Come and work with us on research data at Lincoln #jiscmrd

I’m immensely excited that the following Grade 7 developer job at the University of Lincoln (initially for a fixed term of two years) is now open for applications. Please contact me if you’d like to discuss the role. If you don’t know Lincoln, it’s an interesting, historic small city and the University’s waterside Brayford Pool campus is a very nice place to work.

You can download the job description document, and apply online, at:

Research Information Services Developer

Brayford Library Team

Location: Brayford
Salary: From £30,424 per annum
This post is fixed term for two years
Closing Date: Sunday 30 June 2013
Reference: LR4068

We are seeking to appoint an innovative and enthusiastic software developer, with demonstrable experience and understanding of research in an HE environment.

Based in the Library, and reporting to the Head of Electronic Library Services, this exciting new role will lead on coordinating and developing the University’s services and resources for the researcher community, including support for Open Access publishing and research data management.

You can expect to contribute towards significant institutional change in the way research information and research data is managed, analysed and disseminated at the University of Lincoln.

Working closely with other colleagues within the Library, ICT and the Research Office, you will be responsible for leading the technical design and development of research information services at Lincoln, including research data management, bibliometrics and research intelligence, research dashboarding, and the University’s Institutional Repository.

You must have an excellent understanding of the technologies and programming languages used in developing data-driven web services to support research. You will also have successfully managed projects, have good communication skills, and enjoy working as a member of a team in a busy environment.

You must able to take initiative, be well organised and have a proven ability to prioritise and meet tight deadlines. A familiarity with the current UK research environment is also essential.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Paul Stainthorp <>for an informal discussion on 01522 886 193 or

A Bridge To The Skies

Following on from our meeting with Team CKAN, we’ve had to make a few sweeping architectural changes. Here’s what’s happening:

  • We’re totally scrapping Orbital Core and Orbital Manager in their current form, since they mostly replicate functionality which already exists in ownCloud and CKAN.
  • We’re developing a brand new application, codenamed Orbital Bridge, which sits between various systems which make up the Orbital platform (ownCloud, CKAN, and in the future our Staff Directory and Awards Management System).
  • Orbital Bridge acts to orchestrate aspects of the various systems, and provides a high-level concept of research projects and project team members. The relevant aspects of these concepts (such as group membership, folder sharing and security permissions) are then managed in the individual systems.
  • Orbital Bridge will also include options for moving files and data (via the CKAN DataStore API) through conversion tools, for example taking a CSV and loading it directly into a datastore, converting binary files to open standards, or taking a datastore and converting it to something more useful based on given search parameters.
  • CKAN exposes a variety of data using its APIs (also delicious RDF). Orbital Bridge takes this data to boost our Nucleus institutional data store (and our upcoming institutional triple store), and through that our other integrated services.

Information which Orbital Bridge uses to determine things like projects and users will come initially from our University SSO service coupled to manual creation of projects and external users, and in the future (APIs permitting) partially from our Awards Management System for automatic population of project information. Check out our shiny graphic for a visual overview:

Hello CKAN

On Wednesday, we hosted three people from the Open Knowledge Foundation, to discuss the Orbital project and their software, CKAN. It was a very engaging and productive day spent with Peter Murray-Rust (on the Advisory Board of OKFN), Mark Wainwright (community co-ordinator) and Ross Jones (core developer). We asked them at the start of the day to challenge us about our technical work on Orbital so far and I described the day to them as an opportunity to evaluate our work developing the Orbital software so far. We didn’t touch on the other aspects of the Orbital project such as policy development and training for researchers.

To cut to the chase, the Orbital project will be adopting CKAN as the primary platform for further development of the technical infrastrcuture for RDM at Lincoln. This is subject to approval by the Steering Group, but the reasons are compelling in many ways and I am confident that the Steering Group will accept this recommendation. More importantly, the Implementation Plan that was approved by the Steering group and submitted to JISC remains unchanged.

The raw notes from our meeting are available here. Remember these are raw notes written throughout the day, primarily for our own record. They probably mean more to us than they do to you! Thanks to Paul Stainthorp for his fanatical note taking 🙂

Here’s the list of attendees and our agenda:


Peter Murray-Rust (OKFN)
Mark Wainwright (OKFN)
Ross Jones (OKFN)
Joss Winn (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Nick Jackson (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Harry Newton (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Jamie Mahoney (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Alex Bilbie (University of Lincoln, ICT services)
Paul Stainthorp (University of Lincoln, Library)


09.30 Introductions
10.00 Orbital introduction and context: Student as Producer, LNCD; Orbital bid and pilot project; Discussion of Orbital approach, the data we’re using, user needs etc.
10.30 CKAN introduction and context
11.00 Technical discussion – Orbital
12.00 LUNCH
12.30 Technical discussion – CKAN
13.30 Discussion – should Orbital adopt CKAN?
14.00 data[.lincoln]
15.00 Next steps; Opportunities for collaboration/funding?

What is probably of most interest to people reading this are the pros & cons of the Orbital project adopting CKAN. I’ll provide more context further into the post, but here’s a summary copied from our notes:

Continue reading “Hello CKAN”

Version 0.3 released

Our aim is to release a new version of Orbital every month until the end of the year. Yesterday, we released version 0.3, which, as well as many small improvements and bug fixes,  improves the handling of dynamic datasets and begins work on implementing and integrating ownCloud with Orbital. Here’s the changelog.

  • Improvements to project activity timelines:
    • Public/private modes
    • Calendar events
  • Improvements to filetype handling and file uploads
  • Improvements to file management, collections and private/public modes
  • Dynamic datasets:
    • A working query builder
    • Queries can be saved and re-run against data
    • CSV output of data for use by external tools e.g. Matlab
  • Working Datasets:
    • Preparation for ownCloud integration (integration with Lincoln SSO, evaluation of product, contact with developers)

The plan for version 0.4 is full ownCloud integration with Orbital via the respective APIs, which will provide the first part of the overall Orbital workflow: ‘Working Data’ -> ‘Dynamic Data’ -> Archive Files. During two weeks in August we’ll also be setting up our own private in-house cloud using OpenStack and moving Orbital in-house from Rackspace.

Orbital v0.2 release

Today, we released Orbital v0.2, about a month after our v0.1 release. As per the roadmap, Nick and Harry have made good progress on project activity data, user role management, dynamic datasets and, based on user feedback, we’ve added the ability to organise data into collections. You can read the high-level change log or trawl through the project tracker, if you feel inclined. Paul has also made some notes with screenshots on some of the new features.

You’ll notice that there are now APIs for loading data into Orbital’s MongoDB store and querying it, too. This is now in use on a daily basis, retrieving turbine data from Siemens, loading it into Orbital and then running queries on it. It’s very fast. I might add that updates to the data are being versioned, too, so a researcher can query data as it was stored in the past. There’s much more to be done to make Orbital a versatile platform for data analysis during the research process, but the groundwork is in place.

As we identified in our Implementation Plan, we see a workflow whereby data can be selected from a project workspace (e.g. a network drive), loaded into the dynamic datastore, analysed, and then eventually selected for archiving alongside published research papers.