Archives for November 2011

LEO: Making history

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Jamillah Knowles | 15:01 UK time, Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hello Outriders,

This week I think it's best if you settle in to the podcast this week with a cup of tea.

On Outriders we've heard from lots of people who have shaped the way we live and work with machines. This week, I have been talking with a whole group of people who were responsible in a lot of different ways for the methods and programs that are used when we work with computers in business.

When you think about old business computers, you may be reminded of IBM, the International Business Machines Corporation, but if you live in the UK, you might want to consider that nice cup of tea again and for some of you, that might mean remembering the Lyons company and their tea houses.

Not all that long ago, but certainly before every high street had a big brand coffee shop on it, Britain was home to a company that ran tea houses. Beautiful old places with waitresses in uniforms and nice drapes. But to run such a thing required many more people, to run the shops, supply the, bread for sandwiches. A veritable business empire.

All this and more was in the history of Lyons, that and one of the first payment systems that made sure that every member of staff from delivery driver to manageress got their wages on time. That system was run on a computer and that computer was LEO (Lyons Electronic Office).

This month sees the 60th anniversary of the world's first business computer. It was modelled on the EDSAC and the people who worked with that machine made computing history. I was lucky enough to talk to Ernest Kaye who joined Lyons in 1949 to work on LEO circuit design and relaytechnology. He is now the only surviving member of the original LEO design team of four, John Pinkerton, E H Lenaerts and David Caminer. We had a cup of tea and talked about what it was like to make history.

Ernest Kaye. Photo: Google

The people who were working on LEO had no past examples to turn to, no handy online programming library. Imagine making those rules as you went along. Well, Mary Coombs (nee Blood), Ralph and Frank Land and John Aeberhard kindly lent us their time to talk about working with genius and making new rules.

If I had a time machine, I think you can guess where I would go first at the moment. A huge debt of thanks to Ernest, Mary, John, Ralph and Frank for sharing their memories and for helping everyone who hopes to get paid on time today. Thanks also to Lynette Webb who introduced me to all of them.

More Outriders next week and in the mean time there's a number of ways you can reach me if you would like to get in touch. You can email me at outriders at bbc dot co dot uk, find us on Twitter as @BBC_Outriders of search Facebook for Outriders where you can find updates and the odd discussion about what happens while we make this segment.

Until next week!


Celebrating engineering

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Jamillah Knowles | 09:32 UK time, Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Hello Outriders!

This week on the podcast I have a range of engineers to inspire us all and Chris Vallance joins us again bringing back evidence of his hunt for prizes!

Some think modern UK engineering hasn't had the profile it deserves, in an effort to remedy that the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has been launched. It's a million pound award that it's hoped will achieve the same status as a Nobel Prize.

Prizes have a long history in advancing innovation, most of us know the story from the 1700's of the longitude prize and John Harrison after Dava Sobel's bestselling book. Our own Chris Vallance has been finding out about some other less familiar technological advances helped by prizes. As well as exploring prizes of the past, he also took a peek into the future of innovation via prizes in a chat with Peter Diamandis. Peter is the founder of the Ansari XPrize, the one that challenged people to make a private space vehicle. There are also other XPrizes as Chris found out in his chat.

So, what are you waiting for? Get in to the game and set your standards high - it seems that there is lot you can go for when it comes to competitive engineering. Be sure and let us know when you win of course...

Amazing engineering is something we love to pursue on Outriders and this week is no different. I got an email from Vruz, one of our Outriding listeners in Uruguay who said, "Hey there - have you spoken to the people who created Raspberry Pi?"

Well, the fantastically named Raspberry Pi is about to become available. A computer the size of a credit card and easy on your pocket, it could be just the think for folk who like to know what their machines can really do. Eben Upton is an engineer with Broadcom and a trustee of the Raspberry Pi foundation and he told me all about it.

Thanks to Vruz for the tip off there! Nom!

Once you have your tiny light computer - you might be thinking about learning more about code. But it's hard to start without a few examples to aim for.

Lucky for us, Keith Schwarz is a lecturer in the computer science department in Stanford University and he has become quite the collector. I asked him to explain how he came to be a code curator.

Plenty for Outriders to get on with this week, but indeed as Vruz got in touch to hear more about Raspberry Pi - you can always direct me to find the people behind your favourite sites and computing classics.

You can email me at Outriders at bbc dot co dot uk, tweet at me on Twitter where we are bbc underscore outriders, or find us on Facebook by searching for Outriders.

Until next week!

~ JK

A long chat with Matthew Postgate, BBC R&D Controller

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Jamillah Knowles | 11:14 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Hello Outriders -

This week on the podcast I have been chatting with Matthew Postgate. He's the controller of BBC Research and Development and he looks after the R&D department, the group that runs our web platform and he's also involved in the joint venture - YouView.

On Twitter and Facebook before going to record with Matthew, I asked our Outriding listeners if they had any questions for him. Naturally you had some good ones so I added a few in to this week's interview.

Your questions

Time on Outriders always seems to pass so quickly! This also means that I didn't have time to ask everyone's questions.

Thank goodness for Sarah Mines then! She helped to arrange the interview *and* she also came up with some answers for those of you who posed questions that I was not able to put to Matthew. So, here goes...

Mark Hillary asked "When will the entire BBC Archive be digitised and available to browse and search?"

Wouldn't that be awesome! I can see that when that day comes, I will easily lose hours to the site looking for things I think I remember. For Mark, and everyone else who is interested in finding out more - here's some related reading for you -

Permanent collections - the next stage in opening up the best of the BBC By Roly Keating.

In a related question, Petra Broddle asked "Is there a possibility for pay-per-view for older content? Hopefully some of the following links will help answer your question Petra -

Jake Berger - Digital Public Space: Turning a big idea into a big thing

You'll see in that post that Jake Berger mentions the Guardian Technology podcast with the excellent Jemima Kiss. You can find that edition here.
Guardian Technology Podcast - Digital Public Space

Further reading

You can also read more on the topic from Bill Thomson himself in this post - Digital Public Space Partnerships and from John Zubrzycki of BBC R&D on archive research work, with Sam Favies of BBC R&D on Multimedia Classification, Tony Ageh - Controller Archive Development and his Prix Italia speech speech and from Helen Papadopolous on the BBC Genome.

So many clever people are working on these issues, talking about the related problems and trying to find the solutions that I can hardly wait to see what the future will bring. Let's hope that we can catch up with them when it happens and talk to them on Outriders!

Get in touch!

In the mean time, if you are innovating with a little R&D of your own that you would like to share, if you've seen something on the web and you'd like us to find out more, then you can always get in touch.

You can email me at Outriders at BBC dot co dot uk, you can tweet at us on Twitter where we are BBC underscore Outriders, or find us on Facebook where, as with this week's edition, we often ask questions and post updates relating to the radio edition and podcast.

Until next week!

~ Jamillah

Fun at the Mozilla Festival, London

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Jamillah Knowles | 14:51 UK time, Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Hello Outriders!

For this edition of the podcast I have been running around the Mozilla Festival in London chatting with some of the interesting people there who are working out futures for the web.

The theme at the festival this year was - Media, freedom and the web. So it was exactly the right place to announce the names of the Knight Mozilla Fellows.

These accomplished developers are going to be placed in newsrooms to explore how technology and the news can be enhanced.


The neat news is that we have a Knight-Mozilla fellow with us at the BBC soon. Andrew Leimdorfer is a product manager for the BBC news website, he explained how he came to be working with the project.




Laurian Gridinoc, the fellow who will be joining us at the BBC, talked about his hopes and expectations.




So many forms of media are now available on the web - but how many forms of media have translated into being entirely web native?



Kat Cizek is a documentary maker at the National Film Board of Canada who has worked to create a truly immersive style of documentary. I asked her why she was launching the documentary, "One Millionth Tower" at the festival.




Security online - your passwords are currency and something you need to keep safe. But how best to do that when you have many accounts in so many places? Christian Heilmann is the principal evangelist for Mozilla and "" is one of the things Mozilla is working on with others to change the way we log in to almost anything online.



Mozilla naturally had lots of cool things to show off at the festival including a way to learn about code while at the same time having a bit of fun with existing websites. Atul Varma is the technical lead of the fantastically named Hackasaurus.




For younger people at the festival there was an area for young people to learn and show off their skills. The Hive Learning Network, had created a pop-up learning area for educations, parents, students and kids of all ages.




Radio Rookies is one of the activities that was running at The Hive where kids can learn how to make podcasts. I had a chat with Courtney Stein and Ryon Wright about what they were up to at the festival.

One happy customer had learned her podcast writing skills with Radio Rookies on the day was Amira. She told me how best to make a good radio clip. Don't be surprised if I hand over to Amira when I need to go on vacation - she was recording all over the place that afternoon and frankly was doing as good a job as most adults I have worked with.



Also working with audio at the festival was Mark Boas. He was showing off his system called Hyperaudio and as someone who spends time cutting digital tapes and making transcripts, I was pretty intrigued by the possibilities of his show and tell. The possibilities seemed astounding.


After having a lot of fun meeting exceptionally smart people at the festival, I managed to get back to the studios before anyone noticed. So you can email me with your web experiences at Outriders at BBC dot co dot uk, tweet at us on twitter where we are BBC underscore outriders or find us on face book, just search for Outriders and you're there.



Until next week!

~ Jamillah

Forefathers and innovators

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Jamillah Knowles | 13:40 UK time, Monday, 7 November 2011

Hello Outriders!

On the podcast I have been talking to a woman who has helped to bring some online organisation to those who affected by the earthquake in Turkey, I learned something about mathematics and Bach and we remember a few of the people who are important to us every time we use a computer.

The news headlines, practically world-wide, marked the passing of Steve Jobs not so long ago. I think most people would agree that he has been an enormous influence on the way we think about portable computing especially.


It has been a sad year for those who have helped to form our relationships with machines. Though it may not have made such big headlines, I think it is important to note a couple of other people who influenced our technical lives. John McCarthy and Dennis Ritchie.



If you've considered robots coming alive or thought that the new Siri application on the iphone was lifelike, then you may have even found yourself thinking about Ai - or artificial intelligence. If you thought about Ai, then you have the American computer scientist, John McCarthy to thank.

Artificial Intelligence is the science and engineering for the creation of intelligent machines or software. It was John McCarthy who coined that phrase in a proposal for a conference in 1955.

John McCarthy was also the inventor of LISP, the programming language. It was designed in 1958 and although it did see a bit of a decline, it is still popular today in open source communities. It's also one of the earliest computer programming languages and so naturally it's had a great influence on how other languages and computing processes work.


2011 is quite a sobering year when you think about the innovators we will miss. Dennis Ritchie created the C programming language and with Ken Thompson he also created the UNIX operating system. C is a general purpose programming language - developed at the end of the 60s and early 70s for use with the Unix system.

C is pretty much one of the most used computer programming languages ever. Still today there are very few computers that work without a C compiler. It also has an effect on other programming languages like Python, Perl and PHP. It is also regarded by some programmers to be a really good starting point for kids or adults who would like to learn.

It's not just about the work that they did at the time, but the legacy that Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy left for us today. Hopefully many of the Outriders we speak with each week will also have in mind the way that future generations will work with their programming or mathematics.

Turkish networking


Clean up efforts are continuing in Van in Turkey after the earthquake that happened on October 23rd. Turkey saw similar devastation in 1999 when it was hit by another earthquake. Ayda Erbal, a professor of politics at NYU and also a PhD student at the same department remembered that quake in the 90s and this galvanized her response to work with others to create an information hub that has been helping a great many people.


Mathematics in sound


Outriders are no doubt familiar with the fact that mathematics can be very beautiful and Alexander Chen, is a designer at Google creative lab as well as doing interactive work with music and visuals *and* he is a resident artist at Eyebeam dot org at the moment. He told me how he created beautiful audio visuals mathematically.

If you are creating something amazing on the web then get in touch. You can always email me at Outriders at bbc dot co dot uk, tweet at me on Twitter where we are @bbc_outriders or indeed find us on Facebook at Outriders for further discussion on the weekly interviews.



Until next week!

~ Jamillah

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