Category Archives: Interviews

I have an idea: eco-game

Audawe ElesedyAudawe Elesedy, environmentalist

“My idea is for an eco game. It’s going to be open source from the very beginning, which means there is no fixed plan for exactly how it will look, or what it will do. It’s still very much in the concept stages and we need people to get involved and help us guide it.

The game needs to be centred around environmental issues. Perhaps we could use real-world data like Government statistics on climate change, or people’s individual carbon footprints.

We could look at aggregating tweets or allowing people to record their browsing history, we could even hook in with arduinos to help people bring the game into their real worlds and create sensors for their homes.

The game would be a challenge for players, with problems to solve and rewards to win – it would have to be a satisfying experience to make it fun to play.

We’re still at the very start of how we work on this, and we want it to be a shared open source development from the very start. So get in touch with me if you’d like to get involved!”

Interview: Corinne Welsh

Corinne WelshI provide organisational support services, primarily in the support sector.

What’s your interest in Dev8D?

I do lots of work across different organisations such as education and government agencies, so I have quite a broad range of interests.

I’m very interested in open source software, and also linked data – looking at how things join up together, and how to produce data which is visually interesting to people. Tony Hirst’s talk on Yahoo Pipes was also very good, as was the talk on vector graphics.

A lot of the stuff you get at an event like this are like the discussions you have in the kitchen at a party. it’s all the interesting stuff on the edges.

There’s lots of crossover in the kid of work I do – discussions on how you manage your workload, how to explain what you’re doing, issues around transparency. It’s interesting to make those connections.

Are you involved in any other communities? If so, what and why?

I’m part of a Google group working around open source software. I’m also involved in other  non-technical communities through my work.

Of all the projects or ideas you’ve seen, which will have a longer-term impact?

The project with the wow factor has definitely been the 3D printer. It’s another great example of a cross-over service.

Corinne Welsh is on Twitter at @corinnewelsh

Interview: Sam Easterby-Smith and iPhone apps

Happiness Pipe iPhone versionI run a small consultancy business in Manchester called Spotlight Kid specialising in iPhone and mobile related stuff, generally focusing on applications for education, entertainment and the arts. I run training courses, strategic workshops and do actual real development work! In the old days I used to work for CETIS at Bolton.

Why iPhone apps?

I think the iPhone is interesting is because it changes the context of computing. Instead of it being a desk-based thing, or a sitting down in café with a laptop kind of thing, it becomes a wherever you are, stood on a street corner, always in your pocket kind of thing. While mobile devices, even with connectivity, have existed for years, the iPhone was the big game-changer in terms of making it usable and rather popular. Likewise, I think if the iPad has a niche it belongs on the sofa or the coffee table, again shifting the context.

And is the iPhone a Dev8D kind of thing?

There’s certainly interest here. I led a workshop yesterday where we took something like 30-40 people with no knowledge of programming in Objective-C from ‘hello world’ to building a very simple Twitter search client. That’s already had the result that one of the people doing the workshop has started using what he learnt to do to build a lightswitch into his phone in the Arduino workshop. Very impressive!

What iPhone projects have you been working on here?

I’ve been particularly thinking about navigation within buildings. This is a problem for most GPS-enabled hardware at the moment, it becomes very inaccurate within a building and so the accuracy of your location goes from 10m to anywhere up a kilometre or two.  I’ve been thinking about how to solve that problem and looking at data we can use in an augmented reality type of context, including the resources provided by the MLA and other bits of geo-tagged data we can find. It’s about using augmented reality techniques to visualise geo-located data of various kinds.

[Sam showed me the version of this he is working on: point the phone in a direction and  notes pop up on the screen displaying landmarks and their distances from that point, both within the building (such as the Project Zone) and outside (such as Russell Square tube station). In addition, a note about which event or talk is on in each location within the building appears.

The idea is that this will be a generic tool that could be used with any data set from a conference or even a music festival or arts event, such as Glastonbury or the Edinburgh festival]

Last year you made the Developer Happiness Pipe. Is it back again this year?

It’s back – with an iPhone version! Getting here this year I made a couple of minor changes – most important was adding a JSON output format so that can catch the data from it and export it. So I can pick that up from the iPhone up to work out what the current happiness rating is.  Anthony Seminara has made a set of Lego people images representing 10 different states of happiness.

What are your top 5 tips for building iPhone apps?

  1. Don’t make it too complicated
  2. Do your memory management properly
  3. Make something that people will want to use everyday
  4. Make something that works better on your phone than on your desktop
  5. Read Apple’s user interface guidelines otherwise they may reject it from the store

Interview: Kieran Marron

kieranKieran Marron is a web developer at Eduserv, a not-for-profit organisation which delivers technology for various public sector services.

What are you hoping to get out of Dev8D?

This if the first time I’ve ever been to this kind of thing. I’m here out of sheer intrigue! Yesterday morning I attended all of the lightning talks, and I’ve also been to the Zenity coding dojo. The dojo was a very good session, it was a great way to learn from other people.

What kind of skills are you gaining by being here?

I’m very keen to learn more about Zenity, as it’s about repository data stores and sharing data. It’s definitely something we’re going to be using so it’s good to see how it’s been applied early on.

More generally it’s also good to see a whole hall of people working on madcap ideas, just trying things out together and seeing what can happen.

Of all the projects or ideas you’ve seen, which will have the greatest impact?

The 3D printer has definitely stolen the show, It’s absolutely mind boggling! The fact that anyone can do it, and it’s so cheap.

I have an idea: democratic web development

Chuck SeveranceCharles Severance (aka “Dr Chuck”) believes anyone can be a web developer. Here he explains how.

“My crazy dream is for everyone in the world to build their own web applications. Non-technical people are creating content online with text, images and video, but I think there’s scope for so much more. I want to help people create their own Twitters, their own Facebooks – any database-backed website they can think of.

Google have created a way in for this democratisation of web development with their Google Application Engine, which is a free hosted service for apps.

$10 a month for php hosting might not be a big deal for someone in the UK or USA, but for much of the world it’s a lot of money. But now we’re opening up web development to people who might only have access to a computer once a week, from an internet cafe.

So Google have provided the infrastructure for low-cost web applications, but we also need to give non-developers the skills to create whatever they want.

My intention with the book was to take someone who knew nothing about programming, and in a couple of weeks teach them the HTML, CSS and Python they need to create an app which can run in the Google cloud.

I want to bring down the limitations of what you can do online. I want people to leave the limitations of MySpace and instead start thinking of ‘my space’ – their space. Everyone on this planet has the right to own their presence on the internet.

Web development is art, and programming is our paintbrush. We should be opening up this community and giving everyone the tools they need to become artists in our digital landscape.”

Charles Severance’s book Using Google App Engine is published by O’Reilly.

Interview: Steve Lee talks about accessibility

Steve Lee from OSS Watch and Will Walker from GNOMESteve Lee gave a lightning talk on accessibility. Here Steve talks about why accessibility is an important issue for web developers.

“There are a several views with accessibility – the most prevalent is that it’s about helping people with disabilities to interact with technology. But it’s also about widening technology use generally.

The emergence of mobile platforms, for example, has increased the ways in which people use devices. A classic example is a SatNav in a car – it needs audio instructions because it wouldn’t be practical to use a mouse in that situation.

There are certain accessibility issues that we see all the time – one of the worst offenders is requiring users to use a mouse. Blind people don’t use mice, and many people with physical impairments use switches which use keyboard commands. So there’s no way those people would be able to use some whizzy feature you can only see if you wave the mouse cursor.

The other one we see a lot is the alt attribute of images. If you’ve got an important image on a website – and by important I mean an image with isn’t just eye candy – then you need a description of the image so that visually impaired users know what is the purpose of the picture.”

Interview: Bradley McLean on how Dev8D might grow

Bradley McLean

As the CTO of Duraspace I try to find the synergies between our products and communities and external products and communities and set up projects to take advantage of them. Duraspace is a not-for-profit foundation in the US that supports the development of DSpace, Fedora commons and Duracloud.

What are you hoping to get out of Dev8D?

I’m here because it’s an opportunity to talk to many of our colleagues at the same place and the same time and look for project opportunities. This year I have tried to bring some more of the US repository developers here for the same purpose and to start to consider a similar event in the US.

It’s been observed at many formal conferences in the past that many of the value and great ideas come out of the unscheduled sessions so the grand social experiment of Dev8D to build a conference that does that day in day out for several days is fascinating.

I was here last year and concluded that it’s highly effective format and the challenge is to find ways to expand it both to a larger global community and increase the frequency so that the continuity of ideas is maintained. One somewhat idealistic vision for the future, but perhaps achievable, would be to have four Dev8D conferences spaced at roughly quarterly intervals in different areas of the globe. It would be impractical for most people to attend all four but it would allow the ideas and concepts that emerge to get a refresh every few months and you could track areas you are interested in through tweets and blogging and the other outputs. We’re working on it!

Why do communities like Dev8D matter?

Developer communities have been self-organising for a long time and have shown themselves to be of value in fostering innovation and making efficient use of resources. They enable you to find out what’s going on in other institutions and that saves time and money and gets a better product.

Dev8D demonstrates that you can set out to  have that as your sole goal – it doesn’t have to be a secondary effect of some other goal.

 What do you think your organisation gains by you being here?

The organisation gains awareness of current areas of research and project development. It allows us to plan our own research and development to complement it.

Interview: Ben Charlton talks about web security

Ben CharlotonBen Charlton is the systems administrator at the University of Kent. He gave a lightning talk on web security, going through the OWASP 10 worst web security mistakes – and how to fix them.

Why did you give a web security talk?

It’s a hobby interest for me and my day job as well, and it seemed an area that was missing on the programme.

Web security is something we’ve had a problem with at Kent, and I imagine lot of other universities will be having similar issues. Universities tend to have a lot of people doing a lot of things online, and there’s not always a great deal of attention paid to security.

I’ve already had someone come up and ask for more details – it’s impossible to cover everything on web security in 15 minutes. Hopefully the people who were in the room can now go and find out more about the issues, and it will lead to more secure websites.

What do you think your institution gains by sending you here?

Kent gain from a greater breadth of knowledge. I’ve found out about LTI – a really useful way of embedding learning objects in a VLE. That’s something we had no idea about until today. So it’s great for picking up on new technology.

Are you involved in any other communities?

List8d is another project I’ve been involved. I’m also interested in library systems.

What kind of skills are you gaining or improving by being here?

From attending Dev8D last year I knew there would be loads of different areas to get involved in. It’s amazing the things you pick up that you never expected to, just from chatting to people.

Of all the projects or ideas you’ve seen, are there any you think can be put into action straight away?

Wookie is interesting, and of course LTI has immediate applications for the University of Kent. There’s also lots of stuff that isn’t directly relevant but makes you a better programmer, like the stuff on genetic algorithms or learning about Clojure.

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Image reproduced with permission from XKCD.com

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.

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.”