The Sweet Spot
On software, engineering leadership, and anything shiny.

BRUTE LABS UX project: StudentsConnect

I’m on a team with BRUTE LABS, a volunteer-led design agency working on StudentsConnect, a prototype project making chatroulette-style interactions connecting students from the global North and South. Here’s a UX flow we worked on:

BRUTE LABS - StudentsConnect UX

View more presentations from Andrew Hao

Code For Oakland Barcamp

[caption id=”” align=”alignnone” width=”500” caption=”Is that Jon Chan I see? Yes it is. Photo credit Oakland Local.”][/caption]

A few notes from this one-day barcamp/hackfest. The goal was to create mobile apps for Oakland, with a special emphasis on serving underserved populations.

  • Text messaging is still king. While smartphones and their apps are at the leading edge and grabbing all the attention these days, most underserved populations don’t have access to these services. Lots of apps today are using Twilio or Tropo APIs as their SMS/voice gateways.

  • Open data is awesome. I learned about ScraperWiki, which basically puts site scraping code into the cloud so people can maintain your scraper script long after you’ve tossed it. Some staff from maplight.org are here.

  • Open data is also difficult to maintain. One presenter mentioned how Oakland keeps a database of social services–that’s great, but what if the organization shuts down and/or changes its hours? Who’s responsible for updating the information? IIRC, the estimate was that 30% of the listings kept by the City are no longer valid. There need to be active efforts to combat dataset decay.

  • By the way, here’s a list of Oakland GIS datasets. Some of it really sucks (filled with garbage spam data). Some of it is useful.

Today’s Projects:

  • comtxt: text gateway for community organizers. github.com/ryanjarvinen/comtxt

  • freexchange.org. mobile interface to donated goods.

  • oakland:pm. get oakland high-schoolers connected to afterschool programs. github.com/jedp/oakland.pm

  • txt2wrk: text-based job matching. this one is unique because it is a complete SMS/voice based interface. connects to craigslist. call it and it reads back craigslist job postings. targeted for parolees.

  • Oakland Food Finder: helping people find healthy, locally-grown food.

  • BettaSTOP: help people find buses, access bus schedules. in oakland, many underserved communities depend on making and finding the right bus. it also allows users to give feedback on buses, remark on their timeliness, and talk about bus route features. Live & in production: http://www.bettastop.net.

What I did

I’m helping out the Oakland:PM team, which is in the process of building out a service to get high schoolers connected to city-funded afterschool programs. The idea is that they can pull up their mobile phones and see what’s available to them while they’re kicking it with friends and bored out of their minds.

While the others hacked on wireframes and some code, I worked on a few user stories and resolved to interview a few of my contacts who work for the YMCA in East Oakland. We won a $500 grant from the City to see this thing through in July. Here’s hoping that we’ll make it.

So far the app is a nodejs app with pages served with the Express framework. We threw around ideas of using Sencha Touch, but I think that decision is out of my hands. We’ll see how we proceed.

Source code can be found at: http://www.github.com/jedp/oakland.pm

UN Declaration of Human Rights (Visualization)

UN Declaration of Human Rights (Visualization)

This design was created from a Processing sketch that breaks up the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human Rights and connects adjacent words together with lines. More frequent word associations can be noted by darker, thicker lines.

The source code (albeit messy) can be found at www.github.com/andrewhao/freedom-sunday. I’m running the sketch in full Java mode, so be sure to compile with your Java IDE of choice (rather than the Processing IDE).

Inspiration taken from the designs of Harry Kao (http://www.hairycow.name) and Jer Thorp (http://blog.blprnt.com).

My fellow interns and I are headed off to Cebu for 10 days to observe organizations involved in anti-trafficking efforts. More info: interns.regenerationweb.com

Slavery Today (Infographic)

Slavery Today Infographic (Freedom Sunday)Slavery Today Infographic (Freedom Sunday)

An infographic for Freedom Sunday at RegenerationDownload as PDF.

Save our souls - a Twitter art installation

Here’s how the installation looked on the day of the art show.

[caption id=”” align=”alignnone” width=”333” caption=”We mounted the installation on the inside of the Regeneration cafe. The Arduino lies behind the Macbook behind the monitor.”]Installation[/caption]

[caption id=”” align=”alignnone” width=”333” caption=”The LEDs are mounted on breadboards suspended on fishing wire, binder clips, rubber bands, chopsticks, and a prayer.”]Mounted LED array[/caption]

[caption id=”” align=”alignnone” width=”333” caption=”Finished it just in time.”]In action[/caption]

Save our souls - Twitter art installation from Andrew Hao on Vimeo.

What are people saying about the ashes in the world today? This installation visualizes a live Twitter stream on heartache, injustice, loss, and our city and matches them up with the redemptive promises of Isaiah.

Life is difficult, and redemption is something we all long for. What changes do you hope for in your life or in the world? Send a response from your Twitter account to @sos_61 and watch the installation react. If you’d like to be kept anonymous, send your response in a DM to @sos_61.

“I hope for __”
“I wish that __

“I want to see __

A few notes

  • Web interface is a fullscreen Google Chrome window. socket.io is the Websocket interface to the node.js backend. The slide transition is animated via a CSS3 animation, and the red overlay is a simple SVG shape plotted with the help of RaphaëlJS.

  • The Twitter backend is a collection of four self-updating Twitter searches, one for heartache (“i feel lonely, sad, depressed”), injustice (“violence, war, oppression, justice”), death (“rest in peace, passed away”), and Oakland (“oakland”). A blacklist filters out undesirable tweet keywords (“justin bieber”).

  • Additionally, the backend connects to Twitter via the Streaming API and displays a special animation for users who reply via tweet to the @sos_61 account.

  • The installation picks a tweet to display and pulses the LED array corresponding to the right tweet.

  • Communication to the Arduino happens via a python script over the Firmata protocol, using the python-firmata library. The nodejs server signals the script over a socket connection which will run the pulse animation on the correct pin.

  • I printed the graphic on an oversize printer with the good folks at Alameda Copy. Friendly service, fast turnaround, very reasonable prices. Ask for Joe.