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.

Access to Information & ‘Open Government’

Continuing on the theme of ‘Open Spaces’, CBRM should use the web and social media to deliver more open, transparent and engaging government. As part of a broader communications strategy, this might include:

  • crowd-sourcing input at key decision-making times, such as budget approval, in order to better identify community priorities;
  • cataloguing and showcasing the community’s assets — from recreation and infrastructure, to events and important dates, to wifi hotspots and bike lanes;
  • monitoring operating costs in municipal buildings and fleets, and tracking reduction efforts such as electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • automating the system for identifying, prioritizing, and handling infrastructure improvements, such as roads, sewers, sidewalks;
  • and improving access to information, especially that which is readily digitized and made searchable, such as transit schedules or government contracts.

Canadian municipalities, both small and large, are adopting the Open Data concept1 — which equates access to information with good governance. The result is that government is more accountable, and citizens are empowered to come up with creative uses for the data.

1 How Canada became an open data and data journalism powerhouse

Sustainable Transportation & ‘Open Streets’

I’m attending a 2-day workshop in Halifax to support the development of the forthcoming “Provincial Sustainable Transportation Strategy”.

Municipalities across North America are coping with rapid economic, cultural and technological change. Those that are successful are the ones that treat these changes as opportunities for revitalization. Many cities and towns start in their downtown core, by creating more welcoming, vibrant, and inclusive public spaces.

As a web designer, I create “virtual open spaces” where people can come together and organize for social change. And in my volunteer work, I’m drawn to opportunities to create physical open spaces where people can share in, and co-create, the life of the community. I hope to bring my passion for ‘open spaces’ to municipal politics.

This might include, for example, transforming downtown Sydney (one day a year, or even one day a month) into a pedestrian-friendly centre of activity — by diverting motorized vehicles from Charlotte Street, and opening it up for people to walk, roll, stroll, play, shop and eat.

By encouraging shopkeepers and restaurateurs to have a presence on the sidewalk, and filling the streets with a diversity of activity (art, live music, community theatre, bicycle maintenance workshops, skateboard demonstrations, outdoor exercise classes, kids activities), organizers would create a ‘street scape’ that integrates active transportation, shopping, food, arts, and socializing.

Creating a walkable downtown core — connecting downtown Charlotte Street, North End Heritage Conservation District, Sydney boardwalk, Wentworth Park, Membertou and the GreenLink trail system — would promote density, diversity, and discovery and give tourists the integrated small-town experience they expect, while giving locals plenty of ways to connect (or re-connect) with their community.

To be continued…

Climate Vigil in Sydney a success

Approximately 60 people braved sub-freezing temperatures, gusting winds and blowing snow to attend the climate vigil in Sydney this past Saturday. They joined people across the country and throughout the world to show support for a binding emissions reduction agreement in Copenhagen.

The gathering took place at the Wentwork Park bandshell. The acoustic amplifier helped carry the sound of Mi’kmaq drummers – performing traditional songs about the need to respect the earth – out into the street and beyond.

Brief but powerful speeches described the effects of climate change on Inuit in Canada’s Arctic, coastal residents of low-lying Bangladesh, and Cape Bretoners themselves – highlighting the need for an international solution to a global problem.Closing out the event was a call for leadership at all levels of government, as well as practical suggestions for each of us to reduce our ecological footprint.Only a few candles beat the wind, but the message was clear: change is possible.

Climate Vigil in Sydney

Join us at the Bandshell in Wentworth Park Saturday evening (December 12) from 6 – 6:30 p.m. as people across the country and throughout the world gather for a candlelight vigil to show support for a binding emissions reduction agreement in Copenhagen.

Help make it known that Cape Breton cares about climate change. There will be speakers, readings, music, and hot chocolate.

All generations are encouraged to come. Please help promote this event by by telling your friends and families!