Friday, December 5, 2008

Short Messaging and Common Alerting Protocol over HF Spectrum

Amateur radio operators have played a major role during disasters in providing front line communication when all other technologies have seized to operate. MARTS - Malaysia Amateur Radio Transmitter's Society was in full force sharing their experiences and demonstrating the equipment at the ITU Asia-Pacific Centers of Excellence Training Workshop on Effective Use of Telecommunication/ICT in response to disasters: saving lives. The equipment range from vehicle mounted, hand helds, and nomadic units that work over UHF/VHF/HF frequencies. I had the privilege of presenting the Common Alerting Protocol experience in Sri Lanka to the government delegates from Asia and the Pacific Islands; CAP was unheard of by the delegates.

Another novel project on the use of HF spectrum for communicating short messages (or chat messages) was presented by Prof. Dr. Ahmad Zuri bin Sha'ameri at the same ITU event. It was definitely a product that could be engulfed in to the Sahana suite of Messaging gateways or part of the P2P CAP Broker. Both him and I got off to a good start on agreeing to proceed with the experimental idea of porting his solution on to Sahana. An initial document of the concept and action plan was exchanged within a few days of us returning to our desks.

Most of the officials attending the ITU event were officials from their respective telecom regulatory bodies working on disaster management. They were quite excited of the project we have put on the table and promised to educate their ministers of the possibility of piloting the HF spectrum text messaging modules for emergency communication in their countries.

The first step is to develop the software and prove the concept in Malaysia and/or Sri Lanka. This portion of the project is being funded by the Malaysia Communication and Multimedia Commission. Second step is to write a larger proposal to pilot the working solution in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and few of the Pacific Islands - Nauru, Marshal Islands, Vanuatu, etc.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Optimally transporting XML through SMS for CAP Messages - How can it be done?

While working on my presentation titled "Common Alerting Protocol" (CAP) for the ITU Workshop in Kedha, Malaysia and experimenting with the Sahana Messaging/Alerting Module in preperation for a demo for the workshop participants, I questioned, "is there a method already in place or how does one optimally send an XML file through the SMS transport. Of cause this is in relation to transporting a CAP message with the underlying XML data storage and transfer standard through the SMS transport technology.

One would say, "why bother with SMS just transport it through GPRS or any other advanced mobile data service platform transport layer. There are advantages that SMS offers and GPRS does not; a key advantage being SMS is always ready to receive messages (i.e. data can be pushed on to) provided the handset is turned on; where as GPRS must be user initiated where the data must be pulled. For the purpose of "alerting" SMS surpasses GPRS with the mentioned advantage. It is also possible to house a an applet that resides on the handset and uses GPRS to periodically fetch newly posted WAP alerts.

Obviousely all one needs to do is insert the XML formatted text including the tags, header, etc in an SMS text and send it to whomever they want. The dilemma is in the payload. The XML formated text in the image above has 520 characters with white space and 421 characters without white space. The 520 characters would fit in to four 8-bit encoded SMS pages. Cost of an SMS is proportional to the number of SMS pages; unlike GPRS which is billed by the number of bytes (or kilobytes). More so, the intent of CAP being mass alerting efficiency is compromized with the size of the payload. Hence the key question is "how do we minimize the payload of a CAP message transported througg SMS to maximize the efficiency and the effectiveness?"

For a targeted application such as one that would display a CAP message could be designed to include only the necessary and sufficient (tags), which are yet to be determined by experts and remain an open problem. Let us assume the CAP SMS text carries the <incident>, <scope>, <status>, <msgType>, <category>, <event>, <urgency>, <severity>, <certainty>, <areaDesc>, and <resourceDesc> tags. The mobile phone application would be designed to read these tags and display on an interactive mobile phone GUI. The GUI would give the recipient the option to change the predefined values such as the <msgType> from the received value of "Alert" to "Ack" and reply to the sender. Assuming the alert was issued through a software such as the Sahana Messaging Module, which has a feature to store replies and produce a consolidated report, sender could match those who had received and acknowledged the alert.

I anticipate the need to transfer XML files on to mobile phones will become a must with standardization and interoperability. The revers or the dual exists; thus XML encoding for SMS. Any one interested can find technical literature on IBM's developer works Tips.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mobile platform revenue share model for citizen journalism in Sri Lanka

The research question is "can the mobile service platform revenue sharing model be catalyst to advocating a sustainable citizen journalism program in Sri Lanka?". The previous article on "audio content production and deliver is the first step to instigating citizen journalism" talked about the Sarvodaya initiative to build capacity in rural Sri Lanka for enabling a platform to hear the voices of the rural communities. Given the cost of mobilizing such an endeavor it is best to begin with audio productions.

I'm writing a research proposal that aims to use an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system with touch tone and voice through a normal phone call and Podcasts through a website (specifically WAP enabled) over the GSM mobile service platform. IVR would work over the voice channel but the dilemma lies in the Podcasts over GPRS. Given the coverage strengths in Sri Lanka it is debatable whether the Podcasts would work.

As in most cases the emphasis in applied research (or action research), besides answering the system robustness question, is answering the sustainability question. As a result it is hypothesised that a revenue share scheme would advocate for such system to live long. The revenue share model over the content business value chains (Joader, 2007) establishes a proportionate sharing scheme between the content-creators, content-owners, aggregators, vendors, and the network-providers.

There are already aggregators such as Kongregate, Youtube, Digital Journal, etc that provide platforms for content-creators to cash in for their creativity. In Sri Lanka the mobile operators are apprehensive to sharing revenue with service providers. The research intends to partner with a mobile operator such as Dialog Telekom who has the largest mobile market share in Sri Lanka and is investigating ventures that will use their technologies such as delivery of the news paper Lankapuvath over SMS and IVR.

The research design will look at a sample of 10 governing districts in Sri Lanka and through a series of awareness campaigns recruit content-creators and subscribers. Thereafter, let the system determine the survival of the fittest; where the creative, interesting, subscriber centric content-creators will profit from the system and the weaker ones will disappear. The assessment will group the data on the urban/rural divide, language, religious preface, and gender. The publications will be categorized in to current affairs, culture, philosophy, education, and entertainment based on a probability measure distribution; where a publication on the topic of "child primary schooling" may fall into the categories of current affairs and education with a distribution of 0.70 and 0.30, respectively. Both a subjective and objective assessment schemes will be implement to qualitatively and qualitatively assess the evidence of the viability of the technology, human aspects, and policy implications.

Comments are welcome on any literature available in this area, research methodologies, and implementation schemes or even knowledge on other projects of similar nature.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Technical definintion: "early warning system"

A technical definition for Early Warning Systems (EWS) in hard to find. The work on classification of EWS requires a precise definition for EWS. The wikipedia definition fo EWS is what is quoted by the United Nations, very much human centric with natural disasters in mind. In my opinion EWS and Observer Controller systems have a lot in common (Figure 1). As they both try to predict and correct system's response. However, EWS can be broken down to a chain of systems that are distinctly a chain of communication systems.

Figure 1 Feedback control system model for EWS

I propose the following definition -

Definition "Early Warning System (EWS)": A chain of information communication systems comprising sensor, detection, decision, and broker systems, in the given order, working in conjunction forecasting and signaling disturbances adversely affecting the stability of the physical world, giving sufficient time for the response system to prepare resources and response actions in minimizing the impact on the stability of the physical world.

A paper in relation to the proposed definition as well as an introduction to the necessary and sufficient components can be found in the blog with title: "towards a definintion for EWS".

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Audio content production and delivery is the first step to instigating citizen journalism

Since October 2007, I have been voluntarily engaging in building capacity within Sarvodaya with the intent of mobilizing rural communities in developing local content. If we are to divide content as text, audio, and video, the question is "which one of the mediums do we start with first, in a Sri Lanka?"

We can rule out video based on cost of production and need for professionalism. Similarly, the production and distribution of text; i.e. a newsletter, would be rather costly and would be hard to recover the costs from the subscribers. In general Sri Lankan people are less inclined to reading and writing; i.e. even in a long distance bus one would observe nearly zero people to read a book or a news paper. However, would be apt to listening to the bus radio or even their built in FM radio on the mobile phone. Therefore, Sarvodaya policy was to use audio as a medium to instigate the concept of citizen journalism within its mandate.

My belief is developing audio, which is as simple as pressing the record button and speaking one's mind in to a microphone is far more simpler than electronically composing a story or making a video that is meaningful. Moreover, delivery of audio requires much less bandwidth opposed to video.

The community based audio production and delivery concept was presented to an audience at LIRNEasia by my colleague Chamindha Rajakaruna to get an opinion on the foreseen strategy. The real-time blog on the colloquium titled "Sarvodaya satellite and web radio, a precursor to community-radio, the way forward and challenges" highlights the concept. The colloquium was valuable to us in seeing the way forward; especially in separating the tow intents: 1) Internal closed user group broadcast of content on Sarvodaya philosophy, governance, and activities 2) pure citizen journalism creating a platform for people to voice their opinions and exchange ideas. I have written a comment on the LIRNEasia blog under the same colloquium topic saying that in a country where broadband in rural areas is still in its infancy an alternative broadcast technology and a peer-to-peer technology are both necessary, if Sarvodaya is to achieve intentions 1) & 2).

This community based audio content production and delivery project is a spin off from the past HazInfo project, which concluded the need for both the WorldSpace addressable satellite radios for emergency alerts and Dialog/Microimage Java enabled mobile phones for SMS alerts as the two technologies that could provide complementary redundancy in a closed user group last-mile hazard warning system. While mobile phones have been embraced in to the daily lives of people in Sri Lanka, the WorldSpace satellite radio remains a new and unheard information communication technology in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the greater challenge is developing a sustainable platform for the satellite radios as a technology that is always used. Deshodaya Media Production Unit took on the challenge of developing connect through a community participatory approach to bring life to the channel dedicated to Sarvodaya.

Given that the satellite radio and mobile phone technologies are currently in operation, it is ideal to use these two technologies as basis to test the content production and development processes such that when broadband with internet is widely accessible in rural Sri Lanka, the citizens would have the know how to develop MP3 audio content for exchanging information.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Preliminary work of ealry warning system classification presented

I was delighted to have had the opportunity of presenting the preliminary outline of the theoretical work towards classifying early warning systems at LIRNEasia's colloquium this past Tuesday. The first proposition presented to the audience was on establishing that the necessary and sufficient components of an EWS being a sensor, detector, decision, broker, and response system. In EWS systems such as sensor and detection are coupled and termed as detection and monitoring. However, the distinction between sensor and detection systems; namely defining the operations, were resolved. The LIRNEasia blog, titled- what are these monkey's doing in our blog, recognizes that theory can and should be used to model response systems. It was clear that the presentation was too long. Best is to break down the presentation in to 3 parts addressing the 3 primary classifiers. LIRNEasia would like me to address the propositions on the LIRNEasia blog to start a discuss, which I will in the near future.

Click here for the slides

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Real-time biosurveillance research is off the ground

The long awaited real-time biosurveillance program pilot project officially began on 11-July-2008. LIRNEasia received a grant from the International Development Research Center to conduct the developmental research project over the next 2 years. I will be working in the capacity of the Project Director.

The first year will be spent on developing the ICT system for disease surveillance and notification. Data will be collected through a J2ME mobile phone application, which would be a direct adoption of the java rosa (a.k.a openROSA) suite of applications or a rendition of it. The analytics algorithms with GUI for detection of disease outbreaks will come from Auton Lab. Very well use Sahana Messaging or SMS Geo-Chats for a feedback/follow-up mechanism with a log for sending and keeping track of alerts.

Second year will be devoted to evaluating the ICT system in a real world setting where the government and community health care workers will use the system as part of their daily routines. A prominent question will be determining the incentives for health care workers in rural settings to participate in a e-Health based programs. We will look at the productivity increase, which will be weighted against a control group who is not exposed to the e-Health based disease surveillance and notification program. Justify issues related some prior studies that have shown effects of manipulation of data - under-reporting or over-reporting - depending on the circumstance. Evaluate the effectiveness of biosurveillance algorithms in detecting disease outbreaks and understanding whether mobile application based data streams can assist in the detection and notification process; as well as the different aspects between the different sides (data collectors, algorithm designers, algorithm implementers, health monitors, program evaluators, etc) in the overall picture.

Some of the initiatives in the same disease surveillance and notification space are the following projects -- Google Predict & Prevent, InSTEDD, Sahana, D-Tree, Dimagi, GATHER, among many others.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Healthcare Worker based mobile Sensor Systems

The aim of the real time biosurveillance program is to mobilize Healthcare Workers in the rural settings with mobile phones to record and submit patient counts for the purpose of consolidating national health data for surveillance of unusual patterns (headsup). Problem that this real-time biosurveillance program (RTBP) promises to solve is to strengthen existing disease surveillance and detection communication systems, reduce latencies in detecting and communicating disease information, and set a stand interoperable protocol for sharing disease information with national and international health-related organizations in the region.

My role in the RTBP is working in the capacity of a Researcher and Project Director. The grant has been approved by IDRC but the administrative work remains to be completed before funds can be transfered and work can begin

RTBP shares many similarities with the small study working in (somewhat) rural Tanzania focus on guiding health care workers through medical algorithms, with the primary goal of improving care and the secondary goal of collecting data. In particular, it is automated with the IMCI protocols for classifying and treating childhood illness. If you are interested, an online paper titled "e-IMCI: Improving Pediatric Health Care in Low-Income Countries" describes the project and lessons learned.

The design of RTBP using mobile phones is in par with this abstract from the IEEE Internet Computing article titled - The Rise of People-Centric Sensing - "Technological advances in sensing, computation, storage, and communications will turn the near-ubiquitous mobile phone into a global mobile sensing device. People-centric sensing will help drive this trend by enabling a different way to sense, learn, visualize, and share information about ourselves, friends, communities, the way we live, and the world we live in. It juxtaposes the traditional view of mesh sensor networks with one in which people, carrying mobile devices, enable opportunistic sensing coverage. In the MetroSense Project's vision of people-centric sensing, users are the key architectural system component, enabling a host of new application areas such as personal, public, and social sensing."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

QR Codes for Health Information Exchange

Yesterday night's skype meeting with Gordon Gow brought forth the idea of using QR codes to code and decode health information in relation to the next research in many aspects, a research him and I plan to start shortly; i.e. the RTBP. Refer to his blog for a note on QR Codes and application for mobile phones for emergency managers - Barcodes meet cellphones: intriguing possibilities.

The Real-Time Biosurveillance Program (RTBP) is a research that envisions pilot testing mobile phones for collecting health-related information and applying AutonLab's suite of statistical data mining algorithms for fetching anomalies in the health datasets. The Healthcare-Workers will be provided with mobile phones and a Java application, a rendition of openROSA suit of applications. Indian Institute of Technology - Madras will be developing the mobile applications.

The health information will be mostly patient counts with similar symptoms. We discussed the possibility of using QR codes during transport and storage of information:

1) the Healthcare-Worker recorded data on the mobile handhelds can be encoded as a QR Code prior to transmitting the information to central repository (database). Since the QR Codes use the Reed-Solomon error correction method the misinterpretation of health information during transport and storage is further reduced

2) Given, that a QR codes are already encoded in binary form, the possibility of increasing the speed of the statistical data mining algorithms are worth testing

3) encoding communicable diseases and other known diseases with symptoms in QR Code form printed as hard copy for Healthcare Workers to use for entering information by simply scanning the QR code with the mobile phone camera instead of typing the lengthy string with the possibility of misspelling

4) In the event the Java application residing on the handheld fails the Healthcare Workers can use the hard copy QR code version to scan predefined health information strings to record the information on the handheld, then use Email, MMS or SMS to transit the information over any technology that allows the standard Email, SMS, MMS applications, making it easier for the database to also decipher and parse the information before storing in the relevant attributes (fields)

5) The Healthcare Workers can store the patient information in QR Code form as a hardcopy as a backup. Since it is in a human unreadable form the possibility of an unauthorized random individual reading the confidential patient information is null

These are thoughts that came up during our discussion and look forward to testing the concepts with the RTBP.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Attempt to Classify Early Warning Systems

Over the past 2 months, since my work completed as the researcher/project manager evaluating a last-mile hazard information dissemination research, a contract received through LIRNEasia, I've been taking a stab at classifying early warning systems (EWS). The research so far does not reveal a concrete abstraction for this classification effort. Most of the work done are domain specific, thus financial specialist trying to classify financial EWS, engineers trying to classify engineering EWS, so on and so forth.

The question that pops in my mind is "how does one distinguish between two similar EWS designs for the same purpose; i.e. pick the best?" or "how does one enumerate the capability and capacity of a given EWS?" or "how does one decompose an existing design to depict the possibility of adding on to extend the value to service other risks?" Current thinking is to design systems to the decision makers liking. Also there is no regard for including response systems in the design. As I see a EWS designed without taking the "customer attribute"; i.e. the response system in to consideration, is like throwing darts in to an empty space; i.e. no target.

The works so far leads me to believe that three main parameters that can classify any EWS, whether it be natural (as in the animal kingdom), engineered, social, or economic, are by understanding them through observer-controller (predictor corrector) systems, complexity theory, and Markov processes. These three primary fields give us the tools to define the operational orientations, capabilities of the design, and the expected capacity in real conditions.

I am testing the above mentioned framework on four examples: community-based last-mile hazard warning system (I was personally involved in), debt crisis financial EWS, Dam failure (safety) EWS, and a EWS based on the Traceability of Agriculture markets. The classification scheme inclusive of the enumeration theories are working in my favor. Although the exact simulated values for the system design capabilities and expect capacity are yet to be determined.

I would greatly appreciate anyone working in the same arena or has any interest in discussing the aspects of solving this classification problem to share their opinions with me through dialog.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hunting for 1 of the 208 Olympic Torches in Kunming

Monday morning I was extremely excited to see the 2008 Olympic torch come through Kunming. This would be a one time offering of the Olympic torch to come through the city I currently live in, and the probabilistically, them same happening in my life time would be near zero. The previous night my nephew got details of the official route off the web. It was to start from the famous Stone Forest (World Heritage site) at 8:30am and make its way in to the city. We decided to catch a glimpse of it at Green Lake Park. Once we got there we found out that the route had been changed and was not going the long distance as planned. I suppose the organizers fear the Dalai Clan would cause problems, Yunnan being the closest province and the beginning of the to Tibetan plateau. My wife got tired of trekking around the city hunting for the torch and decided to spend her time shopping; while my nephew and I decided to continue the hunt. It was 11am and we thought we could catch the afternoon session near the Expo Village at 1:00pm. Riding the bus along Beijing Lu (road) we saw hordes of fans gathered at Dong Feng Square. We were convinced, with the amount of people gathered as well as the police presence, the torch was bound to come through the square; hopped off the bus. Then to our disappointment we learned that of the 208 torch exchanges that were to happen in Kunming, already 200 had been completed. The event that was to last the entire day ended in the morning. The city had issued special invitations to big shots and there henchmen to attend, leaving the general public out. I guess the Olympics are not for the ordinary but for the class that the ordinary don't belong!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

P2P CAP Broker for Communicating Cyclones/Hurricanes

A proposal was submitted for an NSF grant on Communicating Hurricane Warnings. This a two country research collaboration between the iSchool @ UMD and LSF @ UCSC. I will work with LSF as a Principle Investigator in the capacity of an OR Analyst/Project Manager in managing and conducting the Sri Lankan research component. Dave Yates from the iSchool will conduct the parallel research in USA.

The research will develop a Peer-to-Peer Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) Broker for exchanging hurricane/cyclone information with stakeholders such as the Met dept, Broadcasters, First-Responders, Citizens, and other associates. The P2P CAP Broker will be a FOSS application amalgamated in to the Sahana suite of Disaster Management software modules. The intent of the P2P CAP Broker is to provide a plat form for stakeholders to network in the same way as a "social network" to exchange cyclone/hurricane information before, during, and after an incident.

A major component will be testing the CAP interoperability structure for communicating information in multiple languages; Sinhala/Tamil in Sri Lanka and English/Spanish in USA. The software will be accessible via mobile handhelds and laptop/desktop computers via the internet. The alerting component will work on SMS too. The National Weather Bureau (Met dept) could issue alerts to first-responders downstream and receive acknowledgments from alert recipients up stream. Users who are part of the network could also send situational reports upstream to the central authorities. The figure above shows the schematics of the proposed system.

The P2P CAP Broker was a recommendation made in the HazInfo research technical report. As we had encountered in the real life experiences as well as in the HazInfo research, it is usually the people and protocols that fail and not the technologies. Therefore, the proposed research of evaluating the P2P exchange of cyclone/hurricane information intends to measure the uncertainties caused due to technological and organizational complexities of this system through evidential analysis.

If the grant is approved work should begin in January 2009 and end in 2011. The first year will be dedicated to research and development of the ICT system and the second year for evaluation through mock-drills and the use during the cyclone/hurricane seasons in Sri Lanka and USA.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Food Crisis in Sri Lanka and the World

"Global Food Crisis and the local Rice Prices"

This newspaper article was written by my father Dr. Parakrama Waidyanatha and was published in the Sunday Observer - .... worth a read.

Especially quotes such as (extracted directly from article) --
:: Over a 100 million poor who spend 50 - 70% of their earnings on food
:: Food prices have risen by 83% globally over the last three years
:: U.S is diverting an amount equivalent to its entire export volume of corn for biofuel
:: farmgate price of paddy is an all time high, but the cost of production is relatively low
:: the heavy fertilizer subsidy of about 400% of the actual cost


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fano Matroid is Spot-on

In this blog I give reasons for choosing a rendition of the fano matroid as the logo for Spot-on Solution, as shown in this image.

The fano matroid is named after Gino Fano, a mathematician who devoted his life to projective and algebraic geometry. The fano matroid is also referred to as the fano plane, projective geometry P(2,2), steiner tipple system S(2,3,7).

During my foundation in operations research at the University of Montana, I was introduced to all three of the notions associated with the algebraic structure comprising 7 vertices and seven edges. When a cube with 8 vertices and 8 edges (3 dimensional object) is projected on to a plane (2 dimensional space) it produces the fano plane. In block design theory the steiner triple system S(2,3,7) when represented as a graph, resembles the fano plane. In matroid theory the fano matroid plays a significant role as what is termed as an excluded minor in differentiating properties of certain classes of matroids.

My masters thesis was on defining the notion of circuit double covers for matroids and developing a few algorithms to create matroids with circuit double covers in several classes of matroids such as the uniform matroid, graphic matroids, ternary matroids, binary matroid, etc. The notion of circuit double covers had already been established for graphs in graphs theory by Seymour and Szekeres, in 1970. This conjecture, the cycle double covers for graphs, remains an open problem to this day. I first came across the notion of cycle double covers of graphs when attending the 1998 Bigsky conference on Discrete Mathematics, hosted by the University of Montana Mathematics Department. My adviser, Prof. Jenny McNulty, handed me the challenge of understanding circuit double covers of matroids, which was a pioneering topic. That's when I fell in love with the fano matroid, which is now my favorite abstract structure, where 23 is my favorite number.

With this I have chosen a rendition of the fano matroid as my Spot On Solution's logo. As seen in the image above, the warped version is due to many reasons. Given that my current focus on systems, specifically, Information Communication Systems (ICT), the idea of stability is a major criteria that all those who deal with systems hard to establish. Although perfection cannot be achieved, designers of systems, strive to achieve, at least, an asymptotic or near perfection, of stability. The lines (or edges of the fano matroid) in the logo resemble the transient and steady state response of a system arriving at some asymptotic stability (looking like an exponential function). Moreover, no matter at which "state" (vertex on the fano matroid) one starts it is possible to traverse to any other point with one hop (passing through one vertex).

In ICT redundancy is a word that is commonly used as well as an action that is commonly practiced. A double covering in graph theory or matroid theory is synonymous with redundancy. Remarkably the fano matroid is beyond a double covering and is a triple covering per say; where each node has 3 edges descending upon it. With respect to ICT we can think of it as each node is connected to 3 independent channels or links; thus disruption of one link does not effect the operation of any of the nodes; as a matter of fact each node can afford to lose 2 links and still be able to communicate with the other nodes.

Credit has to be given to Absoulte Einsteins for creating the first cut of the logo and Dacia Closson, my friend with exceptional graphic and web design capabilities, for completing the logo.