Archive for September 2010

Year Three

Once again I’m back in Mekelle, I arrived on Monday afternoon, good to be back again and although it’s only a couple of months since I was here, it feels much longer. It’s now almost 2 years since I first arrived in Mekelle, shortly before the Meskel festival in Sept 2008. Meskel will be on Sunday night and Monday this year – so looking forward to my third visit to the celebrations (2008 and 2009).

I had a friend text to say that I was on ETV again last night, from when we were filmed at the Meskel celebrations in Adigrat last year, I later found out that not only was it just on TV, but that it’s part of a pop video! It may be up on YouTube, so if I find the link (and am feeling brave enough) I’ll post a link.

At the University some of the work seems to have been progressing well, though plenty that still needs to be followed up. We’re getting ready to start training again next week, with new tutors from Health Sciences and Technology Institute. This year we’ll also enrol all the students from each tutors course – last year we only accepted a small group of students from each course.

Facebook is now blocked on the proxy server between 8:30-12:00 and 2:30 until 5:00. The policy has been put in place as the use of facebook has been affecting staff productivity too much. It’s also then blocked in our computer labs – so next time I see it full of students, perhaps they’ll be doing something slightly more productive!

Ethiopia Bans Distance Education

The Ministry of Education has stopped universities (both public and private) for being allowed to provide courses via distance education. I’d been sent this link shortly before coming back to Ethiopia and then chatted to a few people about it whilst at the BarCamp.

Seems there is quite a lot of confusion as to exactly what is and isn’t banned. Some people said it was just specific subjects and some said it didn’t cover public universities – although from reading the article, I read this to mean that public universities were also affected.

The reasoning I’ve been told is due to a concern about the poor quality of courses being given by certain universities, so the ban has been put in place as a temporary measure until a quality assurance mechanism has been implemented. This sounds very harsh on the organisations that are providing good courses, although I’m sure there are many (private) universities who are more interested in collecting money than providing good quality courses.

I’d be surprised if potential employers didn’t already have a good idea as to which are the good (and bad) universities here and which ones gave qualifications worth having.

I’d like to get some reliable information about this, so would be interested to hear from anyone who knows more.

[update: after writing this – but before posting – I was sent a couple more links to other articles about this new law, see here and here]

BarCampEthiopia: Day 2

Habtom giving his presentation

Another good day at the conference, today things seemed a little more organised, it seems that people had got used to the idea of how the event should be running – the sessions ran a little more smoothly (timings and room bookings etc)

Again there was a really wide variety of topics being presented – but I stuck to going to the more techie ones. First session I attended was about OpenStreetMap (OSM) in Ethiopia. Addis is now quite well mapped out, a company (AddisMap) has been putting a lot of effort into getting the city well mapped on OSM and I think they are hoping to make some money from advertising on their site. They’ve been lending GPS units to taxi drivers to help collect all the data. They also wanted to be able to produce (and sell) printed maps, but are being limited as they can’t yet get a license from the Ethiopian Mapping Agency to print maps any larger than A4.

Early in the afternoon I ran a session on Open Educational Resources – I did a demo of how to download some resources from the internet and get them uploaded onto a local Moodle server – fortunately the internet was working well enough for this as I didn’t have much of a backup plan.

Habtom from Mekelle Uni ICT gave a presentation about localisation and globalisation, discussing how localisation was more than just about having software translated into another language. I found the other day that Moodle has been translated into Amharic and Tigrinya, it’s only for Moodle 2 and there are several sections not yet fully translated – but hopefully more progress will be made soon.

The final session I attended was a live video presentation from Michele Suhlmann, a phd student at University of Groningen – so fairly ambitious to run a presentation in this way I thought, but it worked well. She was talking about the research she has been doing on the social and psychological effects of personal laptop schemes. Interestingly her data was based on interviews with the children at the school in Mekelle where they are running the One Laptop per Child project.

In the evening there was a final party and a local band providing the entertainment. The team from ECBP must be really pleased how well the whole event worked out, the variety of sessions and the enthusiasm of everyone who attended. Hope there’ll be another one next year – or even sooner 😉

Risky Behaviour?

I saw this poster on the campus where the Bar Camp is being held. I’ve not yet worked out whether basketball is considered risky or socially useful…

BarCampEthiopia: Day 1

Introductory Bar Camp session

Just got back to my hotel after a full day at the first Bar Camp to be run in Ethiopia. I flew back to Addis yesterday morning and after catching up on a little sleep, headed over to the venue to help get set up and stayed on for the launch party in the evening – then this morning the real conference started.

Around 300 people attended today, with a really varied range of sessions happening throughout the day – from Google apps programming to participatory community planning and even a yoga session. My colleague, Goitom, from Mekelle Uni, ran a session about network centric computing architectures – covering the research he has been doing into thin-client system and labs. Even though it was much more technial than most of the other sessions, we had a good turnout, with plenty of follow up questions and discussions

Many students from Mekelle Uni managed to attend the conference so was good to see them helping out and getting involved – especially since it was a two day bus trip for them to get here.

'Ishi Beca Ciao' playing at launch party

I ran a session as an overview to our Digital Campus project, similar to the presentation I gave at Elearning Africa in May, all seemed to go well, despite it being at the end of the day and up against a parallel session where a guy from Google was giving away free t shirts!

For tomorrow, I’ve put myself forward to give a presentation about open educational resource, so will now need to get a presentation together to give.

BarCamp Ethiopia

Later this week I’m heading back over to Ethiopia to attend BarCamp Ethiopia, which looks like it’s going to be good. I’ve signed up for a few possible presentations and now that I’ve got my laptop running as an LTSP server I hope that Goitom (from Mekelle Uni) and I will be able to do a practical demo of a thin client system – rather then just telling people about how thin-clients work, I think it would be great if we could get a system set up for people to have play themselves.

After the BarCamp I head back up to Mekelle and Jaime and I will run more elearning training. We’re rerunning the basic Certificate in Online Education with new tutors from the Health Sciences college (and possibly a other staff), plus we’re starting an advanced certificate for those tutors who completed the basic certificate last year.

Will try to keep the blog updated regularly!

Applying weighting to heatmaps

Heatmap with weighting applied

Following up on the playing around I was having with heatmaps the other day, I made a few updates to the script to allow for each point to have an associated ‘intensity’. When the points are plotted, the intensities are normalised and each point plotted with a relative intensity (as shown in the image on the right).
Few other little changes I made:

  • allow the area covered by the size of the final image to be specified, rather than using the max & min x/y coordinates from the input points
  • change how the the dots are built – in theory should be a little quicker – but I’ve not tested with large enough dataset to know if it makes a big difference
  • in my demo script I’ve shown how you can convert the latitude to its Mercartor projection coordinate

For those interested in the changes I made to the script you can download the diff and an example script. Any feedback, comments welcome 🙂

Solar powered thin client network

Up and running

Yesterday I came back from the Small Is… festival organised by Practical Action and Engineers without Borders (EWB).

I’d gone over partly just out of interest – when I was working at Aptivate in Cambridge I was sharing a house with some of the interns at EWB helping to organise the festival. Partly to see what my brother was up to when he runs the solar power workshops etc that he’s run at many festivals over the past few years. But also to help out Alan from Aptivate in setting up a solar powered thin-client network.

Just before I finished my short placement at Aptivate, Alan and I had spec’d out what we’d need to be able to run a small thin-client lab on solar. Alan had bought the equipment on Friday and so, Saturday, at the festival, was the time to actually try and get it all running. All worked out really well and within a couple of hours we had the system up, running and 3 terminals (including the server) connected to the internet, all running for a single solar panel.

Moving away from the rain

What we’d do differently next time:

  • plug the PV panel into the battery before 3pm – so it had some time to get charged up and so demonstrate for longer
  • be more consistent with the power supplies – we had 4 different power outputs that we needed to supply (5v, 12v, 16.5v and 19v). Using the same type of terminals would have helped with this – we had 4 different types of terminal.
  • add up the current more carefully – we blew several 10amp fuses because we’d put too much load on
  • lay our the server/terminals etc onto a board and have everything neatly arranged to screwed down, to make it easier to explain to people what was going on – rather then the spaghetti of wiring we ended up with

Equipment used:

For the PV system:

  • Lorentz 95Wp PV panel (model: LA95-12S)
  • Rolls 12v deep cycle battery (model: S12-128AGM)
  • Morningstar SunSaver-20 charge controller (model: SS-20L-12V)
  • + assorted wires, fuses etc

For the network:

  • IBM Thinkpad X41 (running Ubuntu 10.04 with LTSP)
  • Samsung N netbook fitted with Pixel Qi daylight readable screen (configured to PXE boot)
  • Aleutia T1 fanless PC (configured to PXE boot)
  • Aleutia PC (I’m not sure of the model – configured to PXE boot)
  • 2x Iiyama Prolite E2271 HDS 22″ monitor – one of the only low power monitors we could find that will run from a 12v external power supply
  • Netgear DS104 4 port hub
  • Vodafone GSM mobile broadband dongle

From the outside

Playing with heatmaps

My 'hello world' heatmap

Over that past few days I’ve been playing around with creating heatmaps to overlay onto OpenStreetMap – the image on the left is where I’ve got to so far. My interest in this is for creating heatmaps from data collected during my colleagues health sciences research in Ethiopia.

There are already several programs and services available to create heatmaps, for example gheat and OpenHeatMap. But none of these quite suited me, gheat because I didn’t want to create a full tile server – just an image to overlay on a particular area of the map and OpenHeatMap because I wanted to have access to the code to tweak how I wanted.

I then found which (using a similar algorithm to gheat) did almost exactly what I wanted. There were only a couple of changes that I needed to make:

1) Update to account for the Mercator projection – I wanted my overlay to be on a view of the whole world (zoom level 2 in OpenStreetMap). When I first ran the program the areas over northern Europe (and others) were almost but not quite inline with the marker overlays, but this was due to the projection. I just edited the input script to convert my lat/lng coordinates into Mercator coordinates. I also hooked up the script to read the lat/lng coordinated from a MySQL database.

2) Allow the script to have weights against each point. The current script looks at the number of points in a particular area (or on top of each other) to generate the ‘heat’. I also wanted to allow for points to have a weight – as mentioned here. I’ve not yet implemented the weighting, but I’m not anticipating this to be too tricky. GHeat (as far as I can tell) doesn’t allow for weights on points, but OpenHeatMap does (please let me know if I’m wrong about this).

All has been much easier than I’d expected, I’ve learnt a little more about python and once I’ve got the weighting working how I’d like, then I’ll share the code back.