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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,

NSA Renews Finger Pointing at N. Korea in Sony Hack, Anti-Virus Pioneer John McAfee Disagrees

John McAfee

I have had my doubts from the very beginning.  Ever since the U.S. Government first indicated on December 17, 2014 that North Korea was “centrally involved” in the cyber-attack on Sony, I’ve had this unshakeable feeling that there was more to it than met the eye.  Even after the NSA recently renewed their accusations, claiming to have implanted software inside North Korea’s internet in 2010 which allowed them to spy on the isolated nation’s online activity, there are plenty of reasons to have doubt.

My doubts echoed those of leading cyber-security experts such as DEFCON organizer Marc Rogers, Wired Magazine security journalist Kim Zetter, Kurt Stammberger of cyber-security firm Norse, as well as ex-hacker and LulzSec founder, Sabu (his real name is Hector Xavier Monsegur).  Kim Zetter called the government’s evidence against North Korea “flimsy.”  Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times called it “circumstantial.”  The government wouldn’t tell us how they knew it was North Korea, only that they knew and that we should believe them.

Besides the lack of convincing evidence from our government, there were technical reasons to have doubts about North Korea.  Parts of the comments in the malware code were in Korean, but not specifically the North Korean dialect.  The software used in the attack is called Wiper, not a particularly Korean-sounding name.  There were IP addresses, server names, and passwords hard-coded into the software, suggesting that the hackers had extensive knowledge of Sony’s network before the attack began, and giving rise to the “inside job” theory.  Many experts also have doubts that a state-sponsored attack would have been staged under such a catchy moniker as the “Guardians of Peace” or “GOP.”  On top of that, North Korea’s internet connection via China is so slow, it could not have downloaded the 100 terabytes (that’s about 30 million songs or 2.5 million music videos) of information stolen without anyone noticing, if at all.

On January 15, a new voice emerged among the dissenters.  John McAfee, anti-virus pioneer and founder of anti-virus software company, McAfee Associates, told IBTimes UK a different story.  He claims to be in contact with the hackers behind the attack, and he insists the U.S. government is “wrong.”

“I can guarantee they are wrong.  It has to do with a group of hackers – I will not name them – who are civil libertarians and who hate the confinement the restrictions the music industry and the movie industry has placed on art and so they are behind it.”

Well John, who is it then?

‘I don’t want to name them – that would make me a nark,’ McAfee adds.

Let us not forget, however, that McAfee is generally known to be somewhat off the deep end.  He may have founded one of the world’s leading anti-virus software companies, but he also claims to keep no less than 10 guns with him at any given time as he travels the world running from drug cartels, murder accusations, and the government of Belize.  That being said, it’s hard to dismiss the voice of someone who has had a unique relationship with the hacking community for three decades.

“I founded McAfee Associates and they [hackers] were my enemies for years as were all other hacking groups, but over the years I began to respect their values at least, I had talks with many of them on the phone.  I know many people within Anonymous, I was the keynote speaker at Defcon in Las Vegas and got a standing ovation.  I’m not saying that their methods have my approval but I am saying is that the reason they do the things that they do is valid.”

So now we have both sides claiming to know who did it, but nobody will tell us how.  So close, yet so far away.

Read Techvoice for interesting posts on technology, science and more.

Post Election Bits & Bytes

Election ’08 is now in the history books – so I figured it’s time to take a look backward, and a look forward at some relevant headlines.

Hacking Democracy

First, we’ll take a look at one of the best kept secrets of the campaign season, from both sides, care of a Newsweek article published just today.  Over the summer, the FBI had its hands full with simultaneous cyber crime investigations: the hacking of the Obama campaign computer system(s), and the hacking of the McCain campaign computer system(s).  While the intrusions have been acknowledged,  little else has been released or confirmed yet.  At this point, it’s known for sure that the FBI was involved, that “a large number of files” were stolen from the Obama side, and that the attacks came from a “foreign entity” and definitely did not come from the opposing sides.  The McCain campaign systems were intruded on in a similar fashion as the Obama systems, but the extent of the compromise on their side was unmentioned.  The rest is speculation of course: security experts have suggested the attacks likely came from China or Russia, and anyone’s best guess is that the goal of such an intrusion was to gain an inside line on procedures and policies used by the campaigns for a leg up in future dealings with the to-be president. (H/T to Newsweek)

This of course wasn’t the only politically motivated cyber-crime this campaign season – I’m sure many recall the Sarah Palin e-mail intrusion back in September.  Though it’s significance is near nil at this point, we’ll remember it as the day our servers felt the shock wave of a web traffic explosion.  If anyone is still interested: David Kernell, a college student in Tennessee, and the son of Tennessee democratic representiative Mike Kernell, was indicted by grand jury in late October.  His trial begins on December 16th, and faces up to 5 years and fines.  Not so “anonymous” now, eh David?  A court has also ordered the e-mails in both of governor Palin’s Yahoo! accounts be preserved for further investigation.

Another dishonorable mention is the state of Ohio election information and registration website that also came under attack, and experienced some brief downtime in late October.  (H/T to Reuters)

Technology Promises

I also want to give a nod back to another item I’ve talked about here: Science Debate 2008.  We’ve got a list of policies and action-items promised to us from pre-president-elect Obama in the realm of technology.  I’ll be saving a copy and keeping score for the next four to eight years.

Along the same lines is Obama’s “Blueprint for Change” video on technology issues.  Maybe you missed it?  Don’t feel bad; for whatever reason, this wasn’t released until the night before the election, effectively burying it in the rest of the 11th hour buzz.

Hi-Tech Election Day Coverage

Election night itself was a grand display of technology as well.  CNN debuted it’s new “hologram” technology – much to the chagrin of pocket protector pencil neck purists who are still complaining two days later that the effect isn’t actually a hologram.  “True” hologram or not, I personally found it a bit silly.  We’ll see if CNN or others bother with this technique down the road.

Ratings speak volumes though, and CNN enjoyed second place of 14 major networks covering the event with 12.3 million viewers.  ABC was the victor, at just over 13 million viewers.  In all, it’s estimated about 71 million viewers tuned in on Tuesday to watch the results unfold.  As impressive at it sounds, it’s still over 25 million shy of this year’s past Super Bowl.  Apparently the world’s couch potatoes are still more interested in the Patriots than in patriotism. (Nielsen’s complete ratings here.)

Nielsen also kept an eye to the web to gauge coverage ratings in cyberspace.  There’s a comprehensive list here if interested; CNN, MSNBC and Yahoo! News being the top three destinations for surfers on Tuesday. The official campaign sites also received a boost on Tuesday, with Obama’s site receiving 1.2 million unique visitors, and McCain’s site receiving 479,000 unique visitors.

The Future

Lastly, let’s look ahead to some new developments that will affect us going forward.

While not related to presidential politics per se, this is still a governmental policy decision that flew under the radar with all the elections buzz, that could mean huge developments in the wireless arena.  On Tuesday, the FCC approved a measure to free up “white spaces” for unlicensed (read: free but regulated) use.  In short, this means unused areas of the wireless spectrum in the general area of digital TV transmissions can be used by consumer devices.  This coveted piece of intangible mathematical electromagnetic real estate means higher bandwidth (faster) transmission of information to and from consumer devices, at greater distances than the current public bands allow.  It’s been a long fought battle mostly centered around issues of interference with licensed bands (at least, that’s the PR friendly argument – it’s probably been a long fought battle because telecommunications companies have sunk billions into competing technologies that may have just been rendered obsolete.)  To appease the interference complaints (some of which are probably valid), devices will have to be extremely smart: they’ll be required to be GPS aware, and to communicate over the Internet with a central database to announce their position and ask permission for an interference free frequency.  There’s a loophole for less intelligent devices, though they’ll have to pass some pretty rigorous interference tests.  You can read more here.  Dell claims to have laptops with “white space radio” already in the works that you can learn about here.

The last “bit” we have to pass on is some news about some technology related appointments to the Obama transition team.  Named to the team include Google philanthropy officer Sonal Shah, and Julius Genchowski who is a former IAC executive and former chief council to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt.  Rumors abound about Google CEO Eric Schmidt may be in the running for U.S. Chief Technology Advisor as well.