Midland Information Cluster (mic)

(Andy Wootton) #1

In recent months, I’ve had a couple of moans about there being nowhere (Silicon Canal does it a bit) that represents the Brum tech communities’ shared knowledge resources. Someone should DO SOMETHING, I’ve implied. “Where are the coffee shops, the working spaces, the college courses?”, people have asked and others have known but we don’t store it ‘somewhere’.

Well, using the ‘If not me then who? If not now then when?’ argument, I’ve decided to get started. I’m doing this in full knowledge that I don’t yet have the tech-chops to finish, so I’ll be asking for help. I do have quite a lot of experience that (to me) seems relevant.

I’m thinking of knowledge, information and data, to be held as a shared resource and shared openly amongst the local community, preferably as a distributed network, not as a centralised hub. I want the Birmingham and Midland area to own this and for it to be seen as a representation of the values that makes Brum a good place to build your life. I don’t yet know how to do that, sorry! I don’t have a hidden plan. I don’t have the memory to keep up a lie.

What I can do, with your help and feedback, is work out a conceptual model of what ‘Datoms’ we want to build it around. Yeah, I’m offer to draw some pictures, maps of conceptual relationships between concepts. Again, sorry, it’s all I have but once we get that maybe we can work together to ‘envisage a solution’ and start to build this Thing and make it useful. Half-solution hacks will do - we can refactor later. I’d rather it wasn’t just me because I can be opinionated and selfish, like most people, and I’m moderately clueless about modern development tech. so it would take me forever.

Hoped-for side-effects: investigate co-operative/collective working, new knowledge representation structures and local-clustered resources for community cohesion and building (better rather than necessarily bigger.) I have no idea if there are opportunities to make money out of the idea and I see that as a community decision amongst those who choose to get involved. I see those who contribute having more say, but want it to be ‘for’ everyone. No-one is in charge but I’ll offer opinion. I hope people will follow the best ideas and they may not be mine.Despite the impression I generally give on-line of a space-out hippy, my career has been very logical and method-based. Only the last few years in agile and writing about philosophy have freed me up enough to consider starting with such a ridiculously abstract concept but I’ve seen what teams can achieve from unpromising beginnings.

I’m not suggesting building a chat platform. We have 2 already. I’m all for component re-use but we might need a shared document platform. I may have to share the map as a drawing and people feedback changes to me. I see that as my first failure. I need a change-mapped shared thing that can make graphs in n-dimensions but you already know that.

Community - HELP! Where is the web dev community?!
Tech Wednesday - 16th August
(Stuart Langridge) #2

OK. Stuart’s big recommendation, here. Collect the data and publish it, then work out some clever way to slice and dice it later if that’s needed. I suggest that you spend literally zero effort at this stage working out how to store this data; either create a wiki on one of the free wiki sites and put it there, or if it’s primarily about physical places then create a Google map and put it there. Then, get people to contribute. Once you have a bunch of data, then work out how best to reorganise it so it becomes more useful to people. I know that planning out how to store it can sometimes be the fun bit, but if you do that first then you’ll have a conceptual framework for storing Birmingham working spaces but you won’t have any actual working spaces in it and so it’s not actually any use to people.

(Andy Wootton) #3

I don’t intend to even collect data though I think we do have some of it. My offer is to collect opinion on conceptually what data we need to collect because no-one else has. Eventually I’m hoping someone will take pity on my pathetic floundering around and rescue me. The rest of the waffle was ‘a story’. I understand vague dreams inspire people. Obviously, I gave up dreaming years ago.

My normal mode of operation is stickies on a white board so I’ll have to improvise. I can get references from my old development team to tell you I don’t know anything about how to store things. :slight_smile:

As a BA, my experience was in building models of problem domains but working with agile teams turned that into a dynamic, experimental process where the model increments/flows towards a solution as we learn. I’m trying to do that with a culture instead of a process, and/but I think every individual is a member of multiple cultures and we share two, at the intersection between ‘Birmingham & Midland’, an area with no border and a category of endeavour we call “tech”, currently undefined.

Make that three because I’m driven to want to do this to be distinct from the thing some of us don’t like about Silicon Canal and the Metro Mayor, the hierarchical control structures. I want to create something collectively that overlaps and cooperates with their interests but with a hackish, community feel and a network topology. It’s a political stance in a non-party-political way, except in the few odd areas that Parties agree with us. Maybe it’s the politics of organisations and democracy.

(Dom Barnes) #4

I’m reminded of a git repo created by ThoughtBot about the cities they have offices in. Essentially their basic format is one markdown document per city with a bunch of headings that can be easily expanded if needed.

The benefit of something like this being its easy to write, requires essentially no background in coding, could be easily hosted on a Github Pages or similar. Hell you can even do something like this in Dropbox Paper if you wanted to get started. Given how big a scale this sort of thing could become, I wouldn’t try and map out too much for now.

For example:

(Andy Wootton) #5

At the level I’m thinking, that’s 1 Post-It that says Coffee-Shops with a line to another that says WorkSpaces :slight_smile: Someone keeps a list of coffee shops. We can link to that, if they don’t mind. I’ll probably use UML class diagrams first but it will only be a model of the ‘problem domain’, not a database design so developers needn’t panic.

This feels really weird to me. I always used to be the techie who wanted to go into more detail because reality was complex/complicated and some idiot was asking me to simplify.

I like the github idea. I’ve been thinking about concept mapping for a while and graphs are the obvious route. github seems to be built out of nodes that are a close relation to Datomic’s datoms, and pages in a wiki are certainly an early implementation possibility. You can link Wikis. It’s not quite the distribution I was thinking of but I don’t know how to do that.

(Richard Cunningham) #6

To me the options are:

  • A free hosted Wiki - we can’t be sure they won’t start charging/shutdown etc. then a pain to migrate
  • Self hosted Wiki - someone has to run a server for it, I don’t really want run another one
  • Google Docs - probably would work, though URL would be google docs one so can’t really move it.
  • GitHub pages - hosted by them, backup is just “git clone”, if we use our own subdomain we can always host it ourselves if GitHub stops offering this for some reason (or charges).

So basically GitHub pages seems the best option to me.

I don’t think we need to plan categories particularly, just put up some basic ones and reorganize in the future when needed.

(Steve Jalim) #7

I agree - I was about to set up a repo this afternoon but noticed there’s already a BirminghamIO user/org on GH

(Richard Cunningham) #8

Yes, that’s right, we use it for the planet site and some other things. I can create repo on it, if you want, what do you want to call it?

(Jon) #9

I’d be happy to help maintain a list of coffee shops locally. Maybe YAML or JSON for re-use, liberal Creative Commons license? From time to time I’ve thought about doing something similar, with notes on facilities and geo co-ordinates, but I always end up assuming someone has done it better already.

GitHub is good. Google needs a mobile telephone number to log on now, so I won’t use them.

(Daveyon Mayne) #10

Wasnt ChattyMaps doing something similar, huh, @etewiah?

(Andy Wootton) #11

This is one of the reason I want ‘the thing’ to exist. We duplicate effort because we don’t know the resources we already have, unless individuals happen to have been around when there was a conversation.

(Daniel Hollands) #12

I can give you (or anyone) access if you want.

(Andy Wootton) #13

Do you need to know our Github IDs to do that? I could publish XML source and graphics for my UML diagram(s) there. It doesn’t feel like somewhere someone thinking of coming to work in Brum would look but it’s better than the nothing we currently have.

(Steve Jalim) #14

Happy to set up a simple markdown-based linear list (as suggested above – also happy if @rythie does it and I can just offer a few contributions). PRs will make it easy for people to contribute, and if/when there’s enough data in there, then we can slice and dice. (Or sling it into airtable.com).

I get that relational structure, etc can help, but a sensibly ordered flat file isn’t of zero value when we can still search it, so let’s get that moving, I think

(Etewiah) #15

Yes, I did work on a similar idea before but had to abandon it - it was hard to get the momentum to make it worthwhile :frowning:

(Andy Wootton) #16

I saved a 2nd draft of my diagram as a .PNG graphic. I couldn’t attach it here so I put it on a page in my WordPress blog until I remember how to work git.


I know there are gaps so let’s see if you find them or things I didn’t think of first. Clearly there are things about living in Brum that have nothing to do with tech, so this information could be shared with anyone interested in being in Birmingham, even for a visit.

@dombarnes It was @timmy666 who mentioned his coffee blog Hi, I'm Tim Wilson from Code Club

(Andy Wootton) #17

I have 2 year old knowledge of a 2 hour talk on git and a couple of plays since, as andywootton. I’ve never even seen a Github Wiki but isn’t that what we want for storing data, as @rythie suggested? Can only organizations have Wikis? I imagine it’s Markdown-based, so e.g. a page for coffee-shops, if anyone is keen to get started and we aren’t duplicating something that already exists.

I think we are going to need lists of all the organisations (from Silicon Canal) and IDs for all the people in the community and all the tech we use and the connections between them. There are immediately privacy issues. I’d like people to own their own data and decide how it is shared.

We’ll need to agree a format for locations (I assume of a point, for now, to map) and times (for events) too. Perhaps this exists for the calendar. I’d favour using OpenStreetMap rather than Google Maps unless there are technical reasons not to, as I no longer believe Google have their customer’s best interests at heart and I don’t want to be dragged into a Chrome-hole.

(Andy Wootton) #18

Have I made clear what I’m talking about yet? Because I’ve been thinking about things related to this ‘problem’ for a couple of years, things that appear obvious to me may not to everyone else. Just as any book that is more than a sequential story needs a contents page that explains it’s hierarchical structure and an index to jump right to a page based on content, I think network structures like the interwebs require similar tools with more dimensions. Search can give us “GOTO” but the ‘semantic structure’ is also a network with one fewer dimension. Models with more than 2 dimensions tend to have to be viewed through multiple 2-D ‘projections’ onto the models, like we do with the models of architects, mechanical drawings and database schema.

What I’m trying to do is collectively build a speculative structure for a distributed Birmingham.io Information Cluster (le Bic?) that we don’t have yet. Some of the resources may exist, so it should help us to work out what we have. I volunteered to try to build the map of the virtual network and share it, as an agile computer science experiment and in the hope it will inspire others to provide the nodes containing the information that the model can point to. At some point the model should evolve into a live-updated index - I have no idea how.

Am I making sense yet? Any questions?

I’ve been convinced by Rich Hickey that all data structures are built of datoms which represent a single fact. In his Datomic database they are: “An atomic fact in a database, composed of entity/attribute/value/transaction/added. Pronounced like “datum”, but pluralizes as datoms.” A ‘transaction’ is effectively a time-stamp for when the current value of the fact is updated, and ‘added’ is whether the record represents an addition or a retraction’. Values aren’t replaced in position. The old value is ‘retracted’ and a new one ‘added’, so there is a historic record of previous values of every fact. It’s a bit-flip to delete a datom and allows history to be archived away later, out of the main data structure. I THINK it is similar to git. Obviously, in a mutable database we either log the deletion or throw it away.

So, ‘datoms’ could be captured in cells, lists, matrices, graphs or relational databases and disguised in free-format documents. I’m trying not to care where they are, just to point at them.

We can’t call it Bic. It’s a registered trade mark and we don’t have it in pink.

DROPs mic.

(Andy Wootton) #19

Can we have a BirminghamIO/mic repo please and can I do things in it?

Are there any team conventions in how to use git? Should I keep my UML diagrams in my own git and import the .PNG or work on a ‘fetch’ from the shared area? Does everything happen in master?

(Steve Jalim) #20

Re git on a public project - make branches and issue pull requests to master - never commit straight to it