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WNY Civic Hackathon, October 10 & 11

In light of the hubbub about Ahmed, his clock, all the national attention to this blog – and in the spirit of actually encouraging inventiveness and returning to a local focus here – it was perfect timing that this press release crossed my desk. I felt compelled to share, this sounds like a really cool event!

The WNY Civic Hackathon is coming up on October 10 & 11. It’ll be a gathering of local inventors, makers and tech enthusiasts who will form teams and tackle civic-minded problems like housing blight, transportation, and advocacy using technological solutions. $3500 in prizes are up for grabs at this free event – but if you’re interested in participating, make sure to register by October 5th, there’s a 200 participant limit. Visit the website at or read the whole press release below for details:


AT&T, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, University at Buffalo, dig Buffalo, InfoTech WNY and Buffalo Open Data partner to host a civic hackathon challenging teams to create innovative software and/or hardware solutions that will serve the community

BUFFALO, N.Y.  – WNY Civic Hackathon powered by AT&T, the first ever daylong hackathon dedicated to solving local civic issues in the region, will challenge teams to face off to deliver the best civic technological solution in a 13 hour period for the following local issues; Housing/Property Blight, Transportation, and Advocacy/Public Policy. Cash prizes totaling $3,500 will be awarded, with a grand prize of $2,000, followed by a second place prize of $1,000 and $500 for third place.

The WNY Civic Hackathon will take place on Saturday, October 10, 2015, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., at dig Buffalo, 640 Ellicott Street, Buffalo, NY. Demoing, judging and awards will take place at dig from 9 a.m.-noon on Sunday, October 11th.  Partnering to put on the Hackathon are: AT&T, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, University at Buffalo’s Association for Computing Machinery (AMC) andOffice of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR) , dig Buffalo, WNY Innovation Hot Spot, InfoTech WNY and Buffalo Open Data. The event builds off the success of the AT&T WNY Civic App Challenge in 2014, a two-month “virtual hackathon” in which developers were encouraged to “Solve Local” by building smartphone apps that serve the community.

During the hackathon, teams of local developers, makers, innovative thinkers, entrepreneurs, technologists, and community activists will compete to create intuitive and novel apps or hardware that address and provide solutions for social and civic issues in the Western New York region.

All submissions will be judged on their potential to impact on one of the three topics facing Western New York, the quality of execution, and creativity or novelty. A panel of judges made up of local tech experts, community leaders and elected officials will judge the submissions and determine the winners on Sunday, October 11th. Mentors from the regional tech and advocacy community will also be available throughout the day to provide advice and guidance to the hackathon teams.  Subject matter experts on housing/property blight, transportation, and advocacy/public policy will also be in attendance to discuss the issues and provide available data that can be used.

The WNY Civic Hackathon follows the same principals of National Day of Hacking, an annual event that brings together urbanists, civic hackers, government staff, developers, designers, community organizers and anyone with the passion to make their region better through technology.  Similar to National Day of Hacking the event provides opportunities to get people involved in civic hacking, a new form of civic engagement, and many of the activities are based on proven models provided by Code for America, Random Hacks of Kindness and Innovation Endeavors. Teams will collaboratively build new solutions using publicly-released data, technology, and design processes to improve our community and the governments that serve them.

The WNY Civic Hackathon is free and open to all interested participants across the region of all skills and levels of expertise who are ages 18 and over, but preregistration for the event is required by October 5, 2015 at Evenbrite ( There is a 200 participant cap on the event, so early registration is recommended. Meals and snacks will be provided throughout the day.  For more information regarding the WNY Civic Hackathon visit,

Comcast changes name on customer’s bill to “A$$hole”

Filed under: Technology, Web

Telephoning the customer service COMCASTBILL_blogdepartment of the cable company is never fun.  As reported by Chris Morran of The ConsumeristLisa Brown found out the hard way just how bad it can get.

Brown called customer service with the intention of canceling the TV portion of her service, and was prepared to pay the $60 cancellation fee.  When she received her next bill, the first name on the bill, originally that of her husband, Ricardo, had been changed to “Asshole.”  She suspects it was one of those sneaky “retention specialists” who was sore about not being able to convince her to keep the service.

“I was never rude,” she tells consumer advocate Chris Elliot. “It could have been that person was upset because I didn’t take the offer.”

Ms. Brown contacted the local and regional Comcast offices to try to change it back, but the calls proved fruitless.  Only when she finally got ahold of Comcast HQ did anyone care.

“We have spoken with our customer and apologized for this completely unacceptable and inappropriate name change.  We have zero tolerance for this type of disrespectful behavior and are conducting a thorough investigation to determine what happened. We are working with our customer to make this right and will take appropriate steps to prevent this from happening again.”

They gave her $60 back.  How utterly compassionate of them.



The Anti-Technology Movement: Past and Present

Filed under: Technology, Uncategorized


As a strong proponent of technology, and assistant sysadmin in Artvoice‘s two-man IT department, I am officially resurrecting Artvoice‘s technology blog, Techvoice, after four years of hibernation.  As a true lover of anything with a transistor inside, it only seemed fair to begin that process with a tip-of-the-hat to those who just can’t stand the stuff.  The Anti-Technologists.

Everybody knows one.  I know lots.  It can be as simple as that one friend that refuses to get a Facebook account.  I know a guy that asked his mobile phone provider to turn off text messaging, thus forcing people to call him.  Others may feel that eschewing technology, and using older methods of finding information, is actually more pleasurable, and less stressful than using the internet.  Buffalo resident and self-professed anti-technologist Tiffany Dalton tells Artvoice, “Most people see a phonebook and say ‘Oh, there’s a phonebook out there,’ but I’m like ‘Ooh!  There’s a phonebook! Score!'”

Apparently this movement has been going on a long time.  The modern anti-technology movement has its roots in early 19th-century England, when a bunch of textile industry artisans protested the new industrial machinery which threatened to give their jobs to lower-skilled, and cheaper, workers.  The Luddites attacked mills and factories, destroying and burning industrial equipment.  They were not necessarily against the technology itself, but the unemployment that it caused them.  Destroying power looms and stocking frames was a strategy to gain a better bargaining position with their employers.  Tensions escalated to the point that the British army was called in.  At one point, there were more British troops battling Luddites than fighting against Napoleon’s troops on the Iberian Peninsula [Wikipedia].

We have long since grown to accept mechanized cloth-making, but the anti-technology movement is still stronger than ever, albeit markedly less militant.  Most modern “Reform Luddists” are probably unaware that we have a term to describe their mindset.  As Blake Snow writes in his column, The Anti-Technologist,

For example, instead of joining the new rat race, Reform Luddites rejects the notion of keeping up with the Joneses, the geeks, the hipsters or workaholics. They’re slow to adopt and resist the latest software and hardware until proven useful. They’re acutely aware of the unanticipated consequences of new media. They are quick to abandon the binary ones and zeros that no longer work for them and seek out tools that actually save time as opposed to demanding more of it.

They seem to have a point.  It’s hard to argue that technology does take some of the human-ness out of just about everything.  Simon Fraser University business professor Geoffrey Pointras writes,

Today’s neo-Luddites continue to raise moral and ethical arguments against the excesses of modern technology. A key theme is that the technological inventions and the technical systems that support those inventions have evolved to control, rather than to facilitate, social interactions. The upshot is that the breadth and depth of technological change in modern society threatens the essence of humanity.

Whatever your view is on technology, there is no chance it is going away any time soon.  I don’t think we need to be paranoid about civilization-ending nano gray goo (more on that some other time).  Perhaps, however, it is time to ask ourselves which technologies we truly need in our lives, and which only deserve to be glanced at in passing while browsing reddit on our smartphones.

Sending Tweets to Heaven

Goldstone_DSN_antennaThis holiday season, remember a passed on loved one by sending a message to heaven. You’ll need to be long on faith, but you’ll have to keep your message short – 140 characters to be precise – which shouldn’t be an issue in this age of Twitter and text messaging, right?

The UK based Bereavement Register will provide the service via the Deep Space Communications Network (DSCN) at the Kennedy Space Station. (Ironically, the Bereavement Register is normally in the business of preventing communications with the deceased. Their “day job” is assisting British families with putting a stop to direct mail to those no longer with us.)

The bereaved can visit and enter a Twitter-style message that will be beamed to the cosmos. They’ll compile the messages and fire them into space in one shot on Christmas day, using state of the art transmitters and a five-meter parabolic dish. (The dish pictured is actually a much bigger 70 meter model, part of the similarly named but not to be confused NASA Deep Space Network, or DSN.) The transmission will be aimed at an “empty” area of space, ensuring the transmission traveling at the speed of light expands outwardly, unimpeded.

For the interested geek, they have chosen a comma separated/tab delimited file to transmit – clearly a choice compatible with the great database in the sky.

Let’s hope the Lifeboat Foundation doesn’t find out, as this being a flagrant affront to their mission of keeping Earth off alien civilizations’ radar. Sending messages to nowhere may be a gesture appreciated by your dearly departed, but you never know how a hostile alien nation in the transmission path may interpret the message billions of light years along its way. That is, if they aren’t too busy responding to Craigslist ads that have gone out on the DSCN previously.

Oh, you’ve got until December 20th to add your message.

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