codeformia:

Our Civic Hacking Brigade is always open to inviting those with ideas on how to create ease in communication with citizens and government. This week, we were joined by a like-minded group, the Cortadito Computer Club (CCC). The name is a play off the Hombrew Computer Club which started in Silicon…

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”

Joan Didion, commencement address at University of California, Riverside, 1975.

Check out this great NPR collection of the best commencement speeches.

codeformia:

Every Monday, Code for Miami meets at the Lab Miami at 7pm to talk civic hacking and eat some pizza. However this past week stood out from the ordinary Monday routine. We had a very special guest, Commissioner Juan C Zapata, visit our group. We also got to hear from one of our members,

Lorraine Hansberry’s Likes and Hates, April 1, 1960

#PDF14 Recap: Save the Internet/The Internet Saves

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Hanging with some of the Google Social Impact Team and PDF fellows at a dinner before the forum.

I spent the weekend in NYC as a Google fellow at Personal Democracy Forum. The theme of the forum was Save the Internet/The Internet Saves, and we spent two days thinking, learning and exchanging ideas and experiences about many facets of that proposition. How might people protect their personal data while governments make data more accessible and open? How might we make the Internet more welcoming and safe for all people? How might online networks become more engaged in offline democracy? How might we use the power of networks to protect the networks themselves?

Historically speaking, these questions aren’t exactly novel. Every great shift in our society and its governance has been closely tied to how we communicate — written words led to written laws and written rights, presses led to representative power and protections of expression, image-centric mass media led to civil rights, etc. Each change has carried its share of metaphorical and literal bloodshed as well. Thanks to the Internet, our communication and our identities are more specific and more networked than ever. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that this Internet thing is still pretty new and is fundamentally a mish-mash of duct-taped software. We’re still deep in the middle of figuring out what it all means for society. 

There is a very old motto "festina lente," roughly “make haste slowly,” that kept circling around my brain at PDF. Rapid progress is necessary, but it requires diligence. The friction is especially apparent in the juxtaposition of intelligence surveillance with the open government movement, two broadly explored topics at PDF. As part of our government is exploiting ignorance (and afore-linked man-made disasters) of Internet security to gather data about citizens, other parts of our government are exposing more data than ever before to be more accountable to citizens. (It’s essential also to remember that government is itself a messy human network, not a monolith.) We are indeed making haste, but often too quickly to protect individuals or our collective interests. These collisions push us closer to a considered understanding of how to move forward as individuals and as a democratic society in a digitally networked age.

I am hopeful. At PDF, I met smart, active people working to improve access, to make government more responsive to citizens, to educate people on how to protect themselves online, to make a better Internet and to engage online communities for offline action. I am working alongside them on these issues in my communities too. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I turn to history as a guide here too. As long as people have fought for equality, justice and freedom, society has progressed toward these ideals. The Internet is now both our battleground and our agent in this fight. That’s why net neutrality, privacy and open government are so critically linked though they seem on the surface to be at odds. An accessible Internet, where people may communicate freely and efficiently, is our best check against tyranny and offers our best opportunity to make our world more just and free. We have to save it to save ourselves.

Many thanks to the Google Social Impact Team for enabling me to attend PDF as a fellow, and to everyone who took the time to share their ideas and their work at the forum. Check out what happened at techpresident.com and on Twitter (hashtag #PDF14).

Finding the right frame

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Playtesting The Game.

I just finished my last project of the semester, The Game — a simulation game about becoming a successful rapper. Creating it has been an incredibly important experience for me as a designer.

See, I set out to make a game about student loan debt. And I quickly realized no one wants to play a game about student loan debt. It’s a hugely important issue, but it makes for a hugely dull context for a game. 

 I wanted to take on a serious issue! I wanted people to learn from all the freaking research I did on default rates and average loan burden. But, it didn’t work. So, I had to find a different frame, a frame that players could lose themselves in, a frame that was actually fun.

I settled on rap, because I love it, sure, but also because success in the field is so deeply tied to brands and material wealth. I scoured rapgenius for allusions to expensive items. I designed a system of record advances and career impacts that make it very hard to reach Jay-Z moguldom. And, it’s not perfect yet, but it is fun, and it definitely makes people think hard about debt.

Designing The Game has made me wrestle with my brain in the best possible way. I am both a journalist and a designer. One half of me abhors obfuscation and the other thinks abstraction is a perfectly lovely tool to get one’s point across. I’m interested in making news games, and the mental olympics in this design challenge were an important test for my assumptions on both sides.

I think journalism can and should leverage play and the deep engagement games produce for more meaningful understanding of complex issues. I think this fits our primary goal of informing, and it’s an exciting evolution toward informing through choice and experimentation rather than through the act of repeating. But, if news games are going to work, we have to be willing to find the right frame and bend toward fun.

The good news is that it’s already being done. There are plenty of fun and informative games that help people understand history or important issues. Maybe The Game could be one too. (After I do a lot more polishing.)  

Props for Mike Dee/Mike D …

This little video I cut for an excellent entry in WLRN’s Remix The News Challenge is entered in some contests and winning things. We’re finalists for an SPJ Florida Sunshine State Award and we won first in the SPJ Green Eyeshade Awards for Sports Commentary Online.

Thanks to Kenny Malone for inviting me to pitch in, and to the WLRN news team for entering it for awards.

“As the groups presented their projects, dozens of women were smiling and engaged. Even if one third of these women continue their journey into digital work, it will be more women working in media technology than before. That would be a success.”

Forgiveness.

The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this, because it is the key to making art and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

— In her beautiful meditation on the writing life, Ann Patchett adds to our ongoing archive of wisdom on writing. Pair with Patchett’s advice to graduates on writing and life. (via explore-blog)