Last weekend at the ThoughtWorks US Away Day we were joined by Merrick Schaefer from UNICEF Innovation and a couple developers who've worked extensively with RapidSMS. RapidSMS is an open source project providing a set of libraries and apps for interacting with phones. It's been used for a variety of purposes, mostly in Africa, where cell phone coverage is far better than electricity or land-line availability. One deployment they talked through in detail allows (relatively) untrained medical workers to use SMS messages to sumbit a few measurements to assess childhood malnutrition. In addition to recording the information to keep accurate and instantly available statistics, the system performs an immediate diagnosis and texts it back to the worker in the field.
Jeff Wishnie organized a RapidSMS code jam for those not in the mood to attend sessions, and Brian Guthrie and I spent most of Saturday pairing on a simple feature addition to one of the support applications. It was the first time either of us had touched Python for more than a few minutes, and the first time we'd touched Django at all, so it was an interesting learning experience. It was also extremely rewarding knowing that we were contributing to such a good cause.
If you sometimes find yourself in the mood for some coding but don't always have a personal project burning to get out, I'd highly encourage you to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with RapidSMS and maybe find something in their issue tracker you could tackle. I promise you'll feel great about it.