Category Archives: Work

When the going gets weird, the weird go pro (2017 life update, part II)

man on grass hill in Astoria

I haven’t put this out there publicly yet, but should! I left Microsoft (and NYC) last week after 3+ years on the Technology and Civic Engagement team. I was extremely fortunate to get to serve on that team and learn about creating social impact at the scale of a giant tech company. The team, now Microsoft Cities, is in great shape — they’re expanding to more US cities, and will be covering more areas of social and civic impact work. I’m still deeply supportive of their work, if I can be of assistance connecting.

For a while now, I’ve been eager to get back to creating things myself, and I’m now in a great place where I can incubate projects again. Right now, I’m parked up in a beautiful place next to the ocean in Gloucester, MA. I’m going to hit the proverbial road and travel Latin America this winter, as well. Hit me up if you’d like to cross paths somewhere great. Ideally I find somewhere to park up relatively quickly.

Some of my upcoming work will go through the newly formed Bad Idea Factory, a creative collective of people building things to make you thinking face emoji. You can follow along with that crew’s misadventures on the popular microblogging service Twitter.

In terms of what I’m going to work on…here are a handful, in various stages of progress:

  • Revive and radically open up my puzzle states project to bring popular attention to the state legislators gerrymandering away our elections.
  • Build a web app to automatically track all of your giving across nonprofits, crowdfunders, and political campaigns. This one exists in alpha form, thanks to Justin Nowell. Hit me up if you’d be interested in trying it out.
  • Something, anything to detect capture more methane and buy us time to produce less carbon.
  • Make a game app that makes saving money anywhere near as fun as spending it.
  • Build a tool that helps people maintain a large number of healthy relationships, in excess of the Dunbar number, that isn’t a CRM or transactional, sales-based relationship model.
  • Publish more travel and freelance writing and photography.
  • Develop a noise sensor that lets you know midnight audio levels in the house you’re about to buy or rent.
  • See if we can invent washing machine filters that keep synthetic microplastics out of our oceans / oysters.
  • A bunch of random art projects to track your path across maps, an emoji alethiometer, turn street grids into sheet music, etc.

So, I plan to stay busy, while also adopting a healthier work-life balance and learning Spanish? Needless to say, I probably need to narrow that list down, but get in touch if you’re interested in collaborating. Or just want to get beers in a nice place together somewhere.

Here’s what our Civic Tech Fellows did this summer

Our incredible cohort of Civic Tech Fellows (and Program Manager Saron Yitbarek) spent their summers building useful tools and programs to support the field of civic tech. Here are some demos of new tools and projects that are early in development, shared with the Civic Hall community on August 27th, 2015.


  • Blockchain for Social Impact
  • Civic Graph
  • Civic Graph check-in
  • USDA Innovation Challenge and Big Apps
  • Maker Kit
  • Civic Tech Casefinder
  • Microsoft Translator
  • BRCK
  • Tech Jobs Academy website launch template
  • An open website launch template

Continue reading Here’s what our Civic Tech Fellows did this summer

Modeling NYC Subway Flow and School Districts’ Effect on Housing Value

Justin Rao and Jake Hofman coordinate the Data Science Summer School program, hosted and sponsored by Microsoft Research. Each year, dedicated students spend their summer learning how to conduct research thanks to a network of researchers, mentors, and advisors. All of the course materials are openly and freely available on Github.

Tonight, we’re celebrating the program’s second class. Last year’s students researched questions about racial profiling in New York City and how to optimize the city’s bikeshare system. This year, it’s all about subways and school districts. Continue reading Modeling NYC Subway Flow and School Districts’ Effect on Housing Value

Useful Widgets

Work’s pretty busy this week, so you get the post I wrote for EchoDitto‘s blog. Please pardon the professional tone and altruistic subject matter. Scroll down for obligatory Footloose reference.

Being the early-adopting nerd that I am, I’ve gone through my share of widgets. I’ve tinkered with every site- and PC-based widget engine from Konfabulator to Yahoo Widgets to Google Desktop. At work I use a Mac, so I got to experiment with those guys, including an ill-fated Christmas Countdown widget. But as much as I love fun technology, the overwhelming uselessness of widgets thus far has tainted my expectations for the platforms that enable them. The fact is, I’ve never had any stocks to check. If something’s really important, I’ll place the RSS feed or bookmark somewhere prominent within Firefox. And don’t get me started on how many different ways I can check the weather.

Which is why I owe Katya Andresen thanks for her Net Squared DC presentation last night for changing all of that and making me realize their potential again. The Six Degrees project
has done something genuinely groundbreaking. They want people to do good in the world, but they don’t really care if you go to their website to do so. They’re doing what we’ve grown hoarse repeating: If you let go of your message a little and empower your supporters, big things can happen.

Six Degrees allows users to make badges for their cause and take their fundraising elsewhere: their blog, their MySpace, and so on. In doing so they’ve essentially enabled individuals to become their own charities, in the same way that tools like WordPress allowed people to become their own publishers.

And it works. Think about it, when is the last time you gave to charity? Chances are, it was for a friend or family member who was running a race or otherwise soliciting donations for a cause. And you gave. You do support Save the Baby Zebras, but you gave to them because your friend or family member asked you to, and what’s important to them is important to you.

Six Degrees keeps things interesting with a Top Six Badges contest for matching grants that judges based on how many donators you’ve attracted rather than how much money you’ve accrued.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part of this whole thing: It was started with the help of Kevin Bacon, who bought the Six Degrees domain after realizing that most mentions of him on the Internet were about the six degrees from Kevin Bacon game and not his stellar performance in Footloose. The celebrity tie-ins continue with Celebrity Badges from Jessica Simpson, Kanye West, Nicole Kidman and others.

Anyway, thanks again to Katya and to everyone else for coming out and making this another great NetSquared event. Join us next month on March 13th at 7pm!