James O'Neill's Blog

September 4, 2008

It’s not about computation, it’s connection and visualization

Filed under: General musings,Photography,Working at Microsoft — jamesone111 @ 1:10 pm

Yesterday Microsoft UK had its company conference in Brighton, and I always have mixed feelings about these affairs. We transported 1000 people 100 miles and told and with no sense of irony whatsoever we told them about what the company was doing about the environment, showed them a video of the office they had led behind and showed them clips of Microsoft people telling them what it was like to work at Microsoft. I’ve been involved in enough events of my own to feel some sympathy for the organizers. What is informative to one person might seem insultingly obvious to someone else. What one person finds riveting makes someone else want to gnaw their own leg off. There are occasions where you need to gather the whole company together and yet when you make attendance mandatory, people think "They wouldn’t need to make it mandatory if people wanted to go".

But at most of these events there is a segment where you turn to a colleague afterwards and say "that was worth coming for". For a lot of people where I was sitting the speaker who had that effect was an external one, Sir Mark Grundy. It’s an odd thing, still, to see a head teacher get a knighthood: Grundy got his for turning round a pair of schools in the Midlands; but I suspect it was more than just having a good plan and executing on it. The guy believes in something: "I’ve never met a pupil who came to school to fail" was one thing he came out with – he’s very articulate and his passion comes through when he speaks. But for us the big thing was the difference technology made to his business: he talked about teenagers and threw out the question "why is life at home so connected (messenger, Email, even Xbox live) but when kids come to school we expect them to be happy to be told to open a book and copy out a diagram", so his student portal is a way of linking students together (and shutting students out of it has become one of his best disciplinary tools) . Since he gets how important it is to have parents on side – he’s got a portal to show them information too – from PerformancePoint among other sources. And other heads ask him why the providers who deliver their services can’t do that. But this idea of taking a lot of … stuff and using the power of software to make sense of it carried on he had a love of Deep-zoom (and got a good laugh when he said he liked the old name, Sea-Dragon "Did someone on work experience choose the new name ?"), and Photosynth. And another Deep zoom-like product (I’m not sure the base IS deep zoom) and that’s PPTPlex (watch the videos there to get some idea). It was the first time I’d seen someone use it on stage, and it was enough of a spur to get me to install it when I got home, and if you’re attending any of my events in the near future I may experiment with it.
I’d planned to do a photosynth of the area round the royal pavilion so I whizzed off at lunch time and shot that. I have the details that I can find in there. Which came back to one of Sir Mark’s points : this is the kind of technology kids should be getting exposed to and if not, ask "why not ?"



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