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Meter Beaters

Meter Beaters is an app to find free parking spots in Chicago. With so much freely available civic data you would imagine that there would be plenty of apps like this, but the city keeps it’s parking data close to the chest. I know because I tried to build something like this 6 years ago.

Meter Beaters

I wanted an app to show me where residential parking zones were so I could spot the non-zoned streets and find free parking. This is particularly difficult in neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park. I tried filing a FOIA request to get the data, but they were only willing to provide it as 100s of pages of printouts. I build a web scraper in Processing to walk through a GIS database and query each street section through their parking zone look-up form, but then they installed a CAPTHA on the form. I asked the Chief Data Officer of the city in the nicest way I could, but nothing. After a while, I just gave up.

All I can assume is that the city does not want to provide easily accessible access to this data, so I’m glad to see that someone has taken up the challenge. The app isn’t perfect, I have critiques of the interaction model and I’ve found flaws in the data. They have a way to submit corrections though, so hopefully it will improve over time.

Monkey Business

Sharing economy gone wrong. Yesterday I heard that the city of San Francisco is cracking down on apps like MonkeyParking, which let you get paid for giving up your on-street parking spot. Essentially it allows you to profit off of private use of public infrastructure. Glad to see that SF is taking some action on this. It’s bad enough that cities are privatizing more of their infrastructure (I’m looking at you Chicago parking meters) but entrepreneurs doing it to you under the table is just wrong.

Monkey Parking

That said, hopefully the city of SF sees this as a wake-up call to develop their own tools to help alleviate the parking problem. Maybe parking credit for giving up your spot in high demand times, or better sensors and open data around available parking spots.

Music 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to music last year, going to an average of one show a week (though weighted heavily towards the first half of the year) and listening to a lot of great bands. I bought a Friends of the Bottle pass at the Empty Bottle, which made it super convenient for me to just pop in to see who was playing when I had a free night.

However, for some reason, I’m just not excited about creating a year-end best-of list. Instead, here is a list of every record I actually bought this year. A while ago I decided that I’m only going to buy music on vinyl, so this heavy stack is sitting next to me right now; I still love having a physical music collection.

Bloodiest – Descent
Dan Deacon – America
Deafheaven – Roads to Judah
Disappears – Pre Language
Future Islands – In the Fall
Godspeed You Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Joan of Arc – Pinecone
Joan of Arc – Presents Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc – s/t
Liturgy/Oval – Split LP
Locrian – The Clearing
Lower Dens – Twin Hand Movement
Minutes – s/t
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die
Mountains – Choral
Nice Nice – Chrome
Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
Parliament – Motor Booty Affair
Personal Space – Electronic Soul 1974-1984
Radar Eyes – s/t
Ravi Shankar: Live at the Monterey Interaction Pop Festival
Soundtrack – Paris Texas
Sunn O))) – 00 Void
Superchunk – No Pocky for Kitty
Superchunk – Here’s Where The Strings Come In
Talking Heads – This Must Be the Place (LP single)
The Spinanes – All Sold Out 7″

Travel 2012

One of my end-of-year rituals is tallying up how much I’ve travelled in the last year. I stayed in Chicago more this year than I have for a few, although I still spent 88 nights away from home. One of the major differences about this year was an increase in personal travel, separate from any work responsibilities. The bulk of this was an amazing road trip out west, which I still need to upload photos for.

In the list of cities below an asterisk means it was my first time there, and a count after the city shows how many times I was there this year. For the road trip I only counted places where I spent the night, but of course we passed through many more.

Last year was full of new places, people, and experiences; I hope that 2013 brings as many adventures my way.

Jacksonville, FL*
Charleston, SC*
San Francisco, CA (x4)
Palo Alto, CA
Pittsburgh, PA
Sturgis, MI
London, England
Detroit, MI (x4)
Minneapolis, MN* (x2)
Kalamazoo, MI (x2)
Eaton Rapids, MI
Sturgis, MI (x5)
Princeton, NJ* (x2)
Columbus, OH
Boston, MA
Madison, WI
Chamberlain, SD*
Douglas, WY*
Boulder, CO*
Moab, UT*
Richfield, UT*
Tropic, UT*
Hurricane, UT*
Williams, AZ*
Tempe, AZ*
Tucson, AZ*
Albuquerque, NM*
Oklahoma City, OK*
St. Louis, MO*
Paw Paw, MI
Umeå, Sweden*
Harads, Sweden*
Archbold, OH
Waukesha, WI
Canton, MI*
New York, NY

I love you, I love my grandkids

Digging through an old directory on my hard drive I found this crazy answering machine message from 2004, which was the best wrong number ever. The whole thing is great but my favorite part might be when the caller just pauses for a while to loudly take a drink.

My piece of the internet

I recently finished reading (or rather, listening to) Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum while driving across New Mexico and Oklahoma on the last leg of a road trip. At this point I was speeding solo, up to nine hours a day, so it helped to have something to listen to other than the country and right-wing talk that the radio’s scan button delivered to me.

The book chronicle’s Andrew’s attempt to visit the internet, meaning the physical infrastructure that enables the network. The current metaphor of choice may be “the cloud”, but behind that vaporous idea is a lot of equipment that makes a sound when you drop it, along with a lot of personal relationships and history that explain the way it’s structured.

The book made me curious about what my own physical piece of the internet looks like, namely the dedicated server that I rent from pair Networks which hosts I sent an email to the support staff and they kindly sent back photos. So here it is, QS2939, my tiny piece of the physical internet.

My server, amongst its friends, in its natural environment

My piece of the internet, located in Pittsburgh, PA

Travel 2011

In 2011 I travelled more than any previous year and lived out of the country for the first time. Below is the tally of where I spent my year, based on cities where I spent the night. Places with an asterisk are those where I made multiple trips.

I was away from home for a total of 169 nights, up from 94 nights in 2010. Although life is unpredictable, I assume that 2012 will break this trend and I’ll be seeing a lot more of Chicago this year. That’ll be alright with me.

Chicago, IL *
Palo Alto, CA
Austin, TX
Detroit, MI
Pittsburgh, PA
Sturgis, MI *
Kalamazoo, MI *
Waukesha, WI *
New Orleans, LA
Philadelphia, PA
New York, NY

Mumbai, Maharashtra *
Gurgaon, Delhi *
Jaipur, Rajasthan *
Panaji, Goa
Bengaluru, Karnataka
Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Sivakāsi, Tamil Nadu
Amritsar, Punjab
New Delhi, Delhi
Ahmadābād, Gujarat
Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Sa Pá
Hạ Long

View 2011 Travel in a larger map

Music 2011

In putting together my top 10 albums of 2011 I didn’t look purely at what I’ve played the most, but what I got most excited about. All of these albums grabbed me when I first heard them and led me into weeks or months of replay, sometimes even on loop (which I normally don’t do). I’m not a music critic, so I can’t really put these into the context of all albums that have come out this year. I did see half of these groups play live last year, which may have been a catalyst for enjoying the recordings so much.

In non-ranked, alphabetical order:

A$AP Rocky: LiveLoveA$AP
Balam Acab: Wander/Wonder
Bjork and Omar Souleyman: The Crystalline Series
Braids: Native Speaker
Deafheaven: Roads to Judah
Hauschka: Salon Des Amateurs
How to Dress Well: Just Once EP
The Weeknd: House of Balloons
Washed Out: Within and Without
Wolves In The Throne Room: Celestial Lineage


In case it’s not obvious what happened, I got very busy with my project near the end of my time in India and stopped updating this blog. Even my photos on Flickr slowed to a crawl. This is the inevitable cycle of a design project where at the end it takes away from everything else.

The project is done now, and ended successfully. I went to Vietnam for a week on a vacation and I head back to Chicago tomorrow night. This has been an amazing experience in India but I’m really looking forward to being home. See you all soon I hope.

Wealth Insight

I’m excited to share that the Wealth Insight project I worked on with PNC has launched. As the blurb on the IDEO website says, it helps to provide “greater transparency for investors in their dealings with financial institutions, a desire that increased during the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession.”

One of the interesting parts of the process was the high-fidelity web-based prototype we made to iterate and evaluate the design. It had information visualizations driven by real data, which helped us test our assumptions and refine the details during our feedback sessions with investors. It was the first time I used Protovis instead of Flash for dynamic graphics, which had a bit of a learning curve but worked out well.

You can learn more about the project on the IDEO website or the PNC Wealth Insight microsite. I’m particularly happy to see that PNC has also created some “making of” videos, which talk about the human-centered design process. They even include a cameo by Hal Monson, the IDEO project lead. The videos won’t let me embed them here, so check out the links below.