Arab Techies Code Sprint 2009: Day 1

After 2 months of ongoing planning, communications and discussions, the Arab Techies Code Sprint has finally started on May 20th.

Although a couple of participants were not able to join us due to some personal emergencies, we cant complain! In the end we got more participants than the original 10 we planned for, and we will hopefully get a couple more guests to visit us over the weekend.

The first day started smoothly and on time. We arrived 15 minutes early to the Swiss Club where the sprint is held. Arab Techies has rented this lovely space which provided us with multiple comfortable areas for the group breakouts and a lovely garden to enjoy a bit of sun and fresh air in the breaks.

I opened the day by giving some background on how Arab Techies has started and the idea to bring together a varied group of techies who vigorously utilize their IT skills to support their communities on the route of development and social
change, to share experiences and knowledge, learn from each other and collaborate on solving common problems. I gave a brief summary of what happened in the first gathering that took place in Cairo, December 2008 and what we achieved since then.

Alaa took over the floor and started with a go round of introductions of the participants and their expectations of the event. The most common were: to produce solid outcomes/solutions, to create mini groups that will continue to collaborate remotely and to have fun :)

Alaa then asked each one to write four things on different pieces of paper:
  • Motivation for coming,
  • Programming language they will use,
  • Open Source project they will contribute to, and
  • the Task they want to work on.


Almost half the participants were motivated to come because of their work, a third said because it was there hobby and the rest was knowledge about the issues, politics and that it was their mission.


For the programming languages, we had a very big cluster of PHP (9), then Python (4), C (3), JavaScript (3), Ruby (2), Opentype (1), Lua/Tex (1). But for the Open Source projects we only had one cluster for Drupal (5).


The tasks were many, and related tasks were grouped under more generic issues and mixed with other tasks in the task list created in planning the event. The participants voted on which issues they wanted to work on:
  • Normalization
  • Stemming
  • Proper Nouns
  • Yamli
  • Wikipedia as a glossary
  • Spellchecking
  • RTL documentation
  • Bidi Latex
  • OCR
  • Social translation
  • Integration with Ar-PHP
  • Fonts
  • Content clustering
  • Language detection
  • RTL in general

After choosing the most voted on task: Integration with Ar-PHP, we choose another two tasks according to the preference of the rest of the participants not working on Ar-PHP. The teams where:

Integration with Ar-PHP:
Ar-PHP is a set of PHP classes developed to enhance Arabic web applications by providing set of tools includes stem-based searching, transliterate, soundex, Hijri calendar, charset detection & converter, spell numbers, keyboard language and Muslim prayer time. The team will work in integrating the library with existing Open Source applications such as Wordpress and Drupal.
  • Khaled Al Shamaa
  • Waleed El Saqaf
  • Abdel Rahman Ghareeb (BooDy)
  • Mohammed Said Hijouij
Search Normalization:

Involves removing 'Hamza',removing diacritics from letters, removing stopwords, stemming, etc..

  • Alaa Abd ElFattah
  • Mansour Aziz
  • Riham elDakkak
  • Djihed Afifi
  • Taha Zeroukki
  • Khaled Hosny
Yamli allows users to type Arabic without an Arabic keyboard, from within their web browser. This technology is based on a real-time transliteration engine which converts words typed with Latin characters to their closest Arabic equivalent. The idea is to write a FireFox extension and a bookmarklet to allow the users to enable this functionality on any textarea.
  • Slim Amamou
  • Waheed Barghouti
  • Amr Mostafa

After the coffee break, each team went for some initial discussions then they started distributing tasks sometimes working in pairs.

At 2:00 we had our lunch in the club sunny garden which was a great change of scenery from Vi and Emacs :)

The techies were eager to get back to coding and returned directly after emptying their plates for a round of report backs on each team progress, then carried on working in the same teams.

We were supposed to have a soft ending at 6:00 but it was too soft and the techies lingered in front of their laptops till a few minutes before seven when they were threatened to be deprived from dinner, only then they reluctantly agreed to leave.

We had a lovely dinner by the Nile, where other techies who were not part of the Code Sprint were able to join us and it was a great chance for the Code Sprint participants to meet with Sami Ben Gharbia of
Global Voices Advocacy and Arab Techies co-founder, and Evgeny Morzov of PolyMeme who happend to be in Egypt at the same time.