Blog
Director Martyn / Directeur Martyn
Director Martyn / Directeur Martyn

Bright Side of Life Director – Martyn Simpson

So rounding off our current series of Bright Stories, it’s the turn of Martyn, our director. Martyn created the Bright Side of Life more than 25 years ago, and he’s been developing software since 1977. It’s not easy to condense 43 years of software development into a single blog. In this first part, we find out just why he became a software developer. When he started, PC’s had only recently arrived on the market. Indeed, he personally imported some of the very first IBM PC’s for his employers…

Why software development?

That’s easy to answer. I trained as a Civil Engineer, and after completing my study, I was disappointed. I discovered that Civil engineering naturally favours the construction of safe buildings, bridges, and motorways. They are designed to stand-up for a lifetime, even if some don’t. In the past, innovators such as Brunel were creating a new world, learning on the job. However, in the seventies, you just had to look up the specifications, whatever you were designing. I’m sure there are still innovative projects, but the opportunities are few and far between.

A lucky break for Martyn…

Luckily, Martyn had to develop software for his Masters.

I learnt to program from a book, and believe it or not, my very first program – for which I hand punched Holorith cards, worked first time. This unexpected success hooked me for life. My research allowed me to join a small company set up by a Cambridge University Professor. He and a team of researchers created CRISP® (CRItical State soil mechanics Program), a ground mechanics application for structural soil analysis. My task? To move their Finite Element software, running on Cambridge University mainframes, to something that could run on PC’s.

PC’s were at that time only just arriving in the UK. Many of the companies around Cambridge were creating the very first home computers (companies like Sinclair, Acorn). So although Martyn used PC’s made by Apple (like the Apple II and LISA), and the very first IBM PC’s, they needed major improvements, such as specialised processors, compilers, and D/A converters that could read and control field measurements. Every day was a new challenge. Can you weatherproof an Apple II to work in the Iraqi desert (answer: not very easily 😉 )? It’s these daily challenges that made Martyn a developer. As Jurjen wrote in his blog:

I just enjoy the challenge of solving puzzles to reach the result I want. And the advantage of programming is that you get feedback on your actions almost immediately.

Martyns PC CRISP software was used across the world. And believe it or not, versions of CRISP still exist!

Leaving Britain – for good

Hooked on programming, Martyn was less enthusiastic about living in Thatcher’s Britain (which is not very different from Boris Johnson’s Britain).

In 1983 he joined a global CAD/CAM company – Computervision, and later CIS (a company they took over). And that meant traveling – a lot. Systems at that time cost up to one million US$ per workstation . So the clients were either world-famous companies (Boeing, BMW, Pirelli, St. Gobain, Bofors, Ford, Fokker, and Philips), or military. Creating ‘specials’ for these companies, or integrating CAD/CAM into their production system cost peanuts compared to the potential order value.

His Dutch manager suggested he move to Holland, as Schiphol was much easier to use than Heathrow. In 1983 it was much smaller than now (there were no low-cost budget flights). There was a car park where there is now a shopping mall. At the same time, Schiphol (even then) had connections almost everywhere. So his managers advice saved him hours on every journey. Although he came over for three months, hes never lived in England since.

CAD/CAM, a challenging and innovative world

Computervision gave Martyn endless opportunities to learn about different industries, businesses, countries, and cultures.

I had to learn quickly, find a solution to help complete a sale, and then move on to the next challenge. Computervision introduced me to early satellite imaging systems. Creating digital terrain models using stereo-pair images. I had opportunities to work with leading-edge developers from countries such as Israel, and the US, using systems from DEC, Sun (the very first Suns), and (later) Silicon Graphics. I worked (briefly) with some of the people who invented CAD. So I learned something new every day. A truly wonderful time, during which I created astronomical bar bills, and a lifetime of experience that I still apply to BSL projects and technical challenges.

The many challenges associated with working in different locations, with a range of systems, taught Martyn to work under extreme pressure and with strict deadlines. For most of the projects, learning the clients’ business as quickly as possible. Learning what they needed, and if possible, deliver a solution, or propose a solution. This approach is more or less a model for how the Bright Side of Life operates!

Lessons learned

You can break even the most significant problem or development challenge into a series of achievable steps. It’s frequently daunting to look to the top of the mountain (or the end goal of a project). But even Everest begins with the first 100 metres, and then the next. Learning to break things down, sometimes using the project management skills from his Civil Engineering background, helped Martyn immeasurably. Who of you has never been impressed to see how large construction projects like the A2 magically appear, bit by bit. It’s almost as if there is a plan, and indeed there is. Civil Engineering PERT techniques are less fashionable than waterfall/Agile, but there are benefits to all these approaches. If you need a long-term vision, old-school PERT plans can be your saviour.

Another major lesson: reinventing the wheel can be attractive, but can be financially ruinous. Learn to build bridges between systems, or share data between systems. With an incremental approach, significant changes can be made, and at a reasonable cost. Very few companies wish to throw away money. So think in terms of a realistic budget. Then try and find a set of steps that will resolve the most critical goals first. Carry out a cost-benefit analysis to isolate the “nice-to-haves” from the “must-haves,” selecting individual features on their merits. Pluck some of the low hanging fruit on the way, and you will achieve perhaps 90% of your goals, for 20-30% of the cost. Of course, this is the mantra of Agile development processes. However, it’s good to remember that combining off-the-shelf cloud services with a focussed, experienced and well-led team can deliver spectacular results. This is what BSL offers to our clients.

Next time

In the next blog, a little more background about Martyns time at ITTWD and Apple. And some more lessons learned.

If you want to contact the BSL team or Martyn, get in touch. In Corona times, it’s not always easy to meet face-to-face for a coffee. However, we’re available online and welcome any opportunity to chat about your next project.

Let BSL take care of your website maintenance updates

Let BSL take care of your website maintenance updates

We understand the importance of regular website maintenance updates for WordPress and Drupal. Hackers sometimes target popular open-source products, so keeping your CMS and any plugins up-to-date is essential. Trust BSL to keep your website up-to-date and secure while you focus on crafting persuasive content for your audience.

BSL Summer event on the water

BSL Summer event on the water

It was time for our annual summer event with the whole company. This year, Diana arranged a boat trip in a salon boat along the Vecht towards Loenen and Vreeland. After the boat trip, the summer event continued in the restaurant of Bistrotel ‘t Amsterdammertje, where everyone enjoyed a delicious dinner.

Adobe Firefly and Photoshop Beta with generative fill

Adobe Firefly and Photoshop Beta with generative fill

After the success of ChatGPT and Midjourney AI – both already in use at BSL – Adobe didn’t want to be left behind and made public their Beta releases of Adobe Firefly and Photoshop AI. With the arrival of the Adobe Betas, we’ve turned our attention to the new kids on the block, comparing them with Midjourney.

Midjourney prompts – Describing your perfect image

Midjourney prompts – Describing your perfect image

In an earlier blog, we introduced Midjourney as a tool we use within BSL when designing websites and banners for blogs. To direct Midjourney to create the image you have in mind, you need to write a prompt describing the image. This new blog discusses Midjourney prompts and some of the commands and parameters you can use.

Drupal 9 development using Tailwind CSS

Drupal 9 development using Tailwind CSS

Using Drupal, BSL has developed an extensive Intranet site to which we all have access. We’re developing a new version of the site, and in this blog, one of our developers talks about some of the tools we are using, including Twig templates, the Entity and Form APIs and Tailwind CSS.

Midjourney AI – Turning your ideas into images

Midjourney AI – Turning your ideas into images

Over the past few weeks, BSL has been exploring the many possibilities offered by Artificial Intelligence. This latest blog describes the use of Midjourney AI, a web service that generates images based on natural language descriptions (“prompts”). The results are impressive. Read our blog to find out more.

The benefits of long-term partnerships

The benefits of long-term partnerships

NBD Biblion offers personalised book and media title recommendations to schools and libraries, and supplies their clients with the titles they select. BSL has had a long-term partnership with NBD Biblion for more than twenty years, delivering development teams, technical advice, and support.

ChatGPT for business information analysis

ChatGPT for business information analysis

After the initial enthusiastic response to the introduction of ChatGPT and AI, attention switched to the unreliability of many ChatGPT answers. However, using Azure OpenAI (ChatGPT) and Cognitive Search with reliable data, we can deliver reliable, high-quality business information in response to natural language queries.

Browser engine wars – Part 2 – The impact of Apple’s iOS monopoly

Browser engine wars – Part 2 – The impact of Apple’s iOS monopoly

The Apple iOS monopoly means that every app on iOS – including browsers from Apple’s competitors – must use WebKit to display web content. While it’s not uncommon for browser developers to use a third-party engine, they can usually control which engine features they use in their browser and – if needed – add custom features.

Browser engine wars – Part 1 – How did we get here?

Browser engine wars – Part 1 – How did we get here?

The Register recently reported that Google is working on an iOS version of Chromium. A few days later, a second article claimed that Mozilla is working on an iOS version of Gecko, Firefox’s browser engine. Both reports suggest that the Apple browser engine on iOS, WebKit, is in danger of losing its monopoly.

Donation on behalf of earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria

Donation on behalf of earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria

On Monday, 6 February, several powerful earthquakes and aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria. This disaster affects as many as 23 million people, including many who are already in desperate need due to the conflict in Syria. If possible, please join us in making a donation on the Giro555 website.

WordPress and page-builders such as Divi and Elementor

WordPress and page-builders such as Divi and Elementor

For building websites on behalf of clients, we often use WordPress together with page-builders, making it easy to prototype and develop modern, responsive websites. With page-builders such as Divi and Elementor, you can easily and quickly design and build pages to match almost any design.

2022 and the Bright Side of Life

2022 and the Bright Side of Life

Taking the time to reflect regularly on the things we are grateful for at the Bright Side can help shift our perspective to focus on the positive aspects of our work. So, here are the things for which I’m grateful in 2022.

SEO benefits, and the power of good-quality content

SEO benefits, and the power of good-quality content

Many business owners still think their websites are merely visiting cards. Their “go-to” expression is: “our clients/audience already know where to find us…”. This may be true, but optimizing your website will reach new clients and audiences.

New Keylane Careers website

New Keylane Careers website

Keylane asked BSL to help design and build a new Careers website. The main aim is to increase the number of visitors by improving the organic search performance. To achieve this, we’re introducing a new design and adding blogs.

Cloud provider migration: What are the benefits?

Cloud provider migration: What are the benefits?

The focus of Cloud computing is to improve the efficiency of IT services. By choosing a cloud-based solution, organisations can stay up-to-date with technology innovations and benefit from higher scalability, lower expenses, and enhanced security.

A new website for BoekWijzer

A new website for BoekWijzer

We’ve completely revamped the BoekWijzer website! The website was built to support the BoekWijzer app, the mobile guide to the world of Dutch literature. Using the app, you can quickly and easily stay up to date with the latest literary news.

New developer / web designer at BSL

New developer / web designer at BSL

If you have any questions about your website or web design in general, then Patrick van Bennekom is ready to help you five days a week at BSL. Patrick helps to design and create websites and apps for our customers, including the design of logos and house styles to deliver a professional end product.

Migrating to the Cloud, benefits and opportunities

Migrating to the Cloud, benefits and opportunities

Several of our clients are migrating to the Cloud, and some that aren’t yet ready for this step are reviewing their legacy systems, intending to migrate to the Cloud in the future. We’ve recently completed two migrations on behalf of multinationals, and our experience has taught us that a direct approach (simply redeploying existing databases and applications on virtual machines) is not always the best route…

Beleev: Controlled Multisensory Environments

Beleev: Controlled Multisensory Environments

Perhaps you have never heard of snoezelen, a Dutch term that describes controlled multisensory environments (MSE) that stimulate various senses within a custom environment – a so-called “Snoezel” room. On behalf of St. John the Baptist special education school in Kerkrade, we’ve created custom software to create and manage so-called “Snoezel” rooms, controlling, lights, audio, switches and a video projector.

Goodbye 2021 and COVID-19 lockdowns – It’s time to look back

Goodbye 2021 and COVID-19 lockdowns – It’s time to look back

So who, in early 2020, thought that we’d still be operating under COVID-19 lockdown measures in January 2022? Luckily, my skill set has given me a better understanding of software development and technology than catering or hospitality. As director of an IT company, I’m happy to say that Bright Side of Life has taken to remote working as a fish to water. Let me tell you about our year.

Canon of the Netherlands apps now available in stores

Canon of the Netherlands apps now available in stores

The Dutch Canon of the Netherlands (2007) tells the story of how the Netherlands was formed. Using the Canon, BSL developed the popular EnToen Nu apps for iOS and Android a few years later. In 2020, the Canon was extensively revised, so we’ve completely rewritten the Canon apps, bringing them up-to-date, making them faster and even more fun to use. They’re now available in the app stores.

Integrating powerful AI search capabilities within apps and web-services

Integrating powerful AI search capabilities within apps and web-services

Search technology is continually evolving, so we’re always ready to adopt new technologies to meet specific client needs. This blog outlines our recent experiences with Azure Cognitive Search and Cognitive Search AI services – classifying thousands of new documents each day, delivering customised briefings to subscribers. Using Machine Learning and AI we can create intelligent search prototypes in just a few weeks.

Canon van Nederland apps coming soon!

Canon van Nederland apps coming soon!

The Committee on the Development of the Dutch Canon developed the Canon van Nederland in 2007. BSL developed the EnToen app a few years later, and since its launch in 2013, it has been a top-rated school app. In 2020, a new Canon Committee updated the Canon. We’re now busy working on new Canon Apps, with a modern look, and using the latest technical know-how.

Drupal 9 replaces Drupal 8. Long live Drupal 7!

Drupal 9 replaces Drupal 8. Long live Drupal 7!

Drupal 9 arrived last year, and Drupal 8 is end-of-life in November 2021. Nothing strange about this. But did you know that Drupal 7’s life has been extended to November 2022? Due to the high number of active users, it will remain in use longer than Drupal 8! Nevertheless, if you’re still using Drupal 7, you’re drinking in the last chance saloon, and it’s time to plan your transition to Drupal 9.

BSL delivers a new Pulse importer using the Forrester API

BSL delivers a new Pulse importer using the Forrester API

We developed our “Pulse” Business Intelligence Software for PwC. It’s a global service, maintained and supported by BSL. Pulse imports thousands of documents daily from commercial content providers and website feeds, delivering personal briefings to PwC subscribers throughout the PwC organisation. At the request of PwC, we recently created a new importer for Forrester using their API.

Outsourcing, retainers and long-term development partnerships

Outsourcing, retainers and long-term development partnerships

It’s not always straightforward for even large companies to create cutting edge development teams, as their core business may not be related to IT. Moreover, even when IT is a significant part of their business, there is frequently a wide gap between delivering core services and innovating with new technologies. BSL offers development services that can help fill the gap.

Machine Learning technology for Library services

Machine Learning technology for Library services

We’ve worked for many years with NBD Biblion, a unique organisation that selects and distributes books to public libraries in the Netherlands. They recently introduced Machine Learning (ML) technology to automate their client recommendations. After this success, NBD Biblion asked BSL to integrate a new Machine Learning service with MIPS, developed by BSL.

Drinks and a movie at BSL

Drinks and a movie at BSL

Enjoying a few drinks and watching a film together was a regular feature of life at BSL. I write ‘was’ because COVID-19 has kept most of us working from home. As a result, sharing a drink and watching a film together has not been an option. So instead, we’ve organised Digi-parties, Easter surprises and other events. Most recently, we arranged for everyone to enjoy a movie at home.

4

Previous

5

Next

Contact BSL