Hack for Western Mass


Tonight is the kick off event for Hack for Western Mass. This weekend, web and software developers, designers, community organizers, and other folks from all over Western Mass will gather to tackle local challenges with technology.

Hack for Western Mass is one of 96 events happening nationwide as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. The National Day of Civic Hacking is an event during which citizens from around the country will work together with local, state and federal governments as well as private sector organizations with the common goal of improving their community. Hack for Western Mass is also licensed under Random Hacks of Kindness.

Listen to Becky Sweger from National Priorities Project, another organizer, describe the event in an interview with Monte on 93.9.

Should you come help out?


I’ve been involved in organizing this event for the past six weeks. It’s been a great experience, and it promises to be an amazing event. We’ve collected a great array of challenges to help local organizations. For example:

  • Mapping Safety Net Service Needs: create a map for Community Action in Greenfield that compares the location of people receiving safety net services with Census demographic data that shows where the services are most needed.
  • Benefits of Banking Locally: Compare our deposits in local banks and credit unions vs national banks and create a visual way to show how banking locally benefits area residents and businesses. Lots of people know the benefits of eating locally and shopping locally, but many don’t know why banking locally makes so much sense.
  • Mapping Wells and Water Quality: Massachusetts doesn’t track the location of private wells, a problem that can lead to water contamination. A database of private wells can help planning, reduce costs, and estimate water quality.
  • Seed Swap Database: Develop an online seed library to share information about locally available seeds, strengthen food sovereignty, self-reliance, local resiliency and adaptability of crops, and empower community building.

We’ve found some great local sponsors to help feed people as they work through the weekend. If you haven’t registered to come yet, there are still a couple spots available. Sign up now!

Treehouse Community

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This site was built for the Treehouse Community and Foundation.

Treehouse Website

This website is intended to communicate about the intergenerational foster care community in Easthampton. The organization also would like to spread the word about re-envisioning foster care, creating an extended network that can replicate this model around the country.

The site features a blog, a news area, information about living in the community, the national network, and allows donors to give money.  The design is responsive to the viewers screen size, allowing it to be easily viewed on many different devices.  Among other things, a calendar allows events to be posted easily:

Treehouse Calendar

Images and videos can be viewed in galleries and also in a lightbox without leaving the current page:

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WordPressing “The Homesnewser”

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I built this site for the a homeschool newspaper publication that needed an online presence.

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It’s built with WordPress using a responsive design to accomodate everything from phones to tablets to desktop browsers.  There are a  few interesting plugins:

The Facebook Like Box allows visitors to share the articles with their friends on Facebook.  Getting the word out to friends and subscribers is one of the key use cases for this website.  A Google Analytics plugin allows staff to evaluate how successful social media campaigns have been in driving visitors to the site.

FlexPaper, a web-based document viewer, allows visitors to browse the PDF version of newspapers without leaving the current page they are viewing.

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GIS with GDAL and python

Mt. Tom

This project uses the the opensource Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL) to automate the production of spider-like feature layers extracted from a larger dataset. The GDAL libraries provide a single abstract data model for a large variety of data formats. It also comes with a variety of useful commandline utilities for data translation and processing.

I used the python bindings to develop this commandline tool. While this script is tied to this particular dataset and task, it should be easily modifiable to automate other similar tasks that would otherwise require significant repetitive input from a GIS analyst. These powerful tools are worth checking out.

A Community Plone Site


I worked on this Plone site for a seminar entitled “Diversity and Innovation” at the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School.

This site showcases many of the capabilities on Plone as a intranet portal and community networking platform.  Unfortunately, access to the bulk of the site is restricted to students, so I’ll just have to describe some of the things going on behind the scenes.

The design and layout of the site is done in vanilla HTML/CSS and integrated with Plone using deliverance, a python-based tool designed to facilitate theming and integration of web applications.  Theming Plone has historically been somewhat challenging, but deliverance is a game-changing tool that revolutionizes theme development.  It also provides to capability to integrate different platforms in a seamless way.

The site features a rotating carousel highlighting important content.  Superfish,  a jQuery-based dropdown menu system, makes it easy to navigate the content in the site.  A helpdesk system, Zendesk, is integrated into the theme, allowing the students easy access to support staff.   A number of other useful plugins are installed to facilitate the generation of forms and surveys as well as a discussion board.

The aspect that I spent the most time on, and has become a core product in several other sites as well, is a community social networking area.  Each student has a profile and can post content to their own blog/wall.  The students can tag their content in various ways that allows it to be aggregated in other areas of the site using Plone’s most powerful content type system.