EcoHackNYC– Cool projects, fun new ideas, human waste, CartoDB and other flotsam.

I took a bus to New York City this weekend to enjoy the company of fellow hackers at EcoHackNYC, organized by Javier Torre and Andrew Hill of Vizzuality and Robin Kraft of REDD Metrics.  Due to delays in Pittsburg, I missed the ignite talks on Friday, arriving on NYU’s campus on Saturday morning. Several groups formed around topics and we started hacking. I worked on Robin Kraft’s crew– helping to put together a draft visualization of deforestation data for Indonesia. I suspect that something interesting will continue to evolve out of that project. Robin envisions visualizations for tropical deforestation on a monthly basis globally, and he’s not far away from that. It should be really great to see. We also got some wild-eyed data visualization/HTML5/data transfer protocol ideas out of that project, thinking about how to stuff any sort of data into a PNG tile.  The cool thing is that while our wild-eyed plans would require special data prep, they would not necessarily require changes to existing middlewhere/tile-rendering software initially, just client level magic. More on that later, unless we discover we’re re-inventing aluminium rims and someone has already built a hot rod.

It turns out, when I stayed in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, had it been raining hard enough to activate the CSOs, my waste would have come out just upstream from the UN. True story.

For now though, I’ll highlight one of the more polished products presented at the end of the hacking event the Don’t Flush Me project (warning– potty humor and mild curse words involved). I did not work on this project. With so many pun opportunities I probably would have derailed the project with linguistic abuses of monumental puniness, so maybe it’s for the best. I’m holding back right now. I just want you all to appreciate that. I like potty puns so much, they are my first and second most favorite pun type. That said, the best pun of the night was by a gentleman named Francois who was with the big-carbon-footprint group (meaning they flew in from Brazil for the conference– it was nice to have the international contingent). I’m always particularly impressed with puns done in an individual’s second language. It shows true mastery. Of course, now I can’t remember the pun. Anyway, I digress substantially more than usual.

Quick 3rd party description of the project: Don’t Flush Me took the combined sewer overflow (CSO) pipe diagrams and outfall data for Manhattan and created an interface that geocodes from address or IP and returns a polygon that shows the shared sewershed and overflow location for the input location.

Additionally, it has the Wunderground API wrapped in, in order to report whether there has been rain in the last day for your sewershed. Further work on the project would model capacity vs. rainfall and report whether you should wait to flush, and other such features. There are some small browser-dependent geocoding api bugs, but that’s forgivable considering this was put together in fewer than 8 hours. Also, the code is reportedly not particularly well organized yet. But who cares– the functionality is awesome. As an aside, if memory serves me, the back end PostGIS services are hosted in a CartoDB instance.

I think Don’t Flush Me could serve as a great model for reporting mechanisms for Sewer Districts with CSOs. Brilliant, well-scoped, and well-executed work, also fun to use. If you are not in Manhattan, here are a couple of addresses you can feed into the geocoding engine:

11 West 53 Street  New York, NY 10019

1 Wall Street, New York, NY

and an homage to the kindness of strangers:

Chelsea Park, New York, NY.

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