In September 2015, President Obama raised the ceiling of refugees, many of them Syrian, who would be welcomed to the United States in the coming year from 70,000 to 85,000. While a wonderful humanitarian move, it also posed huge problems for the already-overwhelmed, byzantine systems in place to process refugee applications admissions. That's when the White House's crack tech team, the United States Digital Service, stepped in to help. The US Digital Service was born out of the disaster of Healthcare.gov, when the White House called in top-notch geeks from Silicon Valley and elsewhere to fix the disastrous Obamacare website. This year, they focused on how to get more refugees through the door. For a Webby Awards exclusive feature
, I commissioned the talented journalist Lauren Smiley to tell the story of the US Digital Service and their sprint to bring in 85,000 refugees. From Lauren's feature
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When the photo of a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkey beach appeared in his newsfeed, Jason Wu was getting restless. It was September of last year, and he’d just left his job as a product manager at Facebook’s Silicon Valley HQ—in some ways, exactly the kind of job he’d wanted back as a UC Berkeley computer science student. But at 29, having been ensconced in cush startup culture of T-shirt swag and free meals surrounding the challenging technical work, he was starting to mull a new question: “To what end?” Considering the options, he didn’t want to join one of the many mobile app companies proliferating in the valley that solved the problems of the same wealthy young people who make them.
Several years ago, a new apartment building went up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Washington DC. That's a few miles from the better known 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, aka the White House. A car lot was previously on the apartment building property, then registered as 1550 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, but the developers thought it would be a hoot to petition for the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE address. They got it. From WTPO:
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Residents say they often get funny looks or disbelief when they have to give their address or hand over their driver’s licenses. Carlos Gutierrez, 39, and other residents said they get asked: “You live at the White House?”
The address has produced headaches for some residents. One early resident of the building, Daniel Perry, 36, said Amazon.com initially wouldn’t take orders to the address, though that’s since been sorted out. Another resident said even now, she sometimes has difficulty ordering online. A recent order for a pair of summer sandals required calling the company, she said.
Residents have to make sure that anyone sending them mail puts the all-important “SE” after the address. The correct zip code — 20003 — is also key. The White House’s ZIP code is 20500.
A goof means the mail might eventually get to the correct recipient, but because the president’s mail gets extra security screening, any resident’s mail with an incomplete address could be significantly delayed.
Mail mix-ups happen the other way, too. Errant letters for the first family arrive at the building every so often and sit unopened by the residents’ mailboxes until the U.S.
In 2009, President Obama pledged to "restore science to its rightful place." He said, "We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science."
Today, the White House released an Impact Report listing 100 things that Obama has made happen with the support of many people across research, policy, education, and, yes, maker culture. Here's the full Impact Report. A few examples from the list:
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• Prioritized and encouraged broad participation in STEM education. The President’s Educate to Innovate campaign, launched in November 2009, has resulted in more than $1 billion in private investment to improve K-12 STEM education. The Nation is on track to meet the President’s January 2011 State of the Union goal to put 100,000 additional excellent STEM teachers in America’s classrooms by 2021. The President has helped showcase to students—including through events such as the White House Science Fair—that science, math, engineering, and computer programming are deeply compelling subjects that can help solve problems locally and globally.
• Fostered a nation of makers. The President hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire; highlighted the growing importance of additive manufacturing by being the first President to be 3D scanned for his Presidential bust; and led a call to action resulting in commitments to create more than 1,000 maker spaces around the country.
In a new Tested.com video, Adam Savage celebrates the upcoming National Week of Making that the White House is hosting again this year. To kick off his week in the sort of unique way that only Adam Savage can, he has been asking his social media followers to tag pictures of their personal workspaces, the happy places where they go to create something from nothing.
In the video above, he shows off a number of these wonderfully diverse shops (see a few below) and talks passionately about the joys of making and how we should all yield to the hands-on imperative.
The National Week of Making kicks off on Friday and includes the second annual National Maker Faire, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday at the UDC-Van Ness campus in the District of Columbia. This is one of Maker Media's full-blown flagship events, joining the long-running Maker Faire Bay Area and World Maker Faire in New York. Unlike those events, the National Maker Faire is free to the public.
You can find out more about the National Week of Making and how to get involved on the event's official website.
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Our man in the White House, Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, alerts us to the Administration's celebration of Back To The Future Day that includes:
* The release of President Obama's updated Strategy for American Innovation
* Tom's post on the White House blog about the power of imagination, titled "Science Fiction to Science Fact"
* A series of online conversations with scientists and innovators about the future!
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The Intercept just published an amazing article by Jim Bamford yesterday talking
about how the NSA exploited a backdoor in Vodafone to spy on Greek
politicians and journalists during the 2004 Olympics.
Bamford is an American author and journalist best known for his writing about United States intelligence agencies, and in particular the National Security Agency.
In a meticulous investigation, Bamford reports at the Intercept that the NSA was behind the notorious, legendary “Athens Affair”. After the 2004 Olympics, the Greek government discovered that an unknown attacker had hacked into Vodafone’s “lawful intercept” system, the phone company’s method of wiretapping voice calls. The attacker spied on phone calls of the president and other Greek politicians and journalists before the hack was found out.
Freedom of the Press Foundation director Trevor Timm wrote for the Guardian about why this is exactly why encryption backdoors are so
What are encryption backdoors? For non-techie readers, basically these are ways the government can unencrypt your "locked" communications if they decide they want to see your private material for any secret reason.
And in related news, rumor has it the White House is nearing a decision on
whether to embrace the right to encryption for American citizens, or join the FBI in calling for backdoors.
Dozens of civil liberties groups, including Freedom of the Press Foundation, launched this site
and petition today that feeds into the White House petition system: savecrypto.org.
If you care about this issue, right now is the time to take action. Read the rest
He'll serve under the brilliant Megan Smith, the CTO.
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You've likely read on Boing Boing about Ariel Waldman, creator of Spacehack
and lead instigator of Science Hack Day
, and Eri Gentry, co-founder of BioCurious
. Congratulations are due this week to Ariel and Eri who were honored by the White House along with ten other "Champions of Change
" dedicated to "increasing public engagement in science and science literacy!" Eri and Ariel are both colleagues of mine at Institute for the Future, and Ariel is also collaborating with Boing Boing on a fantastic event that we will announce in the coming weeks. Check out Ariel's post at the White House site, titled "Hacking Science and Space Exploration
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On Thursday (3/28) at 3pm ET, Boing Boing pal and White House innovation advisor Tom Kalil is hosting a Google Hangout to talk about the maker movement! Tom has been instrumental in helping President Obama and the administration understand the value of maker culture in sci/tech education. Joining Tom in the Hangout will be folks like MAKE founder Dale Dougherty, Super Awesome Maker Show's Super Awesome Sylvia, and Ford future tech lead Venkatesh Prasad. "White House Hangout: The Maker Movement"
(Above, President Obama checks out a soccer-playing robot built by Blue Bell, PA high school students. Photo by Pete Souza.)
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