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Technology and Tragedy at the Boston Marathon

This post was originally published at Publicyte and by InTheCapital on April 16, 2013.

On 9/11, I was a grad student at UC-Irvine in California. I found out about the terrorist attacks from a professor on the elevator on the way up to my laboratory. I hadn’t watched TV that morning before heading to school. And remember, I was on the west coast, so at that time I was a couple hours behind the story. When I got to the lab, my labmate MIchelle and my advisor Tony were trying to get on CNN.com – they couldn’t. Everything was jammed. Tony and I took a monitor I was using to videotape (on VHS!) fruit fly behavior from the back room, moved it onto a table in the main lab, and rigged up an antenna made out of a metal coat hanger so we could watch the news. I think we had that monitor on NBC for about a week straight. We worked a little but mainly just stared at the TV.

I don’t even remember if I had a cell phone then. If I did, I sure don’t remember really using it. It was probably a basic Nokia model that made calls. I know it wasn’t a Blackberry or anything of the kind – I didn’t get one of those until I was living in Washington, DC years later – around 2008 or so. During 9/11, there were no apps, no social media, no mobile communications, nothing really that enabled regular people to take photos of something and share them in anything close to real time.

Yesterday, I was on a conference call around 3pm EST and I got a text from a family member in Boston. I grew up in Massachusetts and a lot of my family lives in Boston area. Turns out, two of my family members went to watch the Marathon yesterday. One of them runs marathons, and was supposed to be in the race, but for an injury about six months ago. He would have finished just a bit faster than the time on the clocks when the bombs went off, if he had been running full speed.

I stopped working after that conference call, got some junk food, and flipped between about seven different news channels. I mostly watched Fox Business and MSNBC and CNN because they seemed to have the best video and breaking news and interviewees. I heard CBS was great, too. I watched them this morning. Norah O’Donnell was in Boston near the scene, seemingly on the verge of tears for two hours. I can’t blame her.

I didn’t have my Twitter feed on 9/11, and neither did anyone else. I didn’t have Facebook either (it didn’t exist yet; Zuckerberg was in middle school or so), nor anything else that we today call social media. But yesterday I did, and I tweeted. I tweeted a lot.

Social media has gotten me a bit jaded lately, but I have to admit that I’d forgotten how many people cling to it for information about loved ones and loved things. I follow a lot of very solid people and sources on Twitter and Facebook, and combined with TV coverage, I sent about 20 tweets with heavily curated and interesting news and quotes during the afternoon and early evening. I got 200-300 retweets and comments or so. My friend Tommy asked me last night why people reach out to each other with social media during a crisis. I replied that people always reach out to each other in a crisis no matter what; it’s human nature. Social media scales human nature.

Technology played a big role in telling the story of the Boston Marathon bombing. The mainstream media, of course,broke news but also argued with itself in real time, the White House used Flickr to officially show that President Obama was meeting with homeland security advisers, and short video service Vine seems to have found purposein tragedy. My Facebook feed was nothing but Boston. Somebody set up a public Google Doc so people could offer their Boston homes to those who needed a place to stay. Boston.com used their “viral video” site to post the most horrific and accurate video I’ve seen of what happened; it’s all over TV this morning. The Reddit community is curating everything here.

The last thing I tweeted before I heard about the explosions in Boston was a link to “Photos from the MTV Music Awards photo booth.” I feel a little silly. But at least now because of innovative startup companies and new social media creations, I have the ability to look a little silly in hindsight. A decade or so ago, I couldn’t do anything but watch a rigged up TV in my lab and be quiet in my thoughts.

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SECTOR: PUBLIC – A New Site About Technology For Public Good

Last week, during the Mashable / 92Y / UN Foundation “Social Good Summit” in New York, I launched a new website called SECTOR: PUBLIC.  The focus of this blog is on leading the conversation about innovative social change via technology’s influence on the public sector, public service, and public good.
From my “Letter from the Editor“:

Right now, three entities contributing to the public good – citizens, the public sector, and private businesses – are incredibly dependent on each other. Citizens need support from government and the broader public sector, and jobs from businesses.  The public sector needs the support of the private sector through products and services, and needs input, ideas, and other contributions from its citizens.  And private sector organizations increasingly seek to stand for something more than merely selling products – they seek to help the public sector and contribute to citizens’ well-being.

SECTOR: PUBLIC lives where these three entities meet.  If necessity is the mother of invention, there has been no period in our lifetimes during which technological innovation is able to have such a great impact on civic progress.  Every day at SECTOR: PUBLIC, we will discuss cutting-edge technology, share public sector stories, and provide thought leadership about how American progress and public good are being both disrupted and benefited by the rapid innovation era we are living through.

Check out a well-received initial post about “Open Government Entrepreneurship” and read our “Geek 2 Chic” interview with the innovative CEO of iStrategyLabs, Peter Corbett.
I hope that many of you find my new website about public sector and public service stories involving technology useful and interesting!
You can subscribe to SECTOR: PUBLIC by email or RSS, and follow the Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/sectorpublic.  Learn more about our goals for the site in this Federal News Radio interview.

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Codename Dallas: CIO Kundra Helps Unveil New Microsoft Cloud Datasets

Los Angeles, CA – Today at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra surprised attendees by appearing via videoconference and teaming up with Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect, to showcase several new features of Azure,the company’s cloud computing services platform.

These new Azure features include an open catalogue and data marketplace, codenamed DALLAS, which offer “data as a service” to users of the public cloud. Datasets currently available through DALLAS are a mix of those from the public and private sector, including data from the Associated Press, Citysearch, ESRI, NAVTEQ, DATA.gov, infoUSA, NASA, National Geographic, the UN, and more.

This would seem to strategically position Microsoft as a cloud provider for the public sector.

Kundra also announced NASA’s “Pathfinder Innovation Challenge,” which allows for the creation of tools underlying Mars exploration in order to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, something I am passionate about, given my background as a scientist.  This new challenge calls for software developers of all levels of proficiency to create tools that provide simplified access to, and analysis of, hundreds of thousands of Mars images for online, classroom, and even Mars mission team use.

As seen in the recent Google-Microsoft-Yahoo event titled “Random Hacks of Kindness,” a tremendous amount can be accomplished by developers working within loosely joined social networks built around a passionate interest. This is entirely in the spirit of Government 2.0, and of the inaugural Government 2.0 Camp that some of us held in Washington, DC last spring.

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The Boy Who Cheered Wolf

Everyone has bad days, right?

Well, not everyone. There’s always that person who says every day should be the BEST EVER. They think that you’re a WINNER. They want you to SUCCEED. And all of their friends are AWESOME.

When you shower too much unconditional praise, it ceases to be meaningful. Not every party was the best ever, not every day is terrific, and not everyone you meet is interchangably awesome.

Use praise sparingly. Then, when you give someone a shoutout, they feel more special and your audience is more likely to pay attention to them. When you announce a great event, people are more likely to believe you, and register for it. And when you say that you’re having the BEST day of your life, everyone will help you to celebrate it.

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