Fairly Positive

Dev8D, 2012

Last week (14 - 16 February, 2012) I attended the Dev8D developer conference with Damian Steer. The conference is primarily aimed at developers working in Higher Education, but also attracts developers from other sectors and some indies as well. Calling it a conference doesn’t really do it justice, since there is a mix of invited speakers, delegates offering talks, workshops and tutorials. The event is free for the attendee and is funded by JISC and other sponsors. The Professional Development Group of IT Services at the University of Bristol were kind enough to fund my travel, accommodation and subsistence.

This year the format changed slightly with less lightning talks and the ability for people to offer sessions on whiteboards. In the afternoon, those sessions that attracted the most interest went ahead - you put a mark next to a session you were interested in with a marker pen. As you would expect, the quality of the sessions varied but the net gain of learning new technologies and talking to other developers outweighed any minus points. In fact, Dev8D promotes voting with your feet - if a session isn’t what you expect or too easy, leave and find another session.

On the first day I attended Alex Bilbie’s (@alexbilbie) session on HTML5. I’ve already used some HTML5 with m.bristol.ac.uk but it was good to see an overview of the various changes to HTML5, the tags available and examples of where to use them.

I also attended the Pearson Education session on their Developer API, which includes access to FT Press, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides and Longman Dictionary. The API travel guide looks particularly interesting if you wanted data from one of the cities they cover. The dictionary also includes multimedia content for certain words, so could be used in Flash card type applications for kids. I think Pearson are still working on the pricing framework since the API call limit doesn’t seem high for some APIs like the dictionary and would become expensive quickly.

On the first day I also attended the Jorum session. I wanted to learn a little more about learning repositories. Mimas are working on proving a RESTful API over Jorum which uses DSpace. The Jorum team have a challenge to create “applications that demonstrate useful, innovative, original use the Jorum DSpace Read API for the benefit of HE and FE”. I was initially interested in this, but it looks like the team have a lot of work to make the API scalable since a call can return more information than you need. For example, I sent a query for information on a community - it returned ~65,000 lines of JSON. This was for too much data for my poor brain to parse and work out what would be relevant for further API requests.

The end of the first day was marred by breaking my glasses and I missed the morning of the second day due to being at an opticians getting a new pair.

Mike broke his glasses ... idiot

When I got back to the event I attended a session on The JLern Experiment and related programming challenge. This is around a JISC Learning Registry Node which is attempting to create a community of creators, publishers, curators and consumers. I need to read more information about The Learning Registry project and the idea of capturing ‘paradata’ around a learning resource. In this sense, ‘paradata’ refers to activity data around an item, such as feedback, rankings and usage data.

I was interested in the Introductory and Advanced session on CoffeeScript by Jack Franklin. The few slides and then a programming challenge certainly made me concentrate :-). I never enjoy writing JavaScript and I thought CoffeeScript might be a useful approach. CoffeeScript is a language that compiles to JavaScript and has removed braces and semicolons and indentations are important. So, the following JavaScript …

square = function(x) {
  return x * x;

… can be written like this in CoffeeScript:

square = (x) -> x * x

It seems fairly clean although verbosity in languages doesn’t usually bother me - I like Java and Objective C :-). I’m going to spend sometime learning CoffeeScript over the next few weeks and have bought Trevor Burnham’s CoffeeScript: Accelerated JavaScript Development. If I become confident in using the language I’ll offer to talk about it for one of our internal tech talks.

On the second day I also went to a really informative session by Owen Stephens and Thomas Meehan on library data. I’ve started accessing library data for the m-biblio and they provided a really useful session on MARC and why library catalogues provide the information in a certain format. The session was a rich mine of information on systems, tools and formats.

The third day was busy attending sessions, looking in the project zone and catching up with some developers who hadn’t been able to attend the earlier days of the event. I attended a session on ePub but the exercises including creating a basic epub book by hand but that involved copying XML off a number of powerpoint slides. It was interesting to see what constitutes the epub format but you’d definitely create one with tools such as KindleGen 2 or iBooks Author. Damian and I also managed to have a whirlwind visit to the British Library to see a number of exhibits, including ‘Manga: Professor Munakata‚Äôs British Museum adventure’.

One exciting development of the three days was finding out that Wilbert Kraan (@wilm) of Cetis uses Glint, the SPARQL client application that I wrote for OS X. I really need to find some time to fix some bugs and develop the application further!

I would highly recommend Dev8D to other developers in the HEI community. There are many interesting talks and sessions and, with several parallel tracks, the hardest thing is deciding what to attend.

Exhibit at the British Museum, with pointless photoshop filter added