dev8D – JISC Developer Happiness Days Day One

I have just finished the first day of dev8D – the JISC developer happiness days 2009. There is a lot being blogged about it and tweeted (look for hastags dev8D or dev8D) about it already, so just a quick summary here.

The day saw a number of workshops and code labs – one of them Python for n00bs (albeit developer n00bs rather than n00by n00bs), others on mashups, HTML and CSS. I attended the Python sessions – I must confess to never having used Python and was interested in some snake-wrangling because several of my present and former colleagues swear by it. The morning started up very simply, by showing a number of “Hello World” type programmes and discussing concepts such as test-driven development, classes and IDEs..the first sessions were given by Peter Sefton (of ICE fame and one of our collaborators in the Unilever Centre) and Ben O’Steen from Oxford.

This was followed by a nice introduction to Unicode and how to handle encodings/unicode in python – necessary for any text mining etc..and a discussion of the differences between the recently released Python 3.0 and Python 2.x…(not to mention much sighing about the amount of code that everybody expects to have to re-write).

After a typically British lunch of sandwiches and some pushing and pulling for the few available power strips (I haave never understood this – but why are organisers of large gatherings of hackers and computer-fanciers so blaze when it comes to the provision of power???…they had made an effort, but it was by far not enough….someone please enlighten me…) a nice session on using Python and libraries/software written in Python for data mining problems. In particular solutions for clustering, learning of rules etc. were discussed., Links to referenced libraries are can be found here. This was followed by the final and long session on developing web=-apps using Django and the Google App Engine, given by Brian. After a short discussion of Django, Brian invited ideas for the real time development of a web app, although he had a planned demo, which presumably worked well. Someone suggested to use the “We feel fine” API to retrieve a list of feelings from we feel fine and re-display them in the app to be developed. Inviting such challenges is valiant and to be commended, but in my experience almost inevitably leads to difficulties and so things didn’t quite work out as planned. Nobody took particular exception to this though and there were many offers to continue hacking in the bar or later in the hotel.

The latter was another wonderful feature of the first day – there were people huddled together in every corner of the building either building or discussing prototypes for web apps, mashups and visualisations….it was wonderful and uplifting to be in such an enthusiastic and “can do” atmosphere….where innovatibe things are being done. This is in sharp contrast to the normal world of chemoinformatics and the use of information technology for chemistry as understood in academia….,calculate yet another transition state or develop yet another machine learning technique/QSAR model, dock yet another molecule into yet another protein.

Anyhoo, before I go off into a rant as I am sometimes prone to do on this blog, suffice it to say that the first day was not only enjoyable, but has also taught me a huge amount of stuff. Due to other commitments, I did not participate in the evening’s revelries and entertainment, but undoubtedly there will be reports on this too.

I am looking forward to an equally enjoyable and informative second day tomorrow.

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