Street Smart Chicago

Business and Buzzwords: In Search of Technology at Techweek

Education/Training, Events, News etc., Technology No Comments »
(l to r) Sam Yagan,  Dr. Jennifer Jones, audience member/Photo: Zach Freeman

Sam Yagan, Dr. Jennifer Jones, audience member/Photo: Zach Freeman

By Zach Freeman

Billed by CEO Katy Lynch as a “week-long celebration of all-things tech,” Techweek is a lot of things to a lot of people, but in terms of this year’s physicality, it is essentially a taking over of a large section of the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart with dozens of booths, three stages and a teeming mass of badge-sporting “innovators, disruptors, entrepreneurs, developers, VCs and visionaries.” Walking amongst them for the last two days I found it hard to get excited about much of what was being marketed, pitched, sold or displayed to me (except for the free food from gogo—that was pretty easy to get on board with). But maybe that’s because I’m just a grumpy old programmer.

A little backstory: I direct a small technology office for a large college within a large university—we build web applications to simplify manual processes, run reports to provide units with decision-making data and maintain the social media and website for the college. In my role, I not only lead a team, I gather requirements, write code, test, run code reviews and solicit feedback from our users. I also teach a databases class at another university.

I like being involved in all aspects of the software development lifecycle and encourage my team to be as well. In previous positions I’ve worked with teams that divide things up: project managers talk to clients, managers set goals, developers write code. I’m sure it works for some but it always seemed so inefficient and divisive to me, especially when the unfortunate result is that only the developers end up knowing anything about how the system actually works and why.

At Techweek, I felt the confusion coming back to me as speakers tossed out phrases like “technology literacy” without a clear definition of what it implied (Knowing how to code? Understanding social media? Owning the latest wearable? All three?) and representatives running booths seemed confounded by questions about how their software actually works with no one around to help clarify. Why do developers still get hidden away behind the scenes? I know we’re not always the best communicators or the most fun to talk to, but shouldn’t we be out there taking some credit for the stuff we’ve created? Or at least on hand in case some annoying nerd has a question besides “Where can I buy this?” or “How did you come up with the idea?” Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Privacy Protection

Essays & Commentary, Technology No Comments »

By Emerson Dameron

According to MRI scans, the areas of the brain affected by social rejection are the same ones that process physical pain.

According to the webcomic Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, “Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad.” There’s a lot of brutal rejection on the internet. And it doesn’t always stop there. There’s also invasion of privacy, character assassination and, occasionally, a threat of in-real-life physical pain.

In a long and highly confessional 2013 piece for the website Gawker, humor writer Jeb Lund describes returning from vacation to find voice messages from some people who obviously knew him through his posts on a then-popular comedy site. They included personal information, harassment, threats, and an offer to rape Lund’s wife. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Green Parking or Greenwashing?

Architecture, Checkerboard City, Green, River North, Technology 1 Comment »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Every time I pedal downtown via the Kinzie Street protected bike lane I’m confronted by an oxymoron. At 60 West Kinzie stands an attractive, boxy structure covered with loosely arrayed rectangles of greenish glass, glittering in the sun. Piet Mondrian-inspired yellow panels accent the roofline and southwest corner, where they form a backdrop for twelve white corkscrew wind turbines arrayed in two columns. It’s the Greenway Self-Park, billed as “Chicago’s first earth friendly parking garage.” Its logo features a VW Bug with leaves blowing out of the tailpipes rather than noxious fumes.

Everyone agrees there are too many cars in downtown Chicago, so what could have possibly been sustainable about building this eleven-story garage, which accommodates 715 more of them? It opened in 2010, occupying valuable River North real estate, only a stone’s throw from several transit stations. There’s certainly nothing green about making it easy for, say, a guy from Naperville to drive solo to work every day in his Lexus, instead of taking Metra commuter rail. Read the rest of this entry »

The Technology Issue

Technology No Comments »

Devoting a special issue to technology is a bit like writing about water. It’s everywhere, permeating every aspect of our existence, something we cannot imagine living without. Perhaps every generation thinks this, but our world seems to be crossing over, beyond the verge, to a point where technology is less a set of tools than a component of our very existence.

Timed to complement the Chicago Humanities Festival’s programs devoted to what they’re calling “Tech-Knowledge,” we’ve asked a wide range of writers to explore the way technology is reshaping our lives, changing our culture, transforming our art.
—Brian Hieggelke  Read the rest of this entry »

I, Cyborg: Parsing the Pleasure of Being Hooked on Machines

Technology No Comments »

Illustrations: Brett Muller

By Rachel Helene Swift

I realized I had become a cyborg—part woman, part machine—one mild evening in April, standing frozen in place on the corner of Clark and Belmont, both hands still fishing mindlessly through the empty pockets of my jeans. My guts turned to liquid, then seemed to evaporate. I had left my Blackberry in a taxi, which had already disappeared into the slow procession of traffic. Calm down. I’ll call the cab company. I reached back into my empty pocket. Oh. Yeah.

When I began work on this article, I thought about going for a week without using technology. Read the rest of this entry »

Code Warriors: Nichole Pinkard and her Digital Youth Network lead a quest for digital literacy

Technology No Comments »

By Scoop Jackson

Malcolm Harlan and Akili Lee were never supposed to meet. Their paths were never supposed to cross. Malcolm, a grammar school student at the time, was supposed to be “one of those inner city black kids” who was either going to be someone’s charity case or a kid that too often found himself unnecessarily laying facedown on the concrete with a member of the CPD holding a gun to his head because he fit “their” version of a description, while Akili, a web application developer, was supposed to be on the fast track to being one of Fortune magazine’s “40 Under 40” business minds reshaping the way we digitally communicate and integrate with one another.

But someone—Dr. Nichole Pinkard—had a vision that it was necessary for these two, and others like them, to meet. Read the rest of this entry »

Government 2.0: How Mayor Emanuel is Using Social Media to Engage Chicagoans

City Life, Media, Politics, Technology No Comments »

Kevin Hauswirth/Photo: Brooke Collins

By Ella Christoph

Even before he took office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel knew he wanted a social media director—a position Richard M. Daley did not have. Appointed on Emanuel’s inaugural day, Kevin Hauswirth was not hired to earn votes for Emanuel during the election. Hauswirth, formerly an instructor of communications and advertising director for Roosevelt University, was tasked with the job of supplying Emanuel with a constant digital pulse—a live feed, so to speak—on the city. Rather than just tweet updates and YouTube press conferences, Emanuel wanted to hear what voters had to say over the Internet as well.  Read the rest of this entry »

Crash Mentality: Decoding the Limitations Our Programmers Put On Us

Technology No Comments »

Illustrations: Brett Muller

By Michael Workman

In August I had my fortieth birthday. I spent it alone, online, having short, 140-character or less interactions with people, some of whom I know, some of whom I don’t, in status updates on Facebook. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of celebrating the moment when I toppled over the hill anyway, and vacillated about how to mark it until it was too late. At midnight on the appointed day, I found myself with no plans whatsoever, drinking in bed with my laptop, just myself and the electronic glow of the screen. It felt good to have at least the option of reaching out to others this way and yet, as the congratulations and well-wishes began to tick down my wall, I found myself wondering, “Is this it?” Have we lost, or are we in danger of losing something that makes us integrally who we are as human beings that this has become the standard mode of our communal interaction? I’ll admit, I was happy to have these people out there, somewhere in the world, conscious of and willing to reach out to me on what I felt was the last, biggest birthday milestone of my life (that is, unless I make it to one hundred, but by then I’ll probably be senile and it won’t matter anyway). Read the rest of this entry »

411: Wired and Ready

City Life, Technology No Comments »

Last August city officials canceled plans for citywide Wi-Fi, but freely available wireless may yet reach Chicago’s neighborhoods. In North Lawndale, international nonprofit One Economy has teamed up with local organizations such as the North Lawndale Community News to bring the benefits of computer technology to the slowly revitalizing West Side neighborhood. Motorola is funding the pilot project, which will bring wireless access and laptops to about 3,500 Lawndalers, including students of Kellman Elementary. “We consider this to be one of the first examples of how a community with urban demographics can create a community wireless network,” says Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President of Digital Inclusion at One Economy. If the Lawndale Wireless Community Network Project, which officially launches in September, is successful, One Economy hopes to bring the project to other Chicago neighborhoods. Meanwhile, a partner organization, Southside Technology Cooperative, is installing a wireless network in Bronzeville. Before long we may see Chicago’s citywide Wi-Fi rise from the ground up rather than the top down.

Common Sense: Eat This

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Green, Technology No Comments »

Modern consumerism has given us a new religion and technology has become its prophet/profit. It has made the world smaller, has made food faster, has engorged our drive to buy and enhanced the sexiness of spending power and the frenzy for fame.
Read the rest of this entry »