The 36-hour hackathon was halfway over. It was 11 PM on Saturday, and Brian Pattison wanted a beer. He left the Prairie Den, where other hackers were busy sifting through massive amounts of data and writing lots of code.
As many will remember, Saturday September 19, was also the evening after an epic game between NDSU and UND. Thus resulting, at 11 PM at night, in streets lined with fans, all celebrating. Celebrating very heavily.
“The drunk people inspired me,” Pattison said. “As I was walking down Broadway I thought of all the drunk drivers.”
What Pattison was inspired to create was a platform that allows people to avoid drunk drivers. Using data from the Fargo Police Department and an API from Google Maps, Pattison created a platform that shows how many impaired driving reports there have been along a given route. When a user plugs in their route, little red cars pop up wherever cops have had incidents with drunk drivers in the past.
As Pattison pulled up a few examples, streets like Main and Broadway unsurprisingly lit up with red.
“Definitely don’t want to be driving down this way late at night,” he said.
Areas by bars like the Turf, however, seemed less red-spotted, while a route by a Hornbacher’s in Osgood had a lot more.
Pattison agrees that the information could be very useful, however, he doesn’t plan on going further with his project. Instead he made all his code open source and it is published on github, where anyone can take it and turn it into something more.
Pattison’s idea won first place at the Civic Hackathon, winning him $75, a round of beers at Fargo Brewing Co., and tickets to the Fargo Theatre.
Fargo’s first Civic Hackathon
The Civic Hackathon was the first of its kind put on by local organization Hack Fargo, an organization that was created by Blaine Booher and a team during Startup Weekend 2014 (and took first place to boot).
“With a civic hackathon, we wanted to take data relevant to the city of Fargo and make something useful,” Booher said.
Rather than just building anything, as is the case with most hackathons, Booher set up a wealth of data beforehand that dealt specifically with the city of Fargo. There was data on everything from Great Rides Bike Share, to property values, to real estate, to mosquito counts in the city.
In fact, the mosquito data turned out handy for second place winners, Grant Swenson and Ryan Veitch. They worked with Cass County Director Ben Prather, who is leading the march to keep Fargo-Moorhead residents bug-bite free, to turn their data into a platform where residents report bites or standing water.
That way, if you are enjoying a nice evening at the park and realize you are being swarmed by mosquitoes, you can report that location to Cass County and they will notify it as a place to spray.
“We don’t want to spray every stick and bush, and kill all insects and butterflies in the area,” Prather said. “By getting data from the people, we can pinpoint areas that need to be addressed.”
(Check out Veitch’s and Swenson’s project on github, here!)
Iterations on their software could include notifications that pop up when they are spraying in your vicinity, so that you’ll know to stay indoors, Prather added.
Another way to report the mosquito bites was to take a “mosquito selfie,” they said, which helps the County determine what they call a “landing count” of how many mosquitoes are biting at one time.
This was called into question by an audience member, who said, “I’m not sure I understand, because when I’m getting bitten by a mosquito my first instinct is to slap it, not take a selfie.”
Regardless, Prather said that Cass County absolutely plans to use the work that the mosquito team put together during the hackathon.
“What they were able to do, was two things: create a better interface for us, to have a more publicly facing example of how much data we are pulling through,” Prather said. “The tracker idea is really useful – it’s really the best surveillance that we can have.”
Help me help data help you
The projects from the weekend served a similar purpose: gathering complex data from a variety of sources, and formatting it into a way that is easy and actionable.
One hacker took data from Great Rides Bike Share that illustrates how it is bringing students downtown. Booher, who took third, used census data to show patterns in where and how people change residencies throughout Fargo. By using data on taxi cab services and combining it with MATbus’s routes, Mohammed Saho was able to pinpoint where it was harder for people to find travel.
The ability to turn data into something that can be useful is an art more critical than ever, according to Doug Burgum, founder of Kilbourne Group.
“We’re entering into a world where the generation of data is out pacing organization’s ability to organize it,” Burgum said. “There is so much learning that can be achieved by… understanding data. That’s why it’s so important to get talented programmers and analysts and content experts together, to be playful, exploratory, curious, outside of that 9 to 5 job which can constrain people’s creativity.”
“I know that sitting through here that it’s spurred a bunch of creativity,” he said. “And I know the city will do better because of it.”