Ada Lovelace Day 2014 – Maia Sauren

Posted on October 12th, 2014

As I chose who to write about for this year’s Ada Lovelace Day blog post, it occurred to me that this was becoming a harder task year after year – as I have the privilege of getting to know more and more amazing women in science and technology – and this is a Good Thing.

That said, Maia stands out for a number of reasons. I first met Maia in 2013 while doing Agile training; the university I work for was adopting agile practices and I needed to skill up. The training was inspirational – we looked at our texts and then put them aside as the entire training course was run as a sprint! She taught me to think differently, to challenge assumptions, and to ensure that data was driving decision making – all prerequisites for good agile practice.

I’ve also come to be inspired by other activities Maia seeds and nurtures; the Open Knowledge Foundation‘s Health Hacks, GovHack, and many other side projects that seek to further understanding and provide value. She’s also a knitter, and that gets bonus points :-)

Maia is @sauramaia on Twitter

GovHack 2014

Posted on July 20th, 2014

July 11-12th saw the 3rd country-wide GovHack - a hackathon intended to bring together local, state and federal government data sets, and release them openly to designers, developers and storytellers to create mashups, websites and mobile applications for social good. Coordinated by the luminary Pia Waugh at a national level, and by the equally illustrious Fiona Tweedie at the Victorian level, the event saw over 1300 developers register at over a dozen sites across the nation.

GovHack stickers

GovHack stickers

Hosted in Melbourne by well-known agilistas Thoughtworks, over 100 Melbourne-based participants descended on Collins Street on Friday night, welcomed by warm dumplings and cold drinks. Proceedings were opened via video link, although Malcolm Turnbull’s cameo had a distinctly mixed reaction from the audience, with one or two comments of ‘where’s our #NBN??’ audible over the general buzz.

Thoughtworks’ IKEA-inspired workspace was ideal for the event, with lots of open space, collaborative open plan style desks and standup areas, and an open space for presentations. The stone-clad kitchen was well-stocked with goodies, and proved a prime example of space setting the tone and shaping the type of activities undertaken within it – as it become a focal point for collaboration throughout the night. The space had lots of walls for improvising Agile- and kanban-styled Post-It Note-based story boards, and was in close proximity to both good coffee (mandatory) and excellent Melbourne laneway food.

Nametags at GovHack 2014

Nametags at GovHack 2014 had coloured stars corresponding to developer, design and other skills to help teams form with multidisciplinary skillsets.

Teams either formed beforehand, or through an exercise run by Fiona on Friday night, which paired developers, designers, data visualisation gurus and data scientists together. Luckily the team I was in, Accessible Melbourne, had got in contact via Twitter the week prior, and although some of us hadn’t met in person previously, we bonded quite quickly and got down to delivering a minimum viable product. Matt and Lachlan were our back-end developers, I did some front end design and Lilly was a video guru as well as being a front end designer, and Sarah was our storyteller and documentation point person. We took to our roles well and over the course of 48 hours, we had delivered a minimum viable product – a map of Melbourne with accessibility information drawn from different data sets on it.

In conclusion, GovHack was a fantastic, frenetic, rewarding and eye-opening experience. The high level of collaboration, the high delivery rate of usable products and the atmosphere were phenomenal – and I can’t wait to do it all again next year, hopefully in Geelong.

Key takeaways

  • Javascript is huge. We leveraged two Javascript frameworks quite heavily during development, including Leaflet.js for mapping, and jQuery as part of the front end. Javascript is very much in the ascendance, and mature frameworks such as d3.js are positioning Javascript very much as a technology in its own right, rather than a useful utility to add interactivity or enhance UX – as called out in this Thoughtworks technology radar report.
  • Bootstrap and Bootswatch are incredibly helpful to begin interface development from scratch, and they provide
  • git is in ascendance as the preferred collaborative version control tool. Given all our team were comfortable in git, we chose to host our cost on github.com, and this made it much easier and much more efficient for collaborative coding.
  • You need a grunty machine for video compositing, editing and rendering. One of the acceptance criteria for each of the teams was that they produce a 3 minute video – our team decided to use OpenShot, a great opensource program. Luckily, the machine I took had 8 CPUs and 16GB of RAM, but rendering a 3 minute video in HD format on something less powerful would have taken a lot longer.
  • The exercise at the start was great to get teams together and to better understand one another’s skill sets. GameStorming is the phrase that comes to mind.
  • We were hampered in a couple of places because there is no defined data standard for representing accessibility information of buildings. Different cities represented data differently, and although it was in a similar file format – the ubiquitous JSON – the structure of the data itself meant that it was difficult to aggregate this onto a single map. Future iterations of this project – and accessibility developers in general – would be assisted by a defined and agreed data format.
  • One of the insights I drew was that great minds bounce off each other. During discussions for the project, the team came up with the idea of a ‘SpoonRating’ for conferences – ‘spoons’ is often used as a metaphor by those with disabilities or chronic illnesses for representing what capacity they might have – ie. ‘I’ve used up all my spoons for today’. Sparks lead to lightbulbs.

Key info

 

Installing the Wacom Intuos Pro PTH-651 under Ubuntu 13.10

Posted on February 2nd, 2014

As a present to myself for getting a high distinction while studying my IT Masters, I decided to get a reasonable graphics tablet. As a hobbyist graphic designer and photographer, it was an area I was keen to develop skills in. In determining which model to buy, Wacom was really the only choice – they are the undisputed market leader in this space. The Bamboo range wasn’t function enough for what I wanted, so opted for the mid-range Intuos Pro model, the PTH-651.

The lovely folks at BCC Computers in Geelong put one on backorder (apparently they’re really popular, they kept chasing for me, which was great) and within a couple of weeks I had the device in my hot little hands. It’s just as well that it arrived after linux.conf.au 2014, otherwise I wouldn’t have packed for conf!

The other complication was that I had a Masters’ assignment due; my wonderful work colleague T played Dad and ‘kept it safe’ for me for the week or so until the assignment was finished; then my toy got released! Thanks, T :-)

Installation under Windows

The tablet installed beautifully under both Windows 8, my home machine, and my work laptop running Win 7 Professional. In both cases I had to reboot, but the software installed easily and immediately I was able to use it.

Getting it installed under Ubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander

Installation under Ubuntu was a little more tricky. The good folk at BCC had warned me that I would have to use this difficult thing called the ‘command line’ when I made initial enquiries; this was where I pulled out the photo of my “other” Nexus 4 running Ubuntu Touch and demonstrated this was probably within my capability!

Nexus 4 runnung Ubuntu Touch

I was not to be deterred.

So, after unpacking and installing the Intuos under Windows, I booted into Ubuntu and set to work. Initially, there was nothing. Not even a hesistant jitter from the cursor to indicate it knew of the Intuos, and the Intuos knew of it.

After some reading on the Ubuntu forums, I happened across instructions for downloading, compiling and installing the latest version of the Wacom drivers, from the Linux Wacom project. I’d had mixed results backporting previously, like when I had to backport the Atheros ethernet drivers into my ASUS N76.

This time, fortune was on my side. The new drivers installed perfectly and after a reboot, my Intuos was recognised, and the (still somewhat limited, but vastly improved) control panel was in System Settings.

Mission: accomplished

Other thoughts

Everything about this install was intuitive, other than for changing the nibs on the stylus, which Wacom had helpfully done a video of.

Will my mouse be gone foreover? I’m not sure. Going entirely to the tablet takes a little time and practise, but just like learning a language it’s a skill I’d like to get some more fluency in. I still have a lot to learn with swipes and other gestures, but for now I’m off to a flying start.

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