Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 3, 2012

Around Town

NO PROBLEM TOO BIG, OR SMALL ... This year's Edtech Expo, scheduled to be held Aug. 3-4, is the chance for Stanford students from the learning, design and technology master's program to show off solutions to challenges in education and learning. Many of the projects are brimming with heady idealism and lofty aspirations. Chalk allows educators across school systems to communicate with one another about issues and solutions they've uncovered, while Amplify Ghana seeks to educate Ghanaian farmers on ways to fix dire agricultural problems such as a collapsed well or unfamiliar pests. Other projects are, well, less lofty. Barup.mobi pits users in rap battles using "tweet-like raps" called tracks. Users build respect and sell tracks for virtual cash to grow a virtual rap empire "to the likes of Diddy or Jay-Z" and, hopefully, learn a little about writing creatively and understanding the financial aspects of selling records. Presumably they will espouse different values than Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" or Diddy's "When Thugs Die." Some projects, like Super Laces, are content to seek solutions for the most basic of problems. It uses shoelaces embedded with magnets and color-matching activities to teach young children the superhero skills needed to tie their shoes. These include mastering "gravitational force fields," "incredible flight" and "superhuman strength." The superhero mask, the project's website says, is included.

LIVING HISTORY ... Gary Fazzino knows Palo Alto. The former two-time mayor has been a close follower of city government for decades and is widely recognized as Palo Alto's "unofficial historian," always ready to contribute quirky trivia or clarify a vote that was taken 20 years ago. Now, Fazzino is preparing to bring his wealth of knowledge to the city's masses. He told the Weekly that he is completing a book tracing the political history of the city, which includes a synopsis of every City Council election since 1894. "It's everything you want to know about the City Council who they were, how many votes they got." Fazzino said he has been compiling notes and gathering data since the 1970s. "I just finally got my act together," he said. The book will also cover elections for the school board. But eager history buffs will have to wait at least a few more months for this offering. Fazzino plans to end his book with this November's council elections, in which four seats are up for grabs. While his former council colleague Liz Kniss is looking to retake a seat on the council. Fazzino said he harbors no such ambitions. "It will not include my final campaign," Fazzino said of the book.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN ... Palo Alto's data-hungry residents and app-makers now have plenty to feast on. The city this week unveiled the latest step in its "Open Data" initiative an effort that officials say aims to make the government more transparent. Following the lead of other cities, including San Francisco and New York City, the city has partnered with Palo Alto company Junar to post on its website a variety of data sets, including ones pertaining to rainfall, Census data, street trees, bike paths and park locations. The city's Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental said in a statement that the new cloud-based platform "has enhancement and visualization capabilities that make the data useful even before it is downloaded or consumed by a software application." City Manager James Keene called the new platform "a natural complement to our goal of becoming a leading digital city and a connected community." But he also hopes the data can have practical applications, as was seen in February when a group of Stanford hackers used city data to make a searchable online index of Palo Alto's street conditions. "Using this data, through challenges and hackathons, non-city employees can develop applications that can be of use to the community at no cost to the city," Keene said at the July 23 meeting of the City Council. The new platform is available at data.cityofpaloalto.org.

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