Where you stand

They never told you there’d be days like this
From the moment you wake up, until your head hits the pillow
There’s an aching in your gut because you know that things aren’t right

And it feels like you’re failing
And it feels like we’re lost
And it feels like it’s never enough, and it feels like it comes at a cost

Oh I’m still surprised
And I feel betrayed
That the stories of those who came before bring not strength but anxiety

Does it cut you like a knife?
Because it chills me to the bone,
to feel the world’s so big and we are all alone.
We all do the best we can,
and I hope a little more,
and believe we’ll meet it where we stand.
Where you stand.

I never thought I could be something more.

And I know that it’s complicated.
And you’re left with more questions than at the start.
Please believe there’s a break in this breaking.
And know you’ll meet it where you stand.


This was built by me and a few of the other Knight Scholars in my cohort at the Medill School at a hackathon sponsored by The Media Consortium. It’s an SMS alert system designed for block clubs.

The repo is on GitHub.

From the README:

BeatBox is a mobile application to help neighborhood watch groups in cities like Chicago share information about public safety incidents. Users sign up as part of a beat and send alerts via SMS or mobile web. A “beat leader” then receives the alert and can choose to forward it on to other users in the beat.

It was created over the course of one weekend at The Media Consortium’s Mobile Hackathon by Shane Shifflett, Steve Melendez, Geoff Hing and Chris Keller. Bernie Leung created a prototype for an Android app based on BeatBox.

Shane Shifflett came up with the idea after reporting about muggings in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. He found that even though there was a community that was tightly knit and concerned about neighborhood safety but, because of language barriers, was unwilling to notify police, or waited hours to find an English speaker before reporting the incident. BeatBox lets neighbors share alerts in real time and saves documentation to show the police at beat meetings.

Some important features and design principles

  • Accessible technology: We want lots of different communities including lots of different people to be able to use this with the technology they have. Our initial prototype works through both SMS and mobile web.
  • Don’t freak out!: Too often neighborhood safety alerts create more gossip or fear instead of useful information or community. This app prioritizes small chunks of useful information and generates data as a starting point for conversations with neighbors, police, politicians and other community stakeholders. All alerts are moderated by a human to try use community judgment to decide which information is important to share in real time

Different communities

This app could be used both by communities with strong neighborhood watch groups and a working relationship with the police and communities that are less cohesive or have a different relationship with the police.

Communities who are concerned about safety but are worried about profiling or harassment could use the system for community-based responses to safety.

Categorized as Projects

Curry Crawl

The Curry Crawl Uhaul, photo from the IDEO Labs blog

Last year, while working as a contractor for Food Genius, I got to build a mobile web app that consumed their new API of restaurant POIs and dish suggestions. The app tried to aggregate the ratings of Indian food dishes and make suggestions for the next dish as we drove around the Loop and West Town neighborhoods in a “reverse food truck”. Our collaborators at IDEO, where Food Genius had a residency, decked out a Uhaul like an Indian restaurant.

This was one of my first experiences writing a mobile web-app, dealing with OAuth and consuming an emerging API. I wrote the app using Python’s Flask framework and used Twitter’s Bootstrap (and its responsive features) to quickly prototype the UI. The biggest takeaway from the event was how delighted passersby were to experience the weirdness of people dining in the back of a truck. I also liked making a technology where individuals interacted with their personal devices to drive a collective experience. Often, interaction with devices, particularly around food and dining take people away from the collective experience, rather than feeding back into it.

The folks at IDEO wrote about the event on the IDEO labs blog.

Categorized as Projects