Are coders the new explainers?

Open Data: “There’s an app for that.”

by Joey Coleman, Journal of Professional Communication, 2011.  

This short paper — five pages — discusses how the presence of open data changes things for the governing classes, the governed, and journalists.  

At first? I found myself a little annoyed as the tired “information overload” argument is trotted out: 

"The solution for helping people handle oceans of information is to decrease the complexity of each piece and to further increase the amount of understandable knowledge available to each individual."  

I don’t actually believe in the “information overload” hypothesis; if information overload was a problem, we wouldn’t have a thriving market for cable TV packages with 400+ channels.  


"Developers can take various datasets and "mesh-up" to produce apps.  A "mesh-up" is the combination of two data sets to enhance our understanding of trends…In Vancouver, a software developer took public parking lot data from the city government and data from Impark, a private parking corporation, to create a mesh-up mobile app that uses GPS to find the nearest lots…"  

Ahem.  ”Mesh up?”  

Things improve from there, however:  

"Think of open data as ‘proactive FOI requests.’" 

Now that’s interesting.  He goes on: 

"The government releases information in its most basic form providing citizens the opportunity to interpret it for themselves without any filter.  


"One of the primary criticisms of open data is that it will lead to ‘information overload’ as millions of data sets flood the internet, making it very difficult for people to make sense of all the raw data.  

This criticism assumes that no search engine is capable of indexing it and that people will not be able to understand the data.  With open data, experts in specific fields are able to leverage their knowledge and skills to create usable, understandable applications that make the data understandable and accessible for the general public.  

So…coders are the new explainers, taking up where journalists left off?  

Coleman has one other interesting thing to say about how he thinks open data will change journalism — namely, that it will be one of the forces that erodes scoop culture: 

"FOI request barriers allowed journalists to continue to sell ‘exclusives’ resulting from the requests.  Open data will end these exclusives and remove one of the last gate keeping assets of the traditional media."  


Titanic, Movies { as code }

Bugs kill, people. Code clean!


Titanic, Movies { as code }

Bugs kill, people. Code clean!

"You can write a small letter to Grandma in the filename."

Computer science lecture.  (via mathprofessorquotes)

I just love, love, love these illuminated class notes from @robinpam. 


Week 3 of programming class. We dived into data structures, learning about arrays and hashes. Brian, the teacher, brought crucial tools to class: rulers, string, tape, post-its, and index cards. 

Here’s what happened:

learning = {“index cards” => ”objects”, “post-its” => “variables”, “rulers” => “arrays”}

(That’s my hash for learning without the computer tools. The string and tape were, I suppose, akin to [] for the array).

We hung index cards with peoples’ names from the ruler, assigned various variable names to the cards, then switched them around, operated methods on them, made new objects, and learned how arrays, variables, and objects all interact, all without touching the computer for about half of the class.

I came out of it with the eureka moment of, “This is why I’m taking a class.” Because it’s so thrilling to learn by listening to and asking questions of a real person, and by working with our hands, even in such a basic way. Brian’s interactive teaching style is really helping me to see the concepts come together much more quickly than if I were reading about them alone, then trying to implement them.


Made using Processing - when you press any key, the color changes from white to black. When you click, it will reset.


float  x;

float  y;

float  px;

float  py;

float easing = 0.01;

void setup(){

size(480, 320);



stroke(50, 12);


void draw(){

if (keyPressed){


} else {






float  targetX = mouseX;

x += (targetX - x)*easing;

float  targetY = mouseY;

y += (targetY -y)*easing;

float weight = dist(y, x, px, py);


line(x, x, px, py);

py = y;

px = x;


Concentration skills for programmers (and aspiring programmers)


“Holding a Program in One’s Head” is a GREAT essay by Paul Graham.

He talks about how a developer holds his target problem entirely in his head while solving it. And it turns out to be a problem of concentration and intense mental labor - like any other…


I’m taking a programming class. These are the notes I took from week one, where we started with “This is how computers store information.”

Week two will follow soon.

Google announces Dart programming language | ExtremeTech

Wow.  So Google will now have its own programming language.  I wonder what will become of AppEngine?


Via - New Digital Media

A few days after Google was caught registering a bunch of Dart-related domain names, and the inevitable storm of speculation, it has now emerged that Dart is a new programming language for “structured web programming.”
Show original

11 Websites to Learn PHP


Media_httpwwwunderwor_dfgul via - PHP is a widely-used general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited for Web development and can be embedded into HTML. If you are new to PHP and want to get some idea of how it works, try the introductory tutorial. After that, check out the online manual, and the example archive sites and some of the other resources available in the links section.

Steps for building an iPhone app

…for those who are interested.  I don’t really find the iPhone a compelling platform, personally.  


This is my advice on how to get ready, plan & build your first ever iPhone application. This will help you decide whether you can create an iPhone App, how to get started, then how to publish it on the App Store and eventually start driving sales to your application.

1. The idea:

There is no…

How to initiate kids (or anyone) in coding | Emma Mulqueeny


“This post is a follow on from the one I wrote about how we need to start teaching children to code in their junior years… This would address the issue of fewer female coders than male, and the fact that not enough people are equipped with this super awesome skill whether their career ends up being in programming, car manufacture or shoe design.

 In this post I am going to answer the question: what resources can we use to learn or teach code?”

Get the resources here

Sure, NOW he tells me

Why you little fucker:

This chapter has introduced you to creating a PHP class. If you’re new to PHP or programming, you might have found it tough going. Don’t be disheartened. 

David Powers. PHP Solutions: Dynamic Web Design Made Easy (p. 178). Kindle Edition. 

Couldn’t you have put that at the FRONT of the chapter? Damn, man!

Now on Chapter 7, exercise 2.  Chapter 7, which is about file management and flat file databases, is about eighty zillion times more comprehensible than chapter 6, which is about classes.  

A Visual Guide to Version Control

I know I need to learn how to use version control…but a lot of the tutorials I encounter are really how-to guides for installing and using a particular version control system — CVS, Subversion, Git.  Most assume you know all the lingo and how version control works in general.  This explains what version control IS and has lots of diagrams explaining how things work, and a glossary of the commonly used terms you’ll see when you’re using a version control system (branch, fork, commit, etc). 

About Me

Lisa Williams

Founder of | Winner of Knight News Challenge | Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab | Cambridge, MA | @lisawilliams on Twitter | lisawilliams on Github