Africa on Rails

Mike McKay, Lead Software Developer, Baobab Health Partnership

Date: Wednesday 19 September 2007
Time: 14:00 - 14:45
Location: Saal Maritim B

In Malawi most people have never even seen a computer, the power is very unreliable, and computers that do get deployed rarely last over a year. Despite these challenges, over the past five years the Baobab Health Partnership has developed a reliable and easy-to-use system that is solving health problems, and is now hoping to solve the biggest one that the country is facing: fighting HIV.

The hardware is repurposed internet appliances that have been modified to include touchscreen controllers, and run via power over ethernet. The hardware runs a 16MB custom Linux that provides little more than a web browser. The server is using Rails to generate a full-screen touchscreen application delivered to the internet appliances that is used for real-time patient management. After an overview of the system, the talk will focus on specific rails challenges faced and overcome, including:

  • Legacy databases (composite keys, non-autoincrementing tables)
  • Building a touchscreen UI with Rails and Ajax
  • Real-time monitoring of client-side uptime

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