Dev8D 2010

The Event

I hadn't expected to get to go to Dev8D 2010. After the success of our entry in 2009, it was agreed that other people in the department should get the opportunity to go. It came as a pleasant surprise to be invited to join the DevCSI Developer Focus group - intended to help foster a development community based around UK HE, and carrying on the work started at Dev8D 2009. Among other responsibilities, this meant helping with some of the preparation and running of the dev8D 2010 event.

I arrived earlyish, and set up in Base Camp where I started putting together a handful of slides for my lightning talk on list8D. Matt Spence and I had prepared a demo the day before, but I wanted to give a bit of a talk about how the dev8D prototype from last year had turned into a proper funded project, how our management had supported the development, and how agile development had helped us maintain realistic expectations. Most excitingly this would include the first demo of the shiny new theme thanks to some amazing last minute work by Matt.

I had also been roped into taking photos for the event and as more people started to turn up I wandered around getting some pictures.

Lunch was excellent, and with the Linked Data event running at the same time on the first day there were around 500 people in the ULU building.

In the afternoon I had an interesting conversation about where I saw cloud computing with a couple of other interesting folks. Consensus seemed to be that it's a useful tool where appropriate, but not always the right answer. Services such as content delivery and compute-on-demand definitely of value, but it's not mature enough for core service provision yet. Feels a bit like virtualisation did 5 years ago - useful but not quite there yet.

I wandered through to the expert zone to prepare for my talk on list8D which for the most part went well. Minor networking issues meant I couldn't completely demo the addition of new items, but it was nice to show off the new theme and the brilliant work put in by Matt and Simon in getting list8D ready for real use.

I also watched the excellent lightning talks by Joss Winn on Wordpress, the Eprints guys talking about their challenge, and a demo of OpenGL development on android.

Wednesday evening was set aside as 'Games Night'. In addition to a collection of the usual and not-so-usual board games, we played Developer Bingo where you had to find other developers who could sign off a specific item on your sheet. These were things like "has been slashdotted", "coded in fortran" or "is a GNU maintainer" -- based off the signup details and a number of 'likely' other suggestions. This was a brilliant icebreaker, and the prizes of lego boardgames were similarly well received with people playing with their prizes with people they'd only met that evening. Once again, the food was excellent, although the ULU bar could have done with some proper beer.

On Thursday morning (having stayed up finishing my slides later than I probably should have) I gave another lightning talk on Web Security which seemed to go down well. It's a lot of material to cover in 15 minutes and not really in any depth, but the major aim was to give people enough information to go and do some further research themselves. Judging from a couple of conversations I had later on in the day, it seems that at least a couple of dev8Ders will do just that so I consider that a success.

I also watched a brilliant lightning talk by Stephen Johnston on using the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform to calculate satellite collision probabilities. Very cool stuff, and well suited to the 'compute power on demand' model.

After this I went off to see the RepRap 3D printer which had been set up and was busy printing a coathook. The buzz around this device was amazing - nobody could quite believe this thing was printing physical objects. Adrian Bowyer gave a great talk back in the expert zone on how RepRap came to be, why it was open source and how he hoped it would revolutionise the ability to make things. What's really impressive is that the RepRap device can print about 50% of its own parts, and they're constantly working to improve that percentage. They also encourage the improvement of the design of individual bits and the contribution of those changes back to the central project.

I really can't describe how cool RepRap is, and how much excitement there was at the event - you really got the feeling that RepRap is a game changer in the same way that the internet allowed anyone to publish - this gives people the ability to manufacture. Best of all, it only costs about £300 to build one from scratch, which puts it well within the reach of individuals and communities.

Thursday afternoon meant the Cloud Computing workshop which had Dave Tarrant covering Amazon EC2 and myself talking about Linode. The workshop room was pretty much full for this which only added to the pressure. Dave did a brilliant job going through the basics of EC2 and most people in the room had a working EC2 instance running Apache and MySQL. The Linode demos went pretty well, and I was happy to show off the recovery console and the new StackScripts, and a number of attendees signed up for some of the free instances that Linode had generously provided for the event.

In the evening (entertain yourself evening), despite the horrible rain a few of us went to Ciao Bella for some tasty italian food, then on to the Jeremy Bentham pub for the Shambrarian meetup which was excellent. Good to find another pub in London that has decent beer on tap and a good whiskey selection.

Friday was finally a day where I could relax a bit, so I spent one session in the genetic algorithms workshop by Richard Jones. This is a novel approach to using multiple generations of virtual creatures to solve problems that are non-trivial to work out through conventional means. Using a set of simple rules and a fitness function, you test each set of 'DNA' against the fitness function, pick the best ones, breed them, then run them again. Over a number of generations, you should end up with a pool of creatures that get better and better at solving the problem.

A great visual example of this is the evolution of Mona Lisa demo.

This was a great introduction to an area I knew nothing about, and although I missed part of the workshop due to helping sort out the nominations for the awards dinner, I really enjoyed getting the chance to play with this alternative approach to solving complicated problems.

I also spent a bit of time on Friday putting together a simple list8D API to LTI bridge, for our entry for the LTI challenge which Steve had noticed would be a perfect fit.

Friday evening was the awards dinner which was a lot of fun - we got to give away some cool awards (best newcomer, best leap-of-faith and best t-shirt were my favourites) and the meal was brilliant. I was taking photos of the presentation of the certificates and while there was a convenient balcony, my flash wasn't really strong enough to reach comfortably which was a shame, since the photos taken from the side of the stage weren't as good as I'd hoped.

On Saturday morning (feeling rather blurry from the very late night) I give my web security lightning talk again as it had been asked for. Again, a good number of questions and another chat from someone after the talk suggests it was worthwhile.

I spent the rest of Saturday helping to judge some of the entries for the challenges. I was amazed at the number and quality of the submissions. Clearly a lot of work had gone into many of them, even only over a few days.

Finally with the close of Dev8D came the awarding of the bounty/challenge prizes (again, as photographer-monkey, but the light was rather better this time), then heading home, exhausted.

The Good

The Bad

The Shiny


Well done, if you've read this far. Here's some stuff that may be of interest:

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Thanks to Mahendra, David F, the UKOLN events team, and anyone else involved in running Dev8D. It was an amazing event and I had a brilliant time.