Work at web scale* on the Orbital project

This job is now formally open for applications.

Just a heads up to say that we’ll be advertising for a Web Developer to work on Orbital, our JISC-funded ‘Managing Research Data’ project. The post, starting in March/April, will be a 12 month, full-time, grade 5 (c.£21K) position.

The Web Developer (‘you’) will be working in the Centre for Educational Research and Development, alongside Nick Jackson, Lead Developer on Orbital, and also benefit from being in a team that includes staff in central ICT services and the Library. Orbital builds on and extends previous work we’ve been doing over the last couple of years, so if you’re interested, you should read through our projects pages.

If we were to summarise our technologies and interests I guess they would be #agile, #opensource, #opendata #LAMP, #php, #codeigniter, #mongoDB, #OAuth, #APIs, #HTML5, #CSS3, #github and moving towards #RDF and #LinkedData.

Just seeing these hashtags listed together should cause your heart to beat with excitement :-)

When we advertise in January, you’ll see that the job spec is actually a pretty standard affair. What I want to emphasise here is how interesting and fun the job will be.

The key section in the Job Description is what you’d be working on with Nick:

  1. Development and implementation of a set of web services, which re-use and develop our previous, JISC-funded work as well as other initiatives (e.g. SWORD and DataCite DOIs).
  2. Documented source code will be made available under an open source license by the end of the project.
  3. Development and implementation of mechanisms for managing and transferring data, including the use of MongoDB, OAuth, read/write RESTful APIs, SWORD2 interoperability, and integration with the administrative functions of EPrints.

That actually summarises a lot of work.

I’m managing the project and try to run things with as little hierarchy as possible within a university environment. You’ll always know the project priorities and will be trusted to self-organise and deliver on time, working to two-week iterations and, roughly, monthly releases. I regularly reflect on how we work and our overall working environment. For Orbital, I favour the Crystal Clear agile methodology, as does Nick. You’ll be encouraged to reflect on this with us, too.

We work hard, and not always 9-5pm, but we work at a pace that is sustainable over a long period of time. We take our work seriously but, in the spirit of hacking, are always looking for ways to have fun, too. We recognise that we’re fortunate to be working in a diverse and intellectually stimulating academic environment, but are user/product focused at the end of the day. You’ll be working directly with our users, who are Researchers in the School of Engineering and Siemens, and staff in the Library and ICT. You’ll need to be showing them refreshed, working software every couple of weeks and iteratively improving Orbital, based on their feedback and requirements. There may also be times when you’ll be asked to talk publicly about your work and you’ll be encouraged to blog about it every so often, too. I expect the project to produce one or two conference/journal papers, and you’ll be named as a contributor and can take as active role in that as you like.

I hope this sounds like an interesting job. At £21K, I recognise that it will probably attract younger developers looking to gain experience, though of course, we welcome applications from anyone whatever your age. By the time the post starts, we’ll have set up a decent dev/staging/production environment, hosted in the cloud, and relying on Github and Jenkins to keep things versioned, integrated and tested. Nick will have been developing Orbital for a couple of months or more and laid the groundwork for someone to start coding quickly in a supportive environment.

If you’re thinking of applying and don’t live in Lincoln, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s a decent small city, and a relatively cheap place to live. The campus is modern and sits by a Marina in the middle of the city. You can walk to work. I love the place. Oh, and you can choose your own hardware for development, within reason. Most of us use Macs, but whatever suits you. I’ll ask the successful candidate what they prefer when we offer them the job.

If, after reading around the project website, you’ve got any questions about the post, please do get in touch. Thanks.

* Wondering what the hell ‘web scale’ means? Something like this.

Open Data at Lincoln: What have we got?

Tony Hirst recently blogged about the Open Data scene in UK HE, mentioning Lincoln as one of the few universities that are currently contributing HEI-related #opendata to the web. Sooner or later, I’ll write a more reflective post, but here I just wanted to document the current situation (that I’m aware of) at Lincoln. There are two groups that take an interest in furthering open data at Lincoln: LiSC, led by Prof. Shaun Lawson, and LNCD, the new cross-university group I co-ordinate which consolidates a lot of the previous and current work listed below. (For a broader overview of recent work, see this post).

Derek Foster in LiSC recently released energy data from our main campus buildings, updated every 2hrs on Pachube. I was just speaking to Nick and Alex and I think they plan to pull this data into our nucleus datastore, combine it with the campus location-based work we’ve done and generate dynamic heat maps (assuming Derek isn’t already working on something similar??)

LiSC are also mashing open data from the UK Police Crime Statistics database to create a social application called FearSquare and last week put together MashMyGov, a site that randomly suggests mashups using data sourced from Data.Gov.UK.

In the past couple of years, LNCD have worked on:

JISCPress, a 2009/10 project we worked on that didn’t release any data but developed a prototype WordPress platform that atomises documents for publication and comment on the web and spits out lots of data in open formats. It also uses OpenCalais, Triplify and can push RDF Linked Data to the Talis Platform. JISC now use it to publish documents for comment.

Total Recal, a JISC-funded project we completed recently and will roll out across the university this September. As well as providing a fairly comprehensive and flexible calendaring service at the university, it allowed us to work on our space-time data and develop a number of APIs on top of…

Nucleus, the epicentre of our open data efforts. This is a data store, using MongoDB, which aggregates data from a number of disparate university databases and makes that data available over secure APIs. Through a lot of hard work over the last year, Alex and Nick have compiled the single largest data store that we have at the university. Currently, it offers APIs to university events, calendars, locations and people. We’ll also be adding APIs to over 250,000 CC0 licensed bibliographic records held in Nucleus, too (see Jerome below). It also uses the OAuth-based authentication that Alex has developed.

Linking You, is a JISC-funded project we delivered last week to JISC, which looked at our use of URIs, undertook a comparative study of 40 HEI websites (more to come), proposed a high-level data model for use by the HEI sector and made some recommendations for further work. What we’ve learned on this project will have a lasting effect on the way we present our data and on our wider advocacy of open data to the university sector. I really hope that our recommendations will lead us to more discussion and collaboration with people interested in opening university data.

lncn.eu, a URL shortener that Alex and Nick developed in their spare time for a while and has since been formally adopted by the university. Naturally, lncn.eu has an API and can be used (e.g. Jerome) as a proxy for other services, collecting real-time analytics.

Jerome, is a current JISC-funded project that will release over 250,000 bibliographic records under a CC0 license. The data is stored in Nucleus and documented APIs will be available by the end of July. This is a very cool project managed by Paul Stainthorp in the Library (who’s also a member of LNCD).

We’re currently using data.online.lincoln.ac.uk to document the data that is accessible over our APIs. At some point, I can see us moving to data.lincoln.ac.uk – we just need to find time to discuss this with the right people. So far, we haven’t really gone down the RDF/Linked Data route, preferring to offer data that is linked (e.g. locations and events data are linked) and publicly accessible over APIs that are authenticated where necessary and open whenever possible. We are keen to engage in the RDF/Linked Data discussion – it’s just a matter of finding time. Please invite us to your discussions, if you think we might have something to contribute!

JISC INF11 Programme Meeting: From unprojects to services

I’m going to the JISC Information Programme Meeting on Thursday and have been asked to join a panel where I’ll talk about our work at Lincoln under the heading ‘from unprojects to services’. Here are my notes.

Over the last couple of years, staff in CERD, The Library and ICT have worked closely together on a number of ‘rapid innovation’ projects, which have sometimes later attracted JISC funding.  Much of our work has been undertaken at the initiative of individual staff, who have benefited from a supportive ICT environment that allows us the freedom to develop and test our ideas without running into bureaucratic walls. ICT – in particular the head of the department, Mike Day, and head of the Online Services Team, Tim Simmonds – recognised the benefits of employing undergraduate students and recent graduates, and established a post which Nick Jackson and Alex Bilbie share. Alongside this, I have been applying for JISC funding and successful bids have allowed us to employ Nick and Alex full-time rather than part-time. In recent months, this has worked very well and currently much of their time is spent working on JISC-funded projects which bring value to the University. Below, are a list of the services that this culture of innovation has allowed us to work on over the last year or so. Click on the links to go to the services.

The Common Web Design: Distributed HTML5/CSS3 template for internal services

Posters: A repository for visual communications

lncn.eu: The official URL shortner for the university. Provides real-time stats, API and acts as branded/trusted proxy for other services.

Single Sign On: OAuth/SAML/Shibboleth/NTML/Eduroam integration

Zen Desk: University Help Desk

My Calendar: An aggregation of space-time data into a flexible web service. JISC-funded.

Nucleus: Datastore for People, Events, Bibliographic and Location data (and more to follow). Provides (open) APIs to all other services. MongoDB.

James Docherty, a third year student, used the nucleus datastore as a source of data for his final year project: Situated Displays for buildings, showing room booking information, posters and announcements.

Staff Directory: Fast, versatile people-focused search engine

Jerome: Fast, modern, personalised library search portal aggregating books, journals and EPrints data. JISC-funded.

Mobile: A directory of university services for mobile devices

Online Server Monitoring: A simple dashboard for anyone to check whether a service is working

QR Codes: Will be used for asset tags and already being used in rooms to create Help Desk tickets.

  • Most of these services push and pull data to Nucleus, the central, open datastore built on MongoDB. e.g. Zen Desk=People + Locations, My Calendar=Events, Jerome=Bibliographic
  • We’re currently looking at how Nucleus can also be a source for Linked Data. It has open(ish) APIs.
  • CWD sites transparently sign the person in to the site, if they are signed in elsewhere.
  • We like Open Source. SSO is mostly open source software. Alex has released his OAuth 2.0 code. CWD likely to be open source; MongoDB, bits and pieces from Jerome and My Calendar.
  • As we build these services, they are being integrated, too. e.g. lncn.eu will be a URL resolver for Jerome offering realtime monitoring; posters will show up in My Calendar events; CWD is the design framework for My Calendar.
  • Most of these services are for official launch in September. They will be included in the new ICT Handbook, included in brochures and other announcements.
  • We’re working with the Student Union to develop the use of FourSquare around the university.
  • Now that we know we can develop this way and that it works and we enjoy it, we’re hoping to expand from two to four student/graduate developers and have our own budget for hardware/software/conferences and to give to staff and students that want to join us.
  • Our approach links into the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy: Student as Producer. We want to work with students and staff across disciplines to create useful, innovative and enjoyable online services that make the University of Lincoln a great place to work and study at. It’s not about a team that works on ‘educational technology’, but rather a network of people who develop and support technologies that make Lincoln a productive environment for research, teaching and learning. It’s inclusive, with students (and therefore learning) at its core.

A co-operatively run ‘Social Science Centre’

UPDATE (01/02/2011): This idea is now developing into an autonomous Social Science Centre. Click here for the website.

The university has a staff suggestion scheme that rewards good ideas from staff. I’ve just submitted a proposal to the university for help in setting up a Social Science Centre. This is based loosely on an unsuccessful bid to HEFCE that we made a couple of months ago to develop an ‘academic commons’ of sustainable, co-operatively run centres for higher education, somewhat based on the Social Centre model. Initially, as you’ll see below, we’re proposing that courses are run in existing public spaces, with a view to buying or renting a city-centre property further down the line. Attached to this (preferably on the premises) would be some kind of co-operatively run business (I like the idea of a decent bakery – you can’t buy real bread in Lincoln), which would bring in an income to help cover running costs and act as a way to connect with local residents apart from and beyond the educational provision of the Centre.

Anyway, here’s a brief overview of the idea which we’re keen to develop over the next year. If you’re interested and in Lincoln, then a few of us are meeting In Lincoln at 5pm on the 25th September to discuss the practicalities of this idea further. Members of the Cowley Club and Sumac Centre will be there to talk about their experience setting up their respective Social Centres. Email me for more details.

The proposal is that the university support the development of an independent Social Science Centre in Lincoln. The Social Science Centre will offer credit bearing courses in Sociology, Politics and Philosophy, programmes not currently available as part of the University of Lincoln’s portfolio. A key aspect of the Centre is that students would not pay any tuition fees. The Centre would be community based, utilising already existing public spaces in Lincoln, e.g., libraries, museums, schools, community centres. The Centre will be ran as a co-operative, involving local people in the managing and governance of this provision. The courses will be provided by academic members of the co-operative on a voluntary basis. The role of the university will be to provide accreditation for the programmes and an advisory role in establishing the centre as well as an ongoing supportive input. There will be no direct ongoing costs for which the university will be liable. An important principle for the Centre is that it is sustainable and, for that reason, the number of students will not exceed twenty in any academic year. It is intended that this model of sustainable, co-operatively run centres for higher education will act as a catalyst for the creation of other centres for higher education.

Jack of all trades

For much of my life, I’ve taken leaps from one interest to a seemingly unrelated other. As a kid, life was just a chronic habit of fads that my parents endured with some amusement. In my late teens, I slowed down and have managed to extend my interests over a period of years rather than weeks or months.

Typically, if I have a mild interest in something, I’ll buy a book.  Even in these days of the web, an interest is not ‘christened’ until I’ve got a book on the subject in my hands. Here are the pivotal books that marked turning points for me with a brief explanation of why. I’d be interested if anyone else can plot their life in this way.

Incredibly Strange Films

Jonathan Ross presented a series called ‘The Incredibly Strange Film Show‘.  It was the high point of his career, if you ask me, and came into my life out of nowhere.  I dropped out of college to watch films and work in a video shop. Had I missed this series, I might have ended up being a Civil Engineer.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

For some reason, I don’t remember why, I left the video shop to study Journalism in London. By the time I ‘qualified’, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a hack. Besides, at the age of 19, I knew nothing about the world. How was I supposed to write about it? I returned home with no plans and picked up this book that my dad was reading. It totally captured me, so I decided to apply to university to study Buddhism. Up to that point, I had no aspirations to go to university and was the first person in my extended family to do so. I got a 1st Class degree because I loved the subject and won funding to study for an MA in Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan. I studied Japanese, practised Zen for four years, living for a while across the road from a Zen temple in London, and spent a summer in a Japanese Zen monastery. I went on to live in Japan for three years.  All because of this book.

Independent filmmaking

Towards the end of my MA, Buddhism had become entirely academic for me and I’d lost the deeply personal motivation that I had for it. Keen to complete my MA and move on, I looked for a distraction to see me through the last few months of study and picked up this book. I borrowed filmmaking equipment from the university and taught myself how to use an edit suite before heading off to Japan for three years. While I was in Japan, I ran a monthly cinematheque for experimental film and video called Eiga Arts and organised exchanges of experimental film and video between Japanese and international filmmakers. It was a blast but it wasn’t going to pay the rent so when I returned to the UK, I studied for an MA in Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia. It’s been paying the rent ever since. I was also able to use a lot of the film I’d shot while in Japan and the US to partially meet the requirements for my MA.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

While in Japan, I had the money to buy a nice new iMac. It came with OS 9 installed, which constantly crashed. I got so frustrated having spent nearly $2000 on on a computer that didn’t work, that I looked for alternatives and found Linux. This was ten years ago and while support for Intel-based desktop computers was still fairly hit and miss, support for Apple machines was a niche within a niche. Still, I persevered and over the course of a year, learned my way around a Unix/Linux OS. It’s the only time I’ve ever worked on something all night. Repeatedly. Learning about the Open Source movement was unavoidable and I picked up this book and knew I’d made the right decision, despite the huge learning curve. It gave social and political significance to a simple act borne out of frustration. I’ve been running Linux on my desktop for over ten years now and have a basic certification in Linux SysAdmin. Open Source opened the door for me to the Commons.

Shelter

After finishing my MA in Film Archiving, I landed a job as Moving Image Archivist, with the British Film Institute. I stayed there for a couple of years until I saw that Amnesty International were advertising for an Audiovisual Archivist. The focus at Amnesty was on digital archiving and Digital Asset Management and so I found myself moving into the more general profession of Information Management. The problem with this, for me, was that I became removed from the physical aspects of film. It was all bits and bytes, storage and standards. After a couple of years at Amnesty, London was feeling oppressive and we saw no future for us there. I got talking to my Mum and Dad about how we could help each other out and we decided to build a house in their garden (my Dad was a builder but he died before we got planning permission). The deal was that we got the land for free (so making the whole thing affordable), and with 30 years or so of earning ahead of us, we’d look out for them financially as they headed for retirement. We wanted to build something modest but exceptional and I bought this book which is still a huge inspiration to me. It’s full of illustrated stories of people that have built their own, often mad, places to live. As it happened, planning restrictions meant that we had to build a fairly conventional stone cottage style place, which is great, but I still have aspirations to build a geodesic dome or a house raised on poles some day.

Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today

Between March 2007 and February 2008, we had a baby daughter, moved to Lincoln two weeks after she was born, got married and built a house. I was also lucky to spot an advertisement for a job working part-time on a JISC funded repository project at the University of Lincoln, which connected nicely with my work on digital archiving at Amnesty and my interest in the Commons. When the project ended, I applied for the job I’m in now, as Technology Officer, looking at how technology might be used to support research, teaching and learning. I love it. Last summer, I started to think about the problems of technology and one that seemed obvious to me was the relationship between energy consumption and technology and how a future energy crisis and climate change legislation might impact the use of technology in Higher Education. It’s an area of research that I’m still pursuing, but the most significant effect it’s had on me is to open my eyes to the political dimensions of energy and the economy. Holloway’s book was suggested to me and it had a similar effect as reading the book on Zen. In particular, the first chapter which talks about ‘The Scream’, resonates for me with the central Buddhist idea of suffering. There have been other connections, too, not least the metaphysical aspects of Marxist theory, which often remind me of the metaphysical aspects of religious philosophy.

And that’s where I am today.

Join the lunchtime ‘Blogging and the Social Web Interest Group’!

Do you blog? Are you interested in blogging and other aspects of the Social Web? Do you know that the university has its own WordPress blogging and social networking platform to support all students and staff in their research, teaching and learning? (You probably do if you’re reading this on my blog!)

Blogs are modern, easy to use websites for personal, team, project and departmental use.

The Centre for Educational Research and Development are starting an informal lunchtime ‘blogs and social web interest group’. The group will meet monthly and is open to all staff and students to drop in and talk about how you use the social web and how you would like to use the social web. Share ideas and what you know; learn from other members. Bring your lunch and your laptop if you have one. Some laptops will be available during the hour.

The first get-together is on Wednesday October 14th, 1-2pm in MB1009 (the ‘Bean Bag Room’). Here’s the full calendar for the year. Click here to subscribe to this calendar or use the Google button below.

Leave a comment below, if you have any questions.

Mozilla & Creative Commons Open Education Course /1

Yesterday, I started a six week course on Open Education, organised by the Mozilla FoundationCreative Commons and The Peer 2 Peer University. Like all 26 participants, I’ll be blogging about the course with the tags ‘MozOpenEd’ or ‘MozOpenEdCourse’ and it looks like we’ll be aggregating as much online activity as possible into a blog I’m setting up here.

The course outline looks really interesting and yesterday’s first online session got off to a good start. Working with people both synchronously and asynchronously online is always interesting and the enthusiasm and democracy within the group is going to be quite infectious.  Some good Case Studies have been provided for discussion and we’ve each been asked to work on a blueprint project over the next six weeks. I’ll be working on student identity, data portability, portfolios and the transition to and from university, using this WordPress/BuddyPress platform I run at the University of Lincoln. My starting point is that university life should not necessarily encumber students with a further digital identity, should build on their existing digital identity and portfolio and that all digital products of student life should be portable as they are increasingly becoming elsewhere.

My thinking is not at all clear right now, but I’ve got a strong gut feeling that this topic is going to both interest me and be practically implementable. I’m working on a project with a colleague who teaches animation and it may be that I can combine these projects to the benefit of all. I signed up for the course so that I would be forced to clarify my thinking and hopefully benefit the work I’m already doing.

Anyway, more on all of this next week.