Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bright future for Ireland with Coder Dojo

I had heard about the Coder Dojo initiative to encourage young people to learn computer programming skills when they are young and have not yet acquired negative prejudices about the difficultly involved. This is a great initiative and so I offered to help run the local Dojo in Dublin 15, but for various logistical reasons I wasn't able to attend out until this Saturday (which was the last in the current series).

There was an impressive turn out of 45 students on a rare day of bright sunshine when I could easily see that the alternative possibility of a trip to the beach might have seemed to be more attractive than spending the day indoors working on your laptop in a poorly ventilated room. The lecturer went through a short course on HTML and CSS while and a batch of about 10 mentors (including me) were available to assist the students as they attempted to complete the exercises. The students ranged in age from about 8 to 12 and they all seemed to be very keen to engage with the materials. Obviously there was some variation in the ability of the students, but none had any difficulty in completing the exercises with minimal support from the mentors.

My friend Speedie blogged about how the Galway Coder Dojo was helping to promote father/son bonding. It seems that it is mainly the fathers who take on the responsibility for bringing children Galway event, but thankfully the gender bias does not seem to be quite as strong in Dublin 15.  I did a rough tally of the gender profile and estimated that the male students outnumbered the female students by about 60% to 40%. The gender bias was slightly higher among the accompanying adults (roughly 75/25) but the mothers were certainly well represented. I was a little disappointed to see that all of the mentors were male, but maybe the gender bias will be receding when the current batch of students grow up and start becoming mentors themselves.

Overall I must say I was very impressed by the event and re-assured that Ireland's computer industry has a bright future.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Should the Irish people behave more like the Greeks?

In recent times, people frequently discuss the economies of Ireland and Greece at the same time.  There are many similarities between them since, both are now facing economic difficulties which are putting a strain on the entire euro zone. Both countries have discovered that their government's financial position was worse than they thought and it seems unsustainable that they can continue "doing business as usual".

However, there is a big difference in the public reaction to the financial crisis in both countries. It is not surprising that the initial reaction in both countries was one of denial. People in both countries initially questioned the competence of economists who told them that their economic position was not as rosy as they had thought. However, once the financial figures were clear and unambiguous, the Irish people seemed to move to a pragmatic where they accepted that adjustments in the public finances were inevitable and the discussion is now mainly about how that adjustment will be made (e.g. tax raises or spending cuts, exactly what to cut etc.).

In contrast the Greek people seem to be still very much in denial about the need for austerity. There have been riots in the streets and they are currently without a fully functioning government because while there seems to be consensus that people don't like the current government policy, there is no consensus on what exactly people would like to do instead.

The recent good weather in Ireland has caused Irish people to ponder what it would be like if they lived in Greece rather than in Ireland. Some people thing that Irish politicians have become complacent because they are really only worried about a critical editorial in the Irish Times rather than an angry mob rioting in central Dublin. They argue that lenders will treat the Greek debts more leniently than the Irish debts because they have a greater fear of the consequences of taking a hard line in Greece.

Next week we will get to vote on whether or not we want our government to sign the Financial Stability Treaty. I am not certain that I fully understand the details of the treaty, but my inclination is to trust that the professionals know what they are doing and to vote yes to let them get on with it. I know that the treaty will limit the budgetary independence of the Irish government, but given our record in recent years it might not be a bad thing to have some limits placed upon the governments freedom to run budget deficits.

Some anti-treaty campaigners have been arguing that we should vote no to send a message to the politicians that we can't be taken for granted. Their attitude reminds me of the "Just Say No" slogan that was used as part of the "Stay Safe" program in schools to teach children how to cope in situations where they faced the possibility of sexual abuse. But, while simply saying no in a firm voice might help children escape from abuse, it is not realistic to think that if the Irish government simply say no in a firm voice to the people to whom we owe money they will go away and leave us alone.

The choices on the ballot paper next week will simply be to choose "yes" or "no". However, if you choose to vote "no", you really should have some realistic alternative strategy to propose.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The electric car charging Station at IBM Campus begins to do some real work

There were two electric charging stations recently installed outside the place I work (the IBM Technology Campus on the outskirts of Dublin). Of course not many people have electric cars yet, so the charging station is not exactly overloaded. In fact until today I never saw a car plugged in.

Today the weather was scorching so I decided to go for a walk at lunch time. I was pleasantly surprised to see a car using the charging station for the first time ever.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Am I the real Brian O'Donovan or BOD?

If I ever travel to the Boston area, I am regularly asked "are you the Brian O'Donovan?". While I am tempted to answer yes, it seems that the questioner is normally thinking about the host of the Celtic Sojourn program on WGBH. In Ireland, the name Brian O'Donovan is actually quite common and if you search Facebook, you will find several hundred people with this name. However, when Irish people hear the name they will most often think of the news reader on TV3 with that name.

Part of my reason for writing this blog is to raise my profile on-line and occasionally I do a Google search on my name to see what the results will be. Before I started writing this blog, most of the top search results for the term "Brian O'Donovan" would relate to the radio presenter from Boston. However, I was delighted to see that when I now do this search (with Google Personalisation turned off), 6 of the top 10 results relate to me, 3 relate to my namesake in Boston and only one relates to the newsreader on TV3. So I suppose I can now confidently say "yes I am the real Brian O'Donovan"

The title of this blog is "Brian O'Donovan (aka BOD)" in order to clarify which Brian O'Donovan is responsible. In school I was known by the nickname BOD (based upon my initials). However, in recent times people have started using this same nickname for Brian O'Driscoll, the current captain of the Irish rugby team. So when I recently saw the headline in several papers "BOD invited to royal wedding", I was relieved to find I wouldn't need to splash out for a new suit. When I do a Google search for BOD I find no references to either me or the rugby player. There is quite a diverse set of links returned although the most popular understanding of the term seems to be "Biochemical Oxygen Demand".

Monday, May 21, 2012

The green shoots die off

Last month I planted some vegetables in pot noodle style tubs in my window sill. I did not have very high expectations that I would ever eat the produce grown like this, but I thought it was worth trying anyway. I got a very pleasant surprise at the start of this month, when I saw green shoots peeking out of the tub.

These small green shoots rapidly grew into large healthy plants and so last week I followed the instructions on the packet and separated each of the plants into their own pot so that they would have more growing room. It was immediately obvious that this was not a good idea because the plants never thrived in their new pots. At this stage they have completely died out.

In recent times the newspapers have started using headlines like "The green shoots of recovery have been spotted!" whenever the economic statistics look good. I hope the green shoots of Ireland's recovery will not suffer a similar fate to my vegetables.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Innovation, Invention and Inclubation

I blogged last May about my new job as a "Sametime Consumability Expert" and I wrote another update in October to let people know how I was getting on in this new role. However, eagle eyed readers of this blog will have noticed that the "about me" section was recently updated again and that my new job title is Incubation Team Leader.

The reason I didn't write a blog post about this new role when I found out about it a few months ago not because I was being secretive, but I needed to figure out what the job involved first before I could tell others. I am now settled into the job and my first project has kicked-off so I think I can confidently write a brief overview.

The first thing that you might ask is what do I mean by incubation. The term is quite ambiguous, but in this context incubation is helping newly invented technologies cross the chasm into innovations that are used within IBM's products. IBM is rightly proud of their record on invention since they have been the most prolific filers of patents each year for the last 19 years. However, the real goal is innovation that matters and while IBM does well at innovation, their leadership in innovation is not as clear as it is with innovation. I don't think that my small team will be able to solve all of IBM's innovation needs, but we do hope that we can make a small but significant growth in the amount of innovation in IBM's products that come from the Ireland lab.

In practice what I will be expected to do is to lead a series of teams who will be assembled to complete a proof-of-concept  integration of some promising new technology into IBM's Smarter Planet product set. Each project will be scheduled to last between 3 and 6 months.  The idea of limiting the projects to such short duration is to ensure that I can tackle a large volume of project ideas. In any case if the technology is really as promising as we thought at the start - then 6 months should be enough time to do enough work on the prototype to persuade at least one paying customer to buy it and/or persuade a product team within IBM to formally fund a permanent team.

In theory the team will be open to projects which use inventions from either inside or outside IBM. However, when I established an ideation blog to allow lab staff contribute ideas for the team to incubate I was pleasantly surprised to find that I quickly got enough ideas to keep me busy with a series of teams for the next year or two before we need to look outside for inspiration.

The first project team has just been formed. I can't say exactly what the project involves - partly for company confidentiality reasons, but mainly because the project definition is changing rapidly. All I can say at this stage is that it will enable our Smarter Cities customers get a dashboard with an overview of what the citizens of the city are saying on social media about what they think of the way the city is being administered. The project will be completed (successfully or otherwise) by August so I will be able to reveal all at that stage. :-)

I am confident that this is a job that I will really enjoy and hence be successful.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Updating my exercise technology

I am a big fan of technology and I also love spending time outdoors exercising. Some people think this is an unusual combination, because the stereotype of a geek is someone who spends time indoors staring at their computer. However, technology and exercise go very well together as this presentation by Ted Vickey explains in detail how technology can help with your exercise regime.

I normally use MyTracks from Google to track my running and cycling. Although I am quite happy with the way it works, watching Ted's talk convinced me that I should be more adventurous and try something new. Hence I signed up for an acocount on RunKeeper and installing the associated applications on my phone.

My initial impressions of RunKeeper are quite good. It seems to be very easy to use and it has a very active eco-system of gadgets and applications that can enable you to get an even better experience. It seems to really emphasise the social encouragement aspects, for example after I first used it to record details of a cycle it sent me a congratulatory email for achieving a personal best.

The first difference that I noticed between the MyTracks and RunKeeper is the way they handle the periodic announcement of statistics. The MyTracks software announces the statistics in a normal sounding voice, but sometimes towards the end of a run I am tired and my concentration fades so the statistical announcements don't register properly. In contrast RunKeeper reads announcements very clearly and slowly (as if speaking to someone who does not have a good grasp of English) and this is much easier for a tired runner to grasp. However, while MyTracks pauses any podcast or music that is playing when it has an announcement to make, RunKeeper doesn't and hence it tries to speak over the background noise. Perhaps there is a setting that I will need to tweak.

I will write a more comprehensive review when I have more experience.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The first green shoots appear

The Zucchini shoots
I wrote earlier about my attempt to grow vegetables in pot noodle type containers on my kitchen windows sill. At the time I held out some hope of being able to grow chives, but I was very sceptical about my chances of growing Zucchini in such a container.

The instructions say that the cover should be removed once the shoots start to appear above the soil, so every few days I have a look to check if this has happened. This morning, to my amazement I saw the Zucchini (Courgettes) beginning to appear.

There is still no sign of the Chives, but it is only a few weeks since I planted them so there is hope yet for some healthy home grown food.