The massive cicada bloom that spread across the eastern seaboard this spring is winding down, but its end heralds another gradually emerging entity: citizen sensing. The Cicada Tracker—a community data-gathering initiative for documenting the noisy insects’ emergence from their burrows—was a rousing success, and it should encourage data innovators across the country to think about what a few motivated citizens and some commodity hardware can do for their communities.
FedTalks 2013: Highlights and Observations
The FedTalks 2013 conference, held June 12 in Washington, brought together a motley crew of government officials, tech company executives, military contractors and civic IT experts to discuss “how technology and people can change government and our communities.” The speakers, ranging from Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to famed impostor Frank Abagnale (more on him below) came from similarly broad backgrounds. Here is a quick rundown on some highlights and observations from the conference.
The atmosphere after a hackathon is usually one of relief and mutual congratulation, but the real work takes place in the weeks and months that follow. That’s when the programmers, designers, and subject matter experts refine their work, hopefully planting the seed for a new business or public service. In this article are four standout projects that emerged from the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH), which took place over the first two days of June in 95 locations around the United States. Besides celebrating their ingenuity, there are some lessons to be learned from each of them.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Hacker
The term “hacker” still brings to mind ”black hat” criminals for many people across the country, a fact that was apparent in news reports following the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDCH) last weekend. This points to a need for greater awareness of the important contributions civic-minded programmers are making. The NDCH in particular contributed to this cause in its efforts to host events in areas that don’t have access to the nation’s large tech communities. The events were open to the public, and gave non-technical people a chance to sit with software engineers and get a brief glimpse of what it really means to write code.
Book Review of “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think”
There have been a number of attempts to chronicle exactly what is “big data” and why anyone should care. The latest entrant is Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier which focuses heavily on explaining some of the more interesting impacts of living in a big data world. The first part of this book provides a fairly compelling vision of how big data is changing how we use data, but Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier are at their best when they later describe the economic consequences of big data, both in terms of how data is creating economic value and how data is disrupting many industries. While the authors also carve out a chapter to explore the “dark side” of big data, including privacy and misuse, they mostly avoid the overwrought handwringing that typically characterizes writing on this subject. And they recognize that much of the big data revolution does not involve personal data. Overall, the book is an enjoyable read if for nothing else than some of the great nuggets of big data trivia that show just how much data is changing.