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May. 27, 2014 8:15 am

“If you can’t code, you’re not Googling hard enough”: Chris Whong

Civic hackers Shea Frederick and Chris Whong were at Betamore last week to talk about trends in open data and how attainable using technology and open source software to better understand your community can be.

Betamore cofounder Mike Brenner is a partner with Technical.ly Baltimore, which works on occasion from the Federal Hill incubator.

You don’t have to be a coder to appreciate civic hacking in action.

In a talk at Refresh Baltimore on Wednesday, hobbyist civic hackers Shea Frederick, and Chris Whong spoke about how they got into the realm and its applications.

“I’m not a school-trained software developer,” Whong said during the Wednesday evening event at Betamore in Federal Hill. “It’s all these open source tools, all these great community management tools. All that lowers the barrier to entry in the sense that people with not a lot of experience can pick this up very fast.”

Frederick is best known for creating a map of Baltimore’s vacant properties cross-referenced with demographic and income data. He also created SpotAgent, a mobile app that uses Baltimore city parking citation data to determine if a user is likely to get a ticket where and when they park.

“These two sets of data exist on their own, but they’re infinitely more valuable when you put them together on a map,” said Frederick, who was recently with Aol/Ad.com but now does freelance IT consulting.

Whong is a former Baltimore resident who now works as a data solutions architect in New York for Socrata. His hacking projects have included a video map of bike thefts in Philadelphia and a heat map of taxi trips taken in New York.

Whong recounted having to take a hard drive to New York’s regulatory office to get the taxi data loaded onto it. Since then, he said, he is often asked by others to pass the data along, and does.

Both talked about the wave of municipal and state open data laws in places like New York City that make their work possible. Whong demonstrated how a map of New York City property tax bills worked by scraping data from online PDFs into a CSV file.

For those who aren’t trained coders, the pair said it isn’t too hard to become a civic hacker. Their tools include the JavaScript library Leaflet and the mobile-first framework Bootstrap.

“If you can’t code, you’re not Googling hard enough,” Whong said.

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Tyler Waldman

Tyler Waldman is lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A Towson University graduate and former local editor for Patch.com, Tyler has also written and photographed for publications including the Baltimore Brew, Howard County Times and Towson Times. He lives in Charles Village.

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