The Use of Simple Digital Tools for Communion

Thoughts in preparation for The Impact of Digital Communication on Civic Engagement at DPLA Fest.

A lot of my career has revolved around data and communications.

The first civic tech tool I ever made, in 1999,  was “KillerOnThe”, a dumb notification tool that let you know, via Wireless Application Protocol, if there was a person nearby who has killed one or more people and who may kill others. It was more performance art than anything, focused on the towering insufficiency of technology.

I helped make EveryBlock, an early experiment in neighborhood data, and at Smart Chicago I helped launch many tools, methods, and programs around data and people, including Youth-Led Tech, Connect Chicago, Smart Health Centers, Documenters, and

What I always want— what’s at the center of my work— is communion. I seek to use data and technology as a bonding agent for people— making a common set of principles, facts, and goals.

It’s not easy, and I have not succeeded.

The election of the current president— and the wide-ranging foreign intelligence operation that helped him win— is a good indication of failure. The tactics centered around  discord, and they were successful.

But if we choose— and I do— we can keep “right on going on /  a sort of human statement“, as Anne Sexton says.

Here’s thoughts:

Libraries are natural places of communion. Let’s do this.

Modifying “Hop on Pop” So As To Make the Dad Less of a Cranky Killjoy

I love Dr. Seuss. One time I dragged a number of pieces of furniture out of an alley and custom-finished them with cutout illustrations from Seuss books.

Custom-Decorated Dr. Seuss Kids Furniture

Custom-Decorated Dr. Seuss Kids Furniture

I’ve used one of the pieces to track the growth of my children for the past 15 years.

First Measure

Caleb Measure, Spring 2004

I’ve always especially loved Hop on Pop, because it is centered on a dad and two kids, and because the main storyline is the physical joy of attempting to crush your father’s sternum, but being unable to do so.

The problem with the book is that notwithstanding the fact that hopping on pop is a legit fun thing to do, the book casts the father figures as hangdog workaholics who just want to come home and be left alone because of an ostensibly rough day at the office.


So I fired up Photoshop, cranked up Times New Roman, printed out modified versions of key portions of the story, and affixed them to our nighttime reader.

This book was given to my eldest child on his 2nd birthday by his aunt and uncle. I am glad they made an inscription— these are invaluable keepsake-makers.

The cover itself has some freelance customizations from one of the kids.

The first step was to name the characters. I kept the look of surprise on the dad’s face because it exuded a kind of radical “youth beats the olds” type of narrative.

The first off-putting spread is the one that introduces the concept of the sad dad. Boring boring boring.

So I removed “sad”, added “glad”, and removed extraneous obtuse reference to the nature of the father’s day.

Similarly, I switched up the discussion among the youth about what kind of day the parental figure had,. You can see how easy it was to turn everything around. I made a mistake with the terminal point, but I accounted for that by allowing the underlying exclamation to show through.

The last modification occurs at the denouement, where the same illustration from the cover page is the setup for the big reveal— the misguided belief that children must not hop on pop.

The simple change of stop to lots and turning frowns upside down was all it took.

Moments are over in a minute. Offspring outgrow the edges of our measures fast.

Hop on pop as long as you can.

My Journals, 2015

I hand-wrote 467 pages in various journals during  2015. This is actual pen-to-paper stuff. For years, I have been keeping five separate journal types going at any given time. I number each of the journals in order (Health Journal #14, Work Journal #46, etc.) and I try to be as honest and contemplative as possible as I write. Here’s a page breakdown and a general take on what I wrote:

Health Journal

I’ve kept this journal since I started my recovery from alcoholism. It’s where I write down facts about and what I think about the status of my physical, emotional, and financial health. I put everything from raw recitations of weight to plans for less spending. Over the last year I spent, believe it or not, circa $1,000 less of coffee than the year before. Just by planning and writing. I fucking love coffee.

Health Journal 14

Continue reading “My Journals, 2015”

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.

Continue reading “Me in Baltimore (How to do Business Tourism)”