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August 02 2012

13:26

Stable at Last, PANDA Reaches 1.0!

Eleven months ago, we began prototyping PANDA. The PANDA project aims to make basic data analysis quick and easy for news organizations, and make data sharing simple. I hacked for a month on an experimental version, verified that our technology choices worked, and then threw it out and started over. Since that time, development has proceeded in steady, week-long iterations, checkpointed by numerous releases and two-day long PANDA team-planning sessions. We've implemented every feature from our "must have" list, a large chunk of our "want" list, and even one or two off our "not likely" list (in response to user feedback).

Today, I'm pleased to announce that we have reached the end of our road map: PANDA Version 1.0 is ready!

YOU CAN HAVE A PANDA NOW

thumbsuppanda.jpg

If you've been taking a wait-and-see approach to getting PANDA in your newsroom, now is the time to see. Version 1.0 is the most polished release we've ever done. Among the highlights:

  • New user-oriented documentation at pandaproject.net.
  • No more default user accounts. A setup mode allows you to configure an admin user after installation.
  • Search for data within categories.
  • Additional metadata for datasets, including "related links."
  • Many, many, many bug fixes.

To get started with PANDA now, head over to our installation docs.

I have one month left to keep working full-time on PANDA. That means you have a month to get personalized help with any issues you encounter while setting up. If you get started now, I'll be answering your emails, tracking your bugs, and logging your future development requests. If you wait, you may have to get in line.

Still not persuaded? Check out an awesome presentation from Nolan Hicks, San Antonio Express-News reporter and PANDA beta tester.

Every newsroom can be a data-friendly newsroom. Get started with PANDA now.

July 03 2011

21:02

Updated gear, tool & book guide, bonus mobile tools included too

Photo courtesy Stéfan Le Dû on Flickr

So as the school year has come to an end I’ve had several requests form graduating seniors for advice on what gear they should purchase to add to their arsenal  to get them ready for the next step of their career. A long time ago I set up a gear guide to help people with this, but it’d been a while since I’d updated it, until this weekend. So take a gander if you’re curious, looking for some interesting summer reading or in the market for new multimedia, mobile gear or books, check it out.

I also added a couple more categories to better split out the topics into more clear buckets: Design, development, mobile/tablet tools, management & leadership, social media & community, video/audio/photo gear and video/audio/photo training. … Oh, and “Nerdtastic stuff”… my favorite category of quirky nerd tools and gifts.

Full Disclosure: That is an affiliate link, so if you make a purchase I’ll get a 4% kick back, which I’ll use towards hosting costs for the site. It doesn’t cost you any more, just sends a little cash my way for helping create the resource.

Flickr photo courtesy Stéfan Le Dû

May 24 2011

14:59

Data, Data Everywhere — But How Does It Relate to You And Your Work?

By Keisha Taylor. This was originally posted on the GuideStar International blog

As Internet and mobile access grows, more data is made open online. It is being used and analyzed by the media, the private sector, governments, and civil society organizations to inform their decisions. Open data, real time data, and linked data are being discussed in many forums. And so are the ways in which governments, civil society organizations, and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) can work with the private sector to benefit the public using the data analysis. Data-related events are highlighting the value of data and are addressing technical, design, political, reliability, validity, and inclusion issues that arise with its disclosure.


An interactive example of data visualisation - OECD Better Life Index © OECD (2011) www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org

Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, says “The ability to take data — to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it — that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.”  This post highlights some of the organizations that are involved in this type of work and points to some of the forums discussing this topic.

The European Public Sector Information Platform has a great list of open data events. And for those of you interested in open government data events, have a look at the events calendar that is being updated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. A London-based nonprofit, Open Knowledge Foundation is at the forefront of promoting open knowledge to help citizens and society.

A few of the many notable events are:

These kinds of events, however, still tend to be dominated by the technology geek, statistician, and government official though civil society organizations and other organizations involved in cultural fields are also exploring the potential of using open data. For civil society organizations on the sidelines of this data movement, the everyday media’s use of data for reporting provides a practical demonstration of just how useful it can be. (I would recommend having a look at some really cool videos featured by Stanford on Journalism in the Age of Data.) Many eyes not only provides visualizations but a forum for anyone to upload data and create visualizations and Flowing Data illustrates how designers, programmers, and statisticians are making good use of data . A few practical examples of the use of data for reporting are listed below.

These are just a few of what are arguably limitless examples how data is being used to help us understand our world. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in London recently hosted the workshop “Civil Society 2.0: how open data will change your organisation and what you can do about it,” and the presentations have been made available online. If indeed “Data is the New Oil,” civil society organizations (CSOs) should be learning how to generate, find, and use data to help inform and improve their work. The appropriate use of data can help all CSOs to advance the overall well-being of individuals and their local communities.

May 12 2011

08:45

Shouldn’t the Word Phone be Removed from Mobile? – The Use of the Mobile Phone by Nonprofits

This was first published on the GuideStar International blog

Can you remember when a huge mobile phone was a brand new and exciting phenomenon and something that only a privileged few were within reach of... a device only seen on TV! Times have changed. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported that this year there are over 5 billion mobile users. It is also not only used for talking at all and I’d suggest that the word ‘phone’ be dropped from its title. The mobile phone (henceforth to be referred to as the mobile in this post) is an important ICT tool for the nonprofit sector not only in the developed world, but even more so in the developing world where access to the Internet may not be very readily available and where innovative uses are being found for the technology all the time. A vast majority of these mobile users are in emerging and developing countries and many have leapfrogged the use of landlines to focus on developing the use mobiles and the mobile Internet. As mobile make waves in the nonprofit world, I thought it would be good to highlight a few examples of its uses and briefly examine its potential. Nonprofits in the developed world can also learn a lot from what is happening elsewhere. So what else can you do with a mobile?

  • Short Message Service (SMS)
  • Bluetooth
  • Camera
  • Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)
  • Email
  • Games
  • Radio
  • MP3 player
  • Video
  • Banking
  • Print pictures
  • Get directions
  • Have your text messages read back to you
  • Scan in a business card
  • Text message a landline phone
  • Alarm clock
  • Get general information
  • VoIP
  • Purchase goods

Though the list above includes mobile Internet related services, some of the mobiles being used in the developing world are the most basic, and may not have some of these features. It must be noted that according to the ITU Internet user penetration has reached approximately 9.6% in Africa. Average world penetration is (30%) and the average for developing countries is (21%). However, the mobile, a small device, which is capable of having all of these facilities and can be carried in our pocket or bag at all times, will eventually be the primary way to connect to the Internet. Furthermore, it is the ability to utilize these features for multiple of purposes that makes the mobile even more important, particularly where access to the Internet is problematic, and the nonprofit world can and should learn more about its usage to better serve the public. So how can nonprofits utilize mobile phones for their work? There are many examples of the benefits of the mobile in emerging and developing economies in Asia and Africa. When resources are scarce our ability to find useful and innovative ways to use available technological tools for what we need increases and the mobile is no exception. It is an extraordinary example of one of these tools. Should availability, access and service improve so will innovation. Developing countries are examining ways to use mobiles and nonprofits can help to spur this along. Frontline SMS’ and Ushahadi’s collaboration is an example of this. Here are just a few of the many examples of how the humble mobile is being used for development:

  • For those nonprofits working on agricultural issues - The Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange (Kace), provides crop growers with the very latest commodity information via SMS and has helped farmers to quadruple earnings.
  • For those nonprofits working on political engagement issues/activism - When media bans were put in place at the end of Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan SMSall, or as its founder Umar Saif, says “Twitter for SMS,” or as “Twitter for the 4 billion”. (Today I can say Twitter for the 5 billion!) was used to help find missing political dissidents. Today there are over 150,000 established groups on SMSall in Pakistan.
  • For those nonprofits working on health issues - In Uganda the Electronic Mobile Open-source Comprehensive Health Application (eMOCHA) has been developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education and it enables health workersto build HIV awareness and provide prevention information in rural areas.
  • For those nonprofits working on sustainable development issues - NextDrop uses mobile technology to monitor and improve water flow in urban India and subsequent sustainable development.
  • For those nonprofits working on economic issues - In Kenya, the M-Pesa mobile banking service is the most popular way to transfer money via mobile. This is important for Diaspora groups. They can also use it to pay bills and purchase goods.
  • For nonprofits working on fundraising - Comic Relief in the United Kingdom raised over £7m from text message donations in 2011.
  • For nonprofits seeking to increase supporters/volunteers - Using the text message “Don’t you wish your city was cleaner and greener? Begin by planting free saplings offered by Greenpeace. Reply GREEN to 6363 to get your sapling.” to 40,000 mobile subscribers in Bangalore and Pune, India Greenpeace got 937 text backs and 149 new supporters.

A Mobiles for Development, global research study commissioned by UNICEF has found that in India upon achieving a critical penetration rate of 25%, every 10% increase in penetration resulted in a 1.2% increase in a state’s economic growth. The same report mentions a study by Ericsson and Zain, which revealed that a 1% increase in mobile penetration in Sudan caused a 0.12% increase in the country’s GDP growth rate, partly because of an improved flow of information which improved the productivity and efficiency of small businesses. According to the report the mobile has “helped reduce vulnerability and increase opportunities, improve social empowerment, reduce the need to undertake costly and sometimes dangerous travel, increase access to health and education services, as well as create more employment and business opportunities”. As more reports unveil the humble mobile's benefits, nonprofits at home and abroad should try to better understand and where necessary develop and incorporate the use of mobiles to support their work and by extension the public. You can read more about developments in the mobile sector from Mobile Active, (a project of the Nonprofit Technology Network, pending nonprofit status in the United States) that is doing a great job bringing to our attention some of ways in which mobiles are being used to promote development.

So what does the future hold for the mobile and its potential for use by the nonprofit sector? Waceke Mbugua, M-Pesa’s Marketing Manager predicts that the mobile application craze in the developed world may skip Africa because of costs. According to him it costs too much money to partner with a mobile carrier there and many don’t want to work with developers. Notably he says “greater business and user opportunities lie in mobile cloud computing. You'll see growth in the mobile Web, applications that run on a browser," as African cloud computing services "are going to explode." Legislation is also being passed in some countries to limit the sending of unwanted emails, texts and calls by imposing huge fines. However, one thing remains certain. The importance of the mobile will continue to grow and nonprofits not only in the developing world, but also in the developed world will have to increasingly use them as an important ICT tool for their work.

March 04 2011

12:05

Further your Knowledge of ICT4D at the University of London

A great educational opportunity - MA in ICT for sustainable development at the University of London

The ICT for development (ICT4D) programme is a new strand within the established and highly successful Master course in Practising Sustainable Development at the Royal Holloway, University of London. The new Masters tries to balance out the proportions between the research and practice and it is designed for those who want to launch or further their careers as development practitioners or scholars.

The University is looking for the people with a good academic background in a field related i.e. natural or social sciences, and/or considerable professional experience in the development and environment protection field.

Read more about the programme and apply

February 17 2011

16:10

LocalWiki Tries "Open-From-The-Start" Development Process

It's time for another project update. We've been hard at work on the core of the software that will power LocalWiki. We've also been spending time running around meeting people passionate about local media and planning out many things to come.

Basic groundwork laid

whiteboard_small.jpg

Many of you know about the Davis Wiki, but what you may not know is that we developed the custom software that powers it ourselves. Back in 2004, there was just nothing else that could do everything you see on the Davis Wiki while being easy enough for most people to use. Developing the custom software was well worth the effort, but the more we learned along the way, the more we wished we could change some of the choices we had made early on and build on a better foundation.

When we got the opportunity to embark on the LocalWiki project, we knew this was our chance to take another look at the core of wiki software and rebuild it using today's technology and the lessons we learned from years of experience and analyzing our other wiki engines' code. At the most basic level, one of the things we learned was that providing even simple wiki features like editing and versioning pages was difficult and cumbersome. What's worse, if done wrong these things make it downright painful for developers to add more complex features. For instance, while there may have been lots of code to help save and track versions of pages, that code couldn't be used to help someone save and track versions of map points.

By laying a solid foundation for the LocalWiki software, we'll not only make it easier for others to create basic wiki-like systems but that code will also allow us to go farther with our vision of making the best software for local communities to collaborate on information. In the past couple of months we've written an extensive versioning system for the Django framework that will allow us to simplify later development; explored and refined ways to show changes between different objects, especially rendered HTML pages; began the work on our graphic editor interface; and did lots and lots of research on different technologies.

Opening up our development process

We want the LocalWiki project to have an open-from-the-start development process. As such, while the code isn't ready for casual contributors quite yet, we are fully opening our development process. While we have experience working in the open-source world, one thing we're new at is working full-time alongside other folks. We'll probably make some mistakes, but we want to get this right.

Are you an experienced developer who wants to get involved? Please sign up for our developer mailing list. We'll be sending out a super-geeky developer update in the next day or two.

A (tiny) space to call our own

philip_painting_small.jpg

A little over a week ago, we moved into a little hole-in-the-wall office space. After working out of a coworking space for the first two months, we felt we could be more productive without the distractions that come with sharing a space with so many (admittedly, incredibly nice and professional) people. The space in San Francisco's Mission District is tiny and barely fits two desks, but it's quiet, it's convenient, and we can stay here late into the night working. After spending a weekend furnishing it, the new space has made a huge difference in our comfort, communication, and ability to work for hours on end without interruptions. It also turns out to be cheaper than the coworking setup, which is a nice bonus.

What about the Kickstarter funds?

Several months ago, we faced a serious issue: The Knight Foundation committed funding to the software development aspects of the LocalWiki project, but essential outreach and education aspects were unfunded. With your help, we raised an absolutely essential fund through Kickstarter.com to support outreach and education in pilot communities.

Our plan for the Kickstarter fund is to hold on to it until we begin the outreach and education phase of the project, which will happen shortly after the first pilot community is selected.

January 06 2011

19:06

LocalWiki: Laying the Groundwork

A few of you have been wondering what we've been up to since our Kickstarter pledge drive ended, so we want to give you a quick update on our Knight-funded project, LocalWiki. For those of you who are more technically inclined, we hope to also provide an insight into these early stages of our process.

To follow our updates in the future, please sign up with your email address at http://localwiki.org, follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/localwiki, or follow our blog directly. Or if you're a huge geek, join us on IRC in Freenode's #localwiki.

Right now, we are ramping up development of the wiki software that will provide the platform for all of our pilot projects. Starting in October, my partner Mike Ivanov and I have been working out of our awesome coworking office in San Francisco (shout out to NextSpace) and laying the groundwork for this new platform.


Making software that lasts

This may not make much sense unless you're a techie, but here are some details about what's going on:

Our initial focus at this stage is to build a set of reusable Django apps that will provide the core functionality of an extensible and easy-to-use wiki software, which include making it straightforward to edit a page, to track and work with revisions of pages and other objects, and to let people compare those revisions to see what's been changed. We will then use these components to build the first functional iteration of our wiki software. The benefits of this approach are that it helps us focus on each aspect separately, will help developers in the Django community to understand and contribute to our code, and makes it possible for other projects and organizations to use only the parts they might find useful. Software only survives if many people actively use it, and we want to ensure our software a long and happy life.

Next Few Months, Roughly Speaking

Until February: Core software. We will create the central components of the wiki software and put them together into something that will enable folks to start creating awesome content. We unfortunately have to work out some legal issues around licensing before we can easily accept outside code contributions.

As soon as our licensing issues are resolved, we'll send out an update with information about how to get involved with the development process. We hope the licensing issues will be resolved in the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it may be difficult for outside developers to get involved at this point because core bits and pieces will be moving and changing at a rapid rate.

February-April: Focus on features. We will push heavily to involve more outside developers to help make our software awesome and get some initial user feedback. If you are a developer interested in helping, this will be the best time for you to get involved because we will have somewhat solidified our development processes and underlying, core software. We will also need help with and feedback about the software from a higher level (e.g. feature requests).

April and beyond: Pilot communities, educational materials, community outreach. With the wiki platform largely built, we can start new pilot projects and educating potential users about building successful local projects. At this stage we will need all the help we can get from you to select pilots, write helpful guides, submit bug reports, and develop a model for communities to follow.

19:06

Laying the Groundwork For a Community Wiki

A few of you have been wondering what we've been up to since our Kickstarter pledge drive ended, so we want to give you a quick update on our Knight-funded project, LocalWiki. For those of you who are more technically inclined, we hope to also provide an insight into these early stages of our process.

To follow our updates in the future, please sign up with your email address at http://localwiki.org, follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/localwiki, or follow our blog directly. Or if you're a huge geek, join us on IRC in Freenode's #localwiki.

Right now, we are ramping up development of the wiki software that will provide the platform for all of our pilot projects. Starting in October, my partner Mike Ivanov and I have been working out of our awesome coworking office in San Francisco (shout out to NextSpace) and laying the groundwork for this new platform.


Making software that lasts

This may not make much sense unless you're a techie, but here are some details about what's going on:

Our initial focus at this stage is to build a set of reusable Django apps that will provide the core functionality of an extensible and easy-to-use wiki software, which include making it straightforward to edit a page, to track and work with revisions of pages and other objects, and to let people compare those revisions to see what's been changed. We will then use these components to build the first functional iteration of our wiki software. The benefits of this approach are that it helps us focus on each aspect separately, will help developers in the Django community to understand and contribute to our code, and makes it possible for other projects and organizations to use only the parts they might find useful. Software only survives if many people actively use it, and we want to ensure our software a long and happy life.

Next Few Months, Roughly Speaking

Until February: Core software. We will create the central components of the wiki software and put them together into something that will enable folks to start creating awesome content. We unfortunately have to work out some legal issues around licensing before we can easily accept outside code contributions.

As soon as our licensing issues are resolved, we'll send out an update with information about how to get involved with the development process. We hope the licensing issues will be resolved in the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it may be difficult for outside developers to get involved at this point because core bits and pieces will be moving and changing at a rapid rate.

February-April: Focus on features. We will push heavily to involve more outside developers to help make our software awesome and get some initial user feedback. If you are a developer interested in helping, this will be the best time for you to get involved because we will have somewhat solidified our development processes and underlying, core software. We will also need help with and feedback about the software from a higher level (e.g. feature requests).

April and beyond: Pilot communities, educational materials, community outreach. With the wiki platform largely built, we can start new pilot projects and educating potential users about building successful local projects. At this stage we will need all the help we can get from you to select pilots, write helpful guides, submit bug reports, and develop a model for communities to follow.

November 25 2010

14:29

October 06 2010

19:10

Linden Lab's Rosedale Considers 'Scrum' Method in Newsrooms

My software developer friends talk a lot these days about two words/concepts: Agile and Scrum. At first I thought it was typical dev talk with no relevance for newsrooms, but I eventually realized these notions are part of a major shift in the way all companies -- including media companies -- will have to adapt.

Agile-Software1.jpg

As Wikipedia explains it, agile software development is a group of methodologies based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.

Key points from the Agile Manifesto are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Even though these principles may seem rather vague, the agile philosophy has very concrete and precise implementations such as the Scrum methodology. The main roles in Scrum, according to Wikipedia, are:

  • The "ScrumMaster," who maintains the processes (typically in lieu of a project manager)
  • The "Product Owner," who represents the stakeholders (such as the customers or users) and the business
  • The "Team," a cross-functional group of about 7 people who do the actual analysis, design, implementation, testing, etc.

When combined with an open source approach, this can be an efficient way of doing things. For instance, the virtual world Second Life is reworking its "viewer" (user interface) using the Scrum methodology and it's publishing the documentation of the entire process.

The developers reach out to users in order to determine priorities, and users can monitor the progress being made in fast iterations.

The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, recently started another company, LoveMachine, a crowdsourced review and bonus system (among other projects). Here's how the company's website describes the operation:

We are also a different kind of company. Instead of interviewing to work here, you just get to work. If you'd like to join our team, first sign up at the worklist, where you can see and bid on the jobs we need done, then enter our live workroom and talk to other team members!

LoveMachine attempts to be completely transparent, and to introduce market-based price discovery systems for jobs that are typically done by employees in a traditional bureaucratic structure.

I wondered whether we could imagine a newsroom being so transparent and open: Publishing worklists that are open for bidding, granting open access to a live workroom, allowing anyone to collaborate.

I met Philip Rosedale in Second Life and asked him what he thought about applying these principles to a media organization. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

Q&A

Philip, is LoveMachine an example of Scrum?

philip-linden.png

Philip Rosedale: That company started from scratch with not one line of code written. So we could do things completely differently in order to create software as efficiently, enjoyably and fast as possible.

Scrum is really becoming the mainstream way of looking at best practices. At LoveMachine we brought this to another level, for the whole company. We provide a tremendous amount of transparency. We ask people to bid for a small piece of work, or if you do a small piece of work, you set the price afterwards -- we trust you. Psychological research -- using brain scans -- demonstrated that this tends to be much more rewarding than being paid upfront. Because people set their own prices, it makes them very engaged.

Within the company, there are people with a budget and they accept work from other people. Because everything is transparent, there is a rapid setting and finding of the right price.

You recently returned as CEO at Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life). Do you apply the same principles there as at the LoveMachine?

Rosedale: We are not applying those same principles in Linden Lab. That is a relatively large company involved in complex projects. However, Linden Lab is the place where six years ago we started applying these ideas of recognizing the work of [colleagues] in a transparent way.

So does this mean that large companies cannot apply the methodology of LoveMachine?

Rosedale: Large companies will partially apply this because these techniques allow for such fast and efficient work. For instance, they'll do so for open source projects. But they will not adopt this en masse, because of the weight of tradition.

Could it be applied by newspapers or other mainstream media?

Rosedale: It's a promising way of organizing highly motivated contributors working in a decentralized way. Traditional, well-established companies will not [implement] this overnight, but they'll experiment.

99 designs is a bidding platform which can be used when you want a logo or web design. It is highly efficient and is also used by media companies.
More in general, one should take advantage of the fact that many different people are capable [of doing] a certain task. Instead of only relying on a very limited number of employees, one can appeal to a much larger distributed community of contributors. It makes much faster and cost-effective development possible.

Speaking from a European perspective, I cannot imagine the labor unions would applaud this.

Rosedale: Labor unions as collectives can only agree on increases in wages, while in some situations it's more rational to lower the wages. There is a trade-off between job security and efficiency. In times of technology-driven major change, unions are an interesting problem.

Could developing countries benefit from this, and who would profit most, the West or developing countries?

Rosedale: Developing countries have less institutional hurdles for adopting this way of working. I've been reading the book The Rational Optimist [by Matt Ridly], which explains how technologically driven change is beneficial for humanity, and actually the developing world profits even more from technological change than the industrialized countries -- which means that technology helps narrow the gap.

More trouble for established media companies

Rosedale's vision is optimistic on a macro level and seemingly well suited for young, small and nimble companies. But his points also made me understand that big, established media companies may be in more trouble than they realize.

Today's media companies are increasingly becoming technology companies. So while the big, established companies find it difficult to lower their cost structure and change their legacy organizational structure, newer start-ups are adopting transparent methods that enable them to develop technology much faster and cheaper.

Chances are that they will be the champions in an era of mobile, ubiquitous media.

Image of Agile process via Wikipedia

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Liesbeth.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

August 23 2010

02:05

August 22, 2010 Story Ideas…

Each week I hope to post a short list of ideas for stories which you can develop into something your audience can relate to. Some may be obvious and others may be a stretch. If you have ideas you’d like to contribute, send them over to me at cyndyg@mac.com.

Fresh in the garden - a pumpkin in waiting.

I will admit to frequenting farmers markets in my area. Besides the benefits of exercise (all that walking) and really really fresh veggies – there are some equally interesting folks wandering around. Both in the crowds out front and the folks behind the tables.
One of my special weaknesses is onions. Stockton reds. A large sweet onion..somewhat flat and a rich burgandy color. So last month I saw an especially mouth-watering pile, grabbed a bunch (3 large ones to the bunch) and started talking with the man behind the counter. He is the farmer and took over his dad’s place and is raising the same crops dad did. I asked if his were real “Stockton Reds,” and he replied yes. A resounding yes – he can no longer find the real “Red” seeds, so raises his own crop just for seed each year in addition to the crop he sells at the farmers markets. He says only those he raises from his own seeds have that real taste – and customers can tell the difference.
Story idea: farmers markets are a treasure trove of people who love fresh food, gardening, recipes. Don’t just buy…ask questions. I plan to track my farmer down and see if he’ll allow me to turn up to his farm from time to time over the next year to document his labor of love. Stories such as this one are not quick turnaround stories. Like the plants grown by farmers, they must be given time to grow to fullness.

Times are rough and folks are turning back to Mother Nature…raising their own backyard food, canning, making to. What year is this? Well since my childhood in the 1950s and 60s I’ve been through the 60′s Hippies Back to Earth Movement, the Eighties Back to Earth Movement, and now the 2010 Return to the Roots Back to Earth Movement. Each of these movements is a totally new concept to those who embark on them. Fueled by rejection of mainstream American to financial necessity, they seem to come, take hold, and then fade away.
Story idea: Do some research and find out why folks do this…and does it have a lasting impact on their lives or the community around them? What is the motivation for each movement? Does each movement include moving to the outback and really being a pioneer or just making do with a back yard garden and learning how to sew, buy used, and cut back to cooking real food, not just pre-packaged food.

Every summer has its share of tragedies – drowning is right up at the top. When I was a kid here in California’s Great Valley, swimming was a MANDATORY high school class. There are so many levees and rivers and lakes and resevoirs that waterproofing kids was a great idea. I continued this thought with each of the Green kids, taking them to summer swim lessons until I knew they could float long enough to be pulled out. (They also were forced by evil parents to wear life jackets to all water functions until they were fourteen.)
Story idea: what are the practices in your area? Are swim lessons mandated, left to the parents, or no big deal? What is the death rate by drowning? How many of these deaths were preventable, either by use of life jackets or by knowing how to swim?
Or does your community gasp in horror and allow this bizarre game of removal of genes from the pool to repeat it self annually?

Big Box in the Big City. Big Box Stores. Big Box Schools. Big Box Housing Developments. Big Box Churches. The more the merrier and the better a deal for everyone. Right? Buy in bulk, live in packs, life is cheap and easy.
Only part of this list is true…and even then, there is a downside.

FCC Stockton - Dedication planned for September 26, 2010


Big Box Stores – lots of stuff at reasonable prices. (Though I questions how much “stuff” we really need and how much is a good sales job.) Downside: generally it’s what the masses want…and not all brands are represented and choice is somewhat limited.
Big Box Schools. Elementary schools with 500-1,000. High schools with thousands. Big boxes holding hundreds and thousands of young minds, all being taught in lock-step. How many bodies can we cram into a classroom as we downsize staff? How can learning proceed when teachers are crushed by numbers while at the same time being pressed to make sure every student succeeds.
Big Box Development – large housing tracts, each its own community with shopping center and theme. (I swear I will never buy in a development called “Countryside” anything. Give it four or five years and that countryside view has disappeared, crowded out by the next development.
Big Box Churches – the more the merrier. Churches with congregations in the thousands. Overwhelming. Did these churches spontaneously grow or was this a studied plan?
Story idea: is there room in Big Box Development for a community church? Are these developments planning for everything but spiritual needs? I’ve watched my husband’s church struggle for the past seven or eight years, looking for a home. One of the issues they faced was the possibility of becoming a “destination” church – a church so big and with so much to offer that people would come from all over just to take part in it. I won’t say they rejected it – however, the new homesite precludes any major development. They want smart growth, not unbridled growth. Check out your local developments…see if they have in place plans for churches, mosques, synagogues, places for souls to gather and reflect.

Nothing really novel to this first list…just some stuff that’s been bouncing around in my head looking for an audience. Hope at least one takes root in your imagination and grows.


August 18 2010

16:02

What are good resources for finding development and design freelancers, particularly people with news experience.

I am looking for some resources for finding journalism or news-oriented freelancers to work on some news projects.

I'm hesitant to scour freelance and job finding sites, not only because they are a bit overwhelming, but because I feel like programmers and designers who freelance for news projects are fairly rare.

July 20 2010

22:06

How to Get Started With Github and Release a Gem Using Jeweler

Ruby logoThese are quick notes I’m sharing with the NYC Ruby Women’s group, which I organize. One of my developer friends, Peter Harkins, recommended I share them with the world at large, so here they are.

More about Ruby and the NYC Ruby Women’s group in a bit.

SOME HELPFUL LINKS
http://rubygems.org – official repository
http://ruby-toolbox.com/ – shows the most popular Ruby gems (how many people who’ve looked at it, how many have downloaded it, how many have forked it)
http://railsplugins.org/ – compatibility tracking of plugins and gems (What works with various version of Ruby and Rails 3)

SOME HELPFUL RUBY COMMANDS:
gem update –system – updates all gems on in your system
gem environment gemdir – displays the system directory for gems
gem help – basic help directory
gem env – shows the Ruby gem environment
gem list – find gems. You can include letters afterward as wildcards.
gem cleanup – deletes old gem versions
rake -T – Rake helpfile

====================================
====================================
Let’s get started…

INSTALL THESE GEMS (or check if you have them already):
(You may need/want to add “sudo” [no quotes] in front of each of these commands to install)
gem install rubygems-update
gem install thoughtbot-shoulda – Read Me at: http://github.com/thoughtbot/shoulda
gem install rspec-rails
gem install jeweler – Read Me at: http://github.com/technicalpickles/jeweler

============
Establish version control:
DOWNLOAD GIT:

http://git-scm.com/download

CONFIGURE YOUR LOCAL SYSTEM TO TALK TO GITHUB (once you’ve established an account at http://github.com)
git config –global user.name “Real Name”
git config –global user.email “youremail@foo.com
git config –global github.user username

SET UP YOUR PUBLIC KEY (See http://help.github.com/mac-key-setup/ (or your OS) for details)
Check if you have a key: cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub

If you DO have a key:
$ ls
config id_rsa id_rsa.pub known_hosts
$ mkdir key_backup
$ cp id_rsa* key_backup
$ rm id_rsa*

If you DON’T have a key, then create one:
ssh-keygen -t rsa -C “youremail@foo.com

============

CREATE A GEM ON YOUR LOCAL SYSTEM USING JEWELER. (We’re calling our test gem “dabeers.”)
jeweler dabeers –rspec –rdoc –create-repo

#! If there’s a FileUtils problem (this may happen if you’re running Ruby 1.8.6), then:
#! mate /Library/Ruby/Gems/1.8/gems/jeweler-1.4.0/
#! require ‘FileUtils’ in generator.rb (if that’s the error)
#! jeweler dabeers –rspec –rdoc

VERSION YOUR GEM:
rake version:write
#! Since it’s our first rake, the version is set to 0.0.0. If you wanted something different for your initial version, write: rake version BUILD=alpha1 [or change "alpha1" a word or number without quotes]

UPDATE VERSIONS AS YOU UPDATE YOUR GEM:
rake version:bump:major
rake version:bump:minor
rake version:bump:patch

COMMIT TO GITHUB:
rake github:release

COMMIT TO GEMCUTTER:
rake gemcutter:release

Thanks to the NYC Ruby Meetup for the intro to Jeweler and Gemcutter and Peter Harkins for QA of these notes.

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June 09 2010

21:19

Does your newsroom have a policy on GPL tools?

I'm genuinely curious about whether there are newsrooms with a firm policy that you can't build on GPL code. I've heard stories, I know it is NY Times policy. Anyone else working in such an environment?

April 05 2010

16:22

November 30 2009

16:57

Center launches project development blog

Chugging away quietly in the background since late summer has been a new development blog for Center projects, available at http://dev-civic.media.mit.edu. The blog features a more technical discussion of project plans, hopes, benchmarks, and solicitations for advice---in contrast to the outward facing posts at civic.mit.edu and the primetime posts at the PBS MediaShift blog.

We're making the dev blog more public now so that you can contribute your comments on our work at an earlier stage---and also because at MIT we can't help but show what's under the hood.

So it's where the geekiest of us can explore the backend of work at the Center...because who wouldn't want to see Josh and Jeff proving for their mapping research that you can create your own geolocated imagery for less than $100?

read more

July 03 2008

09:00

Wintermute Engine » about

Wintermute Engine Development Kit is a set of tools for creating and running graphical “point&click” adventure games, both traditional 2D ones and modern 2.5D games (3D characters on 2D backgrounds). The kit includes the runtime interpreter (Wintermut
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