Reading Geek Night 16 roundup

By: Tim


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After a January hiatus due to holidays, honeymoons and some other less-worthy excuses, the globaldev team returned to the 16th Reading Geek Night. This month's presentations included trying to understand the differences between developers and managers, discussions on a #rdggeek Hack Day, and a webcam running on a BBC Master.

James Marwood: Closing the gap between IT and business

The evening started off with an excellent talk by business change consultant and productivity geek James Marwood on the differences between those seen as "IT" and those that are "business." We've all been in the situation whereby the management team are trying to drive the business forward, and seem to be getting nothing but brick walls from IT, while IT just see the management team taking unnecessary risks and not understanding the ramifications of what they're asking. This just leads to bad blood between both parties, with the net result of nothing getting done at all.

James highlighted some of the fundamental culture and work differences through the Maker's vs. Manager's schedule. Managers (bosses) split time in to 1-hour (or smaller) chunks, and using the time that way becomes merely a practical problem to meet with someone: put the time in your diary and you're done. Makers (programmers, writers etc) prefer to use time in half-days at least; an hour is barely enough time to get started, and a meeting mid-afternoon can split the time in to two parts, each small enough to not quite get anything productive done. Neither approach is right or wrong, it's just a difference that needs to be taken in to consideration.

James believes that both the problems and solutions to the IT/business divide live in the culture we work in. Everybody cares about what they do, and most people are nerds about something. He likes to use the Wikipedia mantra of "Assume Good Faith": the assumption that everyone is trying to do and be the best they can. The only control you truly have is over yourself: how you act and how you perceive the world around you, and just because you prefer to do something one way, doesn't mean that other who work a different way are wrong.


  • Mike Agg took the floor to let people know of a new regular meetup starting to occur in Copa from next Tuesday (15th February): that of Reading Skeptics in the Pub. The speaker at this first account is stand-up comedian and mathematician Matt Parker, who will be talking about Clutching at Random Straws: how seemingly incredible results can actually be meaningless random patterns.
  • Anthony Parker from the Berkshire BCS branch is interested in putting together a joint #rdggeek/BCS trip up to Bletchley Park one Sunday in April. It's something that's been mooted a couple of times in the past, and there seemed to be a good deal of interest. Anthony will put out more information closer to the time.

Jim Anning & Dave Luckett: Reading geek hack day?

Jim has been wanting to run a #rdggeek hack day for a while now, but hadn't found anything to organise it around.

Reading Borough Council have recently released details of all their expenditure over £500 to increase transparency under the government's scheme. Dave Luckett is both a Java hacker and the Conservative councillor for Caversham, and has played a big hand in the release of this data. He gave a quick run down of the reasoning behind the release of the data, what's included, and what he hopes we can do with it.

With something locally relevant to #rdggeek, Jim was keen to use this new data as the basis of a Hack Day, with the aim of producing something useful to make the data more accessible to the public than just as raw data. As he said: "by doing something useful with this data, we can show that releasing it is a good thing, so please publish more!"

Jim is going to start putting together a plan for running the Hack Day, and would like to hear from anyone interested in taking part. Once we have an idea of the number of people likely to join in, we can then look for a venue.

Martin Noble: Back to BASIC - 30 years of the BBC Micro

Martin Noble was born 30 years ago this year; as a happy coincidence, so was the BBC Micro. A large portion of the audience had grown up with some version of the BBC Micro, and there was a definitely peak in interest for Martin's demonstration of this noble machine. He had it hooked up to the project, with a teletext-style presentation on a 5¼″ floppy disc, and everyone seemed ready to reminisce.

Martin began with a run-down of the history of the BBC Micro, developed by Acorn Computers, and chosen by the BBC Computer Literacy Project as the machine to be used during their 1982 series The Computer Programme. Acorn won the contract with some seriously last minute hacking (the CPU design, build, OS programming and BASIC programming language were all built in a matter of days) and triumphed against systems from competitors such as Sinclair Research and Dragon. From its humble beginnings, the BBC Micro saw massive popularity thanks to The Computer Programme and government-sanctioned computer literacy projects which put the Micro into most schools in the country.

Of course, many people now carry more computing power around in their pockets, but that doesn't stop people making use of the BBC Micro in all sorts of ways: Martin demonstrated both a Twitter client and a webcam viewer! Although mostly obsolete in the computing world, there are rumours of things like Jodrell Bank still using a BBC Micro to power one of their radio telescope dishes as recently as 2004.

All said, Martin's presentation was a great 8-bit trip down memory lane!

Next time

The next Reading Geek Night will be on Tuesday, 8th March, downstairs in Copa as usual.

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