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Blue Fusion, the 2009 edition

One of the first Hursley-related things I wrote about here and on the eightbar blog back in 2006 was how much I enjoy helping with our annual schools event for National Science and Engineering Week in the UK – Blue Fusion (the event website has gone AWOL at the moment but here’s a link to the press release).

This year was no exception, and referring back to my old blog entries it turns out that this is now the fifth year that I’ve been a volunteer. Unfortunately I only had room in my schedule to spend one day helping this time around, so I chose to host a school for the day rather than spending all day on a single activity (that way, I got to see all of the different things we had on offer).

So, yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting six intelligent and polite students from Malvern St James School and their teachers – they had travelled a fair distance to come to the event, but despite the early start I think they did really well.

I won’t go into too much detail and spoil the fun for people who might read this but have not yet taken part in this week’s event, but I think we had some great activities on offer. I twittered our way through a few of them. My own personal favourite was a remote surgery activity. You can’t see much in this image (it was a dark room) but the students basically had a “body” inside a box with some remote cameras to guide their hands around and had to identify organs and foreign objects.


There was also some interesting application of visual technology / tangible interfaces – a genetics exercise using LEGO bricks and a camera which identified gene strands, and an energy planning exercise which used Reactivision-style markers to identify where power stations had been placed on a map (sort of similar to what we built in SLorpedo at Hackday a couple of years ago). We also had some logic puzzles to solve, built a, err… “typhoon-proof” (ahem) tower, simulated a computer processor, and commanded a colony of ants in a battle for survival against the other school teams.

Things I learned

  1. Facebook (not Bebo) is now where it’s at.
  2. If a tornado is coming, get out of the way or into a safe room.
  3. Girls are much better than boys at listening to multiple streams of conversation (actually I think I worked this out a long time ago!).

A now, some notes just for my team…

Here are links to a few of the other things we talked about during the day:

And most importantly, here’s the evidence that we started off in first place 🙂 and I think you were an awesome team throughout. Well done, it was brilliant spending the day with you.


Science at work – Blue Fusion 2008

I’ve previously written about the annual Blue Fusion event that we run as part of National Science and Engineering Week at IBM’s Hursley Lab in the UK. It is one of the highlights of my year… I have been volunteering to help host school groups and run activities for a number of years now and I never fail to enjoy the time I spend on it.

Blue Fusion HostAs a volunteer, you get to choose to either host a school for the day and stay with a single group, or host an activity and see the various different teams that come around during the day. Both options have their own advantages. Yesterday I took a wonderful group around all day, so I had an opportunity to get to know the students, and also to see the whole range of activities that my colleagues have invented. Today, I spent all day on a single activity and got to meet all of the groups (well, to be fair, half of the groups, since there are two “instances” of this activity and someone else is hosting the other one). Being with one group all day definitely has the advantage of getting to know the students well and being part of the team. Seeing all the different groups though, you get to see how the teams interact and behave, which is a whole separate stream of interest.

(side note: you also get a nice badge and a t-shirt)

No monkeys this year… but we do got rubber ducks, which is a bonus.

As usual, the activities are a great mix of practical and computer-based tasks. Without giving too much away… one involves an articulated biomechanical arm (plus the aforementioned rubber ducks), and learning about muscle groups. There are some game-based activities too… the DTMF telephone game I ran today, an activity where the students have to run a taxi company, remote-controlled cars delivering medicine around a 3D body maze… it’s all great fun. The feedback we had yesterday was really good and it’s great to see the students enjoying themselves.

Blue Fusion 2007, day 1

One of the high points of every year I spend with IBM is the annual opportunity to participate in Blue Fusion, our contribution to National Science and Engineering Week. Anton gave a good write-up of how the event works, and I wrote about last year’s activities around the same time in 2006.

The activity I was hosting today was called Weatherman. It looked at how to forecast weather based on a set of current conditions and some of the rules of forecasting. Having decided on the forecast, the teams then had to give an inventive, entertaining and hopefully accurate (!) presentation. It was quite a difficult activity. I don’t suppose any of the students would have remember the old magnetic weather symbols that the BBC used to slap onto maps during forecasts, with everything being computer-generated these days… several jokingly complained that there are computers to do this now, but as I pointed out, the Met Office forecasters also have to be able to come up with the forecasts by hand.

The day was kicked off by a talk from a guest speaker about biometrics, and conveniently for my activity it ended up with a talk on the science of global warming.

Tomorrow I’m looking after a school for the whole day, which means I will get to see the rest of the activities on offer. On Wednesday and Thursday I’m due to be back at the activity hosting.

This is my third year as a helper. I’m told that it is fairly unusual for people who aren’t on the organising committee to devote such a bug chunk of time on a repeated basis. IBMers are all encouraged to volunteer, but usually the helpers will only be able to spare a day, and maybe not get involved on an annual basis. One of the organisers asked me today what makes me keep coming back. Well, as usual, it was a fascinating and exhilarating experience. We get time out from our usual activities. We get to meet people from across the lab organisation who we might not deal with day-to-day: for example, I was hosting today with people from the CICS test team, met people I know from our Platform Technology Centre, and met relatively new joiners to the organisation, too. I love interacting with the different groups and watching how they behave in problem-solving and competitive situations… one of my alternative career choices would have been teaching, so this is a good way of getting an opportunity to get involved in that kind of activity. I talked about a lot of the same themes last year, and looking back at those earlier posts I realise that I’ve covered the same ground in the past, but I’m filled with such enthusiasm again that I can’t help but write about it.

Today I also found myself showing the ropes to new helpers who hadn’t been involved in the event before – I remember I was pretty confused in my first year, so I hope this is helpful to others. I know I’ll be pretty tired by Thursday, but I’m having a great time so far. Looking forward to see what challenges tomorrow brings!

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Veronica Belmont on Dogear Nation

Image courtesy of Veronica Belmont under a CC license

Rounding off a very cool week which started with Blue Fusion and would otherwise have ended with TVSMC, on Friday’s edition of Dogear Nation we were very lucky to have Veronica Belmont as our special guest.

For those not familiar with Veronica, I first became aware of her when she was hosting the Maholo Daily podcast. She has since gone on to present Tekzilla on Revision 3 and Qore on the PlayStation Network. Bottom line? She knows her tech (just check out some of the stuff she’s done!) and was a great guest. She was also patient enough to bear with us and get over a, um, technical hitch, which meant that the show runs a little shorter than usual – ask Michael what I’m talking about! 🙂

So it was a great show, well worth checking out. If you’re not doing it already, why not tag some of the sites you come across this week with ‘dogear-nation’ on I’m having a couple of weeks off, so the Michaels will need something to talk about!

Thoughts on Thames Valley Social Media Cafe

I’ve long been interested by the Twitterings and blog posts about the Social Media Cafe / Tuttle in London, but since I’m so rarely in London these days I haven’t yet had the opportunity to get along to one of these gatherings. When I read that Neville Hobson, Drew Benvie and Benjamin Ellis were proposing to have a similar gathering for the Thames Valley region in Reading, I was was one of the first to put my name on the wiki.

The event was held at Workhouse Coffee in Reading, which as it turns out it pleasantly close to Reading West station, so I caught a train up on Friday morning and wandered along. Despite the fact that I took both a camera and a camcorder, I entirely failed to take any footage, so I’ll have to refer readers to Drew and Neville’s photos from the event. Workhouse Coffee is a wonderful place – the owner has a great deal of knowledge and the beans are freshly ground in perfect measure to create just the cup you’ve asked for. I noticed on the blackboard that they have a MySpace page… and apparently they are also now on Twitterread Drew’s blog entry for the details! If you want something strong, I recommend the Java, incidentally.

What about the content? Well I wanted to go to meet people, and I had no preconceptions as to what the event entailed. As it turned out, Steve Lamb (@ActionLamb) and Drew (@drewb) are folks that I’d met briefly in the past, and I’ve been following Neville (@jangles) for longer than I care to remember, or so it seems in the modern world where the Internet randomly compresses or extends time in my mind. Everyone else counted as a new acquaintance – it seemed as though we gathered an interesting mix of tech and business perspectives, PR and journalists.

I’m not going to recount every discussion, but just to give a flavour of the variety, there were about 15 of us and in a 90 minute period I had conversations with most people, taking in topics such as: Government 2.0; Agile development, large corporation software development practices, and componentisation; coffee (!); podcasting; Blue Fusion; using social media with a marketing focus; how best to combine social media tools for a seamless customer experience; why it’s still important not to have a Flash-only website; Online DNA; Grown Up Digital; Home Camp; how to use social bookmarking; the slow death of print media and how bloggers might save local journalism; rebranding; flexibility at work; and Twitter (phew!).

A whole bunch of new contacts and, I hope, some interesting new side projects have been generated as a result of the discussions. Based on the meetup I’m delighted to have met (as well as those I’ve already mentioned) @warrilowpr @adrianmoss @nickydavis @ravinar @mattbrady @johnmcg and @saqibs.

I hope to be a regular(-ish) attendee at these, but it’s going to be dependent on schedules. I highly recommend the mixture of people and opportunity to share new ideas – do come along in future if it sounds interesting. Thanks again to Neville, Drew, Benjamin, and our unsuspecting hosts at the coffee shop!

Other write-ups from Adrian, Catherine, Drew, John, Matt and Neville.