The Sahana Software Foundation has partnered with Google to mentor students for Google Summer of Code every year since 2006. As such, mentors from the SSF are invited to participate at the GSoC Mentor Summit at Googleplex in Mountain View, CA each year. The Mentor Summit is, in the words of the organizers, an ‘unconference’, where the attendees decide on the agenda and the content of each discussion. This is an approach which fits in to the values of collaboration and community engagement that are inherently available in the realm of open source.

SSF's Chamindra de Silva, Michael Howden and Ramindu Deshapriya at the Google Mentor Summit

SSF’s Chamindra de Silva, Michael Howden and Ramindu Deshapriya at the Google Mentor Summit

The GSoC Mentor Summit for 2013 was held on the 19th and 20th of October, and Chamindra De Silva, Michael Howden and Ramindu Deshapriya represented Sahana this year. The Summit is generally a good opportunity for the members of Sahana to generate some recognition for our organization and to meet old acquaintances as well as to forge new relationships. These were the goals of our representatives as they met and interacted with many members of open source communities from around the world.

One of the main focuses for the representatives from Sahana was to drive some of the sessions related to Humanitarian Open Source Software (HFOSS). In one such session, it was decided to work towards better collaboration between HFOSS projects in terms of co-mentoring GSoC students as well as presenting a common front via a portal to the world. The #hfoss IRC channel was discussed and a resolution was made to enhance participation on the channel. Projects such as Sigmah and MiFOSS as well as OsGeo signed up to work towards enhanced collaboration between HFOSS projects.

Another session involving all HFOSS projects placed the topic of achieving better involvement from GSoC students under discussion. Many valid points related to keeping students engaged after their GSoC Projects are complete were discussed and agreed upon.

Since Sahana has been a mentoring organization for Google Code-In (GCI) 3 years in a row now, Michael and Ramindu attended a session which focused on best practices for GCI mentoring organizations to follow. Our representatives were able to pick up many valuable points related to managing GCI effectively.

As always, the GSoC Mentor Summit was a place to meet and network with representatives from many well-known FOSS projects from around the globe. It was exciting to explain how Sahana works to those who did not know of it, and it was heartening to meet someone who recognized Sahana from what they had heard about us. It was an all-round wonderful experience to meet members of some of the greatest FOSS projects out there, and to know that the SSF is on par with them as a FOSS organization.

Having gained a great number of new ideas and having made many new friends as well as having renewed old friendships, it must be said that Sahana definitely made an impact at the 2013 GSoC Mentor Summit. We hope the future will hold many such opportunities with collaborate with the global FOSS community and Google to provide better Humanitarian solutions to the world.

Sahana, as a reputed Disaster Management project, has the basic functionality to support many different emergency response paradigms. This was demonstrated comprehensively at an interesting meetup conducted in Sri Lanka recently. Sahana Meetup FlyerThe event was conducted with the presence of Chamindra De Silva, who is a Director of the Sahana Software Foundation, and Tom Worthington, a Member of the SSF and a juggernaut in the field of Computer Science, on the 7th of May 2013. The event was hosted by Virtusa (Pvt) Ltd at their premises.

SSF Member Tom Worthington addresses the Sahana Meetup in Colombo

SSF Member Tom Worthington addresses the Sahana Meeting in Colombo

A large number of participants attended the discussion, including medical representatives from the Epidemiology Unit of Sri Lanka and the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, as well as professionals from the Computer Science domain.

Attendees at the Sahana Meetup in Colombo

Attendees at the Sahana Meetup in Colombo

It was  a unique event as the discussion revolved around ‘Using Mobile and Web for an Influenza Pandemic response‘ with focus on using Sahana’s products as the platform for building an effective Epidemic/Pandemic Management System. Some of the most exciting ideas that were generated were:

  • Dynamic heatmaps based on Sahana’s situation maps to show the spread of a particular disease.
  • Capturing symptoms through a General Practitioner’s mobile device and syncing with the system using the web service layers in Sahana’s products.
  • Outbreak alerts to be sent to concerned parties using alerting mechanisms built in to Sahana products.

The ideas above demonstrate how Sahana could be theoretically applied not only for emergency response for natural disaster situations, but for health-related emergencies such as epidemics and pandemics as well. Many ideas were generated and shelved for further discussions which are going on to this day. A great deal of interest was generated as we had representatives from various domains who are well-versed in the application of computer systems to alleviate major issues faced by humanity.

Our sincerest thanks goes out to all who assisted in organizing the event, and to Tom for gracing us with his presence.

Meetup Organizers Ramindu Deshapriya and Chamindra de Silva with Tom Worthington

Meetup Organizers Ramindu Deshapriya and Chamindra de Silva with Tom Worthington

Sahana Member and Meetup Organizer Ramindu Deshapriya

Sahana Member and Meetup Organizer Ramindu Deshapriya

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SSF Director and Meetup Organizer Chamindra de Silva

 

I am not a newcomer to Sahana, having participated as a Google Summer of Code in 2011 as well. However, I dismissed last year’s Sahana Annual Meeting as something way over my head, and not applicable to me. How wrong I was.

The Sahana Software Foundation makes a provision to accommodate their Google Summer of Code students at the Annual Meeting, as a laudable move to bring new blood in to the organization. I must admit, after attending the meeting and seeing first-hand (or in some cases, second) all the great work and innovation that goes in to building Sahana and keeping it going, I believe I would never be inclined to leave this wonderful and exciting organization.

The Sahana Annual Meeting for 2012 was held from 26-28 May in New York. Being a Sri Lankan, it was an unbelievably exciting prospect for me to be able to attend such a prestigious event while being able to visit the Big Apple at the same time. When Mark sent out an email inviting GSoC students to participate, I was quick to take up the offer.

I arrived in New York on the 24th, tired and disoriented, but had the opportunity to meet Martin Thomsen, Dominic König and Michael Howden at Mark’s place, where we were all gracefully accepted by Mark’s family as guests.

On the next day, I went along with the others to attend the last day of SahanaCamp NYC, and although I am not that familiar with Sahana Eden which we were hacking on that day, I had fun talking to Jeremy, a Wikipedia/Debian veteran who is one of the latest additions to the Sahana Community. Meeting Fran Boon, who is quite a character, was fun as well. Bhaavan Merchant, another Google Summer of Code student from India who was attending the meeting, turned up that day, and we became fast friends.

The next 3 days were a blur of discussions, arguments and ideas as I dove in head-first in to the world of Sahana beyond simple coding, and I found out that developing Sahana products is only a minor part of what the Sahana Software Foundation does. There is so much more of planning, communication and interaction with the people who need Sahana that goes in to delivering the humanitarian services that the Foundation provides.

For me, some points that really stood out during the meeting were:

  • The decision for the Sahana Software Foundation to become a member of OASIS.
  • A major re-structuring of the way the Foundation functions and provides support for each of its products.

It was an honor to be sitting with the top brass of the Sahana Software Foundation and to hear their personal stories of how they became involved in the development of the Foundation. There were many laughs and hilarious moments proving to me that this is an organization built on the shoulders of kind-hearted people totally committed to saving the world.

Bhaavan and I were put up at the Pennsylvania Hotel in the heart of New York by the Foundation, and we went on many sightseeing trips accompanied by Pat Tressel, who was quite interesting to travel with and talk to.

At the end of it all, it was with sadness in my heart that I boarded the plane from JFK Airport to return home, and would like to thank the Sahana Software Foundation for having me for their Annual Meeting. It would be wrong if I did not thank Mark and his wonderful family for taking great care of me as their guest. I hope to see them again soon. I would like to express my immense gratitude to the members of the Foundation who attended the meeting as well; you made my experience a colorful one.

The Sahana Software Foundation’s Annual Meeting was a truly novel and important event in my life. I can assure you that, after this, the Sahana Software Foundation has me for life. I want to help save the world.

 

If you are a Sri Lankan involved in the field of Information Technology, it is inevitable that you will someday hear about, and be inspired by, the Sahana project. It is renowned for being a community software project that was born in Sri Lanka and has now moved out in to the world, unifying developers from different nations in a common noble goal: to help alleviate disasters faced by mankind.

It was the weight of these facts that convinced me to apply for Google Summer of Code in 2011 under the Sahana Software Foundation. Having more experience in PHP development than anything else, I thought of applying for one of the Agasti projects for the summer. However, the first project I applied for, that of building an ‘app store’ of sorts on a CMS platform for Agasti, got scrapped because apparently there wasn’t enough planning done for that project to go properly forward. However, I persisted and applied for another project, that of re-integrating Pootle translations in to Sahana Agasti Vesuvius.

The evolution of Sahana has been very eventful is an interesting story, which I learnt by asking around in Sri Lanka, where there are still quite a few Sahana contributors remaining. I learnt of the 2 main branches of Sahana: Eden and Agasti. Of the two branches of Agasti itself, Vesuvius is managed by the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda.

Pootle, which is the software I would end up eventually building support for in Vesuvius, is a translation engine where you can organize a collaborated effort to translate a particular software application. In order for this to be possible, you need to have all the strings within the software isolated and put in to a separate functions that can be accessed by Pootle so that they can be translated like this:

Pootle works as a translation platform to help people collaborate to translate software

The mentors assigned for the project were Greg Miernicki and Glenn Pearson, and from the outset (even before I was selected to participate as a student), they were extremely helpful and gave me a very clear idea of what should happen in this project. The requirements weren’t exactly as simple as I outlined above; there were different modules such as the Resource Pages module that needed restructuring and re-integration with translations and Greg and Glenn were also considering the inclusion of some usage of Google’s Translate API. I knew that I would have my work cut out for me.

Throughout the next few months, I was hard at work on the project, looking through code, finding out about new hacks and methodologies that we could use and generally having a good time innovating, as I like to think of it, for the good of Sahana. The weekly meetings with Greg and Glenn were always pretty intense technology-wise, while being fun at the same time. There were many instances where all three of us were grinning (I imagine Greg and Glenn were grinning as well) at some weird pun or joke that one of us brought up. During this period I worked intimately with the Google Translate API, the PHP gettext library, and the GNU xgettext terminal command as well as with Pootle.

There were quite a few occasions when I was up most of the night, working on fixing annoying bugs that cropped up and chatting with Greg about programming, gaming on Linux, and gadgets. He is a truly remarkable mentor with a flair for making his protégés feel relaxed and ready to tackle any problem. As a seasoned developer, he simply exudes the joy of programming, and I must say the feeling is infectious.

Finally, having successfully completed what I had to do (although there is quite a long way to go towards the 0.9.2 release of Vesuvius, at which point we hope to integrate the new translation code in to the package), it was time to end my GSoC work for the year. I was genuinely sad at the end of the summer as a I wrapped up the project, knowing that one of the defining experiences in my life had come to its end. However, I am, and always will be, determined to keep working with Sahana to do my best not only to develop and improve the code I added to it, but to answer the call to help develop the best Disaster Management System in the world.

I would like to thank the Sahana community as well for their unwavering support, and Darlene for handling the Google Summer of Code Program so masterfully over the course of those fateful 3 months.

The world is not always the best place for us humans, but together and through working towards something positive, we can strive to make it a better place for all.

 

P.S. Link to the wiki page for my project