A Grim North

Musings from a northerner living in the deep south…

Archive for the ‘Geek Streak’ Category

Companionable Computational Agents

Posted by Alan on July 7, 2010

Blimey. Big words. If tech isn’t really your thing, look away now.

This evening I’ve been to the Lovelace Lecture, put on by the BCS each year to showcase whoever they give the Lovelace medal to. The medal is presented to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to information tech and is so called after Ada Lovelace, assistant of Charles Babbage the victorian computer engineer. Clever bods such as Tim Berners-Lee, Linus Torvalds etc have all been past recipients.

This year, the prize went to Professor Yorick Wilks who’s main field of research is within artificial intelligence and more recently researching into whether some computing device could actually be capable of being someone’s companion. The driver for the research was primarily around looking after venerable people and how to help them with every day digital tasks – from the news to remembering life histories to general conversation. The key principle was to integrate the information into a meaningful dialogue – not one that would necessarily parse easily (though I suppose if you only spoke Esperanto, well, you’d be quids in).

For me a particularly interesting concept around the life narrative was how do we avoid drowning in our own data? For example… I have 100s of photos, hours of videos etc – much of which isn’t at all catalogued in a fashion that a computer might be able to put together. The garbage in garbage out principle pretty much sums up my digital foot print – even that stuff I do tag on flickr isn’t too well tagged – the volume is just too vast and frankly I have other things to do! Maybe I need to employ a mechanical turk – another concept that came up during the lecture.

The lecture finished off with a short you tube video ‘nice to meet you’ that demonstrates how the agent builds up it’s knowledge by using your shared dialogue plus whatever information it can drag off the internet. Watch how once it knows Roberta has been to Morocco it asks a question based on wikipedia’s recommended places to visit…

Posted in Geek Streak | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bomo Barcamp

Posted by Alan on April 10, 2010

OK, so some of you have questioned my ridiculous early start this morning. Well…  Today I went to the Bournemouth Barcamp.  Barcamp (also known as an unconference) is basically a gathering of people (mostly nerds/geeks/iPhone users) to talk about stuff.  There is no set agenda, though people arrive with their topic for discussion.  In my work with the BCS YPG, we’d decided that we would put a presence at the event (via sponsorship) and attend to understand a bit more about just what a barcamp actually is.

So quite simply… Bournemouth is a really long way from my flat.  I’d got to Waterloo before most the food shops were open (BK provided a dreadful ‘bacon butty’) but Smiths was open so I could at least indulge in a grauniad for some comment on the way down.

The Barcamp itself was pretty good fun.  I managed to fit in some “learning” around encouraging creativity/innovation, a little about accessibility and a lot about the wonderful world of chat roulette (we had a fairly low rate of wankers at only 7.5 in 40 minutes!).  So if you fancy a good geekout… find a Barcamp near you!

(I also made it onto internet radio via http://g3show.gamingradio.net/ with some brief rambling (I tried to be balanced!) on the Digital Economy Bill for those who like internet radio!)

Posted in Geek Streak | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Secret Nuclear Bunker

Posted by Alan on March 20, 2010

Today we took a trip out to the secret nuclear bunker near Brentwood, Essex. Brentwood is just outside of Zone 6 so not too far into deepest darket Essex to scare us much!

The bunker itself is much less secret that it used to be.

Subtlety defined eh?

About 14 quid north of Brentwood by taxi we found ourselves next to what appeared to be a farmhouse with a few ex-military things littered around the yard.

A Tractor & Green Goddess sleep peacefully

A peaceful missile

Bunker History

From here on in it was stranger still. The museum was largely based on what felt like 1980s technology and honesty. On entering the unassuming looking door, we picked up a red handset about 30 cm long. Not too dissimilar to an early 90s telephone this was our guide for the next couple of hours.

There was no attendent.

There was no cash desk.

There were plenty of signs however…

Photography from here on in was only allowed with a permit – but since I am still awful at low light photography I decided to give that a miss, especially after we had found someone who appeared to be staff to ask and he presented us with many forms…

The bunker itself is very interesting. Many fittings and fixtures have been put back representing it’s varied life – from radar station to government emergency HQ. I’m not sure how well I would cope in a small windowless concrete box shut off from the world for up to 3 months – the designed life span in the event of a nuclear attack. In it’s role as government HQ up to 600 people would have been incarcerated here – with just 200 beds. And I complain at having to hot desk sometimes!

Helpfully, plenty of videos and the wry humour of the red phone commentary reminded us how much devestation a nuclear attack would cause and how unlikely that if a HQ had been setup here there would have been much left to return to after 3 months.

After ending up in the gift shop, returning the red phone and paying for the trip we headed back to closest village to find some food & beer.

Kelvedon Hatch

The Eagle provided us with decent enough pint of Doom Bar and a chance to watch Scotland win a 6 nations match – their first this season!

All in all a cracking day out.

State of Security

Posted in Buildings and Places, Culture, Geek Streak | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Give me a brew

Posted by Alan on March 2, 2010

I did finally last year brew and bottle a kit. Now I have sort of made a label to go on the bottles ready for when they need drinking… it’s a bit lo-fi as I haven’t had time to think too much about it.

A Forest - Because beer is the cure and cause of all evils...

If anyone feels suitable inspired to produce a better one, I will swap for a bottle or two!

Posted in Geek Streak | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Just make it less shit!”, I yelled

Posted by Alan on November 23, 2009

Not so long ago I bought Windows 7 (Home Premium). I bought it because I wanted rid of Vista. Vista caused me so many little irritations but since I’d paid £70 or so for the OEM licence I wasn’t going to be swayed to play with Tux the penguin, not for all every day activities anyway.

So, £65 quid later and some cursing later I arrived at Windows 7. Delightfully, there amount of effort (therefore cursing) in the upgrade from Vista to 7 was fairly minimal. It wasn’t as simple as Ubuntu 8.10 > 9.04 but then I didn’t have many applications installed on Ubuntu. Of course Windows doesn’t acknowledge Linux so I can’t boot there now but it’s not exactly a problem and I guess I should put 9.10 on anyway…

So… what is it all about?


Desktop - Very much like Vista

Well the desktop is very much like Vista. The bottom toolbars have changed though, starting with the library dock:

Library Dock

Library Dock

Sure, I think Mac’s may have been able to do that for ages. But it is quite a nice feature – as you hover over different windows in the dock the main window comes up behind. This is good, but what does irritate me immensely is the new taskbar icon hiding in the bottom right.


You have to left click on the more icons menu then right click on your desired icon. It’d be loads better if it was just a pop out when hovering over the date/time area.

Another irritation is the the minimise all – thankfully still Windows+M but the icon has moved from the left hand side to the right.

The start menu is changed slightly, now the menu is better at context sensitivity and provides you with additional menu items based on the main items:

Start Menu

As you can just about see – the word menu shows you my most recently opened files. Similarly, most MS applications have been redeveloped to take account of this feature.

Perhaps the best feature is the concept of libraries (again I doubt this is an completely original idea – but it is well executed). One of my biggest gripes with Vista was that it was near impossible to separate Windows from my files. I don’t want to put my precious photos onto the same drive as Windows – even though I have an off site backup! With libraries it was very simple to define where things resided – in fact a library could span multiple drives which could come in really handy when I finally buy that SLR. Of course it could be improved – it’s no ‘4D data store’ like the true geek inside me wants but it’s a bloody good step in the right direction.

Overall, it is definitely an improvement. But arguably Windows 7 is everything Vista should have been.

Posted in Geek Streak | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Windows 7 Fail

Posted by Alan on November 3, 2009

This (for geeks anyway) is brilliant.

Win 7 Fail

Beautiful Fail

So, the “Problem signature” – is Blue Screen. Yep a proper fail. And the Windows version is actually 6.1.

Bill, can I have a refund now?

Posted in Geek Streak | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

o2 fail

Posted by Alan on October 4, 2009

Not impressed with the o2 customer service. Last week I did a bit of searching to find out what was happening with the firmware on my N96 – to see when it might be upgraded. Indeed, Nokia have released updates (V20 and now V30!) to the Symbian OS – but o2 customers are stuck on V12! So I thought I would ask o2 when they might get round to releasing their version of the software to receive this garbled reply…


Good morning Alan

Thanks for emailing us about the Nokia N96. I understand you wish to know when is the firmware upgrade for your phone going to arrive. Also, you’re interested in knowing the realise date for Nokia V30. Let me see what best I can do for you.

Alan, I’m sorry as we’re unable to comment in regards to the firmware software for Nokia N96. I’ve checked the Nokia website and I can’t find any phone named V30 or V20. I’d request you to visit the nearest Nokia store, as they’ll be in a better position to help you with more details about the software and answer your query.

I’d like to tell you that any new phone available with us, it’ll be updated on our website. As there are demands for new phones, I’d request you to kindly keep a tab on our website by clicking on the link given below:


Alan, I’m pleased to tell you that we have a excellent range of other Nokia phones available online. To view the same, please click on the link given below:


To know more about the best deals available, simply contact our helpful sales team on 08442 020202 between:

– Monday to Friday 8.30am to 9pm

– Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm.

They’ll definitely help you with the availability of the phones.

Alan, I realise this isn’t the answer you were looking for. I hope the above information is of some help to you. Have a nice day. If you need any further help, feel free to contact us or visit our excellent online Help Centre at:


When you email us please provide: full name, first line of address, postcode, mobile number and registered email address as it helps us answer your query faster.

Kind regards

<name removed>

O2 Customer Service

Posted in Geek Streak, Rant | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Back Online

Posted by Alan on September 16, 2009

I am finally back online. Bloody frustrating this moving house business – I called o2 the week before we moved to try sort things out. But no, we could only organise things once our new line had been activated. Then different departments wouldn’t talk to each other it’s taken until now to get back online.

Apparently my line will support 11Mbps. I’m paying for the up to 8 service – but only getting 6. What’s that all about?

Posted in Geek Streak, Issues | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Scilly Holiday

Posted by Alan on July 20, 2009

Probably last update for a little while, as the search for a new flat gets going – sorry… this is going to be a long one!

Our main summer holiday saw us abandon the UK mainland for the Scilly Isles. 30 miles off the end of Cornwall this delightful archipelago was a great choice. Good food, good atmosphere and always a lovely day for boating.

St Michael's Mount (Near Penzance, Cornwall)

St Michael's Mount (Near Penzance, Cornwall)

1st class rail travel put us in Penzance, where we stayed in a lovely B&B. If you ever feel the need to go west check them out! Our first proper holiday day, took us to St Ives and Lands End.

Cream Tea

Mmm....... Cream Tea

There’s nothing quite like a good cup of tea. Unless it comes with cakes and clotted cream of course!

Sennan Cove

Sennan Cove

299 Miles to Wallington

299 Miles to Wallington

Lands End is a bit of a non-event for those who haven’t been. The land stops and the sea starts. Just before the transition there are a few tacky shops and a bar. Still, I guess it’s good to have been. You can also pay a few quid and have your home town put into the sign – I spotted Wallington on the sign whilst having a cheeky half.

So… Scilly. Well, it’s a bloody lovely place. Very relaxed and generally friendly. Our first day we checked out St Mary’s and found Prince Charles.

The second day we headed out on a trip to see the puffins and seals on a glass bottomed boat. It was good fun though for the glass bottom to be any use you’d need clearer waters than the Scilly Isles. You can see tiny fish in the shallows but not a whole lot else bar seaweeds. However, the skipper (?) did take us up close and personal with the customs vessels moored off St Mary’s

La Douane Française

La Douane Française

The French one was a whole lot more impressive and really not bothered we came so close.

Our first smaller island to take in was Bryher. With a population of somewhere between 80 and 100 there isn’t much there…

Bryher Beach

Bryher Beach

…except of course the post office, local shop and the FRAGGLE ROCK BAR! Where we enjoyed a well deserved pint. In fact all of the islands still have a post office!

On Friday evening we took a trip out to St Agnes for tea at the Turks Head, the most Southwesterly pub in the British Isles. A couple of gig race boats left for the race that evening – can’t help but feel they were somewhat at a disadvantage having to row across to St Mary’s first…

Traditional Gig Race Boat

Traditional Gig Race Boat

Saturday took us to St Martin’s, famous (locally of course!) for it’s bakery and vineyard. Sadly the vineyard was closed but we did enjoy some good baked food, before relaxing on the beach for a while.

St Martins' Beach

St Martins' Beach

Sunday brought us to the last inhabited island- Tresco, proper famous for it’s gardens. But I don’t know much about plants and Ruth’s hay-fever was playing up a bit. So we just wandered the island. You’ll be pleased to learn there is no Tesco on Tresco.

Tresco Abbey

Tresco Abbey

The Tresco Channel

The Tresco Channel

Lastly… Monday brought us back to Penzance via chopper where we could board the sleeper for London – after a cream tea and a really good dinner of course. You really don’t get much space on the sleeper!

Sleeper Train

Sleeper Train

That’s all for now – another update soon with info on the really tame Scilly Wildlife.

Posted in Buildings and Places, Culture, Geek Streak, General Meh, Travelling around, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mmmm Beer

Posted by Alan on May 21, 2009

Mmm Belgian Beer

This week featured the BCS Member services conference near Holborn.  This of course was an opportunity to socialise a bit with the other YPG volunteers and have a few beers.

Billy (cowfish, see links) took us to this bar –http://www.lowlander.com/ – the beer above is a dark Belgian beer called Troubadour Obscura, which was very tasty (and at 8,2% you only needed one to mull over for a while). Worth a look in if you are near Drury lane with a few quid to spare.

Posted in Geek Streak, General Meh | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »