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$100 Laptop / XO / OLPC goes Windows... great!

Putting Windows on the XO is a great way forward, especially when you want to raise the price, give Bill a cut, and gain a huge number of new open source programmers.

Been getting my teeth into programming again, and it's amazing how far we have come since 1995, when I was trying to write TCP/IP access for DOS boxes that didn't have Winsock. Whatever you need, you can download. You just have to know the keywords.

And to finish off this post, from the middle of (JAXP rules fever | eclipse kicks XCode | ...), another sage couple of words:

Truly being Open means you let everybody participate. Even if they don't use Debian.

en_us: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,268996,00.html // Thanks H
de_de: http://www.golem.de/0704/51969.html // Danke Uwe

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 30th 2007 08:23

A hectic month

What might in the Northern Hemisphere be misconstrued as a "Sommerloch" - a summer gap of month long proportions spent idling in comfortable tropical locations - has in fact been the Southern month of hard labour. That is to say, eKhaya ICT has been completing programming projects in the internet, webservices and open source/ Open Office segments at a furious rate. More about this, when we launch the websites to all of these technical projects.

Our favourite projects in rural areas have not been neglected either, you will be glad to know. I have been busy at the University of Fort Hare helping get their ecommerce portal up to speed and taking care of some Sofware Engineering for Paul Tarwireyi and trying to get Tonderai Muchenje MSc concepts straightened out. These student projects are all concerned with different aspects of ecommerce at Dwesa - a deep rural school and community network. Also, i have been in touch with Zwelenqaba and made a nother trip there - photos will follow.

The preparations for the solar computer lab project at Zwelenqaba SSS are intensifying. I am going to have to say more about that later.

Also the Non-Profit company I am trying to set up in Germany to support responsible and sustainable ICT4D is progressing slowly but surely.

On the personal front things have not been still either. The garden of our new home has been double-handedly revamped, and a whole lot of things that happen when one moves have been dealt with including DSL installation! A true relief to be online whenerver I want again! Also assisting family members with their IT woes and Xanadu - a family project - see Xanadu, Chintsa, South Africa. Hosted at Imaginet (FTP, PHP, etc.) for R19.99 per month, a real bargain.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 13th 2007 11:22


I have been speaking to some of the activists on the ICT4D front in Grahamstown, Alfredo Terzoli, Peter Wentworth, Hannah Slay, Caroline Pade and Cheryl Hodgkinson. There are lots more to meet and speak to, but suddenly I am seeing things more an African and less a German way: there is time. Why? Any effort that really wants to make a difference in this field must, of necessity, work with government. And government here is "of necessity" bound up in self-agrandising politicking. Which means that things move slowly. To be fair, there are some politicians and civil servants who care.

So in the meantime, eKhaya ICT has been diversifying into 2 new sectors: health-care and online multimedia. The projects we are working on are interestingly related as they both deal with Java and online web-services, requiring technologies like XSLT, J2EE and JSP, and front-desk data entry kind of environments dealing with non-technical office workers, requiring office technology (what else but OpenOffice).

At the moment, I can't say more than that...

And while I was writing this I just arranged my first official meeting with government.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 16th 2007 08:22

Does Sustainability Scale? And what role does crisis play?

A second blog post on my meeting with Di Hornby, director of the Angus Gillis Foundation. One of the things Di was quite concrete about was that the Foundation will never grow larger than 5 members. Her reasoning was that all members can respond to crises in the community in a timely fashion - i.e. immediately. The thing is that crisis is an important growth element. Established structures are weakened by not being able to keep up with new demands, new methods start to emerge and a struggle ensues. (This is not unlike revolutions in scientific thinking as postulated by Tom Kuhn in the 60s.) This is an important time to assist the community and give them the confidence that the new structures can do all that the old ones did and more - confidence that the community can grow under it's own steam.

In eXtreme Programming (XP) practice, one does also not want groups that are too large, and classically each unit manages itself in day-to-day activities while aligning to an overall strategy. A software house like Google which is organised in a very decentralised manner, has many of these units, and "project leaders" switch from leading projects to programming in small teams often to ensure that the exchange of strategic and "local" knowledge takes place.

Such an informed peer-organised management style, which can also be achieved with XP management methods such as SCRUM, are surely applicable to Di's case. You need units that can react immediately, because they have the knowledge and mandate to do so. The responsibility rests on the team and there is always someone with enough experience to recognise the value of the crisis and the need of swift assistance.

Perhaps there is a way to bring such an innovative organisation style to development organisations! They certainly need it, it seems. After all, what model can development agencies be, if they themselves are bureaucratically and hierarchically organised with innovation stifling rules and processes... The lesson coming from XP is that process must be harmoniously married with the development, so that in the act of creating, innovating and developing, the very tools one uses to do the development must allow simple, intelligent documentation of the proceedings and this information must be available to all working on the project.

So does Sustainability scale? I certainly hope for the planet that it does! And on a positive sunny day like this I know it does. But first all people have to be empowered through knowledge and opportunity.

As we implement our Internet and Awareness training project - which now has a name (to be revealed later) - we will be seeing the effects that organisation has on sustainability. We will share our findings, as generously as Di did, and hope that it brings us all further.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 5th 2008 12:59

eKhaya ICT Honours Project at Rhodes University

In addition to cooperations with the Freie Universitaet Berlin, eKhaya ICT now also has two Honours Projects at Rhodes University. The projects are on "Real e-Services for Rural Development": the idea is to piece together exisiting e-commerce and m-commerce B2C solutions which can easily be stitched together for simple use by a rural telecentre operator. The projects will be tested within the framework of the Siyakhula Living Lab, at Nkwalini. Hopefully by Siphiwo (see previous blog).
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 15th 2009 08:30

ESTIMA Project (SAFIPA), Product Progress

Hellelujah, there is a Reed House Systems B7 Server running on my laptop. It is an Equinox 3.6.0 container running:
  • Spring 3.0.5.RELEASE
  • Spring DM 2.0.0.M1
  • Jetty Web Server 6.1.19
  • CXF 1.2
  • Active MQ 5.4.1
  • Hibernate 3.6
This is our multi-purpose middleware, on which we will be developing a new breed of technologies for rural eService access.

Am currently testing a Twitter app for the platform, which will allow Village Scribes to post their thoughts about using the software in real-time and hear what others who are using the software are saying. Of course, I am not employed as a programmer, so why the effort? Well, I am trying to figure out whether the architecture we are using to connect the Javascript based web browser front-ends (using GWT) are efficiently connected to the middleware and the data objects available there. As you may know, GWT-RPC limits the kinds of Java Objects one can pass between these layers. The result is the use of DTO's that shadow the original data objects.

TeleWeaver is as yet not locked into GWT. We also have Swing interfaces. GWT is itself fast evolving as Google tries to integrate it into Android and then on the other hand there is the solution for our version 2.0: Spring Roo. Spring Roo is a very young technology, which I can see us embracing fully. This year is going to be fun!

A lot of our functionality is duplicated in JBoss, especially with their new loading method, which is so similar to OSGi, and of course the SEAM servlet building technology. I wonder who will have the smaller and more efficient footprint by the end of the project, 15 Nov 2011?
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 17th 2011 07:06

Gartner's 6 Mobile Architectures

Mobile is very important in the development context. The Shuttleworth Foundation is actively promoting mobile education projects and are looking for new ideas and new pilots that they could support. The SAFIPA conference pushed mobile in a big way. They also made the important point that South Africa and other countries which have a poor (or terribly expensive) broadband infrastructure, have an advantage over wealthy industrialised nations in that they have a head start in conceiving of and developing innovative new mobile technologies and services. Such services would not find a support base in the wealthier countries and are not necessarily needed there, since users can afford high-end devices such as laptops, as well as broadband connectivity. This is why the prepaid mobile phone service was invented in South Africa, and Kenya leads in M-banking take-up.

On the other hand, ultimately users do want rich content, and in perhaps 15 years time, as device prices and connectivity prices continue to plummet, the playing fields will have been levelled and users in developing countries will also adopt the technologies that make consumption and production of information easiest. A lot of these technologies may resemble something of a hybrid between current mobile and notebook technology, however they will also include wet, "embedded" circuitry, for instance allowing viewing via implants to the optic nerve and such. In that milieu, services are going to allow more just-in-time interventions between work and non-work activities, and for some the gap will grow closer. In the meantime, Gartner leaves us with 6 mobile architectures and an idea of when to deploy each. I think they have sliced up the space very interestingly indeed and one can learn from their insights:
  1. Thick client: this is basically a computer in a mobile phone - all data and application code are on the device and can be synchronised. It requires a lot of development resources to write apps for this stand-alone architecture. We are seeing a lot of this on iphones, etc.
  2. Rich Client: is similar to 1, but without the data layer - data is on the network.
  3. Streaming client: use your end device to watch TV.
  4. Thin client: your end device runs a browser and can render content other than video.
  5. Messaging client: SMS, etc. (they also mention e-mail in this category, curiously enough).
  6. "No Client": you only have voice on your end device.
Our partner, the Rhodes CoE, works intensively with IVR and VoiceXML solutions and it was interesting to see the two legacy mobile technologies split apart (point 5 and 6), in a new way. Further the distinction between 3) and 4), where Gartner defines a thin client as being able to render content - the difference to video streaming clients (which also basically just render) is in the bandwidth (i.e. network infrastructure alone). You need better connectivity for 3) than 4). The distinction between 4) and 5) is also a little blurry, because email requires Internet Protocol (IP) technology, whereas SMS uses legacy messaging protocols.

The future is definitely going to be interesting. Today eKhaya ICT cemented plans to be part of an international cooperation involving the HTWB (University of Applied Sciences Berlin and Rhodes) developing using these technologies.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 5th 2009 03:31

Hackers, Common Software (Wordpress) and Niche Players (Kapenta)

There seems to be a weakness in older or current wordpress versions, which allows some nasty hackers to put their own advertising in. I noticed a while back that my pages looked wierd, and looking at the source I saw a whole lot of advertisements for viagara and other prescription medication! MY SITE HAD BEEN STEALTHILY HACKED. So I removed the offending texts, and also the entry in my footer HTML. But now the ads are back.

How terrible. I don't really know what to do (no time to fix it). I have found nothing on the Internet about the attack only other compromised sites.

The ads link to a server at yale.edu! So Yale has been hacked as well... http://som-talks.som.yale.edu/forums/images/icons/1/buy-now-online-viagra.html

This kind of thing really undermines confidence in computing and the Internet, and it is also a big plus for niche players like Kapenta. My Mac has no viruses, because it's a niche system and doesn't have the mass appeal to make virus writing for it worth while, it's also pretty well secured but there are always holes. So using Kapenta for blogging etc. could be the way forward, as a niche product, only people with a personal score will want to hack it.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 28th 2009 10:22

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

Moving from SourceForge to GoogleCode

awareNet is currently moving from SourceForge to GoogleCode. The main reason is the speed of the site, but a further problem is the intricate nature of the SourceForge machinery. There are really very many options on all the features, most of which I can only think would be interesting in teams of around or more than 20 programmers.

GoogleCode on the other hand is faster to access, the svn doesn't time out all the time from South Africa and I am interested to see which of the SourceForge features I am going to miss...

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 12th 2009 08:46

My first Python programme?

I interviewed with a large multi-national who does great projects and has a quirky style. During the interview I was asked to write code in my favourite language. That caught me off guard - I had anticipated just pseudo-code, so I hadn't brushed up on non-IDE programming (yes, yes I used to be quite a manager type).

Suddenly I had to think very fast and hard about what was my favourite programming language. My answer, "I have no favourite programming language - the declarative/OO ones are all the same." That was an honest and considered answer, with 20 years of programming experience and a break of a year to get some distance, what other people have been saying for a while also appeared obvious to me. The interviewer was suspicious. He thought I was dodging the issue and asked for an elaboration. My response was: "Libraries and frameworks are what is steep about the learning curve when you start a new job. Learning a language takes minutes iwth a good book and IDE." And this IS true: if you understand Java and C#, C++ and C-pointers, Prolog backtracking, ASM jumps, stack frames etc. you have enough of an overview of mem management issues and algorithmics to avoid nasty traps in almost any language. You just KNOW where to ask how the language is interpreting your code.

I had to think of that interview recently, when I was under pressure to finish an OpenOffice.org BASIC script. I knew what I was looking for and found an example doing the same thing in Python. I cut and pasted the python code into my basic file - it worked without any further editting and I could go to sleep.

(P.S. I didn't make it into that company - luckily - I don't think I'd have been happy there. The moral of the story: don't challenge the interviewer if you want the job, but stay philosophical if you want to be happy.)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 3rd 2007 11:17

No comment

This blog has gone a little quiet recently - of course because I have been working hard. I just submitted a paper to the SATNAC conference. It's quite relevant to what eKhaya ICT is doing and will soon appear on the website ready for the perusal of 100 interested readers. For the meantime, you can just get it here on this blog.

Download this document in Adobe PDF.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 15th 2007 09:32

Open Letter to SchoolTool and Janastu

Open letter to two worthy projects with similar software goals:

The IDRC reports: "Janastu, Bangalore, proposed open source school management software to allow teachers and other staff to better administer schools, as well as create a community for discussion among educators".
"... is a project to develop a common global school administration infrastructure that is freely available under an Open Source license."
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Janastu and SchoolTool
Date: Thu, 03 Apr 2008 11:43:28 +0200
From: Ronald Wertlen
Organization: eKhaya ICT
To: school- a t -janastu.org, schooltool- a t -schooltool.org

Dear Janastu and SchoolTool!

I have been following the SchoolTool project for a while now, and was
surprised to find another group attempting to do something very similar,
in a field (non-profit, school education, etc.) in which cooperation and
collaboration are the only way to win.

It is quite peculiar to note that both projects are English AND using
Python! That said I don't know how (in)compatible Django and Zope are
as these seem to be the frameworks being used. The legacy of the Pantoto
platform will surely be a problem if that is involved on the Janastu side.

If you are unaware of each other - which I can hardly imagine, I hope to
get some collaboration going with this mail!! It would be fantastic to
grow a great project (and not get into petty company rivalries or
technical flamewars)!

Aside: We hope to get a SchoolTool project going with 20 rural schools -
but are still waiting for funding (a collaboration with the Nelson
Mandela Institute). So once that comes through we may be hearing more
from each other.

Best regards, from the Eastern Cape of South Africa,
Ron Wertlen

Ronald Wertlen
+27 79 4354681 (mobile)
+27 46 6229567 (land)
*We build bridges across the digital divide*

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 3rd 2008 10:53


The Geek Dinners in Cape Town - a must do event for technophiles, Geeks and open source software fanatics - regularly feature a prize which is won by one of the attendees. Jonathan Endersby one of the organisers wrote a javascript app which randomly flashes attendee numbers until suddenly stopping and repeatedly flashing the winners name.

All the names appear on an Wiki page - how much nicer would it be to see names flashing instead of numbers? I chatted with Jonathan and he requested a JSON array of strings as input for a new script which would presumably use the numbers as indexes into the array - a minor adjustment.

Creating the array must be almost equally simple I thought. Wiki pages are XHTML. Writing an XSLT to strip the names out of the HTML must be really a simple task. So simple we might as well generalise the problem and solve it for all HTML pages, as there are numerous converters from HTML to XHTML (Pear library). The XSLT was simple to write... but getting it plugged into PHP was well nigh impossible. To make things worse the HTML to XHTML converter in the Pear library didn't produce valid XML in all cases (some tags just weren't closed).

Passing XHTML into the Sablotron XSLT library also did not produce any happy results! Sablotron consistently produced error 69 and refused to continue. Strangely enough, the error message said "unkown encoding'', but in the Sablotron error number list 69 means bad URI or something like that. After checking all the encoding statements, I eventually found a reference to older parsers not understanding the XHTML namespace and not loading the DTD which defines all the encodings, correctly. I had to give up on the PHP solution! My hoster runs PHP 4.3.x and installing new libraries was not an option. PHP + XHTML + XSLT a natural combination one might think. But it had failed.

Instead I just used the XSLT processor on the W3C website - it works just fine!

The script can be run here: http://ekhayaict.com/_gds/gds.php (call it with a parameter xhtml to process other pages)

The XSLT file is here: http://ekhayaict.com/_gds/xslt/gds.xslt

The W3C Transformer is here: http://www.w3.org/2005/08/online_xslt/

Geek Dinner: http://planet.geekdinner.org.za/
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 2nd 2008 08:50

Programming with Open Source

Open Source is really a great way of working. For instance, having added the blog, it's high time to add a voting mechanism. Well there are about 150 free scripts at hotscript.com. Faced with all that choice, a hard-core programmer will obviously settle for writing his own ultimate PHP script. Anyone else will just read a few descriptions and settle for one of the more popular scripts. What it basically comes down to is MySQL or not (and obviously no cookies to prevent repeat voting!). But how can open source sustain itself? Well, it's all about marketing. As Linus says, he doesn't have to worry ever again about getting a job. (I can see you're not satisfied with the answer... well post your version, or wait for the next blog or so, I should come back to this topic.)

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 10th 2007 10:10

Progress Report - June 2007

This is just a brief blog, to say that despite our recent diversification, our core business of bridging the digital divide is looking healthier and healthier. After a very successful German interlude, setting up potential contacts and used technology supplies there in the form of a non-profit organisation, I have now made contact with three very interesting and helpful projects:
  • LearnThings in Johannesburg / a great training programme based on HTML, Flash and Javascript, they have been in Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, etc. and also have a strong presence in the UK,
  • OLPC - South Africa / this is a very big and very exciting project, owing to the nature of the community behind it, we'll most likely be working together in the Eastern Cape on our schools project,
  • and Rael Lissoos / a man with his hands on all the latest wireless technology, a track record of installation in rural areas and township areas and maker of the VIKO box - a server based education platform offering Video In - Knowledge Out capabilities. http://www.viko.co.za/

It seems ever more feasible to create a business dealing in software for bridging the digital divide...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 19th 2007 10:21

Rural Access to ICTs Crucial for DoE

On the 31st of January 2008, I met with the Eastern Cape Department of Education ICT coordinator, Nygel Jones. What I presumed would be a meeting with just Nygel, grew into a largish gathering as the DoE showed up with 9 participants. The meeting generated such great interest because it is about improving rural access to ICTs. The Eastern Cape Province has a very large number of rural schools. At the same time, they have been mandated to educate all teachers regarding ICT integration in their regular teaching within 2 years. But what use is that at a school which is in a marginalised rural area? And how can such a school operate despite all the infrastructural problems (not to mention ESKOM load shedding). These are the same problems that are being pondered by the Nelson Madela Institute at the University of Fort Hare (more about that in another post) and in fact the rest of Africa.

What came out of the DoE meeting is that all assistance, research and experimentation on the issue is most welcome. The DoE wants to fulfill its mandates by being actively involved in third party projects. This participation ranges from checking of curriculum to ensure standards compliance and relevant suggestions in this regard to feasibility assessment/evaluation of the project after the fact to determine how reproducible our model will in fact be. What the DoE does not seem to have understood though - and why third parties are necessary in such a process - is that the model is not sustainable unless the communities involved carry a major part of the costs. In fact, the ICT projects must also supply the revenues to the communities so that they themselves can pay for the infrastructure improvements. This means that although the DoE is instrumental in getting the facilities into schools, the larger value of these facilities must be realised and made available to the communities. Such models require integral support through techology, including software. These are just the kinds of models we are busy creating together with the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University.

Currently we are intensifying efforts to get the code in place and the models out in the field. According to our project schedule (Roadmap) we are currently on time for an H2/2008 launch.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 13th 2008 09:38

SaaS in Africa

Software as a Service is going to play a big role in the African context. You will be able to reach a significant portion of the population if your solution is mobile as well, as opposed to using traditional models of delivery. Without current (power), desktops and laptops just don't really get going, while mobiles are everywhere, and get powered as and where it is possible. I wonder if there are figures about rural mobile penetration for Sub-Sahran Africa?

Researchers are already jumping onto the mobile idea, with English 2nd Language (ESL) courses being tried out in India my Matt Kam at Berkeley [1] and mobile Maths via IM here in South Africa by a cooperation between several institutions including the Meraka Institute [2]. Interestingly enough the mobile Maths idea is run in SA on a commercial service called MXit, which has also attracted a lot of negative press lately, by the rather conservative South African press, so it is good to see a positive aspect demonstrated.

[1] http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~mattkam/millee/
[2] http://mobiled.uiah.fi/
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 14th 2007 05:18

SiLLMU - Organisational Chart

A previous blog explains what SiLLMU (Siyakhula Living Lab Management Unit) is about and a bit about the background.


The picture above explains how the SiLLMU will ultimately restructure the parties taking part in the LL. Some Acronyms and Abbreviations: ENoLL (European Network of Living Labs), LLiSA (Living Labs of South Africa), SLL (Siyakhula Living Lab), RU (Rhodes University), UFH (University of Fort Hare).

Bottom are projects, Left are political organisations, and top are stakeholders in the Living Lab, which is depicted in the centre.

The Siyakhula Living Lab is currently well positioned to develop more excellent research and piloting on ICT's in rural areas. I am very excited about the future, especially concerning recent developments around a software factory in Grahamstown involving eKhaya ICT...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 6th 2009 06:50

Using iWeb to author a professional website

iWeb is an HTML authoring system meant for the home. Since it comes installed on some Mac OS X (macosx) systems, and since the other iLife applications were so simple to use, I decided to use it to create my web site. As expected, I had the website up and running in a few hours. I could really focus on creating content and was not obstructed at all by the technology!

When I decided to get dynamic using what other than PHP, I simply wrote some bash scripts using sed, the (in)famous stream editor, and regular expressions to automatically post-process the web pages once they had been published. That all works at the click of a button now and I am quite happy indeed.

I do have three wishes for iWeb though, which would help with SEO (search engine optimization):
  1. Support for H1, H2 headings

  2. ALT/TITLE tags for images

  3. And leaner more effective HTML code. Currently there is too much repetition.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 3rd 2007 01:39

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

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