This week I have been at Dev8D, a JISC-funded BarCamp-like conference which included a whole heap of three minute lightning talks from other JISC. Three minute talks are a wonderful format, long enough to hint at detail and short enough to skip boredom or irrelevance.
The best bit was of course my lightning talk, not because mine was “any good™” but because by doing it Jim Hensmen at Coventry University came up to me afterwards and introduced himself. It turns out that he is running an almost identical project to the Collaborative Tools Project at the University of York. Over lunch we shared our ideas and experiences so far, like Oompah Loompahs complaining about getting chocolate out of our uniforms.
This one meeting, for me made the whole trip worth it. Jim and I have arranged to share our directions and thoughts and results with each other.
Session: Yahoo Pipes
Tony Hirst gave a beginners guide to using Yahoo Pipes to scrape and shape data. I already follow Tony’s blog, Ouseful, and so didn’t learn anything new (that’s not a criticism) but I did manage to create something that I have tried and failed to do before ( a slightly complex aggregator publishing site ).
What I find fascinating about Tony’s work is that he has an almost maniacal avoidance of “programming”, creating things that “you can do too” without the need for programming skills. Added to that, he also has a unique ability to spot opportunities lying around the web, conceive of them in terms of tools like Yahoo Pipes, then he has the grace (like a bad magician) to carefully show you how he did it.
It was interesting to spot how many developers he’d infected with his mode of thinking, I kept seeing people Yahoo Piping all over the conference.
The wonderful Garry Bellamy, who isn’t a million miles from the Fast Show scientist who’s colleague was called Dave, gave us a beginners’ guide to Arduino. Arduinos are mini computers to which you can attach lights, motors, sensors that migt detect light/humidity/temperature or mini speakers, in fact almost anything, and make your own devices and robots.
I have so wanted to get my hands dirty with these for ages now, probably not because I will ever make anything but it’s nice to know what it’s like and what you might do. In our session I began to try and make our little and lovely LED light to blink in morse. I thought it’d be nice if a single light might be connected to a twitter account or search and tweet in morse, not so that anyone but a super-spy might read it but so that it could become an ambient “activity indicator”. Tweets tend to appear in an instant, displaying them via morse gives them more of a “visual echo” in that they simply take longer to “appear”.
Session: Amazon Cloud
Like playing with LEDs, I found this session extremely illuminating too. We created a computer in Amazon’s cloud, installed a webserver and MySQL, moved it onto a disk (also in the cloud) and then accessed it. What I appreciated most about this session was that it worked. Well prepared scripts were downloadable to do the things we needed to do (great preparation). We stopped when anyone got lost (for anyone read me). By the end of the session I had a number of servers running all sorts of services ( Alfesco, LifeRay etc).
Session: IPhone Development
This session gave us a introduction to iPhone development. I’ve tinkered before. I actually learned a lot, who’d have though THAT was the difference between header files and, er, implementation files. About three quarters of the way through the session my code stopped compiling and I couldn’t salvage it.
The thing that I think I took from this session is that I think I’m just too stubborn to accept crap programming language syntax. If the answer to a question why is “because you do” then my awkward gene throws a wobbly. I don’t think I will ever learn Objective-C and the world just probably be thankful for that fact.
Throughout the whole event there was a buzz surrounding LinkedData and libraries and repositories. It’s ironic in a way that I found out about ePrints (a research outputs repository) is used at our university, from someone at our university (hi Aaron in the White Rose Grid) at the Dev8D event. Hey, I’m new…. still.
Other competing products/services that popped up in talks and mentions were Mendeley (email@example.com) , which I’d previously dismissed as an alternative to EndNote, a personal research bookmark-keeper but is more akin to LastFM’s audio scrobbler for research (it even has an open API). Interestingly, it tracks reading of research papers (how long I spent) so may have something to offer in terms of measuring the all important IMPACT factor in the future.
Mendeley and Zotero are things I will have to swot up on later.
Other sessions included:
Edina from the University of Edinburgh. Unlock Places a Geo Information Service. It includes hierarchical information… footprints, polygons, historical names of places
Twapperkeeper.com, an archiver of hashtagged tweets, brilliant for conferences.
Ross McFarlane @rossmcf gave an honest “lessons learned” introduction to Processing, the visualisation tool.
In the afternoon I learned Scala from Tom Morris, but, and this isn’t a criticism, Scala to me feels like Jython done different rather that Java scripting done right, but that’s just me, I only have room for a few languages in my head at once, including “body” and “english”.
All in all, a fantastic conference with the right mix of hands-on, sit and listen,have fun, get involved, just chill activities.
The catering was excellent. The whole event was well organised, friendly and helpful.
If I had a criticism it might be that some of the sessions suffered because the wifi really couldn’t handle a roomful of geeks downloading a development environment at once.
I do have one suggestion …. I don’t think I quite “get” the whole LinkedData thing. Don’t get me wrong, I get the basics having noodled around with RDF/semantic stuff for years (very badly) … but there wasn’t a “get your hands dirty with the basics” session for LinkedData… I would have definitely enjoyed one of those, a session where I could go home with less than a page of working code that I’d written that maybe did something fun and simple with dbpedia and ePrints perhaps.