Me in Baltimore (How to do Business Tourism)

I have long been a practitioner of what I call “business tourism”. I love to work, but I also have other passions, like art, poetry, cities, and photography. I have been lucky enough in my technology career to have taken lots of trips to lots of cities for lots of reasons.

I disdain daytrips— I think it’s deeply disrespectful to a city to present oneself at the local airport, hire a chariot to take you directly to a conference room, and scoot out of town before the late night news is over. Moreover, much of my work is on the Internet, so I can conceivably do it anywhere. Lastly, I hate being late or stressing out about missing a commitment.

All of this has lead, over the years, to a particular mode of business travel. Here’s my day in Baltimore, to see it in practice.

Morning flights win

A 9:20AM flight out of O’Hare— not too early to lead to an insane wakeup time, and not too late to have the day escape me on the other side.

I arrived circa noon, and headed straight to the hotel. First step is to snap a shot of the room— I have a vast collection of hotel interiors.

Plan not to plan, but have broad criteria that matters to you

Next is to search for where to go. I never plan ahead— it was 1PM,  I had the rest of the day for a mix of work and hanging out, and I had no idea where I’d go.

My first step is to search, “used book store Baltimore” and / or “used poetry books Baltimore”. This always leads to good stuff. A corollary step is “art museum Baltimore“. I viewed the results on a map and discovered that there were two places I wanted to go that were over in Federal Hill, within less than a mile of where I was in that moment. The system works!

Two birds: walk, pics

I walked out of my hotel and across Light Street to the harbor. I know that Baltimore is home of The Wire, but all I could think about was Tony Soprano and “the Esplanade”. Don’t know why— makes no sense, but that’s what I had.

One of my things is walk + shoot. I walk to get Fitbit steps and I shoot shots with my camera.  I tend to focus on architecture (especially Brutalism) and generic shots that I think will work for my burgeoning revenue-free stock photo service.

I also always shoot plaques and explanatory signs— great primary content that you nearly never see on the Internet; only IRL.

I also just try to snap the classic tourist shots— everyone has them, why shouldn’t I?

Art and experience

I love the uncontrollable nature of art museums. They spend years planning and executing their exhibits, all without my knowledge. Then one random day I show up and soak with they have.

This was the wonder-place I found in my Internet search:  American Visionary Art Museum, right off of the harbor at the bottom of Federal Hill. I never knew this place existed. It is a house of masterpieces. Amazing permanent collection, a great attitude of social justice, and a serious, non-condescending take on visionary artists, which can often be a problem in this world.

On the third floor I turned a corner and was presented with a big display of work by Mr. Imagination, an amazing person who I knew in Chicago in the 1990s. He passed away two years ago, and I really couldn’t stop sobbing, there in the museum.

He was a great man, and a good friend, but I can’t say that we were immensely close or that I deserved to be so overwhelmed with grief. I think that it was all tied up with my own desire to make art, the recent death of my mother, and a general sense of mortality.

Books for the collection

Just a few blocks away (granted, up a couple-century-old hill) was the best type of bookstore I could ever hope for in a new city: The Book Escape on Light Street in Federal Hill. The visit satisfied a number of my poetry collection needs: I always want to get at least one book from a local author ( “Working Vocabulary“, by Sid Gold).

I also collect personally published/ interestingly designed/ idiosyncratic/ self-published volumes  from the 70s and 80s. I got a great one today: “That’s Life: Poems by Max Hankin“, from 1979. The introduction is by Perry Como. Pure gold.

Comics are for closers

I’ve learned that in western culture, if you are near art and poetry, comics are not far behind. The local comic store is one of the best places to go. They are all the same— populated by the same characters, using the same plastic sheathing in the same oblong boxes, but they are all independent and ragtag. Love it. I went to Alliance Comics, a great place with a huge selection of stuff.

I bought this portrait of Robert Crumb by a local artist (can’t make out the signature— Don is the first name).

You gotta eat

I walked for a while and ran into Cross Street Market. Had a Lean Pastrami on Rye at Big Jim’s. Excellent.

I go where I’m told

Another lazy strategy I have is to just go where cab drivers tell me to go. My guy today said to walk up to the Washington Monument, so I went back to the hotel, dropped off stuff, did some work, and headed back out that way. I took a bunch more pics along the way, had an amazing coffee and apple turnover at Cafe Poupon, dinner at the B & O Brasserie  (inside the Monaco Hotel in the restored / ornate B&O Railroad Headquarters Building), then back for more work.

It was a good day.

Toward a Muscular Catholicism

Following is the text of remarks I made at the 2014 Gordon Tech Inspiration Celebration.

Thank you, Mary.  And thank you to Gordon Tech and all of the other co-chairs of this event.

I’m super-pleased to be honored along with the Congregation of the Resurrection and my colleagues of 1985.

Sometimes think work out through the randomness of alphabetical and the natural order of things.

Harry Osterman sat behind me in freshman homeroom. O’CONNOR – O’NEIL – OSTERMAN. The power of alphabetical order. He also introduced me to my first politician,  a guy named Richard M. Daley. Your services as a state rep and alderman, Harry, was certainly presaged in this building, as well as your home.

Barry Rodgers was my first friend in high school, mainly because we sat next to each other on the first day of school in September 1981 in the science lab. Again, alphabetical order and the order of the Congregation of the Resurrection held sway. O’NEIL – PREZIOSO – RAMIREZ – RODGERS. That was the four-table seating chart.

On the second day of class, the science teacher, Ludwig J. Fesi, asked for volunteers. Barry and I raised our hands.

He said, “meet us in the gym this Saturday at 9AM. We’re going to help out at Misericordia.”

We had no idea what Misericordia was. We had no idea what we were volunteering for. But we showed up at 9.

Barry went on to become a high school science teacher and a distinguished principal.

This is what this place meant to me, and still does.

A place of muscular Catholicism.

A place where we raise our hands, and show up, and take action.

A place of social justice. A place that creates Catholic workers and sends them out to make things better. For everyone.

So I thank you for this honor, and I look forward to seeing decades of new Catholic workers acting on our form of muscular Catholicism on the north side of Chicago.

St. Mary of the Mount Catholic Church

St. Mary of the Mount Catholic Church

Digital Skills + Me (re: Digital Divide Elimination Advisory Committee)

A great part of my day job is that I get to work with people who are on the front lines of delivering digital skills to the people of Chicago.  Since 2011 at Smart Chicago, I have worked directly with librarians, trainers, and other practitioners. These are the people who meet with new patrons every day, helping them get email accounts, find information about their health, and otherwise improve their lives with technology.
In the summer of 2003, I taught a course of 15 elementary and high school students in a week-long “computer camp”. This was entry-level stuff for low-income youth who had never tried to make a website; ever.
WeblogConsultant and InternetLifeServices
From 2002 – 2007, I had up two projects that sought to teach every day people how to use the Internet to make their lives better. One was WeblogConsultant, where I made inexpensive and powerful for websites for churches, schools, and nonprofits so that they could get the power of the Internet in their hands. Here’s a case study I did in 2007 on my parish website:
This is a website I made in 2004 to hold my lesson plans for a concept that I had back then: that everyone loves poetry, and everyone loves technology, and they could be taught at the same time effectively.
I created and led a number of bilingual computer training sessions for the large (but mostly invisible to the Caucasian population at the Church) Spanish speaking community at a parish in the North Side. I saw the need, designed tools to fill the need, and conducted the training myself.
In 2006, I developed a custom 9-hour course taught in three-hour stretches over three days. This was open to the public and I taught all comers. Almost everyone had very low skills. Many had never had an email account before
Digital Divide Elimination Advisory Committee
Today I chair my first full meeting of then Digital Divide Elimination Advisory Committee which “advises the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in establishing criteria and procedures for identifying recipients of grants under the Digital Divide Elimination Act“. If you have an interest in these topics topics, consider coming to one of the next two:
  • Monday, August 11, 2014 @ 10:00 a.m. 
  • Monday, November 10, 2014 @ 10:00 a.m.


Let’s Build on the CTA’s Open Standards Fare System

Though it seems to have dissipated as people get used to the new system, there has been a lot of sturm und drang about Ventra over last year.

Now that the drama is over, it might be time for us in the civic innovation sector of the technology industry to turn our attention to building on the open standards fare system infrastructure upon which Ventra was built .

I don’t know where the CTA is in the process of accepting forms of payment other than Ventra cards, but it was always the plan. Here’s a look at the RTA Ordinance that led to Ventra:

The entire document is focused on open standards.

What Open Payment Fare Systems are, and how they work.

Advances in network architecture and telecommunications, combined with innovations in the financial payments sector and widespread adoption of contactless banking products have propelled the adoption of open payment systems by mass transit agencies. Today, leading agencies around the globe are implementing, or are in the process of procuring, new open payment fare systems. In addition to accepting bank issued contactless cards/devices, Near Field Communications (NFC) enabled mobile phones are being introduced to the market. NFC is a standards based wireless communications technology that is being integrated with mobile phones. The technology allows the consumer to download content such as a coupon or a movie tickets to their phone. Additionally, if the consumer desires, they can securely download payment card applications to a mobile device that later can be used at a merchant’s payment card reader with a single tap. A transit agency that has adopted an open payment fare system can automatically accept these NFC enabled devices in addition to the millions of contactless cards that are issued by banks around the world.

(emphasis mine)

It doesn’t take a ton of imagination to think up ways that civic technologists– people interested in how to reduce friction between government and residents– could use this technology to make popular products:

  • Create custom transit cards for schools, nonprofits, and youth summer jobs programs that easily allow people to add value . Mikva Challenge youth have been advocating for this for some time now
  • Partner with banks to create a “Keep the Change” system so that one can make regular donations to a transit pool that are automatically added to the cards of people who need it
  • Create instant NFC-enabled Bonus Transit system, where you can thank people by adding value to their transit card rather than give them a tip or a pat on the back

I could be missing something– maybe the system is not as open as it seems, or the startup costs are insurmountable, or the system is only half-implemented. But on its face, there seems to be some pretty cool things we can do. I’d love to work with someone on this.

Join Me at the Gordon Tech Inspiration Celebration

I am a lifelong Catholic and a firm believer in the value of role of Catholic education in a strong society. I went to high school at Gordon Tech, on the corner of Addison & California. I’ve been an altar server, a lector, the chair of a Catholic elementary school board, a member of a Parish Council, and a CCD teacher.

Take a look at the full details on the event. Here’s a snip:

On May 12, 2014, Gordon Tech Catholic College Prep will host its 2nd annual Inspiration Celebration. We are proud to honor The Brothers of the Congregation of the Resurrection, the founders and sponsors of the school, and three outstanding alumni of the class of 1985, Daniel O’Neil, Executive Director of Smart Chicago, Harry Osterman, 48th Ward Alderman, and Barry Rodgers, Principal of Lake Forest High School, for their unwavering dedication to public service, Catholic education and improving communities through technology.

I’ve written quite a bit about the focus of my Catholic energy here: Easter Morning for an Urban American Catholic in an Age of Misplaced Catholic Energy. This was written prior to the ascendency of Pope Francis. You can understand that I’m stoked about him and his social justice agenda. Some other links:

I am passionate about helping Gordon Tech move into their future as DePaul College Prep, Fr. Gordon Campus, so I am going to be tweeting/ posting/ going on about this event for the next couple of weeks. Thank you for your patience and buy your tickets now.

Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio (La Maddalena)