Cloud computing in space

space debrisDr Steven Johnston from Southampton University explain how his team have used cloud computing to predict satellite collisions in space.

10,000 space objects are currently being tracked. These objects are satellites, typically space debris. Johnston’s team are using Azure to project the orbits to predict collisions.

Cloud computing is elastic – it can be scaled up or down, which can be useful for processor-intensive work such as Southampton’s Space Situational Awareness System Tech.

There is a scale of cloud computing, from Amazon Web Services – where you are responsible for managing a virtual machine – to Google Docs, in which you have no control at all over the machines you are working with. In the middle lies Windows Azure. You can’t configure Azure yourself, but it does have a more managed infrastructure.

While Southampton’s space-tracking system relies on Azure, Steven freely admits that both cloud computing in general and Azure in particular have limitations: there’s no standard API for moving a VM, which essentially locks in a user to a particular system; there are bandwidth problems with moving data; and the inherent access limitations make it more difficult to create clusters.

Image: Known orbit planes of Fengyun-1C debris one month after its disintegration by a Chinese interceptor.

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 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.

How to make a low-cost electronic whiteboard

Wii remote 2Need an interactive, back-projecting electronic whiteboard? Build your own from household objects!

You will need:

1 sheet of tracing paper (70p)
1 Wii remote
1 customised crayon* (£5)
1 laptop
1 LED projector (£250)Crayon

*Take crayon large enough to take on AA battery. Open, remove all ink, insert switch-operated infrared light and battery, tape back together.

How it works:

1. Projector projects image from laptop onto paper (aka the screen)
2. Image is visible from other side of paper
3. Person uses infra-red crayon (aka the mouse cursor) to draw on the screen
4. Infra-red signal picked up by Wii remote (aka the infrared camera)
5. Wii transmits data wirelessly to laptop
6. Laptop adds cursor data to image
7. Image sent to projector, cycle repeats

projector setup

And as if that wasn’t enough, the team are also experimenting with depth. By adding simple infrared positioning lights (the same technology used in parking sensors and automatic toilet flushing sensors) the system will be able to add 3D positioning to the data displayed on screen.

Whiteboard system developed by Emma Tonkin (UKOLN, University of Bath), Andrew Hewson (UKOLN, University of Bath) and Greg Tourte (School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol). Photography by Andrew Hewson.

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 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:


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.


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.

We have a winner of the developer decathlon (nearly)…

As you all know, the finale event at dev8D was the Developer Decathlon which required project teams to rapidly build prototype apps based on real user cases (we even imported some real users into the event where they had to experience developers in the wild!). Full entry submissions and explanations by the team of the prototype are posted here:

The list of prototypes entered for the competition (listed in order of submission time):

no.1 – “STagMonger 3000” prototype by Team Flaming Hensoft
no.2 – “EntityBus” prototype by Team AZ
no.3 – “List8D” prototype by Team Bsmmmm
no.4 – “Lazy Lecturer” prototype by Team Three Lazy Geeks
no.5 – “Visual Transparency” prototype by Team OUseful
no.6 – “SpACE tool” prototype by team SpACEmen
no.7 – “AdAway” protoype by team AdAway
no.8 – “splashurl” prototype by team halfHourHacks
no.9 – “sh!” prototype by team Rangtangdingdong

The five judges who selected the winner for the Developer Decathlon were carefully picked to represent a broad spectrum of users and developers across UK. The judges had no easy task given the quality of submissions. Not only was there value in each prototype there was some very tough decisions the judges had to make in ranking the submissions, some comments from the judges on each prototype below:

“STagMonger 3000” prototype by Team Flaming Hensoft:
“Great app and would like to see this exist for real.”

“EntityBus” prototype by Team AZ:
“Neat demonstration of what a REST list service can look like…neat infrastructure app.”

“List8D” prototype by Team Bsmmmm:
“Good idea, convincing screencast, well thought out further development. I can see this being taken forward in a number of directions…I believe, this clearly demonstrates the applicability of the solution both immediately and in the forseeable future.”

“Lazy Lecturer” prototype by Team Three Lazy Geeks:
“Really comprehensive treatment of the problem and associated issues. Worth pursuing I think… As a solution this is a good idea and was produced by genuine collaboration at the Dev8D event.”

“Visual Transparency” prototype by Team OUseful:
“I like this, simple idea but well presented and very useful…The output from would be highly relevant to some users and immediately useful.

“SpACE tool” prototype by team SpACEmen (second video here):
“This is an excellent tool…I’d like to see this project getting its code out there, it looks like just the kind of thing that people would work with and contribute to… Nice idea – slick and well developed.”

“AdAway” protoype by team AdAway:
“Neat idea. I love the simplicity of the concept. Great presentation… I can’t help but to say that I love the concept behind this. Simple, anarchic, directly useful and best of all, implementable.”

“splashurl” prototype by team halfHourHacks:
“Nice, simple, does what it says on the tin…made on the day, works well and has since been updated to optionally give QR codes which might be even more useful, now that more and more people have internet enabled micro devices like the iPhone.”

“sh!” prototype by team Rangtangdingdong:
“Social networks without the need to say who is in your network are important. This is one excellent way of doing it….Supercool, Inventive and ambitious…. good prototype.”

Despite all this great works the judges had to make some decisions and so we bring the first decision to you now!

Below is a shortlist of prototypes that are eligible for winning, we will announce the winner and runner-up of the competition later this week so stay tuned!

Shortlist of potential winners for the Developer Decathlon at dev8D (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):

“List8D” prototype by Team Bsmmmm

“Lazy Lecturer” prototype by Team Three Lazy Geeks

“sh!” prototype by team Rangtangdingdong

“splashurl” prototype by team halfHourHacks

“SpACE tool” prototype by team SpACEmen (second video here):

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 – – 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 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

To access EPrint records as JSON, either perform a search on  and select the export as JSON option; or as a “REST” URL for record 15818:
or,  Chris has dumped all the data at (warning: 35 Meg)
There is also a  YAML version.