Election vibes in St. Kitts & Nevis

Solution by Simulation and I provided live election updates for the recently concluded St. Kitts & Nevis General Elections.  We were hosted by ZIZ – the National Broadcasting Corporation.

Their election desk used the analytics and mapping solution we built for broadcasting live results to the population. ZIZ is the official broadcaster of election results, so they got it from the supervisor of the elections first.

Joshua Browne and Irwin Williams at the ZIZ studio
Joshua Browne and Irwin Williams at the ZIZ studio

We landed the morning of elections day – Monday 16th February (2015) and went to the news station shortly thereafter.  After making adjustments for television presentation, we spent the night, getting polling station results, and fitting that into leading-data for constituencies, and prediction for results.

There was some controversy with the pace of reporting, but it was a really good learning experience for the whole team.

 

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Which came first, the API or the app?

The Caribbean Open Data Code Sprint took place on January 26, 2015.  It’s a 24 hour coding competition.  In it, you are given access to specific Open Data datasets and asked to come up with a solution that uses one or more of those sets.  The hosts were the University of the West Indies and the main sponsor was the Caribbean Telecommunications Union.

The sets we had access to are available on http://data.tt

Anand & I were talking about The Caribbean Open Data Code Sprint for weeks.

The conversation went like this:

Irwin: Code Sprint?

Anand: Yeah, why not.

So, we were excited, in a way.

When the day for participation came, I was already on my way to the Hyatt. We hadn’t confirmed if he was going.  He called,

Anand: Code Sprint?

Irwin: Yeah, why not.

We met up with Nigel (Wallen) who came from Solution by Simulation and he joined up with us.

After discussing a few ideas we settled on the idea of a mechanism for rating secondary schools in Jamaica.  It’s so specific because the data we had ready access to came from secondary school performance in Jamaica.  It was fairly comprehensive.  Data listed included:

  • The number of grade 1, 2 & 3 results.
  • The number of passes and fails.
  • Metrics were broken down according to subject.
  • Beyond that, there was also data on teacher qualification.

Our ranking system was necessarily simple, we wanted to use the data to enable an informed discussion on what is the best school to attend.

As we discussed it, ‘best school’ is at best shakily determined by only using information on pass rates.  But as we said, we wanted to open the conversation.  As implied here, the conversation needed to be informed by data.

We considered on how to present this solution and came up with an application that let’s you view the best schools on a map.  How to know the best school though?  We decided to go with an algorithm that computes a score of each school, based on grades.

Once we had that core idea, we approached it by building an API that brings together the school data and the calculation around the score.  As we built out the API, and spent more time crafting  it out and making it make sense, we spent less time on a demonstration app and 24 hours became 18 which became 10 and then 4.

We left the venue to go home and work from there.  That didn’t quite work. Anand kept the light burning longest – til around 2am.  We did have a sound, fool-proof plan though – to reconvene very early the next morning.
The next morning there was a four-car smash up that involved one fatality and hundreds of commuters being stranded or stuck in the gridlock of the highway.

One hour before the event, we had a great API, a far less great application, and a decision to make.

Do we go with the tried and failed approach of, “well, we had this great idea for an app but we ran out of time and here is this thing”? Or, do we reexamine what we’ve done and understand what value that offered in that context?

We went with the latter option.  In our five minute presentation, we chose to focus on the innovation of building an API that married the existing dataset with knowledge and applied insight. We demoed the API – available here & spoke to its ability to then be consumed by other developers and apps – like PowerBI  or Google Fusion Tables.

This edition’s judging panel included Chief Knowledge Officer of the Congress WBN,  Bevil Wooding as well as lecturers from the University of the West Indies, Dr. Akash Pooransingh & Dr. René Jordan.

opendatacodesprintjudges

The judges just asked one question and we were done.  A few more teams presented and then we waited for about an hour or so.

When Dr. Mallalieu provided closing remarks, she had this to say:

“The winning team hit the spot on

opendatacodesprintDRMALLALIEU

That winning team was us (Team IAN – not very imaginative, sorry). Our API captured a big part of what the Caribbean Open Data Code Sprint was attempting to accomplish and it felt like the start of something good.

Cloud Technologies

Recently worked with Dr. Patrick Hosein to help deliver the University of the West Indies’ first ever Cloud Technologies course – it’s part of their MSc in Computer Science programme.

It was a challenging engagement that allowed us to help the students navigate how to get started with the Cloud. We had a good spread of concerns in the class, too. Students were software developers, involved in management and service delivery of IT services, researchers and lecturers.

We basically started with a definition – the NIST definition – of what Cloud computing is and built on that with examples, assignments, case studies and projects.

The NIST definition of a cloud service is:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared
pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that
can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment
models.

At the end of the course, the students needed to build projects that demonstrated their understanding of what a Cloud Service is.  We saw projects that featured:

  • Employee Task Tracking
  • Academic Course Management
  • Transport Ticketing Service
  • Vehicle Tracking Service
  • Health Data Management

All developed as Cloud Services. Most were challenged around the metering aspects and ideas that leveraged services other than exclusively web-based technologies were at a minimum.  However, they seemed to get that a implementing a Cloud Service has a number of considerations that go beyond just making software execute a core task remotely.

Most of the students utilized Microsoft Azure, as this was the primary platform we used for the course.  Azure was a good fit for us as they made it very easy for students to get on and interact with the platform – via Microsoft’s Azure Academic Pass. This pass gave students access to almost all of Azure – Storage, SQL, Machine Learning & Hadoop.  And any issues were sorted with a short email exchange.

Thus, as a first course, there are things we will have to improve on, but it definitely was a good experience and I’ll look out for more of those in the future.

Teaching (again)

Last year, I taught three courses.

  • Intro to Mobile Applications
  • Software Engineering
  • Cloud Technologies

I hadn’t done any lecturing for a while, and the opportunities came around fairly suddenly, but it was good to be back in class and sharing experiences. Mobile Apps & Software Engineering were taught at the University of Trinidad & Tobago.

I’ve found that interacting with the students and faculty is excellent for understanding how important the relationship between industry & practitioners and institutions can be.

That’s it for now, but I’ll write on Cloud Technologies another time.

Good news!

It’s been all over the media!

We’re winners! 🙂

The Teleios Code Jam won the Microsoft Partner of the Year YouthSpark Citizenship Award (2014). Yes, it’s a mouthful, but after you catch your breadth saying it, you realize it’s a pretty big deal.

We competed with the likes of Dell and Intel in the category of Advocacy in Software Development and what we’ve been doing since 2008 was recognized.

Teleios Code Jam is delivered by a team called The Build Team, comprised of persons who write software, are involved in Marketing, Project Management, Media and User Experience.   It’s the multi-faceted nature of our team that allows us to create something strong, useful and global in TCJ.

We launched some fancy stuff in 2014, too – like the TCJ portal and with the kind of interest we have from sponsors new and old, the programme is on a good growth path.

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.

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