Cape Breton’s First Hackathon

Cape Breton’s first what??

A hackathon is a place for programmers, developers, designers, as well as anyone interested in meeting and learning from them, to get together and collaborate.

The event takes place Saturday, May 18th from 10am ’til 9pm (hence the “marathon” metaphor). The location is TBA once total attendance is known, but it’ll be somewhere in downtown Sydney.

And it’s all free! You just have to register.

The day starts with 30 minutes dedicated to people pitching their project development ideas. Others vote on the ideas, teams get formed, and everyone sets to work building the projects or apps.

Rather than being centred around a particular programming language (which is normally the case), this hackathon will focus on the platform: anything you can build on a Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming. (Raspberry Pi FAQ)

Let me emphasize that last part: “we want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.” There’s no age limit (in either direction) to participate in Cape Breton’s First Hackathon.

The day will end with demos of the projects and winners will be crowned. Food and beverages are provided all day, you get a t-shirt, and it’s all free! Don’t forget to register.

For more info, check out the Facebook page.

Programming a sustainable future

For anyone convinced that programming is just about wasting people’s time with Angry Birds and invading their privacy with Facebook ads…

Coding and design can be about so much more — even a new form of civic engagement. Just check out the National Day of Civic Hacking, taking place June 1st in the US.

A national event that will bring together citizens, software developers, and entrepreneurs to collaboratively create, build and invent, using publicly-released data, code and technology to solve challenges relevant to our neighbourhoods, our cities, our states and our country.

The White House is even hosting an event!

Coders and designers can help open up government; improve and increase community engagement; empower citizens to solve problems together; facilitate learning; and so much more. (Check out “10 Ways Civic Hacking is Good for Cities”.)

It can also spur economic growth. Check out this infographic[pdf] of Canadian high-tech companies acquired over the past five years. Including hundreds of millions of dollars worth of activity in the Maritimes from the sale of just three companies!

The new “superpower” that isn’t being taught in most schools

Despite its economic impact and potential for massive growth, programming is absent from most school curricula. Instead, websites, online courses, and hackathons have stepped up to fill the gap. You might have seen this video that went viral a few months ago, showing the workplace utopia awaiting those who learn to code:

Some have criticized the video above for equating programming with the paycheque, rather than with its transformative power to change the world. But it can be both. (It can also be neither). As the founder of Dropbox says at the 4-minute mark:

“Whether you’re trying to make a lot of money, or whether you just want to change the world, computer programming is an incredibly empowering skill to learn.”

Afterward:

“I think that if someone had told me that software is really about humanity, that it’s really about helping people, by using computer technology, it would have changed my outlook a lot earlier.”

If you have a young person in your life who wants to change the world, encourage them to register for Cape Breton’s First Hackathon.

Cape Breton and the Creative Economy

Interest in the arts as an economic engine is growing (especially interest from the provincial government1). So continuing on the theme of economic diversity, CBRM should develop policies to address emerging opportunities in the creative economy.

Here’s how the creative industries contribute to our collective prosperity (directly, through economic growth; and indirectly by improving quality of life).

The Ripple Effect

Investing in “core creative fields” (such as music, visual arts, and literature) creates a ripple effect:

At the centre, artists create original works.

The cultural industries then turn these original works into mass-produced goods such as books, recordings, and video games.

This in turn creates opportunities in the creative industries — for example graphic designers, industrial designers, and software developers — to make new and innovative ways to distribute creative goods.

And, lastly, the broader manufacturing and service sector develops new and innovative ways to consume, interpret, and enjoy culture. Think for example of how the Apple iPod is the result of industrial design and manufacturing, software design, the publishing industry, and ultimately musicians who are at the core of the process.

The Cultural Ecosystem

Artists are inspired by, build upon, and even re-use, elements of the existing cultural landscape. This means organizations that preserve cultural artifacts (such as libraries, museums, and heritage collections) are key to the creative process.

In a report titled “Building the Creative Economy in Nova Scotia”, the Nova Scotia Cultural Action Network (NSCAN) says:

“Creativity can be envisioned as a cycle that begins with core creation and moves through production, distribution, consumption and conservation of the creative product.”

It concludes, “successful creative economies require significant investment at all points in the creative cycle.”

Art and quality of life

Cape Breton is a world-class arts centre, with a growing innovation/tech sector, all set amidst some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. It’s a compelling “value proposition” for retaining and attracting the types of creative people who will make unique contributions to the culture — through their music, art, literature, theatre, and food, as well as in the built environment: dwellings, streets, heritage buildings, public spaces. These can’t be thought of solely in economic terms. They are part of what makes the quality of life in Cape Breton so attractive. Just look at some of the success stories in district 5 alone:

Plus the Greenlink trail system, Wentworth Park, and the new Louisa gardens in the North End; and the potential for a new downtown location for the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market, a new multi-purpose regional library, and downtown loft living for international students, artists, young families and recently retired entrepreneurs.

1 “Building the Creative Economy in Nova Scotia”.

CBRM’s Infrastructure Deficit

CBRM’s services and infrastructure are chronically underfunded — even as we’ve accumulated a $100+ million debt over the last decade. This “infrastructure deficit” impacts our competitiveness, making it harder for CBRM to attract investment, new residents, and tourists.

But we are not unique in our predicament.1 Municipalities across Canada face similar obstacles to delivering services efficiently and affordably. Calgary and Toronto have infrastructure deficits of roughly $2.5 billion each, Montreal $1.5 billion, to name just a few.

Like all municipalities in Canada, CBRM’s primary source of revenue comes from property taxes — an outdated and unsustainable funding formula that is increasingly leaving municipalities underserved. CBRM should partner with other municipalities — especially, but not exclusively, in Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia — to find ways to diversify its fiscal base. This might include collectively negotiating increased tax sharing and grants from the provincial and federal governments.

To ensure that taxes raised by the municipality are put back into the local economy, the CBRM could consider adopting the Canadian Labour Congress’s “Made in Canada” procurement policy.

The municipality should also encourage economic diversity — by promoting our rich history of cooperatives, credit unions, and various forms of social enterprise that benefit business owners, workers, and the community — in order to foster resilience within the local economy.

1 “Infrastructure Issues Threaten Canadian Prosperity” [pdf]