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 ambientdevices.com 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.

Spitfires over Southampton

This weekend five spitfires flew a tour around southamption and the surrounding area to celebrate the 70th aniverssary of the first flight of the iconic plane. Hursley has some great history related to the Spitfire. Before IBM bought Hursley park it was a development centre for amongst other things the Supermarine design team.

The Spitfire F.MK.24 was developed by the Supermarine design team at Hursley Park. In December 1940, after the devastating Blitz bombings, the control centre of the Spitfire programme was relocated to Hursley House, where it continued its operations and development.
More story here

The fly past in formation was great, but even more exciting was some practicing on Saturday where we heard the distinctive sound of Spitfires over our house, and saw them pulling some turns and generally enjoying themselves.


formation flying

I’m emerging

For the past couple of years I’ve been working in the Pervasive Messaging Technologies team. This has been a great time for me, for so many reasons. The team is fantastic and my manager (who recently posted here himself) is not only a great boss but also a Master Inventor. What a title! It is refreshing, in a company where you can describe your cupboard as a TSU and most people will know what you’re talking about (and many will not assume you are joking), to work in Pervasive Messaging Technologies – one of the few departments which did not reduce itself to an acronym.

Recently, and very suddenly, I was invited to participate in a twelve month job-swap with Martin Gale from Emerging Technology Services. Despite being insanely happy where I was, it seemed to good an offer to pass up. Having moved in, met new friends and learned more about old friends, posted on the department’s wiki and blog and had a crack at a couple of rather fun demos (which I’ll to post more about one day) I’m now three weeks in. Here are some observations on the move.

  • ‘Upstairs’ in Pervasive Messaging, people went for coffee. ‘Downstairs’ in ETS people go for a tea. I assume this is because of the relative proximities of the coffee bar and the Cha Bar. I have finally discovered a taste for tea without sugar.
  • The S in ETS stands for Services, and being a services team has meant I get to see more customers in the flesh. This is a good thing by the way. Being close to our customers and personally understanding what they want and need is not only essential but fun. I’m averaging over one customer meeting per week already, and I’ve barely started yet.
  • The E and T stand for Emerging Technology. This means we’re interested in new, cutting edge, innovative things. And everyone really is interested in these things. People ‘get it’, where it can be anything from how to make this server perform better to why tagging is more powerful than catagorising and why AJAX, despite being an overused buzzword, is important and useful. Hobbies and work time overlap pleasingly in an environment where today’s part-time project could be part of tomorrow’s customer demo.

So I’m enjoying it. I feel at home. The only worry so far has been this falling clock.

Fortunately Ian and I were safely in the lab at the end of the hall, but the noise of crashing metal and breaking glass was impressive.

– Roo Reynolds (Emerging Technology Services, IBM Hursley)

Update: comments closed due to oddly high levels of spam on this particular post.

More IBM Blog Visualisation

A few months ago I wrote about a visualisation of IBM’s blog social network. Using information about who commented on who in our internal blogs, I generated data for a social network diagram. It was kind of interesting, but not very user friendly. It quickly developed into a complicated diagram (as the nodes and links built up) until it became hard for a normal user to tell much from it.

So, I decided to play around with a new way of visualising the same data, showing pictures of the people commenting, scaled to represent the strength of the link between that person and the blog. More comments, in both directions, strengthens the relationship and makes the picture bigger. It’s also more personal, as each IBM blogger gets their own page with pictures of all their connections. Apart from the information contained in the image scaling, it’s nice just to be able to see on a single page what all your blog contacts actually look like.


– Darren Shaw (Emerging Technology Services, IBM Hursley)

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.