Time Hedge

published by Eric Mill on

I'm not sure what's wrong with me. It's been 5 weeks. But here are some things.

At the end of January, shortly after my last post, I went to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, for a few days, to speak at Developing the Carribean. I was asked to speak about "being a civic hacker", so I did a quick tour of a bunch of projects I find inspiring, both within Sunlight and without, both inside the US and elsewhere in the world. I think it went pretty well, and the conference as a whole was great - it was joined with a hackathon by some Jamaican developers, who made some impressive work, including an SMS-powered impromptu mailing list for rural farmers. I also had some hostile and surreal street encounters that really livened up my trip.

Shortly after, I was on a panel at the House of Representatives, at a conference they threw on legislative data. That may sound arcane, but whether you know much about "legislative data" or not, take a second and think about it: half of the legislature of the world's only superpower is hosting a self-organized conference about themselves publishing data, and the importance thereof.

And honestly, not to sound naive or something, but they're doing it because they care: they're not getting frantic calls from constituents about publishing vote results in XML, or making consistent use of identifiers when referencing members of Congress. It's taken time, but it is in fact possible to work with one's government on important issues that are bipartisan and unpolarizing, and having the opportunity to be part of that has been incredibly gratifying for me.

My engagement with my work in general, which has been high for a couple years now, has taken on new heights with some burgeoning research into the laws of the United States, and how to navigate them on a technical level. The data situation is not good, and since the strength of our laws is one of the things that makes us stand out in the world and in history, it really feels like it ought to be. There are real practical uses, including ways to connect the legislative system that gets so much hyperattention with the regulatory system that gets chronically ignored (often to the public's detriment), and so nowadays I'm reading books like this on my way to work. It took some time, but I'm finally starting to accept a certain level of specialization in myself. I'm working with a couple colleagues on projects around this, and have been since late November, so hopefully we'll have some real results to show for it soon.

In more personal news, since my last post, I've moved (to here). I'm still in DC (and plan on being here for a while), but I left the safe-but-staid Dupont Circle for the opposite-of-both-of-those Eckington/NOMA neighborhood. I'm living in a weird impromptu studio apartment carved out of the expansive second floor above the fledgling Fab Lab DC. The Fab Lab's existence is a potential thing and by all means unassured, but it has a lot of people and momentum, and we're working on a few different things that we hope will secure those things, as well as cold hard cash for the continuance thereof. In the meantime, my sudden studio arrangement is giving me a lot of personal inspiration and energy, my cat much more space, and is getting me to know many new people and a big new neighborhood. I'm feeling part of a new adventure.