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 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.

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 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!

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.

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.

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.