Midlife Crisis

Today I turn 40

On the cusp of 2010, I told a dear friend that I needed a major change. I wanted to find meaningful work that combined my love of politics, history and technology with social good. My cousin Cori was home for the holidays. She was working in Dhaka (Bangladesh) teaching engineering, physics and music. Her journey to share her skills and make the world a better place inspired me to make a leap of some kind. My whole family has always volunteered locally and, sometimes, globally. My Mom and Dad are tireless supporters of their neighbours-always willing to deliver a pot of soup or be amazingly handy. My sister and brother-in-law are both long time volunteers and instill this value raising my nieces and nephew.

Fast forward twelve days to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Much like others, I watched the TV and twitter streams helplessly. My sister had volunteered in Haiti a few years ago and called me. As a medical professional she wanted to get on a plane to help. I wanted to do more but wasn’t sure how beyond donating money. At 21:30 ET I received a Facebook message from CrisisCamp DC inviting everyone to join a Global Conference call to discuss what technologists and crisis response partners could contribute. I joined the first conference call and everything changed. A similar life-changing path is a shared by many people involved in the various volunteer technology communities who responded. As one friend joked, she takes “map-cations” and I take “hack-cations”. We both spent most of 2010 vacations volunteering our skills for technology in crisis.

Barcelona (Spain)

(Biking in Barcelona, Spain before the awesome Mozilla Drumbeat event.)

Mid-life Crisis

Some people buy a car for their midlife crisis, I found my path.

The CrisisCommons journey has introduced me to the converged world of technologists, emergency planners, crisis communicators, GIS mappers, and countless other skilled professionals answering the call. I’ve had the awesome pleasure to make the acquaintance of new people who share this vision. I’ve been to Washington (DC) (twice), Boston (MA), Sydney (Australia) and Barcelona (Spain) to learn, engage and collaborate. My job has changed too.

Currently, I am on a short-term contract providing research and community-building for CrisisCommons. I don’t know if the contract will equate a full-time job. But, I do know that I am inspired. I also know that I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how technology can help during the whole emergency response cycle. Even if it is only as a volunteer, I am a believer. While our collective work might not change the world today, it will in time with perseverance and community efforts. We all have made a good start.

In June 2010, I participated in Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Sydney (Australia) and really wanted to bring the project home. Just this past weekend UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon spoke at the RHoK-New York opening gala. Respected world leaders get the power and shift of this movement. Is there anything more wonderful than the Secretary General of the UN giving a call to action citing the open source movement? The very next day I had the pleasure of kicking off Canada’s and Toronto’s first RHoK event. Techs really can make a difference with their keen problem-solving and innovation skills. Happily, I am a bridge to facilitate.

It is the best gift to know oneself and determine your path(s) in life. (Well, besides landing a full-time job doing what I love.) I don’t know what will happen next Tuesday with our CrisisCommons proposal, but I am proud to part of this dream and help build it.



Random Hacks of Kindness – Toronto (Day 1)

What an amazing first day of Canada’s first Random Hacks of Kindness. We had a great partnership with the Toronto’s Open Data Hackathon team.

(Photo by Cynthia Gould)

Amazing post from the RHoK team with Secretary General of the UN, Ban-Ki Moon, receiving his RHoK t-shirt.

Blog post by Melanie Gorka: RHoKing out in Toronto. She provides highlights on the 7 projects that the ODHD and RHoK teams are collaborating on and captures the solid community vibe.

Raw timelapse of @rhokto day 1 up by Ade Barkah

Check out all the Open Data and RHoK videos on our Youtube channel:

Photos by Ben Lucier
Photos by Cynthia Gould

Steady stream of social media content from CrisisCamp Paris

More details tomorrow.



Random Hacks of Kindness (Toronto)- Sponsor Help

We are busy working on Random Hacks of Kindness Toronto (RHoK) The event is seeking sponsorship to feed over 60 software developers, storytellers and project managers. We will be brainstorming on problem definitions for humanitarian aid. As well, our friends at Open Data Toronto will be working on local data solutions.

The Global RHoK event is December 4 -5 , 2010. There are already more than 500 people in 16 countries participating. It is going to be awesome.


The sponsorship will go directly to food and beverages for the two-day hackathon. We have been most fortunate to have a few local companies help us. Thanks to Tucows Inc., Left Button Solutions, Unspace, Idee Inc., University of Toronto , Planet Geek and TechSoup Canada for their support.

We have raised half the amount we need. There is only a week and 1/2 to go.

Sponsor Random Hacks of Kindness – Toronto.

Please share this link. Every dollar will help us create software solutions for humanitarian aid.


RHoK Toronto Team.


Drumbeat Overview – The First Date

Mozilla Drumbeat was a hybrid, chaotic event full of engaging people and ideas. I’m still processing, but in one word “Overwhelming“. The only model I can compare Drumbeat to is “The First Date“: new, so full of potential, contradictions, sometimes awkward, and sometimes magical. Trying to balance actions, participatory learning and some brilliant oration/creation is not an easy task. Add to this a deep sense of trying to model new collaboration syncing two sometimes disparate groups: open education and open web/hackers.


Every idea, every event starts somewhere. With CrisisCommons, I am encountering this same clash and collaboration of cultures: emergency planners and new technologists. The same theme exists: we know we have a great idea, we know we want to collaborate, but the space is undefined and a new frontier. We have the power of the Open Web cracking traditional models and providing incentives to keep trying. No one has the right answer on how this will look and how we could build in our respective areas. This is the beauty of being early adopters and change agents. Whether you are brainstorming around open education or open crisis management, there is opportunity to move beyond silos.

The People:
Meeting SJ Klein, Dale Dougherty, Phillip Schmidt, Mitchell Baker and Cathy Davidson was inspiring. Each of these people provided me with head-spinning thoughts about wiki, makers, P2PU, Mozilla’s future and the future of open education. But, I feel like each person I conversed with was a connection to like minds. Thank you to each of the participants for making this event so engaging. There are just too many people to name, but I would like to give mention to three people and their amazing projects/journeys:

    Michael Nelson created Learning Goals. He has applied for the Shuttleworth Foundation grant. This project could help crack the code for crowdsource learning. I will be watching its evolution.

Highlights for me:

    Arduino xbee bike. It was magic to collaborate with two hackers from Greece and learn about how they worked with Arduino. I especially enjoyed being their test biker. Building stuff is part of opening your mind to new ways to learn.
    Hackbus- the personalities, the books, the towing, and, most of all, the unifying force of all things Drumbeat

Badge lab
I spent most of the first day in the Badge lab. I believe that the brainstorming there can potentially help credentials for Volunteer Technical Communities. At times, I struggled with the focus on individual efforts. However, the models built will allow for group collaboration on badges. Communities will be able to create badges and work within the flexible model. It was truly exciting to have concurrent teams of brainstorming and software development. I’ve offered to be a community contact for any beta testing.

More on the Badge Lab from @sbskmi .

Science Fair
Mozilla Drumbeat invited me to share in the Science Fair on opening night. It was great to introduce people to CrisisCommons and inquire about how they think open education can be used. However, much like Speedgeeking, it is really hard to have an indepth conversation about how to build crowdsource training. I really welcome any input in this area. I will be blogging on this topic as I continue to work on CrisisCamp in a Box.

Science Fair

More Drumbeat posts: Reflections, learning and more:
Sleslie: Free and Learning
ChaCha Sikes: Mozilla Drumbeat Highlights
Aza Raskin on How to Prototype
Matt Jukes on Drumbeat reflections
Dave Humphrey on Open Video

What will I do with my Drumbeat Learning:

*We are seriously considering building a P2PU course for CrisisCamp in a Box.
*Universal Subtitles will be used for all our CrisisCamp in a Box videos.
*I will continue to collaborate on the Badge lab for future iterations. This is really key for our communities.
*Our community is very keen to follow the work from the Open Video lab
*I’ll continue to be in touch with some of the people I met. What an amazing group of folks. I also plan on engaging with people I didn’t get a chance to talk more with. I consider Move Commons top on this list.
*CrisisCommons will be collaborating with a number of the communities that I met at Drumbeat. More on this in the future.

The Drumbeat community is growing. I feel like the people and ideas that started at this event will have a lasting impact globally. I’m still thinking on how to use the connections and ideas to build CrisisCommons and support all the initiatives to create an open web. When I first started reading about the event, I was perplexed why the organizers started with Open Education. But, the more I pondered the concept, the more I became a fan. Education is a uniting force for all our efforts. And, it is the future of how we can promote and change our corners of the net.

Keeping breaking and making stuff. Every Drumbeater inspires me. Follow the #drumbeat hashtag for more thoughts from all the participants.


Canadian Red Cross: New/Social Media & Emergencies

The Canadian Red Cross: 2010 Provincial Emergency Management Conference was November 7 – 10, 2010. David Black, Melanie Gorka, Brian Chick and I were honoured to present the CrisisCamp/CrisisCommons story.

Our goal was to also demonstrate how local Red Cross organizations and emergency managers could use our lessons learned and leverage social media in their respective areas. I personally enjoyed the question about how would CrisisCamp respond to an potential earthquake in Sudbury. We would contact the Canadian Red Cross and ask how we could be of service. This is the type of collaboration and partnership that volunteer technical communities and crisis response organizations can have. We just need to continue to build relationships in preparedness.

We were also asked how to get started on Twitter. I recommended that people follow the lead of the Canadian Red Cross. Earlier this year, there was a very minor earthquake in Ontario. Immediately after this, John Saunders (Provincial Director Canadian Red Cross), started using Twitter for communications on preparedness safety tips as well as updates on power or other services. He is a trusted expert on Emergency Management and his tweet content would be verified. I his posts to keep my previous workplace informed.


Karen Snider, Canadian Red Cross, wrote about our talk here: How Can Emergency Responders use 2000 nerds

Our presentation:

Special thanks to John Saunders, Jen Mayville and Karen Snider for inviting us and supporting our efforts. We truly look forward to more collaboration between the Canadian Red Cross and the CrisisCamp Toronto team.


Traveling the Open Web

If learning is about the diverse journeys, then travel metaphors seem appropriate. Mozilla Drumbeat’s Learning, Freedom and the Web brought over 400 people to Barcelona, Spain for a 3-day event. Normally, I save highly personal introspective writing for other spaces. But, there is value in reflection on the greater journey of learning and the open web.

Arc de Triomf, Barcelona Spain

What do Traveling and the Open Web have in Common?

Accessible to Novices
I’m a novice, armchair traveler. In fact, I own every Pico Iyer book and am obsessed with travel shows and movies. But, I am new to feeding my wanderlust. Attending the festival meant that I had to grapple with awkward, disorienting and exasperating moments that come with travel. Love it! While I’ve previously traveled to Australia, Ireland, Dominican Republic (resort) and throughout Canada and the United States, Barcelona offered brand new lessons. First off, I have become so reliant on my smart phone for directions, planning and networking that it was hard to be off-network. Traveling is about happenstance. You can advance plan, but there are still moments when a physical map or guide would help. Just like the Open Web, cities are completely accessible if you seek the opportunity to find a common language and navigate the discomfort of new experiences with a smile.

Back up your Data
A new friend was robbed at night walking in a public square. She lost her passport, money, safety and energy. All the travel guides that tell you to use a money belt and only carry a photocopy of your passport. What they don’t give is a human face of a ruined trip and the pall of fear that settles on the victim and their companions. It was a huge teaching moment and a very real experience in Barcelona. As a dreamer and wanderer, this could easily have been my story. As a geek, I know to plan for privacy, security, phishing attacks and backing up my offline and online data. The Open Web has to grapple with these barriers. But, it our responsibility as early adopters and change agents to teach and to share this knowledge in accessible ways across multiple communication channels, languages and learning styles. And, we need to have alternate/backup plans when things go awry.

Group Travel
We mostly traveled in groups during the event. Fortunately, late nights included new friends walking each other to hotels. Learning can sometimes be more rewarding in groups. It provides the opportunity for laughter and exploration in a safe way while capitalizing on the best knowledge available. With CrisisCommons, we are are focused on crowdsourcing and collaboration. We are traveling in a corner of the Open Web that builds an ever evolving community reliant on collaboration, trust and the best available knowledge.

Torben and Stian

Torben and Stian hanging out in the Badge Lab, Drumbeat

Make New Friends
Traveling to a new place provides an opportunity to make new friends. Drumbeat had a large safety net of old friends and new collaborators; the event was full of brilliant, engaging minds. Often, we found ourselves wandering around the city after connecting at sessions. I met people from Argentina, Brazil, Norway, Germany, UK, Ireland, Italy and Austria. And, of course, attendees from across Canada and the US. While it wasn’t a complete global event, there is an opportunity to grow in that direction. An Open Web cannot be built in a vacuum. This needs to start somewhere. I’m a firm believer that great things have been started as a result of the connections of Open Web and Open Education advocates united at Drumbeat. We made new friends and explored ways to create these spaces.

Getting Lost
My favourite part of traveling is independent wandering. This was somewhat curtailed by the fear of robbery. Fortunately, I found a work-around patch by way of a bicycle tour which afforded me the opportunity to explore with some sense of independence. Not being able to freely walk around at night was the hardest part about this trip for me. Now, I think about travel with the layer of accessibility, safety and fear. Learning this navigation in Barcelona is completely invaluable. It will help me move from a novice traveler someday. Open Web advocates need to find ways to open these very doors of accessibility, fear of change and learning styles. Without doing this, we will be at the same stage next year talking to ourselves rather than stirring it up on a larger scale. We need to get lost and be independent of our common alliance. This will allow us to share rather than tell.

Architecture teaches you
Barcelona is full of beauty with architectural brilliance from Gaudi to Gehry to Meir that can stop your breath. It teaches you perspective, design, spatial awareness and more. It is a moment of discovery to explore new visions of urbanism. The Drumbeat event was full of great moments and ideas that offered similar experiences. The Open Web is full of this opportunity to be jaw-droppingly awesome. But we need to consider the architecture around us. We can compliment and create spaces large and small that allow for imagination and spirit.

Attending Mozilla Drumbeat Festival of Learning, Freedom and the Web was a true honour. Thank you to Mozilla for the great opportunity to be on this journey. Special thanks to Mark Surman, Mitchell Baker, Allen Gunn, Nathaniel James, Matt Thompson, Matt Garcia, Kate Guernsey, Yolanda Hippensteele, Maria Sole, and all the Mozilla crew. More thanks as well to the new friends, innovators, and instigators I encountered.

(I will write a separate post on the content of the Drumbeat event. )



Video Lab Dispatch – Drumbeat Festival

The room is full of people working on an open video HTML5 script, transcribing content, tagging photos and collaborating for Drumbeat’s closing night video. Video interviews, photos, tweets and other content are being transcribed, edited, designed and morphed into one master. The script on the projected screen is foreign to me. There are 6 people are writing in html 5 with fast-paced collaboration. Two people are editing and transcribing one set of videos. Three folks are working on graphic design. Everyone is an orchestra of activity with a deadline to tell the story of the Drumbeat Festival- people, events and more.


I’m here because I’ve spent the bulk of the festival brainstorming ideas and this is deep in the heart of Drumbeat tech. Brett Gaylor of Web.made.movies and Ben Moskowitz of the Open Video Alliance are both conducting and participating. It seems wrong to write a blog post instead of doing a meta video to show how the Drumbeat video is being created. Safe to say video would best capture the pulse of activity and the steady stream of conversations: Jquery, popcorn, I could go take a nap, adobe fireworks, do we need translation of this video?, use the firefox beta, the border, no move the font a few pixels, we need to get this done to universal subtitles, plus conversations in English and Spanish.

Can’t wait to see the final version tonight. Go Video Lab!


Open web with the Arduino xBee Bicycle at Drumbeat

Two university students: Vasileios Georgitzikis and Pierros Papadeas, spent yesterday in the Hackerspace Playground and Arduino. Their goal: create an Arduino xbee open web powered bicycle. The night before they worked on their script. Then, they refined it by creating the device and testing speeds without a bike until about 3:30pm.

How it works
What they built was an Arduino wireless transmitter and a hall effect sensor on the wheel of a bicycle.

This calculates speed and then broadcasts this wirelessly. The receiver module connects to a usb.

the receiver

Every bike broadcasts and id and speed. The script reads and visualizes using Html 5.
Pierros testing

The Arduino demo at the hackbus:

hackbus demo

The team:
Pierros and Vasileios

More photos!


Create Joyous Insurgency

Inspiration! Mitchell Baker and Cathy Davidson kicked off today’s Drumbeat activities with their thoughts on the future of the open web and open learning.

Baker said that the future of the web means we need to: see, touch, get your hands on it and pull it apart. Mozilla’s goal is to provide opportunities to create your own world. We need to merge the open source software and education world to change the conversation, build connections and merge
common values.

Cathy Davidson: “I’m among my people. Education does not work, we have to change it.” Kindergarten to University education is broken. It is based on industrial revolution/assembly line models. We need to add peer-to-peer university (P2PU) learning and open education. This means triggering the edge thinking a. instrincically for what you do and b. change what we do. The world has changed. We don’t need this old hierarchical structure.

The call to action was quoted best by Davidson: “Create Joyous Insurgency”.

(Note: Throughout the Drumbeat Festival of Learning, Freedom and the Web, I’ll create some brief posts with quotes and topical highlights. Think of it as headline news.)

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