Archive for June, 2009

Disastwitter

After major “incidents” (such a neutral word for clearly negative events), local and national volunteer agencies group together to most effectively bring relief to the affected populations. The Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD, manages much of the relief effort.

With the close guidance of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, we have made a webapp, VirtualEOC, that provides a way for committees in the VOAD (like Housing or Information/IT) to share updates and files with each other.

As we prepare for a table-top disaster exercise in New York City, we’ve seen our web application grow from a greenfield to 2500 lines of PHP and scores of HTML templates. We went from a few mockups and a loose set of requirements to a real, functional application in just a couple of weeks. We have interviewed potential users, exchanged hundreds of emails, and plastered the whiteboard several times with database schemas. It’s still definitely pre-beta, but it’s already getting reviews like:

This site and all your work is really amazing.

and:

The site looks fantastic! Great work.

Even though the application is barely functional and has yet to be field tested, Connecticut, Westchester County, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Long Island, Toronto, and several other regions have expressed interest in the application along with several major NGOs including the Red Cross.

On Thursday, Sam, Dimitar and I are going down to New York City to observe them as they use the application. The simulation involves the cleanup effort after a hypothetical major hurricane in the NYC area in which 80,000 homes and 50,000 jobs are lost.

My biggest concern at this point is the NYC traffic.

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Sun and UNESCO join forces to promote FOSS

As reported here, Sun Microsystems and UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) signed an agreement at the World Summit on Information Systems (WSIS) to promote free and open source technologies. Both organizations see FOSS as the key to increasing access to information, communications technologies, and ICT skills training in under-served communities throughout the world.

According to the agreement, both organizations will promote the use of OpenOffice and Open Document Format (ODF) and other FOSS as a low cost way to improve education and universal access to information and knowledge.

The money quote:

We are glad to work with Sun to harness the power of free and open source software for extending and disseminating knowledge and to foster community approaches to software development,” said Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO.

This is great news for the HFOSS movement.

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Stallman on free vs. open

In a viewpoint piece in this month’s edition of Communications of the ACM, Richard Stallman makes the case that “Open Source misses the point of free software.” (See Why ‘Open Source’ Misses the Point of Free Software.)

Free vs openFree software is software that protects our software freedoms–i.e., the freedom to use, modify, and share our software.  Free software is free as in ‘free speech’ not as in ‘free beer.’ Read the rest of this entry »

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Android sets its sights on the desktop

Google just announced it will make Android, its free Java-powered smartphone platform, available to run as a computer operating system. This pits Android against Windows and Linux in the battle for the netbook market. Asus plans to release an Android-powered mini laptop next quarter. Bloomberg has a good writeup.

I’m just getting familiar with Android. Our team has been getting up to speed in the development environment this week. Today I made a simple app that uses the GPS sensor to plot your location on a map:

I’m just hoping the Android netbooks have a GPS unit.

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