Two hackfest events are coming to Bemidji

I’m pleased to share info on these fun events…

A Youth Game Design Challenge
A 2 hour workshop followed by a game design mini-challenge. Enjoy exhibits of cool technology including virtual reality, robotics, and more.
The youth game design challenge schedule is Friday, 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm.

True North Hackfest
A fast-paced event where teams of creatives, coders, programmers, designers, marketers, and alike compete to design and build a technological solution to a perceived problem or need.


LaunchPad – Mayflower Building
April 7 – 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM
April 8 – 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Please visit the True North Hackfest website for more information and to register!

Martin County provides social media training to residents with disabilities

I’m pleased to share a guest post – and curriculum (agenda and details) from Ramona Harper, who has been working with the Martin County BBC initiative on a project with MRCI. MRCI provides employment services and training to individuals with disabilities and/or disadvantages. They are very focused on getting people out into jobs in the community and competitive wages. One of their concerns has been that the people they work with understand that prospective employers can view their social media pages which can affect their hiring decisions. Their instructor, Rita Craven spent time explaining safety and security in a training and open dialogue.   She explained some of the pitfalls, as well as helpful tools or apps to use.   They did 3 sessions with a total of 36 individuals.

Last week MRCI WorkSource Fairmont hosted 3 sessions of free training for 36 participants on internet safety and security. This was funded through a Blandin Foundation grant awarded to Martin County to provide technology training education to its citizens.   Two one hour sessions took place on April 5 and another on April 8.   Instructor Rita Craven went over what is social networking ; risks of using social networks; techniques used by predators; and safety measures you can to use to protect your personal information.   The last part of each session was spent discussing a variety of useful apps such as companion apps ; google maps for walking; games; sports updates; weather apps; Level Money for budgeting; food/health apps; music, camera; “any list” or “ out of milk” apps for grocery shopping; and tools such as flashlight, alarm & pedometer.   Individual participants also shared their thoughts on apps they frequently like to use.

Following the sessions, a few individuals commented on how much they enjoyed learning about this and would like to have similar trainings brought to MRCI Fairmont.

I want to thank Rita Craven for doing a wonderful job in communicating this information to the individuals we work with at MRCI. It was enlightening and well received by all. Kay Wrucke and Diana Scott have both been instrumental in organizing and spreading the good news via several Coffee Connection events throughout our county with instructors John Landsteiner and Rita Craven.   I am grateful that MRCI was able to be a recipient of this recent training.   I also want thank Martin County and the Blandin Foundation for providing the grant that enabled people with disabilities to be included in this county-wide technology training and education project.


Ramona Harper, Branch Manager
MRCI WorkSource – Fairmont

New technology of hotspots brings about a new and unexpected art form

I love when the Internet does more than make what we do easier or faster, it introduces us to new things. So for a fun only post, today is an introduction to the folk poetry of network names. Andy Sturdevant is an interesting guy and writer in the Twin Cities, he recently posted an article in MinnPost on the name of wifi networks in my neighborhood. It’s a fun look at something that just didn’t exist 20 years ago.

He also make an offhand remark about living on his phone rather than the real world – a complaint I hear often about the ”next generation” – it’s a good reminder that my kid’s definition of the real world is different that mine. Who are we to make the claim when we don’t really know?

Recently, I set out through residential St. Paul to see if I could detect any patterns in the neighborhood Wi-Fi network names. My route between Macalester College and St. Catherine University was fairly arbitrary: the two schools seemed like good endpoints, though in retrospect, I ought to have chosen a route with more apartment buildings. Apartment buildings tend to have more tightly packed, publicly facing clusters of Wi-Fi, making for more density and liveliness in the names chosen. However, these neighborhoods are a good mix of businesses, apartments, duplexes and single-family homes, making for a variety of nomenclatural approaches.

So I wandered over about three or four miles, staring down at my phone nearly the entire time, taking screenshots every block or two. The list of Wi-Fi networks changes in almost real time, and I didn’t want to miss anything. I’m sure at least three or four self-righteous passers-by shook their heads as they walked by and thought, “Ah, these fatuous thirtysomethings with their faces buried in their smartphones, totally ignoring the world around them.” Not true! I was deeply engaged in the world around me, and now I pass my findings on to you.

He goes on to share a few – I’ll excerpt but it’s fun to check out them all…

However, the networks with custom names tend to fall in a few different categories.

Geography is a good place to begin. Wi-Fi routers tend to be located in very specific parts of a building. Beginning on the most micro level, a number of networks took names from their specific locations or functions within a building, as in the case of Chromecast Living Room or IA-Upstairs. Expanding from there, many were names for the house number, as in the case of the 115SnellSquad, or for the street specifically: Ashland, Stclair and lincoln.

Franken questions Google’s approach to privacy for students

According to AdAge (and based on a letter from Senator Franken)…

Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) has released a letter he wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to express concern about how the company is collecting and sharing the data of K-12 students who use its Google for Education technology products. According to a statement released by the senator’s office, “Sen. Franken said he is concerned that, as a result of this data collection, Google may be able to create detailed profiles of students and ultimately target them for advertising or use the profiles for other non-educational purposes.”

One of the big sticky wickets is shifting the types of interactions students have with Google education products versus non-education products such as Google Maps or YouTube. Senator Franken has asked Google to answer a series of questions before Feb 12…

1. When a student is signed in to their GAFE account but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?

2. When a student is using a Chromebook but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?

3. If Google does collect any individualized data on a student, such as browsing information or viewing habits, when a student is using a Chromebook or is logged in to their GAFE account but is not using one of GAFE services, please address the following questions:

a. For what purposes does Google collect this information?
b. Is it necessary to collect all of this information for the provision of GAFE services or to deliver other valuable features that may be relevant for educational purposes?
c. Has Google ever used this kind of data to target ads to students in Google services, either in the GAFE services or other Google services, such as Google Search, Google News, Google Books, Google Maps, Blogger, or YouTube?
d. Has Google ever used this kind of data for its own business purposes, unrelated to the provision of Google’s educational offerings
e. Is it possible to make this data collection opt-in?
f. Does Google share this information with additional parties?

4. Google has indicated that it compiles data aggregated from student users of Chrome Sync, anonymizes the data, and uses it to improve its services. Can you expand on how the aggregated information is treated? For example, does this include sharing the aggregated data with third parties for research purposes or otherwise?

5. Can you describe Google’s relationship with school districts and administrators that choose to use Google for Education products and services? Apart from publicly available privacy policies, does Google offer any explanation to parents, teachers, and education officials about how student information is collected and used?

6. Can you describe all the contexts and ways in which both school administrators and parents of students using Google for Education products and services have control over what data is being collected and how the data are being used?

I think these are great questions. Most parents do not fully understand how much privacy they give up themselves when they use free online tools (such as Google, Facebook or others) so are not in a strong position to decide for kids or even advise kids. Schools are so strapped for resources that they may be willing to give up too much too soon. And many educators are in the same position of parents – they don’t fully understand the implications. I am glad that others are stepping in and asking good questions.

It reminds me a little bit of soda machines in the schools debate or having brand name soda companies sponsor school activities. Do you do what makes sense financially or what might be best for health of the kids today and as habits are forming? I’m not saying we shouldn’t sell soda in schools or that Google shouldn’t continue to provide educational tools (and expect some compensation) just that we need to understand the full extent of the compensation.

Thinking about a Hack in your community? This bibliography might help

Months ago I told myself I’d create a How to Tool for developing Hacks in rural areas. Then I got busy and distracted but sometimes that’s a good thing. I realized that there was no need to recreate the wheel. Instead of creating another wheel, I’ve compiled a bibliography of wheels that I thought were pretty darned good.

I’ve been involved with hack in metro and rural areas. These mostly focus on hack in general, which by default means urban. But I have links to some of our rural Minnesota events that will give a flavor of rural. I think the main difference is critical mass. It’s easy to get more people to attend an event in the Cities – I think that’s true whether you’re talking about a Hack, a concert or a wedding. But it can be easier to get to local media and schools to promote the event in a rural setting. And of course you might promote to techies (or others) in the Cities to attend the event. You might spread the word via Open Twin Cities, Nonprofit Tech Talk, Open Minnesota – maybe others have suggestions they want to add to the comments below.

Otherwise, here’s the bibliography (you can download it in Word too):

Hack Bibliography

Explaining Hacks to Others

Tactical Checklists

Strategizing for Hacks

Got an app idea to help students get to College? Here’s the contest for you!

I love this idea from the US Department of Education. I hope to see some Minnesota names among the winning app developers. As someone who is looking at college for kids in a few years, I hope someone creates an app to find the best financing for students!

In effort to inspire students to pursue an education beyond high school, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) launched the Reach Higher Career App Challenge to promote the development of mobile apps that will help students navigate education and career pathways, including career and technical education (CTE). …

OCTAE is eager to see the innovative solutions that our nation of solvers will bring to the challenge. The submissions period was opened on October 7, 2015 and closes on December 7. The challenge enables developers, educators and data mavens to compete for a share of the $225,000 cash prize pool.

You can find all the information about the Reach Higher Career App Challenge on and enter the challenge at

Increased broadband providers led to increase in hate crimes

I debated about sharing this not-great news about broadband, but it seemed like an opportunity to promote digital and information literacy. According to EurekAlert

New research from Carlson School of Management Professor Jason Chan and NYU Stern Professors Anindya Ghose and Robert Seamans finds that broadband availability increased the incidence of racial hate crimes committed by lone-wolf perpetrators in the United States during the period 2001-2008. The addition of a single broadband provider led to as much as a 20 percent rise in racial hate crimes in areas where racial tensions were especially high.

Ouch! There were a number of other factors that also contributed to the rise – broadband does seem to play a role. The research indicates that broadband had little effect on recruitment efforts of known hate groups – but seemed to embolden the lone wolves as the excerpt above notes.

One issue is that people can really hone the news and information that they choose to receive online. One preventative measure might be digital literacy training and public service announcements. In library school I took a whole class in how to teach people to qualify resources, to understand authorship, ownership and purpose. We can start in the schools where the audience is captive but it seems like there’s a need to reach a broader audience too. The goal would be to recognize information versus option as well as to understand hate speech.

Another preventative measure is to combat the messages of hate with messages of tolerance or appreciation of diversity. Now granted that’s difficult because as I just said, each user can really filter the information we get online but maybe we go offline to address the issue.

One interesting aspect of the research is that they found that this wasn’t true in all communities and in researching the different communities they found that the ones with elevated hate crimes had searched for racially charged phrases. Ars Technica explains…

However, one major factor altered the relationship between rising broadband access and rising hate crimes. “Counties that have higher racial tendencies tend to have a higher effect,” study co-author Jason Chan said in a phone interview with Ars Technica. Meaning, if a county has more population segregation by race, added broadband correlated with a much higher rate of hate crime. The same was true if a county’s Internet users searched for more racially charged phrases online—often with the words “hate” or “jokes” attached. If not, then the impact, while present, was far less significant.

It seems like that information might be useful to pinpoint communities that could use help fighting hate crime. We could use the technology to find those communities and as an early warning system to future. That’s where to focus prevention efforts.

It also opens a Pandora’s Box of using search results (in aggregate or honed) by geography to get a snapshot of what’s going on in a community. Wouldn’t it be fun to know who is Minnesota is searching for broadband?