Saturday, July 25, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: July 25, 2015

For your edification and entertainment on July 25, 2015, a few recent online items relevant to civic hacking are presented herein. Click on the item headlines to read any whose excerpt is of particular interest to you…

How we changed the way the U.S. government commercializes science
“The [National Science Foundation] I-Corps had a serendipitous start...There was a unique opportunity in 2011 when the new director of National Science Foundation said, ‘We want to do something new and different [in helping scientists commercialize their technology]...We had to do something were publishing your notes to the Lean LaunchPad course...There was a blog post that you wrote … describing the first class at Stanford. I read it and I ran thing down the hall and said to my colleagues, ‘You’ve got to go read this.’ There was one element of the blog post where you described how you were teaching entrepreneurship like we were teaching art. You were going to give them deep lessons of theory and then you were going to dump them in the deep end, so to speak [and give them experiential practice.] That paragraph really resonated with a bunch of us at NSF...The Lean LaunchPad class.. was an experiment that no one had ever run before...And the blog you were reading, [was created because] I thought that the class was so crazy and different I … wanted to share what I was doing [with other educators]...everybody who knew me said, ‘Steve these are the most boring blogs you’ll ever write. No one cares about a new class, and no one’s going to ever read them.’ 
NE Wisconsin Cybersecurity Proposal
The good news is that for any of you who ever wanted to publish something Errol is a great example of what happens if there is only one person who reads what you write. Something magical could happen...”
In my blog post “Cybersecurity & CH # 3: The Right Person / Topics Of Interest” I said that we need to connect with the ‘Right Influential Person’ in order for the NE Wisconsin collaborative cybersecurity proposal to happen. The above item about the National Science Foundation I-Corps illustrates how powerful the ‘Right Influential Person’ can be. Steve Blank was writing blog posts that his friends told him no one would read. The right person in the National Science Foundation read one of Steve’s blog posts and thought the post had a really cool idea. That right person set things in motion, launching a brand new program that had $5 million for grants in 2012, then $12.5 million for grants in 2013. All it takes to get things rolling is that ‘Right Influential Person.’

Improved open data nets Transit App service for three cities
Three more cities now have real-time public transportation information available to their commuters, without having to develop or maintain the mobile apps themselves. All it took was improved open data, and some serious collaboration with some civic-minded coders. 
All three cities -- Chattanooga, Tenn., Baltimore, and Cleveland  --  are now served by Transit App, which uses open public transportation data to display all local transport options and departure times instantly in 99 cities worldwide. Users can view bus schedules and arrivals, metro rail maps and departures, request service from Uber, plan a bicycle trip with viewable bike paths and more... 
Through a partnership with the Code for America team and the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, digital transit schedules were made available to third-party developers on GitHub...Shortly after, Chattanooga had a Transit App with schedules, trip planning, information on the bike-sharing program and real-time transit data...this citywide citizen service was all done at no cost to Chattanooga government, and without any proposal requests...”
One of the civic hack categories that’s been talked about for NE Wisconsin is transportation. The above article shows us what’s been done recently in other areas. The interesting part about Transit App is that “three more cities now have real-time public transportation information available to their commuters, without having to develop or maintain the mobile apps themselves...this citywide citizen service was all done at no cost to Chattanooga government…”

Silicon Valley's 'Hack My Ride' Challenge Seeks Next-Gen Transit Tools
Touting apps, cash and iBeacons, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is holding its second annual Hack My Ride hackathon to re-envision the transit experience for cities across the Silicon Valley. The three-month challenge — sponsored by the Knight Foundation, Microsoft and Code for San Jose — began at San Jose, Calif.’s  Tech Museum of Innovation during a National Day of Civic Hacking hackathon on June 6 and will continue until Sept. 17, when app submissions will be judged for $30,000 in prizes...“Think beacons, wearables, mashing up VTA data with other non-transit data, games, virtual reality, brilliant data visualizations and astounding first-ever user experiences...”
This article is included in today’s post because it fits with the transportation theme of the preceding item, plus it highlights an extended civic hack challenge, similar to the AT&T civic apps event featured in my post “Civic Hacking In The News: June 20, 2015.” It will be fantastic to run a two or three month civic hack challenge in NE Wisconsin -- so anyone who wants to help organize that should contact me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

OpenAddresses: 130 Million Addresses, Building Momentum
There’s been incredible momentum recently on the OpenAddresses project. As of now, we have opened more than 130 million addresses in nearly a dozen countries, 10 million more since our last update. Those addresses have come from 650 datasets, with a total of 70 people contributing to the project...“Almost everything that consumers do with maps these days has to do with places of interest: Foursquare check ins, Instagramming, turn-by-turn directions. [But] without connecting the places as we know them to actual map coordinates a computer can understand, we don’t have many useful mapping applications…[and] there’s still no good worldwide, open resource for address geocoding that app developers and mappers can use with no strings attached.” 
Instead of a small number of large companies developing their own datasets in silos, OpenAddresses intends to create a resource that companies and governments of all shapes and sizes can use...”
This OpenAddresses post is included today because (1) this project has huge potential for enabling geo-related civic hacks or businesses, and (2) because it seems to indicate there’s an active civic hacker (or at least a GIS person who likes open source) in NE Wisconsin / Calumet County with whom I have not yet connected. If you look at the OpenAddresses map, Calumet County has quite a few addresses geocoded.

Open source and open data's role in modern meteorology
For years, meteorology students learned their craft at the tip of a colored pencil, laboriously contouring observed data by hand. While many forecasters still practice this art, computers have changed operations, research, and education. Open source software and open data are poised to bring more changes to the field. 
...Meteorology has a culture of sharing by its very nature—after all, what good is a forecast if you don't share it? The National Weather Service data is publicly available...And while much of the software in use by educational institutions is open source, until recently there was little interoperability... 
OpenSkiron Sailing Weather Map
But a shift is underway in the community. By using a variety of open source projects, meteorologists can use "one tool to read the data, then do any calculating they want," Professor Mike Baldwin explains. Baldwin is an associate professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University...Instead of monolithic and domain-specific tools, students are learning to use and develop software written with broadly-used scientific libraries. Python has become the dominant language, thanks in no small part to libraries like SciPy, NumPy, and matplotlib. Students can use these tools to do exactly the sort of data analysis they want while having assignments that are more relevant to their studies and interests than general computer science coursework. In addition, using multi-domain tools and data formats allows for easier collaboration with other disciplines...”
This meteorology post is included because it reminded me of a discussion with a sailor at the July 22 civic hacking meetup in Appleton. He explained that to find out what kind of weather he will likely have when he goes sailing, he needs to check five or six services. It would be fun to organize a weather civic hackathon focused on meteorology open data tools mentioned in the article and invite Ben Cotton (author of the above post), Mike Baldwin (Purdue University faculty mentioned in the post) and other meteorology people they know. At the hackathon, we could start the development of a civic hack that would improve the lives of sailors around the country, maybe leveraging or localizing OpenSkiron.

Podcast: Explaining the Art of Data
Data is everywhere—nearly anything can be represented by a number. In its simple form, data tells a story backed by numerical truth. But data is rarely simple or pure—and we have access to more data than any time in history. So how can we make sense of this never-ending wave? And how can we better understand data and use it solve real-world problems? In this Slice of MIT podcast...five MIT alumni discuss how their work and research are tackling these questions in innovative ways. You’ll hear how five-star ratings online are driven by social identity; how designers are mapping data to improve major U.S. cities; how data can affect privacy and though stagnation; and how a Jeopardy!-winning computer is discover new recipes like Italian-Pumpkin Cheesecake.”
This is a worthwhile podcast if you’re a big-data person or are a civic hacker who wants to hear what MIT alum Matt Stempeck, Director of Civic Technology at Microsoft, has to say about ‘the art of data’ and reliability of online big data. I reached out to a member of the MIT Club of Wisconsin to invite MIT alums to participate in NE Wisconsin civic hacking because they’re pretty much the smartest and most fun geeks I’ve ever met (and true ‘hacking’ originated at MIT...). Click on the graphic below to listen to this MIT podcast.

MIT Podcast:  The Art of Data


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