Category Archives: Me

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)

The Public Library + Me

I was born in the Northview Heights Housing Project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh is where Andrew Carnegie made most of his money and he built nine out of the 2,500 libraries that bore his name. At one point, the “Carnegie library system” was responsible for 75-80 percent of every library in the nation. In Pittsburgh, there was no such thing as the “Pittsburgh Library System”. It was the “Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh“. I went there always. When I moved to Chicago at 12, I was stunned to learned you could have a library that didn’t have a prefix of “Carnegie-“.

Walking into the main branch, one walks beneath the words, “Free to the people”.


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Annotations + Me

Yesterday at Smart Chicago we launched our Annotations project,  where we publish rich text-based annotations of dense government documents like municipal code, RFPs, contracts, and other documents of this nature using the News Genius section of Rap Genius (“your guide to the meaning of rap lyrics… and LIFE“)

I’ve really loved Rap Genius since the day I saw it. Searching for lyrics in search engines used to be a dirty business filled with spam sites and trick downloads. Rap Genius is smart software that can be used for any purpose.

City of Chicago – RFP for Municipal Code Printing, Sales, Web Hosting, and Editing Supplementation Services

T.S. Eliot de St. Louis: the master of the annotation

As a poet, I’ve had a long love affair with annotations. In college, I had a side project where I looked up every footnote in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland in the library. I wanted to physically see each reference in every book he called out in his masterpiece.

Annotating the physical world

Right around the same time I did a similar thing called the Bibliography of American Poetry Told Through the Pulitzer Prize— a spreadsheet of every winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with an image, the library call number, and a personal annotation about the edition that I had retrieved from the shelf at the UIC Main Library.

Mind you, I didn’t actually *read* most of the books. I just wanted to touch each one of them and capture something real about every one of the objects, as books.

When I made my first website, I put in on the Web. I remember thinking at the time, “Man, *this* is what the World Wide Web was *made* for!”

GoogObits: testing out hypertext enjambment

Later, I made my first weblog (late to the game in 2002). It was a Salon Blog called, “GoogObits: Obituaries and essays augmented by Google seaches. There is a lot to learn from the dead.” My underlying principle was that copyrighted text has meaning beyond its first life. I called all of this “hypertext enjambment”. Here’s an essay I wrote explaining it (“On Hypertext Enjambment”). And here’s some snips on how it worked:

  • Sometimes the links buttressed the text of the obituary, linking to books and other original works mentioned in the obituary
  • Sometimes the links were instructive in prosaic ways not intended in the original text, like linking “food stamps” to more information at the Social Security office:
  • Sometimes the links were sideways, using the found text of the obituary to make a completely unrelated point, like linking the word “Misrepresentation” to a page about the Iran-Contra Affair

My overall term for this is “hypertext enjambment”. People don’t do enough of that, I think. Links are mainly boring and straight on the internet. The word “red” links to something red. A link on the phrase “Governor Rockefeller” would never surprise you. There’s more to be had. All hail hypertext enjambment.

Some of my favorites:

The site was even the Yahoo! Pick of the day at one point. Glorious.

Googobits was the Yahoo! Pick of the Day

Y!Q Link Generator: technology for enjambment

In 2005, Yahoo! came out with something called “Y!Q for Publishers”, which was (I thought) an awesome tool for embedding some of this interestingness into the Web. I wrote a pretty comprehensive post about Y!Q called, “Y!Q for Publishers: More Hyper, Less Link!“. It was a complicated implementation that required too much work to create the links.

I came up with an idea for automating link creation and my colleague Ben Friedberg did all of the technology. The result was a pretty badass tool that made the links for you. It’s still alive, notwithstanding the fast death of the Y!Q program itself:

Y!Q Link Generator

My manifesto

I finally put all of this thinking about annotations down in a cohesive format with my “Derivative Works Art Manifesto” in December 2005. Snip:

Users of the world are presented with fresh, owned content every day. We have the technology, the precedents, and the duty to make new art out of this owned content—the stuff of our lives.

Here’s what we need now:

  • A universal acknowledgment of this right to create derivative works from our experience of owned content without regard to the wishes of the original content owner
  • A set of guidelines that inject mutual respect, recognition, and accountability into the process of creating derivative works
  • An automatic compensation system that ensures payment to reward original creators while inducing new artists

Annotations are the linguistic right of the people. All hail Rap Genius.

Picture 6

On the Use of Private Data to Improve Lives (Five Data Sources You Can Use Now to Make a New Business)

I have long been been a proponent of open government data, and I’ve made a lot of products that use it. I’ve helped a number of cities, including my own, in publishing data and coming up with good policies.

Over the last couple years, however, I’ve turned my attention to the vast troves of private data that could be used to build businesses and make lives better. I even started a Web site called “Analycize” to hold a future project to this affect, and I have great hopes for this in the future.

I’ve written quite a bit about this and published a goodly amount of  my own data over the last year or so, and I wanted to pull it all together into one post. Here’s the info:

Hidden Personal Data and the Passionate Stories Within, focused on Illinois Tollway data

Here’s a tweet about my Chicago Transit Authority trip data and the raw data:

Here’s a pretty big one— a year’s worth of my exercise, food, and sleep activities for a year as tracked on Fitbit, a leading quantified self toolAll of that data is in this massive spreadsheet.

There are two more sources of private data that relate to my children, so I’m not super-prepared to publish the info. But they are indicative of the types of systems that contain vast data (and easy extraction) but a paucity of tools to use it to make lives better.

One is MyMealTime, which is a way for schools to manage lunch, including a Point of Sale system and and online system for viewing and managing transactions and available lunch money. Upshot: I have a record of every item each of my children has purchased for lunch since May 2007.

MealTime Online - Details

Another is my kid’s grades and other school performance data, which is managed in a tool called TeacherEase. I’ve got six years worth of this data, all of it accessible with a simple scraper.

TeacherEase- Parent Main

Open data isn’t just for governments anymore. There’s a lot of room for products here, sheeple!

Vacation Video Snips

I’ve never been a “carry a video camera around and take 2 hours of continual film of a music recital” type of father. I have, however, always enjoyed the quick-hit wonder of a minute or so of video that can present a scene and reveal truths about life of a particular time and a particular place. Here’s one from our first day in Rome recently:

RomeSnips1 (Saturday) from Daniel X. O’Neil on Vimeo.

I kind of went whole-hog on this stuff, making a dozen or so separate videos, with obscure scores, still photos, and explanatory title cards. I love this shit.