Archive for category Humanitarian

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.

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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.

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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.

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Random Hacks of Kindness New York City

On December 4 and 5, in over twenty locations around the world,  Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and The World Bank hosted the third Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), an  initiative to bring together volunteer software developers and experts in disaster risk management for a weekend-long “hackathon” to create software solutions to aid humanitarian organizations address some of their most pressing challenges, to help those in need around the world.

Ralph Morelli and Trishan de Lanerolle, drove down to attend the New York City RHoK event, hosted at Parsons the New School for Design. The event was kicked off with a reception hosted by the United Nation’s Global Pulse Initiative, with the UN Secretary General Banki Moon in attendance.  Below is a video extract of the  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s keynote speech during the RHoK NYC reception.  He highlighted the convergence of two complementary movements: participatory development and open source technologies. “Both movements have a common denominator,” he stated, and “because people have a sense of ownership, what is created is more sustainable and effective. It empowers people at the grassroots to build solutions to their own problems.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the RHoK Reception co-hosted Global Pulse

The following morning, the hackathon was kicked off with participants given overviews of a set of problem definitions, created by NGO’s, governments and experts in the field. Teams of volunteer technologist  coalesced around these problem definitions and spent the remainder of the weekend working on building  solutions, either from the ground up or using existing technologies. All the solutions from design concepts, source code to fully functional applications are released to the broader community, under a suitable OSS license. The complete list of projects worked on during RHoK New York and other global sites can be found on the RHoK Wiki.   At the close of the hackerthon, teams present the technologies they developed and the best “Hacks” of the weekend were judged and selected at the various locations.

Ralph and I met with the Sahana project team,  and I got an opportunity to work with them on Saturday.  It was great to see  the team in action working on a new module manager and database optimization for the Sahana Agasti  Mayon development branch. The Sahana RHoK contingent in NYC was lead by Chad Heuschober, from CUNY , who has a a great blog post on the groups accomplishments over the weekend at “It’s Only RHoK’n Roll, But I Like It” and for complete coverage of Sahana’s global present at RHoK check out Mark Prutsalis’s post on Sahana Situation Room.

We were able to get our hands dirty contributing to the Incident Commander project, lead by John Reilly, from Google,  to build an Android application that allows firefighters and other emergency response personnel to track incident responders and their needs in real time. Over the course of the weekend, we had built a functional android application, that used SMS messages to send and receive data, from alerts to location coordinates between  mobile devices and an app engine based web server. We were able to reuse some code snippets developed by Chris Fei,  for Sahana and POSIT. Chris, an HFOSS Alumni now, joined us in person on Sunday, he and I attended the first RHoK event back in November 2009 in Mountain View California.

Incident Commander Android Application Interface

Incident Commander Android Application Interface

  Incident commander team

Incident commander team (Shayne Adamski, Aidan Feldman,Trishan de Lanerolle,John Reilly (Team leader), Kane Albarron, Ralph Morelli, PJ Herring and Jason Lindesmith (absent from photo)

Incident Commander went on to jointly win “First Place” with TaskMeUp, developed by Nicolas di Tada, et al.  We were awarded a Windows 7 Mobile phone and $100 cash prize for our efforts. The irony of receiving a windows phone for a developing an android application was not lost on the judges and audience. The team unanimously voted to give the phone to our lead programmer PJ Herring, and the cash prize to charity.

Overall it was a great experience, from  working with an award winning team of individuals to spending the weekend with like minded technologists, brought together with the mission of bettering humanity. We have come away reinvigorated and look forward to building on the work started during RHoK 2.0 and following up with the connections made during the event. We are also interested in hosting  a RHoK event in Hartford.

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QA Team for Sahana-Haiti

Chamindra has organized a Quality Assurance team of volunteers to help with the testing of the Sahana-PY, the Python version of Sahana.  He’s posted a helpful overview of the bug-tracking process that pulls together all the information needed to get started. Here’s another view with a nice block diagram showing the flow of Sahana’s bug tracking process.

I’ve put together a summary page for students in our CPSC 110 class, who will participating in the testing activity as a class project.

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Sahana in Haiti

The Sahana community has been furiously active in response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Their Haiti WIKI describes their activities and provides a summary of volunteer help that is needed. You can follow their activities online on the freenode #sahana IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel, which is accessible  through the web on

Sahana is deploying both a PHP/MySQL version of their system (the one which includes the VM module developed by students in the HFOSS project) and a newer Python version.  They have called for volunteers to help with all aspects of the project, from coding to testing to data entry.  Details on the data entry and bug tracking work can be found here.


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Collabbit used by NYC Salvation Army to help serve 10,000 Thanksgiving dinners

On Thanksgiving day Eli and I were in New York city to observe the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving Day Dinner program, feeding more than 10,000 New Yorkers across the boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester – up from 800 meals in 2008 and one of the largest Thanksgiving Dinners in the Division’s 129-year history. ( )

The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services team coordinated the one-day event in a style similar to an emergency mass feeding. A work force of 500 volunteers and employees served food across the various sites. The Emergency disaster services team used an instance of Collabbit ( to plan and track the event as it happened.

Zach posting an update at Harlam site

Zach posting an update at Harlem site

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