Topic: Events

Back in June, I attended the one-day Open Analytics Summit. We aren't really doing much with analytics or big data here at CCNMTL (yet), but there are many conversations and projects happening around campus and I wanted to get a better sense of the kinds of value these methods are yielding. These issues are sure to be central to much of the research and instruction at the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, and have already crept up on a number of Columbia projects we have been involved with, such as the Declassification Engine and the Open Syllabus Project.

Back in May, Anders attended the Ricon East, "a distributed systems conference by and for engineers, developers, scientists and architects". The distributed data-store Riak was featured prominently at the conference but the event was intended more as a conference on distributed systems in general spanning academia and industry.

Anders wrote up some fantastic, detailed notes on his personal blog, summarizing and explaining the sessions he attended:

Ricon East 2013 Talk Summaries

The slides and videos of the event are now posted, so you can check them out for yourself too.

DjangoCon '12 is on the East Coast this year, and we submitted a proposal to present on our recent intervention in South Africa. We hope to see you in DC!

Title: Offline and Off-Road: Django, Health and Human Rights

Description: For years, CCNMTL has been using Django to create interactive multimedia health interventions. We'll spotlight our latest NIMH-funded project where we deployed Django to offline netbooks at South African HIV clinics, and developed a sneakernet-based (ie USB drives) data synchronization protocol. We'll also present our FOSS CMS for authoring these ebook-like sites.

Abstract: For years, CCNMTL has been using Django to create interactive multimedia health interventions as a part of our Triangle initiative. We have worked closely with the Schools of Social Work and Public health to explore the possibilities and benefits of incorporating rich, interactive, multimedia into these kinds of counseling sessions.

In this talk we will spotlight Masivukeni, our latest NIMH-funded project where we deployed Django to offline netbooks at South African HIV clinics, and developed a sneakernet-based (ie USB drives) data synchronization protocol.

As we iterate over projects like these, we have continued to abstract the aspects of these projects that are idiosyncratic to this domain. We'll also present our open-source lightweigth-CMS that we have created for authoring these ebook-like sites. The characteristics of these sites are serial content delivery (often with specific business rules, such as preventing access to already-seen, or not-yet-seen pages), interspersed with casual learning "games" (eg html5/javascript drag and drop activities).

Finally, we will discuss the roadmap for this authoring tool, including the possibility of a networked, collaborative ebook authoring tool, that might export epub3 or SCORM-compliant sites.

I just came back from the Open Annotation Collaboration (OAC) workshop, working to develop a standard format for annotations on images, video, text and other resources.The group's current work is on the right track--there are two parts to any annotation: the 'constraint' which is the part of a resource we're focusing on, and the 'body' which is the metadata describing details of that constrained section of the resource.

A 'constraint' is mostly a simple section of an image like on the right where I circle the embedded rotating calendar in a ~17th century book on Hebrew Calendars, but the general idea of a scholarly annotation can be very complex. Just how crazy? Well, perhaps I want to show a certain rotation of the discs...

The other night I was on a panel discussion on Python Deployment at the Django-NYC meetup. The discussion was very good and I think everyone there got a lot out of it (I did). But the format wasn’t really suitable for going into great detail, showing actual code fragments or demos. I’ve written about aspects of our deployment strategy in the past on my personal blog and in comments on other sites, but it’s a continuing work in progress and I’m well overdue for an update. We also have a web-base deployment tool that, while the code has been open and available for a while, we really haven’t officially announced or publicized until now.

There are two angles to Python/Django deployment that I want to discuss. First, there’s deploying Django apps. Then there’s how we use a Django app to deploy Django (and other) apps. They are closely intertwined so I think I can’t really talk about one without talking about the other.

Last night Sky and I presented MediaThread at a Django meetup in NYC. We were invited to give a full presentation after a lighting talk back a few months ago. The event was held at Huge with about 20 people attending from a variety of backgrounds. The participants were engaged and involved, asking questions about our implementation, process, and student usage. We also heard a report back on the European DjangoCon and broke bread (and beer) with local Djangonaughts.

Here are some belated highlights from PyCon2010, straight from the Ministry of Silly Talks. The talks are all published on the PyCon website and all the video are now posted and organized at

Everything is speeding up these days, even the authoring of books. Some information society researchers we know (including some of our friends from Eyebeam, Creative Commons and Shift Space) locked themselves up for a week in Berlin, and came out the other end with a print-ready book on the future of collaboration - Collaborative Futures.

Even though I didn't travel to Berlin, the authorship of the book was radically distributed and some of my writing made it into the final cut. A portion of essay I wrote last fall for a sociology seminar on the future on a (brief) history of version control systems and the significance of distributed version control systems made the cut.

The book will be released under a creative commons license, but they are also doing a print run of hard copies which will be available starting at the launch party, March 4th. Pre-order hard copy here (digital copy is available here).

There is alot of buzz right now around the latest version of Firefox which finally implemented the native <video> tag specified in html5 .

These developments were a hot topic at the Open Video Conference, which was about a whole lot more than just the video tag, but the timing was really perfect. For more about the OVC, see Jonah and Mark Phillipson's reports, as well as the announcement of our Open Sourcing of VITAL .

The introduction of the <video> tag is a pretty big deal. Up until now, to display video in a browser, you needed to use third party plugins embedded in object tags. This allowed for the video to be seen in the browser, but the video wasn't really part of the web page - it was trapped inside a box.

Jonah told me he had a spare ticket to yesterday's geo API hackathon at the Google headquarters last Thursday afternoon. I'd long been curious to see the fabled interior of the New York Googleplex, and the event also offered a chance to catch up with how NYC developers have been using with geospatial data. New York is, after all, a location-obsessed town.

I spent my weekend at HOPE, a hacker convention run by the good folks at 2600 Magazine. There were many interesting (and occasionally hilarious) talks on a variety of subjects, from the weirdest things you can send via the postal service to the basics of hacking DNA to a discussion of the GPS technology in NYC taxi cabs.

One of my favorites was called "Evil Interfaces: Violating the User". It was a taxonomy of manipulative UI methods that result from a situation where the goals of the designer are not the same as the goals of the user (for instance, they want you to pay attention to the advertising). The speaker, Gregory Conti, talked about how the most successful "attacks" result from an inversion of traditional UI design rules. So in some sense, it was a manual of "what not to do": distract the user from the content with motion or color, disguise non-content as content, add extra barriers between the user and the content he wants to see (interstitial ads), exploit user errors, set bad defaults, etc. However, it gave me some food for thought about our projects.