02 Jul

Wishes for Mahara

Back in March, which seems to be already so long ago, we organized the first Mahara conference in New Zealand, Mahara Hui. On the first day of the hui (gathering, assembly in Te Reo Māori) we asked participants to write down their 5 wishes for Mahara.

We gathered them in a jar, and at the end of the day, I took them home and categorized them to identify common themes. I then prepared a presentation of these findings for the next morning as we had a session planned on sharing the wishes. Since it was not possible to discuss every wish, the grouping of them was crucial, and top themes became clear quite easily.

You can review the recording of the session as well as take a look at the slides.

The tool I used to visualize the wishes and connections between some of them for myself was IHMC CmapTools. Originally, it’s a concept mapping software, but you can also create simple diagrams with it where you have items connecting amongst each other. The killer features for me are its easy use as well as the auto-layout functionality because with that I can create very messy diagrams and connect individual items and CmapTools finds the best arrangement of them avoiding overlap as much as possible. In addition, it is also great that you can export a map to several formats and also decide onto how many pages you want to print your map.

In the conference frenzy, I did not save the original map that I had created. 🙁 But since I still had all the papers, I could re-create it again and finally make available.

5 wishes for Mahara map

5 wishes for Mahara map

If you also have wishes for Mahara, you can add them to our sticky board that we just opened.

03 Sep

Summer of Tech 2013 Hackfest

I have a bit of catching up to do, but so as not to get even further into the past, let’s start with the most recent event: the Summer of Tech Hackfest on 31 August 2013.

Summer of Tech is a great opportunity for students to find internships in Wellington tech companies. We’ve been participating for a number of years now and usually have at least one intern during the summer. This year’s Hackfest was the third after 2010 and 2011.

The 2010 Hackfest was the only one I had attended before Saturday as part of Summer of Tech. As I liked the atmosphere and watching the students create an application over the course of a day, I wanted to check out this year’s Hackfest again to see some of the internship applicants up close. The Hackfest is a fantastic opportunity to get to know how the students are working, how well they work in a team, and what stern stuff they are made off because the Hackfest was an endurance event of a little over 8 hours programming straight, presentation time and a bit of chilling out.

Altogether 17 students participated and had formed 4 groups the day before when they decided what they wanted to do during the Hackfest. Their task was to connect to an API – either TradeMe, Xero or Powershop – and create something useful. Mentors helped the students throughout the day with various tricky issues. OAuth caused some to almost lose their hair, but in the end, OAuth was cracked and the students could continue on their path. At other times, help with a new programming language was required and Ruby experts were on hand to help there. Also having developers from the companies whose APIs were used was handy because they knew how to get the most out of them and could assist with a few difficult bits and pieces.

At the end of the day, all four groups could present their application to the captivated audience of judges who asked tough questions as well as fellow Hackfest participants and some people who had come out of interest. The students could also win surprise prizes. Here are the teams.

The PowerRangers won first prize because the judges acknowledged the difficulty of their project in getting access to the data, doing heaps of math and generally thinking that people would be interested in acquiring the application. The PowerRangers created an application that would allow users to monitor their software’s power consumption.

Second prize was taken by the PowerDroids. They created an Android app to display how much power they have consumed and how much they still have available in their Powershop account. In the future, users of the app would also be able to purchase more power directly from their phones.

The third prize was split between emedart and Xero in. emedart connected to the TradeMe API to show where across New Zealand sellers were selling a certain item. You could narrow down by category and also search by keyword finding out where most cars, cats or kitchen appliances for example were sold. Xero in created a visual map of purchases of a user across the country based on the information entered into Xero.

All teams did a great job creating an application in just one day which was not an easy feat. Most of the students learned a new programming language, worked with APIs for the first time and also had a great experience collaborating in teams.

I’m looking forward to the next event for us, the “Meet and Greet” when we’ll see all potential Summer of Tech students and can talk to them, but then also need to make the tough decision of who to interview further for a summer internship.

28 Mar

The world in our office

Wellington is quite far away from many other places and thus knowing the correct time where our colleagues are, when we can reach clients or when we can schedule a server outage is a necessity.

With today’s new fangled technology viewing predefined time zones is just a mouse click away. But it doesn’t look as cool as actual clocks on the wall as in a news room, does it?

Some of the times are not your standard locations, but they are of importance to us in the E-Learning team at Catalyst IT.

Time zone clocks

Time zone clocks

31 Jan

You are among geeks when…

One of our developers is going to be a dad real soon. His waiting stirred the creative juices among the other developers. Brett came up with the following “from conception to birth” scenario à la version control system (used with permission):

mkdir baby
cd baby
git init .
awk 'BEGIN { s="ACGT"; genes=""; srand(); for (i=1;i<=1024;i++) {genes 
= genes""substr(s,int(rand()*4)+1,1)} print genes}' > seed
git add seed
git commit -m 'conception'
git remote add mother mother
git push -u mother baby
sleep 23667694.5
git pull mother baby

git is a very popular open source version control system that we use for I guess all our proejcts. I also started using it for reviewing Mahara code and for writing the Mahara user manual.

24 Jul

Hackfest for Summer of Tech

Summer of Tech (in general known as Summer of Code, but NZ expanded it to include more disciplines) is still almost half a year away for us. To shorten the time until then and to keep students and companies involved, the Summer of Tech team organized a Hackfest today.

They brought soon-to-be graduates and mentors from IT companies together to work on small programming projects in either PHP, Perl or Ruby on Rails for 5 hours and present the results at the end.

The e-learning team from Catalyst had dispatched François Marier and Jonathan Harker to mentor students in PHP programming. François supervised 2 students who worked on developing a block for Mahara that would display updates from Twitter and Identi.ca.

Jonathan had one student as another one had dropped out with short notice. His student created a search block for Moodle to read data from a library catalog that uses Koha.

The other teams developed a Twitter ticker, a system that would build your semester schedule according to previously defined rules, a spam protector, and a 3-player pong game to be played over a network.

The students worked closely with their mentors for the entire time. Occasionally, they had a brief break for drinks, food, Ubuntu stickers, PostgreSQL blue elephant pins, baseball caps, and shirt and bag prices.

Ruth McDavitt had the organizational hat on and made sure that everything was taken care of and that everybody was happy in general.