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Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge’

Reflecting on the year as it draws to a close: that’s a thing, isn’t it? Much has happened during the past year, much of which I have no intention of discussing right now. However, I’ve remembered that I set myself some goals for the year, and so now would be a good time for reviewing them.

The goals were: to meet Puffles the Dragon Fairy; to use the word “propinquity” more often; and to do some public speaking.
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Saturday afternoon of last weekend, I went to Anglia Ruskin on East Road for Cambridge Conversation Café, the inaugural event of Be The Change Cambridge. This is my write-up of the event. Or rather, it’s more a write-up of my experience of the event. If you want something more objective you might want to try Michelle Brook’s account.
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I’ve recently had a number of headhunter types waving opportunities under my nose and asking if I’d consider relocating. Whilst it’s nice to feel wanted, it’s even nicer to remind myself of some of the reasons why I’m very happy to stay where I am. So: what is there to see in Cambridge?

Coffee and cake
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G. made a square for a community quilt being put together by the local Women’s Institute:
Embroidered graph of Cambridge population
It possibly isn’t quite what they had in mind, but the crossover between needlework and data science had to happen sooner or later. (The jump on the data around 1911 apparently coincides with a significant boundary change. There was no census in 1941 due to the Second World War.)

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The other day someone asked me how I got into programming. This was an interview question. In retrospect it’s a surprise that no-one has asked me this before. The next time I have cause to interview a programmer, I’ll be sure to ask them the same thing.

My first degree involved a certain amount of programming, but it didn’t occur to me until quite late that I might have a knack for it. Other people on the course had computers of their own, and had been programming for years. I didn’t, and hadn’t.

Well, that’s not quite true. I’d had some encounters when younger, which I can illustrate with some photos I took yesterday at the newly opened Cambridge home of the Centre for Computing History.
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Some years ago, at an “all hands” meeting at a company where I worked, the head of the company enthused at length about Jack Welch’s famous ruthlessness. At the time I said to various people that if I wanted to work for General Electric then I knew where to find them. I wasn’t joking: GE have an office in easy walking distance of my house. However, I never set foot in there until last night, when I attended a talk by Richard Berry—part of their series of “agile talks”.

The talk was about management and leadership, and the differences in management style (command-and-control vs. facilitation) and the importance of different personality types in how teams work. Management theory, then. (And yes, there were flip-charts, and a 2×2 matrix, and book recommendations at the end.)

I’ve seen some disappointment expressed about the content of the talk. Surely this is all rather old hat: no-one now believes that command-and-control is a sensible way to organize a software development team. I’d have two responses to that, the first of which is that overt command-and-control may be rare but that the common alternative—insisting that people “take ownership” without giving them any meaningful control isn’t really the same thing as facilitation.

My other response would be that even if the broad outline of Richard’s talk didn’t hold any surprises, it’s possible to do this sort of thing badly or well, and Richard did it well. The last presentation I saw that covered this rough area was given by some ex-marketing guy who seemed to speak largely in clichés taken from trashy pop psychology books (“don’t sweat the small stuff”, “change is the only constant”, etc.). Regardless of the big picture being peddled, there were telling little details in Richard’s talk that, for me, showed that he knew what he was talking about. This wasn’t an occasion for buzzword bingo.
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I’ve previously mentioned Rodney Brooks approach to robotics, and also “bottom up” views of knowledge. Here’s a nice quote (from Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign, p115):

Brooks’ attachment to the bottom-up procedure is also performative, ruling the description as well as the content of his approach. Thus, not only mind—problem solving, central control, representation—is subordinated within his model of intelligence but also its sociocultural correlates—philosophy, abstract thought, theory—are likewise invoked by him on a minimal, need-to-know basis.

This appeals to me, in part, because it chimes with my views about another form of abstract knowledge that’s central to programming: knowledge of programming languages.
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