5 ideas for hackathon projects

I attend a lot of hackathons, considering either I’m organizing them or sponsoring them or covering them. Though I hope to slowly change that a bit, I’m no programmer.

Still, sitting around these events has led me to conceive of and, in some cases, suggest projects that never actually happen. Maybe they someday will. Here are some that have crossed my mind:

  1. What Neighborhood am I in? — For Philadelphia, GIS shop Azavea has a map layer for Philly neighborhoods (which are not formal political boundaries) though I’m not yet sure I completely agree with them :-). Still, that’d be a good start to a tool that could (and should) easily be brought to other cities. Give an address, intersection or your current location to find out what city neighborhood you’re in. (I’d love for this to perhaps also combine other map layers like political representative, city services including trash days, neighborhood groups and other information) **There could be a tab breaking down zip code or neighborhood-specific Census information like rental/homeownership, crime, etc. (Other ‘hood lists exist)
  2. Parking flow chart — I thought it might be cool to have a little yes/no web app that would help drivers to decide where they can park in given situations. The GPS tool could follow parking regulations and have yes/no functionality: “are you 25 feet from a fire hydrant,” “is a weekday,” or whatever.
  3. ‘Fuck You’ world map — Translations and pronunciations of ‘Fuck You’ (or, OK, perhaps a few phrases) in as many global languages as humanly possible. Helps to see different native or national languages and learn a simple phrase.
  4. Easy budget visualization tool — Lots of governments have PDFs or deep budget information. Some even offer some visualizations themselves, but I wonder if there could be some tool that could suck up some of that information and offer more interactive, variable and more easily updated online displays to be shared more readily.
  5. Neighborhood news tool — For specific-enough neighborhoods or parts of the city (i.e. “West Oak Lane” or “Southwest Philadelphia” we could create RSS feeds pulling from a variety of sources.
  6. School approval heat map — Erika will know this better than I do, but I’d bet there’s a map layer of school locations (or one could be created), though catchment is less available and more interesting, and the AYP or perhaps test school averages could be used to visualize the success of schools in different neighborhoods.
  7. Transit black holes — A visualization of SEPTA bus/train/trolley routes (and/or frequency) and display what areas are least served.
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I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: a Social Network Constitution and concerns around privacy

The groundwork of privacy, anonymity and free speech is being set now with evolving jurisprudence and legislation surrounding the concept of social networking.

That is the overarching theme, as I read it, in I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did:  Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, a new book from Lori Andrews, law professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Ahead of moderating a panel at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia featuring the author and two other esteemed panelists, I read an advanced copy of book.

Details of Thursday night’s event here.

It’s a book worth reading, dense with stories and examples of the gray line of privacy and the constitutionality of the social web. Below, I share some of my favorites bits.

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Balancing legacy and money in professional sports has lessons for the rest of us

The legacy of your work has a value harder to compare with pure money, so we should try our best to incorporate that in our professional decision making.

I’m not a professional athlete. That may surprise many of you.

Still, without any real awareness of the experience, I find myself scratching my head whenever a big name, well-paid professional athlete chooses more money over legacy. In most cases, it seems ill-advised.

I understand that with injuries threatening livelihood, athletes are smartly coached to get what upfront money they can as soon as they can. And I understand that there is often a mind-boggling amount of money on the table, but they seem to be facing on only one axis of success.

When Albert Pujols signed a quarter of a billion dollar, 10-year contract with the major market Los Angeles Angels, leaving the devoted St. Louis Cardinals after 11 seasons, I wasn’t surprised. (In fact, the Pujols’s wife seems more surprised, saying they had never wanted to leave St. Louis but the club wouldn’t offer a long enough, guaranteed deal.)

But if the celebrated and beloved Pujols becomes a target for boos and taunts, he’ll have to assess how much money an attack to his legacy is worth.

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What would the Founding Fathers think of Facebook?: I’m moderating a panel at the National Constitution Center on privacy and the social web

I’m moderating a panel on privacy, security and democracy concerns surrounding the social web at the National Constitution Center in Old City, Philadelphia next Thursday.

You should come. More details here. It costs $10 for non-members.

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Why politicians cheat: five reasons that should leave us unsurprised by campaign affairs

When the inevitable annual news story comes out about the latest politician having cheated on his wife, people question why leaders cheat.

There are some obvious reasons to me:

  1. Long campaign hours — Same as workaholics, being away from home offers a lot of opportunity for philandering.
  2. Lots of people interaction — When campaigning and legislating, you deal with a lot of people.
  3. Charismatic, passionate leaders — Elections attract people who often have the attractive qualities.
  4. Sense of entitlement — Those who do good, big work (like legislators) can easily convince themselves that they’re owed a little wrong.
  5. You’re the boss — In interviews and campaigning and voting and such, legislators are taught to make and stand by their decisions. Not all of them are the right ones.
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How the sources for story ideas change for a niche news site through three years

In three years at Technically Philly, I’ve noted a change in the sources that bring me the ideas for the stories I do. It made me think if it’s a trend that other niche media follow.

In order to develop a baseline, I did some estimating and created some crude graphs roughly looking at where my story ideas have come from in each of the first three years of operation.

In late 2009, I was interested in projecting out what types of content a hyperlocal news site might aspire to have, and this feels like a sensible follow up. I should be clear, of course, that these numbers are entirely made up, based on nothing more than a brief perusal of archives and memory.

In short, the two biggest trends I feel have happened are that (a) we rely considerably less on other media than we did when we started and (b) many, many more people reach out to us directly than in the beginning. OK, that may seem obvious.

Perhaps more interesting is my overall assessment that, despite what I might want to believe, relatively few stories are based purely on a hunch, a thesis or an idea of mine. They happen — and I’m proud when they do — but, like journalists have always been, my role is still more to give context and connect dots.

Find the graphs and breakdowns below.

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My 2012 professional resolutions with a focus on RISK; review 2011 goals

A year ago, I felt scattered. I wanted to focus in 2011, and I think, as a full-time employee of my own business with clearer goals and objectives, I have accomplished that.

As detailed below, I feel very proud of the success I had in meeting my professional resolutions for the year. So, it’s important to me that I do so again, which I also did below.

In them, I’d say the theme for my 2012 is RISK.

It’s time to risk fast or succeed for me professionally. I want to be more aggressive in business and outreach, now with a more stable company and clearer focus.

I’ll set goals to do so, but it’s also worth reviewing what has been a wonderful year. Here are some professional milestones not included in my planned resolutions below:

Below, see my 2012 resolutions and a review of how I did with my 2011 goals too.

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Four Temperaments of Parenthood: Story Shuffle 10 audio

Story Shuffle 10 happened this month and the theme of Parents offered a handful of interesting stories.

See them all here or listen to mine below.

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Social entrepreneurship: how Philadelphia could have a regional distinction for startups

Philadelphia, like any other city that wants to compete in a global marketplace, needs a regional distinction that sets it apart, and in this place, nothing makes more sense than for Philadelphia to define itself as the hub for social entrepreneurship and urban renewal.

Around the world, our hubs of innovation and culture, of education and community are densest and most alive in cities. All of the truly great problems of our time — war and crime and poverty and disease and education and violence and racism and hunger and employment — are either exacerbated by or housed most primarily in our cities.

As a country, if the United States intends to continue to play some form of a major role in the future, the sense seems to be that we will need to do that by continuing to be smarter. Adaptability, industrial might and military strength have served us well, but we need to look for the next train.

Entrepreneurship and the spirit that came out of World War II federal funding (largely in Philadelphia first) helped define the last quarter century of American cultural impact. At a time of high unemployment and a sluggish economy, high technology and scale is meant to be that next train.

So cities do a lot of hand wringing about how to replace widgets with gadgets.

The trouble is that, as a friend put it, if Silicon Valley represents the overwhelming majority of investment in the country, and New York City is in second place, then just about every other city that is even trying is in third place.

How should Philadelphia (like any other big city) try to stand out?

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