May 26, 2007

Track 4 glory at AsiaSource II

Filed under: Life,Music,Varsity — mifan @ 8:22 pm

Asia Source II (Indonesia: January 2007) was one of the most inspirational events that I had ever attended, and it was loaded with fun. Our final presentation was filled with exactly that: FUN, and we were fortunate enough to have Elanto, who captured the whole thing on tape.
Groups were supposed to come up with creative presentations, and we being Track 4, and being known as “The Track from Hell”, settled for nothing less than our best.
The idea of performing a skit was inspired by something similar I had during my school days, where we performed Beauty and the Beast with a difference. This was basically something similar, where various well known characters come in costumes with the relevant background music, and give presents to the mother, who happened to give birth to a penguin ๐Ÿ˜‰
The amazing thing was that we were able to decide, direct, train and present in 2 hours, on the morning of the presentation. And our creative fashion designers in the track also managed to find suitable costumes from within what we had. After deciding on the skit, I fixed the roles, whilst a combination of Agus and my laptops seemed to provide all the sound tracks we needed. Magie was in charge of HR, and together we tracked down the most suitable people for each character. Agus then worked his creative magic, cropping and gluing all the tracks to create one big track, whilst Magie and myself took to train the characters. Sam and Yasmin came up with the brilliant idea of making the presents meaningful, and got to work creating the extermely complex penguin puzzle, and trained everyone on the order of placement.
The following were the characters, and the person who played it, in order:
Mother – Dr. Francis
Penguin Child – Francis’ stuffed penguin
Mother’s sidekick – Sam
James Bond – Marek
Darth Vader, Star Wars – Mifan
Luke Skywalker, Star Wars – Waivit
Kate and Leo, Titanic – Yasmine and Hien
Will Smith, Wild Wild West – Agus
Bad Sisters – Joanna and Olivia
Gangsta Hood – Abilio
Dora and Boots – Sabeena and Anil
Ghostbusters – Roberto, Sri and Ravi
Cameraman – Elanto
And of course, the rest of Track 4 and the rest of Asia Source II ๐Ÿ™‚
Adding the Youtube video below for your (or My) viewing pleasure


The Roots of Sahana

Filed under: Development,FOSS,Linux,Sahana,Varsity — mifan @ 7:23 pm

Recently, Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarna, posted an article on the Sahana lists, regarding the history of Sahana. This was very insightful, and came as an eye opener for many, regarding the history of Sahana. I, who was there from the inception of Sahana as well, didn’t know half of this :p, as I worked on the Sahana modules from the University of Moratuwa. I also spent a month at the Center for National Operations in Sri Lanka, so I’ll be adding a bit more to this when time permits.

Anyway, this article deserves to be blogged. A true masterpiece, and a true eye-opener:
So let me take a bit of time to write a short narrative
of the story of Sahana .. told from my memory and perspective. My
apologies if I missed any key people (I probably did :(..) and for any
other mistakes in my narrative. I’m on a long flight so I don’t have net
access to check my old blogs to validate the dates. If anyone is
interested you can read the blogs I wrote during the tsunami to see the
gory details of the really early days; Google will help you find those.

Sunday, December 26th, 2004. Tsunami hits Indonesia, Sri Lanka and many
other Asian countries. In the first week of the tunami, 1m people (or 5%
of our population) was homeless. 2/3rds of Sri Lanka’s coast was affected
in some way. Later on we find that nearly 40,000 of our people have died.

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004. Many different organizations in Sri Lanka
start efforts to write various bits of software to help manage the
disaster. (This bit of the story was repeated in other countries- India,
Indonesia, Thailand etc..)

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004. Many of these folks get together at the
ICT Agency in Narahenpita, Sri Lanka to discuss ways of putting the
software all together to make it easier to manage the situation. That nite
I called the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s CIOs office
(after finding the phone number in a powerpoint presentation he had done
proposing developing a disaster management software system) and asked for
whatever software they had. I was told that FEMA had no software that
could help .. they only had software that was used to cut checks to people
after hurricanes.

In the 3-4 weeks that followed, many many individuals, universities and
software companies and Sri Lanka Telecom contributed to what became known
as Sahana. Amongst the IT companies, Virtusa was the leading contributor
with more than 75 of their engineering staff helping at some time or the
other. While most contributors to the initial effort were from Sri Lanka,
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the urgent support we got from folks at (which we didn’t end up using) and later SourceForge. We
desperately needed a code repository and other infra (like mailing lists)
and these folks willingly and urgently came out of their holiday slumber
and got everything that we needed. Special mention also needs to go IBM’s
Crisis Response Team lead by Brent Woodworth, who were then regular
visitors to Sri Lanka. From day 1 that entire team supported, encouraged
and cheered on the Sahana effort. In fact a good part of the initial
development was done on 15 notebooks that IBM donated within a week or so
of the tsunami.

This joint effort was organized and managed by the Lanka Software
Foundation. In the early days we had a 24×7 operation and the first bits
of software went into production use in about a week. Over time more and
more capabilities were added and used in various ways. After about 3
months this initial phase was completed and the software and its
deployment reached a certain level of equilibrium.

In the meantime, it became clear to us that there was a huge hole in the
world of disaster management software. The state of the art that the UN
team that came to Sri Lanka with was a system called SUMA- something
written on FoxPRO. (Anyone remember FoxPRO? Yes, that was the
pre-relational desktop database system from Microsoft!) IBM had some stuff
based on Lotus Notes but it wasn’t easily deployable, scalable and, most
importantly, didn’t embrace the Web. The tsunami gave us a unique
opportunity to look at disaster management in the modern world: even
though there was sooo much death and damage, the communication network was
in tact. Cell phones worked. The IP networks worked. Land-lines worked. A
modern disaster management system must work in a connected environment ..
and if communication has indeed failed (as often happens in earthquake
type disasters) its now quite easy to airdrop a box that sets up a local
communication network with a satellite uplink. Clearly, there was a huge
need for modern software that could live in this world and help first
responders and follow-up recovery folks be more effective at responding
and managing a disaster.

We were not going to let Sahana die; we decided we are going to make it
into something the world can reuse readily. “We” at the time was primarily
Jivaka Weeratunge, co-founder of LSF and its then volunteer COO, and myself.

Chamindra de Silva, who had been one of the original people from Virtusa
who started the people registry which became a key component of Sahana,
agreed to leave his job at Virtusa and take a 1-year position in LSF to
take Sahana forward if we could get the funding for it. Chamindra became
part of the “let’s take sahana forward” team.

On February 11th 2005 I wrote the following in a cover letter on the
proposal we submitted to Ms. Asa Heijne, First Secretary of the Swedish
Embassy in Colombo along with a proposal seeking Rs. 8.548m (approximately
$85k) in funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)
to re-do Sahana:

“Further to our discussions in late January, enclosed please find a
proposal to further develop the Sahana Relief Management system into a
fully reusable, globalized relief management system. We believe the
potential global impact of such software will be tremendous and view this
as an opportunity to help the world at a time when the world is helping
Sri Lanka so willingly and widely.”

SIDA approved our proposal and Sahana phase II started with that funding
on August 1st 2005. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of
Per-Einar Troften in getting this funding- Per-Einar is in SIDA in Sweden.
He and Asa have (with the grant of $100k to start the Apache Axis2 project
and the Sahana grant) singlehandedly (two-handedly?) changed the role of
Sri Lanka in the FOSS world. If not for their trust in what LSF was
proposing to do Sahana wouldn’t exist in its current shape today.

I must also acknowledge LSF’s co-founder and then COO Jivaka Weeratunge-
he’s the one who helped manage LSF and make sure that we ran a superbly
tight and clear ship which made it easier for a funding agency to trust
us. Oh yeah, Jivaka was a total volunteer doing all of that, as is the
entire LSF Board. Jivaka was a key part of the strategy behind LSF overall
and then both and Sahana as we took them forward.

I think the following paragraphs we put in the proposal about why open
source was a critical component of disaster management may be useful for
folks to read:

“Very few countries and organizations today can afford to invest a lot of
resources in disaster management when there is no disaster present. While
this is obviously true of poor, developing nations, it is also true of
richer, developed countries as well because there are always higher
priority items that need the funding. Worse yet, even if there are some
national scale systems that may get deployed, it is very unlikely that
regional and local level systems will ever get deployed if they cost any
significant amount of resources.

Because no one is willing to pay for the software, no one is willing to
build it either. This is what we see in the world today โ€“ while disaster
management software is critically needed, there is no complete commercial
or non-commercial software solution that is widely available.
Going the open source way can address both these concerns. Using the open
source development model, it is possible to develop this software at a
much reduced cost compared to pure commercial development models. This is
true because while commercial entities are not willing to invest into
these systems, there are hundreds and thousands of well-meaning IT
professionals who are very happy to donate a few hours of effort to
helping build such systems. We are already seeing this with the nascent
Sahana project. Thus if there was a small team which was driving such a
project, then it is possible to get a lot of assistance from the global IT
community to make those systems truly exceptional.

Going with open source approaches can also greatly reduce the deployment
cost of this software in peace (i.e., non-disaster) times. The Sahana
system, for example, can be deployed on any PC with just a Linux LiveCD
(that is, a CD from which the entire system can be booted up and brought
on-line). Thus, not only is it possible to run this on commodity,
inexpensive hardware, it is in fact possible to not even have dedicated
hardware around โ€“ just take any office PC and make that the โ€œdisaster
management centerโ€! In fact, that is how Sahana was first deployed in Sri
Lanka โ€“ on a borrowed PC. (Later it switched to running on a borrowed
server as the capacity requirements increased.)

Thus, open source is the natural way to providing disaster management

So that’s how Sahana Phase II was born.

LSF has managed the Sahana project (and charges 20% overhead on the human
resources part of the budget to do it .. a grand total of Rs. 1.008m or
around $10k for phase II) with the LSF board being the final authority for
how the Sahana team was deployed.

For those of you who know nothing about LSF- the board of LSF consists of
local software company senior executives (usually CEOs), heads of CS
departments of the 4 main public universities in Sri Lanka) and a few
other distinguished individuals. The board is not compensated and everyone
participates to help improve Sri Lanka’s position in FOSS- not for direct
commercial or personal benefit. We’re of course a non-profit organization
legally registered in Sri Lanka. LSF’s finances are annually audited by
Ernst & Young in Sri Lanka.

What LSF does is find the funding for and run projects like Sahana.

After the funding for Sahana from SIDA finished at the end of July 2006,
we’ve received a few additional grants .. with special thanks again to IBM
for both cash and significant hardware donations. Google also donated some
funds for LSF/Sahana.

Sahana has of course been a TREMENDOUS success. Kudos go to the core
development team (Chamindra, Pradeeper, Ravindra, Mifan and the rest of
the gang) for producing superb software, the committed bunch of folks on
the Sahana mailing lists (with special mention to Paul, Louiqa, Don and
Gav) and to the numerous others who have helped with developing Sahana,
deploying it or just talking about it. Special mention must go here to the
efforts of the IBM Crisis Response Team in deploying Sahana in numerous
disaster and pre-disaster situations. On the recognition side, the recent
FSF Award is clearly the high point, being the second recipient of that
after Wikipedia. The list of deployments of Sahana is absolutely
incredible .. and now includes both poor and rich (richest?) countries.

In this context the LSF Board started thinking last year about how to best
take Sahana forward and about the role of the LSF Board. We concluded that
the best thing to do was to hand over “reigns” of the LSF part of Sahana
to a new team of people who would be focused purely on making Sahana climb
as high as it can. In doing that, we CLEARLY separated the successful FOSS
project that Sahana is from the LSF managed work in developing and
deploying Sahana. In order to further the FOSS project of Sahana, we
created the Sahana Project Management Committee, modeled closely on the
Apache Software Foundation’s model. The FOSS project and the PMC are
purely community efforts- while we created the PMC, the future membership
of the PMC will be determined by the current PMC members. We bootstrapped
it and now its off on its own. Good luck!

The board has been appointed by LSF and will take overall charge of all
LSF activities related to Sahana, including budgets. Sahana Board members
are all volunteers and we’re extremely grateful for their willingness to
help take Sahana forward. LSF is the underlying legal authority for the
activities that the Sahana Board governs.

The specific roles and responsibilities of the community, PMC and the
Board were documented in an email I posted to this list earlier. See:

I hope this helps people understand how Sahana got started and how it has
evolved. Most importantly, I hope it makes clear the governance structure
of Sahana and its intrinsically open nature.

I personally drove the creation of this model (in close consultation with
a bunch of folks, esp. Chamindra, Louiqa, Paul, Don, Gav, Pradeeper and
more) and I used my 10+ years of experience with Apache and other open
source efforts to help create what I think is an absolutely open model.
That said, there’s always room for improving the structure and activities-
make constructive suggestions and I’m sure the community, the PMC, the
Sahana Board and the LSF Board will be willing listeners!

May 20, 2007

Sahana and me at ISCRAM 2007, Delft, Netherlands

Filed under: Development,FOSS,Linux,Sahana,Varsity — mifan @ 7:26 pm

My latest trip was to the wonderfully beautiful Netherlands. ISCRAM 2007, the conference on crisis response and management, was held in Delft, Netherlands from the 13th to 17th May, 2007. Thus I made my way cross country, to present my research paper “GIS integration in the Sahana disaster management system”, which was also co-authored by David Bitner and Ravindra de Silva.
ISCRAM consisted of the perfect audience for Disaster and Crisis Management. The participants included specialists, academics and practitioners in this space, and thus Sahana was welcome with open hands. This being my first time at ISCRAM, I was suprised and honored by the large community revolving around disaster management, crisis management, and related ontologies. There were many ongoing research projects, and many other implementations too, as solutions to various aspects in this space.
My presenatation, which was presented under the “Geographical Information Science for Crisis Management” Session, supposedly went well. I was honored to be congratulated on the outcome of it by many greats, including Dr. Eric Rasmussen and Prof. Ralph Morelly, amongst others. The audience was supportive, and the questions were great. There was also a comment that another group was going to use the same architecture that the Sahana GIS uses, to solve many real world problems that arise.
There was also supposedly a BOF discussion on ontology, which I with many others managed to miss ๐Ÿ˜ฆ However, I hope this would turn into a collaborative effort, with participants from many diverse communities chipping in. All in all, ISCRAM was a success, and a great gathering. Special thanks to the organizers and the participants for making this a raving success.

April 3, 2007

Sahana wins FSF Award

Filed under: Development,FOSS,Life,Linux,Sahana,Varsity — mifan @ 8:58 pm

Finally, the cat is out of the bag. Sahana, the FOSS Disaster management system, received the biggest recognition that the Free Software Foundation provides to projects: The FSF award for social benefit . This, amazingly is the only other award given by the FSF, the other being the award for Advancement of Free Software, whose recipient was Ted Ts’o this year.
The awards ceremony was held at the annual FSF general meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston, U.S.A on the 24th of March 2007. 4 members of the Sahana team, namely Pradeeper Dharmendra, Chamindra de Silva, Ravindra de Silva and yours truly: Mifan Careem, attended the AGM/Ceremony to receive the award.
This is undoubtedly the biggest award the Sahana project has received in recent years. According to Richard Stallman, founder of the FSF, the FSF award for Social benefit is given to projects that make best use of Free Software, and provides benefits to society as a whole. The fact that this award was inspired by the Sahana project 2 years ago, adds more value to it. Whilst presenting the award, Richard Stallman said “We were inspired to create this award when we heard of the tremendous good the Sahana project was able to achieve through the use of free software. With this award we give recognition to their efforts”.Thus, Sahana received the FSF award for social benefit for 2006. The 2005 FSF award was given to Wikipedia, which speaks volumes itself. Every year, three finalists are nominated for the award by the free software community. This year’s other two finalists were Project Gutenberg and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).
This award belongs to the Sahana community as a whole, not just the development team. Thank you all for the support, the criticism and the motivation.
Now its time for the party hats, and possibly a party as well? ๐Ÿ™‚

More Photos>>

Sahana wins FSF Award

March 19, 2007

Sahana for Google Summer of Code 2007

Filed under: Development,FOSS,Linux,Sahana,Varsity — mifan @ 7:51 pm

The Google Summer of Code is on again, and its time to send in those great applications. Sahana is represented by the Lanka Software Foundation this year as well, as its parent organization. We would like to call upon all interested students to send in their applications on Sahana, before the 24th March. Tentative ideas for the Sahana project are on the Sahana wiki, but that’s just the limit of our somewhat limited imagination ๐Ÿ™‚ You are more than welcome to send in all those creative ideas as well: and let the best ideas triumph.

Maybe I should change my role from a student and recipient of Google SoC 2006, to a mentor of Google SoC 2007 this time around? Only time will tell ๐Ÿ™‚ Meanwhile, keep up the good work, Google.

March 6, 2007

FOSS-Ed on Wheels, Kandy

Filed under: FOSS,Life,Linux,Varsity — mifan @ 7:46 pm

FOSS-Ed on wheels, the event where a bunch of geeks hop into a bus and spread the word in the outskirts of Colombo, was held in the hill capital of Kandy this time. The 3rd and 4th of March saw 10 geeks in Kandy, at the FeoW opposite Kingswood College. The organization of the event was wonderful, courtesy of the students of the Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya. For once, we were excused from carrying chairs and fixing the PCs :). All in all, it was a wonderful event, with an enthusiastic audience, tasty food, a cool climate, and terrific scenery’s. And the demonstration on Beryl would have certainly toppled some of the audience over ๐Ÿ˜‰

January 10, 2007

Sahana mentioned in MySQL article

Filed under: Development,FOSS,Linux,Sahana,Varsity — mifan @ 8:50 am

Sahana is mentioned along side many great projects in a MySQL article, An Open Letter to the Community from MySQL Founders David Axmark & Michael Widenius. According to the Site:

Some other awe-inspiring MySQL stats that show the momentum of MySQL:
Major free software projects and hugely-popular Web sites such as the Sahana (disaster recovery system for the tsunami), and Human Genome Project (used for cancer research), Wikipedia, Bugzilla, Craigslist, Feedster, Flickr, Freshmeat, LiveJournal, Neopets, Slashdot, SugarCRM, Technorati, WordPress, CERN’s ATLAS Experiment — all taking advantage of MySQL’s speed, ease of use, flexibility, scalability and ecosystem

Now isn’t that a great list to be in? Definitely something to write home about. Thanks for the recognition guys, and we sure can hope for better times to come.

December 24, 2006

The Festive Sahana Rudolph

Filed under: Development,FOSS,Linux,Mobile,Sahana,Varsity — mifan @ 8:15 pm

The modified version of the song is sung as follows: 2 Days before Christmas my true love gave to me:ย ย Version 0.5 Alpha of the Sahana Disaster Management System, Free ๐Ÿ™‚ (I even got it to rhyme!). This latest version of Sahana is integrated with messaging, which currently includes the ability to send messages via email and SMS. The latter works via a mobile phone acting as a GSM Modem, connected to the Kannel SMS Gateway. This release also sees GIS integration into the Organization Registry and the Inventory Management System. Excerpts from the official release by the Release Manager:
Sahana project is happy to announce the ‘0.5-Alpha’ release during
this festive season, also code named ‘Rudolph’. In this release, there
are number of improved features like, messaging capability using
SMS/Mail, tight GIS integration, handling confirmation/error messages
and many more.
Also two new modules were added to expand the capability of Sahana,
namely “Volunteer Management” (to manage volunteers) and
“Synchronization” (to synchronize the data between two or more sahana
instances) modules.

Check out the packaged versions at the Download site. Cheers, and Merry Christmas!

December 18, 2006

Sahana at ICIA 2006

Filed under: Development,Life,Sahana,Varsity — mifan @ 6:07 pm

Saturday, 16th December: The Sahana Research Team’s first paper, titled “Sahana: An overview of a Disaster Management System” was presented at the 2nd International Conference on Information and Automation, at Galadari, Colombo, by yours truly :). Even though the conference had its glitches, the presentation went fine, and coupled with the good food, the event was fun. One question from an Indian Prof. was certainly an eye-opener for me, which was whether Sahana had its own disaster management capability to manage itself in the time of a disaster..? The question brings memories from Commander Sam Vimes’ question: “Who watches the Watchmen?”, from Terry Pratchet’s book: Thud. So what capabilities did Sahana have, or intends to have in order to manage itself? I guess synchronization plays an important role here, as well as daily backups to separate servers. Pradeeper from Sahana was looking into Load Balancing, Heartbeats and Distributed Apache Web Server. Wonder whether a sort of BCP characteristic should be built into Sahana? Anyway this is something we have to look into in the near future.

October 21, 2006

Thank You, Google

Filed under: Development,FOSS,Life,Linux,Varsity — mifan @ 7:57 pm

All good things come to an end, and so must the Google Summer of Code, 2006. I was a successful recipient of the above, along with 8 other colleagues from Sri Lanka, of which 8 of us were from the University of Moratuwa, and one from IIT. I was waiting for my official certificate to issue a formal thank you note, and now that it has arrived, here it is:
Thank You, Leslie Hawthorn and Chris DiBonna from the Opensource office, Google, and Google as a whole, for the great Opportunity, the constant advice, the friendly tips and a chance of a lifetime. Many thanks also to my SoC2006 Colleagues from all over the world, My Mentor, My Mentoring Organization and My Umbrella Project for all the advice, support, help and fun. Even though it isn’t exactly summer in this part of the world, the sun was shining in all its glory the last 3 months. Hope we meet again in the future, possibly in SoC 2007? ๐Ÿ™‚

p.s: The Bar Code on the certificate is real, and codes for S C 2006

Google SoC Certificate

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