There is no plan

My last engagement of the year was also one of my proudest. On Wednesday, I was invited to be the guest speaker at my old school’s presentation evening. This is the annual event at which GCSE and A-Level students collect their certificates and awards for academic excellence. I helped award some of the certificates and prizes and, toward the end, give a fifteen minute talk about.. well, whatever I wanted, but it ended up being a potted history of what I’d done with myself since school plus some words of encouragement for the awardees. I wish I’d recorded it. Everything that follows is an abbreviated summary of what I said, based on the 6 pages of notes I used going into it, plus memories of the bits I improvised…

I broke the ice by reminiscing about an afternoon almost exactly 11 years ago in which some friends and I ‘borrowed’ some sort of evergreen tree from the local park in order to make our sixth form common room more festive. It certainly wasn’t a christmas tree, and it smelled of cats.

It’s hard not to be sentimental about coming back to the school. Partly because I have some genuinely warm memories of it, partly because it’s where my Dad now works (as a counsellor, offering a drop-in service for young people who need help) and partly because it’s where I met my wife, when we were taking our A-Levels together.

What do you want to be when you’re older? Have you ever been asked the question? Have you ever asked it of someone else? Do you know what your answer would be?

When I was 15, I knew exactly what I wanted to be; a lawyer. Specifically, a barrister. But it didn’t work out that way. In the end, choosing a degree ended up being about picking a subject I knew I’d enjoy more, and my hobby since I was quite young had been tinkering with computers and programming them. This was before the school offered an A-Level in ICT, so all the way through school it was purely a hobby for my own enjoyment.

In case that sounds strange, or you’ve never experienced the satisfaction of getting a computer to do exactly what you want, here’s a quote from a new book by Cory Doctorow, ‘Little Brother‘ from the end of chapter 7:

A computer is the most complicated machine you’ll ever use. It’s
made of billions of micro­-miniaturized transistors that can be
configured to run any program you can imagine. But when you sit
down at the keyboard and write a line of code, those transistors do
what you tell them to.

Most of us will never build a car. Pretty much none of us will
ever create an aviation system. Design a building. Lay out a city.

Those are complicated machines, those things, and they’re off­
limits to the likes of you and me. But a computer is like, ten times
more complicated, and it will dance to any tune you play. You can
learn to write simple code in an afternoon. Start with a language
like Python, which was written to give non­-programmers an
easier way to make the machine dance to their tune. Even if you
only write code for one day, one afternoon, you have to do it.
Computers can control you or they can lighten your work ­­ if you
want to be in charge of your machines, you have to learn to write

When I was picking a subject in which to take a degree, I realised that if I wanted to really understand computers, and maybe even get a job doing the things I most enjoyed, I could study Computer Science. I found a few really good courses which looked like they’d be a lot of fun. Even better, I found one which was sponsored by IBM; 3 days a week at university, 2 days a week at work, less holiday than most students, but also fewer debts.

After I graduated IBM offered me a full-time job and I accepted, working first as a tester (finding bugs), then service (fixing them and keeping clients calm), then development (writing code and creating the bugs), then emerging technology (first-of-a-kinds and proof-of-concepts, with a lot of freedom to explore new stuff). That freedom to explore brand new territory is how I ended up calling myself a Metaverse Evangelist; I got interested and involved, together with my friend Ian and eventually with a wider team across the world, with how IBM and its clients could use virtual worlds.

In total, I enjoyed 10 long and productive years in different roles in the Hursley lab before I realised it was time to think about moving on.

Earlier this year, I joined the BBC as Portfolio Executive, Social Media – BBC Vision. Social media includes tools for discussing and sharing information, and BBC Vision is the division of the BBC that handles TV. So I look after social online stuff for BBC TV. Half of the room I’m speaking to (that is, the half that are not parents and teacher) probably live their lives on some combination of Bebo, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, MSN, etc. It may seem strange to think that a huge part of my job is understanding how the BBC can use those things, plus other social stuff (blogs, message-boards, chat, rating, comments, games, …) effectively. That job exists now, but a few years ago I could never have guessed I’d be doing it.

Which leads us back to the question, what do you want to be when you’re older? I pointed out that it’s very hard to answer, because you’re making a prediction about what you’ll enjoy in the future.

My ‘career’ has included software testing, service, development, emerging technology, social media. Each of those things has, for me, led to the next, but it’s not a map, it’s a history. It’s one possible route to have taken to get somewhere I didn’t even plan to go in the first place. The job I’m doing now didn’t exist last year. The virtual worlds role was one that a colleague and I created ourselves.

So what would I have wanted to know, if I were in the room having just received my certificates? Well, I’m going to share some secrets from the so-called grown-up world.

It’s OK not to have a plan. In fact, there is no plan. [1] Your parents and teachers may look like they know what they’re doing, and they may expect you to have your life mapped out, but here’s the shocker: they’re all making it up as they go along! It’s perfectly OK to do what you think is fun and interesting. Of course, choosing the things you want to focus on means you’ll need to know enough about the world to know what you find fun and interesting, which means you’ll have to be open minded rather than passive. Most importantly you’ll need to be flexible and prepared to change.

I ended by saying that I hoped they’d have as much fun as I’ve had. I’d been wondering about a closing line (everything I’d thought of leading up to the event had been sickeningly trite and glib. “What do you want to be when you’re older? I hope you’ll be happy” just wasn’t going to work), but somehow, just as I was finishing off, I got into a nice little “I hope you… ” pattern. I hope you’ll have as much fun as I’ve had… so it felt quite natural to end on “I hope you’ll change the world” [2].

1 – Last month, I shared what I was planning to talk about during the speech, and asked what other people would have wanted to tell their younger selves. The response was staggering. I could have spent hours going through it with them in detail, and really wanted to. If you’ve found this post because you saw the talk, please do take the time to read it. At the risk of sounding like a grown up, I wish I’d seen all of that when I was your age.

2 – As I sat down, I realised where I’d seen that recently; the introduction to Little Brother ends with “He [Cory Doctorow] hopes you’ll use technology to change the world”. Considering that I was unintentionally borrowing Cory’s phrase, I’m glad I missed the bit about technology.

My Computer(s)

I have owned many computers, and not all of them have had names. The Commodore 64 and BBC Micro B I grew up with didn’t ever have names. Nor do I remember giving one to the first PC my parents had (a second hand 286 IBM PS/2).

I think I’ve forgotten a few, but here are the names of the computers I have owned, named and remembered:

  • Patience (my first desktop, bought during the first year of my degree, and named after the attribute I felt I had demonstrated while selecting and purchasing it. I had a love/hate relationship with the shop, the name of which I’ve now forgotten Something Squared? M², maybe?)
  • Portaroo (my first work laptop while at IBM, a ThinkPad 760, as seen on the International Space Station). I still love this name. like Portaloo, with my nickname built into it. Oh, you got that already? Sorry).
  • Parity (so-called because I was catching up with my friend and then-housemate Cheesy, who had upgraded his machine at the same time. I think this is a photo of me building it, with Cheesy to my right and Mark sat behind me. We had a lot of fun in that house)
  • Quiss (a work desktop, named after a character in an Iain Banks novel)
  • Roochelmini (Not the best name, but Roo + Rachel’s Mini = roochelmini. The Mac Mini we had in our living room. It’s a bit poorly at the moment).
  • Rupert (a ThinkPad T42p, and now returned to the big warm blue bosom of IBM)
  • Shuttle (a Shuttle mini-ITA PC. Not very imaginative. I should have at least called it Apollo or something. It’s now significantly unwell, often taking ages to start up only to power itself down in the middle of playing a game. I have not touched it for a couple of years, but I expect that if I wanted to I’d need to replace the power supply and/or motherboard)
  • Sebastian (MacBook Pro. Bought this January. I love it. Looks a bit like this)
  • Tristan (MacBook Air. A work machine. It’s less powerful than the Pro, but so light that I love commuting with it. Looks like this, though I should grab a photo of the stickers on the lid. Notice the alphabetic sequence here? My next machine will probably have to begin with ‘U’)
  • Moby (named not after the musician, but the great white whale. Strictly speaking, I didn’t actually own this, I just borrowed it for a few weeks.

Licensed with a Licence

I’m hoping the title will help me remember: License, verb. Licence, noun.

Back in December, I explained why I didn’t have a TV licence, and hadn’t for many years. I also said

“As the BBC (hopefully) continues to open up ways of me watching content on my terms, of course I’m open minded…”

That post gathered a lot of interesting discussion and debate, and continues to attract comments.

Swamp TV shared under a CC licence by James Good on Flickr

I now have a TV licence.

It’s fair to say that things have changed since December. I now work for the BBC, for one thing. In Telvision Centre, no less. I didn’t get the licence just because I work there though. I think there’s room at the BBC for digital, online types who don’t watch any live TV. I actually think the BBC could do with more people who inhabit and understand the web. The point is that I’d changed my whole attitude to TV. I want to watch it, and watch more of it, and the BBC is (sycophantic as it may sound) getting better at letting me watch it in the way I want to.

It took several months of me falling in love with television, but also for the BBC to improve its online offering, to make up my mind. I can now watch BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament and even CBBC and CBeebies (though I’m not exactly in the target demographic for those last two) live, on the web, all for 38p per day. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally decided it’s worth it.

I wish that Channel 4 would improve their online offering. I’m happy to watch adverts (I quite like adverts For a long time it’s been part of the appeal of going to the cinema, being somewhat of a novelty to see what amazing thing Sony or Honda will do next) but I’m rather annoyed at not being able to use 4OD catchup service on my Mac though, let along watch Channel 4 live on the web. So at least I can watch Channel 4, and other channels, through the TV now.

Of course, getting properly into television means I want to watch more of all television, not just BBC content and DVDs. Strange and ironic that part of the reason I’m getting a license is to allow me to watch The Other Side(s), but it’s true.

I think our TV (a nice big flat screen job) even has a freeview receiver, but since it’s never been tuned in to the ariel since we bought it. It’s so far only been used for the Wii, Xbox 360 and Mac.

I now have to figure out how to use these additional features of this mysterious device.

Forecasting and Ideas Workshop

The effervescent and delightful Collyn Ahart Chipperfield invited some of her friends to her (amazing) place recently to take part in ‘an evening of ideas, imagination and inspiration from the worlds of architecture, design, fashion, digital and trans-disciplinary creativity’. I was delighted to take part. She’s working on a project, and plied us with booze and food to get the most out of us in an awesome forecasting and ideas workshop.

Collyn shared a few factors she wanted us to to consider in our discussions, and we added some more. Essentially they formed the framework in which we worked. There was a long list, but here are five which particularly made me think ‘oooh’:

  • connected isolation
  • mediocrity through efficiency / efficiency through mediocrity
  • the niche
  • exclusivity vs sharing
  • discovery vs creation

Before we started thinking about the future, we stared by sharing some things which inspired us. In our group, we had The Palace of Versailles, Dadaism, a Japanese album called Phantasm [?], Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Ghanaian wristbands, a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (called Invitation ‘It doesn’t interest me if… I want to know…’), Audi, The Sea, LEGO, 3G, Moo cards, Vivienne Westwood as Margaret Thatcher on the cover of Tatler, An Oak Tree by Michael Craig-Martin (a glass of water, accompanied by this text), Food, mis-matching men’s shirt, the White Horse at Uffington, a image of a first-Century Egyptian inn and an image of an Iranian Mosque.

Collyn had very effectively helped us break the ice, get to know each other and get our creative juices flowing. Next, we began to think and talk about our topic, ‘Leisure Time Spent…’, with a 5-10 year outlook. Three other groups discussed three other topics, but here are my hasty notes from our group’s conversation. I have not attributed particular thoughts to individuals, but do bear in mind this is the output from the group, and certainly not from me. I simply scribbled while we talked. (Collyn provided the sort of notepads a waiter might use, with carbon-paper so we could take our notes home and leave a copy for her. Genius!).

We started out by thinking about life in 2008, gradually moving out from there. Hold on to your hats.

1 – Recession causes:

  • more sales of sex toys and pregnancy tests (apparently)
  • fewer house sales
  • more work for chimney sweeps
  • stronger links into the community
  • fewer people taking flights. more competition. cheaper flights
  • people asking ‘what does it cost to get there?’ shifting to ‘what does it cost to be there?’
  • more discerning around choices. more local tourism and events
  • (diversion of examples of local attractions we had not all seen: cabinet war rooms, packaging museum, museum of childhood at bethnal green, ‘cybersweets’ nostalgic sweet shop, also in bethnal green?)

2 – Will the technical pace slow?

  • what if it takes 10 years for us to get back to where we are now, economically?
  • is technology being held back, released at the speed which we are comfortable absorbing it rather than the speed at which it is developed?

3 – Social networking has evolved:

  • Facebook as the new MySpace as the new Friends Reunited
  • Destroying serendipity, or increasing it? Sharing so much online makes it awkward to say the same things to someone face-to-face: have they already read it?
  • handy for your extended network. close friends vs contacts
  • going beyond Dunbar’s 150
  • imagine Facebook in 5 years – even more sharing?
  • overcoming(?) privacy fears? a new approach: will we be more honest and accountable?
  • going beyond declarative living in an era of informed consent
  • internet vs cctv vs oyster vs nectar
  • our junk mail as a barometer of what the internet knows about us
  • celebrities are no longer alone in being watched. they are a template; we’re all monitored on a smaller scale
  • social media as narcissism. ‘famous for 15 people’
  • display of life-streams is too me-centric. need more room for serendipity, and highlighting friends of friends rather than stuff I already know

4 – Leisure time connected/disconnected

  • time out = being alone. finding nature. escaping from our highly connected lives. increasingly value time to ourselves
  • escaping overload. a break from constant stimulation
  • we are tired of bombardment of unnatural stimulation
  • (another group raised the point that our digital lifestyle is relatively recent, but people have been going to the countryside to have ideas for a long time)

5 – Age, home and TV

  • older people are acting ‘younger’. higher expectation about activity later in life
  • getting married and having kids much later
  • TV as an anesthetic. smalltalk rather than sharing. replacement for social interaction, or lubrication for it?

It would be unfair of me try attempt to summarise the other groups (especially as I missed the last part of the last summary, leaving rather abruptly, suddenly having realised I was going to have to run to the tube to avoid missing my train home) but what I did see of the wrap-up afterwards was very positive. Lots of ideas. Five things that really stuck with me:

  • the irony of poor people living in the city centre and travel to badly paid jobs in the outskirts, while rich people life outside the city and travel to well paid jobs in the city.
  • a cheaper process doesn’t necessarily make the the whole system cheaper. expensive, difficult creation processes mean we make more effort to get it right first time
  • to master something, you need 10,000 hours practice. What happens when we have been using today’s tools for 10,000 hours? Will they mutate and evolve in that time?
  • a hammer is technology
  • we have poor memories of our own childhoods. Today’s parents have the tools to capture and catalog their children’s lives very thoroughly

That’s enough bullet points for now. I wish I could digest it better, or differently, but fortunately I can just wait for Collyn to do it. I await her output eagerly.

What do you wish you could have known, aged 15?

I’m going back to my old school on the 17th of December to give a short talk at their presentation evening.

They’ve asked me as someone who works in the field of technology (they’re (now) a specialist technology college) to award some prizes – some brief handshake, a smile and a word or two of congratulation – and then make a ten minute speech. It should include my recollections of my time at the school, what I gained from it, what I did at university and what I’ve worked on since, at IBM and the BBC.  And then “finally and most importantly – some words of encouragement and advice to the students”.

The factual stuff is easy, but the encouragement and advice?

I started thinking about what the 15 year old me would think of the 30 year old me. He was born in 1993, while I was born in 1978. That’s the seventies. Oh wow, he thinks I’m really old. He thinks I’m set in my ways and comfortable. He probably thinks I’m incredibly boring. He either thinks I’m totally disconnected from his life or (worse) trying too hard to be cool by talking about instant messaging and the web.

I’ve changed quite a bit in the last 15 years, but have I learned anything? And if I have, what can I tell the 15 year old me about it? And would he even listen anyway?

I think I want the 15 year old me to know that it’s OK to seek out whatever you find fun and interesting. It’s OK not to have a plan. And most of all, not to ever, ever listen to anyone who says you have too much time on your hands if you’re doing something you love.

What would you want the 15 year-old you to know?

Pick me up and pour me out

I’ve been twittering madly about my bad back since Thursday. Excuse me while I offload.

morning tea‘ by kittykatfish

On Thursday night, I was taking off my shoes while sitting on Nick‘s floor. Twisting while simultaneously pulling caused some momentary weirdness at the base of my spine. I barely noticed it at the time but a couple of hours later and my lower back was very sore and stiff. I winced and minced my way home, had a hot bath and didn’t think much about it until the next morning.

On Friday morning I (perhaps stupidly) decided that although my lower back was still very sore I could walk well enough to justify going to work. I was waddling along at less than half my normal speed; despite feeling pretty good mentally, I was getting increasingly stiff and sore. Ibuprofen took away the worst of it, but something was causing my spine to emerge from my pelvis at a rather disturbing 5 to 10 degree angle, making me bend left. If I put my right hand on my right hip and extend my left hand outwards I look like a little teapot being poured out, even without bending. A constantly poured teapot. How irritating. I physically can’t straighten my back. If I bend right, my spine resembles a deformed ‘S’ from behind. Not good.

By Saturday morning, Ibuprofen alone was no longer enough. My half-speed waddle, which had on Friday induced me to mutter swearwords under my breath, had turned into full-on can’t-walk agony. Every step took an effort of will I wouldn’t have had, except I wanted to go to Dorset to see my family, especially as it was my grandmother’s 85th birthday this weekend. I didn’t feel bad enough to warrant a trip to A&E or use the GP out-of-hours service, and figured I’d be okay resting it over the weekend and seeing how I felt on Monday.

Despite a horrible car journey there (and another this morning, coming back home) resting at my parents’ house on Saturday was every bit as good as resting at home would have been. I phoned NHS Direct to get some reassurance and help me decide how urgently to see a doctor. The nurse I spoke to (who phoned back within 10 seconds of me leaving my details. Wonderful service) was so compassionate and lovely that I broke down a bit and had a little sob while saying thank you at the end of the call. I’m generally a bit soppy anyway, and unsurprisingly am especially emotional under stress and/or serious pain.

They couldn’t give a diagnosis (so I still don’t know if I’ve damaged a muscle or slipped a disc) but the advice I got was to take plenty of pain killers, rest over the weekend and unless it got a lot worse to make an appointment with a GP on Monday. They also gave some useful advice re pain relief. Hot pads are better than ice, after the first day. Alternating between ibuprofen and co-codomol (which is paracetamol + codeine) every 3 hours means one drug is always working, and I can keep that rhythm going for 24 hours a day (at least, for a while. Codeine is a bit too lovely to be taken long-term).

I’m going to see a doctor asap tomorrow (Monday morning). I badly want even stronger painkillers – ideally something that won’t constipate me in the same way the co-codomol seems to – advice and hopefully referral to physio/osteo/chiro to fix this bent spine.

I’m resting. I’m sitting up straight with a hot pad and regular pills. I’ll update once I’ve seen a doctor and know more.

Recent DrugsUpdate (Monday) – Woke up feeling quite a bit better. Resting over the weekend has straightened my back considerably. Although I’m still not walking normally, I’m able to move around much more easily than yesterday. I saw the doctor first thing today. He advised rest and gentle stretching exercises, and prescribed 3 x 50mg of diclofenac with meals (it’s sometimes known as Voltarol. It’s a more powerful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug than ibuprofen) to help with the pain. Between that and the co-cocodomol I should be able to rest more comfortably.

Longer-term, I need to be careful about posture. I had a good conversation with the doctor this morning. He said that 15 years ago, the back injuries he saw were 99% labourers who had worked too hard and too long. These days, all the backs he sees belong to desk monkeys. He made me feel rightly guilty for having a lovely ergonomic chair but then around using a laptop in cafes and trains and ruining myself by spending all day hunching over whatever surface is available. As well as prescribing the diclofenac (and suggesting senokot to deal with the constipation) he recommended  the book ‘Treat Your Own Back’ by Robin McKenzie.

He also confirmed something I’ve been thinking for a while; I should consider Alexander Technique. Rachel is trying to get me interested in Pilates, which I’m less excited about but would probably also do me some good.

Update (Tuesday) – I’m even straighter and slightly less sore today. I’ve gone all day (so far) without co-codomol, and the diclofenac seems to be just about enough to deal with the pain. I’m almost walking normally, though not enough to be able to go to work tomorrow. Going to try at least one more day of resting it before going back to work.

Resting a sore back is frustrating. I thought I was up to handling some of the small tidal wave of email that’s building up, but although I was able to be constructive I was also snappy and less diplomatic than I’d have liked. Lesson learned: either avoid emailing when in pain, or be very very careful that the tone isn’t unduly influenced by it.

Some good news:

  • ‘Treat Your Own Back’ arrived today.
  • My (other) doctor friend suggests Wii Fit to build core strength (genius!) and also recommended a friend of his who does structural osteopathy and Alexander Technique in my area. I think I might get in touch.
  • Um..
  • I’m getting better.

Update (Wednesday) – Even better. Less painful and less irritable. Even took the dog for a short walk. Slightly stiff, but I’m moving around pretty well, and it’s time to get on with life again. I’ll go back to work tomorrow.

Update (Thursday) – It felt good to get back to work today. Slightly stiff, and hyper-aware of things like desk-height and chair-angle, but pleased to be walking around normally again. Normal service is resumed.

Going Live

Today marks the end of my first full week in my new job at the BBC. As you may know, my role is Portfolio Executive, Social Media – BBC Vision. I’m not going to explain it fully yet (I’ll talk more about what that means and what I’m doing soon, for now I just wanted to let you know I’ve started) but I will say that I report to the lovely Dan Taylor, with the even more impressive job title of Senior Portfolio Executive, Internet – BBC Vision and his recently explanation of his title should get you most of the way there.

Television Centre

Although my first day at Television Centre was predictably filled with first-day at school feelings, walking around the building fills me with something close to awe. Television gets made here, and in addition to things I watch now on iPlayer, triggers for childhood memories abound. If I strain my ear I can almost hear the echoes of Philip Schofield, Sarah Green, Trevor and Simon and Gordon the Gopher. There are Daleks in the Foyer cafe, and a near constant stream of tours of the building.

I was very pleased to arrive at my new desk in Television Centre on day 1 and discover that I already had

  • A badge (temporary pass. I get my RFID badge next week)
  • A telephone, configured with my office number
  • A desktop computer
  • A BBC username with which to access the intranet
  • A laptop (with which I am particularly happy)
  • 3G USB dongle for being productive (or at least as productive as possible) on the train
  • An RSA dongle (for internal webmail access via the internet. Handy)

I must say I’m impressed. Of course, I was slightly less impressed to open my brand new inbox and find 115 emails waiting for me, but that’s what mail filtering rules are for.

Television Centre

The commute to Wood Lane isn’t as bad as it probably sounds. In the morning, I take the first direct train from Southampton Airport Parkway to Clapham (8:08am), the overground to Kensington Olympia and from there the BBC shuttle bus to White City. (I have many people who left comments on this blog and messages on Twitter to thank for that excellent tip.) It’s just over 2 hours door-to-door, and I’m learning about timing my departure time for the return journey correctly in order to avoid making it an unnecessary and painful 3 hours. I am looking forward to the overground line to Shepherd’s Bush opening up later this year too.

For my first week I got a one-week season ticket, which turns out to be impressively good value. It costs less to travel for a whole week (£109) than it would for even two individual daily tickets (at £55 a pop). I also picked up a form for an annual season ticket too, which is an even bigger saving.

Going home

I quite like commuting. The 3G card gets me online so I can clear my inbox and get my brain in gear before I arrive at the office, and even offline the uninterrupted time gives me a chance to read, think and write while listening to podcasts.

In fact, I think I’m going to need to subscribe to a lot more podcasts. A lot more.

My current list is pretty short:

Various people have recently suggested This Week in Tech, This Week in Media, This American Life and Audible for books.

What else should I be listening to?

Last Day

Today is my last day at IBM Hursley. I’m saying goodbye to some lovely people (not all of whom are pictured here) so I made Lego versions of some of them as a going-away present.


I’ll be in the traditional Hursley drinking spot, the Dolphin, all afternoon today. If you’re around, come and say hi.

Moving on from IBM

Having been an IBMer for more than 10 years, I’m moving on.

I’ve accepted the position of Portfolio Executive, Social Media at BBC Vision. What that means is that I’ll be helping to define, develop and execute BBC Vision’s strategy in relation to social media. Simon Nelson gave a speech in September 2007 about some of the progress made (and challenges faced) by the BBC in regard to multiplatform (more discussion about that here). That’s the backdrop to what I’m going there to help with. No doubt I’ll talk more about the specifics in the coming weeks and months. Oh, and I get to work with such cool people as Dan Taylor and Jo Twist.

Hursley House
IBM, Hursley, Hampshire
BBC Television Centre
BBC, Wood Lane, London

10 years is a long time (I got my pen last year) so although I’m very excited about the new role I always knew that I’d be sad when the day finally came to leave IBM. Hursley is a great place to work, but more than anything I’ll miss spending time with some very good friends who work there.

Things I’ll miss about IBM:

  • Friends. Lots of friends. So many very good friends. The good thing is that we don’t have to lose touch, but not seeing you all around on the intranet and in person is going to be sad. (Which leads us on to…)
  • Regular tea runs. The Hursley Cha Bar is a sort of second home. 66p for a small PG Tips. The Starbucks in White City just might not be the same.
  • Hursley itself. The site is a big gorgeous leafy campus with a nice walk around the site, a library, a reading room, 2 pubs in walking distance as well as an onsite bar/clubhouse and a couple of thousand geniuses. It’s beautiful.
  • A short drive to work, with a lift-share. (A train + tube journey from Southampton to Wood Lane is probably going to hurt a little bit, even factoring in some working on the train. I haven’t started yet and I’m already looking forward to the London Overground line opening. Southampton – Clapham Junction – Shepherd’s Bush has to be better than Southampton -> Waterloo – Bond St – White City)

Incredibly, I’ve been an IBMer ever since I finished school and started my degree as a sponsored student, way back in 1997. I was initially based in North Harbour before relocating to Hursley because that was where the interesting technical work seemed to be. I had roles in middleware development teams including spells in test, service and development. I’m glad to say that each role was more interesting and fun than the last. I have never had a master plan. I’ve never had long term goal, other than to say yes to everything I physically can, and have as much fun as possible.

In more recent times, that attitude has meant helping develop Business Integration for Games (before IBM, or the world, really took games seriously). I went on to be the the lead developer for a small messaging product called Microbroker before joining the Emerging Technology Services team making proof of concept and first of a kind prototypes for clients. Most recently, I was pleased to see that it really is possible to carve out a new role when I joined Ian in calling myself a Metaverse Evangelist and we were both picked up by the CIO office’s Innovate Quick team on a virtual remote assignment.

I got to meet a lot of clients and business partners in this role, so I know very well that IBM continues to impress people as being surprisingly advanced and interesting for a company of its age and size. Not only that, but IBMers are treated as grown ups; we get to use our common sense. If it was not for the freedom and trust which IBMers enjoy, I’d have left a very long time ago.

The thing that has made IBM such a great place to spend a third of my life (!) is the people I’ve worked with. Don’t lose touch – I’ll still be on LinkedIn, blogging, Twittering, etc.

I’ve worked with some great people and on some great projects, and it’s good to be leaving on a high. I don’t regret anything about my time at IBM, and I’m only going because it’s time for me to have even more fun elsewhere.

Goodbye, IBM. Hello, BBC.

Update: I’m overwhelmed by your lovely comments, compliments and travel tips. Thank you, everyone.

Headphone Fun

I have a pair of JVC HA-FX300B sound isolation headphones which

come with three different sized silicon rubber earpieces and a pair of memory foam earpieces for a customized fit

They look like this

JVC HA-FX300B Headphones

and cost me a bit less than $100 (somehow I only buy headphones in airports, and usually American airports). These rely on a good fit from the memory foam to block out external noise. It’s a lot like popping in a pair of earplugs, but with built in headphones.

I have a pair of Sony MDR-NC22 noise cancelling headphones. These

have an inside microphone on each earpiece that work with an electronic circuitry to create an opposite sound wave to reduce wave. Up to 75% ambient noise cancellation (12dB at 30Hz)

They look like this

Sony MDR-NC22 Headphones

and also cost me a little bit less than $100.

Taking the memory foam earpieces from the JVC HA-FX300Bs and fitting them to the Sony MDR-NC22s cost me nothing, and really works. The fit is (just) good enough that the memory foam pieces don’t fall off and get stuck in your ear canal, which is what I was scared of when I first tried it and still terrifies me. Apart from that, I can’t see any reason not to upgrade them in this way; now I have the best of both worlds: sound isolation and noise cancelling. Great for long flights.

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