Data, data everywhere: Hacks/Hackers Philly meetup 2

Thanks to everyone who attended our second meetup on data tools and brainstorming for Random Hacks of Kindness.

We began with some mingling and free pizza. It was really encouraging to hear all the enthusiasm for this group as everyone introduced themselves. We also welcomed Dave Merrell of as a co-organizer of the group with me (Erika) and Dana Bauer of Azavea.

For the lightning talks we went from a tool to help you access data (ScraperWiki) to a tool to help make sense of messy data (Google Refine) to a tool to display data (Google Fusion Tables).

  • ScraperWiki 
    Salas Saraiya presented on this tool that helps scrape data from websites. The demo on scraping from Twitter appeared to be especially useful since in the introductions several people were interested in Twitter-related projects.
  • Google Refine
    Bob Lannon gave an overview by using a real-life example of messy data made unusable by humans that refine can help humans make readable again by a machine. Refine picks up where a lot of Excel cleanup tips leave off, and Bob's presentation gave a step-by-step introduction and resources for additional reading.
  • Google Fusion Tables
    I gave a quick intro to fusion tables. I shared my amazement at how easy to use and customizeable fusion tables are for map creation, and compiled a list of further reading and demos to help people get started.

After the tool talks, Michael Brennan gave an overview of Random Hacks of Kindness and led a quick brainstorming session. Like Hacks/Hackers, RHoK brings together developers and content matter experts. These groups work together to develop projects for the public good at international hackathons. The next one will be December 3-4. In Philly, it will take place at Drexel University

Mike led us in a quick brainstorming session for project ideas to take to RHoK. Hacks/Hackers Philadelphia will lead a team in developing a journalist project over the weekend. Some initial ideas offered included:

  • A project to work from the map of shame of states that have instituted voter ID laws. This could include visualization of voter participation data, possible results since the laws have been implemented, and data of circumstances that may have led to the laws being implemented.
  • A gerrymandering tool to show the impact of redistricting. Reminiscent of the Azavea and NewsWorks FixPhillyDistricts project.
  • An app to "listen" to political ads and return info on their truthfulness, like an app that listens to songs and returns the artist song title. Could be expanded to visual ads, and give information on whether an ad is from a PAC or elected official. Could tap into information available from


For our December, in addition to RHoK on the 3 and 4, we're co-sponsoring a journalist happy hour December 7. And on the techie side, the Philadelphia Python Users Group is holding a Holiday Party December 13. We're going to be planning over the next month for meetups in the new year. Also, the classroom-like setup to the space seems to work against more active mingling, so if anyone has any conversation-sparking ideas, please do share. Tentatively, 3rd Tuesday, meeting in the Municipal Services Building seems like it will continue to work well.

We already have heard from many of you with meetup ideas, but please feel free to share others. Hope to see you at the hackathon!