“Rebuilding the News”, How Did We Get Here and Why?

All great innovations come from an alchemy of the present *built* on the past. If you can tear it apart, see it from multiple perspectives, and observe the feedback loops that feed into the systems that drove you where you are currently, then you have a powerful tool.

That’s what makes C.W. Anderson’s “Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age” important.

Far more than a “how the sausage is made” account of how things worked for a period of time (see the bravely open piece from “A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013″, by Alexis C. Madrigal in the Atlantic), or a historical record, it peels the onion on 2000-2010 newspaper media, and reveals the opportunities, stress, and strain of the time and lessons that can be derived from them.

I’ll have it on my bookshelf next to “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, since it seems to be so reflective of it, without intention of it.

You know, “How the Sausage is Made” is a terrible metaphor, one that I never heard until I worked at Philly.com.

In a conversation I talked about sharing the some of the decision making workflow (why do certain stories make it to the home page, how can something or someone influence that), with users of the site. When I brought up this idea, someone replied that “No one likes to see how the sausage is made.” There were nods to the wisdom of this assessment, and the conversation moved on.

Me? I can’t help but watch “How It’s Made” in marathon sessions where I melt into the couch. I like inside baseball knowledge, it gives me context into why things work the way they do, and how they came about.

I believe on a visceral level that when a group is attempting to do something “new”, and they refuse to even acknowledge the experience of the past, what you end up with is more of the same, or more of what took place further back in history. Sometimes that’s appropriate. Those lessons give you an advantage and a springboard to success. Sometimes those lessons can teach us what not to do.

That’s why I’m so optimistic about where we are now. There are a lot of lessons that are being put to practice by organizations and people all across Philly. That alchemy of past and present is in full swing like never before, with the belief you need to keep, that you can make things better.

Disclaimer, yes, I’m in this book. Philly Future is in this book. Norgs is in this book. So are many people who I respect and admire who have worked so hard over the past ten years, in a tumultuous line of work, that is important to our world, are in this book.

And part of me feels a little bit shamed for letting my participation in all this drop on the floor 7 years or so ago. But only a little since I wouldn’t trade these 7 years for anything. So, for some closure, I’m going to follow Chris Wink’s advice and ‘write that post’ sometime soon.

For more on the book:

Listen to a great interview with C.W. Anderson at newbooksincommunications.com.

Read Mathew Ingram at paidContent, “The biggest roadblock to media success? A traditional culture of journalistic hubris”

Buy it: “Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age”

NICAR 2013 Links

Mike Ball, coworker and friend, wrote up a great summary of what he saw at NICAR 2013. It was great hearing his enthusiasm when he got back from what sounds like was a fantastic conference. Check out his post.

More on NICAR 2013:

IRE: NICAR 2013

Nieman Journalism Lab: NICAR 2013

Chrys Wu: Tools, Slides and Links fro NICAR13

ONA Philly

Hacks/Hackers Philadelphia

Code.org launches and includes a must-watch video

Code.org, a non-profit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education, launched and shared a video on YouTube that, if you’re concerned about education, or are looking for inspiration, is a a must-watch.

YouTube: Code.org: What Most Schools Don’t Teach – Short Film

Life Lessons from Programming: Check your assumptions

Jon Udell wrote a short piece that resonated with me on taking a principle from software engineering and applying it to discourse and relationships: “Check your assumptions”.

He takes the idea that when debugging, you should:

Focus on understanding why the program is doing what it’s doing, rather than why it’s not doing what you wanted it to.

And translating that to:

Focus on understanding why your spouse or child or friend or political adversary is doing what he or she is doing, rather than why he or she is not doing what you wanted him or her to.

That flips your behavior from one that is trying to modify someone else’s behavior to someone that is listening actively.

Pretty profound.

What other examples of this to think about?

Children Should Learn Programming Along With Reading and Writing

Boing Boing posts a TEDx talk from Mitch Resnick, of the MIT Media Lab, and creator of Scratch, and a good discussion ensued: “Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing”. Make sure to watch the talk as well: “Reading, Writing, and Programming: Mitch Resnick at TEDxBeaconStreet”

NPR posts a news app HOWTO, along with code

NPR.org: “How to build a news app that never goes down and costs you practically nothing”.

Python (Flask, Fabric, Jinja) and Amazon EC2. A nice walk through with code for contribution and reuse.

The World’s Youngest Programmer?

Discovery News: Meet the Youngest Video Game Programmer:

A bright young programmer from Philadelphia recently unveiled a video game involving ballerinas, jewels and vampires — sure to be a hit with young girls. The programmer herself also happens to be seven years old.

Zora Ball, a first grader at the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in Philadelphia, created the video game in a class focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics led by Tariq Al-Nasir, who heads the STEMnasium Learning Academy.

Checkout Zora’s story at Discovery News.

Favorite Reads for 2012

Following is a list of books, essays, and articles I read (or re-read) which feel worth sharing or re-sharing on on New Years Eve:

Books

“Thinking in Systems: A Primer”, by Donella H. Meadows

“Release It!”, by Michael T. Nygard

“Language in Thought and Action”, by S.I. Hayakawa, Alan R. Hayakawa, and Robert MacNeil

“The Stars My Destination”, by Alfred Bester

“One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics”, by David Berlinski

“Information Diet”, by Clay Johnson

“The Great Stagnation”, by Tyler Cowen

“One Way Forward: The Outsider’s Guide to Fixing the Republic”, by Lawrence Lessig

“The Waste Land”, by T.S. Eliot

“Race Against The Machine”, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

Software Engineering Related Essays, Posts and Papers

“Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction”, by Bret Victor

“Analogy as the Core of Cognition”, by Douglas R. Hofstadter

“On Being a Senior Engineer”, by John Allspaw

“Quality With a Name”, by James Shore

“Out of the tar pit”, by Ben Moseley

“Paxos Made Moderately Complex”, by Robbert van Renesse

“How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet”, Gizmodo

“The Future is Hypermedia APIs”, by Mike Taczak

“Ubiquitous Programming with Pen and Paper”, by Awelon Blue

“Leverage Points: : Places to Intervene in a System”, by Donella Meadows

“Unicorns and Strong Typing”, by Michael Bevilacqua-Linn

“Big Ball of Mud”, by Brian Foote and Joseph Yoder

“Intrinsic and Incidental Complexity”, by Noah Sussman

“An Introduction to Graphviz via R. Kelly’s ‘Trapped in the Closet’ Hip Hopera”, by Rob Rhinehart

“Damn Cool Algorithms: Log structured storage”, by Nick Johnson

“The Humble Programmer”, by Edsger W. Dijkstra

“Simple Made Easy”, by Rich Hickey

“The Long Tail of Technical Debt”, by Michael Feathers

“The Carrying Cost of Code: Taking Lean Seriously”, by Michael Feathers

“No Silver Bullet”, by Fred Brooks

Making A Difference with Software Engineering

“Homegrown Computer Science for Middle Schoolers”, by Tess Rinearson

“Blue Collar Coder”, by Anil Dash

“Government As A Platform”, by Tim O’Reilly

“How Do Committees Invent?”, by Mel Conway

“Anyone can do it. Data journalism is the new punk”, by Simon Rogers, The Guardian

“I believe a computer program can stand in…”, by Lisa Williams

“How Team Obama’s tech efficiency left Romney IT in dust”, Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica

“How To Tell A Story With Code”, by Rob Spectre

“Urban Storytelling with Open Data”, by Mark Headd

“Making Philadelphia Better Together”, by Mark Headd, Programs & Technology, Office of the Managing Director, City of Philadelphia

Society, Governance, History, Health, Art and Music

“The Condition: Chronic Self-Disclosure”, by Bethlehem Shoals, The Awl

“The Busy Trap”, by Tim Kreider, NYTimes

“The Web We Lost”, by Anil Dash

“A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It”, by John Scalzi

“Laws of Physics Can’t Trump the Bonds of Love”, by Tara Parker-Pope, NYTimes

“What I’ve Learned About Learning”, by Reginald Braithwaite

“The Builders Manifesto”, by Umair Haque

“How Will You Measure Your Life”, by Clayton M. Christensen

“When They’re Grown, the Real Pain Begins”, by Susan Engel, NYTimes

“Sincerity, Not Irony, Is Our Age’s Ethos”, by Jonathan D. Fitzgerald, The Atlantic

“Young Worf”, GregOttawa, Reddit

“Believe You Can Change”, by Aaron Swartz

“Going Numb In The Summer Of The Gun”, by Jen Doll, The Atlantic

“Horatio Alger, RIP”, by Jim Tankersley, National Journal

“The 10 Doctors”, by Rich Comics

“Looking back at Star Trek: The Next Generation on its 25th anniversary”, by Brian Phillips, Grantland

“Babies Are Born Scientists”, by NSF.gov

“America, The Fixable”, The Atlantic

A letter from Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell on Republican Government

“Welcome to Hell: Philadelphia Has a Serious Case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”, by Steve Volk, Philadelphia Magazine

“You Can Feel The Difference”, Nathaniel Popkin, Hidden City Philadelphia

“Poverty, College and A Dream Deferred”, by Chris Lehmann, Practical Theory

“Clinging to the Skin of this Tiny Little World (The TV Movie)”, by Philip Sandifer, TARDIS Eruditorum: A Psychochronography in Blue

Recent Python packaging reads

Python packaging options are so varied, so strongly disputed as to what is ‘best’ or ‘correct’ or ‘the past’ that they are as un-Pythonic as can be. I love Python, but when it comes to packaging, well lets say I understand how Armin Ronacher feels.

One tip: Never, ever, ever use easy_install (except to install virtualenv and pip). If you are going to install or define an .egg, do so with setuptools or distribute. Again: Don’t use easy_install.

Greg Laden: “Is Python The New Basic?”

Greg Laden recently posted some thoughts about “Python for Kids”, a book by Jason Briggs. Recently I discovered the turtle module, which is heavily used in the book, is included in the standard Python distribution when I tripped upon a tutorial at the Open Book Project. I’m going to have to buy the book and give it a try with Emma.