No, we're not talking about Benjamin Button. We were just at the iFidelity Conference in Manchester, England, last week. This event was an interesting cooperative effort between NiSUG (the Northern iSeries User Group), System i Network and IBM in the UK. At a time when similar events are suffering from significant audience drought, they attracted around 100 to an IBM i targeted event (note that that they didn't attempt to make it a "Power Systems" or combination i/AIX type of event). This in a much smaller city in the north of England, several hours travel time from London--where the big audiences would more normally be expected.
What does all this have to do with an old baby? The closing part of the event was a trip to the MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry, where we had a private tour of an authentic working replica of "the Baby". This was the first stored program computer in history and was created right here in in Manchester. It ran the first ever stored program in June of 1948 (no, it wasn't written in RPG!) and the replica was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Why it is called "Baby" is a bit of a mystery since the thing wouldn't fit into our living room at home. We watched as "Baby" printed out its name across the screen. Then we all waited with bated breath for it to come up with the right answer to a factorial math problem, which never happened until they simplified the problem somewhat. Apparently, it was not only the first stored program, but also the first program bug! For more details about the Baby, see www.computer50.org. Jon noted that the running of the first program coincides closely with his conception, but he's not sure if there's any significance to that!
Even if the historical significance of the computer, which has been lovingly replicated using (almost) all authentic parts from the period were to escape some members of the audience, the passion of the volunteers manning the exhibit was worthy of our rapt attention. This was followed by some excellent snacks and beer and wine (ah, conferences held in Europe have some very different side benefits!)
Of course, the visit to see Baby was only the wrap-up to a one-day event that was jam-packed with sessions, beginning with Jon's keynote on Modernizing Applications and continuing with parallel tracks of technical and "strategic" (i.e., more management-oriented) sessions on DB for i, RPG, PHP for RPGers and other topics that kept all the attendees interested from beginning to the final Q&A session at the end.
So, education is not dead yet <at the risk of evoking recitations from Monty Python's Holy Grail>, at least not in northern England. NiSUG seems to have quite a good program going. Perhaps they can even get the attention of some Londoners looking for solid technical educational events in the future. There are certainly other good options closer to home, but NiSUG may be worth the drive or train trip north if this event was typical of the kinds of offerings they have.
Local user groups in other geographies take note--maybe offering good, solid technical education close to home is a way to get through the current economic slump. It takes a ton of work, but it can be great for the community.
We still firmly believe the current economic situation may well be the best opportunity to save the day for IBM i. Education on how to do that is a good first step.