Tag Archives: disaster

Polka’s Emergency Card iPhone App

Mike Kirkwood over at Polka.com is our hero of the day.  Mike responded to the request I posted yesterday asking for iPhone developers for a worthwhile SMS GeoChat App that InSTEDD is working on. I owe him a big thanks for stepping up to the plate.  We’ll be sure to let you know what these folks come up with but in the mean time why not head over to the iTune’s App Store and check out his Emergency Card App?

Thanks again, Mike!

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How do you get timely aerial imagery of disaster zone? It turns out you use LEGOs

Sometime ago I was involved in a very lengthy discussion about how to get timely aerial imagery of a disaster zone.  We covered everything from relying on Google to update Google Earth to sending DVD’s via DHL to the disaster zone.  We even discussed drones, balloons, kites, etc.  At the end of the day there was no clear winner.  To add to the mix here is a story (via Gizmodo) about a guy who tied some LEGOs to a weather balloon and snapped pics from the ground up to some ridiculous height.

Needless to say if you show up at customs with a tank of compressed helium you might get some funny looks and if you start releasing balloons over a disaster zone you might just get shot.  I don’t think the LEGO/balloon solution will take hold any time soon but those pics are just so damn cool I had to write this one up.  Follow the link for some great photos and a video of some guy letting go of a balloon.

Read on…

FooCamp – After the fire

Well, I made it.  After driving back and forth numerous times to the O’Reilly campus in Sebastopol I am now back in Marin and reflecting on what an incredible time I had at FooCamp.  Here is the Wikipedia definition of FooCamp which is fitting as I found myself at one point talking to Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales over chicken and black beans.  Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch, who was also in attendance, has posted his review of FooCamp here.  One of the best parts about the event is that only your name appears on your little tag with no mention of affiliations other than your favorite Star Wars character (which I didn’t quite get).  For the semi-technorati illiterate like myself it makes for good fun as you get to just walk up to people and say, “Hi, what do you do?”  I met a whole slew of people who I knew nothing about but after getting home and Googling their name I would sit back and say, “No s@#$!”

It was an impressive collection of PhD’s from MIT, astronauts, investors, journalists and dozens of tech icons.  The brain power was overwhelming and I had a hard time geting my head around some of the discussions.  (After dinner one night some folks got together and synthesized bacteria to smell like bananas.)  At one point it occurred to me that if 1% of the folks in attendance focused their energy on some of the problems facing the aid industry we would be in a much better place.

I took part in a disaster tech event run by Jesse Robbins which had a good size turn out.  Some folks presented a very cool app having to do with geo-location and information in emergencies. The development was for Google’s Android and not the iPhone 3G so I was a bit off in my previous post where I surmised that the weekend would be about the iPhone 3G.  (As a matter of fact almost no one spoke about the new iPhone 3G.)  We told some good stories, brainstormed possibilities but mostly just spent our time trying to explain to the rest of the room just how difficult it is to work in an emergency setting.  As always, the biggest obstacle to progress is the total lack of understanding, on the part of both the tech industry and the relief industry, as to how things get done in our worlds.

I am hopeful that by attending such events (I am pretty sure I was the only aid worker in attendance) I can not only come away with new ideas that can make our job easier but also educate and energize the tech community to rally around our efforts and come up with some solutions that could greatly improve the way we do things.  Hopefully, FooCamp will serve as a catalyst for future events that will draw the both the humanitarian aid community and the tech industry closer together.

I had a great time and thanks to Tim O’Reilly for throwing the event.

Where 2.0

I watched a great presentation at Where 2.0 by Jesse Robbins and Mikel Maron about disaster tech. Jesse is a champion of what works and what doesn’t and is part of the team over at O’Reilly Radar. I first had the pleasure of meeting Jesse after watching him dismantle a well meaning (but totally off-base) individual at a local disaster tech conference some time ago. Mikel just spent some months working his way across India all the while working with locals to develop OpenStreetMap.org. I have to give it up to Jesse for introducing me to Eduardo Jezierski over at InSTEDD during my quest for a ‘Twitter for Thuraya‘ app. Eduardo and I spent several days hunkered over a desk, building out their SMS GeoChat platform at Where 2.0. I am hopeful that you’ll soon see a Beta product for field workers. If it wasn’t for Jesse and Mikel keeping the fire alive the mainstream tech world would probably let disaster tech drift away in the current.

Paul Currion is another straight shooter who continues to deliver reality to all of those starry eyed folks who believe laptops and Web 2.O are going to save the world. For a dose of this reality be sure to jump over to humanitarian.info.

p.s. – I’ll have the Cradlepoint MBR1000 review up in the next couple of days.