I’m a big Ken Burns film fan. While his film footage is always impressive, I look forward to the stitching of poignant, archival photographs with the familiar, often deeply-timbered narration into a seamless story that appears to be a moving film, even as you are aware that it’s often a series of discrete, historic pictures. Whether he’s exploring the American Past Time, the decade-long drought that was the Dust Bowl or our globally-renowned National Parks System, I – along with countless other viewers – feel transported to that time. I feel not just empathy, or heartbreak, or elation, but a deep connection to the events and people of that era. His films feel transparent, accessible and genuine. They implore viewers to participate, engage, and critically consider complex topics and eras in our great nation’s brief but rich history.
Recently Burns collaborated with Tedd Benson of Bensonwood, known for reviving classic timber framing in America, to build a timber-framed studio for Burns’ Florentine Films. This Old House host Kevin O’Connor discussed the process and significance of timber framing with both of them in his In the House program over several brief videos. As I’m also a big This Old House fan, I was drawn to this all-star combination.
Burns, always the filmmaker-philosopher, jumps from metaphor to metaphor in the series of interviews. Barn building as metaphor for the American can-do spirit. Barn building as metaphor for the beautiful simplicity of agrarian America. Barn building as metaphor for the solid foundation of our people. In fairness to him, these all seem relevant. However, one metaphor that seemed particularly relevant – and transferable to the open data/open gov movement that is shaping how citizens are beginning to play more active roles in securing and benefiting from government services – was the timber barn’s transparent aesthetic as metaphor for honest, democratic principles.
Making Data Actionable – Maryland’s State Stat
Socrata’s Director of GovStat Beth Blauer is a data freak. I expect she’d freely admit it. A serendipitous injury on 9/10/01 prevented her from going to work on 9/11 as a newly minted attorney with a NYC hedge fund in the World Trade Center complex. Following that tragic day, Beth understandably went through a process of reevaluating life and career. She knew that she wanted to help people – as academic as that sounds – and she shifted gears quickly to become first a public defender, and next a juvenile probation officer with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.
Her work was recognized by Governor Martin O’Malley – formerly Mayor O’Malley of Baltimore – who was already known for applying a data-centric approach to reducing crime in Baltimore based on the success of New York City’s vaunted CompStat initiative. O’Malley and his team deftly applied the principles associated with making volumes of data visible, searchable, logical and ultimately actionable. He appointed Blauer his Chief of Staff of Juvenile Services and then Director of StateStat – his statewide version of CitiStat that had made such an impact on Baltimore’s crime rate and core city services.
Beth had arrived. She had followed O’Malley and his team’s work from CitiStat forward and set about to make her mark in making government respond more effectively to citizen needs. O’Malley recognized that it was critical to draw data from all departments in order to achieve the composite framework necessary to effect meaningful change. This wasn’t lab work in a controlled setting. It would be the basis for decisions regarding crime prevention and management, environmental strategies and ending childhood hunger in Maryland.
Maryland’s Open Data Portal
Using an open data portal, the team was able to aggregate information from the array of agency sites, secure it, organize it, and make it available to both internal teams and the public in a contextualized and intuitive fashion. If you go onto the portal, you’ll see that its layout is uncluttered, iconic and fairly easy to navigate. There are a number of highlighted reports/datasets that I’m sure are refreshed as public interest and state efforts shift.
Currently, four reports are highlighted horizontally on the open data portal landing page: payments by state agencies over FY14, tax rates by county, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across the state, and registered minority business enterprises (MBEs). As you click on the EV link, a layered page reveals a color-coded legend inset over a map of the state and northeast riddled with the related colored “bubbles” representing the wide range of alternative fuel (AF) refueling and support locations. There’s also a horizontal toolbar featuring options like chat, multiple views, export, filter and others.
No question that, while the data is generally intuitive and accessible, it helps to be fairly digitally native or at least comfortable with common iconography to benefit from the available information. Allowing that a fair percentage of visitors either are, or can become so without too much exposure or training, it’s pretty amazing stuff. It was fairly easy to apply a filter by city and expose a simple, structured spreadsheet with sites, addresses, etc. of EV charging stations in Rockland for example. If your Prius needed a charge after visiting a friend in Rockland, you’d be glad you visited the portal!
Transparency is Clearly here to Stay!
Whether you have an electric vehicle, are keen on the health of Chesapeake Bay, or concerned about crime in your neighborhood, Maryland’s open government (open gov) portal is helping to make meaningful connections to its citizens. This movement toward aggregating, structuring and making key data available both to citizens by way of meaningful dashboards and reporting, or to government teams for establishing impactful programs and services, deploying valuable resources and establishing a more democratic, transparent and efficient relationship with the citizens it serves is gaining national momentum. Nearly 4 in 5 states have implemented sites based on principles of open gov and transparency.
Much as a traditional barn raising draws communities together for a common cause, this open data, open gov movement seeks to draw the community in not only to support their governments, but to weigh in and be active members of the decision-making process on the many complex issues facing every town, city and state in the nation. FDR is attributed to have said the following – “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
The disability community in Chicago is an active one in various sectors, from advocacy and accessibility to various employment resources like AbilityLinks, nAblement and ITKAN. These three organizations have grown in myriad ways during the past ten years. One of the most interesting people – and colleagues – that I have worked with is Steve Luker. I actually first encountered Steve through an educational film entitled “The Forerunners”. The film was a collaboration between The Mind Alliance, Professor Fong Chan, and Pat Maher of nAblement. It profiles several nAblement consultants, and is intended to support students with disabilities from diverse backgrounds to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines and careers. Steve was also profiled as part of a Chicago Sun-Times article related to ITKAN .
Steve has been able to focus his disability workarounds and use of accessible technology into a budding career in IT, specializing in .NET programming and mobile game development. I was able to sit with Steve to discuss his background, career and views on IT.
Hello Steve, we have known each other for years, but for our readers, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came into the IT sector?
I have been a Chicagoan for all of my life. I moved to the Wheaton, IL area and I am married to Michelle. I am a developer focusing on the Microsoft side of the industry. I worked on projects for BP and other large corporate clients, as well as other smaller companies. I have worked on websites and desktop applications, and am currently working on a game called “Falling Fruit”.
When did you start to develop an interest in IT?
As you know, technology users with disabilities sometimes have the opportunity to test out new accessibility devices. When I was a young child, a company came to my school with a computer which would make communicating with people easier. One of the challenges that my Cerebral Palsy creates is verbal communication. That was when I developed a rabid interest in IT. Everything I saw I thought, “I can do this or anything with this technology”.
Did IT assist you in your early education?
I started to read at age 3 so it could have been when I was 4 to 6. My disability does not allow me to speak, so I learned American Sign Language finger spelling at 5 and I was spelling every word out. What’s interesting is that I was not a good speller until I got a speech synthesizer, because I couldn’t sound out words in my head. I always found myself thinking about the possibilities that IT would bring in the future.
How did you come across nAblement?
In 2006, I met Pat Maher at an AbilityLinks networking breakfast at the College of DuPage. It was a few months after I got my degree in IT. He asked me to serve on a panel at Manpower’s corporate headquarters in Milwaukee for the Breaking Down Barriers program developed by nAblement. I was able to meet Rob Figliulo, the CEO of SPR Companies, and I really became more involved with nAblement and SPR.
I understand that you have developed a game for the Windows Phone platform. ITKAN has seen Falling Fruit, and it’s very good (and difficult!). Can you tell us about your considerations for developing the game and challenges you have faced?
I wanted to do some kind of app that would go into all of the app stores. I began thinking about how people were actually making money and what tips they gave. Instead of developing an app that people might use for a few seconds every day or two, I thought of a game that might hold people’s attention longer. That’s important when income is coming from ads or in app purchases.
I know that you are registering Falling Fruit on the Windows Store for the Windows Phone operating system. As there is so much money moving with app purchases, I’m assuming this isn’t a labor of love altogether. As Microsoft, Apple and Google are making millions with their app marketplaces, what are your expectations for revenue from Falling Fruit?
Well, at first, I initially thought of sit-down comedy, as there would be a lot less competition than in stand-up, but that didn’t pan out 🙂 .
From there, looking at apps as a prospective business, Apple and Google app stores take 30% of each app sold. Microsoft is different in that they take 30% up to the first 25,000 of sales. Then they take 20%. That makes it more profitable if you come up with the next Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. I don’t mind not receiving 100% of my work, because the nice thing about all of the app stores is that they do so much of the work for you. Distribution, the billing…all of the back-end work is done well by all of the app stores. However, all of the creativity is in the hands of the app designer themselves. For example, I did some of the art myself. However, I am not much of an artist, so I ask family members and friends to help me with the more involved work.
Were there any core needs that you had in developing Falling Fruit?
It has to do with the processor and its ability to do virtualization. That’s when the computer creates a virtual computer. The game is being developed in a game engine so it could be exported to other platforms with a lot of code reuse. So I know .NET, but the game isn’t written in that. The game engine was key to being able to create Falling Fruit.
Name your top favorite websites and why.
Microsoft has news, learning resources, documentation, etc., even for a rookie programmer, and you can use Yammer to ask Microsoft programmers questions on their message boards and internal social network. Also, any Microsoft-related sites go here as well. At ITKAN we have access to BizSpark as well, which is a great developer site for Microsoft technologies offered free to not-for-profits. Thanks to Adam Hecktman of Microsoft for supporting us in securing our BizSpark license.
Feedly is my personal news reader. There are many others out there that work well, but as a matter of personal taste, this is my pick.
Twitter is great for following news and political discussion. You can reach out and really interact with who you are tweeting.
Finally, Twit.tv is an excellent resource for programmers.
What do you think of ITKAN’s progress, the upcoming year and the road ahead for the organization?
I think we have come a very long way. There’s such a strong bond on technology and careers in technology. We had service providers, technologists and so on in the past, but now we develop a critiquing atmosphere where we want to be better IT geeks as well as prospective IT employees. For example, I know a little about accessibility and I know where it affects me, but now I know so much more after working with ITKAN members who have visual disabilities. I’ve learned so much more that I would have ever thought I would.
The Final Megatrends Presentation for 2013 and an Outlook to 2014.
November 15, 2013 by Bill O’Connor
Starting from a more general perspective on how cloud computing works well for small to mid-sized business to the “how” of the cloud, The presentation was very well-received, provoking questions on cost, security, control and efficiency as well as an appreciation for the incredible technology associated with a cloud data center.
Subjects discussed were:
- Speed of cloud setup, scale of setup and cost control
- Cloud workforce patterns through different platforms and devices (This was fascinating stuff!)
- The differences between how the cloud is delivered – Packaged Software, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Virtual Machines
We also discussed the Microsoft Global Data Centers, who are impact players in developing cloud services for Microsoft end-users. One of the main Global Data Centers is right here in Chicago…and it’s a green complex!
This meeting was emblematic of the essence of ITKAN, technology leaders reaching out to those who want to dig deeper into IT and developing technology, process and trends. As always, many disabilities were represented within this rich and diverse group. ITKAN extents a heartfelt thank you to Chris, Jeff Seagard and Ross LaForte as well as our other presenters for excellent Megatrends presentations for 2013.
As always, a special word of thanks goes to Adam Hecktman, the director of the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago, for access to this great space and his great insights, and the supportive staff of the MTC.
If you would like to join us for our strategy session for 2014 (which will be spirited!), we will be having our next meeting on December 12th at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago, 5 PM. If you would like to reserve a spot for your next meeting, contact Pat Maher or Bill O’Connor via email, and we’ll get you on the ITKAN mailing list to stay abreast for meeting times, subjects and other ITKAN happenings!
Many times, prospective candidates, service providers and employers ask me, “What are ITKAN meetings like? Are they formal? Laid-back?”. I can tell you that from the greenest rookie to the most grizzled veteran, ITKAN fits a need – they work on developing their skills, they meet…and even get a great opportunity. After attending these engaging meetings, we’ve really hit a groove with our Megatrends (see our previous blog post to find out more in 2013, a growing network with employers, entrepreneurs and the like, and we are constantly looking for opportunities for fellow members. Networking groups can be loose-ended or with strong ties to fellow colleagues, and ITKAN is definitely one of the best groups I’ve been involved with. I did not foresee that I would meet such a great bunch of folks who are dedicated to the the mantra of ITKAN, where we are building (and nearing) towards a goal of showcasing solid, passionate professionals that any company would be interested in hiring.
On arriving to ITKAN meetings, which are held at the Microsoft Technology Center in Chicago, I enter a work-space for us that is a collaborative environment that provides access to innovative technologies and world-class expertise. Take a peek here to see what the MTC is like, how it works and the space itself. Usually, there is always a few ITKAN members that arrive early. We network, talk about work, and talk a little bit of play as well (gaming and the Chicago Blackhawks are the conversation du jour.) After our intros, ITKAN goes to work. We discuss IT in different sectors and formats, going from general info to the most granular info that Microsoft professionals give to us. We get out around 7, but there’s always a few folks who hang around to network, have a laugh and separate until next month. Adam Hecktman, director of the Microsoft Technology Center has a room set up for us, and Pat Maher, the director of ITKAN, starts our meetings. We introduce ourselves to the group and find out a bit about new members. I’ve been working with ITKAN for over 2 years now. I started using ITKAN as a basis to build a stronger personal brand for my career as well as an opportunity to see where information technology would go next.
The location for ITKAN meetings is in the Aon Center, at Michigan and Randolph, and there are great transportation options via Metra & CTA to the Center. My personal favorite is driving as parking at Aon Center costs $6 after 4 PM. Not only is a great price, but it’s accessibility is great. Join us next time. 2nd Thursday of each month (July 11th is next), at the Aon. Email me if you have questions
Recently, I came across an article about Luke Anderson and StopGap, an organization in Toronto that is based around raising awareness of accessibility issues to local businesses.
You might think that StopGap was an initiative of an aggressive disability advocacy organization or well-oiled city government, but in fact it’s the concept of passionate 12 and 13 year olds. Coupled with the support of grassroots educators and area professionals, StopGap is making a big difference in overall accessibility.
After reading this great story, I immediately made connections to our efforts within ITKAN. Our mission is to strengthen our members’ professional technology network, expand their knowledge base in developing IT applications and tools, and better prepare them for a career in this exciting and demanding field. We are a passionate and engaged membership – and we’re always looking to grow!
Throughout 2013 we’re exploring four Megatrends in technology at ITKAN. We’ve begun with mobile which we’ll continue covering in February and March. We will explore social media, big data and cloud computing respectively through the balance of year.
Come join us to find out more to gain insights and career-impacting knowledge in technology Megatrends!.
by PAT MAHER on SEPTEMBER 24, 2012
Members of ITKAN’s Visionary Innovation Team
In early 2008 we founded an initiative dedicated to creating a community of candidates with a passion for technology who managed disability in their lives. ITKAN was launched at the Illinois Technology Association’s (ITA) TechNexus incubator space with their generous support. Our tagline, “Fostering Knowledge, Network and Opportunity” remains a central theme to this day. We have met each month – with some exceptions – to establish this community by bringing in expert presenters in leading edge technology applications and processes, educating members on a variety of assistive technologies, considering applied technology shifts such as the evolution in the mobile office and engaging our members in forward-thinking projects to enhance their career or future career opportunities.
We have been supported in this mission by the ITA – and now the Illinois Technology Foundation (ITF), SPR Companies and its strategic family, and for the past two years theMicrosoft Technology Center (MTC) and staff. We moved our meetings to the MTC in Autumn, 2010. With the support of Adam Hecktman, Director, and Shelley Stern, Citizenship and Public Affairs Director of Microsoft we have settled into the beautiful MTC with its Envisioning Center, many creative spaces and generous hosts.
Join us on Eventbrite
Join us at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago (directions in Eventbrite link at bottom of post) from 3-5PM on Monday, October 22nd in celebrating the ITKAN collaboration as we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month and our Computerworld HonorsLaureate, tour the technology world of the future in the Envisioning Center, and view the CINE Golden Eagle and Chicago International Filmfest Silver Hugo award-winning short film the forerunners in this creative environment…
“The forerunners is a great film! Very powerful. Beyond the business case, I really enjoyed a lot of the insights it gave into the broader disability experience – putting a strong, tender and human face to it. Bravo.”
– Rob McInnes, Diversity World
Register for this MTC Chicago and ITKAN special event today athttp://www.itkan.eventbrite.com!