Monthly Archives: October 2011

And Now… Another Message on Open Innovation for Realtors

Over the past few months I’ve given a number of talks on open data and open innovation to groups of realtors around the country. During these talks I have cautioned that the more the real estate industry tries to protect (e.g. not share) its data, the more it risks making access to data (control) be the source of competition as opposed to accessibility with the data (allowing others to create value-added services).

Consequently, recreating already existing data sets will become the goal of competitors if working with the real estate industries data to innovate new services is not possible or prohibitively expensive. Competition on this axis has, I believe, two possible outcomes: One is a winner take all world where the person with the biggest data set wins, or put another way, either the current monopoly maintains its grip or a new monopoly takes over. The other is that there ceases to be, in a meaningful way, a single data repository on real estate and market place data gets broken into lots of different silos. This implications of this outcome are less clear, but there is a risk it could be bad for consumers as, essentially, market information would be fragmented. In either case, both outcomes carry significant risks for organized real estate.

Despite this, many realtors don’t believe it is likely to happen, because they don’t believe their data can be duplicated, no matter how much I try to tell them otherwise.

But…. whoops! Look what happened!

Today, as if to hammer home what I believe is the inevitable, the Globe and Mail has an article today on a new service that allows one to get an estimate on the assessed value of one’s home by accessing an alternative data set (one essentially created by the banks). It is basically a data set that is outside of any owned by organized real estate (that found in MLS). Look! Someone has recreated what was previously seen as a data set that could not be replicated!

Of course the counter is: “It isn’t as good.” Well, two things here. First, it may not have to be. If it offers 80% of the accuracy and 20% of the cost then it will probably be good enough for at least part of the market. And once it is established, I’m confident the owners of the website will find ways to make their service better and the data more accurate.

The real estate industry has an opportunity to shape its future or be shaped by the future. The market (and the competition bureau) isn’t going to give them for forever to make up their minds.

 

As Canada Searches for its Open Government Partnership Commitments: A Proposal

Just before its launch in New York on September 20th, the Canadian Government agreed to be a signatory of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Composed of over 40 countries the OGP signatories are required to create a list of commitments they promise to implement. Because Canada signed on just before the deadline it has not – to date – submitted its commitments. As a result, there is a fantastic window for the government to do something interesting with this opportunity.

So what should we do? Here are the top 5 suggestions I propose for Canada’s OGP Commitments:

Brief Background on Criteria:

Before diving in, it is worth letting readers know that there are some criteria for making commitments. Specifically, any commitment must tackle at least one of the five “core” challenges: improve public services, increase public integrity, more effectively manage public resources, create safer communities, and increase corporate accountability.

In addition, each recommendation should reflect at least one of the core OGP principles, which are: transparency, citizen participation, accountability, and technology and innovation.

The Top Ten

Having reviewed several other countries commitments and being familiar with both what Canada has already done and what it could do, attached are 10 commitments I would like to see our government make to the OGP.

1. Be open about developing the commitments

Obviously there are a number of commitments the government is going to make since they are actions or programs that government was going to launch anyways. In addition, there will be some that will be new ideas that public servants or politicians have been looking for an opportunity to champion and now have an excuse. This is all fine and part of the traditional way government works.

But wouldn’t it be nice if – as part of the open government partnership – we asked citizens what they thought the commitments should be? That would make the process nicely consistent with the principles and goals of the OGP.

Thus the government should launch a two week crowd sourced idea generator, much like it did during the Digital Economy consultations. This is not suggestion that the ideas submitted must become part of the commitments, but they should inform the choices. This would be a wonderful opportunity to hear what Canadians have to say. In addition, the government could add some of its own proposal into the mix and see what type of response they get from Canadians.

2. Redefine Public as Digital: Pass an Online Information Act

At this year’s open government data camp in Warsaw, the always excellent Tom Steinberg noted that creating a transparent government and putting in place the information foundations of a digital economy will be impossible unless access to government data is not a gift from government (that can be taken away) but a right every citizen has. At the same time Andrew Rasiej of Tech President advocated that we must redefine public as digital. A paper print out in a small office in the middle of nowhere, does not make for  “public disclosure” in the 21st century. It’s bad for democracy, it’s bad for transparency, and it is grossly inefficient for government.

Thus, the government should agree to pass a Online Information Act, perhaps modeled on that proposed in the US Senate, that

a) Any document it produces should be available digitally, in a machine readable format. The sham that the government can produce 3000-10,000 printed pages about Afghan detainees or the F-35 and claim it is publicly disclosing information must end.

b) Any data collected for legislative reasons must be made available – in machine readable formats – via a government open data portal.

c) Any information that is ATIPable must be made available in a digital format. And that any excess costs of generating that information can be born by the requester, up until a certain date (say 2015) at which point the excess costs will be born by the ministry responsible. There is no reason why, in a digital world, there should be any cost to extracting information – indeed, I fear a world where the government can’t cheaply locate and copy its own information for an ATIP request as it would suggest it can’t get that information for its own operations.

3. Sign the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

As a leader in the field of resource extraction it is critical that Canada push for the highest standards in a sector that all too often sees money that should be destined for the public good get diverted into the hands of a few well connected individuals. Canada’s reputation internationally has suffered as our extractive resource sector is seen as engaging in a number of problematic practices such as bribing public officials – this runs counter to the Prime Minister’s efforts to promote democracy.

As a result, Canada should sign, with out delay, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, much like the United States did in September. This can help signal our desire for a transparent extractive industry, one in which we play a significant role.

4. Sign on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative

Canada has already taken significant steps to publishing its aid data online, in machine readable formats. This should be applauded. The next step is to do so in a way that conforms with international standards so that this data can be assessed against the work of other donors.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) offers an opportunity to increase transparency in foreign aid, better enable the public to understand its aid budget, compare the country’s effectiveness against others and identify duplication (and thus poorly used resources) among donors. Canada should agree to implement IATI immediately. In addition, it should request that the organizations it funds also disclose their work in ways that are compliant with IATI.

5. Use Open Data to drive efficiency in Government Services: Require the provinces to share health data – particularly hospital performance – as part of its next funding agreement within the Canada Health Act.

Comparing hospitals to one another is always a difficult task, and open data is not a panacea. However, more data about hospitals is rarely harmful and there are a number of issues on which it would be downright beneficial. The most obvious of these would be deaths caused by infection. The number of deaths that occur due to infections in Canadian hospitals is a growing problem (sigh, if only open data could help ban the antibacterial wipes that are helping propagate them). Having open data that allows for league tables to show the scope and location of the problem will likely cause many hospitals to rethink processes and, I suspect, save lives.

Open data can supply some of the competitive pressure that is often lacking in a public healthcare system. It could also better educate Canadians about their options within that system, as well as make them more aware of its benefits.

6. Reduce Fraud: Find Fraud by Creating a Death List

In an era where online identity is a problem it is surprising to me that I’m unable to locate a database of expired social insurance numbers. Being able to querry a list of social security numbers that belong to dead people might be a simple way to prevent fraud. Interestingly, the United States has just such a list available for free online. (Side fact: Known as the Social Security Death Index this database is also beloved by genealogist who use it to trace ancestry).

7. Save lives by publishing a API of recall data

The only time the public finds out about a product recall is after someone has died. This is a terribly tragic, not to mention grossly inefficient, outcome. Indeed, the current approach is a classic example of using 21st century technology to deliver a service in a 19th century manner. If the government is interested in using the OGP to improve government services it should stop just issuing recall press releases and also create an open data feed of recalled products. I expand on this idea here.

If the government were doubly smart it would work with major retailers – particularly in the food industry – to ensure that they regularly tap into this data. In an ideal world any time Save-on-Foods, Walmart, Safeway, or any other retailers scans product in their inventory it would immediately check it against the recall database, allowing bad food to be pulled out of production before it hits the shelves. In addition, customers who use loyalty cards could be called or emailed to be informed that they had bought a product that had been recalled. This would likely be much more effective than hoping the media picks the story up.

8. Open Budget and Actual Spending Data

For almost a year the UK government has published all spending data, month by month, for each government ministry (down to the £500 in some, £25,000 in others). More over, as an increasing number of local governments are required to share their spending data it has lead to savings, as government begin to learn what other ministries and governments are paying for similar services.

Another bonus is that it becomes possible to talk about the budget in new and interesting ways. This BEAUTIFUL graphic was published in the Guardian, while still complicated it is much easier to understand than any government document about the budget I have ever seen.

Public-spending-graphic-0051

9. Allow Government Scientists to speak directly to the media about their research.

It has become a reoccurring embarrassment. Scientists who work for Canada publish an internationally recognized ground break paper that provides some insight about the environment or geography of Canada and journalists must talk to government scientists from other countries in order to get the details. Why? Because the Canadian government blocks access. Canadians have a right to hear the perspectives of scientists their tax dollars paid for – and enjoy the opportunity to get as well informed as the government on these issues.

Thus, lift the ban that blocks government scientists from speaking with the media.

10. Create a steering group of leading Provincial and Municipal CIOs to create common schema for core data about the country.

While open data is good, open data organized the same way for different departments and provinces is even better. When data is organized the same way it makes it easier to citizens to compare one jurisdiction against another, and for software solutions and online services to emerge that use that data to enhance the lives of Canadians. The Federal Government should use its convening authority to bring together some of the countries leading government CIOs to establish common data schemas for things like crime, healthcare, procurement, and budget data. The list of what could be worked on is virtually endless, but those four areas all represent data sets that are frequently requested, so might make for a good starting point.

The State of Open Data 2011

What is the state of the open data movement? Yesterday, during my opening keynote at the Open Government Data Camp (held this year in Warsaw, Poland) I sought to follow up on my talk from last year’s conference. Here’s my take of where we are today (I’ll post/link to a video of the talk as soon as the Open Knowledge Foundation makes it available).

Successes of the Past Year: Crossing the Chasm

1. More Open Data Portals

One of the things that has been amazing to witness in 2011 is the veritable explosion of Open Data portals around the world. Today there are well over 50 government data catalogs with more and more being added. The most notable of these was probably the Kenyan Open Data catalog which shows how far, and wide, the open data movement has grown.

2. Better Understanding and More Demand

The things about all these portals is that they are the result of a larger shift. Specifically, more and more government officials are curious about what open data is. This is not to say that understanding has radically shifted, but many people in government (and in politics) now know the term, believe there is something interesting going on in this space, and want to learn more. Consequently, in a growing number of places there is less and less headwind against us. Rather than screaming from the rooftops, we are increasingly being invited in the front door.

3. More Experimentation

Finally, what’s also exciting is the increased experimentation in the open data space. The number of companies and organizations trying to engage open data users is growing. ScraperWiki, the DataHub, BuzzData, Socrata, Visua.ly, are some of the products and resources that have emerged out of the open data space. And the types of research and projects that are emerging – the tracking of the Icelandic volcano eruptions, the emergence of hacks and hackers, micro projects (like my own Recollect.net) and the research showing that open data could be generating savings of £8.5 million a year to governments in the Greater Manchester area, is deeply encouraging.

The Current State: An Inflection Point

The exciting thing about open data is that increasingly we are helping people – public servants, politicians, business owners and citizens imagine a different future, one that is more open, efficient and engaging. Our impact is still limited, but the journey is still in its early days. More importantly, thanks to success (number 2 above) our role is changing. So what does this mean for the movement right now?

Externally to the movement, the work we are doing is only getting more relevant. We are in an era of institution failure. From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall St. there is a recognition that our institutions no longer sufficiently serve us. Open data can’t solve this problem, but it is part of the solution. The challenge of the old order and the institutions it fostered is that its organizing principle is built around the management (control) of processes, it’s been about the application of the industrial production model to government services. This means it can only move so fast, and because of its strong control orientation, can only allow for so much creativity (and adaption). Open data is about putting the free flow of information at the heart of government – both internally and externally – with the goal of increasing government’s metabolism and decentralizing societies’ capacity to respond to problems. Our role is not obvious to the people in those movements, and we should make it clearer.

Internally to the movement, we have another big challenge. We are at a critical inflection point. For years we have been on the outside, yelling that open data matters. But now we are being invited inside. Some of us want to rush in, keen to make advances, others want to hold back, worried about being co-opted. To succeed, it is essential we must become more skilled at walking this difficult line: engaging with governments and helping them make the right decisions, while not being co-opted or sacrificing our principles. Choosing to not engage would, in my opinion, be to abscond from our responsibility as citizens and open data activists. This is a difficult transition, but it will be made easier if we at least acknowledge it, and support one another in it.

Our Core Challenges: What’s next

Looking across the open data space, my own feeling is that there are three core challenges that are facing the open data movement that threaten to compromise all the successes we’ve currently enjoyed.

1. The Compliance Trap

One key risk for open data is that all our work ends up being framed as a transparency initiative and thus making data available is reduced to being a compliance issue for government departments. If this is how our universe is framed I suspect in 5-10 years governments, eager to save money and cut some services, will choose to cut open data portals as a cost saving initiative.

Our goal is not to become a compliance issue. Our goal is to make governments understand that they are data management organizations and that they need to manage their data assets with the same rigour with which they manage physical assets like roads and bridges. We are as much about data governance as we are open data. This means we need to have a vision for government, one where data becomes a layer of the government architecture. Our goal is to make data platform one that not only citizens outside of government can build on, but one that government reconstructs its policy apparatus as well as its IT systems at top of. Achieving this will ensure that open data gets hardwired right into government and so cannot be easily shut down.

2. Data Schemas

This year, in the lead up to the Open Data Camp, the Open Knowledge Foundation created a map of open data portals from around the world. This was fun to look at, and I think should be the last time we do it.

We are getting to a point where the number of data portals is becoming less and less relevant. Getting more portals isn’t going to enable open data to scale more. What is going to allow us to scale is establishing common schemas for data sets that enable them to work across jurisdictions. The single most widely used open government data set is transit data, which because it has been standardized by the GTFS is available across hundreds of jurisdictions. This standardization has not only put the data into google maps (generating millions of uses everyday) but has also led to an explosion of transit apps around the world. Common standards will let us scale. We cannot forget this.

So let’s stop mapping open data portals, and start mapping datasets that adhere to common schemas. Given that open data is increasingly looked upon favourably by governments, creating these schemas is, I believe, now the central challenge to the open data movement.

3. Broadening the Movement

I’m impressed by the hundreds and hundreds of people here at the Open Data Camp in Warsaw. It is fun to be able to recognize so many of the faces here, the problem is that I can recognize too many of them. We need to grow this movement. There is a risk that we will become complacent, that we’ll enjoy the movement we’ve created and, more importantly, our roles within it. If that happens we are in trouble. Despite our successes we are far from reaching critical mass.

The simple question I have for us is: Where is the United Way, Google, Microsoft, the Salvation Army, Oxfam, and Greenpeace? We’ll know were are making progress when companies – large and small – as well as non-profits – start understanding how open government data can change their world for the better and so want to help us advance the cause.

Each of us needs to go out and start engaging these types of organizations and helping them see this new world and the potential it creates for them to make money or advance their own issues. The more we can embed ourselves into other’s networks, the more allies we will recruit and the stronger we will be.

 

Calling all Mozilla Contributors Past & Present

As some friends know, I’ve been working with Mozilla, helping them design an engagement audit, something to enable them assess how effective they are at engaging and empowering the community. This work has a number of aspects, much of which builds on ideas I’ve blogged about here and spoken about in the last year or so (most recently at DjangoCon and the Drupal Pacific Northwest Summit).

The hardest thing of course, is getting feedback from volunteer contributors themselves. This group of talented people are dispersed and, unsurprisingly, busy. But they also have the best data about their experience and so capturing it, sharing it, and using it to provide recommendations to help Mozilla is essential.

DinoheadIn pursuit of that goal I’ve worked a number of staff at Mozilla, and sought the advice of survey expert Peter Loewen to create a Mozilla Volunteer Contributor Survey.

So…! If you are a Mozilla contributor, or have been in the past, we would be deeply indebted to you if you took the time to fill this out. We are trying to push the survey link into various networks we think contributors will see it, but anything you can do to let e fellow Mozillian know about the survey would be great.

Really, really can’t thank anyone who takes this survey enough.

Brain Candy – Great Quotes from Yesterday

I’m in San Francisco to co-chair the Code for America Summit this week, so lots going on, and some deep blog posts in the works. But first. Fun! Here are some of my favourite quotes I stumbled upon or heard in the last 24 hours.

“The 4-Hour Body” reads as if The New England Journal of Medicine had been hijacked by the editors of the SkyMall catalog.

- Dwight Garner, in the New York Times review of the Four Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss

The entire review is pure genius. Definitely worth reading.

But more quotes await!

“Micro-managing isn’t that third thing that Amazon does better than us, by the way. I mean, yeah, they micro-manage really well, but I wouldn’t list it as a strength or anything. I’m just trying to set the context here, to help you understand what happened. We’re talking about a guy [Jeff Bezos] who in all seriousness has said on many public occasions that people should be paying him to work at Amazon. He hands out little yellow stickies with his name on them, reminding people “who runs the company” when they disagree with him. The guy is a regular… well, Steve Jobs, I guess. Except without the fashion or design sense. Bezos is super smart; don’t get me wrong. He just makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.”

- Steve Yegge in a now no longer public but still accessible assessment of why Google doesn’t get platforms.

The broader read is fantastic, but this quote – mentioned to me by a friend – I thought was both fun and insightful. There is something to be said for super obsessive bosses. They care about their business. It is worth noting that both Jobs and Bezos founded their companies. A lot of other companies could do with this kind of love and attention – even if, in high doses, it can be totally toxic. It’s a fascinating tension.

So yes, tech and the four hour work week? I must be proximity to the valley… so let’s get away from that.

How about #occupywallst? There is a very interesting analysis of the data behind the We are the 99% tumblr feed over at rortybomb, definitely worth a read. But I was really struck by this quote about the nature of the demands:

The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.

Ooph. Now that is depressing. But check out his concluding remark.

We have piecemeal, leaky versions of each of these in our current liberal social safety net.  Having collated all these responses, I think completing these projects should be the ultimate goal of the 99%

This is what really strikes me. Here you have a welfare state that isn’t even that big by Western standards but is still not trivial in the resources it consumes, and yet it delivers a pretty crappy outcome to a huge number of citizens. It may be that enough funding from the wealthy restores that system and makes it work. But the financial crises in Europe would seem to suggest otherwise. For many, especially in America, the status quo is unacceptable, and the ability to go back may no longer exist. So until we start thinking about what the future looks like, one free of the systems of the past, we’re probably in trouble.

But any effort here is going to run into a pretty serious brick wall when it comes to coalition building. Consider this amazing line from this Change.org petition:

Rhee uses Change.org to post deceptively worded petitions with such titles as: “Join the Fight to Save Great Teachers” and “Pay Effective Teachers What They Deserve.” When you delve into it, she’s working to weaken unions and institute merit pay for teachers. These are insidious, corporate, anti-progressive reforms. Change.org should not be participating in Rhee’s union busting.

Merit pay is an insidious, corporate, anti-progressive reform? You have to be pretty far out on the left to believe that. Indeed, the notion of merit sat at the heart of the progressive revolution. Now I’m no fan of Rhee, but I’m also a believer that good work should be rewarded and, well, bad work should be punished. That isn’t saying your pay should be linked to test scores, but it also doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be linked to nothing other than tenure. If that is union busting, then the progressive movement it totally dead. This is why I think progressive reform is stopped dead in its tracks. The traditional left wants to defend the status quo of government (while happily attacking the equally problematic status quo of wall st.) while I suspect others, many of whom are sympathetic to the #occupywallst message, are actually equally uncomfortable with the status quo in both the public and private sphere.

This is bad news for those of us who don’t want to return to the Gilded Age. There may not be a coalition that can counter the conservatives on the left and the right. Maybe there needs to be a collapse of this complex system before there can be a rebuilding. It’s a pretty depressing and sobering thought.

Okay. so, you got suckered in by a few fun quotes only to find yourself in the serious world of protest politics. Sorry about that, but that’s the kind of technology fueled, politically driven 24 hours its been.

Hope to see you tomorrow…

International Open Data Hackathon 2011: Better Tools, More Data, Bigger Fun

Last year, with only a month of notice, a small group passionate people announced we’d like to do an international open data hackathon and invited the world to participate.

We were thinking small but fun. Maybe 5 or 6 cities.

We got it wrong.

In the end people from over 75 cities around the world offered to host an event. Better still we definitively heard from people in over 40. It was an exciting day.

Last week, after locating a few of the city organizers email addresses, I asked them if we should do it again. Every one of them came back and said: yes.

So it is official. This time we have 2 months notice. December 3rd will be Open Data Day.

I want to be clear, our goal isn’t to be bigger this year. That might be nice if it happens. But maybe we’ll only have 6-7 cities. I don’t know. What I do want is for people to have fun, to learn, and to engage those who are still wrestling with the opportunities around open data. There is a world of possibilities out there. Can we seize on some of them?

Why.

Great question.

First off. We’ve got more data. Thanks to more and more enlightened governments in more and more places, there’s a greater amount of data to play with. Whether it is Switzerland, Kenya, or Chicago there’s never been more data available to use.

Second, we’ve got better tools. With a number of governments using Socrata there are more API’s out there for us to leverage. Scrapperwiki has gotten better and new tools like Buzzdata, TheDataHub and Google’s Fusion Tables are emerging every day.

And finally, there is growing interest in making “openess” a core part of how we measure governments. Open data has a role to play in driving this debate. Done right, we could make the first Saturday in December “Open Data Day.” A chance to explain, demo and invite to play, the policy makers, citizens, businesses and non-profits who don’t yet understand the potential. Let’s raise the world’s data literacy and have some fun. I can’t think of a better way than with another global open data hackathon – an maker’s fair like opportunity for people to celebrate open data by creating visualizations, writing up analyses, building apps or doing what ever they want with data.

Of course, like last time, hopefully we can make the world a little better as well. (more on that coming soon)

How.

The basic premises for the event would be simple, relying on 5 basic principles.

1. Together. It can be as big or as small, as long or as short, as you’d like it, but we’ll be doing it together on Saturday, December 3rd, 2011.

2. It should be open. Around the world I’ve seen hackathons filled with different types of people, exchanging ideas, trying out new technologies and starting new projects. Let’s be open to new ideas and new people. Chris Thorpe in the UK has done amazing work getting young and diverse group hacking. I love Nat Torkington’s words on the subject. Our movement is stronger when it is broader.

3. Anyone can organize a local event. If you are keen help organize one in your city and/or just participate add your name to the relevant city on this wiki page. Where ever possible, try to keep it to one per city, let’s build some community and get new people together. Which city or cities you share with is up to you as it how you do it. But let’s share.

4. You can work on anything that involves open data. That could be a local or global app, a visualization, proposing a standard for common data sets, scraping data from a government website to make it available for others in buzzdata.

It would be great to have a few projects people can work on around the world – building stuff that is core infrastructure to future projects. That’s why I’m hoping someone in each country will create a local version of MySociety’s Mapit web service for their country. It will give us one common project, and raise the profile of a great organization and a great project.

We also hope to be working with Random Hacks of Kindness, who’ve always been so supportive, ideally supplying data that they will need to run their applications.

5. Let’s share ideas across cities on the day. Each city’s hackathon should do at least one demo, brainstorm, proposal, or anything that it shares in an interactive way with at members of a hackathon in at least one other city. This could be via video stream, skype, by chat… anything but let’s get to know one another and share the cool projects or ideas we are hacking on. There are some significant challenges to making this work: timezones, languages, culture, technology… but who cares, we are problem solvers, let’s figure out a way to make it work.

Like last year, let’s not try to boil the ocean. Let’s have a bunch of events, where people care enough to organize them, and try to link them together with a simple short connection/presentation.Above all let’s raise some awareness, build something and have some fun.

What next?

1. If you are interested, sign up on the wiki. We’ll move to something more substantive once we have the numbers.

2. Reach out and connect with others in your city on the wiki. Start thinking about the logistics. And be inclusive. Someone new shows up, let them help too.

3. Share with me your thoughts. What’s got you excited about it? If you love this idea, let me know, and blog/tweet/status update about it. Conversely, tell me what’s wrong with any or all of the above. What’s got you worried? I want to feel positive about this, but I also want to know how we can make it better.

4. Localization. If there is bandwidth locally, I’d love for people to translate this blog post and repost it locally. (let me know as I’ll try cross posting it here, or at least link to it). It is important that this not be an english language only event.

5. If people want a place to chat with other about this, feel free to post comments below. Also the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Day mailing list will be the place where people can share news and help one another out.

Once again, I hope this will sound like fun to a few committed people. Let me know what you think.

Ada Lovelace Day – On Dr. Connie Eaves

For those who don’t know: Today – October 7th – is Ada Lovelace Day. It’s a day where you “share your story about a woman — whether an engineer, a scientist, a technologist or mathematician — who has inspired you to become who you are today.”

It would be remiss for me not to blog about Dr. Connie Eaves. For anyone who thinks I travel a lot, work long hours, or have a passion for evidence and data, I am really just a pale shadow when compared to this inspiring and globally recognized cancer researcher. For those not familiar with her – which is probably anyone outside the field of cancer research and not an avid reader of the journal Blood – you can catch her bio on Wikipedia here.

She is, of course, also my mom.

Obviously, if you are a woman (or a man) interested in getting into science – particularly human biology and stem cell research – I would point you to my mother (and father) as people to get to know, but for me her inspiration is much simpler. At a basic level, there are two invaluable gifts my mother has given me, which I feel are particularly salient to her scientific achievements.

The first, and most important, was the building blocks of critical thinking: To break down an argument and understand it from every angle, as well as dissect the evidence embedded within it. These lessons were hard ones. I learned a lot of it just through observation, and sometimes – more painfully – from trying to engage her in debate. I’ve seen graduate students tremble in fear about engaging my mother in debate. While my victories have been few, I’ve been doing it since probably the age of five or earlier, and it has helped shape my brain in powerful ways in which, I suspect, many masters or doctoral students would happily travel around the world to be exposed to. I am exceedingly lucky.

The second gift my mom bestowed me is her work ethic and drive. I have grown up believing that working for 12 hours, 7 days a week may actually be normal behaviour. There is good and bad in taking on such norms. Neither one of us probably thinks it is healthy when we skip eating all day because we zone out into our work. But that intensity has its upsides, and I’m grateful to have been exposed to it. Indeed, I’d like to think I work hard, but standing next to her, I still often just feel lazy.

I mention these two traits not just because they have had such a great impact on me, but also because I think they’re a reflection of what extraordinary skills were required by my mother to be a successful woman scientist embarking on a career in the 1960s. The simple fact is that in that era, as much as we’d like to think it was not true, I suspect that to be a women scientist – to get on tenure track – you had to be smarter and work harder than almost anyone around you. It is one reason why I think the women scientists of that generation are generally so remarkable. The sad truth is: They had to be.

The happy upside is that for me, purely selfishly, is I got the benefit of being raised by someone who survived and thrived in what I imagine was at times a hostile environment to women. Paradoxically, the benefits I enjoyed are those I would wish on any child in a heartbeat, while the asymmetric expectation are those I would wish on no one.

Happy Ada Lovelace mom.