Innovation that matters

About a year ago, IBM ran an internal competition for employees to produce a short video on the theme of “Innovation that matters”

Over 500 entries were submitted from all corners of the world and were subsequently rated and commented on by fellow employees. The most highly rated made it through to a shortlist from which five winners were selected by a panel of judges.

Myself, Steve Haskey and Brian Hulse from IBM UK based in the Hursley lab put together our effort which from the outset was planned to be a light-hearted comedy sketch with a salient message. Steve and I wrote and acted whilst Brian provided voiceover and musical talent. Steve did the really hard work of filming, directing and editing.

Shot over a six hour period one Saturday morning, Listening is the first step became the highest rated entry and one of the five selected winners. Since then it has been used numerous times both within the company and externally. It’s been shown at divisional kick-off meetings and to customers and has been downloaded internally over 40,000 times. One thing we always wanted to do with it was give it a wider audience, and to that effect we’ve been given permission to put it up on You Tube. So, without further ado, here is our video. Enjoy.

Feed reader viewers may want to skip to the full post to view.

The good news is that the 2008 competition will be announced soon, so you can hopefully expect to see more fun videos in the future. However I doubt you will see one from us. Steve and his wife Wendy-Ann are busy looking after their new born twins, I have moved to Ireland and Brian is probably busy picking up the pieces I left behind in my old job 😉

Farewell Hursley

Today is my final day in the WESB development team, my final day in the Hursley lab, and bar a couple of days holiday my final day in IBM UK.

Thing is, I’m too excited about moving to Ireland and starting my new role in Lotus to get too emotional about leaving. When I started here as a grad I shared the common view that I’d stay for a couple of years, get some good training and a good name on my CV then go off to find something new. The thing is that like most of my peers I found that life was too good in IBM and especially in Hursley. Nearly nine years later and I’m finally off. It’s been a great place to work, and a superb bunch of people to work with. However I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little stale in my current job. I’ve spent all of my time in probably the two most interesting types of job in the lab (product development and lab services) and the time is right to try something new. Yes, I’ll still be in a development role, but a fresh product, fresh organization and fresh surroundings will provide new energy. As I’ve stated before, I’m looking forward to thinking about stuff which appears in a browser to an end user rather than designing and writing middleware. The Lotus Connections calls I’ve been on already have proven that I’m making the right move. There’s going to be some exciting stuff happening in the future of the product.

The next time I write an entry in this blog we will be over in Dublin and I’ll be getting ready to start my new role on Wednesday. Can’t wait!

Spitfire flypast @ Hursley

Spitfire 5

Back before IBM bought and populated the Hursley Park site, it was a temporary wartime home to staff from Supermarine (and then Vickers) who were bombed out of their original location on the Itchen river in Southampton. As such, Hursley played its part in the development of one of the most effective and loved planes of the Second World War.

On 28th November 2006, Harry Grifiths, the last remaining member of the original design team so famously led by R J Mitchell, passed away. In memory of him, and on the day of his funeral, 8th December, Hursley Park witnessed a flypast and display by a Spitfire. It spent about five minutes performing above the house and south lawn with the unmistakable noise of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine reverberating around.

With the sky being drab and grey, it was difficult to get any decent pictures, but what ones I did get are up on my flickr site.

RIP Harry.

Hursley fireworks

Hursley Fireworks 2006 - 1

Each year, the IBM Hursley Club puts on a fireworks display with the aim of collecting some money for charity. For various reasons, not least of which is being put off by stories of the traffic afterwards, I’ve never been. However this year the new camera meant I was looking forward to trying to capture some pictures.

My only previous attempt at fireworks photos was about fifteen years ago whilst at school. That was with a film SLR and based on the fact that I don’t have any of the photos I guess it didn’t go too well. This time around I was determined to get some good shots, so came well prepared.

Having brushed up on the best methods via some googling and flickr browsing, I settled on going for manual mode at ISO 100 with an aperture of f11 and manual focus to just off infinity. Shutter was set to bulb and of course the tripod and remote shutter release would be essential. The last piece of kit I took along was a simple piece of black card to allow for multiple exposures.

From what I’d read, the making of a good firework shot is to provide some context, mainly by the inclusion of some foreground interest. Single explosions in an otherwise black sky get a little samey. After dismissing any plan to get a shot of Hursley House into frame, I settled on a central location to get the crowd to act as my foreground. This was ok, but two floodlights proved a little troublesome and I soon moved over to the right to where the only problem turned out to be that I was shooting into a full moon which of course is blown out by the long exposure times.

I started out with the 50mm prime lens, knowing full well that it probably wouldn’t be wide enough, but I wanted to try and capture some nice close shots. This meant a lot of trial and error as I failed to get the fireworks into the frame, but a few of them did come out well. I soon stuck the 18-55mm kit lens on and relaxed a bit as my odds of capturing the fireworks went up. The multiple exposure trick helped here. The method being to take a long exposure on bulb, covering the lens (without touching) between fireworks. As long as the explosions don’t overlay each other too much it works well.

The only problem during the display was the failure of the remote shutter release after about 15 minutes. I had to resort to a 10 second exposure time and use of the card if I wanted anything shorter. This just goes to prove that £3.99 bargains on eBay are definitely not as good as they seem. I think I’ll be buying the official Canon one next!

All in all I took about sixty exposures over the 20 minute display, and 17 of them have come out reasonably well which I’m chuffed about. I’ve only had to crop a few which is pleasing (but my framing was still more luck than judgement!) You can view a slideshow of the results here. Naturally there were plenty of other photographers about and there are a load of good shots on flickr.

WebSphere ESB 6.0.2 Announced

IBM have today announced the forthcoming release of WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus 6.0.2, along with new releases of WebSphere Process Server and WebSphere Integration Developer. All will be released electronically on 22nd December, or 19th January 2007 on physical media.

I’ll be highlighting the new features in WESB 6.0.2 in a number of forthcoming posts, but to give a short rundown you can expect:

  • Greater dynamicity – e.g. the ability to dynamically reconfigure endpoints, ability to view and modify mediation primitive properties after deployment via the admin console/commands.
  • Dynamic service selection – ability to select an endpoint based on some criteria for example by using the Database Lookup primitive, or the new Endpoint Lookup primitive which interacts with the WebSphere Service Registry and Repository.
  • New mediation primitives – Message Element Setter for directly setting parts of the SMO without the need to use XSLT. CEI Emitter for outputting Common Business Events from within a mediation flow to feed directly into WebSphere Business Monitor.
  • New bindings – Connect directly to native WebSphere MQ queues, and MQ JMS rather than using MQLink. Provided data bindings for all JMS message types.
  • Usability improvements – easier configuration and administration, especially for clusters.
  • Performance improvements – across the board performance improvements

That’s a lot of new function, and on top of all that you now also get the WebSphere technology adapters bundled in as well.

First aid at work

This week sees me on first aid duty at Hursley.

As a site of 2500+ people, there is a regular set of qualified first aiders on a rotation system, meaning for any week of the year there are four employees assigned to cover first aid duties. This is on top of the site security team who are all first aid trained, the emergency team (again made up of employees) who are on permanent call, and the occupational health department. As a mainly office based environment the site itself isn’t particularly prone to a lot of what you learn to deal with during the training, but that doesn’t mean it is a responsibility to be taken lightly.

My initial desire to get qualified was as a pre-requisite to getting my PADI Rescue Diver qualification which requires a certified first aid qualification. Getting work to pay for it seemed to be a nice bonus. I’m expected to do two weeks on call per quarter, and receive a small honoria payment in return.

Being on call involves carrying a radio and first aid kit whilst on site (of course, it also means I can’t work from home at all that week) and responding to calls from security when somebody phones them to request first aid. Over the two years I’ve been doing it I’ve only been paged three times, and thankfully for nothing too serious. Only once has a call I’ve been involved with required an ambulance, and then only as a precaution.

As there are four first aiders on call normal procedure is to call at least two out for each situation, unless it is a trivial matter such as applying a plaster. You are also backed up by site security who handle any liaison with the ambulance service. We have to re-qualify every three years, and the site also organises a yearly training exercise led by Hampshire Ambulance Service.

All in all it is a very worthwhile thing to do, but here’s hoping for another quiet week!

IBM podcasting gets publicity

IBM has really taken podcasting to heart, both externally to our clients (and potential clients) and also internally. PodTech.net have just published a podcast entitled “Big Blue Dives into Podcasting” with Ben Edwards from IBM Corporate Communications on how we use podcasting on both sides of the firewall.

Externally there are a wide variety of ‘casts available. The first and still one of the best is the “IBM and the future of…” series. Each episode looks at the future of a particular area of life and how technology will affect it. Over at developerWorks you can find the “Websphere Technical Podcast” series which covers various aspects of our SOA story, including an episode from fellow Hursley blogger Richard Brown.  You might also want to check out the “Week on DeveloperWorks” and “Developerworks Interviews” podcasts. Details of all the DeveloperWorks ‘casts including the feeds are here.

There’s loads more out there that I’ve not personally listened to, such as this new “Shortcuts” series.

Internally, we have a central podcasting site to which any employee can post their own podcasts. Of course, as we do with blogging we have a set of podcasting guidelines as well. There are all manner of ‘casts available internally from recordings of teleconferences (which help the company save significant amounts of money by allowing people to listen to the calls in their own time rather than needing hundreds of lines on the teleconference.) to an internal Battle of the Bands podcast which has proven to be hugely popular.

I’m in on the game. Along with my partner in crime, Steve Haskey, I produce a podcast called “Park Life” which is an occasional series of technical interviews, features, news and off-the-wall pieces based on what’s happening at Hursley. We’ve produced three editions so far, the last of which focussed on the Hursley Technical Exchange event held a couple of months ago. HTX sees a week of presentations and events aimed at giving employees a chance to interact with people and topics they don’t normally come across. We get a number of external speakers in and amongst them this year were Simon Singh (science broadcaster and writer) and Robert Llewellyn (technologist, presenter and actor.) We managed to grab interviews with both of them for the podcast.

Of course, being an internal podcast, I can’t point you to a link (if you are inside the firewall then just go to Podcast Central and look up Park Life.) However, included in the aforementioned Podtech.net podcast is a snippet of Park Life and some nice complimentary remarks about us 🙂

Do avatars dream of virtual sheep?

(With apologies to Philip K. Dick.)

As the Switzerland v Ukraine game was threatening to send me to sleep yesterday evening, I fired up Second Life and happened to meet up with Ian from eightbar, who gave me some great pointers about getting around and understanding the world (along with some nice bikes and boats!) Ian has been doing a lot of investigation into the area of virtual worlds/MMOs and how the potential that exists in virtual worlds may be harnessed. When reading and listening to him on the subject, you can’t help but be enthused.

So much so, that I woke up this morning from a rather vivid dream in which I found myself talking to a room of people about mash-ups, Second Life, wet-ware grids and a load of other Web 2.0/3.0 buzzwords. Quite worrying!

My dream also gave me an idea of what I might build in my first go at creating something in SL that interacts with the “real” world”, but more on that later…

P.S. A link for all your virtual sheep needs 😉

IBM Hursley is hiring!

IBM Hursley Park

A number of jobs are currently being advertised on IBM's European Career Centre pages, including some recently posted jobs working for IBM Software Group here in Hursley. For those that don't know, Hursley Park is a rural location about four miles outside of Winchester, Hampshire. We develop a variety of products that help to form IBM's Application Integration Middleware portfolio, including CICS, WebSphere MQ, WebSphere Message Broker, WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus and many more. Hursley is also the home of IBM's Java Technology Centre, where we develop IBM's JVM implementations, a Storage Software team, and a group doing work on IBM's Information Management products. There's a lot more development groups and products I've missed as well.

All this is backed up by a thriving lab-based services team and teams working on emerging technologies, such as the guys over at eightbar. In addition, the site itself is also used by IBM's services division, and some large customer projects are based on-site.

As an environment to work in, I honestly don't think you can get better. We are well away from the ratrace and the facilities onsite are second to none including a gym, sports hall, clubhouse with bar and various facilities. Two football pitches, cricket pitch, tennis courts, softball, 2km fitness trail, local village shops and pubs and a lot more. The main thing about working here though is the people you get to work with. In my experience they are simply the best.

There are a number of open vacancies at the moment, and you can access them from the link above by selecting United Kingdom as the country and Research & Development as the professional area. Opportunities exist for Java and C/C++ developers and testers, z/OS specialists and information developers/technical writers. My specific reason for posting this however is that some of these vacancies are in the WebSphere ESB team. Notably:

72530 – WESB Developer for Install, Samples & First Steps

71162 – WebSphere ESB Functional Verification Tester