Monday, October 19, 2015

Day After Report -- Oct 17 Civic Hacking Meetup

This is the ‘Day After Report,’ even though it’s being published on the second day after the recent NE Wisconsin civic hacking event at the Appleton Makerspace...

Good progress was made on the recycling / trash and municipal API projects at the October 17, 2015, Saturday civic hacking meetup. It was a small group, with six people participating between the start and finish of our meetup. Mike P opened up the makerspace before 9 AM and got signs up and the space ready for hacking. Most of the civic hackers arrived by 10 AM, a couple left at various points during the day. The all-day diehards decided they reached a good stopping point around 6 PM. If we’d been in the middle of working on an interesting problem when supper time rolled around, we probably would have gotten our traditional delicious spinach deep dish pizza, but I guess that will be saved for next time.

Shane Grey was the only participant who hadn’t previously been at a civic hacking event. He’s a highly knowledgeable coder and general hacker, and he understands the general concept of civic hacking. So onboarding him consisted primarily of giving him an overview of civic hacks he might want to consider working on. We explained to Shane the recycle-trash civic hacks the group has worked on, the crime data scraping Zach Gohr did, the GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) work Mark Nickel is doing, and some other general civic hack topics. We also discussed Citygram and similar apps that can be done either with support of your city government or as a grassroots citizen project without needing official city involvement or endorsement.

Civic Hacking Activity on October 17th

Mike Rosack led the work related to his Civic Hack API Locator (the GitHub DHMN repository for the Locator is here). He, Mike Putnam and Chris Jaure had lots of discussion about the best way to develop the municipal APIs, the API locator and the apps using the municipal APIs. Having those in-person discussions is one of the benefits of the civic hacking meetups. ‘Discussions’ occur on Slack, in IRC and through other communication channels, but there are still real world benefits from having coders in the same physical room when designing or refactoring their code that has to play
well with others. Mike R wrote this summary for his October 17 work:
I worked with Mike [P] on getting the Civic Hack locator integrated into the recycling week android app, and with Chris [J] on getting the locator integrated into the web version.  Things are looking really good, and hopefully we'll have the locator integrated into all 3 frontends (Android/Pebble/web) soon, which means we just need to keep finding more people to write APIs to provide data for more cities!
If you’re willing to poke around at the Civic Hack API Locator, Mike is interested in getting lots of feedback on it. He said, “I want to get the documentation to a point where it definitely makes sense to a technical user, and almost sorta makes sense to a non technical user. I don't think i'm close yet.” If you want to give Mike your feedback, post it in the #dhmncivichacks channel on the NE Wisc Slack team (click here to join that Slack team if you’re not a member of it yet).

Mike Putnam, the Patient Zero of NE Wisconsin civic hacking, seemed to enjoy learning new ways to look at and code his “Is it recycling week?” Android app, a la IIRW (the GitHub DHMN repository for the app is here). This is Mike P’s October 17 civic hacking meetup overview:
I worked with Mike R. on porting the "Is it recycling week?" Android app over to use the newer API Locator. This will allow the Android app to function in *ANY* municipality that joins in the fun and adheres to the API locator protocol. New additions being worked on include Greenville and Outagamie county. Chris Jaure did similar work (but his is actually done) on the "Is it recycling week?" Web app.
Chris Jaure continued developing his Is It Recycling? web app (the GitHub DHMN repository for the web app is here) and improving the interoperability for Outagamie County data with the municipal API locator. Chris also committed my first pull request for the Hacktoberfest promo -- Thanks, Chris! His report of the October 17 event is as follows:
In addition to upgrading the web app to use the api locator as Mike [P] mentioned, I also worked with Mike R on setting up the Outagamie County api server and adding it to the api locator. Next step for me is to get all the zip codes supported by the Outagamie County data I have and register it under those. Right now it's just registered under 54130.”
Mark Nickel spent some time on GTFS to better understand what can be done with the GTFS data set provided by the city of Appleton for the Valley Transit buses and with GTFS in general.

I did research on other recycle and trash pickup apps and civic hacks to list in a civic hacks directory. The recycle-trash civic hack ecosystem is my first focus for the directory I’ve written about in previous posts. In addition, I did a couple minor updates to the GitHub registry of NE Wisconsin civic hacks.

Several of the civic hackers decided to participate in Digital Ocean’s Hacktoberfest t-shirt promo. All you have to do is register for the promo, then open four pull requests on any GitHub-hosted open source project(s) of your choice by October 31st. I did two pull requests and plan to work on the other two this week. One of the civic hackers registered and did his first of four pull requests at the start of the event. He then proceeded to make a bunch of code changes during the day for which he could have submitted the remaining three requests -- but because he could commit the changes, he kept forgetting to submit the pull requests needed to fulfill the Hacktoberfest requirement. So if you want the Hacktoberfest shirt, you might consider submitting your pull requests to repositories for which you can’t commit the code!

Next Steps & Continual Improvement
  1. Identify high priority work for recycle / trash pickup civic hacks ecosystem. Known items are:
    1. Mike P has changes he want to do on Android IIRW.
    2. We need more Android phone owners to install IIRW, use it, and give feedback to Mike P for app improvements.
    3. NE Wisconsin recycle-trash civic hacks need to find an iOS developer who will do an iOS IIRW (residents of Appleton have said they'd use IIRW if there was an app for their iPhone).
    4. “Is it recycling week?” is designed as a single-purpose, very low maintenance app, so it’s worth forking IIRW or creating a second recycle-trash app with additional features like Olathe Trash Day and other ReCollect Systems recycle-trash apps.
    5. Consider getting recycle-trash pickup companies involved to discuss GPS and knowing when the pickup truck is in your neighborhood.
  2. Identify remaining work for municipal APIs.
    1. The AppletonAPI , Greenville API and Outagamie API need to be joined by APIs for other cities and counties in NE Wisconsin for maximum impact and benefit.
    2. Feedback is needed from new people, technical and non-tech, regarding the Civic Hack API Locator, so Mike R can fix bugs not obvious to him and improve the UX. Providing feedback on the Locator can be a good first 'civic hacking' activity for future first-time participants in NE Wisconsin civic hacking events.
    3. NE Wisconsin needs to reach out to other civic hackers, like those involved with Code for America or companies like Accela, to figure out how to best improve the impact of NE Wisconsin municipal APIs and the API locator. The Open Civic Data project’s US Municipal Scrapers on GitHub and a City API Discoverability ‘post’ on GitHub both point to the value of connecting with other people working on the usefulness and discoverability for municipal APIs. 
  3. Mike and Mike both felt that a good Next Step is to identify one or a couple interesting new civic hack topics to start working on at upcoming civic hacking events. There are many features or complementary apps that can be developed in the recycle-trash ecosystem, but these guys are both at a point where they’d like to work on something that’s not garbage. There’s a whole cornucopia of civic hack opportunities out there, as mentioned in “Seed Projects For Civic Hackathons,” “DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015: Top 10 Hacks,” and other posts on this blog. Maybe they’ll come up with a
    completely new hack topic which I hadn’t previously mentioned. They, and maybe a few other civic hackers, just have to have a conversation about which hacks are feasible in NE Wisconsin and are also interesting to them. Maybe the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking meetup will lean more heavily toward the yakking side of ‘yakking and hacking.’ We’ll get some Moon Man and Great White beer, some Mountain Dew and Coke, and whatever other beverages and healthy snacks are enjoyed by the people who participate in the meetup. Then we’ll bounce ideas around to see if we can identify one or two civic hacks to put some serious brainpower and time into.

Hope to see you at the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking event!


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