person to stop me being too shiny under the spotlights that were being assembled in my kitchen, and a few more people to make the number up to eleven.

The theme was that the interviewer drops in on this inventor chap at his very English olde-worlde home, on the ever so quaint Isle of Wight, and amongst oak beams, stone walls, thatched roof, miscellaneous dogs, and a modest herd of llamas, he would explain these wizzy gadgets he’s implemented and experimented with at home, which are generally spring boards to solutions that IBM sells to customers across a range of different industries. Experimenting with the concepts in the home environment gives me a chance to work out all the issues that make it difficult, and (very importantly) give me a demonstrable system to show to people.

So with lights blazing, cameras rolling, and fluffy boom mic being fluffy, I showed off my power monitoring system (live graph of how much power my house is consuming), X10 lighting system controlled using MQTT from my Java-enabled cellphone (how cool is THAT!), cellphone-activated Reindeer lights in the garden left over from Christmas, and my MQTT-enabled caller ID system that screen pops the name and a picture of the person who’s calling (if the system recognises the number) on the Kitchen Computer.

Then some of the crew went out scavenging for food (you didn’t think I was going to attempt to feed an entire film crew do you!), and they came back with, well, what can I say – I think a picture is worthwhile at this point. I think “the contents of the local shop” would be the best description! We were still eating those sandwiches on Sunday!

lunch for how many?

After lunch we went out to see the llamas, which the film crew instantly decided were far more interesting than me. In fact, I suspect this might end up being a film about dogs and llamas, with a voice-over by Andy Stanford-Clark! I lost count of the number of stills the photographer took of the dogs, and the makeup person, not really having a huge task, spent most of the afternoon happily playing football with the Airedale on the lawn (“to keep her out of your way”…. yeah, right!). Holding a llama on a lead in one hand, I explained to the camera how my llama tracking system will work – “track the trek with MQTT”.

llamas, camera, action!

Then we went back in the house for more interviewing, and to demonstrate the system for which I’m most famous: the electronic mousetraps, which send a message to my cellphone when one of them catches a mouse, so I know to go and reset it and dispose of the “stiff” before it starts to decompose. This simple but effective system, which publishes a “mouse event” message over MQTT to a broker out on the internet, has been running in production for 5 years now, and so is the longest-running MQTT application!

kitchen / film studio

With a looming deadline of 5.30pm, the crew went into clean-up mode, packing tripods, cameras, lights, mics, dog toys (oops!), and packing them into the cars. By 5.25 they were standing in the kitchen in their coats, thanking me so much for allowing them into my home, and showing them such cool technology.

I’m so glad I took a few photos of the day, because after they’d gone, there was not a trace that they had ever been there – I am in awe of the courtesy and professionalism that they showed throughout the day.

So there you are… film star for a day!

Andy Stanford-Clark, Master Inventor, Pervasive Messaging Technologies, IBM Hursley, UK

Geeks in Florida

A lot of the work I do within Hursley’s Emerging Technology group is around advanced collaboration. With industry taking blogs, wikis, instant messaging and social networking seriously, it’s an area where expertise has become more and more in demand. One of the big collaboration events that takes place is Lotusphere in Orlando, Florida, which kicks off today.

Last year I was there to demonstrate some of the social network visualisation and analysis applications we’d developed in the lab. I’m not there this year, but I’m still planning on keeping up to date with events. Kelly Samardak is there and her Lotusphere Blog will no doubt present a different and much more interesting and personal spin on what’s going on there. Don’t expect any corporate waffle from Kelly, but she works in an IBM team that has done a lot of our best collaboration work so is in the best place to get the inside story.

I know there’s going to be a few very interesting annoucements, so it’s something worth keeping an eye on.

IBM Battle of the Bands

IBM has a “Battle of the Bands” competition going on at the moment. Using our internal podcasting system, people working in IBM, who also have some musical talent can submit their performances. Everyone then gets to vote for which band/singer they liked best. I’ve been amazed at the quality of the musicians working their day job at IBM. A lot of the bands are quite serious and sell/perform their music regularly and have their work professionally recorded.

A couple of the favourite IBM bands I’ve heard so far are: Seven Ender and Lisa Swain.

Go with the flow

Last night the BBC child of our time programme started. It is about the lives of a set of kids that the BBC are following/stalking throgh their lives from birth. The kids are now 5 or 6 years old. The programme itself is fascinating, especially having a 2 1/2 year old and seeing where things are heading.
However the phrase that struck me was about “Flow”. They were trying to measure the kids various amounts of “Flow”. I had not realized this was a psychologists term, though I am well aware of the principle. Flow is what happens when your mind is challenged by something and you are so engaged in the activity that time passes and you dont want to stop. We all need an activity to get Flow. Hobbies are usually what we consider as a way to get Flow, but for many of us in this sort of techland our jobs also give us Flow. For the programmers/hackers amongst us do you get ‘Flow’ when you are solving a problem, and you just “get in the zone”, “focus”. I find it also happens when I enthuse to customers and collegues
For me the emerging tech stuff, and all things around this business catch my interest and make it less of a job. Obviously video games also have the same effect on me.
I have recently been introduced to an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) called perplexcity thanks Gareth! This game you buy/trade puzzle cards, each card is a simple or very very complex puzzle, it mixes web, with pen and paper and the different styles of puzzle means that different thought styles are needed. My wife and I have realize that this has given us a combined “flow” as (apart from the BBC programme mentioned) we had the telly off and were trying to solve some of our puzzles. You start at 8 pm and before you know it it’s midnight.
So for me go with the flow used to mean not bothering and meandering along, not it means find a challenge and loose yourself in it as that feels great, either work or home.
I am not sure whether the nature of the tech industry attracts a certain type of person with a certain amount of “Flow”. The eclectic mix of technologies and the art of putting it all together, tinkering with settings, producing complex technical architectures all have a fascination for many of us in Hursley.

Hursley’s Pervasive Lab

Here in the depths of Hursley’s D-Block we have a pervasive lab. The lab is used to show lots of cool bits of technology that’s normally carried, attached to, or embedded in people and sometimes even animals. The clever bit (and the thing that makes it different from lots of other pervasive technology labs) is that it’s all connected together via some of IBM’s middleware software. That means that new bits of kit can be integrated into the lab really quickly. It’s normally a matter of configuration rather than development.

The lab had been overflowing with toys and needed room to grow. So before Christmas, some new furniture arrived. This meant that a big tidy and a rebuilding of all the kit was in order. Mid-clean, the lab kind of looked a little messy, I hadn’t realised how much stuff was actually in there.

lab before cleaning

By the end though, it was starting to look pretty slick. We have some snazzy new signs and benches. All the kit will soon be up and running and I’ll try and write about some of the stuff we have in here.

pervasive lab