Category Archives: Users

A first at Dev8D: open source iPhone app for home automation

Ever wanted been away from home and wanted to check that the heating was off, or the lights switched on? Or wished you could switch on the kettle from the warmth of your bed when the morning alarm goes? All these things have been possible for a while now – but at a price. Now, with the software to automate home products becoming open source, the field has opened up for all kinds of innovative – and low cost – applications to make life easier, safer or just plain cosier.

Here at Dev8D, after attending just one iPhone development workshop, David Tarrant has created an  iPhone app, based on open source software, to control a light using your phone, wherever you are in the world. He explains how.

David Tarrant’s iPhone app

“The Z-Wave protocol for home automation products has only just become open source after being closed for a number of years. It has sparked an online community outside of academia with quite a few UK and US developers developing an open source library to talk to Z-Wave products.

We have created a Windows, Linux and OSX version of the library where before there had only been a Windows one. That library was finished on Sunday night, and I built a simple REST api for this library so that I can switch a device on and off, such as a light. Yesterday I could do it through a web browser and, thanks to the iPhone workshop, I’ve now created an iPhone app to control it.

This is a simple example of home automation, just like the products that are already available to do things such as control heating, turn on and off appliances and monitor your house. It is even possible to set up profiles for rooms so that you can put a room into different modes and use a combination of devices within it, all controlled by just one switch.

The difference now is that you can do all this without having to buy expensive, locked-down proprietory software or hardware controllers. The library is available under an LGPL licence. The kind of automation I’ve done here would previously have cost £400-£600 to buy – I’ve done this for about £120 and we expect the cost to come down as more open source developers get on board and have a go and want to buy more of the products.”

Five minute interview: Tony Hirst

Tony HirstFresh from teaching the non-coders at dev8D how to make mash ups, Tony Hirst agreed to be dev8D’s first Five Minute Interviewee.

Who are you?

Tony Hirst, lecturer in ICT at the Open University

What are your areas of interest?

What’s possible on the web. Democratisation of technology. Trouble-making.

What idea are you working on here?

I’ve just come to see what people are doing – I’m here to learn.

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

Confidence and capabilities of the users and also our expectations of them. Sometimes we are in danger of having too low expectations of our users and at other times we expect too much so there’s also a misalignment of expectations. There is also a huge difference between what is available in learning systems and what’s available on the web. The relationship between users and our systems and the relationship between what they choose to use in their own lives.

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

The opening up of data and increased availability of data. More powerful and easier to use visualisation tools. It’s getting easier to do more.

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

I’ve only just got here! But I have already learnt how to do a couple of things, from feedback in my talk, and I’ve possibly got someone to build me a tool that I want.

I have an idea! Part 5

Julian ChealJulian Cheal
UKOLN at the University of Bath

My idea is called JISC Conferenceator. I came up with it yesterday as this week everyone has been aggregating all these different feeds together and having a conference backchannel using Twitter and creating friend graphs so, inspired by that, the JISC Conferenceator is a toolkit which would bring all this together on one site. You would create your conference on this site and bring together all the facilities like built-in support for surveys, an email address and do automatic RSVping and connect to open social networking sites and Flickr so users can connect to that, and all the data would be brought back into the JC site. It will also make it easy to capture delegate feedback – much better than having a long form. All the data will be in one place so after the event you can zip it up into one file to keep.

I have an idea! Part 3

Marcus RamsdenMarcus Ramsden, University of Southampton

I’m working on a small script plug-in for e-prints. The ultimate goal is for it to be a firefox extension so that whenever an e-print link is displayed on screen, it will display information about that e-print before you click on it. It will be basic meta info – title, authors, date it was added, basic statistical views. In future it could be extended and show things like how many people favourite that e-print etc. It would have been much trickier to do this without the JSON addition created here at dev8D by Chris.

Graham Klyne
Graham Klyne
I did have a possible idea for the Developer Decathlon which would involve some paper prototyping of an interface for capturing research data from small research groups. However, in the process of following that idea I had a discussion with another participant and he showed me a public service which does a lot of what I had in mind so it seems that we could use that service as a live prototype to discuss with researchers. So I regard that as a very positive outcome.

Stephen Vickers, University of Edinburgh
Michael Aherne, Strathclyde University

It’s a tool for using within VLEs that allows people to create things by plotting points on Google Maps and associating things with the points – it links spatial data with content. The original idea came out of a project on walking tours but the data wasn’t so easy to access and plot then. Now both staff and students can do it so we plan to use it for assignments, too. We’re looking at a history department and the impact of the urban landscape over time, putting things in the context of what happened over history. We can overlay historic maps onto the map and see how it has changed. It will help people to understand why things have changed. It doesn’t have to be a map, it could also be an image like a forensic site or archeological dig or a circuit board.

Vickers and Aherne

Five minute interview: Paul Walk

Paul WalkWho are you?

Paul Walk, technical manager at UKOLN and I supply technical advice to JISC as a critical friend.

What are your areas of interest?

At this event my interest is in finding ways to increase the capacity of the higher education sector to develop software on the principle that the people working in HE know what users need and if they use the right methodologies they can develop software that is fit for use.

I have professional interests in e-infrastructure to support teaching learning and research. And I've just made a sledge for my children.

What idea are you working on here?

I'm not, I'm a judge – and the Talkshow host last night!

So, what are you looking for as a Developer Decathlon judge?

I'm not looking so much for individuals' bright ideas and prototypes although I hope we get plenty of these. Rather, I'm looking to demonstrate that developers, especially when working directly with users, have much to offer the community. It's about giving developers a voice – some developers have had to take a day's leave to come here because there can be a lack of appreciation from managers of the value of allowing their developers to get together with other developers to share ideas.

I'm looking for evidence that that the developers are addressing a demonstrable need.

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

How do we satisfy the very real need for local management of users and resources within an institution while recognising the opportunities that the abundance of quality services available on the web at large offers to teaching, learning and research?

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

The opportunities which the web now offers the individual learner to assemble their own personal learning tools.

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

The Agile development session was good and I was especially interested in the notion that Agile does not mean rapid. When I was learning my trade as a software developer the paradigm de jour was Rapid Application Development (RAD) which had an emphasis on speed using techniques such as “rapid prototyping”. In contrast, Agile development seems to emphasise a more risk-averse approach to development such that it guarantees that something will be delivered at the end of the development process. I've never quite seen it in this way before.

I have an idea!

Dev8D’s Developer Decathlon is all about developers talking to each other, talking to users and coming up with great software ideas that they can rapidly prototype. We’ve been been roaming the classrooms and bars here at Happiness Days and finding out what kinds of ideas are floating in the air.

Ross McFarlane, University of Liverpool

Ross McFarlaneI was thinking that in a bricks and mortar library, when you’re looking at content in a particular section you have the opportunity to chat to people who are browsing similar materials as related materials are located together. So my idea is to try to find a way to connect related materials by what people look at online and take out of the library and use that to connect users so that as someone is looking at an item online they can speak to people who have got similar interests as they are looking at similar materials. It’s about creating short term social networks based on the content they are looking at.

Peter Sefton, University of Southern Queensland

My idea comes from a lecturer who wants to be able to assemble powerpoints from resources he has fouPeter Seftonnd around the place – rich powerpoints including video and so forth. My idea is to have an add-on for your browser where if you’re looking at a resource you want to include on your course you can click a button and it will remember what you’re looking at and it will store those as tags in Delicious. Then, if you want to make a presentation for your course it will look at the things you’ve bookmarked and build them into a content package that you can extend, annotate, explain, reorder and publish to the virtual learning environment or the web.