Category Archives: geekery

Gaming at Barcamp Sheffield 3

Barcamp Sheffield 3 organised by the GIST foundation was somewhat different to the other barcamps I’ve been to, as it went right back to basics, there were no sponsors, no free food, drinks or swag, leading to a very lightweight and open unconference.

As there was no food provided, it allowed people to do their own thing, to split into smaller groups or to go on mass to the local pub for Sunday lunch. Similarly on the Saturday night, where we had the interesting exercise in self organisation that is ordering for 14 people in a Chinese restaurant!

This openness was also reflected in the spaces and session structures, pretty much the only rules in play were:

* Rule of two feet
* Pimp your passion, not your product
* Only new stuff

Talking about rules brings me nicely to my main theme of the weekend, games! There were sessions around people’s favourite video games, debates about whether they are good for you and numerous sessions around using them for learning.

Liam (@losvaive) kicked of the game theme by telling us about his video gaming bucket list. A run through of some of his favourite games, with some fondly told stories about the special moments he has experienced with each of them.

The saturday closed with a impromptu extended session about whether games are good for us, hosted by Liam, Claire (@kitation) and Katie (@katie_fenn). The session ended up running over into the next, a testament to the breadth and depth of the subject and the strong opinions felt by those in the group. We discussed the individual, social and health implications of playing games, comparing them to books, films and sports amongst others.

Starting with the discussion of adult addiction to World of Warcraft (way more prevalent than I thought), we focused on whether we think differently about it when vulnerable people are involved, e.g. children, socially isolated people. If we drew any conclusions, it would be that games can have significant positive and negative effects and there use should be respected, particularly where children are involved.

This theme continued into the Sunday, focusing on the learning aspects of gaming in general, not just video games. The inspiration for this focus came from a session around video games as a learning tool (ran by Liam, Claire and Katie once again), which discussed specialised games designed for learning (largely not very successful) and the more accidental or emergent learning involved in many games, in which Portal received high praise.

Having spent much of the previous day talking about games, we felt it was about time we played some, Catacombs (ran by Hannah @yorkhannah) just for fun and Zombie Fluxx (ran by Jag @Jagusti) for learning about emergent behaviour and team dynamics, oh and maybe some fun too. If you haven’t played Fluxx, I thoroughly recommend it, it’s great fun, easy to play and works well as a learning tool. The way that rules and goals can change throughout the game, leads to some pretty exciting, tense and comedic moments.

The first game of Fluxx was intended to be an introduction, with some ongoing observations of how the game dynamic teaches emergent behaviour. It was fascinating to watch the way the style of the game changes based upon the rules in play and the objectives set and how easily they can all change many times during the course of the game. Many parallels were drawn to software development projects, which inspired us to play a second game with some additional elements, to see if we could teach team behaviour and some of the common roles on a software development project.

This was done by making it a cooperative rather than competitive game, where all players share the objective of allowing one of them to win. This sounds very simple, except we placed restrictions on players communicating too much about there hand and what they intended to do and gave different roles different distribution of types of card. This led to interesting dynamics between the different players, particularly when the player representing the sponsor or product owner changed the games goal.

I also attended a number of other interesting sessions, where I learnt how a technical author is often a developer wrangler; how a system administrator can go rogue; how we can discover stories and how often we overcomplicate software solutions.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Barcamp Sheffield 3, it was a great example of how just enough structure and some simple constraints can lead to lots of fun and learning.

TED Talk: Greening the Ghetto – Majora Carter

Whilst travelling down to London I got the chance to do some blogging and to watch some Ted. I’m a recent convert to Ted and its safe to say its an addiction, I’ve got some serious catching up to do. If every one I watch compels me to blog about it this might take some time, but here goes.

Majora has a very compelling argument that sustainable grass roots activities can benefit both the local community, be commercial successful and save people money.

Despite her talk being about a incredibly poor area of New York, I can see parallels to her approach within communities like GeekUp and Barcamp. These are not the same, this would do a great disservice to her endeavour and where she has come from but that does not mean the more affluent cannot learn from it, in fact that is, in part, her intention.

There seems to be more in common here than I first imagined, she makes reference to a perception that these endeavours cannot be beneficial to the commercial bottom line, that social responsibility has a negative effect on profitability and that decisions made from the top need, nay require involvement from the grass roots. These challenges and presumptions seem to be those encountered by many socially innovate groups. Whether they be from affluent or deprived backgrounds, we can all learn from this, and to echo Majora, the influential among us need to learn these lessons sooner rather than later.

Also I can’t help but feel that areas like the South Bronx is where the inspiration forĀ  the pragmatic programmers metaphor of broken windows in a code base, the idea that once even minor environmental neglect happens its a downward spiral, in fact Majora picks up on this point herself.

As I referred to in my general Ted Talks post, these observations are leading me on a path (which started not long out of university but has recently gained momentum) that software development and technical innovation are mostly about people and not so much about technology or engineering. It seems as though many of us may have forgotten which is more important?

TED Talks – A Revelation from a Nieve Developer

At Barcamp Sheffield I was introduced to the TED Talks and I feel obliged to spread the word, I can’t believe what I’ve been missing for so long. Credit and much thanks have to go to Pippa and Guy who were influential in opening my eyes to such a vast and disparate amount of content. So far I’ve watched 6, each one a revelation and deserving of a blog post in their own right (some of which are coming soon). I doubt this track record can continue but I sincerely hope it does.

Upon leaving university I believed I had the necessary education to be a good (possibly great!) software developer, how nieve and wrong I was. This realisation, made on my first project, led me to concentrate on becoming better, mainly by practice and lots of reading. Whilst this single minded obsession has led me to make significant progress, it has come at the cost of losing perspective. Why am I trying to become a good software developer?

Opening my mind again to wider interests is helping (I’m not done yet) me to become more balanced, to remember why I wanted to do this and to decide where I want to go. A completely unexpected side effect is that this wider perspective has also had a dramatically positive effect on my understanding of software development, who would have thought it was all about the people!

Barcamp Sheffield – A Barcamp Virgin's Impressions

Last weekend I attended Barcamp Sheffield 2.1 much fun was had by all. This was my first barcamp and I have to admit it had rather a profound effect on me (as some will have noticed on the day or from my tweets).

The barcamp format is unlike any traditional conference, there are no prearranged sessions or talks, its all arranged by the attendees there and then. This invigorates the event with such a dynamic social energy, everyone seems to be drawn to it. I knew what to expect from a barcamp, but I never expected the commitment, openness and friendlyness of all the attendees.

Barcamp Sheffield was a little different to many barcamps, there was no camping and the event ran from Friday to Sunday rather than Saturday to Sunday. Some barcamps use the Friday night as a pre-party, but this tends to preclude virigin attendees, Sheffield used this as an ideal ice breaker and created a big kick of activity ready for Saturday to start in earnest, which helped a lot seen as there was high proportion of barcamp virgins.

I know some of the oganisers, so I was asked to volunteer (disclaimer: this may make me biased, but everyone I met said it was excellent!), turning up just about on time on the Friday night, it wasn’t long before the event was in full swing with some very amusing adhoc presentation voice overs and much beer (some free) being consumed.

The sessions started in earnest on Saturday morning, after much coffee and necessary breakfast. I think I only attended 4 or 5 over the two days, all of which were very interesting. I’d completely forgotten how much functional programming blew my mind, found out how hard it is to organise a barcamp or train students in agile programming and how complicated friendship and language can be.

Equally as important as the organised sessions were the adhoc conversations I had all weekend, I can’t remember the last time I met so many interesting people, full of insights and amusement all in one weekend. I came away feeling refreshed in the spirit of the geek community and hopefully with a number of new friends (and some shocking tiredness, having fun and chatting takes a lot of energy).

Barcamp Sheffield confirmed two things for me, that self organising social groups can and are very effective and that Sheffield (and the UK) has a thriving geek society which I deeply want to become more a part of.

The only downside to all of this, is that I’m completely exhausted and craving more!