Archive for the ‘responsive design’ Category

Alternate Approach to Legal Independent Election Tallying

The Uganda elections are more or less over with less than 6 hours for the Uganda Electoral Commission (EC) to announce the results for the presidential elections.

Given all the time on our hands, with no social media, the team at Styx Technology Group designed the following alternative approach to independent electoral vote tallying for future elections that provides inbuilt mechanisms for audit and verification of results.

The primary data sources for the process are:

  1. Official EC list of polling stations and voters per polling station
  2. Photos of the signed election tally sheets from each polling station. To ensure that the photos are not tampered with and provide an audit trail:
    • Each photograph has to be taken with information on the camera, the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken, date and time when the photo was taken which is available in many cameras that share it using the Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF)
    • Two separate photos of the tally sheets have to be taken by different cameras
    • The cameras taking equipment may be registered beforehand to provide validation of the source of the information
    • The signatures of the returning officers and stamp must be clear and visible in the photo

The architecture for the technology solution is as follows:

  1. Web based solution accessible via any browser. Due to poor Internet connectivity in many areas of the country, an Android app would be provided to assist in data collection, then data sent once the user gets into an area with Internet.
  2. The field officers who capture the photos would also be provided with an option of entering the candidate vote tallies.
  3. In the tallying center, candidate vote tallies are entered from the photos received and vote tallies entered by data clerks. In order to reduce errors the following approach would be used:
    • The clerks are randomly assigned photos as they come in
    • The tally for a station must be entered correctly by two separate data entry clerks, then approved by a supervisor. This process is formally called the two-pass verification method or double data entry.
  4. All correctly entered data is shared with the rest of the world for download and analysis.

This system is mission-critical having to be available for the entire vote counting period of 48 hours,  so the architecture includes the following paths for data collection:

  1.  Multiple access IP addresses and domains for the website in case some are blocked off
  2. Any data collected via the Android app can be sent via email to a dedicated tallying center address. To ensure that only data from the app is received and not changed in transit, encryption is used.

The inspiration came from a quote by Ghandi “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, disproving the myth that there is no local capability to design and implement such solutions and most of all that such solutions have to be complex.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions…

Tech Tip: Websites on Github with Jekyll

We have been facing a challenge on how to manage the Styx Technology Group corporate website without having dedicated resources to host, deal with security, updates and maintenance. Having been in the website business for over a decade at the turn of Y2K,  having an easily maintainable solution was key for the long haul.

Enter GitHub pages (https://help.github.com/categories/github-pages-basics/), of course any decent software developer and team are using some form of version control, but the beauty is that it allows projects, users and organisations to have self hosted sites that are managed through a repository.  That in combination with Jekyll (http://jekyllrb.com/) supports content management without a database.

To further speed up our development process, we leveraged existing themes for the website look and feel that were close to our need, while keeping the site design very simple so that we focused on solving the problem at hand.

It was suddenly music to our ears as the team did not have to leave their IDEs (random plug for Jetbrains IDE tool suite that we have standardized upon)  in order to make updates to the website. Just create a new markdown document, verify and push … And bam!! the updates are done, version controlled and all, no more hassles with database configurations …

Need help getting your website up and running in such a fashion do shoot us an email at consulting at styxtechgroup dot com and we shall be happy to help and engage…. Have a great weekend

Ruby on Rails for the PHP Web Developer – The Journey

For my frequent readers, you may assume that I have run crazy … now Ruby on Rails with all the PHP experience that you have got! Well I am shocked as well, but its a necessary step in my growth as all of us have to move out of our comfort zones at some time. Well I am going to be moving to an organization that uses Ruby on Rails as their language tool of choice as a project manager. So yes I have to learn a new tool, leveraging my experience to manage agile projects, so the geek in me has to understand the tool chain to enable me have better dialogue with the business analysts and developers.

So I am starting out on a new path, but as I was taught (brainwashed actually) the best way to learn a new tool is to use it. So I am trying to build a not so super secret software solution to solve a business problem I keep running into as a way of getting into the guts of this tool.

Ruby on Rails (ROR) is tough to get running on Windows as it was more a *nix development tool chain but I am taking up the challenge to get it to work with lots of Google searches and the ever present StackOverflow (now its my chance to ask questions). The environment is as follows:

  1. IDE – started with RubyMine for Jetbrains (http://www.jetbrains.com/ruby/) with a 30 day evaluation, then I will see what happens next
  2. Rails Installer by Engine Yard (http://railsinstaller.org/) – the smoothest way to get Rails up and running. The strange thing is that I am using Ruby 1.8.7 as that’s the version being used by an opensource project I would like to contribute to … so well why not stay behind and do some good while I am at it
  3. Ruby on Rails Tutorial (http://ruby.railstutorial.org) by Micheal Hartl free online resouce
  4. Stack Overflow (http://stackoverflow.com) – Q&A site most of the issues that I face have already been solved
  5. Git – needed a private repo so ended up at BitBucket (http://bitbucket.org) by Altassian. Having little knowledge of Git too, and having a lot of problems setting it up I downloaded SourceTree (http://www.sourcetreeapp.com)
  6. Ruby Gems – pre-built functionality

Now in the process of moving the dev environment to a Mac … However after trying to install the different pieces alone, I was advised to use Home Brew (http://mxcl.github.io/homebrew/) following the instructions at http://bit.ly/114X2x1

Part II coming up soon ….

HTML Web Toolkits – Twitter Bootstrap

Well it seems like I have been doing a rip and replace of most of the “homegrown” components that we are using in our environments as we gear up for the new year. The latest to fall to the axe is our HTML + CSS + widget collection that has been growing over the years which was a collection of code from different places:

  1. reset.css by Tantek Celik (http://www.cssreset.com/scripts/undohtml-css-tantek-celik/) – to provide a base for initial browser compatibility
  2. Multiple column layouts from the Dynamic Drive (http://www.dynamicdrive.com/style/layouts/category/C9/
  3. JQuery and JQuery UI widgets – here and there 
  4. Input Button and Link styles inspired by Particle Tree (http://particletree.com/features/rediscovering-the-button-element/)

Well like all web development shops, you pick your poison and stick with it, but with the troubles we have been having with different IE versions, I set out to find out whether we had to go through all the pain of tweaking each project, or whether we could re-use existing solutions. Well my search led me to Twitter Bootrap (http://twitter.github.com/bootstrap/index.html) which was at version 1.4 at the time, and 2.x was in beta and HTML5 Boilerplate (http://html5boilerplate.com/) both of which seemed to be great starting points.

However Bootstrap won out, in the end, because it provided a responsive UI for different screen sizes, pre-built basic elements which we use a lot, buttons, forms, tables, dialogs, message alerts which were easily setup. Okay JQuery UI has great widgets but they are a pain to setup configure and use, the code for a dialog is ~20 lines with CSS, etc, very powerful but no everybody needs a V-8 engine.

First on the agenda was to understand the grid layouts, okay I have heard about 960 and Blueprint grids, but I never understood how they worked, but wow!!! This is amazing, all I need to do is add a few pre-defined grid classes and you can get 2 column, 3 column layouts, our home grown frameworks would never do this … I liked it, coming from an engineering background and lots of database work I think rows, columns and relationships, and the grid well, had me at Hello World 🙂 

The built with bootstrap site (http://builtwithbootstrap.com/) provides a great starting point to see what is possible and available. We decided to use a free theme for a project we are starting and its working for us. 

As we walk this journey, the next challenge is how to handle the tables vs table-less designs for forms. Please drop me a line and let me know what your take either here or on my Stack Overflow question at http://stackoverflow.com/questions/10072991/responsive-html-page-design-pc-tablet-smartphone-with-table-or-table-less-fo 

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