Interesting new blog on consumer electronics

Some of our readers might be interested in a new consumer electronics blog that has recently popped into existence. This is interesting for me in that as we often don’t get thought of as part of the consumer environment. However many of the things we do, be it the social computing, cool devices etc here in Hursley and around the company are actually aimed at people. My previous post reminding the world that “you cant but a next gen games console without buying IBM” also highlight this.

For anyone working in a company its great for your network of family and friends to see what you do. Consumer devices therefore help a great deal, as does general media sponsorship. My 90 year old grandmother knows that I work at Wimbledon during the championships and when the IBM logo appears on the TV she has a pride moment. (Technically I am usually on the website, and not a great deal to do with the TV graphics but it is all part of the same company).

However as techies it is also nice to know what we have under the covers that maybe everyone else (as in general public) does not know. Where CICS is used, where MQ is used, a little buzz of ‘I know how this works’ when I access a banking service.

Mashplication instead of mashup

Roo and I just did a beyond the buzzwords talk to some of the people in Hursley.
The aim was to just fill in some of the gaps where buzzwords spring up.

Mashup is a great word but misses some of the techie elements, but seems to fit in the music world better.

We should call mashups that are application or API based ‘mashplications’ to avoid clashing or mashing with musical mashups like the Beastles.

I know we have ‘situational applications’ and ‘application wikis’ but we need/use buzzwords to add to the web 2.0 alure.

I googled for mashplication and got 0 hits, not something that happens very often.

We have a Mashplication creator on the go here in Emerging Technology both in Hursley and in the wider organization, it was presented at the o’reilly e tech conference.

Think Friday – The Wetware Grid

Fridays in IBM is Think Friday, we all tend to get a bit of space to consider whats going on in the world, deal with new things and absorb the idea that we can create innovation that matters.

I am an aspiring futuroligist/futurist, so here goes some thoughts from my Think Friday.

The BBC News at 10, and the earlier Radio 1 News went all mashup/web 2.0 crazy the other day. The reason was Gawker Stalker. This is a googlemap application (not so much a mashup really) that takes sightings of celebs sent into gawker by the general population. There are obviously ethical concerns and that was the spin on the story.

What is interesting to me though is that ‘open source thinking’ in this. It is about using people as the sensors for the system, not cctv, not GPS tracking attached to a celebrity. It is quite lo-tech, but enables a hi-tech surveillance. People offer their information for the benefit of a wider group, then using the ‘web service’ provided by google, what once would have been a complicated GIS system is unleashed on a web browser.

This has lots of attributes that illustrate the power of the network and the ability for people to be an integral part of it. It has an emergent organization feel too it aswell, and it is massively distributed. The people who spot the celebs are actually adding their brain power in visualization and pattern recognition to a wide network of sensors that relies on ‘luck’ and being luckier because of the scale of the human network.

Odd to consider it in those terms given the news item was clearly showing that the consumers of this service were a bit geeky and star struck.

Amazon Mechanical Turk is a prime example of using human wetware as part of a grid style application. It relies on that open source thinking model where people are willing to share their information. In this case though, amazon are trying to make it a commodity.

Is this really services 2.0, using the mass network we have, the pervasive device and expanding bandwidth to patch people into the parts of a service that computers just cant cope with. Is my brain the new transistor? What are the implications of our integration into a services orientated architecture?

Ian Hughes(Consulting IT Specialist/Futurologist)

Fame, and bananas

Following on from my previous post about Blue Fusion, the local newspaper has picked this up. I’m the one on the left holding the inflatable banana…

The event has just finished, incidentally. Yesterday I hosted Search for a Planet, which was a way of exploring planets, physics, and geology. A short video from the ship’s computer explained to the team that they (the crew) had been woken from hibernation to help to find a new planet to land on, since the ship’s database has been destroyed. Information on various physical factors was available – star type, temperature, gravity, atmospheric composition etc. – and the team had to use that information to search for an appropriate planet to make their new home. It was a very cool activity, with a strong visual impact. The science elements were key to solving the puzzle, i.e. understanding the difference between degrees Kelvin and Celsius (most of the students hadn’t come across Kelvin before); working out the correct mix of gases in the atmosphere; knowing how much gravity is OK before you get squashed flat.

The talk yesterday morning was by Dave Conway-Jones, who showed off the Hursley Emerging Technology lab by remote control, and talked about motes and zigbee and various other new, cool technologies. Today we had Ian Hughes talking about Wimbledon, as well as a talk by Peter Robinson from Cambridge University on using computers to analyse emotions through facial expressions.

Today it was back to Three Wise Monkeys for me. Strangely appropriate, given the press coverage. Anyway, I’ve had a great time – roll on next year.

The genetics of dragons, and the wisdom of monkeys

(remix of something I posted to my personal blog – this is Hursley-related, so it is definitely worthy of inclusion here)

I’ve spent the past two days as an activity host at the Blue Fusion event in Hursley. The title of the post will become clearer if you read on…

For those that don’t know, every year IBM participates in the UK’s National Science Week, by inviting teams of students from schools from the surrounding area to come into the lab to take part in science-based activities. The event has run for 11 years so far. Each school can bring a team of 6 students. Throughout the day they are accompanied by an IBMer (a school host), and rotate through a number of different activities (run by activity hosts). They score points according to how well they manage to complete an activity, including points for teamwork. At the end of the day, the top 3 schools win prizes. There are also a number of guest speakers, one at the beginning and one at the end of each day. We try to keep the day varied and interesting.

This is my second year as a helper. Last year I ran an activity called Kids Run e-business – basically a simulation of business process management. It was such an addictive experience that I signed up again this year. On Monday I hosted Dragonetics, which explored the ideas of genetics and inheritance by using a family tree of dragons. The students seemed to really enjoy it, and once I’d got over the initial “oops how does this work and how do I run it?” Monday morning nerves, I had a great time, too. Yesterday the activity I was hosting was testing communication skills using Morse code, semaphore, and reading Braille. Today I should be working on an activity called Search for a Planet, and tomorrow on the Virtual Athlete.

Probably the most interesting part of the day for me is seeing how different groups from different schools – and different mixes of genders in the groups – behave and work together as a team. Last year, I found that the range of behaviours was anything from highly motivated and driven to win, to relatively disinterested. So far, this year’s teams have largely been extremely motivated, although not always particularly well organised. One group had a strong leader; another one seemed to be excluding a couple of the brighter individuals through their enthusiasm for getting stuck in. The levels of teamwork and communication can vary tremendously. Based on my observations, it has seemed as though the all-female teams have been more organised to start off with, although that hasn’t always lasted or translated into success, and mixed and all-male teams have done equally well. Overall, it can be a fascinating study in psychology for those doing the hosting! The added dimension is that during the day, the scores for each activity and each school are displayed in the main hall in Hursley House, so the teams can see how they are doing compared with the others – towards the end of the day, the top few teams can become ultra-competitive, and some of those at the bottom of the table sometimes lose some of their energy.

So, why do I choose to get involved? This is a personal perspective – some other people from around the lab may have other reasons, but I guess that some will be similar.

1. It is time out from ordinary activities. For me, this has meant time to recharge, in some ways – although it is hard work, and a long day, it’s so totally different from what I normally do, it is very refreshing.
2. It is an opportunity to provide giveback to the community.
3. It involves entirely different skills from my day job. Although I do a lot of on-site mentoring / coaching / skills transfer with our customers, working with children demands an different set of capabilities.
4. For me, before I came into IT, I was always going to be a teacher – so this is also a way for me to explore that kind of experience without having to change careers.
5. It really is enormous fun. When I’m helping with Blue Fusion, I can’t wait for tomorrow to come around.

Tilting at ThinkPads

The ThinkPad range of laptops is famous for being droppable, partly because they seem to be able to withstand frightening events. Many IBMers have stories of a friend who dropped, or drove over a ThinkPad. One or two even claim to have survived theirs being oven baked. Ever since the T42, many ThinkPads have been equipped with the Active Protection System, which “can detect sudden changes in motion and temporarily stop the hard drive”. A nice feature, and one that was crying out to be re-purposed for something a little more… well… fun.

When I heard that a colleague had already worked out how to get the values out of the on-board accelerometers, I knew that it needed a quick front-end to show off the movement. I whisked up something using Ajax techniques to get the readings into Firefox and update some SVG in a very simple web page. The demo, although somewhat basic, certainly shows how intuitive tilting a laptop can feel, and could easily form the basis of a simple game. Thanks to Darren, who filmed me showing it off on Friday, the results are now online.

All gathered around an ambient penguin

Today saw the unusual sight of several of us charging into the pervasive lab, stopping only to use the finger print reader to open the door. Our aim…. to see Dave’s ambient penguin at work.

Dave Conway-Jones (aka DCJ), who is currently working with the Sensors and Actuators organisation in IBM, has put together a zigbee networked device attached to a postcard of a penguin. Two LEDs are in the place of the penguins eyes. When someone’s sametime instant messaging status changes (who is associated with the Penguin) the eyes go from red to green, and back again.

Its neither WiFi nor bluetooth, but some more emerging technology at work. Its also hooked up to a publish subscribe MQ broker, so asides from catching our interest en masse it is using lots of robust middleware to make sure the penguins eyes light up.

Being an ambient inidcation device there are lots of options for what the lights represent, and I think DCJ is likely to start a bit of a rush to build lots of interesting ambient devices. This is not a challenge to or the Nabaztag rabbit as neither of those feature blu-tack, selotape or card board. However the homebrew ambient device, with this simple networking technology, does have some interesting potential.

We could post a picture of it here, though I suspect the postcard of the penguin has copyright on it, and DCJ admits he was inspired by the Wallace and Grommit films, rather than the March of the Penguins or any Linux branding.