All posts by maxwellfundi

How far has African Data Initiative Gone?

Recently, the actual development of the African data initiative project started. I am seeking to look back and see the progress that we have made since the team started actual work and where we are headed to in a few weeks to come before Christmas.

African Data Initiative is the Latest project by the African Maths Initiative (AMI) which seeks to bridge the gap that exists in understanding of statistics. Through AMI works in Africa in partnership with Statistical Service Center, it was clearly evident that there was a problem with learning, understanding and teaching of statistics and hence this initiative came about. This seeks to solve this problem in four easy phases. First phase is building a simple but powerful statistical software to be used in all academic levels.  This software will be a menu driven software but runs the most powerful data analysis software called R.

Second phase will be using the software by the lectures to teach statistics in universities in a simple but concrete way. This will facilitate better learning and understanding of statistics which will in long term facilitate good decision making. Third phase is to have a wide variety of audience by having the software able to be translated to as many languages as possible and finally to use the software in all levels of education to enhance teaching of statistics.

I have never been involved with this kind of a big project before. It is really overwhelming and there is equally as much learning as working. I have the roles of implementing the multilingual capability of the software as well as working on the front end.

Currently, we have managed to achieve a lot. The loading of data to the software, and establishing a link to R from the front end was one of the biggest milestones. We are now able to send commands to R through the menu system. We have quite a good number of dialogs working and most plots in statistics working as well. They are generated in R and the output displayed in R graphics. This has just been achieved in a few weeks and we are working tirelessly to make sure that in less than a years’ time we deliver a complete package.

We will be releasing the alpha release soon, actually in a few weeks from now. This will come before Christmas. It will have all the basic functionalities. The other releases will include beta release as anticipated in February and a final release in June.

It has an amazing experience to be part of this team. It is really evident from this progress that we have made by now we will be able to deliver this package by June. We greatly appreciate the support from everyone out there. Its through that support we are able to develop this life changing statistical software.

My involvement with African Data Initiative

African Data Initiative is a project by a young NGO called African Maths Initiative (AMI). AMI is Kenyan NGO formed by mathematicians and mathematics educators who are working to create a stronger mathematical community and culture of mathematics across Africa through fun ways of doing Maths.

Having the African Data Initiative project, which is an open source project to create a new easy to use statistical software, it was necessary to do a campaign to create awareness and get a community of supporters for this project. This was done through crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and also through many other channels including doing presentations, spreading the word on social media, and also through friends to tell a neighbors and other people in their networks.

We had conducted the campaign for 90 days and it proved very difficult to make people understand the need for this software. We actually had gotten a good number of supporters during the time we had the campaign running though not as many as we had anticipated. Recently, after my longest and toughest journey, John Lunalo and I had a chance to present the ideas of AMI and the African Data Initiative students, tutors and lecturers at the African Institute of Mathematical sciences in Bagamoyo Tanzania. Surprisingly enough, people were really impressed by the project and so far we have received more than 50 supporters from that presentation. It was really amazing.

More to that, over this week, we have managed to start the actual development of the statistical package, with many decisions being made and the timeline being set. I am happy to be part of the development team for this software with the role of designing and development of user interfaces. It doesn’t come easy, it’s a challenge everyday with lots of learning but the motivation of carrying on is the potential that this software has in changing the understanding, teaching and learning of statistics across Africa and the rest of the world.  We believe that in one years’ time, we will have the full release of this software.

My Longest and toughest journey I ever had

Among my major interests is travelling. I have traveled far and wide but this was an extreme travelling.

Recently, we were scheduled to leave Maseno in western Kenya for Bagamoyo, a small town in eastern Tanzania, a distance of about 1,188 Kms to go and meet up with other African Data Initiative developers at AIMS Tanzania. This started as an excitement, having thought it would be a fun travel all the way and having the great passion to develop this life changing software.

We left Maseno at around 20:30hrs on Wednesday the 7th October 2015 for Nairobi. This is an eight hour journey by bus which we are all used to and it just another piece of cake. With less than 2hours of rest, we took the Dar express at 06:15hrs the following day and headed towards Dar es Salaam. It was anticipated we would arrive at Dar es Salaam at around 22:00 hrs. the same day.

Happy and excited, we left the capital and headed for the Kenya-Tanzania border which was just a two hour drive. We handled the normal immigration bureaucracy and proceeded with our journey.

Getting to Tanzania, a large vast land of dry area was what met the eye for more than twelve hours of travel. It was not interesting at all. We traveled the whole day with less than an hour of rest and safely arrived at Dar at 21:30hrs. We were extremely tired and a thought of boarding a taxi to Bagamoyo for another one hour was not happily welcomed. This is due the accumulated exhaustion for more than 25 hours journey. The “short” trip to Bagamoyo from Dar was rather quiet, no one spoke to each other till we got to the hotel. Everyone was tired sleepy and nothing seemed interesting. Hurriedly, after checking in the hotel, i took a shower and slept.

After such a long, tiring and exhausting journey, we had to leave hotel by 10:00 hrs the next on day, for AIMS for work: initial meet up with the AIMS development team. Sadly, the only lady in the team fell ill and was rushed to hospital. The rest of us had to meet and discuss progress of African Data Initiative Project. We met on Saturday again and unfortunately, I fell sick and had to seek medical attention. I'm happy we are both well now and working hard on the African Data Initiative. Thanks to everyone who donated for the success of this life changing project.

This was the longest journey and the toughest I ever had. All the same I'm happy to have experienced this since it's my sacrifice to facilitate development of Africa by better understanding of data through making this new statistical software which will help in making statistics easier. I don’t regret it but I would love to travel back differently.

The trending digital era for kids

Technology development and advancement has for long not considered the fact that there is always a group of next techies. The kids. For long enough, the kids generation- “Generation next”- has always met the computing technologies either in High schools or the universities. This led to a gap in the society since every programmer wanted to develop the complex and sophisticated Information systems and software forgetting the easy and fun things they could develop to help kids have fun.

it takes a kid a small either mobile app that says meow or a website that has animations of different cartoons to have fun and enjoy. This is one way that kids are getting involved with current trending digital era.Developing for kids is one thing that has now hit the market of kid games and apps. This is because it doesn’t take too much programming knowledge to develop cool kids apps. There exists soft wares that help in design and building of amazing apps without writing a thousand and one lines of code. One such tool is Construct2.

Construct2 is a simplified development environment that enable you create nice games within a short time as compared to other programming languages. Game apps developed in Construct2 could be ported to different platforms including Android and web based platforms. Further, to enable you build for even much more platforms, it’s really possible to import construct2 files to the amazing Intel IDE called Intel XDK which enables you build HTML5 code to multiple platforms. This is done online through their dedicated build servers.

Now that this kind of development is possible, it’s been shown time and time again that this could be used to develop fun learning apps which improve the thinking capacity of a kid. This goes a long way in creating the “unfindable jobs” as well taking technology in the next level. This in turn leads to a countries development since it banks on both the kids and the current developers.

More to this, there has been a need to introduce kids to programming, so that they could be able to create and develop all their imaginations to reality. This has been made possible by use of other even simpler development environments which enable kids understand logic and come up with amazing creations of their own. One of the most popular of these is Scratch, which was developed in MIT.

It is evident that this field that relate to kids and tech is gradually taking shape in Africa. Personally, I have taken the initiative to teach kids programming using these tools. Starting from Maseno Maths Camp 2015, where I delivered programming sessions on scratch, I am on the frontline in support of sharing this content to other people who will in turn I believe, teach others. Having this chain of sharing knowledge, I am confident and really certain that in a couple of years we will have the type of computer gurus we always want.

A simple advice for fellow programmers out there, next time you think of developing software, take time and think about the potential that exists in developing for kids.

Why programming is not everyones piece of cake

With the digital age of computers, new solutions have to be carefully thought, designed and then developed to meet the demand of clients. Majorly this is done through software development. Basically programming. This is usually a process of writing and implementing sets of computer instructions to allow a computer do certain tasks. Not as easy as it sounds, furthermore everyone gives instructions every day.

All my schooling life, having loved networks and system support tasks, it never crossed my mind that I could sit a whole day doing a job in programming. It is now one of my many interests though. The reality dawned on me when I was introduced to the World Meteorological team of developers who are developing a climate data management system called Climsoft. I have been part of this team for a couple of weeks now and this week's task was to demonstrate how possible it is to embed a map on a windows form with markers showing locations as it happens in Google maps.

It has been a challenging learning experience to find out this is possible. I had to research on the possibilities which exist on this task which took a number of days to come up with a solution. I was also involved in other activities at African Maths Initiative including giving talks to students and running the African data Initiative campaign. Therefore I had to cover up for the time at night, sleep late, wake up early to make sure this is done.

Having a great mentor Ian Edwards, the UK Meteorology department software consultant, I was able to figure out what I could use to accomplish the mapping task through his help. I settled on using the GMap.Net.

This came with many challenges, starting from setting up my Gmap.Net, working late and a demanding steep learning curve since this is a language I'm learning as well. Further, when writing code all day, if nothing is working right it gives you multiple headaches. Through this experience I have realized that being a programmer requires you to be creative, patient and be ready to learn all the time as well as being a real smart problem solver.

A one in a life time experience at African Maths Initiative

Finding something to do is the first thing that comes in the mind of every final year student once they complete their studies.  It has not been easy for me as well and I was walking around with my head filled with thoughts of the same. Luckily enough, I met people who changed my thoughts completely, to finding somewhere to learn and build skill sets: The African Maths Initiative.

It was a learning experience every day I spent time at the African Maths Initiative office working on different things. Among the things I am currently working on is the development of a climatic data management system called Climsoft. As an Information technologist, software development is one of the things you can’t avoid. It happens to be among my interests. The whole of this week, I have been tasked to come up with a demonstration of how to use Maps on a desktop application on a programming language I rarely use, Vb.Net. Through my long volunteering experience at African Maths Initiative, I have gained the trait of learning how to learn. The most invaluable skill I got now. Over the whole of this week, I have been able to accomplish the task and I feel happy to make a contribution to a mega project that will impact the whole world, everywhere the software will be used.

More to that I have been able to learn much more that will build my skill sets to make me more competent in the things I do. More to that I feel humbled to be making contributions to things that will have an impact to somebody’s life somewhere in a positive way. I hope to do much more, learn more and impact more lives.