Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 Recap, Next Steps

Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 Recap

National Day of Civic Hacking , locally Akron Civic Hackathon, was a great experience in 2014 as members of our government as well as volunteer technologists both got to appreciate tech problems and came up with techniques to solve these problems.

I felt like providing the community a recap from the event here, as I know a lot of folks that wanted to attend weren’t able to. Personally, I believe Jack would have been proud.

Akron Civic Hackathon benefited this year from hosting some interesting local problems.

Kudos to City of Akron’s Economic Development department for leading an effort which will enable members of our community to search for fiscal information about monies spent in a specific region in our city. Mark from their team explained the problem in detail at the event. We then as a team worked on how to approach their problem in such a way that maximises opening and sharing of data. In our case, that resulted in writing a parser that would process some of the city’s spreadsheets and export plain-text information that either their internal GIS system could use or could be shared with other technologists to build reports out of. Please find the source code for this work here: https://github.com/gsvolt/AkronCivicHackathon2014

We also worked on LocalWiki’s Akron instance online at http://www.localwiki.net/akron and learned how to use their system. Using that knowledge we proceeded to add some test data about charities in the area as reported by IRS. We found their system provided a street search that was not working yet. So, instead we opted to manually find the geographical region where we plotted points for the locations of the charities. Next, we tagged the charities with the “charity” tag. We were pleasantly surprised to view the results here: http://localwiki.net/akron/map/tags/charity

A few local charities got mapped! And they are editable too!

This proved that not only can we succeed at curating information about Akron, but we can also solve the challenge CharityPins right on the LocalWiki platform, making it easier for members of our community to find charities in our city! We ran out of time to programmatically insert data into their system so volunteers hope to interface with the API provided by localwiki upon attaining API access from their team.

East Liverpool Fire Department was not able to participate in-person at our event due to conflicts with their truck repairs. Volunteers were able to use OpenShift platform provided by RedHat and their documentation here https://github.com/openshift-quickstart/adopt-a-hydrant-openshift-quickstart and spun up a sample instance, and tested it. The fire department’s team plans to provide location data about fire hydrants that will be deployed in the sample instance and then launched to their residents.

City of Akron employee Dan Witmer was able to provide his Excel skills to Shante Robinson who needed help with creating a pivot table for his fatherhood based charity. It worked out both ways, members of government helped volunteers too!!

I thank Ken Burns from Tiny Circuits LLC for stopping by at the event and share knowledge of his company with attendees.

I also thank Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic for his visit during the final hours of Day One. He was able to communicate his thoughts directly with the volunteers!

I’m glad that within three weeks of this event’s organization, we as a community made these changes together that add value. This event wouldn’t have been made possible without help from SYN/HAK and Knight Foundation, it simply was the best experience I had as an event organizer. Period.

Lastly, thought I’d share with you, two of my favorite photos from the event:

Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 - Day One
Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 – Day One

L-R: G (Gaurav N Saxena), Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Alex Kot, Adele Roth, Torrie Fischer, Shante Robinson, Nick Petroski, Jon Knapp

Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 - Day Two
Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 – Day Two
L-R: G, Jon Knapp, Torrie Fischer, Nick Petroski, City of Akron Manager Mark Moore
Rest of the photos I took have been made available on my flickr account here:

An interesting Civic Hack (between day one and two):

After Day One of the event, I met with Shante Robinson and learned through him that his office housed a clock tower right at Highland Square, West of Akron downtown. Minutes before I dropped him at his office, I had him visit Synhak. Shante let me know that since starting working at his office space, he never really found the reason for ‘why does our clock tower not work?’

I offered to help on the spot. I’m glad he had ladder access to the attic and a flat head screw driver. I used the ladder, a screwdriver, an iPhone as a flashlight to trace the power cable powering the electronic display mounted at the clock tower.

In jubilation, I tweeted Shante’s victory pose on twitter:


Hopefully the Highland Square community can reap the benefits of the clock tower, as soon as Shante orders the replacement bussman fusetron frn 50 amp dual-element time delay class R5 fuses for it!!

Next steps:

I am committed to hosting Akron Civic Hackathon 2015.

Some attendees this year expressed a desire to even schedule a few more hackathons in between.

As I have more information planned, will let the community know.

I thank everyone for contributing their time in making this event a success, and hope that with these efforts we see technology assisting our leaders in solving hard problems.

Knight Foundation has a really good recap they posted online, check it out here:

I know I will in preparation for next year’s event 🙂

SYN/HAK at Oddmall 2013

Today, I worked on a project (a wooden sail boat, <pic to follow later>) with my son in the morning at Home Depot, and then went to my first visit at Oddmall.

I arrived at Clarion Inn and met Craig and Matt at our very own table that Andy graciously provided SYN/HAK in one of the halls at Oddmall, it looked great!

The night before, Chris and Torrie worked on a project that involved getting a group of three hard drives to make music – yes music! I learned from Matt, that at Oddmall our table didn’t have any power, but that didn’t deter us from showing the attendees how we built our musical hard drives, at least mechanically. Here are some photos from the night before:

Musical Hard Drives 1/3
Musical Hard Drives 1/3
Musical Hard Drives 2/3
Musical Hard Drives 2/3
Musical Hard Drives 3/3
Musical Hard Drives 3/3

If you visited SYN/HAK’s booth, but didn’t get to see the hard-drives do their thing, checkout Torrie’s Google Plus post here:


I’ll try to embed the video, let’s see if this works 🙂

Musical Hard Drives

In preparation for Oddmall, we picked a few 3D printed parts for display as well. Some attendees were amused that we 3D printed mustache’s (it being Movember and all), and a pen stand.

For some, seeing a part printed with a 3D printer was a treat. I hope a lot of attendees do get to learn how to use machine tools, and other tools we provide at SYN/HAK and keep making things!

I met some really talented artists at Oddmall and had a great time.

I’d have to say though, the best part of the event for me was a visit from Doctor Who’s Tardis! (Oops, I mean Heather)

Tardis Heather
Tardis Heather

element14 and SYN/HAK movie making project announced

At SYN/HAK, we were approached by element14/Newark/Premier Farnell to create a movie to celebrate their 200,000th member.

Earlier, we completed the movie making project and today element14 officially announced it to the community here:


SYN/HAK blogged about it too here:


and here:


Since the movie’s purpose is to ask a choice about who wins between two contenders, users have the ability to vote here:


SYN/HAK also posted a video status update in August about this:


I’m glad I was able to contribute some time and help with the project. I learned many moons later that there is a special audio clip that the members made, using my own silly commentary before and after the actual video was shot 🙂

I’d say, if you would like to give that a listen, do come to SYN/HAK and we can share it with you 😉

Torrie Fischer presents Lets All Git during Code for America Skill Share hosted at SYN/HAK

Code for Summit County held their 7/24 hack night and skill share event. During this event, Torrie Fischer from SYN/HAK presented on the topic “Let’s all Git”.

I recently started using Git at work as well only in the context of maintaining legacy code. So, decided to attend. It was a great talk.

I was able to video tape the talk in five parts (thanks DSLR!) and upload it to SYN/HAK’s channel in youtube instead of mine (gsvolt).

Thought I’d link the videos on my blog for others to learn about this wonderful piece of software.

At SYN/HAK we had fans running during the talk, so the sound quality is mostly average – read bump up the volume at your desk to hear Torrie.

Continue reading “Torrie Fischer presents Lets All Git during Code for America Skill Share hosted at SYN/HAK”

Cleveland Mini-Maker Faire 2013

Before the event:

I had a lot of respect for the organizers of Ingenuity Fest since I started dating my lovely wife a few years ago. I have some fond memories of spending time at Ingenuity Fest because of the types of activities and artists the festival promotes.

The organizers of the event expressed a desire in 2013 to hold a Mini-Maker Faire in Cleveland, and that allowed me to – for a lack of a better word – get really excited, in fact enough to assist them in any which way I could. Here’s James Krouse the Director of Programming describing the event:

I picked up the phone and spoke with James Krouse briefly a few months before the event. I was glad I called.

Continue reading “Cleveland Mini-Maker Faire 2013”

Doug Costlow talks about 3D Printing at SYN/HAK

Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow

I was lucky enough to attend Doug’s talk on Low Cost 3D Printing at SYN/HAK on 3/20.

Copy of Doug’s presentation can be found here:


Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow

It was great to see a wide range of age groups at SYN/HAK. What made me smile was the pet feeder Doug brought from home that he talks about in the videos below. He was able to design the pet feeder himself!

Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow

Crowd assembles before the talk.

Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow

A few members of SYN/HAK chat about the 3D Printers capabilities.

Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow

Juggler Ted brought along his Rubiks puzzle to wondering how he can improve its design.

Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing - Doug Costlow
Low Cost 3D Printing – Doug Costlow

Some already printed 3D objects that Doug and Lily brought to demonstrate a 3D Printer’s capability.

Many thanks to Doug and Lily to present on this topic and generate awareness.

Personally, I believe the skills required to run a 3D Printer will enable a lot of people to earn their livelihood.

At this time like SYN/HAK Champion Trever mentions in beginning of Part 1, SYN/HAK is organizing a fundraiser for about $800 to acquire a 3D Printer. This will enable SYN/HAK to provide this wonderful instrument to the community.

If you’ve watched the videos below, please consider making a contribution electronically on the website synhak.org or in person at 21 W North St Akron Ohio.

Enjoy the videos below to learn more about 3D Printing.

Link to Lily’s company, Village Plastics:


Link to Maker Gear, the 3D Printer Doug demonstrated a sample print on:


Get ready to be blown away by Doug in the videos that demonstrate this cool technology:

Continue reading “Doug Costlow talks about 3D Printing at SYN/HAK”

SYN/HAK: Book Scanning by Jeff Nielson

Jeff Nielson's Book Scanner
Jeff Nielson’s Book Scanner






My experience of this amazing night of my life:

I left work, and after stopping at Highland Square for dinner at Chipotle, I stopped by at Tiny Circuits to meet with owner Ken Burns and learned about the extension of their office space, and discussed how I can help the company locally.


Ken was kind enough to introduce me to Jeff Taylor (Member of DIYDrones and Owner of Event38 that recently entered Startup Chile).

Jeff was busy working on a camera assisted styrofoam airplane that I was mighty impressed to see in person! Sadly I didn’t snap a picture 😦



After visiting Tiny Circuits, I arrived (a bit late, sadly) at Jeff Nielson’s talk at SYN/HAK about book scanning.

It was really amazing to see the handcrafted Book Scanner that Jeff built by himself, after taking some inspiration from diybookscanner.org

Book scanning, I learned during the talk, is the process of converting a physical book that has no digital counterpart, into digital media like images or pdf or word files using a wooden frame and a camera to take pictures.

Jeff went through the entire process of building the book scanner, then introduced the attendees to some of the software involved for using the artifacts from a book scanner.. namely images.

Jeff shared a grid (which I will be uploading here later ; attached) that makes it easy for one to understand which software to choose from.

Jeff Nielsen - Popular OCR Software Tools
Jeff Nielsen – Popular OCR Software Tools

He later demonstrated a live book scanning session which included scanning the book Good Night Arizona into images using the cameras, that were operated by a switch. The switch would enable two cameras to take a photo of each respective page at the same time. Also, after the images were stored on the memory stick, Jeff was able to take the photos to his computer and was able to demonstrate some of the softwares like Bulk Rename, ABBYY etc.

By this time Jeff had earned rock star status in my mind.. I got motivated enough to take a photo with him, so I could remember what a great time it was to see so many different ideas combine to enable one to scan things that don’t exist in the digital domain.

Jeff and G
Jeff and G


I used to dream about scanning books in India when I used to visit my Mom’s hometown of Rampur.

See, they have a world class library called the Raza library that has great manuscripts from 1700-1900. I used to think during my visits that I’d like to work at that library, translating all the literary works from that time to English.

After hearing Jeff’s passionate talk on the matter.. I might just have to build a book scanner and act on it sooner than later!

Here’s me publicly thanking everyone for a great night!

ps: Another title for this post could be “A tale of two Jeff’s” 😛

Michael Clark Juggles at SYN/HAK

<Tonight I went to SYNHAK and I was able to witness Michael Clark juggling, and had to write about it.>

I knew there was a talk on juggling and wanted to experience the joy of juggling first hand in a semi-formal setting. I can say this – in the first 15 minutes of Michael Clark’s explanation, I was convinced that it is an art form that everyone should experience at least once.

I was curious as to when the journey began for Michael. He was kind enough to share that he started juggling at 9 years of age. When you start to juggle for the first time, it really helps to learn to throw well. The thought is that if you manage to control your throws well, your catches become very very easy.

In order to juggle well, you have to make sure that your good throws all traverse a sort of plane area in front of you – as though the object was in an invisible window in front of you.

Not only is juggling an art form that quickly makes you realize that both your arms are at odds with each other, there is a certain form of meditative quality about being able to control your body uniformly and consistently. Trust me, I’m not advocating that everyone becomes a juggler .. far from it, all I believe strongly in is experiencing the “how” of juggling through a master of the art – Michael Clark.

On a slightly humorous note, I’d like to inform the reader that Michael and his peer Ted were both shaking their heads in disbelief when I demonstrated to them that I know how to juggle two balls, but they were quick to correct me .. that indeed what I thought was juggling was actually passing the ball from one hand to the other. It was a night where I learned a lot, I hope that in the coming days I get to practice what Michael taught us to self-improve.

Michael Clark Juggles at SYN/HAK
Michael Clark Juggles at SYN/HAK

More photos here:

Michael Clark Juggles at SYN/HAK

Edit (2/25/2013):

Just watched the Quadrocopter Pole Acrobatics video.. I thought it reflected *exactly* what Michael explained to me about juggling a single ball from one hand to another. Let me embed here for you to watch: