Sunday, 16 September 2012

I dun learnin!

When I first joined the Grower's Nation project, my housemate had invited me along to a challenge to help on an exciting new project to devlop something that sounded like it would be very useful for me at work. She hadn't mentioned it was a hackathon. I had the misconception that hacking involved breaking codes and sneaking into other people's websites to perform acts of mischief (or worse). Little did I know that it was something positive or that there were so many different people involved in the process. I walked into the Met Office ready to provide my tea making services, the perspective of someone who works with under 12's and to maybe learn a thing or two. I was fully prepared to let most of the technical stuff sail gracefully over my head. I left knowing a little bit more about computery stuff and with a much higher regard to people who shared with the world that they were hackers.

This is now my second hackathon, and I'm participating virtually as it's based far, far away where their clocks are behind ours in Devon, but their internet connections are well ahead! I'm now brave enough to talk on Skype and to ask about some of the many, many things I don't understand in the hope that, one day, I may be able to contribute something more than just pictures and a few words. The technical wizzards who do the coding probably roll their eyes when conversations like this happen:

Me:             Is this what you mean by an ER diagram:
                   Injured person -> George Cluney -> Machine that goes ping -> Fixed person?
Dev:            ER is an entity relationship diagram
Other dev:   ER diagram is a relation diagram showing how a database is structured.
Me:             Shame, I can't use that picture in my next blog then.

But I have to learn somehow, and it hopefully saves those of you who are reading this the embarrassment of being in the same situation as me.

This morning, distaster struck! Well, more time zones did. I woke at 6am, ready to work. I logged on my laptop only to find shortly before, at 1am EST (maybe EDT, it's GMT -5 to me,) everyone had decided to call it a night and go to bed! That'll teach me to get up early(ish) on a Sunday morning! Ah well, knitting to get done.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait long for someone else to join me. Since 7am, I've learned:
  • that Google docs spreadsheets can be made into a form and embedded into a website; such as the one at meaning that anyone can add datasets for our scientists to work with; plus there's the added bonus that none of those nasty trolls who have evolved from their rightful place under bridges can delete things for fun. 
  • that there is structured query language built into Google docs - meaning we can make it searchable without too much trouble.
I've already asked multiple stupid questions about dataset information, the answers of which will turn into descriptions on the form to help people like me. I know it's not much, but it's something! I can now make myself useful starting to populate the spreadsheet with datasets rather than waffling on at poor unsuspecting blog readers.

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