All posts by Jure

MozFest: DIY Urbanism

Mozfest

There is a huge disconnect between citizens and municipalities. While it would seem that they are living in the same city, it’s often the case that they are using it differently and that they can’t find the common ground for the discussion about the progress of the city.

That is why I was happy to attend the session DIY Urbanism, led by Andi Argast and Michelle Gay where they presented their Learning Kit – Your Story Goes Here .

The basic premise is very simple: change the way we discuss and view public spaces. One thing that I feel often happens is that we would discuss it from the offices and meeting halls and we would try to gather usage patterns from random anecdotes. (I have no idea how real urbanists do this, but from a citizen point of view, I wouldn’t often have a better approach).

What their kit does it breaks the process into 5 steps:

  • Placestorming (brainstorming about the place)
  • Location Audit + Keywords
  • Creating the story
  • Sharing it
  • and finally another Reflection on the whole process and outcomes.

At this point, it’s important to think about another buzzword that’s gaining ground – Storytelling. We can use very simple things like Instagram and Cowbird or more complete ones like Edgar’s StoryCrafter.

The idea is to take your activist/interested citizen group to the space you’re trying to understand and then observe and document how people use, whether it support good affordances for walking or riding a bike or whatever your goal is.

This allows you to have a better understanding of what’s going in the space and to also gather much better information and usage patterns. Collecting and assembling this material in short, understandable clips/presentations, also allows you to have a more focused conversation when presenting your alternative proposal at community council meeting.

Idea, that needs good execution

Jan started a project, The bicycle heroes of Ljubljana, where he is documenting bad practices of Ljubljana Cyclists. In this context, this is an excellent idea!

What we need now is to start taking his photos and also document pot holes, weird bike crossing and strange ideas of how city thinks that we should navigate it. Create a site or a series of Tumblers where you teach people to record failure of city planners to help people have safer experience. Then map it and also elaborate it on a list as well as make it easier for journalists to use it to ask good questions to the city planners.

But it can be much more than just a collection of photos on a map. I’m sure there are a number of both experts and students and enthusiast that would be happy to contribute their proposals on how to fix the specific case as well as dig official plans from the municipality and call them on it.

[citation needed]

Observations from OKFestival 2014, Berlin

In quite a stark contrast to csv,conf (which was very developer oriented), I attended OKFestival the next two days. With over 1000 attendees from all areas of it really is a huge gathering of open proponents.

Open is the new default

While not necessarily true in all the fields yet, it looks like we’re at the point where a lot of government contracts around the world require the work to be licenses under one of the standardised open licenses (either compatible for code or Creative Commons for creative works).

Rebuild everything

It seems that we’re still very much in the early days of platform and network building. While there are a few standardised solutions in each field, it seems that there is still hard to collaborate on complex pieces of software. I think I saw quite a few different indexes, CKAN alternatives as well as proprietary solutions that are in process of being opened up. I think we could do better as community within each field to figure out how to collaborate.

Standing on shoulders of giants

A few years ago, we were complaining that governments don’t release data and that it’s hard to get attention from policy makers. Today a lot of these things are given, partially also because of education and activism efforts from different hack days, seminars and events. A lot of colleagues from such event went on to consult or to work for governments making it easier for other side to understand the issues and to find internal (technical) support for it.

XML, LOL

Notes from csv,conf 2014

Today I attended csv,conf in Berlin, which turned out to be an excellent conference full of people who gather and transform data on a daily basis.

CSV, comma separated values, file format seems like a joke at first – who seriously uses that today in age of SQL, no-SQL and other $random-DB solution? It turns out that almost everybody at some point – either as input or as data interchange format in cases where systems are not part of your organisation.

Fail quickly and cheaply

A few different people presented their solution for “testing” CSV files, which might be better describe as making sure they conform to a certain schema. They range from just simple checks to full-fledged DSL that allows you to specify rules and even do checksums against referenced files.

The reason I liked most for this is that it allows you to very quickly verify sanity of files that you received and allows you to quickly give feedback to the other party that is sending you these files. This ensure that some time later either in time or inside your pipeline you don’t have to deal with bad data.

Embrace the UNIX philosophy – do one thing at the time

Most of the speakers also mentioned that in order to keep your sanity, you should build your system as a collection of small dedicated tools that pipe into other dedicated tools. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Unix pipe, but more a collection of steps that convert data into another step/database and then as next step does the processing again.

Everybody has the same problems

I think the biggest takeaway for me was, that we’re all having the same issues. We all get messy datasets that are hard to parse and are full of strange errors and inconsistencies.

As with other things, there is no silver bullet. We’ll have to build and teach best practices around data – testing, cleaning and what works and what doesn’t. Just we’re doing it in terms of modern software development.

Interesting tools and libraries

Impressions from FITC Amsterdam 2014

This week I had a pleasure of attending Future, Innovation, Technology and Creativity (FITC) 2014 Conference in Amsterdam. I wanted to update myself on what the creative industries are doing as I was mostly visiting developer and security oriented events.

In general, quality of talks and presenters greatly exceeded my expectations and I feel myself lucky that I managed to visit the event. While I’ll try to make a few more blog posts from specific presentations, here are a few of general observations.

More about “Generating Utopia” project.

Open Source DIY technologies are not for geeks anymore

It seems that there are certain waves of technologies that are first picked up by open source hackers and the world doesn’t fully understand at the time. Most of the projects included things that are casually talked at CCC events and hackerspaces: 3D printers and 3D scanners using Kinect, Arduino based DIY controllers, low tech prototypes with LED’s and smartphones or just OpenStreetMap with commons Mashup API’s and Processing.

I think what these platforms have in common is that they’re much more easily available to creative people and huge amount of information that’s available online makes it incredibly easy to use. With that experiments often grow into high quality commercial grade works. This gets noticed by commercial clients and suddenly your next project is produced by using the same material and techniques.

Amount of required knowledge and insight is insane ..

Keeping in mind things from the previous paragraph, it seems that today it’s not enough to just know how to do art composition you’re also required to know enough coding to do processing mockups, generative audio with help of OpenFrameworks and final touch in form of Final cut and interactive web applications.

You don’t have to be an expert in all of these things but you actually have to have basic knowledge in order to actually know how to ask for help for all the tools that you’re suddenly using.

.. and it’s expanding

Quite a few presenters were already showing experiments and initial thoughts that were done using Oculus Rift, massive crowdsourcing apps, new Xbox One Kinect and voice driven interfaces.

Things that would be unavailable to most artists 10 years ago are now accessible in form of easy to use kits for 100 USD or less and it’s even cheaper with development environments.

Opportunities are everywhere

For generation of developers and tinkerers, that grew up with trying to get Linux to work on random unsupported hardware, this presents so many great opportunities. At this point everyone is thinking about open hardware and software, proprietary solutions and services can’t compete with Github development model anymore and because of Kickstarter and global economies of scale – you just have to pay for the production costs.

I think 2014 is really a year of open everything and if you’re working in environment that spreads these kinds of ideas and tools, you don’t have to do much to get people to listen to you. You just have to show up and present and teach a workshop. It’s that easy :)

Results of WordPress Ninja Forms entries as JSON

Ninja Forms is rather nifty WordPress Plugin for forms. The main problem I have with it at the moment is that’s a rather mess in terms of data structure and getting data out of it. One can grab CSV file, but doesn’t really help you if you want to make a nice front-end.

So here’s a snippet that will dump your current form results in a way that you can further display them with AngularJS or similar.