Balloon mapping and outreach
"What's the difference between data and a map?" This question came from an inquisitive fifth grader at the University of Texas on a gorgeous February Saturday in Austin. We brought a group of Rackers, some kites, and a huge red balloon to "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day," presented by the UT Women in Engineering Program (WEP). We inflated the balloon to about five feet in diameter, attached a digital camera, and launched our mapping rig 100 feet in air above campus.
We tackled the data and maps question by explaining that we were demonstrating open source tools that kids can use to collect environmental data or other data in their communities. How about counting the number of healthy trees on a neighborhood block? Could you put the tree data on top of an existing street map? Would you need to collect more information about the health of the trees? Is that data? Yes. Could you use the data you collect to make a new map? Yes.
The balloon mapping techniques were developed by an DIY science community called the Public Lab. You can read more about open source tools and techniques for data collection and mapping on the Public Lab website. (You can even purchase your own balloon and kite mapping kits.)
Hackers and Hacking
Events like UT Girl Engineering Day inspire us to try out new things. At a recent Rackspace hackday Anne put together a Python script that uploads all the photos from the camera rig (after bringing it to the ground) to Rackspace Cloud Files, then makes a gallery page of all the photos on the fly.
While we were assembling the tools for the balloon launch, Anne's seven-year-old asked Dana, "Are you a good hacker or a bad hacker?" Dana was explaining how she used a cranberry juice bottle to make the body of the camera rig and a soda bottle to make a stabilizing tail. It was a serious question and deserves an answer. (Though to tell the truth, he probably would have gone along with us either way.) We're good hackers. We love to get out in the world and show how hacking really works, innovating and playing at the same time.
Communities and Outreach
Over the past year, Rackspace has sponsored dozens of workshops, meetups, hackdays, and small conferences as part of our outreach program to developers and explorers like these students. The Rackspace Developer Relations Group wants to find the hackers who are going to change the world. Many of those developers are already investing their time and energy in the open source world and building amazing things. Some of them are young and ready to fly.
We want to support that. We want to see more of that. We want Rackspace to be the platform that people choose when they build the software that makes the world better. Those might seem like audacious goals, but we're thinking big, we're thinking long term, and our steps start by answering questions like, are you a good hacker or a bad hacker?