Thursday, June 18, 2015

10 Steve Jobs Secrets For A World-Class Civic Hackathon

[tl;dr -- ten great ideas Steve Jobs would have stolen from 2015 civic hackathons]

Ideas Steve Jobs stole from Xerox PARC?
Good civic hackers copy. Great civic hackers steal.

You say, “Whoa...stop giving civic hacking a bad name!” Some people already think civic hackers should be incarcerated...

No, we're not stealing money. We're not stealing personal identities or private information. We're not stealing intellectual property, corporate secrets or confidential government information.

For the theme of today's post, this civic hacker is ‘stealing’ from Apple’s ex-CEO, Steve Jobs, and the poet T. S. Elliot. It's ok, because I obtained a Reasonable Reuse Literary License to remix and recycle their words. The Quote Investigator says:
The multi-part PBS television program “Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires” premiered in 1996. During the program Steve Jobs again mentioned the saying that he attributed to Pablo Picasso…”Picasso had a saying he said good artists copy great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
I don’t know if Picasso actually said that, but T. S. Elliot said:
One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn…”
The point of this introduction is that civic hackers learn from each other, and the open ideas and open source code developed in one city are often ‘stolen’ and made into something better in a different city.

In my earlier post, “Bolder, Brighter, Better: The Next NE Wisc Civic Hackathon,” I listed a number of areas in which the next civic hackathon held in our region can become better, based on my experience with our June 6 hackathon this year. Below are ten ideas Steve Jobs might have recommended stealing from what other civic hackers did around the country on National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) 2015. If we steal any of these ideas, we owe it to ourselves and to the source hackers to make them into something uniquely better than what we stole.

#1  Mentors For Civic Hacking Tech Basics
Dean Ellen Suni and professors Michael Robak, Jim DeLisle and Tony Luppino have shown an impressively innovative mindset in teaching their students how to use techie tools like Github and Balsamiq and to harness open data sets to create apps for industries like law, government and real estate. They also showed fortitude in spades, hunkering down with the students for large portions of the 16-hour hack.”
Steal this way:  Recruit at least one faculty member from five or more of the nine NE Wisconsin colleges to lead a Civic Hacking Tech Basics session at the next hackathon. Christian Long did some sharing of Python tips, techniques and tricks at the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015. Ross Larson, Mike Putnam and others provided introductions to GitHub and Slack to those unfamiliar with the services. Let’s learn from what Kansas City did and improve it with a NE Wisconsin twist. By helping hackathon participants learn new tech skills, more and better civic hacks will be created.

#2  Civic Hacking Cross-Pollination
Code for Hillsborough participants got a firsthand look at some real community needs and issues, and local government met a hundred area technologists, programmers and developers ready, willing and eager to share their skills and abilities for the good of all.”
Great civic hackers enhance a theft thusly:  Two months ahead of the hackathon, run a campaign to identify top 10 community needs, issues and problems. For each of the ten needs, recruit a city / county person and a non-city / county person involved in the problem and knowledgeable about it, and have them explain the need / issue / problem at the start of the hackathon. In addition, recruit at least 20 city and county employees who might benefit from or contribute to civic hacks to participate in the hackathon during a short cross-pollination session. For 30 to 60 minutes in the early part of the hackathon, have small group sessions where those city / county employees meet the other hackathon participants and discuss citizen and government viewpoints and ideas related to civic hacking.

#3  With A Little Help From My Friends
Crucial to the weekend’s success was pulling together teams in the months leading up to the event. KC Digital Drive worked with Code for KC Captain Paul Barham to recruit and meet with team leaders representing community organizations who could use some hacking help.”
NE Wisconsin pirates purloin plenty:  Captain Paul Barham will likely be glad to assist us in being most effective at working with community organizations. If he spent months on this subject, we can learn much from him. We should also contact two or three other Code for America brigades who have worked effectively with community organizations to build civic hacks useful to them. To top off this purloining, part of our team working on this should spend their time documenting the interaction between hackers and the community organizations so others can easily learn from our experience. Just remember, 'the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules'...

#4  Recruit Catalytic Civic Hackers
Hack Michiana...drew the attention of one the U.S.'s top tech experts. His visit was finalized last minute, but D.J. Patil, chief data scientist at the White House in the Office of Science and Technology, made Hack Michiana his first stop among a few others scheduled in Chicago. South Bend's...Santiago Graces, the city’s chief innovation officer said...Although Michiana may not be the first place thought of when thinking of tech-cultured cities...South Bend is doing things not seen in cities the same size. The innovations in South Bend and the surrounding area are catching up to cities such as Chicago, Boston and even San Francisco..."We are smaller, but remarkable in our desire to become a better city," Graces said. "There are bigger things happening in South Bend than people realize." It's those "bigger things" being pursued that caught the attention of Patil.”
Learn how to lift from the legends:  If you want to learn a new skill or improve an existing skill, you don’t learn from someone at the same level as you, or slightly better. You learn from an expert, from a ninja coder, from a guru. We want to become better hackers. Ergo, we will recruit as teachers, mentors and event participants other civic hackers who are highly skilled and very knowledgeable. Over the next few months we’ll research who those ninjas are, we’ll identify projects and situations deserving of their time and interest, and we’ll reach out to them. If we get guidance from four or five domain leaders, they’ll be the catalyst for a laudable leap to the next level of civic hacking in our region.

[Note:  A necessary step before getting catalytic civic hackers involved with a regional civic hacking community is to first connect those regional civic hackers. Connecting the regional community first does two things. One, it makes sure there are students to learn from the masters. Two, a connected community is much more likely to initiate projects worthy of the ninja civic hackers' involvement than would an unconnected community.]

#5  Where To Go (WTG, a.k.a. What’s Happening & Where To Go Around Here)
Trying to combat the sentiment that there aren't enough things to do in Wichita, this project aims to provide one unified place to see a tagged list of events from venues all around the city.” 
Orlando Events: A web tool that would scrape both local websites (City of Orlando, Amway Center) and nationwide platforms (Ticketmaster, Eventbrite) to gather data on all events taken place with the goal to make it accessible in a single API.” 
2015 Code for Hillsborough’s top award winner was the Multi-cultural Visitor's Guide team. Developed a multicultural visitor guide from basically a jpeg image and a brochure.” 
WikiKC is available to the public for updates as well as a source of information.  A central location for Kansas Citians to tell about the great lunch they enjoyed in Brookside, or tell how exciting the Kansas City Kite Festival will be this year (don’t forget your chairs!).” 
"A second honorable mention went to Eventy...The iPhone app locates community events near the user, informing them where and when the events are and can even assist with directions. The app scans the web to find hyper-local events and makes them easily viewable to attract more visitors for events happening at nearby community centers, businesses, museums, and more, and lists them in one convenient location for the user to find a variety of event opportunities in the Tech Valley."
Masterful civic hacker heist:  This opportunity doesn’t just build on a hack that one community rolled out. It builds on five hacks (and maybe more…) that multiple communities worked on. At the June 6 civic hackathon in Appleton, Kim, Karen, David and other participants discussed the need for a better way to find out what’s happening in NE Wisconsin communities. A highly-interested coder or project leader might consider taking responsibility for WTG, then lead a pre-hackathon design session with other people interested in the project. Depending on who works on WTG, this could be either open source or a for-profit proprietary product. Even if the source code for WTG is open, it can still be packaged and sold in the Google and Apple app stores as long as the terms of the open source code license are adhered to.

#6  Many Civic Hackers Make Light Work

This week, volunteers worked to build these cubes full of LED lights... 52,000 of them! They are heading to the front windows of ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. Each light can be programmed individually, which means educators can use them to visualize scientific concepts that might be hard to understand. "What we're going to be doing over the summer is bringing lake science data around blue green algae, or waves and weather, that kind of thing and building really interesting narratives to help tell those stories in a way that are really easy to relate to and entertaining," says project manager Rachel Hooper. They started working on this project in March. It's funded by a Google Grant. They want input from artists, educators, programmers on how to best convey those big-data pictures.”
Click here to watch a news video about the ECHO LED project.

The video in this news article shows the LED cubes.

Check out the Burlington GitHub repository for their 8x8 LED cube water temperature visualization project source code.

Here are 3D LED display videos if you want to understand some of what the Burlington team might create (their project is in the early stage):

8x8x8 RGB LED Cube Demo (2:06)
Trilobyte Projects 8x8x8 LED Cube Demo (3:21)
3D RGB LED Curtain (1:19)
3D LED Curtain Display Screen (3:39) 
32x32x32 LED Cube (4:25)

A sweet second-story sting:  This Vermont water ecosystem LED visualization to inspire people to take action on improving the local environment is my favorite civic hack story from NDoCH 2015. I love microcontrollers and LEDs. It will be challenging to come up with ways to make our open data LED visualization hack better than the one Burlington is doing with Google’s sponsorship. But we can certainly make it different, customize it for NE Wisconsin open data, and figure out a couple unique features, capabilities or applications for our open data LED project. Maybe there’s a logical connection with the Light Up The Fox project.

#7  Transportation Tricks
Road Closure Web Form:  The web tool will allow Orlando city employees to enter road closure information and convert it into an open data source in order to allow multiple platforms to utilize the open data source and allow information to citizens.”
Politely pinch and pilfer:  With all the road construction happening in Green Bay, Appleton, Neenah and pretty much every other city in our region, it would be nice to have a mobile app that helps us avoid, get around or at least be aware of road closures or major traffic issues. The full-blown polished-UX (user experience) app is unlikely to spring smooth and shiny from the next NE Wisconsin civic hackathon, but we could get a good start on this project if there’s interest in it. We’ll improve on the Orlando hackers by forming a regional transportation civic hacking sub-group for people who want to work on GIS data for buses, real-time GPS location for public transit, road closures and delays, etc. We’ll start now to get involvement of city, county and state road and highway crews and departments. And we’ll start a publicity and marketing campaign to recruit more coders and roaders to this group of transportation civic hackers.

#8  Community And Regional Economic Development
Parcel Assessment Tool – A GIS-based zoning app that gives a potential builder data regarding a specific parcel of land, such as current land use, zoning rules, the size, what options may be available for that piece of land, all the way down to the required square footage and parking with that project. This project will benefit individuals and organizations interested in property management and development.”
Snidely Whiplash land baron caper:  One way to improve your community is to help boost the local or regional economy. And I don’t mean ‘boost’ as in what a pickpocket does. The Kansas City Koders created a tool to help builders and developers in their area quickly find information they need for specific land parcels. I don’t know diddly about land development, so I can’t explain how to improve on what KC hackers did, but we can get Jon Bartz, Karen Harkness and other economic development people who are knowledgeable about this topic to help design an improved version of the Parcel Assessment Tool (PAT). Or they can suggest a different hack which the PAT inspires or complements.

#9  Hackers Steal Magnolias -- Trees, Trees And More Trees
The NYC Department of Parks & Recreation used open data to deploy a swarm of green-vest clad volunteers, each with a map of their assigned city block. Over 2,700 people covered 2,649 blocks and counted 14,693 trees. Thought those numbers are impressive, the job is only 2.1 percent complete. Tree huggers, learn more about NYC’s TreesCount! 2015 and how you can help count the urban forest.” 
Storefront Street Tree Initiative – A public facing page was created with an app behind it on MEAN stack. The goal is to help those who want to add trees to city streets.  Southwest Blvd has been the pilot. The first pain point was a lack of trust; user experience and functionality has been delayed as surprising complex issues were discovered.” 
Louisville Tree Canopy assessment mapping across the county -- The city of Louisville’s Sustainability Office commissioned a tree canopy study from Davey Resource Group and created a detailed report of the results. Louisville needs more trees to combat its urban heat island problem, which shows our city having the fastest growing problem in the nation. The city took that study’s information and created a tree canopy online map, but the CDA wanted to look at the data in a different way, showing it more granularly (by property parcel at higher zoom levels), adding interactivity, and also merging property taxes.”
A daring dendrology dodge:  Appleton is, or was at one time, a Tree City USA. So it seems fitting that civic hackers work to reinforce or regain that badge of pride for Appleton, or at least figure out a project to enhance the tree-ability of cities in NE Wisconsin. This is another project where I don’t have specific recommendations on how to enhance the work done in other cities, but if we get a project lead for this, we might (1) start out with a NYC-style TreesCount, (2) maybe incorporate appropriate features of the Urban Forest Map talked about in “Part 2 Citizen Science + Civic Hacking: Fifteen Projects” and the Minneapolis Adopt-A-Tree hack mentioned in “Adopt-A-Hydrant: Civic Hack For Appleton,” (3) recruit team members from the Public Works Department or whoever handles tree issues in the city which the project focuses on first, and (4) get support from the Arbor Day Foundation. When I lived in northern California last year, I regularly worked on a trail crew in a redwood community forest. NE Wisconsin civic hackers might want to start a similar Volunteer Trails Stewards program. Maybe we can even get support from the Humboldt State University 'Marching Lumberhacks' for a Steal Magnolias project.

#10  I Was Hungry, You Fed Me
"The grand prize of $10,000 went to Food Pantry Helper, created by Russell Kirkwood of Stillwater. This mobile web app assists non-for-profit food pantries in managing their operations more efficiently and cost effectively to better serve the community’s most needy. It includes services such as client, inventory, grant, volunteer and donor tracking. In addition, the app reduces the need for paper, provides real-time data and reporting to management and compliance oversight entities, and provides an overall structure for a food pantry operation."
Snitch this idea to prevent Jean Valjean's dilemma:  There are many food pantries and food programs for those who need a helping hand in NE Wisconsin. Each pantry and program has its own system for providing the best service possible, although funding or tech skill limitations may mean those systems are antiquated, clunky or challenging to use, or they may provide less-than-optimum service. If our area's civic hackers develop a food assistance open source project, that doesn't mean every pantry and food program in the region would have to use it. It would just mean they'd have a free standardized-but-customizable option to consider, with some amount of local tech talent to help them learn the system. This is another one of those perfect-for-civic-hacking opportunities.


Stealing even one of the above ten ideas from other civic hackers and welding it into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from the civic hack from which it was torn, would make for a most excellent civic hacking event.

Let me know if you find even better ideas to appropriate for the next NE Wisconsin civic hackathon.

...wait a minute, there is just one more thing...


That 'one more thing' is these honorable mentions that didn’t make it into the Steve Jobs Top 10:

CityGram Orlando (formerly Simplicty) :  CityGram Orlando will be an open source app that allows citizens to gain instant access to relevant information in and around their neighborhood by inputting a street address.  The initial data will include waste pickup, nearby landmarks and historic sites, and police dispatch data.  Citizens will have the option of receiving email or text notification when new information is made available.”

Some NE Wisconsin civic hacker(s) might want to use the AppletonAPI, or a similar API for other cities in our region, to build a hack better than CityGram Orlando.


While the weekend is geared more toward fostering collaboration rather than competition, Balani mentioned some fun prizes that might be awarded at the end of the event, such as being taken out for ice cream by Princeton's Mayor, Liz Lempert.”

One or several mayors in NE Wisconsin could collaborate on a fun prize at the end of the next civic hackathon, like the Princeton, NJ, mayor did.


Children will also participate in the day’s event to test whatever application the teams come up with.

If we can be sure we’ll have at least one app that Jolene or Joe Citizen can install on their smartphone and test, we absolutely should recruit people, including children, to test the civic hack app(s). If a usable app is ready before the hackathon, users should test the app at the beginning of the event to identify UX improvements and bugs to fix during the event. We will also line up area citizens to do app testing toward the end of the event, after improvements have been made and new apps have been built. It would be really cool to have a couple Android apps and a couple iOS apps for people to test, but even two people testing one app would be worthwhile user validation.


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