Hack. Hack. Hack. It is amazing how a word can mean several things. For example a friend once told me that cute meant someone was cross-eyed and bow-legged and innocent was a round-about way for describing a simpleton or a fool. So it is with Hack and hacking, It was a word used in place of chopping at something. As in to hack a tree or to hack one”s hands off. In recent time, due to popular culture seeded by media and films – Hacking began to take on a negative connotation when linked with computers and the Internet. In one of the early Angeline Jolie films she portrayed a hacker, someone who was able to break the security of a computer and enter its most holies of holies to get an important commodity of the Internet – information, Due to such portrayals the Hacker and hacker took on in the collective mind of the public negative a sinister meaning: My website was attacked by hackers or my computer or smartphone was hacked. So you can imagine the initial reluctance when a Hackathon was introduced to the unfamiliar: What hackers? Is that not illegal? Is that not a cybercrime? Is that not cyberwarfare or cyberterrorism? Fortunately for most of tie time this is not true.
OF HACKERS AND HACKATHONS
Hackathons are events by hackers or developers where they develop technological solutions to problems or challenges posed at them. In other words they are hacking away or working on codes to develop solutions – software or apps – that can be used. And most of the time developers do this for free. Of course, in general prizes, scholarships, grants and recognition are given away as an extra incentive for developers to join hackathons. This provides government institutions, civil society organisations, and even even businesses to develop apps or software they could use, without hiring out work to a software company. And for developers it is chance to practice their skills and for hackathons for social good contribute a solution to existing challenges.
Hackathons are events where developers work on site to develop apps or software. During the hackathon they are provided with problem statements that require solutions. Also in hackathons they are provided with three types of mentors who will guide and aid them through the process. These are mentors-who-are-subject-experts in their fields; These are mentors-who-are-subject-experts in developing apps and software: Developers themselves; and Those mentors-who-are-business-experts who will help them in the business aspects. In practical terms these mentors will guide the developers in developing a viable app or software solution.
Hackathons may last a few hours or even days. Software or app development work happens inside the venue. A close relative is the App Challenge or Hack-from-home challenge. It is similar to Hackathons, except these may stretch for several months. The difference between the two are time difference and the absence of venue, but basically it follows the same steps : Release and discussion of the problem statements; App or software formulation and concept proposal; Hacking or app development and mentoring; And presentation and demo of the app.
A few days ago I witnessed the final stages of the ReadysasterHack: Hack for Rrsilience. It culminated a week long series of Hackathons aimed at developing app solutions to Disaster and Risk Management challenges in the Philippines. The ReadysasterHack is part of a global initiative clued Cide fir resilience a project of the World Bank “s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and is aimed at building communities “ resilience to natural disaster via innovative uses of ICTs – Information and communication technologies. It is a project of the Open Data.gov.ph; NOAH, NAMRIA and the Open Dats Task Force. Supported by Microsoft, Smart DevNet; Google Developers; with support of Mozilla and Chikka. Here is the event page.
Hopefully such apps or software can be used in times of crisis to:
Connect with loved ones
Locate food & shelter
find evacuation routes
access medical care & help those affected near and far
KUDOS AND CONGRATULATIONS
First of all congratulations should be given to participants and organisers who made such events possible. Personally, I have seen and been part of several of these through the years – the SanHack, the SanHack from Home Challenge and the Philippine Transport App Challenge. And this would not work without the working together of the developers, developer communities, organisers, media and sponsors. Second, It is amazing to see the range of apps and software developed. Third, In recent hackathons it is positive development that a number of apps develop include solutions that are not solely reliant on Internet and Mobile Internet technology – solutions now include ams and off-line solutions. Something much needed in country where the digital divide is still great – roughly only 35% – or roughly less than 4 out of 10 – of Filipinos are connected to the Internet. And one of the first casualty of disasters are our ICT infrastructures.
THE TOP FIVE TEAM FROM ReadysasterHack – I am still waiting for the complete list of winners. I got this from my friend Kathy who was at the awarding ceremony.
5. Hale Hydra
4. D-I-O Group
2. Kung San Tutungo Kung Kailan Kami Hihinto
1. Gordon College
COMMENTARY ABOUT HACKATHONS AND DISASTER RESILIENCE – MERGING OLD AND NEW SOLUTIONS FOR A BETTER SOLUTION
A few comments though on the hackathon. First, hopefully the apps be used and used well. A great deal work is needed after the hackathon has ended and the awards have been given. These apps have to be used. Otherwise the hackathon would just be a glorified PR event. Second, It is great to see modern technological solutions to problems but this should be tempered with the consideration that it should be effective for the greater majority of Filipinos – in other words it should go beyond cyberspace and into the actual field. While listening to the presentations, it struck me that even at the use of SMS to deliver information was good but still lacking.And after talking to friends who attended the other hackathons from last week it seem plain that one of the simplest means of signalling alerts was overlooked – something we, the Filipinos, have been using for years.The siren or the bell.
When something dire and important needed to be announced whether it be a call to prayer, to massl an attack of pirates or disaster. A bell was tolled to alert everyone. Today we rely on radio and baranggay officials going to street to street announcing an alert. It is probably high time to implement a public warning system be put in place through out the country, in all baranggays , and in the street where we live that use sirens with its own power source that can be used to alert the people of a natural disaster. It should be equipped with a simple code that can be trickled down to all households. For example three short alarms from the public warning system could mean tsunami. It is simple and needs no translation from dialect to dialect. Both old and new technology should be used together for disaster resiliency. Overdependence on one and fear of another will be a costly mistake. Disaster Resiliency should be multiple, fast, reliable, wide range and obsolete-proof.