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Hackference Brum

7 October 2015 No Comment

What’s the connection between Geeks and Pharaohs and Lego?

It was the weekend of 2 – 4 Oct 2015 and I was at Hackference in Birmingham. The event is a combination of a conference on the Friday and a hackathon on the Saturday and Sunday, and it’s aimed at software developers and web designers amongst others. I expect that lots has been written by other attendees and so this blogpost focuses on three key things that I gained from Hackference.


I was never any good at History when I was at school, and I gave it up before my O Levels (they’re called GCSEs in new money). All I can remember is that we covered Ancient Egypt, and we studied the Second World War. I have never done the “Kings and Queens of England” and I have little idea who came before who in the order of succession.


So, having actually done Ancient Egypt, and having actually remembered some of those History lessons, I was astonished to learn from Rob Spectre exactly how the pharaohs dominated Egypt (and its empire) from 31BC through to about the time of Christ.

Thirty one thousand years of empire! Longer than any other!

It seems that the pharaohs were the first geeks! They used science to baffle and bewilder their subjects. The pharaohs had worked out the secret of the Nile flooding and then kept the true facts to themselves. Longer than any other empire on earth, the pharaohs managed to rule by creating the belief that they were gods who could predict when the Nile would flood, and how high the waters would rise. As Rob said in his keynote speech “go and build some big triangles in the desert” is not the sort of instruction that would be well received by your average Bob the Builder, unless the ones giving the orders were gods!

The key to the pharaohs power was some clever maths and geography, and I do have O Levels in both those subjects! They had worked out that the Nile flooded in proportion to the amount of winter snowfall in the mountains of Ethiopia, and they had charts (maintained over 31,000 years) which enabled them to predict (with increasing accuracy) the extent of the Nile’s behaviour. To the average Ancient Egyptian the pharaohs clearly had super powers and therefore must be gods!

It was all put to an abrupt end, Rob went on to say,  when the Macedonians came over to Egypt on holiday (around 10,000 of them apparently, all with spears) and pointed out that they had the same mathematical skills! Within a generation, the pharaohs’ power had evaporated and the Egyptian Empire came to an end, giving way to the Roman Empire.

Why wasn’t I told this in 1975? What was Mr Wilson doing in all those History lessons?

It’s amazing what you can learn at a software developer conference!


Software development is like playing with lego. There are various components which you can use, and how you stick them together is entirely up to you. Sometimes it looks good, and sometimes it looks like a car crash. But the thing with lego (and with chunks of software code) is that you can pull it apart and stick it back together again, but differently. And you can do that again, and again.

And keep doing it until (hopefully) you end up with something which looks a bit like that illusive image of perfection which once resided in your brain. You may get close, but do you ever really get there? And now that you’re looking at exactly what you’ve got, can you remember exactly what you wanted?

Perhaps that’s why lego is really popular with geeks! Proactive was one of the sponsors at Hackference, and we provided some Lego prizes for the hack. In the category “Best Spirit” we were looking for people who deserved to win a prize, but rarely achieve that because they didn’t quite tick all the judges’ boxes. We decided that your hack didn’t have to be perfect, it didn’t even have to be finished, and you didn’t have to be some kind of coding ninja. You just needed to apply yourself to the task, work with dedication and sincerity, and simply immerse yourself wholly in the spirit of a hackathon.

1910703734 199199 20151004 1700 winners(photo: Manoj Nathwani @Man0jN)

Nobody deserved that prize more than Bevis & Milo Halsey-Perry! Boy, did they work hard! Congratulations.

What’s the link?

Some people do ask (and rightly so) what’s an accountant doing in the midst of a bunch of software developers? Well, I’ve not always been an accountant! At one time I used to teach ICT in secondary schools. Doing RDBMS design with A level students was fun, but the rest of it wasn’t. I also ran a (short lived) web site design company from 1999 to 2000.

1101000123 199199 20151007 1105 shocked

These days, I work on in-house systems for Proactive, and one of the latest hacks is our Shocktober promo. If you want a discount on your tax and accountancy fees, check it out.

And do that before midnight on 31 Oct 2015!

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