Biomimicry, Renewable Energy and Evolutionary Computation

Hackathon Projects


This Hackathon is the first event of Code for America‘s National Day of Civic Hacking (Fun fact: I can be seen in some of the banner photos trying to figure out the best empanada to eat) taking place all over the United States June 6th and earlier.

0.) National Challenges from the US government departments and other groups.

1.) Work with Muni Property Tax and Parcel data. Check the version of the geojson in Github.

Rough example with Residential in red and Commercial in blue. Click on a border to see more info about a property.

Create a Anchorage Centennial animation of buildings built in the last 100 years. Can we do this for parks and trails as well?

Example uses with the NYC data  Parser is written in Python.


Enter height data into Open Street Maps to show the shadows during anytime and day of the year.

2.) United Way has a People Mover bus wrapped. They want a contest where people drop a pin on a map where they have seen the bus (and possibly upload a picture) The person would also enter a name and email that can be contacted from a contest drawing. The bus will be running until March 2016. They are looking for a possible WordPress solution. Here is a possible starting point. (CartoDB and Javascript)

3.) Realtime Bus SMS project – Node.js  A few more enhancements like showing 2 or 3 closest stops. Maybe allowing people to respond with a keyword to get the most recent update. Design clean up.

4.) Accessibility map for Anchorage. and Data needed Elevation data from Google API, Bus stop data, construction data. (python)

I have some rough data for construction and sidewalk shape files.

5.) Find the shortest route to hit all 25 bike to work stations in Python. and using the data from here:

Could also be done for parks, breweries, etc.

6.) Help match restaurants and people with extra waste food with farmers and composters who could use the food waste.

7.) SNAP Pre-Screener – Ruby on Rails Example app:


8.) Recreational API, can we see what cabins and campgrounds are available. Was thinking of Denali lottery but it involves paying by credit card.

We also have data for Oct-Dec 2014 of reservations made at National Parks. Are there interesting visualizations that can be made.

9.) GIS edit Muni park data for use in a heat map showing how close people are to parks. Can also be used for an app that culls instagram and flickr to show people having fun in park boundaries. Could also be used for click-that-hood to learn where parks are. Data from this page:

10.) Help update and revise a map of where you can get local food. Showing where farms, farmer’s markets, breweries, restaurants that serve local food, etc.

11.) We have lots of great trail data that could be hacked on See what the data looks like on a map: (takes a while to load in certain regions) And check out how Mike Brook,who along with Matthew Dillon worked on organizing the data, uses it in the Find Yourself in Kincaid app.

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State of Our City Forum – Summary

I was lucky enough to be one of 8 speakers giving an 8 minute talk at the Anchorage Federation of Community Councils  “State of Our City Forum

Here is a summary of the talk on Civic Hacking and Open Data and the links I mentioned from Code for Anchorage and myself. Some of the apps are redeployed from the very generous and awesome Code for America Come to a meet up, everyone is welcome. Every other Tuesday at The Boardroom 5:30-7:30pm: Hack Night

1.) I used the Anchorage Muni GIS information on Community Councils to feed into Click that Hood, a fun game to learn geography. I’ve added Anchorage, Fairbanks, Alaska Native Languages, and the Iditarod trail.




2.) Trail data – Code for Anchorage has been doing a lot of work on trail data. Check out this mobile browser viewer that works on a smartphone but can take a while to download the trail data. Try clicking on a trail to see info about the trail like activities and lighting.

And check out trail-hunter which is in beta:

And the iPhone Find Yourself in Kincaid app by Mike Brook using Code for Anchorage trail data was just released in the app store.


3.) @CutePetsANC is a twitter feed of adoptable pets:

4.) Balance is an app to text your SNAP (QUEST) EBT# to a phone number and get your balance texted back to you in 1-2 minutes.

We need people to help translate this into other languages, so contact me if you or someone you know could help.


4.) Bus data from People Mover was cleaned up and processed and put into Google Maps.

5.) A flu shot locator (in beta)




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Now you can check your balance on your SNAP (Food Stamp) EBT card by texting your 16 digit account code to 907-312-1148 for English, and 907-312-1905 in Spanish. More languages coming soon like Russian, Yu’pik and Tagalog. is a way to find locations that accept EBT near by and they have a smartphone app.

You can text your address to

(415) 889-8650

Or you can try as well.

English Poster

Spanish Poster

Info from Code for America

Local work by Code for Anchorage

Splash pages you can link to:




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Alaska hAKathon Project Pitches

Some potential projects for the Hackathon on Oct.17-19th.

Code for Anchorage meets every other Tuesday at The Boardroom from 5:30-7pm. Next meeting is Oct. 28th. More info

Anchorage Flu Shot Finder app based on Chicago’s flu shot app and using this code base to start.
Possible tasks

  1. Get Flu Shot information for Anchorage including one off events, like the drive through flu shot.
  2. Set up a Google Fusions Table similar to the one used for Chicago.
  3. Get Google Maps API
  4. Think about ways to have flu shot providers able to update the data.
  5. Deploy the app to Heroku? (PHP)
  6. Test the app
  7. Think about outreach to advertise the app.
  8. Celebrate

Jury Duty Text notifier – work with Twilio to create an app that you text in your jury duty group number and it calls after 5pm and listens to the voice message and transcribes it and sends you a text message with the groups called, or possibly only if your group was called.

@CutePetsANC – A twitter bot that is live now and grabs random pets from Friends of Pets and tweets about adoptable pets.

Possible tasks

  1. Changing to post pets from multiple pet shelters, just posts from one currently.
  2. Crop and size pet photos consistently.
  3. Add hashtags for breeds etc.
  4. Outreach ideas.

Voter Reminder and Polling Location Look Up via Text – Ability to send your address to a number and get your closest polling place or the closest place to where you are currently at. Using Twilio and Google Civic Information API. It would also send reminders for early voting, absentee voting and day of election voting. And have 20 numbers for 20 different languages.

Trailsy  – An app to view the trail data around Anchorage. A rough beta is up based on a Summit County, Ohio app.

Possible tasks

  1. Clean up data
  2. Improve app



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Earthquakes Over 4.0 in Alaska between 1900 and 2014

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Hometown Alaska – Info and Links

National and Local Groups:

Code for America

Sunlight Foundation

Code for Anchorage (Come join us!)

Code for Anchorage Meetups (Next meeting on April 1st at 5:30pm, every other Tuesday. Everyone welcome.)

Anchorage Maker Space

Corrections from the Radio Show:

The Anchorage Mini Maker Faire has been scheduled for July 26, 2014 and will be hosted by Anchorage Maker Space and SBDC and supported by AEDC. If you want to help out email is written by Jim Davis (not Smith)

The learning to code site is (not org)

Recent Anchorage or Alaska projects:

Anchorage Answers – Simple clear written questions and answers to common citizen requests.

Interested in helping test People Mover bus info in Google Maps contact me at brendanbabb at gmail

Click-that-Hood Fun game to learn geography and maps.  Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska example. Anchorage and Fairbanks in the list as well.

MyLegis – Tracking Alaska Legislature bills, see revisions, create watch lists.

Alaska State Open Data Bill (HB 337)

Alaska Local Food Map (in development)

Any size earthquake in Alaska over last 30 days (USGS)

CartoDB has a free version and was easy to use for the Food and Earthquake maps.

Weed Warriors (in development)

SeeClickFix (Free smartphone app for reporting 311 Non-emergency problems like potholes) (A community way to help shovel your neighbors out)

Anchorage Programming Workshop (Women teaching women to program)

Alaska Fish Counts Data on fishing

Anchorage Crime Map

Alaska Energy Data Gateway

Anchorage Muni Election info (You can early vote now for Assembly)

Story on the origin of the term “hacking”

National Apps

Code for America Apps

A creative way to stop fights: Stop Beef (Further Description)

StreetMix – A way to visualize street composition

Snap Fresh – for finding places close to you that take SNAP

How to fight the flu

Clear Streets (Info about street plowing in Chicago in real time)

Ohana API  (311 API Service)

OaklandBeats (A way for citizens to find out the Police beat they belong to and contact the officer)

Value of Open Data:

Open Data could be worth $3 Trillion globally each year.


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Jelly Bean Results

The total number of jelly beans was 712. David, who is married to Kait Reiley of the Kickstarter PopCycle campaign correctly guessed 712 and wins the book, Crowdsourcing (or possibly instead of that, another donation to the PopCycle campaign.) Someone else guessed 713 and they have declined their prize, so Kerry (after a coin flip since there were two guesses of 720) with a guess of 720 wins the book, Wisdom of the Crowds.

There were two unique guesses, one was a guess of 13,000 and the other was “average of all guesses plus 2.” The theory is that if you average all the guesses you get a really good guess, often better than any individual guess. There were 47 guesses including the 4 on Facebook. If you include all of them the average is 993.69. If you exclude the 13,000 which seemed like a rushed guess at the time as I was badgering friends to make guesses, the average is 726.89. This would be the 6th best guess after 712,713, 720, 720, 721.

The guesses ranged from 200 to 13,000 and the median guess was 646. Most of the guesses were low, but guesses like 4344 helped raise the average guess. Overall the members of the crowd did a great job guessing, since they hit the exact value and off by one. Thanks to everyone who made a guess and contributed to this experiment.

photo (9)

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Crowd Sourcing and Civic Hacking

Ended up grabbing dinner after TEDx and then seeing some friends in the band, Hot Dish, play at Humpys. Counting Jelly Beans on Sunday.

Thanks to everyone who came out to TEDx on Saturday. I can’t wait to see the videos of the talks.

I was one of 12 people giving a TEDx talk on Saturday, March 30th at the Library from 1pm-7pm. KSKA interviewed speakers on Hometown, Alaska at 2pm on March 20th. My talk is on Crowdsourcing and Civic Hacking. Here are some relevant links for TEDx, Crowdsourcing and Civic Hacking.

TEDx Anchorage Facebook page.

Crowdfunding Links:

PopCycle Kickstarter project (Ends at 2pm on Tuesday, April 2nd.)

FoodStart a Kickstarter for restaurants and food projects, created by Alaskans.

Learn to Code links:

Anchorage women teaching women to code.

Khan Academy learning to code.

Hackathon links:

Code for America Brigade meet up on March 26th.

Alaska Hackathon for Non-Profits. Applications from Non-Profits  and Hackathon the weekend of April 20-21.

Anchorage Adopt-a-hydrant.

Anchorage Adopt-a-hydrant Facebook page.

National event that Anchorage won: Race for Reuse winners

ADN write up about Adopt-A-Hydrant.

Bus Tracking Hackathon write up.

Code for America

Code for America Brigade

Hack for Change, an event Anchorage will be taking part in on June 1,2 as a Brigade Meetup.

Crowdsourcing Links:

Video Game Players help with AIDs cure. Tetris for Proteins.

Innocentive, a site for businesses to offer prizes for solutions to problems.

Topcoder, a site that also has contests for coders and designers.

List of Crowdsourcing projects

A way to translate spoken word into text in less than 3 seconds, Legion: Scribe. This group does amazing stuff, like crowdsourced Siri.

Maker links:

Alaska Makers Facebook page.

A Maker Faire is planned for July at the Loussac Library.

Anchorage Makerspace Meetup

Startup Weekend links:

Startup Weekend Alaska

Startup Weekend Alaska Facebook page


Prezi from Anchorage Economic Development Council









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Storing Energy

Alaska has vast renewable energy resources, but doesn’t always have populations that live close to that resource or inter-ties to the resources. The Aleutian islands for example have a ton of wind and potential geothermal energy. If there was a way to store that energy in say zinc pellets or beam down to the lower 48 via microwave, both of these are not real examples, then Alaska could provide a lot of energy to the rest of the US. Another possibility is to provide some sort of value-added process to raw materials. This is possible with fish processing.  When I visited Iceland in 2007, they had Alcoa on a 30 year contract for cheap electricity that was a fixed cost for the 30 years. This example of storing compressed air for later use might be useful for the wind energy in some rural communities. Hopefully there will be some break through in energy storage and transport in the next 5 years. This would also allow energy to be created at a distance from cities which might lower the economic and environmental impacts.

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Harvesting radio signal energy

Interesting article about using the energy from the AM and FM radio stations to power a sensor. I think the key technologies for the future will be using the summing of waves to move things really small distances or change properties of light and sound. And the other key feature is tapping into the resonant frequency of materials.

I have been thinking about the power of resonance ever since I saw the Tacoma Narrows bridge disaster (1:25 into the video), which I feel every engineering student saw at some point. There must be cool ways to leverage resonance.

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