Tonight, for the first time in ages I went along to a British Computer Society meeting. Although I’ve been a member for many years, either I’ve been busy elsewhere, or not interested in the topics that the meetings have covered. In general I’ve just not really felt the need to go along.
However tonight was a bit different, as they had invited Peter Gradwell, who runs gradwell.com, the company that hosts both this blog, my e-mail, and the other domains I look after. Over the past couple of years gradwell.com has been moving into VoIP and his session tonight was a whistle-stop tour of the whole subject looking at both small scale single user solutions right up to big multinational corporations. It was certainly a very interesting and informative session, particularly the point that VoIP itself isn’t the reason why call charges appear cheaper, indeed he suggested that in most cases if you called the USA from the UK using a VoIP service in the UK, the call would almost certainly drop back onto the normal phone system in the UK rather than crossing the Atlantic on the internet.
Other interesting bits of information from the evening were that if you’re worried about your calls being intercepted then currently VoIP is the way to go as governments are playing catch-up and can’t currently listen in. Having said that they are keen to try and find a way, as it is believed that terrorists are now using things like Skype to communicate for precisely that reason. He also explored the issues of 999 calls over VoIP and the associated problems, which also included a pretty detailed description of how the location issue was solved with mobile phones and 999 calls.
It was definitely a worthwhile way to spend the evening, my only disappointment was that having swapped a number of e-mails with Peter I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. After the session he was surrounded by people with lots of VoIP questions, so I headed for home.
Aside from being the first BCS meeting I had attended in a while, it was also the first time in a long while that I had been back to the University of Reading. Thinking about it, it is now more than a decade since I graduated. The meeting was held in the Palmer Building, which has been refurbished since I was there. The car parking situation hadn’t improved though. There were also familiar faces amongst the other attendees, one of which was Dr Shirley Williams who taught a number of my courses when I did my degree. (In fact looking at the list of staff it is interesting to note how many of the names are familiar.) What was also interesting was comparing the crowd at the meeting with the crowd of people who turn up to something like the Geek Dinners. Now the basic principle seems the same, get together a load of IT people, and an interesting speaker, however the atmosphere is totally different, with the BCS meeting being pretty dry in comparison to the Geek Dinner. Also whereas in the Geek Dinner situation I’ve met all sorts of interesting people, I really didn’t speak to anybody in the same way at the meeting, despite being a new face. Interestingly the meeting had to move rooms from the 32 seat room that was booked, which does maybe imply that I’m not alone in not going along, and that the meetings are often poorly attended. Certainly I think it might be an interesting experiment for the BCS to try out a Geek Dinner style meeting.