Milestones in August

This week sees two pretty big milestones.

I’m currently on the road again, this time in Melbourne for the release of our first citizen science portal for our work with the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA).  This was held at a launch for the Biodiversity Snapshots web site, which has been developed for Museum Victoria (MV).  If you want to know more about the launch itself, the Ministerial release is here, and I’ll add in more information as comments to this post.

A recap is in order about our work with the ALA: we are working with them to provide citizen science tools that are freely available for people to use. These consist of web based tools, which are also mobile compatible, and generic enough so that a bunch of interested parties – natural science groups, conservation agencies, museums, educators, etc – can take and use.  And of course they are to be open source!  The MV instance is the first of four web sites we’ll be implementing based on these tools in the near future (another is with Birds Australia, who I’ll be working with all day tomorrow).

Anyway, the first milestone is the launch of Biodiversity Snapshots. There has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes for this particular site, especially in the leadup to our other deliverables in the coming weeks.  We have had a team of very, very busy people working away on the codebase and the specific modifications for the teacher-student cases in the MV workflow. So the first milestone is a release of the application in our first “portal” (each instance of the software we are putting in place is a “portal” in my own peculiar vernacular).

Our generic citizen science application focuses on the recording of observations of species, all through the web. With the use of HTML 5, this means that you can (but you have to be a a registered user to see this at Biodiversity Snapshots) also download the mobile tools to your device and work offline.  Alternatively, you can just work on-line throughout the process, and use an interface that works on iphones, ipads, netbooks and desktop PCs.

The huge amounts of work that the staff at MV have done capturing the specific teacher-student workflow has added a huge amount of really interesting additions to the generic application.  There is now a good workflow – which effectively becomes a module in the generic application -  that allows teachers to set up students, and invite them to participate in a biological survey.  This is not only useful for the MV project, but I can see it being useful for other groups that do any sort of education with school groups (like Earthwatch, who we spent quite a bit of time last night at their annual dinner chatting to about the potential improvements to their Climatewatch portal, which uses an earlier version of the generic software, but will be upgraded in the coming months).

The second milestone is very personal for me. I’ve just seen the end of a pretty horrible three months. Earlier this year I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and have been in and out of hospital over the last three months with surgery and treatment (admittedly, not all cancer related, as I also managed to fracture my wrist when I went snowboarding for a recovery holiday).  However, I received good results from scans on Monday and was told to go away and forget about it for 6-12 months.

It’s been a very difficult three months for the business, as I’ve not been around much and had to drop out with very little time for a handover or any preparation.  I want to explicitly thank my staff for their support through this time, and to our clients for the patience that they’ve shown when I can’t make meetings because I’m a radioactive danger to society.

So thanks to all involved not only in our work with the ALA and MV, but also for everyone’s patience and well wishes over the last few months.  I look forward to catching up with people again over the coming months!

Piers

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