Open Data

SQLBits 7 – Saturday Conference Rundown

Starting my third day at SQLBits with a hat-trick of talks on technologies I’m unfamiliar with was a bit of a head-bender but an enjoyable one nonetheless. The first talk I chose was a great overview of how to use completely free tools (SQL Server Express 2008 R2, among others) with completely free spacial data (Ordnance Survey’s Open Data) to create spatial reports in Reporting Services. Since it’s not an area I’m working in at the moment I didn’t get any major take-aways but I do have an understanding of what’s possible and how to go about it – if you’re in the same boat you should check out FWTools, Shape2SQL and Grid InQuest.

The second talk was Matt Whitfield‘s ‘CLR Demystified’ and not being a developer I’ll admit that much of it went over my head but I get the basic principles and most importantly I know what’s possible and where I might make use of CLR. The most interesting avenues for me are the ability to write custom aggregate functions and define custom data types – I was also impressed with the opportunity to increase performance in certain text processing / forward log parsing situations.

The next talk I attended was a gentle introduction to PowerShell and James Boother did a good job of showing where it might be useful for admin tasks, in particular the example of purging old backup/log files based on age lit my eyes up. There was also a demo of PowerShell authenticating with Twitter and posting tweets as admin alerts, alas the demo failed but that could well have been a timeout on the Uni’s WiFi network or just plain old demo-gremlins. I must say thou that I still can’t view PowerShell with some sense of disappointment because with all it’s flexibility and power it’s so damned wordy and many of the tasks it performs could be achieved with less code that a good old Bash script.

As with Friday I attended Quest‘s lunchtime session run by Kevin Kline, Ian Kick, Brent Ozar and Buck Woody – they’re some of the most experienced guys in the SQL community and when you get them together they’re funny as he’ll too so I was both entertained and informed in their myth-busting quiz.

My first afternoon talk was Gary Short’s session on NoSQL which predictably sparked a few polite but irate rebuttals from argumentative DBAs but the session itself was an excellent whistle-stop tour of the predominant NoSQL technologies and use cases. I was encouraged to hear from someone experienced in the field that nobody has quite put together all the pieces to hook up BI tools (that traditionally expect relational/dimensional models or OLAP sources) to the NoSQL back-ends, it’s a shame since I might need to do so pretty soon – I guess I’m going to have to get my hands dirty then!

The final talk was from Kevin Kline of Quest who covered SQL Injection, it was an informative talk that gave me pause for thought about a couple ‘best practices’ that I probably ought to harden a little. Kevin recommended a few tools that I’ll definitely be checking out at some point, notably:

And a few handy sites/articles:

Once more it was a great conference and the free day was every bit as good as the paid day, I can honestly say that I walked out of the event already looking forward to the next one.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Ash - 20101003 at 21:08

Categories: Events, Microsoft SQL Server, NoSQL, Open Data, Security   Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Open Tech 2010 – Review & Roundup

Until a couple of months ago I’d never heard of the Open Tech conference, it’s organised by the UKUUG (the UK’s Unix & Open Systems User Group) but it was recommended by someone in the London 2600 mailing list and I had the day free so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Being an occasional rather than hard-core Unix/Linux user I was worried that much of the conference would be beyond my technical comfort-zone, this can sometimes be a good thing because it forces us to learn but as it turned out the Open Tech conference focused much more on the Open Systems part of the UKUUG’s mandate and concentrated particularly on Open Data in the government and media spaces. After reading the conference schedule and realising that it was all about data I thought it was definitely worth a look so I pre-registered (the only cost being a ridiculously cheap £5 on the door).

The attendees were quite mixed but dominated by developers working in the academic, government and media sectors (incl. journalists), giving the event a different atmosphere to most technical conferences I’ve been to which are usually either centred around commercial users or the security/hacking community. The result of this was that there were a lot of interesting people there who’ve really made use of the Open Data available, shared their work and in some cases made a real difference to government policy as a result. Before the sessions started I ended up talking to a few people including one of the guys behind the excellent TheyWorkForUs.com which despite the government’s Open Data initiatives still has to rely on good old fashioned web scraping.

I attended a couple of talks about the data.gov.uk projects which included some great examples of how the data can be used including talks by the people behind Where Does My Money Go and the ASBOrometer.  As a complete outsider to the Open Data world I’ve been extremely impressed with the amount of data that’s been published and the community that’s grown up around it, the best part being that the ‘community’ is made up of developers and civil servants working together to achieve something that I honestly think is quite ground breaking.

Stepping away slightly from the government-oriented data projects Manuel Corpas delivered an interesting talk entitled “Who Owns my Genome Data” essentially bringing up issues raised by companies such as 23 and me who will provide a personalised report for you based on your genome (all you provide is a saliva swab) but then retain the rights to use your data and future innovations derived from it.  Patrick Bell followed with an introduction to the British Geological Survey’s Open Geoscience site which seems pretty good on the face of it and they seem to be committed to open data but I found it difficult to think of applications for the data that would make sense to me personally.

The last batch of talks I attended related to mobile phones and mobile content, the first being the Wild Ducks Smartphone talk by Sebastian Brannstrom from the Symbian Foundation.  I hadn’t realised until the talk that Symbian still accounts for over 40% of the global Smart Phone OS market even though Android and iOS take centre stage in the public’s (or the media’s) eyes, with the OS now being Open Source they’ve launched a project to build a handset based on easily available components that you could hack together yourself, based around the Beagle Board with some extensions.  The talk was very interesting and it was great to see a demo unit that Sebastian passed around the audience, you can see more on the Wild Ducks blog.  The last talk I saw was by Terence Eden and was titled “Why Doesn’t Your Site Work On My Phone?”, essentially it provided a timely warning to developers not to run after the ‘hot potatoes’ of Android and iOS when much of the global mobile market (81%) still relies on ‘feature phones’ which by-and-large have basic HTML capability but not too much more, some handy resources he pointed towards were WURFL, Device Anywhere and Device Atlas.

All said and done I’d say the conference was definitely an eye-opener and if I can make the next one in 2011 then I’ll definitely go but I’ll feel like a failure if I turn up having done nothing with all the knowledge I gained from the 2010 presentations so I better hurry-up and get my hands dirty with some of this Open Data…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Ash - 20101001 at 20:08

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