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FOSS@RIT returns to OLPC HQ

Wed, 07/28/2010 - 14:13 -- Anonymous (not verified)

The FOSS@RIT Hackfest Boston

Last time our Free and Open Source Software (FOSS@RIT) campaign travelled to One Laptop Per Child Headquarters (OLPC HQ) in Cambridge, MA, the Open Video Chat (OVC) team worked with the upstream mentors of their co-op project to make huge strides in design and performance. The advances that were made by the team and their mentors, were showcased at the RIT's  National Technological Institute for the Deaf Technology Symposium, and picked up by BoingBoing.

After such a successful endeavor, the Center for Student Innovation and the Lab for Technological Literacy graciously sponsored a return trip, to see if we could capture that same magic. FOSS@RIT returned to Rochester with their bottles chock-full'o-Lightning once again.

The FOSS@RIT teams spent part of the day touring offices and meeting staff, part of the day working/hacking in the boardroom, and some even got a chance to visit the MIT Gambit Labs, where gamers, aesthetics, mechanics, business, innovation, and technology all come together.  (Sort of like the Center for Student Innovation, but backing from  Singapore)  By asking questions, and coming face-to-face with programming obstacles with the help of their mentors, every team benefitted: through code, through research, and usually both.

The team also had a chance to meet with Paul Fox, OLPC's Chief of Computer Engineering Tech, to discuss an RIT/OLPC collaboration, student co-op opportunities, and a Rochester Area OLPC Repair Center on RIT's campus.

This time around, three Summer Undergraduate Research Teams travelled with our Storytelling Team and each had their own goals, achievements, and story to tell.


Fran Rogers, Taylor Rose, Justin Lewis


Our goal for the trip was to connect with upstream developers, gain further understanding of the APIs and frameworks involved, and identify and fix possible bugs and roadblocks. Before the trip, we had tried to leverage the free/open source Telepathy and Farsight frameworks in our application to improve reliability and performance, but we were having trouble understanding the frameworks and how they fit into the OLPC’s Sugar software development environment. At the hackfest in Boston, we got valuable assistance from two employees of Collabora, Ltd., the British software company that developed Telepathy and Farsight.


Collabora developer Dafydd “Daf” Harries, who was present at the hackfest, gave us a thorough overview of Telepathy’s internals, and explained the differences between Telepathy on a standard desktop vs. Telepathy in the Sugar environment. He also explained the distinction between Telepathy and Farsight components, and the idiosyncracies present in Sugar’s implementation.

We also received valuable help from Sjoerd Simons of Collabora, who assisted us remotely via Internet Relay Chat. Sjoerd helped us diagnose errors we received from the Farsight framework, and helped us patch and work around known framework bugs that had stymied our project in the past.

By the end of the day, we left Boston with a much better understanding of the Telepathy and Farsight frameworks, and a clearer plan for incorporating them in the Open Video Chat application.


Fortune Hunter

Kevin Hockey, Justin Lewis, JT Mengel, David Silverman


Our goal was to create code for the front end of the Fortune Hunter game engine.  We  also did a significant amount of work to ensure the game engine was running at optimal speeds from the back end. The main theme of our trip to OLPC was to test our programs and the data they yielded, get them reviewed by more capable programmers, and establish a basis for all future decisions.   With increased  confidence in our data we were able to spend a good amount of time at OLPC HQ  discussing and designing our back end animation support.


Afterwards, we got  to visit the MIT Media Labs and  see new educational software being developed by undergraduate students in collaboration with students from Singapore. This visit gave us insight into how the direction our peers at MIT have taken with their educational software. Exposure to different methods and ideas was  a welcome stimulant to our own imaginations as young developers.

Working in an environment where experienced help was easily available made programming an easy task and seeing the educational games our peers are working on was motivating. Before the night was over, we had a final treat in store for us as a few of the FOSS team from RIT had the unique opportunity to be humbled in a sporting game of soccer with developers from OLPC Headquarters. There couldn't have been a better end to that day of programming, hacking, and problem solving in insufferably hot Boston weather this past July 8th.



Rebecca Berent, Nathaniel Case, Kate DuBuisson, Luke Macken, Remy DeCausemaker


Our goal for the hackathon was to unify the various pieces of the people dashboard into one coherent interface. When we started the day, we had a very simple, static .html widget displaying a drop-down menu of all senators available through, and  then for the selected senators, display  relevant datasets from and OpenLeg API.


During the hackfest, we ported the very useful district map for  a better, more visual, way of looking up  elected officials, including the NYC and Long Island districts. Once we had the district maps in place, we systematically "un-hard-coded" each of the tabs for contacts, votes, actions, etc...

By the end of the day, all the pieces of the puzzle were in place, and we had our first (nearly) finished dashboard; a culmination of code from each member of the team, in one interface, all being pulled from one development repository. Realized, collaborative, open development, incarnate.

We also made some other organizational updates that were not direct code commits. CIVX established an advisory board of journalists, developers, engineers, and government staff who will have input into the ongoing development of the project. Their input will help shape future endeavors such as this Hackathon, and identifying datasets and information the community will find most relevant and useful. The RIT Press Release is now available on-line, and we even made the front page of!

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