Holiday by numbers

August 6th, 2014

We’re back from holiday! We went up to Glasgow to watch some of the Commonwealth Games, and used it as a chance to have a road trip and see a few more places in the UK on the way.

Photos we took at the Games on flickr

I want to describe our last two weeks, so decided to do it with statistics and photos!

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Talking about IBM Watson (again)

July 17th, 2014

As I mentioned in May, I was lucky to be able to go to Thinking Digital this year and talk about what we’re doing with Watson.

I’ve just noticed that they’ve made a video of my talk available. I haven’t dared watch it (does anyone like watching videos of themselves?), but I figured I should share it anyway!

Using Node.js to create a REST API around a SQL database

June 15th, 2014

A few code snippets for how you can quickly stand up a SQL database, and provide a REST API for DB read/writes

I was helping out a team at a hackday hosted at Hursley last week. One of the things they wanted for their hack was a SQL database to put sensor data in, which they could access via a REST API. And they wanted it in node.js.

I’d never used Node before, so I used this as a chance to give myself a first crash-course.

I’m not saying this is the way to do this in Node, as it’s the result of my first hour’s tinkering. But it worked, and I mostly wanted to share how quick and easy it was.

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Thinking Digital 2014

May 24th, 2014

This week I went up to Newcastle for Thinking Digital.

It was the seventh Thinking Digital, but my first.

I’d seen a bunch of references to it being the UK’s answer to TED, the tickets aren’t cheap, videos from previous years look slick and professional, it’s held in The Sage which is a hugely impressive venue, they manage to get a great line-up of speakers, and the logistics in the run-up to the event were more organised than any event I’ve been to before.

So… I was expecting a cool and geeky, if faceless, serious, formal, and intimidating event.

I’d read it completely wrong. It’s absolutely a professionally run event. And there was no shortage of cool geekiness. But, more than that, the organizer, Herb Kim, has created a real sense of community in it. There’s a feeling of almost familial warmth amongst attendees who come year after year after year.

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How children learn to do sums in primary school

May 11th, 2014

This is a write-up of the presentation that Grace gave at Barcamp Bournemouth this weekend. I’ve written about the reaction she got already, but I thought her presentation was interesting enough that it’s worth sharing here. 

The idea behind her talk was that the way maths is taught in schools today is different to the way it was done when I went to school.

Put another way, her basic premise was “when Dad helps me with my homework, he gets it all wrong”. ;-)

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Taking a kid to a barcamp… again

May 10th, 2014

Last year, Grace tagged along with me to Barcamp Berkshire. She gave a talk, and it went pretty well.

I guess she must’ve enjoyed it, because today she came along with me to Barcamp Bournemouth.

I’ll write a post about what she talked about later, as it was actually pretty interesting. First, I want to get the shameless proud dad post out of the way. :-)

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Text analytics in BlueMix using UIMA

April 13th, 2014

In this post, I want to explain how to create a text analytics application in BlueMix using UIMA, and share sample code to show how to get started.

First, some background if you’re unfamiliar with the jargon.

What is UIMA?

UIMA (Unstructured Information Management Architecture) is an Apache framework for building analytics applications for unstructured information and the OASIS standard for content analytics.

I’ve written about it before, having used it on a few projects when I was in ETS, and on other side projects since such as building a conversational interface to web pages.

It’s perhaps better known for providing the architecture for the question answering system IBM Watson.

What is BlueMix?

BlueMix is IBM’s new Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering, built on top of Cloud Foundry to provide a cloud development platform.

It’s in open beta at the moment, so you can sign up and have a play.

I’ve never used BlueMix before, or Cloud Foundry for that matter, so this was a chance for me to write my first app for it.

A UIMA “Hello World” for BlueMix

I’ve written a small sample to show how UIMA and BlueMix can work together. It provides a REST API that you can submit text to, and get back a JSON response with some attributes found in the text (long words, capitalised words, and strings that look like email addresses).

The “analytics” that the app is doing is trivial at best, but this is just a Hello World. For now my aim isn’t to produce a useful analytics solution, but to walk through the configuration needed to define a UIMA analytics pipeline, wrap it in a REST API using Wink, and deploy it as a BlueMix application.

When I get a chance, I’ll write a follow-up post on making something more useful.

You can try out the sample on BlueMix as it’s deployed to

The source is on GitHub at

In the rest of this post, I’ll walk through some of the implementation details.

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Starting a Code Club

February 20th, 2014

logo This year I started a Code Club at my local primary school.

It’s still early days for me (I’ve only run four sessions of the Club so far) so I’m obviously not an expert on this stuff. But I thought I’d share some of my first impressions as a volunteer.

What is Code Club about?

If you’ve not heard of it before, Code Club is about giving children aged 9 – 11 a chance to try computer programming.

“A nationwide network of volunteer-led after school coding clubs for children aged 9-11″

It isn’t something that they normally cover in primary school (in theory, this should all change from September 2014 with Year of Code, but we’ll see how that works out), so Code Club is an attempt to introduce programming in primary school, rather than wait until it gets introduced in Secondary school.

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