Projects are a broad category of highlights I count coup on. From products shipped or maintained, to work accomplishments, to organizations or initiatives I’ve helped found, run, or advise. They also keep my engineering, data science, architecture, and strategic management skills honed in our accelerated technical landscape.
AArk Species Assurance App
A full third of the world’s 7200 amphibian species are critically endangered or on the verge of extinction. The AArk Species Assurance app is a global application tracking amphibian species conservation programs, helping zoos and conservation organizations worldwide prioritize and coordinate bringing at-risk species back from the brink of extinction in the wild and efficiently use their global resources to maximize species coverage and survival.
Built pro bono with the Padrino framework for Amphibian Ark - a joint partnership between the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and the IUCN/SSC’s Conservation Breeding Specialist Group and Amphibian Specialist Group (IUCN SSC).
I loved working on this and would really like to extend it to a more general, open-source framework for other conservation organizations addressing similar problems. I’m also keen on any work on similar projects applying technology to conservation. If you found this via a search and have something interesting, please hit me up via mail.
In production for over five years, the app had a major upgrade and feature additions in March 2017 to hit its 2.0 milestone.
DataKind is a datascience-for-good charity, helping NGOs answer difficult datascience questions key to their effectiveness and helping them set up better data governance and collection/cleansing regimes around being able to leverage their information.
When DataKind decided to expand to five global chapters, a trio of co-founders and put forward Singapore as one of the five DK cities worldwide. We won the bid, started up, and I acted as Director of Operations for a year after founding before stepping down and handing over the reins due to work commitments with Neo/Pivotal.
Kobayashi is doubly named after the majordomo of the infamous Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects and as an extra-geeky nod to Star Trek’s no-win mission scenario (since building blog software lacks any dev cred.).
I wanted a replacement for wordpress and was unable to find something in Ruby land that did everything I considered essential. So, I took some of the best ideas I’d seen in different blog engines and CMSes, and shmooshed them together at relativistic speeds to create something fast, hackable, easy-to-use, and with a very small code base (<250 LOC!). I had a blast writing this and learned a surprising amount for what seems like such a simple project on the surface.
A project for Leadnow during the 2011 Canadian Federal election, this was a project for the televised National Debate to allow a large national constituency to discuss and understsand details of policy arguments in the debate.
The app itself pulls tweets for any arbitrary hashtag(s) (or any text in the tweetstream, for that matter) out of the twitter firehose and speedily dumps it into a Mongo database and then pulls it out slowly in a nice, ordered waterfall cascading style, responsive single page app to allow coherent and deeper discussion around issues moderators and users pick up on.
Sunsetted late 2014
Leadnow contacted me while I was working for another activism organization in Australia and asked for help getting their fledgling operation off the ground tech-wise for Canada. The site was light, fast, and very scalable with an easily extensible codebase that was put up in record time and that ran their online presence up until late 2014.
Actually, my very favourite thing about this entire project was that I did the initial work and pushed leadnow.ca live globally from a lovely little island in the Andaman Sea in Thailand while on vacation. I really need my life to be a bit more like that all the time. Doing stuff like that makes you feel like you’ve got your life together and definitely proved I could do remote development from anywhere despite geography and timezones.
Catherder aka Tess the TOIL-bot
I generally work with people whose big problem is that they work way too long and too hard. Unhealthy overtime becomes common, work and creativity suffer, burnout follows, and good people end up leaving organizations that can ill-afford the loss.
Tess allowed us to easily see who was trending towards counterproductive overtime, stick to our legal TOIL (Time Off In Lieu) obligations, vacation, and sick days, and make sure staff stayed healthy, rested and firing on all cylinders (with the management benefit of much better resource planning). Fully audit compliant, one-click approvals via email, nice reporting overviews and alerts, this was an “off book” project written because I saw a problem affecting our sustainability and productivity with an easy weekend-programmable solution.
Catherder work further enhanced Tess inside Pivotal once we were acquired in 2016 by my awesome team at Labs SG and rolled out for an easy-to-use system for all Pivotal APAC staff across 5 countries for resource planning and to easily track and schedule vacation, TOIL, sick leave, and other time off (maternity, paternity, bereavement etc.).
I still think it is far better than most commercial HR and resouce planning systems I’ve seen purporting to handle this better and providing a degree of management visibility and reporting that definitely made my job as MD much easier.
A big problem for fast-moving campaigning organizations is that they rarely have the time, let alone the resources, to focus on infrastructure until the point it starts to hurt core advocacy and effectiveness.
Brought in as Director of Online Campaigning and CTO in 2009, our team redesigned and rearchitected GetUp’s core campaigning engine in Ruby on Rails from the ground up for rapid response campaigning, action flexibility, email blasting at “Obama-esque” campaigning speeds, salient metrics and A/B testing, and an elastic cloud architecture designed to handle massive, yet intermittent “fireballing” of the site during email blasts and TV media coverage (while minimizing costs by contracting down in off-action periods.).
As of March 2017, Getup is still using this as their core platform.
Sunsetted late 2013
Lunchmeets was a simple app designed to solve a seemingly small, but big problem Amnesty had, which was people not really knowing the people they worked with. Collaboration and sharing are vastly more difficult with people you don’t know (and trust), and a showstopper if you’re trying to change an organizational “gatekeeper” and non-collaboarative culture as AI was. This app acted as a facilitator by randomly having people matched up to go to lunch or coffee.
Another “off book” project, hugely successful with users and had been running in production (with occasional upgrades) since mid 2007 to late 2013 with thousands of Lunchmeets served and over one third of all full-time staff participating at peak.
Amnesty needed a complete overhaul of their web platform, online branding, and ability to reach and engage supporters in non-traditional locations globally.
A massive project involving overhauls of everything from the underlying technologies, to branding, to content, to the document library at the heart of Amnesty’s human rights research, this comprehensive relaunch of the amnesty.org flagship site delivered capabilities the organization has never had before as well as the capability for faster turnaround for digital campaigning and rapid response actions.
CTSE Campaign Trading Stock Exchange
Sunsetted late 2009
This was a combined idea accumulator, information market and crowdsourcing app. The idea was to provide a way to submit well-crafted, peer reviewed and moderated campaigning ideas and percolate the best to the top for consideration and execution.
GPC Federal Leadership Canvassing
This was the very first Rails app I ever built, way back in 2006 when the framework was at 1.2.
Built over a sleepless weekend to meet the urgent need to get good information on voting patterns for the original federal leadership campaign of Elizabeth May of the Green Party of Canada. It was simple, tightly featured, and did precisely what was needed (and not an iota more - and was seminal in my adoption of Lean product management.).
It gave the national campaign team daily statistics and let us know exactly how we were tracking with statistical certainty in canvassed ridings which was critical strategically understanding where to focus resources for maximum effectiveness to win the election.
I do like to think this app helped contribute to May coming from behind in the polls to beat her opponent by a 2:1 margin due to good, actionable statistics fueling better decision making and strategy. Elizabeth actually personally thanked me on national television with a really nice mention in her victory speech in Ottawa.
Sunsetted mid 2011
Knowledge management is a deep problem for all organizations. Vendors intentionally confuse buying a piece of software with the idea of creating a culture of knowledge management, sharing, and findability as well as the boundaries between explicit (what’s written down) and tacit knowledge (what’s in peoples’ heads).
Whuffie tried to solve the problem my new organization had of being great at writing things down, but writing things in such a way that it had a low “leverage” value for organizational learning. The good stuff was in peoples’ heads, so Whuffie was an experiment to deal with questions and dialogues and socially trying to reward people breaking down a “gatekeeper” culture by creating a social marketplace for ideas, knowledge and help, as well as recognition of information sharing as something valued by the organization.
For the scifi fans, the project takes its name from Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom where Whuffie, a form of post-scarcity digital reputation and ersatz currency, replaces money and is a proxy for social standing.
Sunsetted early 2012
Modified from my work while completing my MSc. The enhancements to the original code were to create a Machine Learning system to methodically sift Google Earth imagery and detect undiscovered archaeological sites through geographic anomalies in the images.
The idea behind IndyBot was inspired by NASA’s remote sensing help in the 1992 discovery of Iram of the Mighty Pillars, the famed Atlantis of the Sands in Arabia’s Empty Quarter (the Rub’ al Khali/الربع الخالي) via ground penetrating radar and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) remote sensing from satellites. It’s original goals have largely been superceded by this fantastic crowdsourced initiative, linked with NatGeo, to achieve much the same ends (and prevent site looting.).
If you’ve run across this project via a google search and are looking for some help on a remote sensing archaeological survey or dig, I’m always game on applying technology to archaeology, so if you have an interesting project, please drop me a mail.
I was maintainer on this from 1999 on after taking over from the original author, Keith Resar. The code automated virus definition updates across large corporate networks for McAfee AV and let the sysadmin know it had been done via automated mailouts. AV companies have now baked updates into their products removing the need for this, but at peak, the software had 45k+ installs worldwide and saved a number of corporate networks (including my own) during at least two major global virus 0-day outbreaks which took out less prepared IT groups.