If you a hear a chorus of MEOWS singing the Imperial March, it’s this freshly printed batch of CAT-AT tees marching over to my booth at the @renegadecraft in Chicago this weekend! Printed with Dark Hoth Gray on Silver tees!! #starwars (at Ground Up Press)
Thankful for Tacos
In-flight passenger lounge, 1974, United Airlines, Chicago.
Chicago Tribune Archives
Working with developers in the newsroom -
Last month I co-led a “Web Developer Literacy” for reporters and editors at the Online News Association conference. I expected a lot of questions about particular technologies, but the discussion wound up focusing much more on process and office politics, touching on tough questions like:
How do you integrate developers into a team of reporters?
How do you spec out digital projects when you have no idea what’s feasible?
How can developers, designers, and reporters work together effectively in the crucible of a newsroom?
Introducing Tacofancy -
Last night, while enjoying some steak, sweet potato and apple tacos, I decided to create a github repo dedicated to community-driven taco creation. Just over 12 hours later, it’s had 103 commits, 17 contributors, and a ton of delicious recipes. Love tacos? SUBMIT YOURS TOO.
265 applicants. When our search for our 2014 Knight-Mozilla Fellowships ended at midnight, August 17, that’s what we were staring at: 265 of some of the most talented developers, hackers, data scientists, and makers I’d ever come across. The number of slots we had for them? Five.
The process to narrow from 265 to five wasn’t easy—at every step in the process we’d have a gut check, constantly revising our narrowed lists upward to make sure we didn’t miss anyone amazing. By the time we’d winnowed the lists down to an impossibly small 25 candidates, our news partners—the New York Times, ProPublica, the Texas Tribune, La Nacion, Ushahidi and Internews Kenya—all asked the same question: Can we choose them all?
But, together, we narrowed down to a final five.
These five Fellows come at a turning point for the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project as well. As I announced last week, OpenNews will be continuing not just for 2014, but for 2015 and 2016 as well, supported by a substantial grant from the Knight Foundation. This grant allows us to expand far beyond fellowships: we’ll be hosting our own conference, SRC CON; we’ll be holding “code convenings” to build collaborative newsroom code; we’ll be supporting hack days around the world and bringing learning opportunities to smaller newsrooms. But we will always see our Knight-Mozilla Fellows as the beating heart inside OpenNews: a chance to invest deeply in talent and ideas and new blood for a growing community.
2014 marks our third cohort of Knight-Mozilla Fellows, and the five fellows I’m announcing today have their work cut out for them to match the incredible ideas, projects, and people that came before them.
That said, they’re going to blow it all away. Our new fellows are amazing and I am so excited for you to meet them. We started at 265 and now we have five—meet our 2014 Knight-Mozilla Fellows:
Harlo Holmes is a media scholar, software programmer, and activist. As research fellow with The Guardian Project, she primarily investigates topics in digital media steganography, metadata, and the standards surrounding technology in the social sciences. She harnesses her multi-faceted background in service of responding to the growing technological needs of human rights workers, journalists, and other do-gooders around the world. Follow her @harlo or at harloholm.es
Brian Jacobs is a designer and interactive developer. He’s passionate about multi-faceted visual tools that are civic-minded, scientific, journalistic, or otherwise educational, to benefit the people and their habitat. He’s worked in commercial and academic contexts, on GIS projects in West Virginia, web apps in Philadelphia, and towards an urban data processing and visualization platform for the MIT SENSEable City Lab, in Singapore. He’s excited about the future of open data, particularly collaborative and semantic web initiatives that can afford reproducible access to cleaner, more interdisciplinary data. Brian is also intensely interested in bagels, hikes, and sci-fi camp. Follow him @btjakes.
Aurelia Moser is a data munger and code monkey based in New York City. With a background in library metadata and lab work, she builds visualizations and narratives around data, supported dually by passions for data preservation and open information. Equal part experimenter and educator, she organizes NYC Nodebots meetups and coordinates curricula for Girl Develop It, a non-profit teaching women how to code in low-cost classes. For fun, she runs a radio show based on the semantic web, and digs studying, silent discos, and shoegaze. Follow her @auremose or at algorhyth.ms.
Gabriela Rodriguez is an activist and hacker who loves the intersection between media and technology. She grew up in Uruguay and now lives in Portland, OR (USA). She is a software developer with passion for free software and open knowledge. She co-founded the Uruguayan nonprofit DATA that works with open data and transparency in South America. Follow her @gaba.
Marcos Vanetta is a biomedical engineer truly passionate about software and technology. He is an experienced web developer and an open source enthusiast. Marcos is an active member of the Hacks/Hackers community in Buenos Aires and the lead developer of Mapa76 (aka Analice.me). You can find him in a rock & roll concert or at your closest hackathon. Follow him @malev or at malev.com.ar.
All five fellows will be with us in London this weekend for the Mozilla Festival. If you’re there, do seek them out, say hello, and find out more about them. And, if you’re at MozFest, be sure to track me down and say hi as well.
"How can we help?" When I first joined OpenNews (at the time it was called the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership—a mouthful to be sure), I asked that question a lot. If I was in a room with news developers, it was one of the first things out of my mouth. If I was sending e-mails, it was toplined. If you had a beer with me those first few months, I asked it. If we went on a walk, I asked it. If we passed in an airport, I asked it.
When the answers came—varied and honest and clear—they helped to transform the program, turning us from simply a fellowship program that placed technologists in newsrooms into a program that also helped support the nascent journalism code community through initiatives like Source (one year old yesterday) and our journalism Hack Day sponsorships (more than 40 in 20 countries since Spring 2012).
And now, today, I can’t believe I get to announce that we’re transforming even more. Thanks to a significant grant from the Knight Foundation, OpenNews will be expanding our work helping to strengthen the community creating code in journalism through 2016.
The core work we’re doing is continuing:
We’re continuing our fellowship program (in fact, we’ll be announcing our five incredible new fellows at the Mozilla Festival next week) for all three years. Our fellows still have the same mandate: to experiment, to follow their passions, and to build amazing things.
We’re continuing to run Source, our hub for the journalism code community, but with budget for more coverage of the innovative code coming out of journalism, and continued buildout of the Learning section we launched earlier this year.
We’ll still be sponsoring and helping organize journalism hack days around the world—an initiative that has brought thousands of people around the world into contact with journo-coding. We’ve held events in every continent but two: Australia and Antarctica, we’re coming for you next.
But we’re also doing a bunch that’s new:
In addition to expanding Source, we’ll be launching a Source Conference (right now, we’re calling it SRC CON) that will combine the passion-driven open sessions of an unconference with the collaborative making of a hack weekend.
We’ll be pulling together “code convenings” of journalism developers and open-source contributors to collaborate on shared codebases and libraries so that we can stop continually reinventing the wheel on needed infrastructure, like election parsers, opsec, visualizations, and more.
We’ll be prototyping in-person learning opportunities for smaller and less-tech savvy newsrooms. A lot of work will be forking off of current Knight-Mozilla Fellow Noah Veltman’s excellent Learning Lunches he’s been doing at the BBC. This work will put us in some new places, and we’re looking forward to going.
This list is just the start. With three years of runway, we’ll be taking off in all sorts of new directions as well.
Everything we’re doing—new and old, on this list and still-to-come—comes from talking, collaborating, and building with the incredible community of newsroom coders, civic hackers, open-source contributors we’ve met through the work we’re doing at OpenNews. It’s a vibrant, growing community that is not only transforming journalism, but also the web itself.
We’re incredibly lucky to call this community home and to be able to help it thrive. The next three years are going to be amazing.
Let’s do this.
(Source: realcalifuckingfornia, via colepierce)
Bunkhouses in Nikola-Lenivets, Russia.
Contributed by Alex Bunten.
"A horse’s grave" photo (cc) wildcrazinsexi
It’s been said that, given enough time, a million monkeys at typewriters would eventually, randomly, type the works of Shakespeare. It’s just a way of saying that mathematically, given infinite possibilities, eventually everything will happen. But I’ve always wanted it literally to be true. I’ve wanted those little monkeys to produce something beautiful, something meaningful, and yet something wholly unexpected.
@Horse_ebooks was my monkey Shakespeare. I think it was a lot of people’s. For those of you that weren’t familiar, @Horse_ebooks was a script that used an algorithm called a markov chain to collect bits and pieces of the internet itself as fodder and posted them on Twitter. It did this for years.
It shouldn’t have been amazing. Writing that description just now, it doesn’t seem amazing. But, for dedicated fans, it was. For all of the absurdity of @Horse, I think that there were many of us who would also admit that it was often also beautiful and, in a way, meaningful. Beauty and meaning, built from randomness.
Which is why today when Susan Orlean (of all people!) revealed in the New Yorker (of all places!) that for at least the last two years, @Horse has actually been authored (shepherded? overseen? THERE IS NOT A WORD TO DESCRIBE THIS) by Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender two employees of Buzzfeed (seriously) and that the account was coming to an end today, with a culmination in a performance art piece (ouch) at a New York gallery (fuck), it felt devastating.
(I know, I know, I know. This is absolutely a case of the Horse_epot calling the kettle Horse_eblack. But it’s also not.)
Now that the truth is out, now that @Horse_Ebooks is over, I’m left searching, trying to figure out what it means.
In many ways, this is a good thing right? Art, meaning, beauty: This is still the province of humans, not something that can be manufactured by a few lines of code. Chalk one up for humanity, right? Nice job, us.
Except it feels empty, a little at least, doesn’t it? Because the only other explanation for @Horse was always deeply human as well: It was code, written by human hand, that was left to wander the internet on its own, only to be discovered by someone else, its beauty recognized and then, person by person, passed along. Told that way, the story of @Horse is the story of ourselves, isn’t it?
Maybe I would feel better about this if it wasn’t Buzzfeed employees. Maybe I’d feel better if the “performance art” end didn’t feel like a thing that got bolted-on after-the-fact. Maybe.
If this was a kid her bedroom playing the ultimate poetry-prank on the world, would I feel better about it? Probably.
But it’s not, right? This isn’t monkeys with typewriters. This isn’t a lonely kid in a basement. The reality is that these guys did something pretty amazing. I know a bit about keeping a big secret, and that ALONE is worth an incredible amount of respect. And I also know what it’s like to hold onto a rocket as it shoots through the internet, and THAT is also incredibly hard. And the two in combination? It is nearly impossible. Holding on to your sanity is hard. So, respect.
And, even today, I love @Horse_Ebooks. A lot. Every day it was a gift. There were some days—thankfully not all that many—where it was the only thing I looked forward to. I know that that was true for others as well. The absurd beauty. The stars-stars-stars of it all. Whatever the province. Whatever the backstory. Whether it was code-driven, or all hand-made artisanal. It was wonderful.
So, thank you.
As hard as today feels—and I am REALLY NOT KIDDING, it really feels hard, like a punch through everything I thought I knew—it doesn’t change that Horse was a thing of beauty on a scale that it’s going to take a while to truly understand.
And yet I just can’t fully get behind these revelations. I have too many questions: How much of this was still just a machine? How much was mediated by hand? Was any of it authored directly, before today’s ‘reveal’ tweets? How long was it running before it was ‘acquired’ by Bakkila and Bender? What does ‘acquisition’ even mean in this context? What changed at the point of ‘acquisition’? Nothing? Everything? Why is it that everything wonderful ends up turning to shit and why can’t unicorns be real and fuck absolutely everything I hate it all.
OK, maybe that last one wasn’t a question.
But still. If this is art, art is about context. And I don’t know that I have enough context to know entirely how to feel.
Because I feel shitty.
And I feel confused about feeling shitty.
Buzzfeed being attached to this—even tangentially—I think plays deeply into that feeling, because that site is first-and-foremost about manipulating the science of clicks and likes, and if this is all @Horse was, then god help us all. But also “Performance art” feels like a cop-out, and the actual performance today—based on descriptions—reinforces that. You can’t just put a placard on a wall and call it art. I mean, I went to art school and so I know that you can, but you’d better back that up with the mother of all context. I don’t have that context yet, so I guess I’m skeptical, and I don’t want to be.
I don’t want to be because, even if nothing else was, the tweets WERE real, right?
I mean, I AM STILL READY TO FLY IN HELICOPTERS. I AM STILL USING MY FINGERS TO INDICATE TRIANGULAR SHAPE.
There’s been an image circulating today of the iconic X-Files “I Want to Believe” poster, with the UFO replaced with the @Horse_Ebooks avatar. And I do feel like that:
I want to believe.
I want to believe this wasn’t just yet another internet buzz-marketing prank.
I want to believe that @Horse was as beautiful and wonderful today as it was yesterday.
I want to believe that beauty can be assembled from the randomness of life all around us.
I want to believe that a million monkeys can make something amazing.
I really, really do want to believe.
But I don’t think I do.
And that feels even worse.
Late summer in Grant Park, 1950, Chicago.
Podcast Thing | Dan Sinker -
Hey, that’s me! I’m talking about podcasts I listen to. YAY EVERYTHING.