Monday, March 28, 2011

Perfecting my menu for "Come Dine With Me"

At this stage, I am giving up hope of being selected to appear on the "Come Dine With Me" show on TV. Nevertheless, I decided to have another practice run with friends this weekend. I tweaked the menu slightly this time.

The one think I was most nervous about in the new menu was the Pavlova for desert, because I had never cooked this before. However, I think it came out quite well as you can see from this picture. I thought I had done something wrong when the inside was all soft, but my sister who is a Pavlova specialist assured me that this was actually how it was supposed to be.

I cooked salmon-en-croute for the main course which was the same as last time, but I cooked Prawns-Pil-Pil for a starter. I forgot to take a picture of the Prawns, but I did take a picture of the home made brown bread that I baked to accompany them.

I took no short cuts with the pre-dinner nibbles either. I made a dip from soured cream and chives. I combined this with carrots and celery to produce a very attractive looking tri-colour platter.  The guests seemed to enjoy this, but I personally thought the dip tasted slightly bland. Maybe I will search for another dip recipe if I do get selected for the TV show.

Overall we had a great night. I even managed to get the Nintendo Wii working for the after dinner entertainment without having to call up on my daughter's hesitance to get it started. So, I am delighted that I entered the competition becuase I have had some great nights entertainment with the practice runs.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Helping older people to take advantage of internet technology

I know that many older people are very enthusiastic users of the internet, but others struggle to get started. In order to help people who are struggling to get started with computers, IBM Ireland are teaming up with Age Action Ireland to run a number of introductory computer courses for older people. The courses will be held every Tuesday lunchtime starting on 29th of March. They will cover the basic of getting started with computers and no prior knowledge at all is required.

If anyone wants to sign up for the courses (which are free), you should send an email to Jill Brown who is coordinating.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Using a smartphone to keep a detailed training log

I am not really much of a runner, but I usually enter the Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park. I recently realized that the race is coming up soon and so I decided I needed to restart my training. I am mostly concerned that I am capable of running the full 10km and I was not really sure of the length of my planned route. I decided to use the My Tracks application on my phone, to record the route.

View Longer Loop Including Porterstown in a larger map

This simple, but powerful uses the phone's GPS to track exactly where I run. All I have to do is press the start button as I head off on my run and then press stop when I get back. The application automatically generates a map of where I have gone and record statistics about how fast I was running etc. (see sample above). If I want it can also the the application to export the data into a training log so that I can see if my pace is increasing as I get fitter (the training log can be private if you want, but I don't care who follows my running progress)

My previous run was slightly under 1`0km, so I added an extra loop to this mornings run to take it over the 10km mark. The run took me slightly over an hour, but I think I am on track to complete the 10km under the hour mark which is the goal I set myself. I think my training is not necessarily great, but at least it will be well monitored :-)

Monday, March 14, 2011

What is the weather like where I live

I finally got around to connecting my new weather station to the internet using the pywws open source software to upload data from my weather station to the Weather Underground site. Now if you want to check what the weather is like in my back garden, you can visit my personal weather station page on

This site is a really cool collaboration of amateur weather monitoring stations all over the world. It automatically generates trend maps and other cool visualizations of amateur weather readings. Unfortunately, my weather station is not (yet) set up to automatically upload readings in real time and hence the will data only get updated when I manually connect the weather station to my laptop and upload a batch of data. I hope to rectify this sometime soon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How green is my driving?

I just got a new car which has a feature whereby it constantly rates the environmental friendliness of how it is being driven. When the car is being driven in a very fuel efficient manner the speedometer display has a green background. As the driver starts to waste fuel, the speedometer background turns a blueish shade of green and finally when fuel is being needlessly wasted it turns pure blue.

Being a gadget freak, I naturally had to experiment with this feature to understand exactly how it works. It seems that the decision about what colour to display is taken based upon what is happening at that exact time, while it would be more useful if it took a slightly longer term view.

Here are some samples of what I observed:
  • When I put my foot on the brake and come to a complete stop (e.g. at a traffic light) the engine control system will frequently turn off the engine completely. This behaviour takes a bit of getting used to, because the first few times I though that I had caused the engine to stall. Naturally the efficiency meter is pure green in this case because there is no fuel being used at all.
  • At other times, when I stop the engine is not automatically switched off (presumably because the engine control system detected that the batteries need charging). In this case the efficiency display will turn pure blue. I can understand that it is wasteful of fuel to have the engine running, but since there is nothing the driver can do to change this I am not sure what value this information provides.
  • The most inefficient way to drive is by accelerating quickly away from traffic lights before slamming on the brakes at the next junction. If I drive like this, the meter will show me as green when I slam on the brakes because no fuel is being used as I slow down - however if it averaged the fuel consumption over a longer period it would rightly identify this as inefficient driving.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The computer pioneer who left a lasting legacy in Ireland

This is a tribute to Ken Olsen written by Mike Mulqueen who had the distinction of being the first employee employed by Digital Equipment Corporation in Ireland:

Ken Olsen, engineer, entrepreneur, computer designer, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and friend died Sunday February 6, 2011.

I first met Ken in the early ‘70s and found him to be a very modest private person who spoke little of himself, other than to say that he was a Christian and a scientist. He described himself many times in this way.

This gentle giant socialised very little, he was a non-smoker, didn’t drink or swear. He was a religious man who once devoted a lot of his time to a Sunday School in Boston.

After a spell in the US navy, he studied at MIT Boston where he graduated with BSc and MSc. He also spent time there directing their Lincoln Laboratory. I believe this was where he got the idea of setting up his own company.

In 1957 Ken and another engineer from MIT set about founding the company of which he had dreamed. He knew what his product would be, not an IBM or Honeywell type but something much smaller, about the size of a filing cabinet. They both set out to find a workshop, not in a major city but, as Ken would have it, in some rural area. Their search was complete when they visited a small town called Maynard in Massachusetts. There they rented space in an old woollen mill. They had no money but eventually overcame that difficulty with the help of Georges Doriot, head of American Research and Development. This came at a price. In return for $70,000 ARD got 70% of their company.

They started preparing their ‘workshop’ which had no furniture or rooms or anything they could use. Ken found an old desk which was left behind by previous tenants.

Their first product was not the mini-computer he had planned but instead they started designing and producing logic modules. The first computer, the PDP1, was born in 1959. The computer industry was changed for ever. In less than ten years he led his company to become the second most powerful in the computer industry. Doriot’s $70,000 investment had grown to about €500,000 in 15 years. The PDP1 was replaced by others such as the PDP5, PDP8, PDP11 and so on to the VAX.

In addition to being a computer pioneer Ken was also a management innovator. In Digital facilities throughout the world he created a working environment that allowed the reticent to blossom and the confident to excel. The atmosphere his style created was key to Digital's global success and ultimately had a transformational effect on industrial development in Ireland. Few would question that this country's current reputation as a centre of excellence in the ICT field can be traced back to the decision to set up the Digital plant in Galway in 1971.

When we met the first time he looked anything but the kind of CEO I had experience of before. He wore casual clothes, flannel shirt, ill-fitting jacket and pants, and boots. When we sat down to talk I first noticed his big hands and then his piercing eyes. He spoke a lot in parables which at first was difficult to follow, but as one got to know him better it became easy.

During our conversations any time I met Ken, either in Ireland or in his office, the subject was always about our employees. When we talked about Ireland, a place he considered special, he was always concerned about how we were viewed by the community, State bodies and Government. I believe that no matter where DEC had facilities, he was concerned about such matters.

For Galway’s Quincentenary in 1984 DEC developed a park in Salthill for use by senior citizens. When completed, and on one of Ken’s visits to Galway, I took him to see it. I told him that people knew it as Digital Park. Again the humble and private Ken, who never expected acknowledgements or thanks for any DEC contribution, made it very clear the site should be known by what it was intended for – “The Senior Citizens’ Park”. To him Digital had made a contribution and had no further claim to it.

On one of his early visits to Ireland he was looking for somewhere to spend a few days in privacy and focus on some thoughts and ideas. I recommended Connemara and after his first visit he returned several times, once bringing his wife Aulikki with him.

Ken first met Aulikki, from Finland, while she attended college in the US. After graduating she returned home but not before Ken had fallen for her. She was not aware of this. After Ken had graduated from MIT he went on vacation to Scandinavia. After some searching he was eventually to meet up with Aulikki in Sweden. The romance blossomed, Ken took a job in Sweden and they later became engaged. They were married in December 1950 by Aulikki’s father who was a Lutheran minister. After that Ken brought his wife back to the US. Ken’s father was Norwegian and his mother Swedish.

In 1986 Fortune Magazine listed Ken Olsen as the most successful entrepreneur in the history of American business. He was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Reluctantly, Ken resigned from DEC in 1992, having changed the world of computers forever.
In 2006 Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder, is quoted as referring to Ken Olsen as “one of the true pioneers of computing”, and added, “He was also a major influence in my life”.

The last time I met Ken some years ago, he said he wanted to bring his grandchildren to Ireland in the spring. He didn’t get an opportunity.

He was a legend who impacted many lives. I think it is safe to say we all owe a lot to Ken, directly or indirectly.

He has gone to his reward to be reunited with his beloved Aulikki, who predeceased him in March 2009.

Ar Deis de go rabh a anam dilis.
Ken Olsen: Born February 20, 1926; died February 6, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Promoting the use of Open Technology inside of IBM

IBM is strongly in favour of Open Standards, I think that this is partly due to the fact that IBM had a near-death experience in the 1980s caused by an over-reliance on proprietary technology, but it is also due to the fact that almost all of IBM's customers also buy IT equipment and services from other vendors and so it is vitally important to be able to interoperate freely.

It would make little sense for IBM to be preaching the importance of openness in IT to customers unless they were also practising openness and freedom in their own IT infrastructure. As I explained in my presentation to OSSBarCamp  last year, IBM employees have a choice of different operating systems to use on their work desktop machine. Since many people simply stick with the default operating system on their assigned PC (usually Microsoft Windows), a number of Linux fans in the company run a number of events to try to help build awareness of the choices available.

Last year we ran an event called Open Client Awareness Week where employees at a variety of different IBM locations throughout the globe ran a stand where they gave out DVDs with live bootable images of the IBM Open Client layer running on top of a variety of different flavours of Linux. The people operating the stand were all using Linux for their daily work and so they were able to advise interested employees about which distribution might suit them best and the advantages/dis-advantages of making the switch from Windows. They were also able help propose solutions to problems that people had encountered while making the switch.

I helped organise the stand held on the Mulhuddart campus where I am based. I must say that I was amazed with the level of interest we received. Almost all people passing by the stand had heard of the Linux Open Client. A number of people mentioned that they were considering trying out Linux on their laptop, but they were worried that they would not know whom to ask for help if they ran into problems - these people were reassured to know that there were employees on the same site as them who had experience of Linux and were willing to help newcomers adjust.

This year, instead of repeating the same format, we organised an event called Open Technology Awareness Month. The differences were:
  • Instead of simply concentrating on promoting Linux, we broadened the scope to also include promoting the use of the Firefox browser and the Lotus Symphony document editors. The hope was that employees who were reluctant to replace their entire Windows operating system, might still try  these open tools.
  • The length of the event was increased from a week to a month. This did not mean that each site ran a stand for the entire month, but it meant that each site could pick the dates within the month that best suited them to run the stand.
In order to make things as easy as possible for the local teams, the corporate team provided each local team with a package of goodies to give out. Each pack contained 25 of each of the following (but since there are a lot of people working on the Mulhuddart campus, we asked for 3 packs i.e. 75 of each):
  • Posters that we could stick up around the site advertising when and where our stand would be located.
  • DVDs with a live boot of 32-bit Ubuntu Linux fully configured with the IBM layer i.e. all of the applications commonly needed by IBM employees to do their work.  These DVDs had a fancy label so they looked very professional.
  • DVDs with a live boot of 64-bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the IBM layer.
  • CDs with a copy of the latest version of Lotus Symphony editors for a variety of
  • Decals for people to stick on their laptops with a variety of open technology related logos e.g. Ubuntu, Firefox, "Linux Inside" etc.
  • Information leaflets giving people information about the DVD/CDs that we were giving out as well as general information about open technologies.
As you would expect the free goodies were very popular. However, some were more popular than others which is probably an indication of the relative popularity of various technologies.
  • As with last year, the Ubuntu DVDs were by far the most popular. By the end of the first day were were running low on supplies and I had to ask the release lab if they could make up an extra batch of 40 DVDs so that we didn't run out.
  • The Red Hat DVDs were also popular because if the fact that they contained a 64 bit OS. On the second day the Red Hat  DVDs started to become almost level in popularity. This may have been due to the fact that at that stage we were giving out Ubuntu DVDs with a plain label, while the Red Hat DVDs still had the fancy label. For the third and final day of the stand we had to get the release lab to produce an additional 30 of each variant of the live boot (this meant we gave out a total of 145 Ubuntu and 105 Red Hat DVDs)
  • While Lotus Symphony was not quite as popular, we eventually managed to give away all 75 which was in contrast with last year when we only managed to give out 4 copies of Lotus Symphony over 3 days (although we were strongly encouraging people to take the Lotus Symphony CD and only allowing them to take one of the live boot DVDs if they convinced us that they really were going to make use of it).
  • The decals were also reasonably popular. We gave away almost all of the Ubuntu decals and about half of each of the other decals.
  • We found it very hard to get people to take one of the leaflets. The most popular leaflet was the one explaining how to install from the Ubuntu live boot DVD, but we only gave away 10 of this leaflet. Unfortunately the rest of them ended up in the recycling bin.
In summary, I was pleasantly surprised at how popular the stand was and to see that almost all of the visitors to the stand already knew quite a bit about the IBM Open Client. Most of the questions we got were quite detailed relating to support of specific hardware rather than basic questions about differences between Linux and Windows.