April 29, 2013
Music By Programmers - Help Start A Programming Club
If you've not heard yet, myself and five other programmer-type dudes have been working on an album of electronic music to raise the money to start a computer programming club at The National Museum Of Computing and parent-child maths workshops at Bletchley Park.
The album, Music By Programmers, goes on sale today. You can download it from iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.
Every penny of the profits goes directly to these projects, and every download is essentially a donation of £4-5, depending on where you buy it. Be assured: every download makes a difference.
You'll also be able to buy a very limited edition CD version, featuring bonus tracks in a spiffy full-colour digipak from the Bletchley Park online shop later today. Only 50 of these exist.
Your support is vital to making these projects possible. If electronica's not your cup of tea, you can donate instead. There's a link on the website.
You can find out more by visiting the Music By Programmers website.
April 19, 2013
Dark Life & New Ways Of SeeingThis article in the Guardian about how some astrobiologists theorise that there could be a "hidden biosphere" that has evolved on Earth in parallel with the tree of life from which we sprang reminded me of that age-old problem of how we can expect to find things we're not looking for.
We similarly overlooked a big chunk of the mass of the universe because we looked at electromagnetic radiation, seeing only that which emits or reflects electromagnetic waves.
In software development, we to can naively interpret our inability to see something as non-existence of the thing we can't see. Typically, we can't see it because we're not looking for it.
These could be, for example, the bugs nobody tested for. Like dark matter, and dark life, the bugs are still there, and they can still bite. But I've seen too many teams apply the strategy of not looking, as if that somehow means those bugs don't exist. This is like covering our faces and assuming that, because we can't see other people, they can't see us.
New ways of seeing are therefore vitally important. We can "see" dark matter by measuring its gravitational effects. And we could see dark life by appying tests for a wider set of biological possibilities. Then a whole new world (or universe) emerges out of the shadows, and our understanding is expanded.
Developers may believe their multithreaded code has few bugs, but that may because they haven't tested it in multithreaded scenarios. They may believe their software is easy to use, but that may be because they haven't tested it users who weren't involved in the design. They may believe their software is performant, but that may be because they haven't tested it under a high load. They may believe their classes are loosely coupled, but that may be because they haven't looked at a graph of class dependencies.
New ways of seeing offer up new possible understandings. And I can't help feeling we, as an industry, invest far too little in expanded our senses so we can expand our understanding of software. Too much of it is about "looking at text files", and I find that limits our vision and restricts our understanding.
September 25, 2012
Programming Outside Of School: Time To get Our S**t Together?Last year, in the course of organising various related activities, I had the chance to informally straw-poll about 60 head and deputy-head teachers to gauge the general mood towards including computer programming in the classroom.
I learned then that support for programming in schools was low - less than 25% of schools had any desire or intention to include it in their curriculums.
Over the last year I've been the voice in the wilderness, warning activists that we were in for a disappointment if we thought schools were the answer.
A recent study by National Foundation for Education Research suggests my 60 data points were no aberration. If anything, they may have been an optimistically skewed sample.
The study found that only 14% of ICT teachers who responded considered including programming in the computing curriculum a high priority. A worrying 30% considered it a low priority, and 12% no priority at all.
As my own experience suggested, one significant factor might be their ability to teach programming. The study didn't ask ICT teachers if they could program, but asked how confident they felt about teaching it, a statistically interesting percentage replied that they had low or no confidence.
Teachers who go on short programming courses tend to find that their initial confidence - bouyed by a disturbing trend for overrating their achievements by the course instructors (possibly for commercial gain - who wants to pay hundreds of pounds to go on a course that ends with "well done - you are now slightly less clueless"?) - gives way to the realisation that there's actually a hell of a lot to learn, and even in relatively simple applications, a heck of a lot you need to know just to make a modern computing device do something vaguely useful.
Whether it be through simplistic optimism or cynical dumbing-down, the barriers to getting teachers teaching real programming have been grossly underestimated.
It may be cynical pragmatism that leads some ICT teachers to say programming's not important. Yes, we have a fair share of people who would prefer to argue that certain skills aren't important, rather than admit they lack those skills and start a long journey to gain them. But that's doubtful in many cases.
More likely is that ICT teachers who rate programming as not a high priority just don't get it. They need to look around at the world as it is now, and imagine the world that's emerging. Be it in the workplace, on the roads, in the hospitals, in the science labs, in concert halls and recording studios, in TV and radio stations, in our own homes and in the very classrooms they're looking out from, software is becoming more and more a core part of everyday life.
In the future, little new will happen in so many walks of life - science, engineering, manufacturing, commerce, medicine and healthcare, entertain and the arts, transport, energy - without someone writing new software. Believe it or not, you cannot download every conceivable computer program possible from the App Store. They haven't been written yet.
And let's not forget that the software that's already been written tends to need to evolve. Would Tesco be as competitive today if they had to rely on code written in the 1960's?
The history of human civilisation is the history of ideas, and software is literally made of ideas. Shield children from that, and you risk excluding them from a foundational ingredient of the 21st century.
A nation that can use software but can't create it will be every bit as hamstrung as one that can read books but can't write them. You think I'm exaggerating?
But, as I've been saying all along, it seems likely that school isn't going to be the answer. I come from a generation that taught themselves to program at home. There was only one teacher at my school who could program. He started a club for it, which ran for 25 years until his retirement last year. Nobody has taken the mantle from him, and I was informed that the club closed. My school has no programming or computer science - let's not forget, not the same thing - on its curriculum, and, judging by their complete disinterest in discussing it, no plans to include it.
So, it's on to Plan B (or should that be Plan A++) for the majority of children who may not get the opportunity to learn programming at school. What can we do for them?
Well, one option is to ignore these findings and impose programming on them. Good luck with that one. I'll have no part in it.
Another option might be to form an unholy alliance between industry, educators, media and enthusiasts to organically grow a market in "programming for kids" that can exist independently of the school system.
Let's be clear, in such a market, cynicism and greed will be a problem. Already we see people and businesses mercilessly exploiting the recent rash of publicity for money, media exposure and influence. Many of them can't actually program a computer themselves. But they can think of a cool name, and knock up a decent-looking logo and a Facebook page. And these days, that seems to be enough to establish one's "expertise" in most domains.
We live in an age where announcing you're going to do something seems to count with equal weight to actually doing something. Let's face it, some of these people just want to get their name's in the papers. They'll likely-as-not actually do nothing when push comes to shove. I've had first-hand experience of this, when I naively agreed to feature an experimental pilot that hadn't even started in a local TV news report. Unsurprisingly, a year later nobody's followed up to find out how it turned out. Poeple at home may have been curious to know that the school featured, for example, dropped out as soon as the camera stopped rolling.
But what they do achieve is to create confusion and to obstruct legitimate activism, like Computing At School, who've been quietly slaving away over this problem - building a curriculum, building support, lobbying government, raising money - for a few years.
I fear this may have also contributed to the low percentage of ICT teachers who feel programming's of high importance. Frankly, I don't know what's going on half the time myself. It's just a disconnected, uncoordinated mess once you get outside of the relative calm of the CAS bubble. It's a testament to the likes of Simon Humphreys and Simon Peyton-Jones that they maintain forward momentum, with just so many people outside pushing and pulling in different directions.
To quote Douglas Adams on the progress of his Hitchhiker's movie: it's like trying to cook a steak by having a succession of people come into the room and breathe on it.
All the hooplah about computing in schools, and Michael Gove's subsequent scrapping of the ICT curriculum with no immediate workable replacement, has left a vacuum, and all manner of crap ranging from the well-meaning-but-misguided to the bleakly cynical has rushed in to fill it.
For computing in school, my wish is that - rather than everybody going off and doing their own thing - we should all get behind CAS and push. If you won't do that, then shame on you. Seriously. Now's not the time for reinventing wheels or carving out competing empires, especially if they're little more than empires built on smoke. It just detracts from a serious effort being made by serious people who have worked seriously hard on it for a serious amount of time.
But now it seems clearer than ever that CAS isn't enough. What about the schools who don't view programming as a high priority, or as no priority at all? The next potential Ward Cunningham or Steve Freeman or Dan North might be languishing in a programming-free zone.
Personally, I think it's time to get our shit together on this. But I've suffered knock-back after knock-back over the last year as wave after wave of media-hyped nonsense has kept the cat continually among the pigeons. Nobody seems to have any idea what's going on now. Least of all me.
Suggestions on a postcard, please.
June 10, 2012
Software Craftsmen Raise £15,000 For Bletchley ParkThis press release is supposed to go out tomorrow, but I've cleared it with the folks at Bletchley Park to post it here now. Over the three years we've been holding the conference at Bletchley Park, you lovely people have generously given not just your time and enthusiasm, but also over £40,000 of your hard-earned cash to help with projects there. We want you to know just how much it's appreciated, and we're looking forward to seeing many of you again for SC2012 on Thursday.
SOFTWARE CRAFTSMEN RAISE £15,000 FOR BLETCHLEY PARK
Released: 11th June 2012
This Thursday sees Bletchley Park playing host to the fourth annual international conference on Software Craftsmanship, and ticket sales have raised in excess of £15,000 to help with museum projects at the world-famous heritage site.
Software Craftsmanship 2012 will be the third time the conference has been held at Bletchley Park, and since 2010, it has raised over £40,000. The money has been put towards projects like the renovation of the museum in B Block that was opened by the Queen in 2011, and the new Life & Works of Alan Turing Exhibition, which opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by TV presenter James May earlier this year.
Conference chair, Jason Gorman is a patron of the Bletchley Park Trust and their biggest private fundraiser. He explains: "Bletchley Park has played a pivotal role in the development of modern computing, and is a Mecca for the software craftsmanship community, making it the perfect venue."
"There's a real community spirit about the conference, and we're very grateful to all the amazingly talented software developers who've generously given their time. I believe Bletchley Park plays a big part in building the goodwill that the conference runs on."
The conference is a community event which focuses on technical disciplines for creating high quality software, and regularly attracts some of the most respected software professionals from around the world.
This year's conference is part of the celebrations for the centenary of computing pioneer Alan Turing's birth, and has a computer science theme. All of the hands-on workshops will feature a well-known computing algorithm, around which workshop leaders have built games and challenges that are designed to stretch the skills of the participants.
After chairing the conference for four years, Gorman will be handing the reigns over to a new organiser for 2013 and beyond.
"It's time for someone else to have a go, and introduce some fresh ideas. But whoever organises the conference from now on, I'll ensure that it will be run at Bletchley Park, and it will continue to raise money and play a part in building Bletchley Park for the future."
April 20, 2012
Digital Future - I Find It Hard To Mourn The Loss Of The "Rock Star"Talks this morning about that thorny problem of how to make money selling digital copies of things that are just too darned easy to digitally copy.
Music's the classic example. Here's a brief history of the music industry:
50,000 BC - Ugg finds that the sound of banging two rocks together is pleasing. Ugg like bang rocks.
25,000 BC - Ugg finds that other people like the sound of two rocks being banged together, and that - while they may lack the requisite rock-banging skills to do it themselves - they are willing to exchange food, fire and sexual favours if Ugg will bang the rocks and they can sit and listen. Ugg like bang rocks for tribe.
24,999 - 1876 AD - that was the predimonant model (or near enough) in the music industry - people paying other people to bang rocks, bang drums, twang strings and make blowing noises through tubes so that they could listen. Ugg like steady income. Ugg happy.
1877 - 1989 AD - an idiot called Thomas Edison went and blew the bottom out of the banging-rocks-for-people market when he invented the phonograph. This was a technology that allowed the sound of rocks being banged together to be recorded and duplicated as many times as we liked. Anyone who had a phonograph could play these recordings in their own home, and no live rock-banger was required. A lot of rock bangers lost their livelihoods. But a lucky few, whose recordings they were, became very, very wealthy. Ugg like country estate with own salmon lake.
1989 AD - another idiot called Tim Bernard-Matthews (or something like that) invented a medium that would make it possible for digital recordings of people banging rocks together to be distributed electronically - and therefore incredibly inexpensively and quickly - to any connected device in the world. Making and distributing high-quality copies had, up to this point, been difficult and expensive. Suddenly it was easy and cheap. So easy and cheap that very quickly a lot of people realised they could make and distribute copies themselves, and not pay the rock bangers, their record labels or distributors a penny. Ugg no like bankruptcy proceedings. Ugg sad.
The problem, as I see it, is this. When I uploaded an "album" of my music to just one music-selling web site (though I was giving it away free), within 24 hours it was on roughly two dozen filesharing web sites. Within a week it was on hundreds. And some of them were charging money to download tracks from my free album. Within hours of Swedish metallers Meshuggah releasing their highly-anticipated Koloss album, tracks - and even the entire album in glorious HD sound - were turning up on YouTube. It seems the moment a digital copy is out there, then people are copying it and distributing it illegally. And you can police it all you want, but just like King Canute, we cannot command the tide to turn back.
So when the question is asked "how do we make money from music?", the wrong answer is "by selling copies of it". That business is dying, and nothing will stop it, short of undoing 20 years of technological progress.
There's a flip side to this. Digital rock banging may be bad news for rock-banging star Ugg, but it's fantastic news for all the unsigned and unloved rock bangers out there who never got the breaks Ugg did. Digital recording and distribution now makes it much easier and much cheaper to write and record music of a high quality. And the Web makes it much easier for musicians to build a following without having to sign over their souls to a record label. The music business will naturally redistribute itself from a handful of global corporations controlling most of what we hear, to a million cottage industries recording and releaseing a much wider diversity of music.
Musical genius Frank Zappa anticipated this. He had many issues with major labels in the 1960's and 70's, culminating in his forming his own label and handling distribution (usually by mail order) through his own business in the 80's and early 90's. And while Zappa never approached anything like the commercial success and wealth of Paul McCartney or Michael Jackson, for someone who wrote some pretty avante garde tunes, he still made enough money to live well, support his family, employ dozens of people, kit out a very high-tech studio, make several movies, and even hire prestigious orchestras to play his works.
How did Frank do it? Well, firstly, he built a very loyal following by writing music that wasn't a lowest-common-demoninator compromise. In the world of the multi-platinum-selling album, you aim for Joe Average. In a world of a million artists catering to a billion tastes, you focus your aim and find a niche. Being quite unlike anybody else is a major advantage in the age of digital media.
Secondly, Frank had a knack for marketing and publicity. He pioneered the use of billboards to advertise the first Mothers Of Invention album. He cultivated a striking image and is still to this day the undisputed master of the soundbite - arguably the most quotable man in rock. As his career developed, Frank employed all sorts of devious means - most notably comedy - to help his complex, modern music find an international audience. Frank found his audience even in countries where Frank Zappa's music was not allowed. He had a huge and devoted following in the former Soviet Union.
Thirdly, Frank could run a business. He managed his tours so well that, unlike most rock artists in the 70's and 80's, he actually made a profit from them. The size of his tours - often playing in local stadiums - ran counter to his small, niche stature in record sales.
And finally, and most importantly, Frank was a perfectionist and a workaholic. His live bands were the most rehearsed, most disciplined you would ever see. The only band I've seen come close was playing Frank Zappa's music and being led by his son, Dweezil. I kid you not: go see Zappa Plays Zappa and you'll be seeing the best live band you're ever going to see in any genre of music. Frank had high standards in all aspects of the music, and he wrote and wrote and wrote constantly, right up to his untimely death in 1993.
With any luck, the age of one-size-fits-all copy-and-paste music is coming to an end. In a fully digital era, innovation, originality, high standards, hard work and skillz will mark out those artists who will carve out a good living. The rest can go audition for X Factor.
As for the problem of illegal copying... As I see it, once a digital copy hits the market, all bets are off. Copies will be made and distributed. There's nothing we can do to stop it.
Which makes me wonder whether a new way of financing music isn't called for. You can't make a digital copy without having something to copy it from. If you're very careful about data security in the recording process, it should be possible to keep a digital copy from finding its way onto the Net until you're ready for that to happen. And perhaps the right time for the digital files to go public should be after you've at the very least recouped your costs, and hopefully made a profit. Once it goes out, you sell it the good old-fashioned way, secure in the knowledge that your bills have been paid.
The Web can help you build a following and find your audience. Once you've found them, you could find some innovative way of financing releases. For example, you could ask people to buy "shares" in it, or offer other funding options, and withhold the actual media until you've cleared your target. It's becoming common for creative projects to be funded this way, so why not go the whole hog, make the album, get it ready for release, and then let people listen to a small taster and decide if they'd like to "invest" in making the release happen.
Crowdsourcing is a potential way forward, in my opinion. Eventually, the music-buying culture may shift from punters purchasing units to patrons investing in new works. Artists will make their money from a smaller, but much more involved and engaged audience, one that has a stake in the outcome.
But many, many more of us - amateurs like me - will bang rocks together just for the sheer hell of it. Only now, it's possible for our private rock banging in our own caves to reverberate around the world. Personally, I find it hard to mourn the days when that wasn't possible.
April 9, 2012
Stop Chasing Exit Strategies And Start Chasing Great SoftwareOooh, the shiny - it dazzles, it excites!
Today it was announced in the "Technology News" (though it's rarely about technology these days - they should just call it "Corporate Law News") that police state-friendly social networking site Facebook is acquiring pointless image filter service Instagram for $1 billion.
Now, I had a play with Instagram, and from what I could see of its design, they may as well have just had a big button with "Click here for Exit Strategy". But that could be said of so very many start-ups now.
Every software application should start with an overriding goal - a reason for it to exist. But increasingly, that goal seems to be to sell it to one of the big companies for a gazillion dollars, and all other concerns along the way are mere details. More and more products seem to solve no problem, and often they seem to have not just disinterest in their users' needs, but actual contempt for them.
My goal is to create better software (and, more recently, to try and help other people create better software). Most important to me is what value software brings to the people who use it.
I'm increasingly becoming frustrated by developers who just seem to be chasing the Almighty Dollar (or Pound or Yen). It seems to lead to empty software. Software that is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a lottery ticket. Issues like whether or not it solves the customer's problems or whether or not it enhances their lives or their jobs in some way take a back seat to whether or not we have the right exit strategy.
A classic example of this kind of thinking is the very damaging advice being propogated among the tech start-up community that the software that powers your new business only needs to last until you find a buyer. That's a perspective on "good enough" that I find dishonest and irresponsible. If a car company only built cars to last long enough to sell their business, the managers and engineers involved could be looking at custodial sentences.
If "good enough" is not driven by your users and their needs, then you should pack up and get out of the software business. You don't belong here. Go start a homeopathy business or something.
And the biggest irony is that, no matter how well they're run, the vast majority of tech start-ups will never achieve their exit strategy. Success on the scale of Facebook and Instagram is vanishingly rare, and almost entirely about being in the right place at the right time. So you'll almost certainly be stuck with that code you didn't take enough care over, and those users you didn't listen to for years after you thought you'd be sunning it up on a tropical beach somewhere while some mug like Zuckerberg deals with the consequences.
I'm a software developer, not an entrepreneur. What I care about is doing the best possible job of satisfying people's needs with the software I contribute to. And my primary focus is the end user. The game's afoot when we start getting feedback from real users. That's when we really start to learn what works for them and what doesn't.
And that's why I believe that it's so very important to be able to sustain the pace of innovation for as long as possible - years or even decades - on a software product, so we can keep learning and keep improving the product. I don't profess to know what users want, and I don't profess to know how to build a $ billion business. But I do know that companies that can sustain the pace for longer will eventually outlearn their competition and build better products and services. I've seen it many times (and watched the consequences of not doing it many more.)
Whether you achieve your exit strategy or not, there's an advantage to sustainable innovation. If your exit strategy's going well, it can get you there faster, and if you're going to be stuck with this technology for good, then it's definitely a wise precaution. At least then your going concern can keep going.
So my philosophy is to chase great software, and I'll gladly leave chasing exit strategies to the likes of Instagram.
March 31, 2012
Programming For Kids & Social MobilityOn the subject of getting more kids programming, there's a very important aspect to all of this that doesn't get much mention, which is the potential for programming skills to lift children out of poverty.
Social mobility in the UK, and much of the developed world, is on the decline. After WWII, we had a brief golden age of social justice and mobility, when the UK government felt that our war heros returning from 6 years of hell deserved to come back to a county fit for such heros.
Inequality in Britain before the war was a major problem. Being poor could be fatal, literally. Men and women not born into money were expected to know their place, and if you were born into service, you died in service. If you were lucky.
Post-war Britian opened up further and higher education, paying fees and subsidising living costs for students and making it possible for the sons and daughters of coal miners to study and become doctors, lawyers, scientists and even Prime Ministers.
With the withdrawal of state-subsidies in education, including living allowances designed to bridge the gap between school-leaving age (16) and higher education - a lifeline to kids from families who could not keep supporting their children once they were old enough to leave home - this process is in reverse.
We have a million unemployed between the age of 18 and 24, and I genuinely fear for a future blighted by a disenfranchised generation and by a resurgent elite voting themselves an even bigger slice of the pie, with the majority of our current government drawn exclusively from top private schools and Oxford or Cambridge, and most of them being millionaires (born into wealthy families, not self-made.)
I do not believe in a Just World. I do not believe that the unemployed and the poor are unemployed and poor because they're not as clever as I am, or not as hard-working. I believe that I am lucky, they are less lucky, and people like David Cameron are incredibly lucky. Brains and brawn have nothing to do with it.
Which means that among the households on the lowest 10% of incomes there's every bit as much potential as there is among the top 10%. Kids may aspire to be politicians or lawyers or bankers, but the fact is that we still - to our shame - have many high-paying professions that are snobs when it comes to who they let in.
But there's one high-paying profession that doesn't seem to care all that much whether you have "good breeding". And that's ours. We may even be the most meritocratic profession of them all. I don't have figures for that, but I've seen so many examples of people from lower-middle class and working class backgrounds earning six-figure salaries working for some fairly prestigious organisations.
There's an opportunity to join the dots into a perfect circle here. Software development is meritocratic and open to pretty much anyone who can prove they can do it. The cost of entry is comparitively very low. All you need is a half-decent computer and access to tools and learning resources, many of which are free. After that, you're just investing your time.
Increasingly, more and more of us agree that the best way to become a great developer is to learn from real experience, and the necessary educational/theoretical material is also becoming freely available thanks to MIT and other great Open Learning pioneers.
Talk of apprenticeships for software developers - real long-term ones, and not these bizarre commercial arrangements that have been popping up of late where apprentices are expected to pay, for some reason - continues to gather momentum. The principle that someone who geninely wants to be a professional software developer should be able to learn without incurring any debt is both realistic and desirable.
There are hundreds of thousands of kids in school now for whom the prospects look grim. Their chances of lifting themselves out of poverty are lower than they've been for three generations. And at the same time, the UK software machine needs feeding faster and faster. There's an opportunity here for a portion of these children to fill that hole and enter a profession that could completely transform their prospects.
March 5, 2012
The Life & Works Of Alan Turing - Display Funded By SC2012Just a quick post this morning to mention something that's happening this morning at Bletchley Park, the venue of Software Craftsmanship 2012.
BBC Top Gear presenter, and science and engineering buff, James May will be unveiling the "Life & Works Of Alan Turing" exhibition at 11am.
I mention this because there's an SC2012 connection.
Last year, we contributed about £15,000 to the refursbishment of the museum in B Block where the Turing exhibition now lives. This year, we're paying for the special environmentally-controlled casing where the Turing papers are displayed.
We've raised half the money already, and by registering for SC2012 you can help us raise the other half, as well as support other Turing-related projects with any extra money we raise.
From the Bletchley Park press release:
Fascinating and poignant new artefacts are to be revealed for the very first time, and in the presence of Alan Turing’s family, on Monday 5 March at the unveiling of Bletchley Park’s “The Life and Works of Alan Turing” exhibition. These will include the rebuild of Delilah, a secret speech system that Turing began developing for the war effort in 1943, a teddy bear, named by him as Porgy and used to practise his lectures on, and a letter to his mother, twenty years after his death, telling her for the very first time about his “vital importance to the outcome of World War II” and his contribution to the development of the modern computer.
The exhibition has been developed following a high-profile public campaign last year to save a rare collection of Alan Turing’s work for the nation. The collection was secured for Bletchley Park after an exciting collaboration of the public, the private sector and the public sector to provide the funding package required. Following this, members of the Turing family came forward with some extremely rare personal belongings of Turing and the Bletchley Park Trust Bombe Rebuild Team set to work on the complex and unique project of rebuilding Delilah, a world-first, planned to go on public display in the museum later in the year. The son of fellow codebreaker and friend of Turing, William Newman, provided Bletchley Park with a hand-drawn Monopoly board on which the young William had played, and beaten, Alan Turing.
When the collection of Turing’s works had been secured, Jack Copeland, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Canterbury and Director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing stated, “this will be the first permanent public exhibition of Turing's work and of major international importance”. However now, more than that, these new unique and very personal artefacts complement beautifully the highly academic nature of Turing’s work, making the exhibition visually compelling and providing a deeply touching human dimension.
Iain Standen, CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, describing the exhibition, explained, ”The Life and Works of Alan Turing depicts a man who was not only a brilliant and visionary mathematician and codebreaker but also a beloved son, an accomplished sportsman and a man of humour and sensitivity. The exhibition makes a complex subject accessible to all, inspiring mathematicians of the future and giving long-awaited recognition to the short but brilliant life and legacy of Alan Turing, the father of computing. I am also delighted that this exhibition has been long-listed for the Art Fund Prize 2012, very fittingly, in this, the Turing Centenary Year.”
Other artefacts within the exhibition include a copy of the 2009 government apology to Alan Turing for his treatment as a gay man, a biography written of him by his mother, prize books awarded at school and his wristwatch. Also highlighting his sporting prowess are tankards awarded to him at King’s College, Cambridge for his rowing, and a set of oars hand-painted with his name from when he had participated in the May “Bumps” Week. All of this alongside the now world-famous and exquisite Turing slate statue, by sculptor Stephen Kettle, and the Turing Bombe Rebuild, already a key Bletchley Park exhibit and a remarkable example of precision engineering and Alan Turing’s genius.
The exhibition’s opening coincides with the official visit from the judges of the Art Fund Prize 2012, currently undertaking their nationwide search to find the ‘museum of the year’. Chaired by Lord Smith of Finsbury, the judges, including Sir Mark Jones, Master at St Cross College, Oxford and former V&A director, and artist Lisa Milroy, will explore the exhibition, and nine other projects by UK museums in the coming months, to decide who will win the biggest cash prize awarded to arts and cultural organisations in the UK.
Members of the public are urged to tell the judges why Bletchley Park deserves to win the £100,000 Art Fund Prize by visiting www.artfundprize.org.uk
March 3, 2012
Ethical Shopping - Gamification I Could Get BehindI'm a bit, y'know, "weeurgh" when it comes to the subject of gamification. It just sounds too much like something out of a Philip K Dick novel.
But, putting aside the unwitting self-enslavement of consumers, there's one kind of gamification I might support. I think we could "gamify" ethical buying.
Imagine we're all carrying barcode scanners on us. Which many of us now are, it seems. I'm in the supermarket, and I'm presented with a whole shelf of different products that do pretty much the same thing, and I'm deciding which one to buy. The information I have in front of me comes from the retailer and from the manufacturer. How much does it cost? What does the manufacturer tell me I can expect from it?
It's all a bit one-sided, really. What I don't see is the carbon footprint of each product. Or the working conditions that went into making it. Or the amount of money the manufacturer spent lobbying congress to get laws concerning the testing and safety of that product relaxed.
What if I could scan that product's barcode and find out a bunch of stuff the retailer and manufacturer don't want me to know? Would that affect my decision? Maybe Washing Power X is 20p cheaper than Washing Powder Y, but what if I knew that the factory where they made Washing Powder X had been fined for dumping toxic chemicals into the local river?
If I was of a mind to shop more ethically, it might be of interest to me to have to hand information like that while I'm shopping. And databases full of that kind of information do exist.
I might even welcome a bit of friendly competition to see if I use my household budget more ethically than my friends and family. Using barcodes, it might be possible to assign an Ethics Score to my shopping basket, and if I wanted a better score I could visit their web site to look for better alternatives to the products I'm buying.
I'd already kicked this idea around for ethical investing - creating a browser plug-in that superimposes information about a company over its stock symbol so we can see at a glance how it scores on things like workers' rights, the environment and so on.
Hopefully, armed with extra knowledge about products, our inherent instinct not to be total and utter bastards might create a sort of adaptive pressure that gently modifies our buying (or investing) behaviour over time, skewing the markets towards better conduct.
That's a kind of gamification I might be able to get behind.
February 20, 2012
Software Craftsmanship 2012 - Open For Registration
Now in its fourth year, SC2012 - in aid of Bletchley Park - is part of the official celebrations for the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth.
It’s going to be bigger and bolder, with an extra 100 places available for passionate programmers.
The theme is Computer Science For Software Craftsmen, and the money raised will be used to support two very exciting Turing-related projects at Bletchley Park.
For more information and to register, please visit the conference web site.