During the covid-19 lockdown, the elderly is as isolated as one can be.

What it does

It lets people send letters to a stranger in a retirement home.

How we built it

We had already built the website prior to the hackathon.

We were interested in building a readproof (review) server, where reviewers can log into to accept/reject letters and where an admin can manage the reviewers/letters, view statistics and batch download automatically formatted letter pdfs batched by 100s.

We wrote the server using express and html/css. The database used is MongoDB. Not fancy ML stuff here sorry! The website was not built during the hackathon. We used WordPress and it is hosted on o2switch.

Challenges we ran into

Funnily enough, none of us had experience building web servers. One of us had experience building mobile backend and frontend, which as you might imagine is very different from building for the web.

We had to learn fast and we made a lot of mistakes, but the team got it done in the end. The backend is tested against tougher loads than we might encounter in production, and the frontend is way better than we could've imagined in the beginning.

Prior to the hackathon, the bottleneck of the operations of the nonprofit was coordinating a team a 15-20 (and growing) reviewers which approve letters. Having a website which let reviewers connect and approve letters without any coordination is a huge relief.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Working well as a team has been the biggest accomplishment. We could never have got it done if one of us went missing. A special mention to Téo Goddet who spent the whole saturday to sunday night helping us on the frontend while taking care of two other projects! A mention to Martins Eglitis as well for helping us figure out a bit of webdev and proposing his help.

What we learned

Pretty much everything we know about web development comes from this experience so far!

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posted an update

Quick update: since the system got deployed I did a lot of testing (and a lot of no-sleep, you'll see why) and figured out many bugs. Really shows how important testing is since not catching those errors would've meant hours of reviewer time lost!

In a nutshell, I had to re-engineer many parts of the system for the automated building and merging of PDFs. Instructions will be added shortly on the Github.

We expect the system to be used in production on short notice.

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posted an update

Got the whole system up and running on a Google Cloud Compute Engine instance and secured with ssl certificates, which was more involved than expected. We expect to test the system in production settings after I finally get some sleep. Will probably use it in production as the new system to review not long from now.

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posted an update

I am adding instructions on how to run the server (including all prerequisites) on a machine running Debian 9 (stretch). The steps are the same on any other OS (macOS, centOS, ...). I certainly don't expect anyone to follow them (except my future self) but you never know! :)

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