September Equinox

Chinese Calendar

Hursley is a culturally as well as a technically diverse place, so we’ve got some great opportunities to learn from each other. This lunchtime I popped along to one of the events organised by the lab’s Chinese Connect team, which was all about Understanding the Chinese Calendar (the title of the post refers to a significant date this week in that calendar, September 23rd).

Previous talks in the Chinese Culture series, which is organised by Hursley’s Jenny He, have covered subjects such as the evolution of the Chinese languages, how to understand Chinese names, and Chinese music and instruments. I’m embarrassed to say that this is the first of the talks I’ve been to, despite working here for some time… I really should take more advantage of the range of activities and opportunities that Hursley has to offer!

Today’s talk was delivered by Darren Beard, who was particularly interested in the astronomical background to the Chinese calendar (having published a paper on the same topic several years ago). Darren covered the scientific background of this lunisolar calendar, and the changes that have taken place to it historically over the ~3500 years it has been around – particularly interesting to me, since I’m a historian by background. It’s a complicated system which takes account of 19 year lunar cycles, requires things like leap months, and has a set of rules which specify how it works… but it is certainly more comprehensible once you understand those aspects. It was interesting to realise just how much my own perceptions of time are based on the calendar system I’ve grown up with!

Linux Users descend on the House

[thanks to the brilliant Laura Cowen, producer of the Ubuntu UK Podcast and uber UX god at Hursley, for writing up this event – it’s a shame I wasn’t able to make it!]

As is usually the case when I’m attending a HantsLUG (Hampshire Linux User Group) meeting, it was a lovely sunny day on Saturday. It’s like as if it knows that I’m going to be spending the day inside, geeking in front of a laptop screen. This meeting, however, we put the sun to good use, first of all showing off Hursley Park at its best, and then lunching out on the decking at the Clubhouse.

When I was a more frequent attendee of the HantsLUG bring-a-box meetings (where I installed my first Debian distro, and later my first Ubuntu), I’d often thought how cool it would be to host a meeting at IBM Hursley. But I never got as far as investigating the security and wifi hassles I’d have to overcome. Fortunately, Anton Piatek was a little braver and sent some emails to nearly the right people (who helpfully forwarded them on to really the right people), and suggested his plan to Adam Trickett, Chair of HantsLUG. Adam says he nearly bit Anton’s hand off and so it happened.

HantsLUG is one of the biggest LUGs in the UK and is our local Linux user group but has surprisingly never really (in the 7 years I’ve known them) had a huge amount of interaction with IBM Hursley. For a long time, though, there has been a good pool of Linux skills and interest in the Lab, and over the last couple of years the number of people around the Lab voluntarily using Linux as their desktop OS has risen (as has the number of Ubuntu lanyards to be seen as you walk the corridors of Hursley).

Image courtesy of fluffydragon

So what makes Hursley a good place for a LUG meeting? Well, for a start, it’s just a really nice place to be – and Hursley House as well as the Park are very impressive to show off to visitors 🙂

On Saturday, we were mostly in the Auditorium (where Spitfires were built during WWII), then when we led everyone down to the Clubhouse for lunch, we took the usual site tour scenic route via the Sunken Garden and fish pond. Although Hursley is out in the country, seemingly the middle of nowhere, it’s actually on the bus-route from Winchester so we had an excellent turnout of about 30 people. IBM Hursley also has a lot of cool people who do cool things that we can tell people about (although one piece of feedback I heard from a LUG person was that they thought we didn’t talk enough about what IBM does!).

Although we had the House to ourselves, and everyone was free to stand around and chat in the Main Hall, most of the day revolved around talks in the Auditorium. It all kicked off at 11am with an introduction to IBM Hursley (and, of course, directions to the fire exits and toilets) from Anton. The inimitable Andy Stanford-Clark, fresh from a week of press interviews, enthused everyone till lunchtime with tales of mouse traps, MQTT, twittering houses, twittering ferries, water meters, and energy monitoring. I say ‘enthused’ but there must be a better term to describe the way the audience rushed the stage when Andy offered to sell Current Cost monitors at a discount…

After lunch, we had a collection of shorter talks on a range of topics:

  • I talked about InfoSlicer, the open source software that my Extreme Blue student team developed last Summer and IBM released under the GPL
  • Anton described the anatomy of Ubuntu packages (he’s the guy that provides Ubuntu users in IBM with the flawless packages we’ve come to rely on)
  • Tony Whitmore related his experiences of producing the popular Ubuntu UK Podcast – and pimped the upcoming OggCamp unconference
  • Adam Trickett, Chair of HantsLUG, gave out free books in return for promises of book reviews on the HantsLUG wiki

Then everyone just hung around chatting for ages.

It was a really enjoyable and relaxed day; kudos to Anton, Stephen, and John for organising it from the IBM end. Thanks also to the IBMers who came along and to the many HantsLUG members who turned up. I’d say it was a success and we should definitely do it again.

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Technical Recognition

[A guest post by Hursley’s Ben Fletcher. This was originally written as an internal blog post – Ben recently received the award for External Honours at the IBM Corporate Technical Recognition Event. Here, he reflects on his experiences]

I believe it is important to leave it entirely up to the individual to recognise the positives of IBMers they work with, and go from there – you can’t do any better than this, but, there’s a bonus: sometimes IBM wants to recognise you too!  To make it all look good, to customers, or to make people happy, and to maintain the technical and innovative reputation or brand IBM has, they’ve built title names or award names as follows:

  • IBM Fellows
  • Corporate and Patent Portfolio Awards
  • Distinguished Engineers
  • Members of the IBM Academy of Technology
  • External Honours
  • Major Outstanding Innovation and Major Outstanding Technical Achievement Awards

Lots of different names, but of course IBM is so diverse that it’s difficult to recognise things in a systematic manner. Looking at the titles, I think the key points here are: if you love corporate technology and/or innovation, you can’t go any better!

I did.  As a result, I fell under the External Honours category, primarily for the RADAR Young Person of the Year award that I received last year.  Thereby I got into the book and, more excitedly, to meet other people and learn more about IBM.  What did I learn from the other IBM attendees?

I would firstly ask where do you work?  If it’s GBS [IBM Global Business Services], I would ask if they’ve heard of SWG [IBM Software Group]?  If yes, have they worked with SWG before?  With either answer, I would then ask if they’ve heard of Lab Services [which is where I work].  With these answers, I started coming up with questions I’d love answers to – for example:

  • how to improve the awareness of what Lab Services can do, across into GBS?
  • does the linkage between Lab Services and GBS have any room for improvement?
  • have people from Lab Services moved to GBS?
  • is Research well connected with UK?  With Research being in Switzerland?
  • is the market for deaf-related and/or blind-related technology too small to be of interest?


I also met with Brendon Riley [the IBM UK General Manager], who I was very keen to talk with, particularly as my wife is also Australian.  I was thrilled when he told me that he was from Perth – where my wife was from! Brendon very kindly took the opportunity to ask me to do something for him – clearly he was keen to demonstrate that the planet was flatter, as he could ask me directly like a colleague sitting at the next desk might, rather than passing the request down through a hierarchical organisation. The fact that he’s from Perth, my wife’s from Perth, the Country General Manager asking me directly to do something for him, as our CEO would say: the world is becoming smaller and flatter!


An unconference and a little bit of history

Yesterday lunchtime the auditorium in Hursley House became the venue of an internal “unconference” of sorts – a very relaxed session with a bunch of short, snappy 5 minute presentations by folks from around the lab who related their experiences from different tech conferences.

Dale Lane spoke about Hackdays and Barcamps; Alex Hutter talked about last weekend’s Barcamp in Brighton; Robin Fernandes talked about user groups and his involvement with PHP; Iain Gavin from Amazon Web Services told us about external views on IBM; and Andy Stanford-Clark was, well, Andy 🙂 I think he may have mentioned something about some service called Twitter, I was’t really paying attention… 😉 Most of it was Ignite-style high-speed babble, and mostly without slides.

Unlunch, unlearn

It was all the brainchild of the brilliant Zoe Slattery, who also had some exciting announcements to share with us (more to come on these once I get clearance to post!). There were guest appearances of photographs by Alice, too.

Oh, and my contribution? I gave a potted, high-speed history of eightbar from the perspective of someone who jumped in to the Hursley world from the outside. Here’s a pictorial tour. You’ll note few mentions of virtual worlds – not because that’s not something eightbar does anymore, but rather to remind people of the breadth of our interests. Oh, and guess what, the blog has been around for nearly 4 years – just a week or so to go!

(dunno what happened with the bizzaro blank slide #12, it’s not supposed to be there…)