Sunday, 16 September 2012

Just for 5%

The gummy diagram of how the Grower's Nation app will work in the future.

Endings, beginnings, it's all a blur.

Well, after a weekend of virtual jet-lag, we've just emailed over our presentation to Kat at USAID so that's about all we can do for now. It's a case of enjoying watching what everyone else has managed to achieve and then maybe answering some questions. Many thanks to all who have participated in the project over the past two days, it's been a pleasure!

But that's not the end at all, it would seem that for every task we accomplish, we find a list of new tasks to add to the list. Every hackathon brings new team members with fresh ideas and a different skill set. We'll continue to work on the project in our free time and look for the next hackathon to get more help. I'll try my best keep you updated every now and then about what's happening with the app, or where to come and find us to join in.

I'm going to head back to (shameless plug warning), where I'm blogging about the beginnings of the Grower's Nation Education project. It's currently with just a few of my classes, but they're keen to learn how to blog so they can share their experiences too. If you know of any other schools with green fingered teachers feel free to ask them to get in touch, I'd love to hear from them.

I dun learnin!

When I first joined the Grower's Nation project, my housemate had invited me along to a challenge to help on an exciting new project to devlop something that sounded like it would be very useful for me at work. She hadn't mentioned it was a hackathon. I had the misconception that hacking involved breaking codes and sneaking into other people's websites to perform acts of mischief (or worse). Little did I know that it was something positive or that there were so many different people involved in the process. I walked into the Met Office ready to provide my tea making services, the perspective of someone who works with under 12's and to maybe learn a thing or two. I was fully prepared to let most of the technical stuff sail gracefully over my head. I left knowing a little bit more about computery stuff and with a much higher regard to people who shared with the world that they were hackers.

This is now my second hackathon, and I'm participating virtually as it's based far, far away where their clocks are behind ours in Devon, but their internet connections are well ahead! I'm now brave enough to talk on Skype and to ask about some of the many, many things I don't understand in the hope that, one day, I may be able to contribute something more than just pictures and a few words. The technical wizzards who do the coding probably roll their eyes when conversations like this happen:

Me:             Is this what you mean by an ER diagram:
                   Injured person -> George Cluney -> Machine that goes ping -> Fixed person?
Dev:            ER is an entity relationship diagram
Other dev:   ER diagram is a relation diagram showing how a database is structured.
Me:             Shame, I can't use that picture in my next blog then.

But I have to learn somehow, and it hopefully saves those of you who are reading this the embarrassment of being in the same situation as me.

This morning, distaster struck! Well, more time zones did. I woke at 6am, ready to work. I logged on my laptop only to find shortly before, at 1am EST (maybe EDT, it's GMT -5 to me,) everyone had decided to call it a night and go to bed! That'll teach me to get up early(ish) on a Sunday morning! Ah well, knitting to get done.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait long for someone else to join me. Since 7am, I've learned:
  • that Google docs spreadsheets can be made into a form and embedded into a website; such as the one at meaning that anyone can add datasets for our scientists to work with; plus there's the added bonus that none of those nasty trolls who have evolved from their rightful place under bridges can delete things for fun. 
  • that there is structured query language built into Google docs - meaning we can make it searchable without too much trouble.
I've already asked multiple stupid questions about dataset information, the answers of which will turn into descriptions on the form to help people like me. I know it's not much, but it's something! I can now make myself useful starting to populate the spreadsheet with datasets rather than waffling on at poor unsuspecting blog readers.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Small is lovely, but the more brains the better!

It would seem a few more people have now woken up and are taking interest in joining in. Welcome to Greg, Todd and Andi - all of whom are new to the Grower's Nation team today.

Now is the time to ask if you have anything to offer! There's plenty of work to go round - especially as we're not limiting ourselves to what can actually realistically be achieved in a weekend. The potential of Grower's Nation will only be realised if we have help from people keen to make a difference to the world, rather than their own bank balance.

We still need people with technical skills: coding, developing, java scripting, oh, and chocolate delivering. This list will grow!
Have a look at: for the weekend's aim's-Nation-challenge for our hackpad with more details.

Horticultural experts and agronomy scientists, we will need your help very soon to provide us with some of your pearls of wisdom.

Email us to join the Skype conversation

Grower's Nation - Our back story.

The Grower's Nation project started back in April 2012 as part of the International Space Apps Challenge. The idea is to get more people growing fruit and vegetables by making decisions about planting easier. The app will work by using location, climate and horticultural data to provide people with information about growing possibilities on unused land. There will be a simple web and mobile based interface to make all the open source data much more user friendly.

At Space Apps, the Grower's Nation team worked closely with our sister project the Pineapple Project. The collaboration consisted of teams and individuals from Exeter (UK), San Francisco, New York City, Chile, Nairobi and the Dominican Republic and is reported to be the largest international collaboration at a hackathon ever. At the end of the weekend, lots of data had been crunched, a user interface had been created and our team went off to continue working on the project in their spare time. We were also awarded the Galactic Impact Award at the end of the global judging.

Since then the Met Office have generously supported our project. We have data sources for the UK which our team of scientists are working hard with to get them to all tie together for the app. To learn more about the Grower's Nation project and how to get involved go to

Grower's Nation Education is a project which has grown from the idea, getting school children interested in growing too. Two schools are currently working on gardening projects and the lesson plans and blogs will soon be available online, for free, for other teachers to use. We hope to link schools around the world through the joint experiences of growing, cooking and eating their own vegetables. The children will also have the chance to contribute to the wiki pages of localised growing tips by interviewing local gardeners.

This weekend, we are going to be working towards creating a global agronomy data map using open source data. More details can be found here:

Keep reading for more...

Hacking for Hunger Begins.

It's just after 2pm here in the UK and we've sat down to a Skype conversation with members of our sister challenge the Pineapple Project. The main topic of conversation appears to be coffee - seeing as it's 6am for most of them, I can fully understand why!

The Grower's Nation team today has 3 members who are awake: Selena, Greg and myself. (Hopefully we'll get a few more as the day goes on.) Still, as the other two have some knowledge of IT, I can happily use my skills to blog about what they're up to...

Our first big decision has just been reached: we're going to use Google maps as the base for the agronomy data map.