All posts by DXO

About DXO

Executive Director of Smart Chicago Collaborative. Some dude on the Internet. Ethics:

Breaking Down the Homan Square Story from an Open Data History Perspective

Yesterday morning one of the most respected publications in the world, The Guardian, dropped a story bomb on Chicago: The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’.

As someone who has worked in the open data movement for a while, who lives and works in Chicago, this one hurts. Let’s break it down:

In short, Chicago crime data has played a significant role in the history of the modern open data movement. The idea that the Homan Square facility, at the corner of Homan and Fillmore, is a place where police are “keeping arrestees out of official booking databases” certainly is not a shining star in this history.

There may be perfectly reasonable and accurate counterpoints to this story. Hell, it may end up being completely overblown. The Chicago Police Department has already responded in the Sun-Times: “Marty Maloney, a spokesman for the police department, said interviews are handled no differently at Homan Square than at other police facilities, such as the department’s 22 districts or its three detective headquarters.”

In fact, Frank Main— a universally respected reporter and one of the people who won the Pulitzer, points out:

But the existence of the building isn’t being kept under wraps by the police: The public is able to recover inventoried property from the evidence unit and news conferences are regularly held at Homan Square when the department shows off seized drugs.

The history of crime data in Chicago that I outlined above is real. No news story can change those decades of great work by people inside and outside of government. I am proud to toil with them, proud to call them my friends.

No, what hurts more than the facts of this particular blockbuster story is the gnawing feeling that my colleague Aaron Swartz was right: transparency is bunk and reporting is where it’s at. Here’s what he wrote six years ago:

The way a typical US transparency project works is pretty simple. You find a government database, work hard to get or parse a copy, and then put it online with some nice visualizations.

The problem is that reality doesn’t live in the databases. Instead, the databases that are made available, even if grudgingly, form a kind of official cover story, a veil of lies over the real workings of government.

It’s easy, on a day like this, to see the bunk.


Voting, February 2015

There is a municipal election in Chicago tomorrow, and I like to write down who I’m voting for, so here’s mine for this cycle. It might be helpful to also see my Statement of Personal Ethics, Potential Biases, and Possible Conflicts of Interest. It contains all sorts of light-shedding facts and grains of salt you can hold while reading this blog post.

For Mayor

I support Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of the City of Chicago. I think he has done a very good job, he wants to continue, and he’s earned my vote. Some specifics:

  • Economic development: I work in the technology industry and I believe in the power of technology to transform the lives of regular people. I have seen the Mayor support the tech industry in this city, for companies big and small, with a focus on everything from basic digital skills for entry-level workers to venture capital interest in fast-growing startups
  • Immigration: Chicago has been a great leader in the fight for better immigration policies. Nobody has fought harder than Congressman Luis Gutierrez on this, and he supports the Mayor completely. I find this compelling
  • Transit: tons of CTA infrastructure improvements, huge focus on cycling, and an overall sound approach to our future
  • Endorsements: my mother always loved Rahm Emanuel, and she was pretty much the best judge of character I’ve ever seen. Also: my pastor, Rev. Michael Pfleger, sent me an email noting the endorsement of the Mayor by a gun violence prevention organization. Again; compelling
  • Competence: the Mayor has a pretty good block-and-tackle game when it comes to running this town. We have many, many problems, but snow gets plowed, trains run on time (don’t start with me), and garbage gets picked up. He surrounds himself with good people who care about doing good work

Two discordant notes:

  • The Mayor should post his schedule and list of the people with whom he has met in the administration of his duties. There’s no reason why he can’t do this. My guess is that he meets with lots of rich and powerful people, which is a great way to get big things done in a market economy. I believe that meeting with poor and disenfranchised people is worthwhile as well. You are what you measure
  • There’s no reason for the Mayor to spend so much time and money on trying to remove and/or silence other elected officials who disagree with him on occasion. We’re a big city, with hundreds of thousands of adults living here. We can handle some differences in opinion/ approach

For City Clerk

  • Susana A. Mendoza is running unopposed. She’s done a great job in modernizing the office.

For City Treasurer

  • Kurt A. Summers is running unopposed. I’m perfectly happy to see what he’s up to.

For Alderman 32nd Ward

  • Scott Waguespack, without a doubt. He works hard, has integrity, and does the work of an alderman.

Should the City of Chicago have an Elected School Board?

  • Sure. Why not?

Chicago Skyline

The Winners of Jackie Robinson West

Waiting for someone to do some real analysis of this. Here’s what I see, as a simple Chicagoan who shared in the immense joy of the success of these kids.

  • The coach from Evergreen Park is a tiny, bitter, ugly little man
  • All of these youth are from Chicago
  • Geography is often destiny. We have to break that
  • People bend rules all the time. ALL THE TIME. It’s never right to bend the rules; never. So I’m not saying it’s cool to bend rules
  • But oftentimes, when people bend rules in our culture, especially in business, we think that bending rules is cute and daring
  • One dumb example, off the top of my head: Facebook was built when Mark Zuckerberg stole images from Harvard University. Flat-out stole
  • Baseball is well known for cheaters. Spitballs. Vaseline. These people are heroes
  • This is a terrible, terrible situation
  • I am beside myself

These children— please remember that they are CHILDREN— are heroes to me who have brought me great joy. I am very grateful to them. Nobody can tell me I can’t be.



Here’s the first photo from my conceptual art project, COLLABORATION STOCK PHOTOS, designed to recreate and propagate as many stock photos representing the word “collaboration” as possible.

Here’s the original image:

Screenshot 2015-01-27 23.12.29

And here’s the re-creation:

COLLABORATION STOCK PHOTO 1My approach on this one was slavish re-creation, in part because we had the models, props, and venue at the ready today. I think I may have some more abstract approaches as time goes by.

I would describe this as “happy co-workers collaborating on a fun project. One person stands and draws on a whiteboard, creatively, while two others sit and learn. They are in a bright space. Fuzzed-out  people in the background are clearly collaborating as well.”

If you find yourself in need of a photo like this, download it here in hi-res for free. It is licensed

Want to take part? Fave this tweet:

Or just show up tomorrow!


I’ve got the first shoot set for my new project, COLLABORATION STOCK PHOTOS. My goal is to recreate and propagate as many stock photos representing the word “collaboration” as possible.

I will be attending the next meetup of Connect Chicago, a group devoted to people who work to bring public computer centers, community technology centers, and digital literacy programs to the people of Chicago.

The meetup is about Assessing the Use & Impact of Free Public Computer Labs in Chicago. Sign up here, have lunch, and help me re-create these pics:

Screenshot 2015-01-27 23.14.45
Screenshot 2015-01-27 23.12.29 Screenshot 2015-01-27 23.11.58