OpenGov Hack Night: Upcoming Events and Sustainable Data

There was no presentation at this week’s OpenGov Hack Night, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on.

Here are a few events that are coming up!

  • National Day of Civic Hacking: Save the date! On June 1st and 2nd, Chicago will be joining civic hackers across the country to Hack for Change! We’ll have three events.

    More information about these events will be released soon.

  • OpenStreetMap Hack Weekend: If you know your way around a compiler, feel comfortable with JSON and XML, or know the difference between an ellipsoid and a geoid, then the Hack Weekend is for you. We’re looking for those with technical know-how to help make a difference in OpenStreetMap’s core software by writing patches and new software to help make mapping faster and easier.
  • Safe Communities Hackathon at Google: The City of Chicago is partnering with Google to host a hackathon centered around community safety on May 11th.
  • Work for Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology – Make the awesome happen: The City of Chicago is hiring a new Managing Deputy Chief Information Officer to help run the city’s enterprise applications. The City of Chicago’s efforts in releasing data and leveraging technology have been the keystone to the entire civic innovation effort in Chicago. If you’ve got the chops, drop what you’re doing and apply now.

Datasets of the week: Energy Usage and alternative fuel locations

In honor of Earth Day, the City of Chicago released two new data sets.

The first is a new API that lets users see what the energy usage is throughout the city. This data set uses data aggregated by ComEd and People’s Gas to display energy uses by census track pairs. (For privacy concerns, the City doesn’t want to release data that can point out energy use for just one building. By having the data by census tract pairs, it protects privacy while still giving great information on the city’s energy usage.)

This data set also comes with an API. As with all new API’s released by the City, this API is well documented telling developers what all the fields are, what the error messages mean, and giving samples of code that use the API.

The other data set that was released is alternative fuel locations. This data set will be particularly important to companies that want to make electric cars more viable in the city.

Come join us next week at OpenGov Hack Night! Every Tuesday at 6:00pm inside 1871.

Behind the Scenes: Foodborne Chicago

Earlier this month the Smart Chicago Collaborative, in partnership with local developers Cory Nissen, Joe Olson, and Scott Robbin, and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), launched Foodborne Chicago, an innovative application that trawls Twitter for mentions of food poisoning in Chicago, enabling a team of administrators to connect with affected people and encourage them to report details of their food poisoning to the CDPH.

The Foodborne Chicago application is a collection of different services that make up a complex workflow. This post explains the overall architecture of the application and the direction that development is headed.

Backend analysis

Foodborne searches Twitter for all tweets near Chicago containing the string “food poisoning”. The ingestion service consumes thousands of tweets, storing them in a large MongoDB instance. A collection of classification servers, running R, churn through the collected tweets, applying a series of filters. The tweets are classified using a model that was trained via supervised learning, which determines if the tweets are related to a food poisoning illness or not. The Twitter crawler, classification machines, and MongoDB instance are all virtual EC2 instances running on the Smart Chicago Collaborative Amazon Web Services account.

Here is a sample of actual tweets and the determination of the classifier:

food poisoning tweets:

  • Knocked down by food poisoning for the second day. Not a good way to start the week 🙁
  • Stomach flu/food poisoning is like eating gas station sushi without the joys of eating gas station sushi
  • I think I ate my food too quick, either that or I sense food poisoning
  • Food poisoning at the first chapter meeting. Awesome..
  • My stomach keeps making the weirdest noise. Possibly food poisoning from Golden Nugget!

not food poisoning tweets:

  • I read that over six million people will get food poisoning this year with 100,000 requiring hospitalization. This is entirely preventable.
  • It’s really hard to snack while watching Honey Boo Boo. It’s the second best diet to food poisoning.

The Foodborne web application, a standard Ruby on Rails application, runs on Heroku, and has a scheduled job that loads classified tweets from the MongoDB instance every few minutes. This administrative interface shows the admin team, a partnership between Smart Chicago and the CDPH, a list of previously classified food poisoning tweets. For each tweet, the application shows if the tweet has been replied to, and if not, a simple mechanism for sending an @-reply to the tweet. The reply can use one of a standard set of replies, or a custom message, depending on context.

Public interaction

When users respond to the Twitter @-reply, they fill out a simple food poisoning report form on Foodborne. This form is submitted to the City of Chicago via its Open311 interface. This submission is equivalent to the person calling Chicago 311 to report their food poisoning. The 311 software routes the submission to the Chicago Department of Public Health, where investigators review the submission and take action, including conducting inspections, based on the report.

Development roadmap

Foodborne has a number of exciting development goals ahead. The backend infrastructure, while adequate, can be optimized and made far more efficient. Joe and Cory are exploring how to use EC2 spot instances and queuing tools to perform the classification work when computing resources are less expensive. The administrative interface will be extended to show more information about suspected food poisoning tweets, including if a person has submitted a request to 311. Scott and Cory are also working on building a feedback loop to the classifier; eventually administrators will be able to flag tweets that are incorrectly classified as relating to food poisoning illness and the classifier model will then learn to ignore similar tweets in the future.

Foodborne is an exciting addition to the collection of applications hosted by the Smart Chicago Collaborative. We’re proud of the work the entire Foodborne team has done, and look forward to supporting future development. If you’re a developer working with open data in Chicago, you may qualify for free hosting, too!

Big Data Week: Video Analytics in the Wild Panel Livestream

Smart Chicago Collaborative will be live streaming Friday’s Big Data Week panel on Video Analytics in the wild.

The panel will be discussing how video analytics is being used in a wide variety of places including public safety, retail, and health care.

Panelists will include:

  • Cmdr. Jonathan Lewin – Managing Deputy Director of Public Safety Information Technology, City of Chicago
  • Dr. Aggelos Katsaggelos – AT&T Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University’s Image and Video Processing Lab
  • Dr. Miles Wernick – Motorola Endowed Chair Professor and Director, Medical Imaging Research Center at IIT. CTO, ADM Diagnostics, LLC
  • Kris Ranganath – Director of Technology & Solutions, NEC Corporation of America

The panel will take place this Friday, April 26th at Motorola Solutions from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. If you’re in Chicago, you can register for the event here.

We’ll start our live stream on this page at 10:55 AM.

OpenGov Hack Night: 1 Year Anniversary

Happy Birthday OpenGov Hack Night!

This week was the one year anniversary of the Chicago OpenGov Hack Night.

The Year in Review (6:30)

Some quick stats on what’s gone on in the past year.

Chicago’s OpenGov Hack Night has been around for a year!

Congrats guys!

The City of Chicago and the Broadband Technology opportunities Grant

Francesca Rodriquez and Danielle DuMerer gave a presentation on the city’s efforts to close the digital divide.

The City of Chicago was one of the few major cities to receive a Broadband Technology Opportunities Grant. This grant is used to fund a number of projects in Chicago aimed at growing broadband adoption in Chicago.

The City received $16 million in BTOP funds to help build out Public Computing Centers and run comprehensive programs in some of Chicago’s more disadvantaged neighborhoods. In addition, the MacArthur Foundation provided matching funds. LISC Chicago and the Smart Chicago Collaborative partnered with the city to administer the programs.

You can find all the public computing centers that are funded by the grant on

EveryoneOn campaign

Chicago’s done a lot of work to close the digital divide and continues to hammer away at the issue with the launch of the EveryoneOn campaign. EveryoneOn is a national program that aims to increase digital literacy and access to the high speed intenet. The program is being piloted in Chicago.

As part of the program, the city is partnering with Connect2Compete. Connect2Compete is a non-profit website where residents can search for affordable internet options near them. Residents simply enter their zip code and answer a few questions in order to see their options.

Previously, the City worked with Comcast to provide low-cost internet as part of the Internet Essentials initiative in 2011. The city has now expanded that option to include FreedomPop.

FreedomPop is a wireless router that uses the CLEAR 4G wireless network. (Smart Chicago is currently testing the devices across the city as part of the Civic User Testing Group.) With the FreedomPop routers, residents can get a gigabyte of free data each month. For $10/month, residents can increase that amount to 10GBs.

FreedomPop Routers

The city has made great strides to close the digital divide in the past two years. Here’s some examples of the work that’s gone on. (From the city’s website)

  • Establish free Wi-Fi at 28 public computer center sites and upgraded free Wi-Fi at 66 Chicago Public Library branches;
  • Provide over 180,000 hours of instructor-led technology training to 29,300 Chicagoans citywide;
  • Help at least 570 Chicagoans find jobs through 180,000 one-on-one CyberNavigator assistance sessions at the libraries;
  • Deliver technology training to over 1,000 small businesses;
  • Provide out-of-school digital media programming to 1,350 youth;
  • Establish the Connect Chicago network to bring together over 250 locations that offer free digital skills training throughout the City; and
  • Install over 1,400 computer stations at 170 public computer centers citywide, located in CHA facilities, CCC campuses, community centers, libraries and Veterans Resource Centers.

We’re excited to see what comes next.

Juan-Pablo Valez: Lessons on civic hacking (25:35)

Juan-Pablo Valez presented his thoughts on how we can get citizens involved in civic hacking.

Juan used a number of examples to help explain the process of civic hacking and how citizens can get involved.

Lesson One: It needs to solve a problem – Flu Shot App

The City’s health department distributes free flu shots every year to help keep Chicago healthy. This year the city heavily advertised on CTA to encourage residents to get a flu shot. However, it wasn’t always easy to find where to get a flu shot.

More civic hackers hard at work

Working with the city’s health department, Tom Kompare built the flu shot finder app. Once the app was built, it was adopted by the city.

Juan explains, “While the flu shot app won’t solve public health, it does solve a particular civic problem – and that’s good!”

Lesson Two: Discovering the bureaucracy –

As civic hackers start to work on these projects is that you discover the intricate of the way the city works. is an OpenCity website that lets you explore Chicago’s different zones. The site also educates people on what the zones actually mean.

Lesson Three: Spreading the word –

Josh Kalov and Derek Eder discuss the app

The other big lesson is that once an app is built you need to get the word out. Jeanne partnered with Josh Kalov and the Open Data Institute to create a website that helps open up school data in a format easily understandable to parents. By helping to provide guidance to what parents needed, the end result was a site that helps parents and the community understand what’s happening with the school closing in Chicago.

Jean found the groups in Chicago that cared about the school closings and worked with them to help get the word out. has now been featured in several press stories and is one of the most accessed civic apps coming out of Chicago.

LISC Chicago (49:00)

Suzanna Vasquez, Executive Director of LISC Chicago, spoke about their Smart Communities program. Smart Communities works to increase digital access and digital literacy in the Chicago neighborhoods of Auburn Grsham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Humbolt Park, and Pilsen. LISC works with local partners to help support local initiatives to close the digital divide. A good example is the work done by Teamwork Englewood. (Who is working to raise funds to increase its Englewood Codes class to 30 students.)

LISC is a semi-finalist for the Knight Foundation News Challenge for their proposal “OpenGov for the rest of us” that hopes to use the same model to help open gov and civic hacking projects in the neighborhoods.

The City of Philadelphia – BTOP Partners and Philly Tech Week (57:55)

OpenGov Hack Night was proud to have Linsey Keck and Ashley Del Bianco as guests at this week’s hack night. They were part of the BTOP conference that was occurring in Chicago this week.

Linsey and Ashley run the BTOP grants in Philadelphia. Philadelphia and Chicago have a lot of similarities in terms of their open data policies, their efforts to close the digital divide and both cities have civic hacking events on a regular basis.

At next weeks Philly Tech Week, the team is running several events aimed at getting people to think about digital access issues. This includes an event designed to get all members of the tech community to talk about how we bridge the gap between the tech world and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Big Data Week in Chicago (1:07)

Next week is going to be Big Data Week in Chicago. There will be a number of events in the Chicago all during the week with many of these events being streamed online. You can get more information about these events by visiting

Edit Your Neighborhood On OpenStreetMap

They’ll be two opportunities for residents to help improve OpenStreetMap. The first is an OpenStreetMap Mapathon designed to help new mappers learn OpenStreetMap.

OpenStreetMap is an open source map that anyone can edit. Users can add data to the map including information about their favorite restaurants, cultural venues, and more.

We took some time out to talk with Ian Dees to show how easy it is to edit your hood with OpenStreetMap. The video is a quick step-by-step walk-through of how to make edits to the map.

OpenStreetMap can be edited using a free tool called idEditor. The editor will automatically find your location when you sign in. At this point, you can search for a location in the address bar or just explore around the map.

For our example, I had noticed that one of my neighborhood restaurants wasn’t showing on the map.

Using the idEditor, Ian was able to show me how to quickly add information to the building.

If you’d like to help edit your neighborhood, then join us this weekend for the OpenStreetMap Map-a-thon.

The  OpenStreetMap Map-a-thon is a national event designed to  teach new mappers the tools to improve the OpenStreetMap in your area.

Chicago’s Map-a-thon  will be April 20th and 21st at 1871 on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza from noon to 6pm. Food and drinks will be provided by the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

You can RSVP at on the Chicago OpenStreetMap meetup page.