Hacking for Humanity: Random Hacks of Kindness

What are the first words that jump into your mind when you think of a collaboration between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and the World Bank?

If you’re like me, the first few words that entered your mind aren’t publishable on such a mild-mannered blog, and the subsequent words mostly started with evil.

But a few weeks ago, I was forced to re-evaluate my position when I was invited to Random Hacks of Kindness Melbourne.

According to the slick press release I received, Random Hacks of Kindness is a global community of innovation focused on developing practical open source solutions to disaster risk management and climate change adaptation challenges. The initiative began as a collaboration between all the organizations listed above, aimed at solving humanitarian issues through technology (and no-doubt with a secondary aim of looking less evil).

As part of hacking competition events across the world, coders from various organizations, industries and backgrounds work directly with subject matter experts from the emergency management sector to find solutions to ‘problem areas’ in disaster management technology.

When I did a bit of research into Random Hacks of Kindness I quickly realized that some of the solutions that have come from past hack-a-thon events have been good. Seriously good.

Last year, Random Hacks of Kindness was responsible for the refinement of the Google PersonFinder app that ended up being used extensively in both the Japan and New Zealand earthquakes, and was also behind the development of FoodMovr – a geo-location app that connects businesses that have excess food with organizations that help feed the needy.

As part of the Random Hacks of Kindness Melbourne event that I was lucky enough to attend, coders worked on everything from an app that allows users to create customized disaster plans, through to the development a unified platform for aggregating public alerts from all emergency services in Australia.

This event not only gave the Melbourne developer community a chance to give back and work on rewarding projects, it also provided much-needed innovation for the Australian disaster management sector, which is notoriously behind the eight ball when it comes to technological innovation.

In a year when stories of hackers stealing credit card numbers and crashing websites are abundant, it was pretty amazing to see some of Melbourne’s best IT minds working together on projects that directly benefit the community in some incredible ways.

And it made me hate Google a little bit less. Just a little bit though.

This is NOT a Dirty Blog

Dear Readers,

First, it goes without saying that Mike Boronowski is a god amongst men (he’s like a nymph or a sprite, but one that can punk rock, toss hay bails and fix your computer) and a true hero of this community.

Second, the Daily Gumboot is not a dirty website.

There are some vile and vicious rumours flying around the Twitterverse this week (see angry image above). And I’m not talking about Fox News North or the Canadian National Basketball team taking steroids or the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE) 2010 Western Region Award Winner taking steroids or that Stephen Harper is a communist. These are just rumours – they are hilarious ones, too. They are most certainly not vile and vicious rumours.

A vile and vicious rumour is this…

THE DAILY GUMBOOT IS A VIRUS-LADEN, DIRTY ATTACK WEBSITE THAT WILL GIVE YOU DISEASES!!!

Man, yesterday our lovely online community’s landing page was replaced with a red banner, angry icons and, I think, a man with a European-style security guard hat (again, see above). Up-and-coming search-engine/Emperor-of-Galactic-Empire-from-Star-Wars, Google, even tagged us as “potentially harmful” and “a purveyor of Malware.”

Look. I have no idea who this Malware guy is and I can only assume that he is a Harry Potter villain.

Yes. You are evil.

Google, we have never subscribed to the Interscape’s black magic and we only strive to make positive connections between people, places, things, and ideas – nouns, basically – in your Twitterverse. It seems weird that you would react in such a way to such a small-potatoes blog. Unless, of course, we’re not small-potatoes at all!

Clearly, there are three – and only three – possibilities for the Gumboot being temporarily shut down yesterday. Here they are:

1. Google is on to Johnism! That’s right, people named John, the current ruler of the universe is shaken and flustered by the next, next rulers of the world (we at Johnism understand that China has been waiting to run things for a long time and that they have earned and deserve their moment). It’s about time that serious people/organizations started taking my plans for world domination seriously. People named John who work at Google: when the revolution comes be sure to choose the right side; you have nothing to lose but your, um, creative job and amazing salary. Hmmm…I’ll get back to you with a better value proposition.

2. North Korea has declared war on Kurt Heinrich! It was bound to happen. Kurt has been talking a lotta smack about North Korea and, well, the world’s ADHD-dyslexic-angry-teenager-on-meth just became an Internet Superpower. Put these two facts together and you get what promises to be an ongoing and bloody conflict with casualties on both sides. Especially since Kurt’s nuclear program is near completion.

3. We forgot to update our WordPress account and, consequently, got hacked! Possible, but not probable. They don’t call the Daily Gumboot editorial team “social media ninjas” because we just let people walk around dropping malware everywhere.

Readers, we thank you for your patience and look forward to moving cleanly past this together. When it comes to internet-transmitted-infections (ITIs), the Daily Gumboot and all of its writers have had their shots and taken their medicine – except Alex Grant, but his magical mustache protects him from anything evil – and we look forward to engaging you in some inspiring community-minded discussions in any forum and with any style that our semi-benevolent overlords at Google permit. Sorry for the inconvenience.

We promise to have fun with it if you do!

- JCH

Demotivational Blogging

Copyright Despair, Inc. - the people who help you balance the positive in your life!

©Copyright Despair, Inc. - balance the positive in your life!

My boss sent me this poster. First, I should tell you that my boss and I have a great relationship. She is fair, honest, direct, visionary, knows how to motivate her people, has a keen sense of how to realize talent, and, clearly, has a pretty wicked sense of humour. Second, she is a brilliant businesswoman who recognizes trends and who is also is rather skeptical of bloggers, blogs and their place as mediums of communication and sources of information – especially for entitled Millennials like myself. Third, she is a Master of Library Science, a leader of a renowned book club and a lover of the written word.

So, is she right? Should I take her demotivation seriously? And, more importantly, what are we – producers and consumers of the blogosphere – to do about the apt and serious issue of blogs, possibly, being vehicles for narcissistic intellectual masturbation?

I’ll tell you what we should do. We should have a meaningful and collaborative discussion about it. Here. On this blog.

Allow me to kick it off. Here are three reasons to embrace and develop the culture of blogging:

1. Citizen Journalism. Whether telling an interesting or important or touching story with words, photos or statistics, well, blogs can fill the giant, gaping holes left open by corporately held global media conglomerates by employing grassroots, community-based strategies. And, through microblogging and search engines, citizen journalists can connect and share ideas, resources and their passion for truth and social justice. Well, let’s face it, some citizen journalists probably like greed and slavery, too.

2. Personalization and Democracy. Today, people no longer need to buy a whole newspaper just to read the three things that interest them. With RSS feeds to your favourite blogs, you can easily begin and end your day with thousands of words and dozens of pictures that tell stories of the world the way you like ‘em told – and, to get some balance, you can throw in an RSS feed from the Fox News blog just to get an idea of where crazy is living on a daily basis.

3. Global social change. Just ask my good friend and DG Correspondent, Theo Lamb, about the blogosphere creating real change. A web of change, even. I mean, just check out how many blogs are actually about changing the world! Guy Kawasaki writes about changing the world all the time. And, if you check out this list, I’m sure you’ll be able peruse your personalized world-changing experience. And, here’s the kicker: through the interconnection of the series of pipes and tubes that is the interscape, all these twitbloggers can connect, create and collaborate to make the world a better place. And that’s a beautiful thing!

And here are some reasons that blogs are terrifying:

1. Narcissism. For all the striving for positive social change through ideas and collaboration to create a sense of urgency in order to tackle our most pressing global issues, well, there are Johnists. People who highjack spaces like The Gumboot – or create their own space – to share opinions that add little or no value to a discussion to pursue nonsensicle and/or meanspirited diatribes typically do so with only entitled self-interest in mind. These people are Tweeting too hard!

2. Noise and Crap. Pretty simple. The democratic nature of the interscape makes it so anyone twitblog through it and leave a trail of unreasonable comments behind them. Sometimes, online forums – where anonymity and safety bring out a little of the “crazy” in all of us – turn into something along the lines of the most poorly organized, attended and delivered townhall meeting. Ever. Do we really need this blog in our lives? And this kid still has a higher Google page rank than me!

3. Grammar. Blogs, in general, are vehicles that overrun the simple beauty that is the written word. Just read a discussion thread following any article on TSN.ca. And idioms like lol, lmao, ttyl, omg, btw, wtf, and the like are destroying the written word. Write in full sentences and take time to appreciate well-crafted prose, people. Do we really want to live in a culture of soundbites?

So there it is. A started conversation on the point of blogging. But, hey, since this amazing publication-meets-social-enterprise is about collecting ideas from everywhere we must know something: what do you think?

- JCH

...that is the question, and it's one for you to answer, dear readers!

...that is the question, and it's one for you to answer, dear readers!