Hackers prepare for first "national holiday" in their honor

“The future of technology will be largely determined by citizens who will design, build, and hack their own”

Hackers often encounter public uncertainty at their craft’s virtue. With the forthcoming National Day of Civic Hacking, however, their celebration of creativity, collaboration and technical innovation sees its first “national holiday.”

Groups leading the June 1-2 event include Random Hacks of Kindness, Code for America and the investment firm Innovation Endeavors. They’re working with government agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau, NASA and the U.S. Dept. of Labor to host activities which invite everyone to join the “civic hacker” community.

The weekend’s events will include block parties, meetups and hackathons, where participants will gather to prototype solutions to community-specific problems. “Challenges” will be identified, and made available to the public shortly before the event in each town, with invitations issued to so-called citizen hackers.

“We believe that government agencies must find groups of people, bring them together around an issue or problem that needs to be fixed, then step out of the way,” said Nicholas Skytland, program manager of NASA’s Open Innovation Program and one of the participants in the weekend’s events. “ ... let the collective energy of the people involved solve problems in creative and imaginative ways that we would never have done ourselves.”

At the start of the 2013 fiscal year, NASA tweaked the mission of its open government group to sharpen interest in “open innovation”. For the event, the space agency will offer a challenge and, potentially, an open data set to support it. NASA representatives also will attend the event to help developers as they develop their solutions.

That some of the participants are still wrestling with how much prominence to give the term “hacking” underscores why the event is being held in the first place: to put into the collective conscience the notion of the hacker as part of a digital bucket brigade—as worthwhile, even heroic, problem solvers.

“This is about recognizing the power of a new form of civic engagement,” said Dr. Michael Brennan of SecondMuse, a PR agency helping to organize the hacking weekend.

While some of the cities already signed up to host events remain skittish, others are planning to advertise their interest with banners on the side of public spaces like a City Hall, Brennan added.

The White House itself blogged about the hacking holiday, and will be hosting its second hackathon June 1. Invitees will be tasked with improving the popular We The People petition website, with the results released under an open-source licence.

“It’s a great cause and we’re excited to take part,” wrote White House online staffer Peter Welsch in his post.

At NASA, Skytland is responsible for leading the agency’s digital strategy and open government plan, with his goals including putting more high-value data sets online, promoting the use of open source software and creating more opportunities for the public to engage with NASA. He has experience planning hackathons, envisioning space exploration missions, designing next-gen space suits, training astronauts, developing open-source software and encouraging partnerships between government, industry, academia and other organizations.

Right now, he’s especially focused on how the government – and the space agency – can benefit from mass collaboration.

“We understand that the future of technology will be largely determined by citizens who will design, build, and hack their own technology together, and (the civic hacking event) is a way for us to really tap into that intelligence,” Skytland said. “Our goal is to inspire, incentivize and equip these communities to develop tomorrow’s technology and for NASA to be a part of the conversation.”

The agency has already let anyone who’s interested get a peek under the hood to see the mountain of information on countless subjects that NASA has collected. At data.nasa.gov, NASA lists more than 500 data sets that range from engineering data, charts and specifications to earth sciences data, atmospheric and environmental data and mission operations data relating to things like flight programs and mission control.

“We are interested in solving the toughest challenges, and we definitely don’t have all the answers,” Skytland said. “By tapping into a global community of expertise, partnering with researchers, scientists, technologists, academics and entrepreneurs as well as collaborating directly with citizens and innovative organizations, we can develop solutions that we would have never come up with on our own. Solutions that may have lasting impacts on both NASA and the world.”

Participants in the National Day of Civic Hacking will be encouraged to develop software, hardware, data visualization, and mobile/web applications. Challenges for the hacking event will be released about one month prior to the event, and there will be about 50 of them.

“Selfishly, for NASA, we want to develop a map of innovation around the nation,” Skytland said. “So this is a way for us to tap into talent in a way we haven’t considered before. NASA does space exploration really well, and we collect a lot of data, but we don’t always do those things in partnership with other agencies or the public.

“The idea of engaging a broad group of diverse people focused on pushing forward the development of a solution to a challenge – why this is so exciting is I personally feel the grand challenges of our time will require the talents of us all. Imagine what we could do if we focused on collaborating to improve something like the prosperity of our community over the course of a weekend. In general, this is not the kind of thing we do as a nation. This could be a movement focused on making the world a better place.”

The full list of participating cities is at the Hack for change website.

Published 7:02 am Mon, May 13, 2013

More at Boing Boing

Book Club: A Storm of Swords Sansa V and Jaime VII

With the completion of Season 4 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Ivan and Red dig back into the Boars, Gore, And Swords book club, where they cover the chapters of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series that correspond to the previous television season. No book spoilers past the TV show!

Smoke, Slingshots, and Spongebob: the Middle East crisis in photos

Startling shots from Gaza, Israel, and elsewhere depict despair and outrage at a seemingly-intractable crisis.

8 Responses to “Hackers prepare for first "national holiday" in their honor”

  1. Ted Lemon says:

    The White House link yields a 404.

  2. neurogami says:

    This is just geekwashing.

    Doesn’t the idea of a Government-sanctioned hacker holiday strike people as just a bit wrong, if not completely self-serving?

    The State locks up Weev, and hounded Aaron Swartz to his death, but wants to  co-opt  “hacking” for their own purposes. 

    No thank you.

    • Gulliver says:

      The government is not some monolithic organization. Refusing to having anything to do with government because some authorities abuse their power, flaunt their ignorance, and use good men and women as stepping stones to higher office seems a bit extreme. This is not about geekwashing. This is about cultivating a culture of openness and acceptance of a deeply misunderstood subculture so that abusive authorities can’t get away with demonizing and scapegoating it in the future. Turning your back on communicating and educating the public about who hackers really are is selfish and unhelpful. I find it very unlikely that Aaron Swartz would approve of such close-minded isolationism.

      • neurogami says:

        “The government is not some monolithic organization.”

        True. Still, what part of this non-monolithic government was trying to stop the abusive persecution of Mr. Swartz?  What part of this non-monolithic government is outraged over the treatment of Weev and fighting to change the inane laws that make it possible?  The same people behind this event?

        “Turning your back on communicating and educating the public about who hackers really are is selfish and unhelpful.”

        Also true.  Who is turning their back on communicating and educating the public about who hackers really are?

        It would be selfish and unhelpful to misrepresent people who do not mistake an officially sanctioned day of civic duty for computer programmers as having anything to do with educating the public about hackers and their culture.

        Not buying in to a particular event hardly makes one an isolationist. 

        • Gulliver says:

          What part of this non-monolithic government is outraged over the treatment of Weev and fighting to change the inane laws that make it possible?

          Blaming the people who are organizing these events as “geekwashing” because they choose to work to change the relationship between geekdom, government and the wider culture is little better than calling a black politician Uncle Tom. You don’t want to participate, fine for you. But sneering at those of us who believe the root of the problem that allowed those abuses to transpire without widespread public outrage is broad public misunderstanding, well, that’s tantamount to calling us collaborators. Telling people that unless they take their ball and go home like you, they’re “geekwashing” those abuses, is pretty isolationist.

          • neurogami says:

            “Blaming the people who are organizing these events as ‘geekwashing’ because they choose to work to change the relationship between geekdom, government and the wider culture is little better than calling a black politician Uncle Tom. ”

            You’re hysterical.  

            “But sneering at those of us who believe the root of the problem that allowed those abuses to transpire without widespread public outrage is broad public misunderstanding, well, that’s tantamount to calling us collaborators.”

            Hyperbole much?  

            This event serves to propagate a very particular narrative about hackers and technology, where the good hackers color within the lines, and the bad hackers, the ones who side-step bad laws to open up data, or point out absurd security flaws, are to be punished.

            “Telling people that unless they take their ball and go home like you, they’re ‘geekwashing’ those abuses, is pretty isolationist.”

            No one is telling anyone to go home.  I’m saying skip this particular house.

          • Gulliver says:

            Hyperbole much?

            What, you mean like calling a holiday ‘geekwashing’, thereby drawing an unmistakable parallel to the whitewashing of history? That kind of hyperbole?

            This event serves to propagate a very particular narrative about hackers and technology, where the good hackers color within the lines, and the bad hackers, the ones who side-step bad laws to open up data, or point out absurd security flaws, are to be punished.

            And how exactly did you arrive at that interpretation? Because it’s government-sponsored?

            No one is telling anyone to go home.  I’m saying skip this particular house.

            And any house that any government agency shows up to? I wasn’t aware that NASA was in the business of locking up hackers. Are you suggesting that the only way to reach out to the public is to do so with no permissible role of government?

  3. Suddenly the White House is into Hackers? They should chat with their AG, Eric Holder, about the treatment of Aaron Swartz & Weez. This is one of the most anti-technology (other than military tech) administrations in recent memory. 

Leave a Reply