Articles about Austin, TX.

Comments on Twelve Years of Commission Service

On March 27, 2014, I received a Distinguished Service Award from the City of Austin for twelve years of service on the Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission. Here is the video, followed by my prepared text.

Thank you for this recognition. I see this as a recognition not just for my personal efforts, but also for the accomplishments of the many groups I've had the good fortune to work with over the past ten years.

I'd like to share this recognition with: all my fellow Community Tech and Telecom Commissioners, past and present; City Council and its Emerging Technology Committee members; Rondella Hawkins and her staff in the office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs; the city's CTM and PIO departments; and the many groups who work so hard on behalf the community, such as Austin Free-Net, Channel Austin, Big Gig Austin, and Open Austin.

Feedback on Technology Items in City of Austin Budget

I'm down at City Hall, waiting for the hearing on the city's FY2014 budget.

Here are my notes on feedback I want to share with the City Council, regarding budget for some technology-related matters.

My Election Endorsements


Yes, it's a looong ballot. For what it's worth, I'll share my decisions and some of my reasoning.

What I'd like to do is start with the Austin Chronicle endorsements, because I pretty much agree with most of them, and I know that's a basis that a lot of my friends use.

The one race I'd urge you to look closely at is the ACC Trustee Place 7 race. The Chronicle endorses Barbara Mink, but I found Brig Mireles to be a credible candidate who has some attractive points. I don't follow ACC issues closely and I don't know either of the candidates, but I do think ACC is a very important resource to us. I don't feel informed enough to "endorse" here, but I do urge looking into this race more closely, and not following an endorsement knee-jerk.

It's Time to Create a Civic Innovation Office at Austin City Hall

6:30pm update: This afternoon, Austin City Council approved a budget that includes funds to create an innovationn office.

If you're a Boston resident and a pothole springs up on your street, help could be just a phone click away. The Citizen's Connect phone app will file a report for you.

What could be easier than a phone click? How about no phone clicks?

The Street Bump app, recently unveiled in Boston, uses the accelerometer built into your smart phone -- a device that measures speed and directon changes -- to detect when you've encountered a pothole. When you run the app, It will record a street bump event and file a report for you.

Call to Hack, Civically

Next, weekend (Sat., Sept. 8, all day), Code for America is sponsoring a Hack-a-Thon, their second this year.

As Alan Williams explains:

Civic hackathons are about making things happen. At civic hackathons, passionate people of all kinds come together to solve shared problems. You don’t need to be a coder, you just need to care. They help communities like Austin build strong ties between talented designers and developers and the countless organizations and individuals that work daily to make the city a better place. The diverse experiences, expertise, and ingenuity of residents can help shape what gets built at civic hackathons, and improve their resonance and relevance with citizens at large.

Free signup is here:

I've got a project I'm going to propose, and I hope you'll consider coming to hack on it.

Find It Nearby: A Mobile-Enabled Web Application with Austin Government Data

screenshot of Find It NearbySupport for open government data is an emerging national trend. In January of this year, the City of Austin unveiled its data portal at On February 21, Code for America sponsored "Code Across America", a national day of "hacking" on civic-minded software applications. (That's "hacking" in the original creative sense, not the popular mischief-making sense.)

As part of the event, here in Austin, about 50 people participated in a CfA Hack-a-Thon. People organized around three projects. You can find out more about the projects at the event wiki page.

I worked on the "Find It" team, which focused more on an R&D effort than a target application. The question we set out to answer is could we acquire sufficient datasets from the government, primarily the City of Austin, and what could we do with them once they were incorporated into a common database form? You can read more about that effort at the aforementioned wiki page.

By the end of the day, I had a small Ruby script that would take a location (latitude/longitude) and search for a number of nearby features -- such as libraries and post offices -- and report the closest. After the event, I built out the proof-of-concept prototype into a web-based application that would attempt to determine your current location (using a built-in GPS if your device had one and you permitted it), and display the features on a map.

The result was the Find It Nearby application. You can try the application here:

My Letter to the Austin Affiliate of Komen

Below is the message I just sent to the local Komen chapter, at info [at] komenaustin [dot] org:

Dear Staff and Directors,

When I look at the range of organizations that the local Komen chapter has supported, it strikes me as a list of groups with blue chip pedigree, all doing great work in Central Texas.

Some local Komen chapters have expressed unease over the political realignment of Komen's grant process. I hope you do too.

The work you are doing is too important to get caught up in politics. I think that if the local chapter was to take a stand against politicizing health issues, and offer a promise to continue support to the good organizations that deliver services to those in need -- if you were to do that I think you would find Central Texans would stand with you.

The silver lining to this very dark cloud is that people are talking about important health issues. Please seize this opportunity and offer some leadership -- the kind of bold thinking and action that Central Texans pride themselves on.

With your bold action, I think you could help rally Central Texans in support of this important issue.


9:58PM update - Oh dear. Looks like the Austin chapter has weighed in and they are hewing the very political party line. See: Texas Planned Parenthood Clinics Bracing for Komen Cuts

New City Website Arrives Monday

Below is a message I just posted to the Austin Neighborhoods Council mailing list:

The City of Austin website is going down for maintenance Sunday. When it returns Monday, the historic "Austin City Connection" will be replaced with the first public release of the new city website.

This will be what they call a "beta" release, made available for public shakeout and testing. The full release is scheduled for January 12.

The press release is linked here:

(I wouldn't normally do this, but due to the impending downtime I'll include a copy below.)

As some of the most engaged users of the city website, it's very important that we all get involved during this critical time. This rollout is a massive undertaking. It's likely going to be similar to the final phases of a kitchen remodel. There will be some dust and hiccups, but as the pieces go into place for completion, it (hopefully) will be beautiful -- so long as we pay careful attention.

Tribute to Gary Chapman

Photo of Gary Chapman at public computer lab demo

I gave this speech last night at a tribute to Gary Chapman, held before the annual Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards ceremony.

I've had the privilege of working with Gary Chapman several times over the years.

The first time was back in 2000. We were both serving on the very first Austin Grant for Technology Opportunities review board. GTOPs was a brand new program, designed to provide grant funds to local digital divide/digital opportunity projects. Gary was an early supporter of GTOPs, and chaired the review board its inaugural year.

Since then, GTOPs has grown into a successful and widely popular program.

TxGov20Camp -- Austin Website Session


I moderated a session this morning at Texas Gov20 Camp on open data issues in the City of Austin website redesign project. This post collects some of the resources from that session.

Session Title:
AustinGO: Can the city and citizens collaboratively develop an open platform?

The City of Austin is in the process of creating a new web site, built on an entirely new publishing platform. As part of this project, the City has entered into an agreement with OpenAustin, a private group of local volunteers, to help build tools on the new platform. We'll get an update on the project, and discuss what will be required for this collaboration to succeed.

Chip Rosenthal -- moderator, Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission (chip [at] unicom [dot] com)
Matt Esquibel -- City of Austin
Dan Pattyn -- OpenAustin (dan [dot] pattyn [at] gmail [dot] com)
Rob Pettengill -- OpenAustin (dan [dot] pattyn [at] gmail [dot] com)
Jon Lebkowsky -- EFF-Austin (jon [dot] lebkowsky [at] gmail [dot] com)

Resources: -- AustinGO, CIty of Austin government online initiative website

Syndicate content