All posts by Andrew Sage

Code for Europe Fellow for Aberdeen City

Touring MatchTheCity – EdinburghApps 4/5th October 2014

Intro

MatchTheCity logo

This is a short tale of how I took another city’s data in order to expand the information we can provide for people / apps to consume. It also acts as a warning as to some of the unexpected side effects of using automatically generated data that has not been checked by a human.

One of the goals of the Code for Europe project is the creation of software that can be reused in other cities with little or no extra development work. Being invited to attend the EdinburghApps hackathon event in Edinburgh over the weekend 4th & 5th October 2014 gave me the opportunity to attempt to tick this goal off the list.

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Setting up the test Open311 server on Ubuntu

The initial test Open311 server was deployed to Heroku. However it was now time to install it on its own server. The reasons for this were two fold:

  • Heroku does not allow the FTP access required for the live data updates to be uploaded.
  • To do a test run of the server setup process for when it comes to roll out the production server.

Disclaimer: This blog post is as much a reminder to myself as to a helpful guide to others in getting everything setup. It is possible I’ve missed some steps out that I just performed whilst in autopilot after doing it many times. It did take several failed attempts and hours of Googling in order to find all the steps required.

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Involving the community – CodeTheCity flashback

Back in May of this year I was involved in the planning for the inaugural CodeTheCity event that was to take place in Aberdeen the following month. Initially the event was going to be billed as another hackathon-type event doing stuff with Aberdeen-based open data. However, between the five of us who were putting the event together we decided to drop the reference to the hackathon term and to make it more approachable, more attractive even, to the non-developer community. As well as involving local (and further afield) developers, we also wanted to involve the community in Aberdeen to ensure they got something out of it that they actually wanted. This led to the CodeTheCity name idea. Not only was it perfect for Aberdeen but could easily be re-run in other cities around the world under the same umbrella.

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Making the data look pretty

We now have the data, time to do something pretty with it.

As part of my Code for Europe project, I have setup a proof of concept Open311 server on Heroku that provides a subset of the data that we intend to have opened up by the end of the project. For now it simply returns some XML about the car parks in Aberdeen. The XML is formatted to match the Open311 API specification. As I’m currently working to release a Minimum Viable Product I’ve not gone as far as providing an optional JSON version of the output. As of the time of writing it is only the name and location of each car park that is returned. However, once a live feed of car park occupancy is made available behind the scenes then the server will be upgraded to present it as Open Data.

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How it all fits together

Throughout the Open Data Scotland Code for Europe project so far the names of various APIs and server technologies have been thrown about – usually rapidly followed by the questions of:

  • So what is it?
  • What’s the difference between A and B?
  • Do we need A if we use B and how does adding C affect it all?
  • Can we download it or do we have to write it?
  • Where’s it going to be hosted?

As anyone who has even vaguely glanced into the world of software knows, part of it is working on what you know and a big part of it is exploring and learning new things – a learning that often includes failing at something so it can be eliminated from the list before trying a new approach.

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