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Interview: Alex Bilbie

Alex BilbieI'm a 2nd year computer science student at the University of Lincoln and I also work for the university's online services team as a developer. My fellow student Nick and I are full time students but we also do 10 hours or so a week on the services team to bring a “fresh new perspective to tired old computing”.

Why are you at Dev8D?

I have been involved with the development of the JISCpress 主要有効成分:シルデナフィル+ダポキセチンの働き project and now that that it is out in the open it's got quite a lot of people talking about it and its potential and there's only so much talking you can do over Twitter. It's nice to get some physical feedback. For me personally, as I have been in charge of branding the site, I'd like to get some responses in terms of accessibility and visual feedback, and any ideas people might have in the event that the project is refunded. I want to gather ideas for that.

On a personal level, I want to do more networking and gain new skills. I'm particularly interested in the iPhone development workshops and several  others like the Python workshop and who knows what else at this stage!

Are you involved in any other communities?

I've written a few libraries for the CodeIgniter php framework. Also, my colleague Nick and I blog about a lot of the work we do as developers on the online service team. We want to see what other people are up to and give ideas to others – it's all about two-way idea sharing. I really enjoy being part of a community that really cares about something. I learn about stuff and like the idea that, hopefully, I have the potential to help or inspire others as well, having been inspired myself.

What kind of skills are you hoping to gain or improve at Dev8D?

I'm really interested in iPhone development. I have a few ideas for a university  mobile campus application which we haven't started yet but would like to – we need a kick up the backside to get it started and this might just be it. I'm also interested in being introduced to new ideas and new concepts in general. It’s only the first day but my impressions are good – JISC conferences are usually  brilliant.

What do you think Lincoln gains by sending you here?

For a start, they really gain a fresh perspective on computing by employing students. If I pick up something new here then it's something I can take to them, like the iPhone/mobile development ideas. Also, Lincoln gains through us knowing about the people who are working on similar projects outside the university. There can be a lot of overlap in academia and it helps to know the people doing the same kinds of work.

I have an idea: Dave Challis’s Twitterconnecter

Twitter logoWe all know that events like Dev8D are invaluable for their networking and community-building opportunities. But how can we measure the connections people make with each other at events? Dave Challis, a web developer from the University of Southampton, is using Twitter to find out how developers at dev8D are benefiting from networking.

“It’s very hard to judge the outcome of events and quantify how people meet and network. The systems people use to maintain their connections can be very disparate – some might have a small group on a mailing list or use a Facebook group or only connect through direct emails – but Twitter is growing rapidly and offers a simple means to look at relationships between people.

I thought it would be interesting to try to test a way of measuring the extent of networking at dev8D through Twitter as a lot of people here are using it heavily – it is even possible to sign up to the event wiki through Twitter. A week before the event I started to work out who of the people coming had twitter accounts and who they followed and who followed them. This is all publicly available information that you can search within the limits that Twitter allows to make requests.  I’ve been updating and storing that information with the idea of seeing how people and their relationships change over time – did participants at dev8D get to know each other and can we see that in an increase in the numbers following each other?

At the end of dev8d and a few days afterwards I will try to visualise the data in some way so that it is easy to see at a glance rather than on a spreadsheet.  I’m not sure yet how to do that but I’ve already spoken to a few people who have some ideas about how it might be done. That’s one of the good things about dev8D, that there is such a wide range of expertise. The chances are that you will meet someone who does the thing you are trying to do every day and can save you hours of work.

It will be nice if it ends up that we can clearly show that these people came here  and some knew each other and some didn’t and by the end there were this many more connections between the community.

There is no reason why it couldn’t be used for other events and it would be interesting to see how it works with other events. It’s ideal for developer events because Twitter is so widespread – I’d like to see it at IWMW.”

Interview: Ross McFarlane

Ross McFarlaneI’m a phd student at the University of Liverpool. I’m researching high performance computing for computational biology of the heart.

What are you hoping to get out of Dev8D?

I want to become a better developer. I spend a lot of my time in academia where people work with code but aren’t necessarily very good software engineers. It’s a good opportunity to come and learn from people who write code.  I had a really good experience last year and learnt a lot from doing it – it was a really enjoyable few days. I made a few contacts that I maintained, strengthened existing contacts, and met someone from my own building who I didn’t know existed!

Last year I collaborated on a project called Shh that was a social network that worked over the top of library catalogue access. It came together well and, despite my panicked rush to put the final thing together, we came third in the competition. I learnt about Javascript and about library catalogues – which was an alien subject to me – and it was an interesting collaboration. I’m hoping to collaborate on a project again this year; there’s not much community around what I do and I think it would help if there was more.

I’m struck by the scale of Dev8D this year compared to last year. There’s more people, more structure  – it has literally moved out of the basement.

What kind of skills are you hoping to gain or improve by being at Dev8D?

I’m interested to learn a couple of new languages, especially achat sur internet Clojure, and to try to improve knowledge of Python. I want to learn more about web services as I intend to go into a web development job when I finish my PhD in September.

What do you think your institution gains from you being here?

I was a better programmer when I got back last year!

RepoChallenge Winners!

For the second year in a row the Developer Challenge at Open Repositories has revealed the significant contribution developers can make when asked to “show us the future of repositories”! This year over a dozen submissions were entered in the competition. Both JISC and Microsoft put up prizes for the top two prototypes. Four esteemed judges carefully selected a shortlist from the dozen, including (in no particular order):

* EM-LOADER by Fred Howell, Ian Stuart, Theo Andrew
* MentionIt by Tim Donohue
* EPrintsAppStore by David Tarrant, Tim Brody
* REPresent by Anoop Kumar
* FedoraFS by Rebecca Koeser
* DiscVac by Patrick McSweeney

From this list two winners were chosen, a champion and runner-up. The decision between the two came down to a single vote as both were worthy winners. The second place runner up was a prototype called FedoraFS by Rebecca Koesar who exposed Fedora as a desktop filestore using Fuse, while only a command line prototype at this point the ease of overlaying a Graphical User Interface with file-folder icons is all but a done deal:

[vimeo]http://www.vimeo.com/4732380[/vimeo]

The winner and new “RepoChallenge Champion” is Tim Donohue who coded up his MentionIt prototype with less than three-hundred lines of javascript. The idea itself was noted for its user centric focus on how the repository can actually bring value to the individual end user. By pulling back comments accross the web to the original repository paper the end user is able to see what is being said about the paper and where it is getting the most feedback.

[vimeo]http://www.vimeo.com/4751173[/vimeo]

Both Tim and Rebecca will be given $2000.00USD to use on attending the conference of their choice. Further judges comments and interviews with the winners will follow soon, so watch this (rss) space!

And the winner is!

The winner of the Developer Decathlon (including the £5,000.00 grand prize) is “List8D” by team Bsmmmm (Ben Charlton, Simon Yeldon, Matt Bull, Matt Spence, Matthew Slowe and Mark Fendley)! Read about their innovation and achievement on the JISC website!

Runner up (and winner of the £2,000.00 prize) is Lazy Lecturer by team “Three Lazy Geeks” (Ian Ibbotson, Mia Ridge and Peter Sefton). Watch their entry here.

Third place was close in the race as well, coming down to the wire and most deserving of some recognition (and potentially one of the most entertaining screencasts), the “sh!” prototype by team Rangtangdingdong (John Harrison, Ross McFarlane and Rob Sanderson). Video of prototype here.

Overall as stated in the last post (and shown by the glowing judges remarks) the competition was fierce and all the entries are incredibly deserving. We can only hope that most of these prototypes will be submitting a bid to the recently announced JISC funding call for projects in Rapid Innovation (tag: JISCRI). Make sure to stop by the last post and have a watch of all the prototypes.

Cool code: EPrints export plug in allows preview magic

Developer Happiness Days has seen a number of immediate and exciting ouputs from the industrious coders here. While Sam Easterby-Smith's Happier Pipe is arguably the most fun, Chris Gutteridge's speedy work on JSON exports for the EPrints software should have a real impact on the ease of use of the popular EPrints service. Chris explains:

“I have built an export plugin for the EPrints software – http://eprints.org/software/ – which allows records and searches to be dumped as JSON. This will allow other Dev8D delegates to built new tools on top of this data.”

JSON makes it much easier to use your data in mashups on third party sites. Examples already Kupite tablete Kamagra demoed at dev8D include a third party website which allows users to browse the data in a new, faceted way, and a  little code to add to the top of a webpage, which makes previews magically appear on each eprint link. Try hovering the mouse over links on
http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/people/lac/publications

To access EPrint records as JSON, either perform a search on  http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/  and select the export as JSON option; or as a “REST” URL for record 15818:
http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/cgi/export/15818/JSON/ecs-eprint-15818.js
or,  Chris has dumped all the data at   http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/dump.json (warning: 35 Meg)
There is also a  YAML version.

Five minute interview: Alex Wade

Alex WadeWho are you?

Alex Wade, research programme manager with Microsoft

What are your areas of interest?

General areas of scholarly communication and the broad areas of information retrieval, and now my team at Microsoft is looking at doing substantial things in the repository space and the authoring space and collaboration space. I also enjoy getting out into the mountains and backpacking with my family – I have two-year-old twins so the opportunities are few and far between now.

What idea are you working on here?

We have a lot of projects that touch on this space so we are looking for connection to other projects and where we should be looking next. Specifically, we had a nice meeting yesterday morning about making it easy for authors to submit to repositories from within Word using the SWORD protocol. Today we'll be talking about our repository platform.

What's the major challenge in education software right now?

I think an interesting challenge is how to find the right blend between commercial software and open source software in a way that is flexible and extensible and useable by the institution. We are trying to do that with our software in terms of providing a lot of open source solutions on top of the Microsoft stack to give flexibility the edge.

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

I think the most exciting is that there are lots of options as well as challenges so there are lots of things being produced every day, and to come to an event like this and see so much going on.

What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?

Because there is so much activity going on at Microsoft and so much technology to keep up with, it is often only at events like this I get exposure to other things that are going on in the real world so it is great to be able to interact and have good ideas presented rather than working in a vacuum. It's one of the things we are trying to acest do more of now – get feedback early on in our product cycles. I like the variety of interactions in terms of the lightning talks and discussions and the dragon's den – it's a good mix of interaction types – and being able to get coding and work through problems at the same time. It's been very useful.

Five minute interview: Savas Parastatidis

Savas ParastatidisWho are you?

Savas Parastatidis. Until two months ago I worked for Microsoft research in the external research group and now I’m with Microsoft Live Search as an architect.

What are your areas of interest?

Distributed high performance computing. Web services, cloud computing, e-science, scholarly communications, repositories and my primary interest these days is semantic computing. I also travel a lot, and like skiing, music, festivals, and salsa dancing.

What idea are you working on here?

Coming from Microsoft, we usually don’t participate in this kind of competition. So I’m here to give a tutorial on the repository system that Microsoft has built, codename Famulus, which will be released soon as open source.

What’s the major challenge in education software right now?

Ease of use, stability and interoperability. I believe that, especially in institutional repository spaces, as the use of repositories expands and becomes more pervasive, users would like to see better interoperability with client tools and other repository systems. Those who are responsible for deploying repository systems would probably like to see better support for enterprise grade infrastructure which is the reason why Microsoft research has been investigating open source repository systems.

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

I don’t follow that space that closely. But, within semantic computing, doing it on a large scale like Google and Microsoft can and mine the entire web and give you instant answers to key words that you search, the next step is for the same engines, the same companies, to answer your questions in an intelligent way, for information to be pushed to users rather than them having to search for it. We need to build the infrastructure to do that.

What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?

This is my first day, I’ve just arrived! But I’ve been to other events that David has organised and I love them. I love the informal nature of them and that you find people with a specific interest – developers – people who love what they do, you have to love that.