A week of (un)conferences… – part 1

This year has started well for me. At the end of January I was at RewiredState’s SocTV Hackday (Education-themed) and my team won the Switch-over award. Hardly a month later, I come across a whole week of relevant events in London that I really want to go to. I decided to bite the bullet and get an eyewateringly-priced 7-day Travelcard, just to get the accomodation issue out of the way.

The only reason I even knew about the Dev8D un-conference was from the events page on the OSM wiki. It’s for developers working in education and the idea is to have a core skills session in the morning, a lunchtime meetup and then a more specialised module in the afternoon, followed by an ‘open session’. If you wanted to be involved in a particular challenge such as Jorum, you could hang out in Basecamp (conveniently equipped with a perpetual buffet of the usual geek delicacies such as chocolate bars, biscuits, crisps and cola). As before, I’m just going to write up a selection of the most interesting sessions I attended:

I eased myself into Tuesday with HTML5 (even if you know something fairly well there’s always new stuff that pops up). Next was a session I had been looking forward to very much, about PostGIS apps development. Except this was more of a pre-session to iron out many people’s various installation hiccups. My MacBook insisted that StackBuilder was not available for Snow Leopard, however this was apparently down to the flaky wifi connection at the venue and got sorted once I tried again at home.

Image analysis and manipulation are very useful to know if you’re in web design & GIS, so I joined the Computer Vision Techniques workshop in the afternoon. OpenIMAJ is a Java library and even though I know next to nothing about Java, the session was very well organised. With a LiveCD, an extensive tutorial booklet and two friendly instructors, what could go wrong! Except maybe for the framing of my speech bubble overlaid on an image looking a bit lopsided…

Then back to Responsive Webdesign, the ability to make sites look good on any device from a tiny Smartphone to a 20″ screen. This was followed an excellent presentation on Landmap Linked Data – EXPOsing the rich ISO standard geospatial metadata as Linked Data, which I believe was also done with Java. And finally some exciting conversation about one of the current hot topics, paywalls to academic publishing, while waiting for the reception to start (more food).

a selection of Landmap aerial photography postcards

Wednesday began with website accessibility and how to do ‘guerilla’ usability testing. I found myself drifing a bit more between workshops on the second day as I did before. The organisers called this ‘the rule of two feet’ (if it’s not useful for you it’s okay to leave quietly and join another session), unfortunately this doesn’t work if you’re a Python newbie and arrive an hour after the Python session has started.
Another familiar but very useful session was Dev Tools for Chrome, covering many familiar sites such as HTML5 boilerplate, as well as tools I had not used before: CodeKit, CSS3Please.com, the confusingly-spelled colllor.com, codeschool.com and feature-detection tool modernizr.

In the Open Mapping Project Zone, I was introduced to Leaflet which is similar to OpenLayers. I will definitely be having a closer look at the GeoJSON multi polygon and leaflet vectors functionality.

Thursday was spent between two conferences, but I came back to Dev8D in the afternoon. Just in time for the tail end of the PostGIS apps development, I didn’t think I missed much as I already have experience of loading spatial data into PostgreSQL. The Awards and Closing session was thereafter and I was reunited with some old friends and acquaintances, including bumping into someone I’d met at OSGIS Nottingham, who had given a presentation on the Kenyan Map Kibera project last year.

Lastly, there was our bi-monthly Geomob meetup, not to be missed as it featured riveting presentations on the Domesday map, the Vauxhall mind map mashup and Mapquest’s Tile architecture. Some of Mapquest’s code is now on github. A quick pint in the pub and it was time to head back to Hampshire (early start the next morning).

Part 2 about London Citizen CyberScience Summit – coming soon.

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