Example OUseful mashup for Online Journalism students

I co-teach Online Journalism for level three students with Bernie Russell and this week, Tony Hirst from the OU came to Lincoln to give his, now annual, data-driven journalism class. Bernie and I prep the students a few weeks beforehand and then Tony rolls in and packs as much into the class as he can, leaving me and Bernie to pick up the pieces ūüėČ
We’re grateful for it.

Here are Tony’s slides from this week

If you’re a student struggling with the Wikipedia/Pipes/Google Maps exercise, here’s a working example that you can clone and work backwards through to understand how it works. It’s basically slide 6 of the presentation above.

UPDATE: What follows is broken because of changes to the Wikipedia source page structure, changes to Yahoo Pipes and changes to Google Docs. Trying to keep it working is a pain, so it will have to stay broken for now.

Start by looking at this Yahoo Pipe:

http://pipes.yahoo.com/joss_winn/oj3ddjwikipediamashup

When you’re signed into Yahoo Pipes, clone the pipe and then click on view source of that example above. You’ll see this:

Source of pipe

The CSV source is https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0Arh4BnSV2XSIdG1aUmd2dlFkTjdwRjlnazdKTk5mckE&single=true&gid=0&range=A1%3AG138&output=csv

You can look at the spreadsheet that is pulling data in from Wikipedia here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Arh4BnSV2XSIdG1aUmd2dlFkTjdwRjlnazdKTk5mckE&usp=sharing

Note how I’ve fetched the CSV into Yahoo Pipes, defined the data I’m interested in, renamed two key attributes, renamed the title attribute to be ‘population’ and then used the location builder in a loop block to determine the geo-locations. Once that’s done, it runs in the Pipe like this:

Is this displaying correctly? I’ve found that embeds directly from Yahoo Pipes can be a bit flaky.

However, if you right click on the KML link and paste the KML link into the search box of Google maps, then you should see something like this:


View Larger Map

You can see that both Yahoo Pipes and Google Maps allow you to embed the map into any web page.

Give it a try and get in touch if you’re having trouble. Of course, we can talk about it in class, too.

Why should I be interested in 3D printing?

I feel like I’ve arrived late to the party.¬†I’d seen David Flanders and others working with 3D printers at Dev8D but I was thinking about other things at the time and never appreciated how significant and wonderful this new technology is and could be. If you’re wondering what 3D printing is, or just don’t get it, watch this and read the articles below. I’m hoping we can get a group together in Lincoln to start making stuff and more printers for others. I know there is interest among some staff and students here and it shouldn’t take much to bring together an informal group interested in exploring the different educational uses of 3D printers (as well as have a lot of fun).

Economist: More than just digital quilting

BBC: 3D Printing offers ability to print physical objects

Ben O’Steen: Making the physical from the digital

DevXS: Improve, challenge, positively disrupt

Even student hackers need to rest

I’ve spent the last five months helping to organise and host DevXS, a national student developer conference. The conference on 11-13th November was fully booked and a great success. Over 170 students attended from across the UK, representing 37 universities, as well as a further 20 tutors and developer mentors working in the Higher Education sector.

You can read more about DevXS on the conference blog which was updated throughout the weekend by a superb team of media students. There are lots of videos and presentation slides on the blog as well as pictures and information about the prize winners and their applications.

It was a really exhausting and satisfying experience to be involved in and not only was it the first conference of its kind in the UK but it looks like it will become an annual event hosted by a different university each year and organised by the JISC-funded DevCSI project.

You can read a report about the conference on the DevCSI website. The Guardian also published an article (originally titled ‘Hacking the Academy’) in the run up to the conference, which I wrote with Mike Neary.

http://youtu.be/DO_tlvy0qs8

Aberystwyth hardware hackers
Aberystwyth hardware hackers
Team HTTP Error #418
Team HTTP Error #418
Some brought their desktop rigs
Some brought their desktop rigs
The Aberdeen team raised sponsorship to attend
The Aberdeen team raised sponsorship to attend
The venue
The Engine Shed, where we lived for two days.

 

 

data.lincoln.ac.uk

Recently, I posted on the LNCD blog about our work on data.lincoln.ac.uk. You might find it interesting.

One of the¬†by-products outcomes of our recent ‚Äėproper‚Äô projects is¬†data.lincoln.ac.uk. This is simply a site that documents the data we are warehousing in our MongoDB datastore (called ‚ÄėNucleus‚Äô), and the programatic methods by which we (and the public) can access that data. Most of the data is licensed for public use, but where appropriate (e.g. personal data), a secure access token must be requested. Currently, outside of our own projects, the only people needing/wanting secure access tokens are some third year computer science students who are using data.lincoln.ac.uk as the basis for their dissertation projects and require access to their own personal event data.

Our approach to publishing open data at the University of Lincoln has been to do so in a way that was immediately useful to the work we were doing…

Read more about ‘an open platform for development‘.

Hacking the Academy

An article I wrote with Mike Neary for the Guardian was published last week. It relates to my recent note about Hacking as an Academic Practice and is part of a longer journal article that I’m hoping to have finished by the end of the year about the importance of university culture to the history of hacking.

The publication of the article was nicely timed to coincide with DevXS, the national student developer conference we’re hosting next month. Last week there was a surge of registrations and we’re now fully booked. It should be a great event.

Hackers are vital to the university culture of openness and innovation

Have you noticed anything missing from the ongoing phone hacking scandal involving the News of the World? There are no hackers involved. This is the latest example of hacking’s troubled history with the mainstream media, which confuses the “playful cleverness” of expert computer programmers with the malicious meddling of computer crackers and criminal journalists. With this confusion, the rich and fruitful history of the true hackers is diminished and a thriving intellectual culture focused on problem solving, self-directed learning and the free exchange of knowledge is undermined.

Much has been written about hackers and hacking, but rarely is it contextualised as part of the scholarly tradition. Yet careful reading of the history of hacking reveals that it is very much a part of the work and values of universities and that the hacker ethic is shared, in part at least, by most academics working today.

Read more

Hacking as an academic practice

Just a note to say that I think those of us working in universities should be defending the terms ‘hack’, ‘hacker‘ and ‘hacking’. Hacking has had some really bad press recently and as a consequence is terribly mis-understood, but is a term that was born out of the work ethic of pioneering academics and a practice that’s still worth defending. The history of EdTech has its roots in hacking culture. Stand up for it! Stand up for the Hackers!*

hacker: n.[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe]

  1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. RFC1392, the¬†Internet Users’ Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.
  2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming.
  3. A person capable of appreciating hack value.
  4. A person who is good at programming quickly.
  5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in ‚Äėa Unix hacker‚Äô. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.)
  6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.
  7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.
  8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term ‚Äėhacker‚Äô also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see¬†the network. For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the¬†How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see¬†hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you’ll quickly be labeled¬†bogus). See also¬†geek,¬†wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry’s by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

In addition to the links above, here’s some worthwhile reading if you’re interested:

* Dedicated to Jim Groom, Tony Hirst, Alex Bilbie and Nick Jackson. Fine Hackers working in universities today.

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.

WordPress, caching and RAM usage

A brief technical post. In the past week, I’ve offered this advice to a couple of people, so I thought I might as well write it down here, once and for all.

In running WriteToReply, JISCPress and blogs.lincoln, I’ve learned a bit about optimising WordPress’ use of RAM. Basically, the steps I use are:

  1. wp-super-cache for file caching
  2. eaccelerator (or xcache – don’t use APC, it doesn’t work with wp-super-cache) for PHP caching
  3. MySQL usually comes with a number of sample config files (in /usr/share/mysql/) for small, medium, large and huge servers. Try the medium config file and see how you get on. Compare the variables in each file to understand how you can tweak my.cnf. Also, try tune mysql, though this might recommend more resource for optimal performance.

For your comparison, WriteToReply runs on a minimal Ubuntu VPS with 1.5GB RAM and hosts a small Mediawiki site and a WordPress network  of 34 live sites. I know from experience that reducing RAM to just 1GB will cause the server to freeze within a matter of hours as it runs out of memory.

Got any tips? I’d love to hear about them. Thanks.