BarCampJozi 08 day 1

I’m attending BarCampJozi 08 at the moment. About 25 people here, interesting people.

This is not quite live-blogging, but a few excerpts from each talk. I didn’t get everyone’s name (sorry), and it’s certainly not a complete transcript.

Social Entrepreneurship and Systems Thinking
Carl Spies – Cerebra

Relationships between people and things are a tool to approach solving problems for which we have not been trained, and useful for working out howto change societies and organisations.

Introduced Biomatrix — book on systems thinking and solving problems, from some University of Stellenbosch people. — play it forward game. Get cards that have real-world social-awareness type missions (eg. buy someone coffee, etc.). Give some feedback using geolocation after completing your mission. You can create new cards, and pass them on — Acoha tracks the “paying it forward” tree, using systems theory / network theory ideas. (NB: Collect cards from Cerebra on Monday).

Quantum computing — is it a threat to information security?

Speaker part of a quantum computing group at UNISA. Described now quantum computing can solve the factoring problem, thus breaking much of public key cryptography. But that’s not the only threat — factorisation is not known to be NP complete, so many be solvable even without quantum computing.

Then described quantum key exchange as a way of seeding cryptography systems — not a one time pad, but still very good. Use the quantum pairs just to exchange the key, rather than directly encrypting the data itself.

Johannesburg Area Wireless User Groups – JAWUG

Wide-area user-built wireless network covering Johannesburg and Pretoria. Discussed also some regulatory aspects — fine to do this as long as you aren’t deriving profit from it.

URL-shortening services

List of over 90 services now available, with more all the time. Quesion: What’s the point of all the different services?

Mentioned — includes tracking on how often URLs are used. Good for viral marketing, eg., auto-populating Twitter posts for website users, to ease viral word-of-mouth. – Geek dinner

It’s happening, next event around 20 Nov.

Yahoo Fireeagle — geolocation hashing

Takes a variety of location sources (GPS, cell towers, wifi, etc.), and turns a location into a standard key, that can be exchanged with other services — this solves the problem of location services being vertical silos.

Where On Earth – Yahoo database of geographic features and names (suburb, towns, etc.), of all sorts, location and bounding box. Opened up as a webservice now. Open Planet – submissions from outside, mostly Flickr (people tagging photos with locations and places names) — though these are what people think places are rather than what it actually is, eg. San Francisco viewed as larger, includes Golden Gate bridge, etc. (but apologies for the query format) — can query with latitude and longitude, at given hierarchy, and find neighbours, etc.

openlayers / mapstraction – mapping abstraction layers, can use various other mapping systems.

openstreetmaps – lots of mapping data (incl. developing world cities), raw data available.

Rich internet applications — Which framework will win?

Flash+XML=Flex, Silverlight, JavaFX, XUL, Javascript Web 2.0 — problem: keeping it open? Also OpenLaszlo, can deploy as Flash or HTML.

Other code generation toolkits, eg. Google Web Toolkit, OpenLaszlo (can deploy as Flash or HTML).

Argued that browser is not a good starting point for applications, as one is attempted to patch a broken model, so these other technologies are a good idea — but need to keep it open to avoid returning to pre-web standards days.


Using Webkit as the foundation of client applications — HTML, Javascript, plus bindings for local hardware access.

Showed example of a cross-platform application, running with an iPhone-like interface on all platforms, using iUI library to get the iPhone look. Can add bindings for other services, eg. geolocation.

Still need to build the native application which embeds webkit. Light on resources. (Side note: Adobe Air is hard to get working, and upgrades break. Someone commented that the deployment and upgrade process is the challenge of client side systems, and now we’re turning deployment-free technologies like HTML into apps that need, but don’t have, deployment and upgrade tools.)

Web apps for Africans
Eric (White African)

Described how as African developers we often develop for the West, or for the few really tech-enabled people in Africa — small market. Some exceptions, eg., MXit which works across nearly all phones; ijol. Lots of opportunities that exist in the bulk of the population — but we develop for the fringe.

Question: why do we do this? Why don’t we develop for the bulk? Some answers from crowd: we’ve always lived from a computer screen, not a cellphone screen — and this means we think differently, and can’t see the opportunities.

Mobile currency: major hole, but some people trying to fill it: Pocketbook (?), SWAP mobile. Zimbabwe: can buy petrol using a service in UK, get SMS that converts to petrol in Harare.

seaside – a web application framework in SmallTalk
Danie Roux

SmallTalk — no longer an old language, it’s now just mature. Improving thanks to the development environment, rather than perhaps the syntax itself!

The application image contains the code, a webserver, versioning, the whole lot. Awesome “halo” effect, where you can inspect the code behind any page component. Also, no de-marshalling and marshalling of incoming and outgoing requests — that’s all handled by the framework. For production, Gemstone is a very powerful application server, with built-in object persistence.

Other useful features: code completion, vi key bindings, unit testing

ellg (by Curverider) — open source social networking platform
Noto Modungwa

(Other product from this company:) ODD (Open Data Definition) — allow export and import of one’s social data

Speaker works for MWEB, which apparently runs about 70% of e-commerce transactions in South Africa. However, the community and support is not great! So the idea is to use a social networking platform to improve this, and become hopefully a starting point and hub for e-commerce developers in South Africa. (Edit: thanks for comment below — this site is not tied to MWEB, but is really aimed at a general meeting and info-sharing site for the SA ecommerce community. Exciting!)

Hacking your tastebuds

Speaker brought some Miraculum (sp?) tablets, made from a West African plant. It modifies one’s bitter and sour tastebuds, so that food tastes naturally sweeter. Idea is to use it not as a replacement for sugar and artificial sweeteners, but to replace the need for them. The effect lasts about an hour after dissolving the tablet on one’s tongue.

We had lemons, grapefruit, tequila, cottage cheese. All tasted awesome, and very different. Good way to finish a day.

5 thoughts on “BarCampJozi 08 day 1

  1. NYTimes article on the fruit that you’re talking about. Sounds pretty interesting. I’ll have to pass it along to the guy in my group who is studying bitter taste receptors.


  2. Hi Langabi,

    Thanx for the mention! I feel a few corrections / clarifications are in order though. The platform I talked about is ellg and not elk. My concern around community and support is more from an industry perspective. Having ran an eCommerce site before my experience was that there is little in South Africa from a community sharing point of view…



  3. Thanks for the comment Noto — sorry for the error, I’ve corrected the post.

    I’m very excited by your project — I think there is definitely an information gap in the SA ecommerce area.

    It was great meeting you, by the way, and I hope we’ll run into each other again soon!


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