Archive for category FOSS

At the Voodoo Ceremony

The first couple of nights at the hotel I was wondering what all the loud drumming and strange chanting was.  I asked Meliu, our driver, about it.  He said it was a Voodoo ceremony with around 1000 participants, including himself.  I think he probably overestimated the attendance, but it sounded like a 1000 during the night.

The ceremony was being held in a vacant lot right next the the house neighboring the hotel compound.  Emmet not only knew the owner of the house, but one of the Acdi/Voca staff members, Anna, lives in the house.   Emmet was able to get us an invitation from the host — in his three years in Haiti Emmet had never been to a ceremony.   We were warmly welcomed by the host and he rounded up chairs for us right up front.  The ceremony was dedicated to the host’s father who was recently killed in a car accident.  The goal of the ceremony was to cast away the spirits who had caused the family’s tragedy.

Front row at the Voodoo ceremony.

Front row at the Voodoo ceremony.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , ,

No Comments

Auxiliary Nurse Training

Training day!  We all met up at a cute/sweltering hot meeting center a few miles away from the hotel.  Over the course of the day we showed~40 auxiliary nurses how to use the app. They speak little to no English, but luckily we had some worldly coworkers along to help us:  Sheena speaks Haitian Creole and Alex speaks French, both of which are common languages in Haiti.   Eldivert, the tech guy from Acdivoca and mastermind of TBS, their current data storage system, helped to lead the training session.

A thoughtful Morelli looking over the shoulders of the auxiliary nurses

A thoughtful Morelli looking over the shoulders of the auxiliary nurses

Though many people in Haiti know how to use basic cell phones, most of the nurses had no experience using a touchscreen or a smart phone.  We went through basic smart phone 101 (turning it on and off, using the touchscreen, menu/home/back buttons) and then moved into how to use the app (all the while standing as close to the AC unit as possible). After picking up the basic features of a smart phone, most of the nurses seem to catch on very quickly.
Read the rest of this entry »

, , ,

No Comments

Day 1 Training at AcdiVoca Headquarters

Today we trained around 20 AcdiVoca staffers ranging from senior staffers to agronomists to data entry personnel to doctors. It was quite an experience.  The morning session was done in English but the afternoon session was done in French and Creole.  Alex and I shared the French explanations and Eldivert Savoit did most of the heavy lifting in Creole.

Training Acdi/Voca staff at Headquarters in Jacmel.

Training Acdi/Voca staff at Headquarters in Jacmel.

We were supposed to start at 10:00 AM, but we didn’t arrive at the headquarters until close to 8:30.  That left us only an hour and a half to get the phones initialized and to test the system — clearly not enough time. (We thought we were going to do that yesterday afternoon or last evening.)   Our challenge was compounded by the fact that the room we were presenting in had very poor cell phone reception.  We worked furiously to get the phones set up.  That entailed putting SIM cards in the phones, initializing the SIM cards, installing the application, making sure the app’s database was wiped clean.
Read the rest of this entry »

, , ,

No Comments

Trinity HFOSS Team Travels to Haiti

It was a long day but an HFOSS team is now in Haiti and preparing for end-user training tomorrow at AcdiVoca Headquarters in Jacmel.

The team includes current Trinity students Tina Lipson, ‘14, Alex Zhang, ‘14, Sheena Elveus, ‘12, and is led by recent alumna Rachel Foecking, ‘11, and HFOSS project leaders Trishan de Lanerolle, ‘04, and Ralph Morelli.

We left Hartford on a 6 AM flight (getting up at 3:30 AM or, in some cases, not going to bed at all the previous night).  We arrived, via a stopover in Miami, in Port au Prince at 11:30 AM.  It took about an hour to clear customs — they didn’t like it that a couple of us filled out our immigration forms in pencil –  and then another 4-1/2 hours to drive to Jacmel.  The traffic in Port au Prince was awful.  They are finally working on repairing the main road along the coast, which was damaged by the earthquake.  Here’s a shot from the drive.  Check out the little boy sitting on the dump truck.  After each shovelful his job was to jump down on the dirt and pick out the big rocks and throw them on the ground.


Road construction, Haiti style.

Emmet Murphy, Chief of Program for AcdiVoca-Haiti met us for dinner at our hotel, the Hotel Cyvadier, right on the beach (and on a nice surf spot).   It’s hot here, probably low 80s at 9 PM.  We had a nice dinner of lobster, conch and other seafood dishes.

Dinner at Cyvadier

Dinner at Cyvadier (L to R: Trishan, Sheena, Tina, Emmet, Alex, Rachel, Ralph)

We worked out a plan for tomorrow’s training sessions. Eldivert Savot and some of the other AcdiVoca team members joined us later.  Eldivert brought along the SIM cards he purchased and we loaded them in to a couple of phones and tried the app. Tomorrow the training sessions start at 10 PM.  Before that we’ll be loading the app on the phones and setting up the server.

, , ,

No Comments

RHoK Hartford: A Participant’s Perspective

RHoK Hartford

RHoK Hartford survivors and prizes on Day 2

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) #3 Hartford, held at Trinity College, with over 30 participants on June 4th and 5th 2011, drew participants from New York City to Rhode Island. Jesse Aboh from St John’s university, Queens NY, shares his experience  in a guest blog post:

On Friday the 3rd of June  the HFOSS group (Jesse Aboh, Vincent Gaviria, and Geri Stoykova, along with faculty member Bonnie MacKellar) from St John’s University traveled to Trinity College in Hartford for the weekend’s Random Hacks of Kindness event. We started the weekend with a rigorous 4 hours drive to Hartford in heavy traffic. We quickly mellowed out  though, with the friendly welcome from the Trinity students. The next day, we began the morning with a calm early breakfast, but nothing really would have prepared us for the hectic afternoon ahead.

The event started with introductory talks by Trishan de Lanerolle, the Project Director for HFOSS, and Prof. Ralph Morelli, who started the entire HFOSS project. Then, a group of projects that we could work on was described.  There were a couple of AppInventor projects aimed at a humanitarian group based in Haiti (ACDI/VOCA), and a number of other projects. John Reilly from Google-NY described the FirstResponder project, which is what we have been working on. He was on a video feed. He explained his proposed project  in detail, and he had a firefighter hat! The AppInventor projects seemed to attract most people, probably because everyone likes to try something new. Trishan and Ralph also talked about their current projects.

After the propositions, teams were selected based on what project each individual wanted to work on. At first we thought just us 3 would be working on FirstResponder, but then we suddenly acquired 4 more people.  So,  we divided into two subgroups: the Bluetooth based tracking system and the Accelerometer Firefighter project. We made some rearrangements and divided up; Geri was drafted to the Accelerometer project as she already had some knowledge of it and had previously did a presentation on it in St. John’s. Some Trinity Students were added to the project namely, Alex, Vlad, and Chris. I and Vinnie (Vincent) got a new member named Bo, who was already very familiar with android development and was currently doing project that involved image processing.

We had frequent voice chat with John Reilly while working. Trishan always had a camera attached to a laptop, which he used to record video for the live feeds that were being pushed out to other RHoK sites worldwide.

Hairs were pulled, eyes were strained, although stomachs’ were always kept at bay by the random announcements from Trishan that food was here. I often thought that the food was only a distraction and nothing more, however that didn’t stop me from being the first one at the food table, which can be evident in the photos. Our spotty  progress kept a bitter taste in our mouths for the rest of the day, but not the rest of the night. Saturday Night was an engaging party at the Trinity Student’s suite that cleared out minds,  all thanks to Alex and Megan for the wonderful relief.

Sunday (5th June) started a little late, but with huge progress. The flow-cycle for my team was: Vincent is dauntlessly typing away uttering the words “…Yesss…” occasionally, then moments later “nooo…” then I occasionally edit a code and then Vincent continues uttering “Yesss…” and then moments later “nooo…” and then Bo finds a solution and then we all fist pound and Vincent continues “Yesss…”

I remember my team climbing each obstacle one tiny step after another and each individual helped making that next tiny step and Ralph was the guy at the top of the mountain that had his right hand out to help us make the final step. Did I mention that on Saturday, a lot of us had watery eyes of disappointment? Well Sunday those watery eyes of disappointment turned into watery eyes of contentment. A few minutes before the presentation most teams were done with everything including a PowerPoint presentation slides. Of course we were all trying to add extra features to our project at the last minute.

When it was time to present everyone had something to show that they were proud of.  One group presented a People Finder Upload Tool that helps locate people who are missing because of a disaster. This group collaborated with another group in Switzerland to add uploading capabilities to the tool. Another group presented the Commodity Tracker project, which helps to track food prices in different areas, thus helping the government and ACDI/VOCA plan food assistance. My group presented the Bluetooth based tracking system that activates when an alert comes in. The mounted device on the fire truck automatically starts scanning for nearby Bluetooth enabled devices, and sends this information via SMS message to the server. Since firefighters would be carrying phones with Bluetooth, this allows the server to track which firefighters have arrived and been placed on a truck. The next group presented the Accelerometer Firefighter Project, which is basically a low cost solution to alert if firefighters are immobile during a response, using their handheld phones accelerometer. Another group presented the Rain Check application, which has a funny name (and a cute logo) and which allows rainfall statistics to be collected and added to a database.  My team won one of the first place prizes, and the Commodity Tracker group won the other first place prize.

The reception was kind of great and sad; we weren’t going to see some of the people for 7 weeks. For the Trinity students, the reception wasn’t enough, we ended this weekend at The Counter in West Hartford, were we each ordered at least 1/3 pound burger, although some few shared one accompanied with appetizers and literally huge deserts. To sum up this weekend in a few words would be impossible, but to sum up the feeling after this weekend would be “superawesomeomgwhenwillwegoback?

No Comments

HFOSS builds mobile application for Haiti based Project

In March an HFOSS team traveled to Haiti to observe and collect requirements for a new mobile  application to be development by the HFOSS to support beneficiary registration and tracking for ACDI/VOCA to assist with a food aid distribution program for expectant mothers and infants in the eastern region of Haiti.

Presidential Palace after Earthquake in Port-a-Prince haiti

Presidential Palace after Earthquake in Port-a-Prince Haiti

ACDI/VOCA is a private, nonprofit organization that has been managing a USAID-funded Food for Peace program, the Multi Year Assistance Program (MYAP) in the Southeast Department of Haiti since 2008. It currently provides a food ration to over 10,000 registered beneficiaries and their families on a monthly basis.

On their visit the team observed the present system in operation and met with ACDI/VOCA’s Chief of Party, Commodity Manager, MIS manager and potential end users. The goal of the visit was to finalize use cases and requirements for the application and to conduct field tests of various aspects of the overall system using a proof-of-concept prototype that the team developed before heading to Haiti.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , ,

1 Comment

Humanitarian free and open source software in the local community

I’ve been privileged to act as an advisor for the Humanitarian FOSS project for the past few years and was delighted to once again attend the annual HFOSS Symposium last week. The theme for the 3rd Annual Symposium was “Think FOSS, Act Locally: HFOSS in the Local Community” and many speakers and panelists explored the topic throughout the day. For those who may not have had the opportunity to attend the summit, we’ve created this post-symposium report, originally posted on You can also view all the talks on video in the HFOSS USTREAM channel. (Warning, the audio may be a bit spotty for some sessions.)

The 3rd Annual Humanitarian FOSS (HFOSS) Symposium took place today, once again convening as pre-conference activity for the ACM’s Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education Conference. The theme for this year’s Symposium was the impact of Humanitarian FOSS in the local community, and the invited speakers all touched upon this theme from their various vantages of expertise, from its value in K-12 education to its use for local government.

The Symposium kicked off with Keynote Speaker Bryan Sivak, Former CTO of the District of Columbia and Founding Member of the Civic Commons project. Bryan treated the audience to an insiders view of life for the public sector CTO, including software procurement processes, expectations for software support throughout its lifecycle and how typical government process can act as a barrier to adoption of open source. Bryan offered us some quite useful advice: proprietary vendors offer well crafted marketing materials, boast large sales staff and guarantee support as part of their licensing models. For open source to truly compete in the government space, our communities need to work within established processes and meet their customers expectations for both presentation and technical support. Bryan concluded his talk with some discussion of the Civic Commons project and its aim to allow city government to share software that they’ve created for their various agency use cases, inviting us all to contribute to their knowledge base of civic software.

The day’s first panel discussion was a natural follow on from Bryan’s keynote: HFOSS in Government. Moderated by Deborah Bryant, Public Sector Communities Manager for Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab, the panel was comprised of several members of the FOSS and crisis response communities. Joined by Heather Blanchard, Co-Founder of the CrisisCommons project, Mark Prutsalis, CEO of the Sahana Software Foundation, John Reilly, Evangelist with Google’s Crisis Response Team, and Bryan Sivak, the panelists explored several key themes: the need for marketing to effectively perform outreach to the first responder community, the need to create tools for local government that scratch ones own itch and the value of collaboration between public sector agencies and universities when creating open source software. One highlight of the panel was the discussion of the partnership between the Sahana project, the City University of New York and that city’s leadership to create software to model the Big Apple’s flood response and evacuation planning. Due to a lack of in house expertise with open source software, the City University of New York provided fertile ground to the city in their pursuit of open source disaster management tools, the university providing the city with the required development expertise and a number of enthusiastic programmers to work on the project. Another key theme was the need to create software that truly meets the needs of its users and end customers; rather than create new solutions in response to each need, community members should leverage the power of existing tools when approaching problems in the humanitarian space.

The second panel returned the conversation to the Symposium’s academic roots, touching on the use of HFOSS in K-12 education. Moderated by Anita Verno, Advisory Council Member of the Computer Science Teacher’s Association (CSTA) and Professor of Computer Science at Bergen Community College, the panel opened with an exploration of the new standards in Computer Science education currently under discussion by the CSTA. Panelists Cat Allman, Open Source Program Manager for Google, Bill Madden, also of Bergen Community College and Chinma Uche, Instructor in Mathematics and Computer Science for the Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science discussed their experiences introducing pre-university students to open source, including Google’s Code-in Contest and using App Inventor for Android as a tool to teach high school students how to program. Of the many words of wisdom shared by the panelists, two quotes particularly stood out to me:

“Real world clients who require a real world result make students step up. They realize it goes beyond the classroom and beyond the grade.” – Bill Madden

“Without the HFOSS Project, I wouldn’t have ever tried to teach open source. Teachers need support to make changes in their classrooms. – Chinma Uche

The day’s final panel was led by Stormy Peters, Head of Developer Engagement at the Mozilla Foundation. Joined by Heidi Ellis, Chair of the Computer Science and Information Technology at Western New England College, Mihaela Sabin, Associate Professor at the University of New Hampshire at Mancester and Linda M. Seiter, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at John Carroll University, Stormy and her fellow panelists discussed the challenges and rewards of Collaborating with Local Non-Profits. Heidi shared insights into how she chooses open source projects for her students to participate in that will prove valuable to those of us hoping to attract student developers to our projects; she searches first to see how up to date the project’s website is and whether it is clear from their online presence that a project’s community is active. Following on from this initial assessment, she then joins the project’s IRC channel and mailing lists to observe how project communications take place, where community members’ interests lie and how the community fields questions from newcomers. Assuming that this evaluation phase goes well, she then begins to assess which project needs are a good match for her students’ skill sets and interests, finally distributing assignments that begin with a student exercise to understand what the project’s communication channels are and how best to engage with the community, all before a line of code is written.

In addition to the excellent Symposium talks, we were treated to a poster session by several Humanitarian FOSS Project student developers. Each of the students developed their code bases under the auspices of the HFOSS project during their summer internships with the program. The posters included:

  • Community Mapping: a community mapping software suite for use by local groups including neighborhood watch teams and local Chamber of Commerce organizations created by students at the Rensselear Center for Open Source (RCOS)
  • HFOSS Free Ambulance Services Technology (FAST): a project to replace the paper forms required by Emergency Medical Services workers when responding to 911 calls, created by students at Bergen Community College
  • Open Legislation: an open source platform browsing , searching and sharing legislative information from the New York Senate, also created by students at RCOS
  • Tips for Instructors on Working with OSS Manager: a report from the study created by a professor at North Carolina State University on students’ experiences working with open source software

Many thanks to Ralph Morelli and Trishan de Lanerolle for convening the Symposium once again this year and most of all for their phenomenal efforts in introducing university students not only to the joys of open source software, but the many public good benefits that can manifest from FOSS development. Thanks also to the Symposium’s Supporters for their support of the event.

No Comments