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Computing, Food and You


ol_ironstomach
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As part of the grassroots International Open Data Hackathon going on this Saturday, December 4 2010, the folks behind the Food+Tech blog have announced an inaugural Food+Tech Hackathon to be held at a SoHo NYC location. For one day, participating software hackers and onlookers will pool ideas and talents to build small software tools (some of which presumably will exploit open data sources) in order to address food-related social issues. The idea pool wiki appears to be open for submissions, although its contents are somewhat spare. Right now it contains proposals for CSA management software, for an urban garden map of NYC, and a nebulous notion of something to support a livestock-to-table market.

It's not often that two of my worlds meet like this, so I hope you'll bear with me. This sort of curiously geeky event touches on a couple of points that would be of general interest to foodies. One is the connection of people with some rather esoteric software talents to people with ideas of public interest, but little or no commercial appeal...but in this case on food issues. (A non-food example from a recent hackathon produced this interactive map that compares electricity prices in seven cities nationwide.)

The other is that the growing adoption of newer open standards for data interchange is enabling new kinds of understanding that previously would have been difficult or impossible to gather and fuse the data for. One could imagine, for instance, a map that displays geographic availability of fresh produce against seasonal demand for meal assistance...if inventory data for about-to-expire or surplus produce were widely available.

The potential of this effort is staggering. WalMart, of all outfits, has just initiated an enormous effort to try to understand the full environmental impact of their supply process by pushing each link in their supply chain to analyze and publish localized impact data using open data standards. To put it another way, they wouldn't be reliant on estimating a national average carbon footprint for, say, Mexican-grown tomatoes in US stores, based on a theoretical model and statistically averaged assumptions; they could potentially directly compute the footprint of *your* tomato from the data supplied by the grower, packer, shipper, distribution center, and their own internal fleet...and make localized supply chain decisions based on direct comparison with alternate sources. You have to have some means of gathering the evidence first, if you wish to practice evidence-based decisionmaking.

Exciting times. One small piece of which might look like a couple dozen programmers meeting in a geek lair in NYC for a long Saturday.

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As part of the grassroots International Open Data Hackathon going on this Saturday, December 4 2010, the folks behind the Food+Tech blog have announced an inaugural Food+Tech Hackathon to be held at a SoHo NYC location. For one day, participating software hackers and onlookers will pool ideas and talents to build small software tools (some of which presumably will exploit open data sources) in order to address food-related social issues. The idea pool wiki appears to be open for submissions, although its contents are somewhat spare. Right now it contains proposals for CSA management software, for an urban garden map of NYC, and a nebulous notion of something to support a livestock-to-table market.

It's not often that two of my worlds meet like this, so I hope you'll bear with me. This sort of curiously geeky event touches on a couple of points that would be of general interest to foodies. One is the connection of people with some rather esoteric software talents to people with ideas of public interest, but little or no commercial appeal...but in this case on food issues. (A non-food example from a recent hackathon produced this interactive map that compares electricity prices in seven cities nationwide.)

The other is that the growing adoption of newer open standards for data interchange is enabling new kinds of understanding that previously would have been difficult or impossible to gather and fuse the data for. One could imagine, for instance, a map that displays geographic availability of fresh produce against seasonal demand for meal assistance...if inventory data for about-to-expire or surplus produce were widely available.

The potential of this effort is staggering. WalMart, of all outfits, has just initiated an enormous effort to try to understand the full environmental impact of their supply process by pushing each link in their supply chain to analyze and publish localized impact data using open data standards. To put it another way, they wouldn't be reliant on estimating a national average carbon footprint for, say, Mexican-grown tomatoes in US stores, based on a theoretical model and statistically averaged assumptions; they could potentially directly compute the footprint of *your* tomato from the data supplied by the grower, packer, shipper, distribution center, and their own internal fleet...and make localized supply chain decisions based on direct comparison with alternate sources. You have to have some means of gathering the evidence first, if you wish to practice evidence-based decisionmaking.

Exciting times. One small piece of which might look like a couple dozen programmers meeting in a geek lair in NYC for a long Saturday.

Definitely exciting times! (And definitely not my area of expertise :)) While not about "computing" this article in the WaPo food section today touches on food and geekdom with this review of "Cooking for Geeks." Very timely, I'd say.

"If you browse through it, as you would a normal cookbook, it is a lot of fun. If you read it from start to finish, it is one of the most useful books on understanding cooking, kind of like a rock-and-roll version of Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking."

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