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…)

Tribe 2.0

What is eightbar? As the About page for this blog states:

We’re a group of techie/creative people working in and around IBM’s Hursley Park Lab in the UK. We have regular technical community meetings, well more like a cup of tea and a chat really, about all kinds of cool stuff.

That’s all still true. That’s who we are. Over the past four years this blog has featured lots of cool things. It started with an small group of folks into emerging tech talking about life at Hursley (who remembers Roo’s post about the dome of cups, in his pre-metaverse days?!). It continued to grow to cover virtual worlds topics as we began to explore those spaces. eightbar became a bit of a tribe and expanded to include many others who were into interesting technology. Increasingly we’re seeing the technologies that we talked about in the early days of this blog hit the mainstream – take 3D printing and augmented reality as just two examples.

eightbar is more than just a group of people. It’s a mindset, a grassroots culture. If you asked me to sum it up, I’d use phrases like “the frontier spirit”, “bleeding edge”, and “Web 2.0 is Web Do” (with a very definite nod in the direction of epredator for the last one!).

We’ll be including more folks from the lab as authors and guests here over the coming months – eightbar has always been a kind of “shop window to the world” for the things we are up to. The kinds of people you’ll find writing and contributing here are also likely to be found out and about at unconferences around Southampton, London, or other places. There may be a few changes to the look and feel as well as to the content, but the spirit is absolutely going to remain the same. Oh, and by the way, check out the links in the sidebar – you’ll find that many of the contributors have great content out on their own sites, too.

Why is this post entitled Tribe 2.0? Simple: fresh thinking and fresh ideas FTW! 🙂

IBM Demos at the TEDGlobal Conference

Posted on behalf of Bharat Bedi…

The TEDGlobal Conference was an amazing week of learning, taking inspiration from and connecting with 700 of the world’s thinkers and doers. The speakers at TED gave excellent talks on subjects ranging from how humans might have evolved from aquatic apes to jumping from the edge of space.

Bharat Interview

IBM’s smart planet vision fits in well with TED’s approach of ideas worth spreading and IBM sponsored the Innovation Lounge and the 25 TED fellows at the conference.
The fellows are an amazing group of world changing innovators from around the world.

IBM created two demonstrations for the TED and I had the opportunity to lead the effort around putting these demos together. The demos incorporate a number of technologies including Zigbee, messaging, ambient devices, mobile phone based remote control and monitoring, SMS, RFID, web & AJAX, current cost and home automation!

The first one of these was around using RFID technology to help facility interaction and conversations between the TED fellows and the other attendees at the TED Innovation Lounge . Each fellow was given an RFID tag that detected their presence in the lounge and displayed their profiles on 3 large screens. At the same time wireless ambient devices changed colour to highlight the presence of the fellows.

TED Lounge

The second demo was about being smarter about our energy consumption and home automation. This was a good example of the smarter planet principles of an instrumented, interconnected and intelligent in action. We set up a home lounge environment with appliance such as lamps and fans whose electricity consumption was being monitored. These appliances could be remote controlled via SMS and a mobile phone application. The amount of energy being consumed by the appliance was conveyed in subtle ways again using an ambient device which changed colour.

Huge thanks to Dave Conway-Jones, Andy Stanford-Clark and Andrew Nowell for all their help with creating the demos.

Revising relationships

I’ve just done a sweep through the eightbar blogroll and links. From the look of what was there, I reckon we hadn’t checked it in a while, as a few of the links were dead or pointing at blogs which have long since relocated. I also updated a few of the About pages to reflect recent changes.

We’ve got two main categories of links – Blogroll broadly covers “former eightbar and sites of interest” and Hursley bloggers contains links to current active bloggers from the Hursley(ish) community. Check them out over towards the bottom of the sidebar. If I’ve missed an active Hursley person that I should have included, then it should be pretty easy to find me and let me know 😉

A different kind of TV remote control

I’m very excited to be welcoming another Hursley innovator as a guest here on eightbar – Benjamin Hardill (you can find him on Twitter as @hardillb). Here’s some insight into what he’s been up to lately! More home automation, hardware hacking, and MQTT messaging adventures follow 🙂

I got a new TV around Christmas last year and while unpacking it I noticed along with the HDMI, SCART and other sockets on the back it had a 9-pin socket labelled "RS232C IN CONTROL&SERVICE". I didn’t think that much of it at the time, but I remembered it last week while thinking about a couple of problems that had come up.

Tidy TV setup The first of these was that I had got home twice recently to find I’d left the TV turned on while I was at work, this was mainly because I use MythTV and I’d left it at the menu screen rather than turning the screen off as well. This had left shadow on the menu on the screen for a day or so afterwards (luckily no permanent damage as would have happened with a plasma or CRT TV).

The other point was from when we all first got hold of our Current Cost meters, there had been a lot of thought about how to work out exactly what appliances were on at any given time. While spotting when things like an electric water heater turned on was relatively easy, it was proving difficult to spot some of the lower power devices.

A plan started to form and I ordered a null modem cable from Amazon (£2.18 with free shipping) and went looking for some documentation on the protocol. The manual that came with the TV while being nearly an inch thick just covers the basics of how to plug it in and turn it on, but there was a CD-ROM with a much more detailed PDF document. The version for my TV is here. While searching round I found manuals for several other LG LCD/plasma TVs and they all seem to use the same basic protocol.

The protocol is relatively simple

[cmd1][cmd2] [setid] [data]

Where the cmd1 & cmd2 are 1 letter code, setid is for if you have multiple TVs connected to the same cable, the default id is 01 but you can change if needed, using 00 will work for all connected TVs. And data is a hex value of the option to pass the command.

The response from the TV looks like this for a success

[cmd2] [setid] OK[data]x

and like this for a failure

[cmd2] [setid] NG[data]x

The command to turn the TV on and off is "ka" so sending

ka 00 1

turns the TV on and sending

ka 00 0

turns it off. Most of the commands will reply with the current status if they are passed ff as the data. So sending

ka 00 ff

gets the following when the TV is off

a 00 OK0x

So now I had a way to turn the TV on and off along with checking its current status. The next step was to surface this some way and given the fascination we all seem to have with messaging, MQTT seemed like a good idea. A little bit of Java and the Java COMM API later and I had 2 topics TV/Commands & TV/Status.

I already have a topic that publishes if my mobile phone is in the flat by pinging it with Bluetooth. Combining this with the two new topics I can ensure that the TV is turned off when I leave. I’m also wondering if I should start to log the amount of time the TV is on, but I think the results may scare me a little…

Hursley: where innovation happens

I’m over in the US at the moment, and I was out of the office all of last week as well, but I see that the BBC has been visiting my friends and colleagues at the Hursley mothership.

The coverage is in two parts. Firstly there’s a nice article on the BBC News website which talks about the history of Hursley, some of the software developed at the lab such as CICS and MQTT, and (of course) Andy Stanford-Clark’s twittering house.

There’s also a set of interviews with IBMers such as Kevin Brown talking about the twittering Hursley minibus, in the May 5th episode of the Digital Planet podcast (here’s a direct link to the MP3). The IBM coverage starts from around about 17 minutes in to the programme.

So, if you were wondering what wild and wacky things we get up to at Hursley – we do a lot of different stuff, and it can be very cool indeed 🙂

INNOV8 – a Serious Game hits 2.0 at IMPACT

This week I’ve been at IBM’s IMPACT 2009 conference in Las Vegas, along with a lot of my colleagues from IBM Hursley. As I wrote over on my personal blog, this is an event aimed at Smart SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and the Smarter Planet… but the synergies between them are bringing in all kinds of interesting themes and topics from the emerging technology space, including virtual worlds and gaming, social computing, and green / sustainable computing.

We’ve briefly mentioned INNOV8 on eightbar before. It’s a serious game for business and education aimed at teaching the principles of Business Process Management. The latest version was announced at IMPACT this week. INNOV8 2.0 is playable on the web, and has a set of new scenarios covering Smarter Supply Chain, Smarter Traffic, and Smarter Customer Service. The trailer is great – very movie-like 🙂

If you want a sneak peek at the gameplay, check this video too.

Virtual Forbidden City

I’ve been away for a couple of weeks so I’m very late in posting this!

On 28 and 29 April, IBM is going to be running an SOA tour being using the virtual Forbidden City: Beyond Space and Time. Ian wrote about the Forbidden City launch last year.

According to the press release:

Attendees will be able to discuss SOA with IBM’s leading architects and strategists in an innovative setting, and learn first-hand how to shape the future of business communication. The virtual world tour provides a chance to:
  • See a real-life SOA case study in action
  • Hear how IBM solutions and products map to and enable specific SOA concepts and capabilities
  • Learn how to solve architectural challenges through SOA in a way that is non-disruptive to existing IT systems
  • Network with technical experts and peers

This is a good example of how we’re continuing to explore the use of virtual spaces for education and business. If you want to get involved, there’s really very little time to register (sorry! my bad!) – final day is tomorrow, April 17th.

Update – @ibmvfc reports via Twitter that registration is now open until Tuesday so if you’re interested, there are a few more days.

The amazing MQTT-enabled ducks!

This is a guest post by Hursley’s Chris Phillips (aka @cminion on Twitter). Take it away, Chris… and you’ll find more from him on his blog.


Many eightbar readers may have received one of those gadget catalogues you get through the door, with weird and wonderful widgets to ostensibly help with everyday life. “How have I ever coped without a Wifi Fondue set?” and similar thoughts may have run your mind. However, one thing these catalogues aim to promise is the integration of technology into everyday life; the dream that if technology is pervasive enough, it could remove all those little annoyances that we experience: forgetting a recipe, not knowing when our friends are turning up at the pub, having to get up twice to make a cup of tea, and so on… missing a phone call, because the phone is not loud enough, or set to vibrate, or other such vagaries of the modern telecommunications device. If only one could make a normally unobtrusive device that would alert one to a phone call, or a doorbell, or a new email, in fact pretty much anything!

Back in January I made some MQTT ducks. The aim was to make them flash on or off when receiving signals from my Ubuntu server.

Now, you may wonder why I would want 20 rubber ducks to flash when my phone goes off. Well, this was about the same time as I decided I wanted to make a unobtrusive alerting device. There is no scientific or technical reason in itself. I just had a Mini Cooper’s worth of rubber ducks sitting around, unemployed. Therefore I designed a simple project to get to grips with the world of Arduinos not only educating me but also putting the lazy mallards to use. I found some cheap fairylights just before Christmas and had the aforementioned large supply of rubber ducks (as you do).


  • 1 x Freeduino
  • 1 x 20 LED Fairy lights (£3)
  • 1 x USB Printer Cable (via
  • 20 x Rubber Ducks



  • GlueGun (£1.50 from Woolworths during the closing down sale)
  • Scissors

The construction was very simple. Making a small hole in the bottom of each duck, I inserted an LED and glue gunned it into place. I checked the effect with the batteries to see the result.


Removing the battery component with a pair of scissors and stripping the wire coating revealed the multi-core ends. These were plugged into the digital pin thirteen and the digital ground on the Arduino. To confirm the wires were plugged into the correct pin I pressed the reset button. The ducks and LED thirteen on the Arduino would then quickly flash.


Coding for Arduinos is very basic. The program I wrote received a 1 or a 0 down the USB cable. When it received a 1 (49 in ASCII) it turned the ducks on. When it received a 0 (48 in ASCII) it turned them off.

int LEDPin  = 13;
int inByte =0;

void setup() {
void loop(){
    if (Serial.available() > 0) {
      inByte =;
    if (inByte == 49 ) {
    if (inByte == 48 ) {

To connect this to my Really Small Message Broker using MQTT, I modified an excellent & simple Perl script written by Andy Stanford-Clark. His script reads RSMB topics for specific entries. I created a listener that watched for messages being passed on to the Ducks/ topic. If the content of the message was on it sent 1 down the wire to the Arduino, and if it received off it sent 0.

Next move… well someone at Pachube put forward the idea on Twitter of controlling with their infrastructure. Now, I can send an on or off message to a Pachube feed using Twitter. My server at home then checks this feed every 15 seconds for any changes and sends a message to my RSMB as required.

Thanks to the guys from for providing their leftover ducks and for providing the USB cable!