Categories
Cloud TrinidadAndTobago

If a tree falls in the forest…

At about 5:00 am, the fans stopped spinning. And we knew there was a power outage. We rolled back to sleep in the embers of the night and thought, “oh well, they’ll sort themselves out”.

We were jolted out of sleep two hours later, by the loud noise of a crash down the road.

A massive tree had fallen. It made the electricity company seem far more prescient than I had ever given it credit for.

The tree that collapsed pulled down wires from two poles, caused one of them to fold over into an acute angle and pushed cords into the nearby river.

Early morning, early January disaster.

By the time I walked down to check out what was going on, with only my phone in hand, the community response was well underway.

The community seemed battle-hardened by these events. My wide-eyed, city-boy confusion melted away. A man in a van turned up with not one, not two but three chainsaws. Others turned up with rope and van man, sent for gasoline.

The army was on the scene relatively quickly too. Closed the road and essentially kept people who weren’t helpful at a useful distance. Me, the kept me away.

The men of the neighbourhood started cutting and when the fire services arrived, with their coordination and support the tree was eventually moved aside.

Cars could pass once again, though of course, slowly. By the time the electricity company arrived, the road was clear enough to let them begin the repair process.

The situation reminded me about the need for status updates from utilities. There’s clearly a chain of events needed here. The community response was an amazing, welcome first step. But it seemed like a proactive neighborhood. The baton was passed to the fire services, which made the way for the team from the electricity company.

Who would tell the other service providers? I didn’t see any communication utilities on the scene. Were they aware? Would they spring into action like the men with the chainsaws? This is doubtful.

Also, my family and I temporarily decamped to a place to get power, Internet and some chill. When should we go back? Again, it would be great to either check something like “status.utility.co.tt” to find out.

For now, I’d actually settle for an SMS or WhatsApp from the providers. To date, we’ve gotten none. It seems like the best response will remain that of individuals and neighbours, who proactively set up their own systems, limited as they are, until better can be done.

Categories
Advocacy TrinidadAndTobago

Making a living building mobile apps in Trinidad & Tobago and other stories

This blog post title sounds like a book. 😁.

Back in 20-some-teen, I built a windows phone app called Police Post. It started off as a reasonable idea – provide an offline version of the list of police stations in Trinidad and Tobago, with their locations and contact numbers.

I had some quirky app names back then… they eventually became quirky chatbot names, but more on that some other time.

I later jumped the shark by overlaying the map of police stations with information about murders that happened in the same region as a police station.

Even writing that makes me cringe a little. Back then, I was convinced, “This is a good great idea for the app”. Now, I’m like, “Why…..?

I remembered Police Post while I was preparing to deliver a presentation at the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual Property Office’s seminar on “How to make a living from mobile apps”. My focus was on the state of the mobile app development in TT.

I found while preparing for the talk that there was a lot to be said about how active trinbagonians are with their mobile devices, but not necessarily with local apps.

So, a stat like this would be familiar to a lot of people who care to do the research. There are lot of phones and a good bit of social media usage on those devices.

And, using the top free apps in the Google Play Store as a proxy, it only confirmed that we really like social (and Google Translate).

Rank Name Category
1 TTPS – Trinidad & Tobago Police Service Social
2 WhatsApp Messenger Communication
3 T&TEC Mobile Communication
4 Free Phone Cleaner – Cache clean & Security Tools
5 Messenger – Text and Video Chat for Free Communication
6 Instagram Social
7 Snapchat Social
8 Facebook Social
9 Wish – Shopping Made Fun Shopping
10 D’Music Music & Audio
11 TikTok – Make Your Day Social
12 CallApp: Caller ID, Call Blocker & Call Recorder Communication
13 King James Bible (KJV) – Free Bible Verses + Audio Books & Reference
14 Google Play Games Entertainment
15 Tubi – Free Movies & TV Shows Entertainment
16 Netflix Entertainment
17 Traffic Cam TT Travel & Local
18 Facebook Lite Social
19 Messenger Lite: Free Calls & Messages Communication
20 Safe Cleaner Plus Tools
21 Google Translate Tools

Since I was concerned about making apps, as opposed to just using apps, I produced a list of the top apps by usage that were made by trinbagonians:

Rank Name Company Category
1 TTPS – Trinidad & Tobago Police Service TTPS Social
3 T&TEC Mobile Milsoft Utility Solutions Communication
10 D’Music Digicel_Group Music & Audio
17 Traffic Cam TT Trini Interactive Travel & Local
41 TT RideShare TT RideShare Travel & Local
45 RBC Caribbean RBC Financial (Caribbean) Limited Finance
46 Pin.tt Larixon Classifieds Shopping
53 My Digicel Digicel_Group Tools
74 Scotiabank Caribbean – Banking Scotiabank Finance
76 bmobile Top-up Powered by eTopUpOnline.com Shopping
96 Caribbean Airlines Caribbean Airlines Limited Travel & Local
98 RepublicMobile RepublicBankLimited Finance

A more diverse list, pretty corporate, but seemingly high on the “getting things done” measure.

Both lists were a snapshot of top apps on November 10, 2019. The TTPS app was released the week before, and people were responding. TTPS seemed to have had a good push behind the app, so that’s good.

This may be why I remembered Police Post. Another reason that brought it into focus may have been because of these sentiments I got from Julie David, a Senior Policy Analyst at NIHERST.

Julie and her team have been working on a sectoral mapping of the software industry in TT, so I thought her insights might be useful.

They certainly were as they gave me a snapshot of the state of affairs that I recognized. Here are a few of those challenges:

  1. Small companies
  2. Lack of strong cohesion between business models & development
  3. Lack of design & UX quality

When I built Police Post, it was a small app, meeting a specific need that made no assumptions about having a business case. So Julie’s feedback to me was on point. Around that time, one of my key goals was simply demonstrating capacity.

I was making the statement, yes, we can build apps, focused, useful ones. Now, I’m here to say, yes, we can build business on top of platforms that include mobile apps.

My presentation concluded with looking at stats on global Internet trends. Mary Meeker’s report on those trends was an excellent resource for this and I hope that we all would use it to inform our next steps.

Categories
open data TrinidadAndTobago

Danger Zones

TL; DR

I’ve built a map of the location updates from the Ministry of Works and Transport of Trinidad and Tobago based on flooding and where was/is impassable. You van view it here.

“Technical” details

That tweet above is kind of how I got the idea in my head to build out an example of the approach.

When I sat down to do create a version of a good approach, I had all kinds of options in my mind. Should it be rendered on the client or server side? React or Angular? Should I use Google Maps, Leaflet & MapBox or something else? How would I generate the data?  Should I try and parse some tweets? What’s the fastest way to get data? Who has the data?

Since I didn’t want to spend all evening in analysis paralysis, I just dove in and began pulling things together. I had recently set up a new dev environment, so my regular tools for some ideas weren’t restored yet. No node, npm or React was set up. So I started downloading packages, installers and tools.

And then I remembered glitch! I literally paused mid environment setup and jumped onto searching in glitch. Glitch is like online development environment that comes prepackaged with the resources you need to get up and running with with minimal fuss. Now, you have to have a sense of what you want to build and what tech to use. Which I did. A few searches later, I found a great starting point, something that already had the Leaflet stuff built in.

Having the base I wanted, I needed to get the content of these tweets represented as geojson:

Again, numerous options, parsers to write and just ideas swirling around. But while spelunking online for stuff to use, I found geojson.io – a WYSIWIG for generating geojson. I had to handcode the stuff, switching between Google Maps, Open Streetmaps and Waze but I just wanted an early result.

And I got it: a map that presents the information that @mowtgovtt tweeted about the state of impassable regions in the country.

 

Categories
Advocacy TrinidadAndTobago

Basket of (open data) goods

Last year, Anand, Nigel and I won the Trinidad and Tobago leg of the Caribbean Open Data Sprint. (woohoo!)
It was Anand and my second or third time at the event. We didn’t expect to do so well, we largely went for the vibes, bounced up Nigel there and it was nice.

This year, there apparently won’t be a Trinidad and Tobago leg for the first time since the thing started.Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 12.38.46 AM However, getting involved in Open Data projects never needs invitation or formalities. If the data’s there, people will try to make magic.

Trinidad and Tobago is in a recession. So, people have been more price conscious than usual. Not just people but even ministries in government and their units.

One such unit, the Consumer Affairs Division, released a booklet that tracks the cost of goods across a range of grocery stores around the country.

The data was locked in a PDF-formatted file, across 32 pages.

I grabbed the file and spent sometime thinking about how it could be liberated and what could be done after that.

Fortunately, because the PDF itself was structured fairly well, an online service was able to render it as excel.
From there, we converted it to a more app and website friendly format – json.

A small site was built which provided a view of the data, and works fine in a desktop browser. The site can be seen here:

http://irwinwilliams.github.io/price-range/#/prices

I was motivated to do this because it was a good demonstration of the innovation possible as more and more data becomes available.

Edit (April 30, 2016) [and super-technical note]:

I really wanted to start some sort of basket functionality on this PoC, and so I just added the start of that functionality into price range.  Ideally, it should do a version of what “Knapsack” does, which is, for a given set of items in the basket, what is the best place to get all the items? #KnapsackInRealLife

Categories
TrinidadAndTobago

#TTGEN2015

We successfully wrapped up covering another set of elections. This time, closer to home.
In Trinidad and Tobago together with Solution by Simulation, we provided data capture, analysis and reporting for the General Elections on September 7.
I built specialized tools for us to capture and make the data available via API.
From there, the visualization experts TV6 hired displayed the info in real time.
It was great building and supporting this data capture for such an important event.

 

Categories
open data TrinidadAndTobago

A first for Open Data in Trinidad & Tobago

I’ve come to realize I’m an Open Data enthusiast. Like most people, I tend to have questions about how things run, where resources are located and how they get distributed.

This year, that curiosity led me to seek out information about some government agencies in Trinidad & Tobago.
The Water and Sewerage Authority, the Public Transport Service Corporation, the Ministry of Health and the Trinidad & Tobago Police Service were institutions I had targeted. They all provide data in one form or another about things I was interested in.
However, that data came in the form of PDFs, Word documents, embedded in Google maps or even one-by-one on wen pages. Decidedly not open.
For all those sources, a lot of massage therapy was required. My fingers included.
And then, last week, The Trinidad & Tobago Extractive Industries Transparency Institute released their first report about Trinidad and Tobago’s Energy Industry. It was chock full of information on the players in this space, the revenues gained and production stats. It was also a PDF.
They took the next step though and through the efforts of the bright path foundation actually created Open Data sources of key information within the report. But they didn’t stop there, the TTEITI went ahead and just one week after releasing the data, they held an Open Data conference and workshop.

marktteiti

Speakers included Mark Regis from the TTEITI, Bevil Wooding from BrightPath, Patrick Hosein from Nic.tt, Dr. Kim Mallalieu from the UWI, Gerard Best from the Guardian and yours truly.

For the actual workshop session, I moderated the development of an app focused on using one of the core datasets – the differences between Government’s expected receipts and Companies’ reported payments.
That session was a mix of engineers, data analysts and journalists.  It included Nigel Henry of Solution By Simulation, Ria Jack from NIHERST, Anil Ramnanan from TTCS, Kyle De Freitas from the DCIT of UWI, Tori-Ann Haywood from the TTCSI and Kerry Peters, former president of MATT.
Though the time was short, we were able to get to an alpha version of the app. We’re looking forward to release it sometime soon.

This was the first time an actual agency in government presented its data in an open format and invited developers to come out and write apps on it. The app that resulted from the process allowed us to even think about the data differently and ask questions that we may not have asked.  It was a very good day and I’m glad we were able to be part of what I hope to be the first of many such initiatives.

Edit: