Code in the public interest, make your mother proud

There’s too much data, and too few hackers.

The city dropped 10 years of incredibly detailed crime information a
few weeks ago, and we’ve barely touched it. The state of Illinois just
released an 9500-column-wide data set on school performance. And there may just be a few important elections peeking over the horizon.

The Chicago Tribune needs you. Your city needs you.

Join us.

Our sci-fi future: stuff we’re geeked about + book list

Photo by Chrys Wu

Photo by Chrys Wu

Today at the MIT/Knight Civic Media Conference, I led an unconference session called “Our sci-fi future, news in 20 years”. Chrys Wu was kind enough to transcribe the concepts we discussed and help me annotate the list with related works of science fiction. Here’s what we wrote down:

Influencing factors are in italics, related books and films are in bold:

All your data in the cloud

Instantaneous backstory (I want the machine to know what I know and only give me what’s news to me)
Diamond Age

Worldview mapping

Conversion tracking (like in advertising) for information, track the impact of the reporting

Virtual connections w/ physical stimuli

Implants for sensory input
Altered Carbon

Heads up displays
Mona Lisa Overdrive

Real-time maps of information spread

Millions of little flying cameras, ubiquitous surveillance
Counting Heads

Infinite bandwidth, infinite processing

Machine translation/transcription (babelfish)
Hitchhikers Guide

Computer Q&A

More ambient experiences (like the radio, not the radio)

Individually relevant metrics (Mint, Bedpost)

Gargoyles (permanently plugged in)
Snow Crash

The singularity (when human and machine become indistinguishable)
The Way of All Flesh
House of Suns

Info valet / personal information assistant
Counting Heads

The map of information consumption

Augmented Reality
Rainbows End

Pervasive advertising
Jennifer Government

Attention markets (trade your attention, certain people’s time worth more than others)
Crystal Express
Little Brother

Embodied news narratives

Authentication/authority systems
A Fire Upon the Deep

Other reads, unassociated with a particular topic listed above:
Maul, Tricia Sullivan
Summer Wars
Ghost in the Shell
Iron Sunrise
Marq’ssnan Cycle
The Information

Photo by Waldo Jaquith

Photo by Waldo Jaquith

Let’s think science-fictionally

This post is one of many that will be collected in the thrilling return of the Carnival of Journalism.

Brother Cavil: In all your travels, have you ever seen a star go supernova?

Ellen Tigh: No.

Brother Cavil: No? Well, I have. I saw a star explode and send out the building blocks of the Universe. Other stars, other planets and eventually other life. A supernova! Creation itself! I was there. I wanted to see it and be part of the moment. And you know how I perceived one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull! With eyes designed to perceive only a tiny fraction of the EM spectrum. With ears designed only to hear vibrations in the air.

Ellen Tigh: The five of us designed you to be as human as possible.

Brother Cavil: I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to – I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to – I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I’m a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!


Have you had a moment when you felt like you were breathing the network? When the waft of knowledge hit your nose and you could taste the data?

I have.

It’s a fleeting feeling, but I know it. For a taste, throw on your headphones, fire up TweetDeck and watch a crisis pan out. It’s thrilling.

And it’s where we’re headed. Totally immersive immediacy. I don’t know what the technologies will be. The data will ride on my 3d goggles and my conductive underwear, or my surround-view Kinect room, or my sensory deprivation in-ear headphones and holographic display… whatever the medium, I’m gonna *feel* it.

What is media literacy in that world? What does journalism become, when everything is ephemeral, when the Tweets wash over your mind, neighbor to your own thoughts?

Hell if I know.

But that’s what we need to be thinking about.

Catch up reading:

Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge
Counting Heads by David Marusek
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Links from APME 2010


Our team blog:

Open data

Tracking Homicides in Chicago:

City Council’s $3.7 Million Allowance:

Personal context

Illinois Nursing Home Safety Reports:

Just cuz

Illinois School Report Cards:


So, you wanna do this stuff?

Great tools:

Blagojevich trial documents: (bult with DocumentCloud)


Great people:

LocalFourth: (see Rich’s post for more)

Sunlight Labs:

Our job listings: