we build software to span your digital divide
Home Blog Partners Technology Wiki Jobs About Us Contact

   next >> [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

Tablet Face Recognition Login

New technologies are solving common denominator problems, so of course they are also applicable in developing countries.  awarenet's picture login [1] is a fairly low security but effective way of allowing school children with low levels of literacy to log in and use the csocial network. The aim of awarenet is to stimulate literacy in ways that the children are already eager to learn.

One of the prime barriers we found that was preventing children from effectively using trainer time, is the simple old login. Trainers spent significant amounts of time just getting kids that had forgotten their logins, onto the system. The picture login had the problem that without a complex seeding algorithm to provide more variety in the system, its 100 pictograms were just not diverse enough to provide high levels of security, even when strung together in groups of 5 or 6 images.

Enter the possibility of facial recognition login. Since Samsung introduced face login for its Galaxy phone [2] this technology has become main stream, which means key stakeholders may be familiar with it. Further, with rising numbers of cameras present in systems, especially tablets, it is a small step to add facial recognition to login capabilities there. Finally, using tablets in classrooms is fast becoming reality with the eKhaya ICT already developing an array of content and networking technologies for this field.  This all means that we are a small step away from adding face login to the array of personal protection in ICT4D projects. 

node.js is an ideal technology for the creation of such a solution. An example of a simple free software solution is Charles Wang's Masters project [3]. Affordable, fast  secure solutions promise that rural students can in future keep their private information secure, simply. That classes can effectively engage in learning what they need to without the hassle of the hard login lesson.

We know that such demonstrations are not perfect and indeed, the Galaxy phone is outsmarted by a mere photograph. Hold up a photograph of the owner and you are logged in. But even here researchers are already plotting the way with video feeds, rigging and pose reconstruction - simple technical tools to overcome the "photograph login trick". eKhaya ICT is actively looking at these technologies and making them available widely through awarenet.org open source.

This is another reason why we are staying close to new technologies such as node.js, while not completely throwing out established solution platforms such as our awarenet LAMP backend.

[1] VSA presents awarenet with new features at SciFest 2014 “Into Space”
[2] http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/11/09/fingerprint-facial-recognition-smartphones/3444771/
[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aLeMc8cyBU

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 25th 2014 08:08

Node.js stays close to its roots: Ultra-fast.

Recently one of the big node.js community stars, creator of the express middleware framework, the jade templating language and koa -- TJ Holowaychuk -- announced that he was no longer going to be using node.js [1]. The main reason that he cited is the reason why we find node.js so compelling:  node.js was refusing to become easier to use, in order to maintain its high efficiency. This is an efficiency that allows it to run at high speed on the smallest of hardware configurations.  An efficiency that has allowed companies to reduce server farms by 75% in some cases.  Javascript is a difficult language to master - especially if one has a background in OOP, it's "not-quite-classes" can really confuse one. There are several patterns in which one can build hierarchical class structures, and these are mostly related to frameworks that have helpers to extend your objects. Dojo, YUI, Underscore are some such classical libraries. The fun thing about Javascript is that you can combine all these approaches as they work fine together. For a beginner this wide choice and freedom can be quite distracting, which is why it is often best to simply select one option and stick with it for a while.

Unless using Coffeescript (something you might enjoy if you like Ruby), it does require a certain amount of boilerplate and extra typing. But it's typing load and complexity are nothing compared with assembly language.

So in effect, TJ's words are very reassuring for the future of node.js. He has not quite cut all ties as he says though. 

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 13th 2014 07:10

Javascript Platforms for Development

Node.js is a new-comer on the Internet Web Server block. It is programmed in Javascript, and it is something worth watching in the ICT4D arena for these reasons:
  • It runs on light-weight hardware, like the Raspberry Pi and requires much fewer hardware resources than traditional systems like apache, IIS or Java based servers.
  • Javascript has been taught in Web classes for decades and although the latest released version 5 has not been around that long, the familiarity with grassroots basics is widespread.
  • There are a multitude of free materials that help Africans learn about Javascript including https://webmaker.org/en-US (Our partner VSA is planning lessons with this system)
  • Previously server programmers and web developers used different languages. Now they can use the same language and development libraries.
  • With HTML5 and CSS, technologies that work seamlessly with node.js, one can implement cross-platform apps for smart phones -- an increasingly important component of development in Africa.

At eKhaya ICT we have a wealth of experience with node.js and Javascript frameworks for the browser.

We have taken part in the Kapenta JS project, which includes a light-weight Javascript server infrastructure for mobile phones. This is one of the first Javascript peer-to-peer frameworks for mobile phones and is in active use in some of our customer projects.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 25th 2014 07:08

Innovation Made in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

A brand new 2012 CSIR research project into Technologies for Rural Education will make use of awareNet technology. The CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) is South Africa's first and largest technology innovation institution and very active in the development and rural development sphere.

The mobile servers for this project have already been ordered from eKhaya ICT. awareNet has been piloted before in a rural area and its whole design philosophy addresses issues that were learned in the SELF Solar Computer Schools project near Elliotdale, Eastern Cape. The CSIR pilot is substantially larger and obviates the need for computer labs, which are considered more exclusive than inclusive by some. It focuses instead on low cost tablet and mobile devices. These together with the mobile server allow awareNet to reach even the many schools that rely on poor EDGE connectivity for their Internet connection.

This project is a first for awareNet, showcasing the features that make this software platform useful - automatic synchronisation and backup, mobility to reach the classes that need to use high-speed social networking and multimedia, and the inclusion of new Javascript libraries based on JQuery and MudCube software, that allow even more activities and projects to be undertaken by the learners. awareNet's Kapenta core has been made mobile for this project, including support for tablet and mobile Javascript events in all views, as well as auto-detecting viewport capabilities. 

This new version of awareNet is ready to really bridge the digital divide.

awareNet's software innovation is eKhaya ICT's priority.  The awareNet network's content, which is a strong contributor to successful uptake by new learners is attributable to the Village Scribe Association. Their efforts underlie the social development strengths of awareNet -- which will be more closely investigated in the rural context in this project by the CSIR.

The CSIR understands that social motivation and integration is the most important aspect of any rural technology project, regardless of how rudimentary the technology. This is why they are so excited -- as are we -- to be working together on this project.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 19th 2012 02:53

eKhaya ICT - Recalibration

eKhaya ICT has unveiled a new direction - as reflected in our current web site changes. 

What's changing?

ICT for development -- our research over the past 5 years shows that this topic belongs firmly in the sociological and anthropological drawer and has nothing to do with software development!  

We are focusing on software development.

What's not changing?

Pro-poor:  we have handed over our ICT4D activities to our partner Non-Profit Organsation - the Village Scribe Association. In a new agreement, we will donate 50% of all profits to this wonderful organisation.

Innovation.  We'll still rise to the challenge, of any problem that affects your organisation negatively and make things better for you!

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 14th 2012 08:04

ICT, economic empowerment and job creation, by the DoC

This blog post reports on a meeting with the DoC on the 19 August 2011. The title of the meeting was:

"Connecting the ICT Sector for economic empowerment and job creation"

Most interestingly, the Vision of the DoC was given as:

"South Africa as a global leader in the development and use of Information and Communication Technologies for Socio-Economic Development."  Wow!

The format of the meeting was:
* Introductions
* A brief address by the Deputy-Minister
* Extensive Q&A session

The new DoC ministry is focusing on 4 projects. These have been explained in numerous press releases:

1. Access and broadband projects. This includes the merger of Infraco and Sentech, which should go ahead.

2. The introduction of Digital TV by 2014.

3. The Postbank roll-out.

4. The further development of the newly established e-Skills Institute.

The ministry also explained how it sees itself creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the following years through direct funding. 160'000 jobs should be created in the set top box industry. 25'000 jobs should be created in the broadband access arena. Interestingly, 8'500 jobs were earmarked for content creation. These hypothetical figures were strongly questioned by industry. 

Regarding the panel discussion:

Most of the questions from industry (perhaps 60%) focused on the set top boxes and the vast number of jobs to be created. What kinds of companies would benefit? and similar questions were explained. The DoC is looking at 100% local manufacture, as well as using local design for a broad range of set top boxes.

The e-Skilling Institute also drew many questions. Mostly, the questions revolved around the involvement of SMME's in the e-SI, basic operations and goals of the e-SI, etc. The e-SI will introduce new curricula for instance "e-centre managers". These sound like some kind of combination of Village Operators and Village Scribes (or e-Community Development Workers).

Other questions were directed at the poor functioning of USAASA and ICASA. The DoC maintained that improving leadership in these areas was being given attention. 

The industry panellists from PwC had only one answer to make during the two hour discussion, which was related to the previous point. Their comment was that good leadership and stability in the country were essential to the development of any commercial eneterprise. That also meant transparent regulatory bodies, which made business predicatable. The question had been asked by eKhaya ICT, namely to comment on the jobs stats distribution and sustainability that had been presented, especially in the light that services on top of the pipe were the focus of most Western ICT companies these days. The DoC was visibly pleased to have representation from the Eastern Cape, especially Dr. Wesso, and several allusions during the discussion with industry from both sides were made to the potential of Information Services to create jobs.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the DoC is focusing on infrastructure and access projects (including Digital TV) in the near future, since there is uncertainty about the Informational element in ICTs.  The problem with the Internet and content creation is that it requires cooperation between departments. The example mentioned was in the film industry, the DAC also funds content creation (local movie production). Further examples can easily be introduced in terms of Education, Health and Strategic Planning (StatsSA).

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 1st 2011 07:55

Youth Problems Exposed At eLearning Africa 2011


The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (SPIDER) hosted an Umoja session at e-Learning Africa 2011. Sitting around a big round table, young and old Africans gathered to discuss first the problems that face the youth, and then organically, the solutions that that these problems might have. The Umoja session (like a Xhosa Imbizo "Gathering") was not really led at all. Spontaneous statements, and replies characterised a discussion that ranged widely across the continent and also across social classes.

We heard from a young man from Botswana that the ethical fabric of his society is threatened by culture imports from the West, which do not fit the traditions of his society.

Children from impoverished as well as wealthy households were discussed. One participant from Nigeria asked what kind of a role-model one is for one's children if one is an important politician and is shown on national television physically fighting with other politicians. One should be apologetic and explain why such behaviour is wrong, and not be proud of such behaviour as the person in question was.

We discussed the plight of poor slum dwellers in Kenya, whose chances at attaining a decent education were lessened because of basic deprivations, and also distractions from their context. School was not cool, because they could earn money in other illicit ways and their parents were often incapable of encouraging them to go to school. Programs that made sure children go to school and their successes were discussed. Such a programme is also underway at Nkwalini at the Solar Schools Project. Concerned parents and community leaders are forcing children to go to school regardless of whose children they are. The people realise that uneducated children are a burden on the future of the community.

There were also several ideas about how ICTs could help.  A stronger African footprint - something that we have been advocating since we started eKhaya ICT in 2007 - is required to counteract the influences from the West and prevent society from disintegrating.

You can read more about the Umoja session, and view an excellent Mindmap of the proceedings distilled from 2 and a half hours talk by Katja Sarajeva.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 14th 2011 07:49

Learning From Experience


The school of life is full of fantastic lessons, and there is nothing more challenging today than working in the ICT industry as an entrepreneur, and within that industry, there is probably no more challenging space than Africa. Because, although ICT practitioners always have recourse to escape in a virtual world --working and creating virtual products for online customers paying by online transfer -- Africa has a way of impinging on virtuality through its power failures, regulations and sheer earthiness (humidity and/or dust). 

I found a delightful personal blog today by such an African entrepreneur, Joe Botha. He blogs a list of lessons learned that are definitely not stale even after 4 years. Here are my favourites on the lessons he learned at entrepreneur University:
  • Option paralysis and Occam’s razor. The simple answer is usually the right answer, not making a decision is always the wrong answer.
  • Focus.
  • Don't count your chickens.
Those three have to be my favourites, in no particular order. Joe has a long list, with riders and provisos, they're fabulous. 

It shows: a University degree is never stale.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 7th 2011 07:38

eLearning Africa 2011 - Plenary Session


I have to blog this event, rather than twittering, because there is no open WiFi at the conference, nor can I use the Tanzanian data services on my mobile phone (although SMS and voice work). That's a pity, because I really like the immediacy and connecting power of Twitter.

The highlights of the plenary were dual:

Mike Trucano -- an exciting plenary speech about ICTs revolutionising education. In particular the push is toward being more accepting about technology of any shape size and form. He does push the mobile phone a little in his talk, but more as an antidote against prevailing views in educational circles. He also makes the very interesting point about ICTs enabling learning outside of school times, and also having social impacts that allow learning to bubble up from youths to their families. This is very important for "aware Yet?"

He poses some interesting questions: which technologies should one use? his answer: all of them. How can we innovate with what we have? This is an open question, he says and leaves us hanging. The importance of building content and community is unquestioned. He also says that the cool tool is not enough, because there will always be a cooler one coming soon enough. 

This also applies to software applications and features, and it really stresses the importance of open platforms and communities of development, so that an app does not stand still.

Mike also asks: What is __not__ happening in schools, that should be happening? - since ICT's are present everywhere, but there! He cites a number of initiatives around the world that do use ICTs, for instance, Uruguay.  It has apparently introduced total 1-to-1 computing. This sounds like a World Bank story, like those ITU stats that say that there is 100% penetration of mobile in SA.

What's left of the talk?   "More people have cell phones than have clean toilets."  So now you can send out information on how to construct and keep toilets clean using local resources... Don't you think?

Emmanuel Faruzi -- an interesting and very personal speech about Emmanuel's journey as an entrepreneur, which quite closely resembles my own. His background is in programming, mainly in South Africa and abroad, as it sounds. He left his well paying job and reached a now-or-never point, when his wife fell pregnant and he was busy starting up his business. Schooled well (in Zimbabwe) and coming from a middle class family which had earned its money through hard work. 

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 26th 2011 11:23

WIZZIT Banking

Last week, Siphiwo Msindwana, our community co-ordinator in Nkwalini made the trip up to Grahamstown, so that we could attend a course on WIZZIT banking and being Wizz-kids (the course was in PE). 

imageexpanded|raUID=670284694110678977|size=thumb|  What could be better than this: drive down through some of the prettiest countryside in the Eastern Cape (admiring the wildlife, sunlight and bush), chat and joke about life in the rural areas, and look forward to an interesting day learning about micro-finance the WIZZIT way.  Siphiwo also has such interesting stories to tell about his home. He spoke of problems in his rural local muncipality and the intitiative they just got underway to get kids into school. 

Mbashe must surely be one of the most rural and most dysfunctional local municipalities in South Africa -- at least from the point of view of someone living in the farthest reaches of the municipality!  It is an almost three hour drive from Idutywa, the main city to Nkwalini, and it is in fact much closer to the main cities in neighbouring municipalities.  However, provincial and national government have recently been making strong infrastructural improvements in the area, so there is much to be thankful for.

The Nkwalini Quality Education Forum has been started to ensure that children go to school. The problem is that parents often do not know about their childrens' absence from school, or they are not able to help their children work out why they should go to school and do not care. The forum will in such cases speak to parents and to learners, to explain to them the reasons for going to school as well as legal implications. This forum is definitely as worthwhile as the "neighbourhood watch" concept for security...

We were very impressed by the WIZZIT system and the simplicity it brought to opening bank accounts and gaining a foothold in the financial world. Shortly after opening my account I was able to send Thozi our awareNet coordinator airtime, as my usual FNB platform was down for the day. The system certainly does work!

Siphiwo also connected with the Reed House Systems team of developers and gave his inputs into the new isiXhosa version of the software. He was very impressed by that as well.

Siphiwo wrote the following about his experience:

This is a marvelous visit to me, because I've [experienced as much as would normally be] done in a week['s] time.

The very first day on the 11th May 2011 we went for workshop on a WIZZIT consultant in PE and that's where Ron opened the account on WIZZIT, then the following day the 12th May 2011 that's when I opened my account too, it took only 5 minutes. The WIZZIT account will [bring much assistance for the] first time to the people from rural communities -- buying of airtime,electricity,telkom prepaid vouchers etc.

After finishing with that I went to Reed House Systems where there is another program of helping people at the rural communities not to spend a lot when they looking for services.

For me that's great for the people whom I staying with at my community.

Thanks a lot

S. Msindwana

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 17th 2011 08:20
   next >> [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

Ron Wertlen Ron Wertlen

Changing Perspectives
From this height, the Eastern Cape province is a frothy milky white plain, it is a convuluted dark ridged surface, hilly green and olive region bounded by the blue of the ocean, which stretches away to vanish into a wall of tall white clouds - clouds which seem to live here above the warmer waters o...
by: Ron Wertlen
Google Tracking User Behaviour, Eliminating Bots and Baddies
"We're sorry... Your query looks like an automated I first got blocked by Google on the 31st of July 2008. I only found another ...
by: Ron Wertlen
Blogging At Last
Finally eKhaya ICT has a blog. At the moment that's not saying much, but our hopes keep us looking forward. To say that I believe in Africa is to say much more than that I believe in this blog. And I have great hopes for this blog....
by: Ron Wertlen
groupphotompume2 Travels with Bob
From the 26th of February until the 1st of March, I had the great experience of going to deep rural schools in the OR Thambo district of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, together with Bob Freling. I had planned us a tough schedule, with a lot of driving, and very little buffer time for bad weather et...
by: Ron Wertlen
Road to Baleni
Building a road is good thing, people earn money as unskilled labour is employed locally. Once the road is usable (even partially) the lives of those along the road are made much simpler, they become mobile, they have access to goods from outside and their goods can reach the outside world.If we cre...
by: Ron Wertlen
A challenge for everyone - change your perspective
This morning I had the good fortune to read an enlightened letter to the editor of the Daily Dispatch. It juxtaposes wonderfully the difference between emotional and rational thinking. We can't feel like others, but we should try to see through their eyes.The challenge Mthethe throws down is that we...
by: Ron Wertlen
Internet infrastructure for a global democratic community
Darfur is just one of the examples why the digital divide is doubly damaging to Africa. It's not just the lack of incoming information - information that could save lives - it's also the lack of an ability to share one's problem. Imagine having a life-threatening problem which you know will bring de...
by: Ron Wertlen
1303378580_dsc00222-ed_2 Photos on eLearning Africa 2011 competition
If you have a chance, please have a look at our photos on the eLearning Africa page:The Village Scribe Association submitted 5 images (with very cool descriptions!!) for the eLearning Africa Photo Competition. Please, help us to win the competition by voting for us now online! Some of the photos are...
by: Ron Wertlen
Why did we start eKhaya ICT?!
Some people just shake their head when they hear what we are trying to do. I know what they mean I sometimes catch myself thinking similar thoughts: how can this work at all? Poor persons living in so-called developing rural regions don't have enough to eat, clean water to drink, western medical fac...
by: Ron Wertlen
Web 2.0 for rural communities
The following comes from a mail I recently wrote, I thought it might well illustrate our goals to a wider community.The possibilities that WIMAX and broadband offer are very exciting to me. These technologies also offer significantly different financing concepts. Especially in SA, urban and peri-urb...
by: Ron Wertlen

eKhaya ICT is an Eastern Cape based software company, specialising in quality solutions and software components of ICT4D.

9 Florence Street
South Africa
Tel: +27 79 4354681
Fax: +27 46 6227507
www: ekhayaict.com
Reed House Systems
Site Links:
About Us
Log In

--- (c) 2014, eKhaya ICT ---