Prologue to the Sanitation Hackathon

Florian Rathgeber and Fayaz Valli at the World Bank, Washington DC.
Florian Rathgeber (right centre) and Fayaz Valli (left centre) at the World Bank, Washington DC.

Taarifa was announced in various mediums as being a winner of the sanitation hackathon. To this end two Taarifans are currently representing all Taarifans in Washington DC and San Francisco. More will come from this, I’m sure. However, all of the projects of the sanitation hackathon should be given the same pedestal and treatment.

The number of projects and energy that the sanitation hackathon generated should not be lost, and energised by the constant support and coverage;

“The event featured nearly 1000 registered hackers at ten locations worldwide who developed some 62 new prototypes.” – Sanitation Hackathon Site

While this moment is still in the here and now we should all move forward, collaborating, instead of competing. From this solve the technical challenges within the sanitation issues which we face. Undoubtedly, it is a naïve and deterministic proposition to suggest that technology will solve the world’s problems. However, events like the sanitation hackathon have demonstrated that technologists from all walks of life can work together. Building a social side to these systems is a bigger problem than the technological ones, prizes and recognition aren’t replacements and should not be considered replacements for this. The hard work starts now.

Written and submitted in the Hotel Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.81669, 39.293198)

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GISRUK 2013

On the 3rd to the  5th of April I attended GISRUK (Geospatial Information Research in the United Kingdom) to give a paper on Community Mapping as a Socio-Technical Work Domain. In keeping with Christoph Kinkeldey‘s love of 1990s pop stars Vanilla Ice made a second slide appearance, leveraging the fact it’s a very technical academic title. In short I’m using Cognitive Work Analysis (CWA) to create a structural framework to assess the quality (currently defined by ISO 19113:Geographic Quality Principles – well worth a read…) where there is no comparative dataset.

CWA is used to assess the design space in which a system exists, not the system itself. In taking a holistic view and not enforcing constraints on the system you can understand what components and physical objects you would need to achieve the values of the system and vice-versa. In future iterations I’m going to get past first base and look at decision trees and strategic trees to work out how to establish the quality of volunteered geographic data without a comparative dataset. Building quality analysis into day one, as opposed to being an after thought.

Written and submitted from Home (52.962339,-1.173566)

 

H4D2 April 12th – 14th

The HXL-Team
The HXL-Team

Last year I attended the H4D2 (Humanitarian for Disaster 2.o) organised by (and at) Aston University and Geeks Without Bounds. One of the outputs that I worked on was the HXL Extractor. Basically take data out of  GeoSPARQL, a geospatial semantic database and fire it into a GIS program. One of the team members had already been experimenting with and semantic databases and triplestores (this was most definitely a good thing, allowing us to move quickly) so our ‘mission’ was to create a middle layer to connect to a triplestore, then using the WFS-T standard to fire the extracted data into a GIS program of your choice. Interestingly the ‘project lead’ was communicating with us from Geneva via Skype, this and the prior work bellies the need for clear and concise problem statements prior to the hack. Because some of the team had been able to think about what they had to do we’d been able to work more effectively, even while learning technologies on the fly.

Going to the International Conference for Crisis Mapping Hackathon in Washington a few months later, HXL was still going strong and I got to meet the instigator of the project CJ Hendrix face to face. He’d amassed a team which went on to rightly take first prize at ICCM, now its being used by by UNOCHA with papers forthcoming. The project is growing, as evidenced by the amount of work going on in the team repository. Understandably our small team in Birmingham just did a little bit, but every little bit, helps.

Now H4D2 is coming around again on April 12th – 14th. This will then be followed up by SMERST (Social Media and Semantic Technologies in Emergency Response) a more academic focused conference on April 15th – 16th. Most importantly, you didn’t need to code to contribute, all are welcome from designers, videographers, bloggers, journalists and you! Registration for the H4D2 is open and is again at Aston University in Birmingham. Register here: http://h4d2.eu/registration. It’s going to rock.

Written and submitted from the Serena, Dar Es Salaam (6.810617, 39.288284)

5.1 Surround Sound Babies

I recently had a whistle stop tour of Asia, from Hong Kong to Indonesia, finally to Kuala Lumpur. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was great, 12 hours working solidly, had room, great meal, service the works. Cathay Pacific were kind enough to upgrade me to Hong Kong. Drinking champagne into Hong Kong and what followed over the next three days of Chinese New Year will stay will me for the rest of my life. However, this blog post isn’t about that. It’s about my excruciating 14 hours of torture that Malaysian Airlines passed as “Malaysian Hospitality” from Kuala Lumpur to London.

A few hours after online check-in ‘opened’ I tried to reserve my seat. The online system just wouldn’t take me past a screen. No error message, upon clicking ‘next’ nothing would happen. Reload/relogin and the same thing. This resolved itself at 0645, where the √knack all, was available.

After a very speedy trip from downtown KL to Kuala Lumpur International, the first signs at check-in were dire. Using the business check-in desks (Sapphire status from Oneworld Alliance – consequence of flying BA a lot) I got the boarding card for the flight and apparently checked in my bags. Although as I was leaving, I hadn’t received a baggage tag and the airline assistant hadn’t apparently noticed the 20kg of Samsonite I’d lugged onto the conveyor belt.

I’d requested a seat with leg room or an aisle seat (I’m 6’6″/2 metres tall), however, they told me to speak to ticketing in the terminal. Upon entering security I asked for the same thing. I was informed that it would cost 7500 ringit (about £1500) for a better, business class seat. One of the things I’ve discovered since getting a mortgage, is that paying that sort of money for a seat upgrade isn’t probably not as needed as paying the mortgage. However, I was informed that the gate staff could be able to do something. They passed the buck onto the hosts and hostesses on the plane. Funnily enough they couldn’t do anything either.

The issue with them not being able to do this, was that they were too polite about it. A very nice hostess explained that the seating arrangement and legroom arrangement was designed for ‘asian passengers’. Ok fine. However what about Yao Ming.Potentially people from the Asia may be generally less tall, however Malaysian Airlines, you’re a global airline. Be ready for people over 6 foot to travel with you.

With a seat acquired and legs having slight movement issue, I shrugged them off and went into the normal flight routine; headphones, Economist and music playlists abound. Generally I smile and nod when someone sits next to me, cursory ‘hello’ and try to stay in my ‘zone’. I’d planned to add to the thesis over the flight, so being relaxed was an idea. The plane filled up and the safety announcement started to play. Then the piercing shrieks shattered through my eardrums.

I had two babies either side, two behind, joined a very young infant. As I looked around the mother with baby commented “You’re the unluckiest man on this plane”. Unsure if this was true, but it felt like it. Taking off the bassinets were affixed in front. The legroom became non-existent and it was impossible to move the movie screen. Slightly claustrophobic, it was very hard to move without knocking a baby trying to sleep, or person looking after said baby.

Getting the laptop out to work was difficult, but just possible, with the screen at an oblique angle. I started to tap away. With ‘The Thieves‘ (brilliant film!) on the screen the background noise was about manageable. Towards the end of the film, the sound of gunshots and diamond heist(ing) was broken by a chorus of unhappy baby. One started crying, then the other. Then all of them in succession. This continued for 4 hours. Nothing worked. Rammstein, Beethoven, Top Gear, Shantaram. You name it, I tried it. I asked the attendant if there was anything they could do, apparently there wasn’t. I tried to leave it an hour, fatigue was seriously setting in. Getting four hours sleep doesn’t bode well for a flight. The crying made sleep impossible, watching a film was hard – the noise just stresses, making it near impossible to concentrate.

Impossible to move, impossible to relax, being on your nerves wanting to sleep. It wasn’t a happy place. I requested to see the cabin services director, only to be told that he was resting. I sat on the stairs at the back for 3o minutes. After this shaved and washed, in an attempt to relax. Within 10 minutes of sitting back into the chair, the chorus was back, the situation was untenable. I requested for sleeping tablets, the best they had was Panadol. Was severely feeling let down by Malaysian at this point. Especially when the father of said child had been assigned another seat, from the overheard conversation between him and his partner, at his request, specifically for him to get some rest on the plane. Seriously Malaysian Airways, don’t let this happen again. Don’t inflict other’s spawn on others, inflict it on them.

The Cabin Services Director arrived shortly after. I was informed there was an aisle seat available and I could sit in it, surprisingly it has worse legroom, I didn’t care, it was vaguely quiet. However, this occurred six to seven hours after being on flight. Half way through one of the longest flights in the world. Why did it take so long? Why aren’t families assigned seats together? Why aren’t people with Oneworld status given priority on seats – this raises the question why should I fly with you if you don’t honour your status levels?

These questions have ruminated in my mind since. I hope that Malaysian Airlines can answer them. Otherwise British Airways and Oneworld more generally will need to clarify them. Genuinely I love the experience that BA provides (the reason I’m in Oneworld), code sharing is annoying, fine. However an experience like this has severely shook the sheen that flying with the Oneworld network and the value of the ‘status’ they’ve given me. This based off an earlier experience with American Airlines (another Oneworld partner). I hope they’ll answer them soon. Otherwise, it becomes a toss up between Skyteam and Star Alliance.

Written and submitted from Home.

FOSS4G Workshops and Hackathon Hangouts

Kate Chapman and I initiated the first community feedback session, timed for the Asia timezones. However, we had participants from across the timezones.

  • Wanted: Cartography in OSGEO in consensus for a workshop, potentially using D3.js and CartoDB
  • Wanted: “The best way of deploying MBTiles”
  • Wanted: Food security and running a data driven election campaign

Issues with equipment and bandwidth this meant a true conversation was, IMO, hard to get started in a forum. We switched to text soon after it was started. However, the feedback was valuable to further scope what the community-at-large would like to see at FOSS4G in 2013.

Do you want to get involved and present? Contact us, join the next hangout session or submit a workshop.

Written and submitted from Taman Rasuna Complex, Jakarta, Indonesia (6.219665,106.837202)

Workshops and code sprints are an integral part of the FOSS4G conference. It’s an opportunity for those with awesome projects from a community, technological or novelty perspective to showcase exemplar projects and demonstrate the cutting edge of geo.

Our theme is “Geo For All”. Accordingly there are many opportunities and ways to develop the workshops and code sprints. March 4th is the deadline for workshops submission. Over the next month we will be holding Google Hangouts, not just in GMT but for those in other timezones, from the west and east of the Americas to the Far East and Africa. We are actively seeking participation from all members of the OSGeo community; old hands as well as new ones. This is an opportunity to contribute and shape the type of workshops and code sprints that, you, the OSGeo community would like to see at this year’s FOSS4G in Nottingham.

We’d also like to hold a hackathon, building along the lines previous hackathons like RHoK, Sanitation Hackathon and Angel Hack, to support truly open source geospatial projects.

What we’ll need;

  • Facilitators
  • Problem Statements
  • Designers
  • Programmers
  • Data
  • You!

Europe and Africa: To Be Confirmed W/C 18th of February GMT | EAT |
Asia: WIB: Thursday 14th of February: WIB: 1300 | CST: 1400 | JST: 1500 with Mark Iliffe and Kate Chapman 
The Americas: Wednesday 20th February GMT: 20:00 | EST: 15:00 | PST: 12:00 with Matt Walker and Jo Cook

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Written and submitted from (22.287759,114.147477) Queens Terrace Tower 2, Des Voeux Road West, Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China.

WherecampEU Rome 2013 Musings

WhereCampEU this year, rather earlier than normal, was in the Eternal City of Rome, Italy. After the threatening of Snowmeggeddon in the UK, a jaunt to Italy was a welcome respite. An action packed unconference timetable started with a presentation on Taarifa by myself. This was a follow on presentation from W3G but focusing on the characteristics of developing technology; needing to know the users and how they’ll use the ‘solution’. Developing solutions to first world problems then applying in the developing world isn’t useful and is dangerous, however, is the method de jure in some organisations.

A presentation on how the World Food Program uses the OpenDataKit, for collecting information in South Sudan followed. It would have been interesting to have heard more about the rationale and why they were using what they were using. The use-case was a take picture, see what is about, the intelligence that they sought to gather. However, the presenter didn’t stay around, so if anyone in the geo-sphere knows, please get in touch!

CartoDB was given a live demonstration. We’re quickly moving past the desktop for GIS and spatial analysis and into the cloud. I’d like to know how these cloud based GIS services compare with ESRIs and MapBox’s offerings. It’s a brave new world!

Michael Gould‘s 37 things you didn’t know about ESRI was a passionate talk about ESRI from its inception to the present day. A leviathan in the GIS space, the culture is seemingly anything but corporate America. In the examples mentioned the social conscious dominates decisions; from the positing of boulders on the ESRI campus to the acquisition of new companies.

A Taarifa breakout design session occurred with a special guest appearance from a snow-bound London. But more on this in a later blog post.

The day ended with an OSM Q&A by myself and Shaun McDonald turned into a wide ranging discussion about the OSM project and the challenges within. Getting new contributors to keep contributing was one point of discussion as was the need for improved internationalisation and languages.

An evening of Pizza, Dolcé and Grappa followed. The night ended in a spectacular deli/bistro/bar known only to locals and lost where campers. Bottles of Chanti and Prosecco were enjoyed and toasts made.

Standing out the following day was Laurence Penny‘s updated 1-D Maps . It’s never the same things, constantly reinventing itself with from the acquisitions and collection held by Laurence. Going from Doom, the Mille Miglia to Roman Era Road Routing with a detour around the metros and undergrounds. It was 2 hours long. Words fail to describe the brilliance that emanates from the presentation. I really look forward to seeing it in an updated form.

A certain Henk Hoff of the OSM Foundation, brought proceedings to a close on a wide ranging discussion on the foundation, how it functions and operates. The day and conferenced ended over pizza, chianti and sambucca. Just the way things should end!

Written and submitted on the Rome to Milan Eurostar (having just gone through Bologna!)