Monki Gras 2015

Monki Gras happened again! Though, in its Monki Gras 2015 incarnation, it acquired a heavy metal umlaut and a ‘slashed zero’ in its typeface; an allusion to its Nordic nature: Mönki Gras 2Ø15

What is Monki Gras?

Well…

And Ricardo makes a good point, explaining why I, and others, just keep going back:

There’s a single track of talks so you are saved the effort of making decisions about what to see and you can just focus on listening. The speakers entertain as well as inform, which, I really like.

While it is a tech conference, there’s little code because it’s about making technology happen rather than the details of the technology itself. So there are talks on developer culture, design, and data, as well as slightly more off-the-wall things to keep our brains oiled.

In James’ very own distinctive words:

Why go all Nordic this year?

All the speakers this year were Scandinavian in some way. It was probably the most rigorously applied conference theme I’ve ever seen (mostly, conferences come up with a ‘theme’ for marketing purposes which usually gets mostly forgotten about by the time of the conference itself).

James talks a bit more about this on the Monkigras blog. A surprising amount of tech we know and love comes out of the relatively sparsely populated Scandinavian countries. For example:

And, apparently, Finland leads the EU in enterprise cloud computing:

Are the Nordics really that different from anywhere else?

Well, this graph seems to say they are, if only for their taste in music:

Which suggests there is at least something different about Nordic cultures from the rest of Europe, let alone the world.

So several of the speakers delved into why they thought this led to success in technology innovation and development. For example, there’s the attitude to recognising when you’re failing and giving up so that you can be successful by doing it another way:

A Swedish concept, lagom, which means ‘just the right amount’ was credited with the popularity of the cloud in the Nordics. And, indeed, with pretty much anything we could think of throughout the rest of the event.

Similarly, you could argue that lagom is why Docker is popular among developers:

One fascinating talk, by a Swedish speaker based in Silicon Valley, was about the difference between startups in the Nordics and Silicon Valley. For example, the inescapable differences between their welfare systems were credited as being responsible for different priorities regarding making money. (Hopefully, videos of the talks will be put online and I’ll add a link to it.)

Obviously, all this talk about culture can, and did, drift into stereotyping. I did get slightly weary of the repeated comparisons between cultures, though interesting and, often, humorous.

Developer culture

One of the things I’m most interested in is hearing what other companies have learnt about developer culture and community. For example:

There’s more about this talk on Techworld. And Spotify have blogged some funky videos about the developer culture they aspire to (part 1 and part 2), which are well worth watching if you work in software development.

Something that I’m working on at IBM is increasing the openness of our development teams so, again, I’m always interested in new ways to do this. This is something that Sweden (yes, the country!) has adopted to a surprising extent:

Innovation and inefficiencies

One important message that came across at Monki Gras 2015 was that you have to allow time for innovation to happen. It’s when things seem inefficient and time is not allocated to a specific activity that innovation often occurs.

A nice example of this is the BrewPi project. At Monki Gras 2013, Elco Jacobs talked about his open source project of brewing beer and using a Raspberry Pi to monitor it:

I bumped into him this year and what had been a project now occupies him full-time as a small business selling the technology to brewers around the world. A pause in his education when he had nothing better to do had enabled him to get on with his BrewPi project and, after graduation, turn it into a business.

Data journalism

There’s a lot talked about open data and how we should be able to access tax-funded data about things that affect our lives. The Guardian is taking a lead with data journalism and Helena Bengtsson gave a talk about how knowing how to navigate large data sets to find meaning was vital to finding stories in the Wikileaks data.

She started out in data journalism in Sweden where, in one case, she acquired and mapped large data sets that revealed water pollution problems around the country, which triggered a several stories.

It’s not just having the data that matters but the interpretation of the data. That’s what data journalism gives us over just ‘big data':

Also, I found out a fascinating fact:

Anyway, that’s about as much as I can cram in. We also found out random things about Scandinavian knitwear and the fact that Sweden has its own official typeface, Sweden Sans. And we ate lots of Nordic foods, drank Nordic beer and (some of us) drank Akvavit. And, most importantly, we talked to each other lots.

The thing I really value about Monki Gras (on top of the great talks, food, drink, and fun atmosphere) is the small size of the event and all the interesting people to talk to. That’s why I keep going back.

P.S. A good write-up of the talks

Tampon Club at Hursley

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have seen me use the hashtag #TamponClub*. It began sometime after a few of us ‘Women In Tech’ went to a tech evening event at the awesome new HQ of Twitter UK.

As well as the funky food, the tech talks, and (obvs) the dalek in the foyer, we were impressed by the presence of free sanitary products in the women’s toilets.

Free tampons?!?

Free tampons wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before. Sure, I agree that putting tax on tampons (my shorthand for all sanitary products because, well, it reads funnier) is ridiculous but the idea of justifying giving them away for free just hadn’t crossed my mind.

Then the brilliant Alice Bartlett wrote about how seeing the tampons-in-the-toilet prompted her to do the same at her own workplace. She basically supplied free tampons and towels in the women’s toilets for both her own convenience and for anyone else who needed them.

It’s a great post – everyone should read it (tl;dr imagine if you had to supply your own toilet roll at work…and sometimes you forgot…).

Her post (really, go read it now, I’ll wait for you to get back) sparked a brief conversation on Twitter. Other women loved the idea and proposed starting community Tampon Clubs in their own workplaces.

@maygg and I decided to start a Tampon Club in the nearest toilets to our desks (DE3, for anyone au fait with the IBM Hursley site).

Tampon Club at IBM Hursley

It took longer than it should’ve but, as of this Wednesday: ta-da!

photo

 

If you use the DE3 women’s toilets, let us know what you think. Please use the supplies and feel free to contribute if you want to.

If you use other women’s toilets around Hursley and you want to do the same, let us know!

Tampon Club response

As it’s only our first week, we have no idea how it’ll go. But we’ve had a few positive comments already, including (I hope they don’t mind me quoting them anonymously):

“great idea in the ladies!…had a box in my drawer so I’ve added it to the collection”

“thanks for the new additions to the ladies loos – really great idea – I don’t know how many times I have come in having been caught out and don’t want to carry a big box in full view from the canteen!!”

We’re keeping tabs on cost and stock so I’ll report back after a few weeks.


*The girl who tweeted a #TamponClub photo of herself with a bunch of tampons stuffed in her mouth is nothing to do with us. :)

Aurasma and the Universal 100 app

I bought a copy of Mamma Mia! The Movie on Blu-ray. To celebrate Universal’s 100th anniversary, it’s releasing some of its films with ‘augmented reality’ (AR).

Which sounds cool.

As you can see in this photo, the front cover of the cardboard sleeve (why is a cardboard sleeve necessary?!) contains a sticker claiming “I COME ALIVE THROUGH YOUR SMARTPHONE”:

 

bluray-cover

Which sounds exciting.

Imagine my joy when, whilst watching the movie, I could point my phone at the TV and get contextual information about the film (commentary, background information about the beautiful locations, song lyrics, etc).

Ah, no. That’s what happened in my head.

In reality, I followed the instructions on the back of the box. I downloaded the Universal 100 app, pointed my phone at the front cover of the DVD, and got this:

aurasma-in-action

 

Basically a sort-of movie trailer for Mamma Mia! in response to recognising the image on the front of the box. The video is displayed inside an AR-style, 3D surround.

Kinda fun but disappointing and not really what I was expecting from the hype on the box that claimed the Universal 100 app would “reveal the magical 3D movie experience”.

The best use case I can think of for it is that people can point their phone at the box in a real-world shop to watch the ‘aura’ (the video) before buying it. Not that anyone buys DVDs/Blu-rays in shops any more.

Anyway, so I Googled “aurasma”, the technology inside the app and found a TED talk that explains what Aurasma is. I’m a bit more impressed now.

It’s probably actually what one of the Sony apps on my Xperia phone is based on. That app does cool things like recognise the label on a wine bottle, gives you information about the wine, and tells you the nearest place to buy it. Oh, and adds dinosaurs or fish when you point your phone at your friends.