Sunday, June 14, 2009


CrisisCamp: June 12-14, 2009
On Friday night, Ignite was held at the World Bank. The talks were excellent and although I didn't take notes, people twittered where to find their presentations.
@ajturner noted that it was "perhaps the swankiest Ignite ever, hosted at the World Bank." Credit for the photo also goes to @ajturner . Also, the World Bank asked that we drink all the booze.
CrisisCamp Day 1
Crisis Mapping in Sudan
Led by Patrick Meier via Skype from Khartoum, the discussion was about a UNDP project, Threat and Risk Mapping Analysis (TRMA). TMRA maps microlevel problems and threat and risk indicators to provide better information when implementing development programs and to avoid causing or exacerbating problems. The data is collected by focus groups and capture the rich local knowledge through capturing information on printed maps. The data is entered into a GIS and so far has collected 6000+ data points and mapped over 700 new villages. Patrick also talked about 4W (who, what, when, where) crisis mapping tool based on open source. 4W shows emerging trends, situational pressures, market routes and critical fault lines through out a region. On the interoperability front, the project has been part of establishing an information sharing group and a data sharing protocol among UN agencies for baseline data. Data sharing has been problematic and has led to duplication of effort, the desire not to share data was describe as "DHD, data hugging disorder." Mesh4X was also discussed a means for data sharing across multiple platforms and high latency networks (read disconnected clients).
The discussion turned to data collection, especially using SMS and occasionally MMS. Andrew Turner mentioned the Youth Assets, where SMS is used by children to perform emotional mapping. It was generally agreed that SMS is the lowest common denominator in terms of a protocol and platform for data collection. However, SMS was not always ideal and that there was some difficulty in getting structured data in Ushahidi. FrontlineSMS was also mentioned as a means for coordinating receipt and delivery of SMS messages when Internet access is not available.
The last part of the discussion tied the technology back with the practice of data collection in the field. IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development published Good Practices in Participatory Mapping, which is a practical guide for data collection in the field.
UX, Usability, Visualization
This session was supposed to be about user experience, usability, and visualization, but it focused more on reliability of crowd sourced data and verification of the data to provide reliable and actionable information. Swift, a framework for verifying crowdsourced information, was discussed.
Part of this discussion was dissemination mechanisms, and delivery crisis information on the most common platforms, which are radio and tv.
Again, SMS was noted as being one of the last communication systems to go down during a communication surge situation that frequently occurs during crisis. The question was asked, "How do you text a 911 call?" if that is the case. The point was made that SMS should not be used as a push mechanism for delivery alerts; rather, SMS should be used for listening to requests and this is a more efficient use of the technology.
There was also a discussion of authoritative or official sources and their role in a crisis. There are 2 national systems to alert during emergency IPAWS and CMAS for delivering alerts.
Crowd Sourcing Situational Awareness
This session was led by David Stephenson. (Unfortunately, I walked in late to this session, missing about half the session).
"How do you get institutional buy-in form the government?" was the question posed during the session. Buy-in maybe defacto because it can not keep up in comparison to crowdsourcing. Stephenson noted that David Robinson of Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy advocates that the government should publish data and leave the interpretations to the consumers of the data. It was noted that will go from 80 feeds to 100,000 feeds in a month.
With the imminent flood of data, data analysis and visualization tools such as swivel and manyeyes were mentioned.
Swine Flu Response
Andrew Wilson of the Department of Health and Human service led a discussion on his work using social media in response to the Swine Flu pandemic. In addition to the official channel,, he employed FaceBook, twiiter and podcasts to provide and collect information about H1N1. One if his strategies was to use tweeters with large numbers of followers to retweet information to create an amplifying effect. One area that they did relatively poorly was mapping and he pointed to the Ushahidi Swine Flu map as a better implementation.
Lazy Web Disaster
At WhereCamp2009, Mikel Maron led a sesssion where participants could yell out ideas or projects that they would like to see but never implement. The Lazy Web Disaster session collected these ideas on twitter - the results.
CrisisCamp Day 2
Recap of Day 1
The second day started with a long recap of the session from the first day.
It was evident in the previous sessions that there was a tension between domestic and international responses to crisis. Despite this tension there are commonalities and possibly low hanging fruit between the two. Lack of a common a common vocabulary was identified as one of the obstacles that prevent organizations from working together. For example, there are 60,000 organizations nationally that provide crisis management and relief services, but they don't share a common vocabulary. As noted in the Crisis Mapping in the Sudan session the UN has developed a wiki to build a common terminology.
Noel Dickover asked, "What is the coalescing function? Was it crisis response? Why are you here?"
Greg Elin responded that crisis cuts across multiple communities, opens doors and gets people at the table. Crisis activates the bureaucracy, creates opportunities, and opens doors. Bureaucracy may not move or change, but there is still a desire to tap into opportunities, some of which are generated by social media.
The discussion turned to preparedness. Succesful crisis management is based on agility, reacting to the unexpected. So, what are the tools available to handle the situation? Furthermore, is there way to incentivize being prepared. is an official channel for disaster preparedness information, but why don't people know about it and if they did would they care?
It was note that is hamstrung because its in the government space, and that being a government organization hampers its effectives for disseminating the message. Preparedness will require a cultural change, and that current fear based communications do not work.
The discussion turned to what could the participants do as a result of the CrisisCamp; how can these dialogue and ideas become actionable. Concrete steps to continue the work of CrisisCamp were:
  1. develop a common language
  2. concentrate on what first by identifying the gaps and not jump to how, i.e. technology
  3. engage more people to provide the force multiplier, grow the 80 participants to a network of 8000 people
  4. provide tools that are simple to use. Google tools don't require training, so that is the bar to shoot for
  5. create interoperable applications as demonstation
  6. create a demo scenario and build apps around the scenario
  7. creation of a wiki:
  8. creation of - common community platform
  9. create a common design document/template for crisis apps
  10. crisiscamp messaging matrix
The remaining sessions were devoted to discussion on implementation of these ideas.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why I use Twitter

Actually, I don't twitter much, mostly I follow twitters. I use twitter as way to find new information and discover intersections.  Twitter succeeds where RSS feeds fail and leave me cold, which is to say that Twitter can provide vetted information from people with similarly aligned interests.
Today's example is from @zoecello.  I follow her because I love her music, she presents an interesting intersection between information technology and music and last but not least, she's left IT to be a professional musician, which is something I aspire to one day.   This tweet is exemplary of the type of serendipity that I find using twitter:
@zoecello: Today's task: make a demo piece of music for Robert Hodgin ( to work with
The name and the website sounded faintly familiar, so I followed the link to flight404.   The site is the blog of Robert Hodgin who is doing very cool visualization stuff with Processing.  Even better was a nugget about Processing code to read and render SRTM .hgt elevation files.  This site is the portfolio of Kyle McDonald who also had some neat structured light examples.  I really haven't had this type of productive linkage in quite a while.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night Dell Mini 9

Dell has pulled the plug on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and officially retired it.  Until the Mini 9, I was never a fan of Dell's products, but now a 9 month production run just seems too short.  The Mini 9 has been removed from the Dell store and there were only 7 left at the online Dell Outlet store last I checked and they are going fast.  Its replacement is the Mini 10v; which, by early accounts, is another good platform for OS X and general modding.  
The Mini 9 has been the darling of the house since I used it (while waiting my turn at a the San Jose airport car rental building) to register as a car rental club member while in a very long line.  I was able to jump into the "members only" line immediately and get out of there quickly.  Yay! for ubiquitous internet access (the OS X tethering to a Blackberry works flawlessly).
Anyway there have been strong hints that other members of the house want a Dell Mini to replace aging MacBook Pros, so stay tuned for posts on the 10v.  By the way, are you listening Apple? Let me repeat that, "Dell Mini to replace aging MacBook Pros."