Well, it’s been an interesting few weeks.
Open Data Playground
After several abortive attempts over the past few months (mea culpa!), Open Data Playground on Thursday evening was a blast.
Things started off with a good hearty conversation between the attendees and our visitors from the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Communications office, Michael and Caroline. They were there to show off and to consult our community about the recently released NIAssembly Open Data API. (They also have a fantastic mobile webapp btw)
First off, I’ll personally say that compared to the likes of data.gov.uk, the NIA API is much cleaner and easier to use quickly (We’re slowly putting together a Python module to make life even easier).
In terms of the data available at the minute, they have Member information going back to ’98, (i.e. who was in each Assembly, who were they representing, etc), Question/Answers put to the Assembly floor since around ’07 (including text-search), and another data set of Organisations, listing Departments, Committees, Political Parties, and All Party Groups.
While all this information is well and good, the major points that came out of the round-table discussion were:
- The Licence under which these datasets are exposed is perfectly relaxed, and is a model that further public and indeed private bodies should emulate (i.e. do whatever you want, make as much money as you like, it’s all yours, just do us a favour; if it’s convenient, give us a solid attribution)
- The Datasets are still growing; Michael aim’s to have information on votes cast exposed by Q4, and more datasets are being developed, but that political inertia was slowing the adoption of similar practices across other departments.
The conversation expanded away from just NIA’s data to the concept of Open Data itself. Emphasis was made that the best Data Scientists
, and the best Data
, source from multiple boring silos and synthesise exciting or intriguing information across those silos.
It is not the place of the resource generator to cherry-pick what they think is interesting.
The follow on topic of debate was centred around the required skills. Willis McGregor from SkillSet made the point that there is both a combination of technical and non-technical skills needed at both the data curation and the data analysis ends, and neither area is well catered for at the minute from anything other than ‘on the job’ learning.
The skills discussed centred around, for the curation side, an almost ‘librarian attitude’, to both the raw data itself and the architecture of that data. On the other side of the data divide (the consumers/analysts), a strong combination of statistics, programming, and a certain amount of, as William Cully described, ‘childlike enquiry’, to explore and recognise areas where correlated datasets don’t match where they should. The act of analysis was discussed as being a compromise between the standard journalistic ‘hunt for bad anamolies’ (the example given was financial transactions, *cough cough
*, but also an interest in finding unexpected correlations between datasets.
The discussion naturally cycled back to NIA, via Healthcare data. The observation was made that the current data policies of the healthcare establishment in Northern Ireland mean that data is not even compatible between local trusts
, and developing a common open-data standard would require major political force and justification, but Caroline suggested that new legislation coming through the European and Westminster governments would require just actions to be enforced.
Looking back out at other datasets, there was some discussion about what data the BBC could provide and what interesting stuff could be done with it, such as crowd sourced archive classification, combined with already implemented voice recognition metadata generation.
All in all it was a very interesting and active event, that settled into several hours of post-officialdom-networking with
a few beers and snacks. Everyone is very much looking forward to the next Open Data Playground, where we’ll hopefully be presenting a roundup of tools that make exploring open data easier, such as APIgee
, and Pandas
. We hope to see you there!
Farset Labs has been cordially invited to an exciting event in England in the coming weeks; Electromagnetic Field is a non-profit three day camping festival for
people with an inquisitive mind or an interest in making things:
hackers, geeks, scientists, engineers, artists, and craftspeople.
It’s taking place in Milton Keynes between the 31st August and the 2nd
September and is inspired by European camps such as the Chaos
Communication Camp and Hacking At Random, which means that we have an
absurd internet connection to a field, and power to every tent.
There will be talks and workshops on everything from genetic
modification to lockpicking, blacksmithing to high-energy physics,
reverse engineering to electronic engineering, quadcopters to beer
brewing and crocheting to carpentry. If you decide to talk about
something, there’s space for you to do so, and plenty of people who want
The campsite will be littered with interesting things to play with and
explore, from ride-on tanks to giant dinosaurs. And more lasers than you
can shake a laser-covered stick at.
Attendees are encouraged to form villages and put on activities for
other people around the camp, and we’re going to have villages covering
everything from gaming to 3D printing. If you’d like to form a village,
get in touch!
Because EMF is an event all about learning things and meeting new people
we really want to get as many hackerspace members along as possible, so
for the next two weeks we’re offering a discount off the full ticket
The following link will grant a discount to anyone who clicks it for the
next two weeks. Pass it around to your members and anyone who might be
BCS Gathering Of Lightning Prep
Another event that’s had a spotty start is Gathering Of Lightning, a series of community driven lightning talks about, well, whatever you like!
So far we have lined up:
Me: Chatting about the current state of Farset Labs
William: Chatting about the current state of his Wireless Localisation work
Daniel: Chatting about, in his words, “clouds ‘n’ shit”
Andrew: talking about Jotterz
TBC: Chatting about the plans for ‘Mermaid’
But the big draw of GoL is the interaction; these are not your classic “sit and listen and ask questions when you’re allowed”; we encourage a healthy amount of interactivity between the chatters and the sitters! Also, if you have anything that crosses your mind on the night, you are more than welcome to jump in with your own rant!
This event is co-hosted with BCS, who are providing the ‘refreshments’ for the event. This isn’t just an opportunity to learn something about what the community is doing, but also to chat with some of the BCS contingent that will be joining us. Try to be nice
See you there!
Another ‘back-burner’ project that’s smoldering away is the adaptation of an old electric wheelchair (kindly donated by Angie, give her many hugs!) into a
weapon of mass destruction telepresence robot and guide. We’re currently chatting between a few ‘Culture’ organisations and with our friends at Fab Labs to put together a set of events where the top of the robot is CAD developed in Farset Labs, prototyped on site with the loan of Fab Lab‘s 3D printer, and then later, taking everyone up to Fab Labs and actually building the prototyped parts full scale.
The working title ‘Mermaid’ is because it’s not very sexy from the waist down. Not my fault. Not my idea. Not naming names.
That’s All Folks
Well, that’s all we have time for this week. If you feel that we’ve missed anything or forgotten anything important, please let us know. I’ll see you all in the space!