Software

RIP Skype API

I’m doing a little cleaning in the icanhaz code repository.  One of the things I’m throwing out is the code to connect different machines to the Skype API (below): import os import Skype4Py if os.name == “nt”: print(“Windows”) #32 bit and 64 bit windows behave differently with Skype if ‘PROGRAMFILES(X85)’ in os.environ: sconn = Skype4Py.Skype() #64-bit else: sconn = Skype4Py.Skype() #32-bit elif os.name == “os2”: print(“Mac”) sconn = Skype4Py.Skype() else: print(“Linux machine or similar”) sconn = Skype4Py.Skype(Transport=’x11′) #Now go do the usual Skype API things. I’m leaving the code here because I sometimes need to write code that works differently on different machine types (here’s a more detailed discussion about that), and One day Skype might recant their somewhat strange decision to shut down their API to more than a handful of developers. What Skype’s API decision means in practice is that anyone wanting to search a Skypechat for an interesting…

Software

Mixing Sensors and Crowds

If you want to know about a physical environment, use sensors.  Take pictures, take air quality readings, take water quality readings, detect radiation levels, use strain gauges,  listen to and analyse noise and the signals in it.  Smell, measure, touch (If it’s not dangerous to do so) what’s around you.  Find people who can teach you how to analyse what you see: imagery interpreters, naturalists and earth scientists for those pictures, acoustics experts, ornithologists and whale experts (as appropriate) for the noises.  You’ll learn a lot, and maybe question a lot too, like why some places have higher radiation readings than others, but at some point you’ll realize that the data you have available is limited by the number of sensors you can use or place by yourself. Which is where crowds come in.  If you want to understand how the environment changes over time, or how the environment differs…

Software

Writing an Ignite Talk

Oh grief, I’ve had posts stuck in my blogs list for a year now, but here’s one that I wrote last year, as part of a campaign to get more non-academics to speak at crisismapping conferences. An ignite talk is 5 minutes’ talk with 20 slides that change automatically every 15 seconds.  Giving ignite talks is a skill, and one that can be learnt.  With the ICCM ignite deadline coming up soon, OpenCrisis thought that a) an ICCMxVirtual event for people who can’t travel to Nairobi would be good, and b) non-academic mappers could do with some help creating ignite talks. We’re talking about training sessions, but in the meantime, here’s what works for me. Start with a story. Mappers have great stories, but they’re often too modest (“who, me?”) or too scared of presenting to tell them.  Here are some stories that could be told from a mapper’s perspective,…

Software

You too are a teacher… yes, you!

I was watching aerial practice recently – it’s something I’ve always wanted to try, but… I’m clumsy, I’m scared of heights, I’m… but so are some of the beginners there too.  Clumsy isn’t the point, nor is getting your legs in the right place first time.  What counts here is that you keep trying, and if you need to, you make it a little easier until you get it (e.g. using a trapeze rather than the silks until the legs go the right way). This doesn’t just apply to circuses. Some of the best volunteers, deployments and systems that I know started out awkward and clumsy, but kept trying, adapted to where their skills were, and kept trying ‘til they got good.  The circus school has incredible teachers who know when to ask for more, and when to walk over to the trapeze. We have great teachers in the crisis…

Software

Learning to Code

I’m teaching a coding course this autumn, and looking for materials to help explain to non-coders that whilst programming can be magical, it really isn’t magic. I’ve chosen Ruby on Rails for the course because I want people to win at getting something working and fast.   One of the great resources I’ve found is “the Bastards Book of Ruby” http://ruby.bastardsbook.com/about/, whose “about” section I’d encourage every aspiring non-programmer to read.  Especially this quote: “if you had spent that hour just copying-and-pasting, dragging, clicking, redoing the times that you didn’t properly drag-and-click, you’ve only gotten better at…just copying-and-pasting.” Coding isn’t magic. Most of data science isn’t magic. But they do both need practice and determination to become natural to you.  Not everyone needs their code or science to be magical; if you don’t, then an hour or a day’s training will set you on your way. But if you do, put…