November 2014

Wearable Devices Can Help You Beat the Holiday Bulge


The holiday eating season is about to kick off: Thanksgiving brings us into the festive period of groaning buffet tables, cookie exchanges, and one more glass of eggnog or champagne. With the Bears playing the Lions in in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit, you may be spending a lot of your day sitting in front of the TV. It’s not surprising that many people worry about gaining weight during the last weeks of the year. But help is at hand, or on your wrist: wearable devices can help you take charge of your health and fitness during the holidays and beyond.

Wearable fitness devices have been a hot category this year, with the addition of Microsoft Band to a market already featuring a range of wristbands, compact monitors and smart watches, and previews of more that are on the way. They make great gifts, but if you’re worried about holiday weight gain you may want to get one for yourself now and let it help you keep extra pounds at bay without skipping your favorite holiday celebrations.

There are three ways wearables work to help you beat the holiday bulge:

  • Movement. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, you’re not just being tempted with fattening, once-a-year indulgence foods and gift baskets; the round of parties, tasks and informal get-togethers also strain your schedule so that you start to think seriously about passing up workouts to make time for it all. Wearable devices track movement and speed, allowing you to see how well you’re meeting your daily goals for walking or running. Microsoft Band also tracks heart rate and other biometric data, and offers guided workouts, and Microsoft Health helps you collect useful insights from Microsoft Band and other devices. Whichever wearable you choose, keeping track of your activity can prompt you to take another lap around the mall before finishing your shopping, or to hit the gym after work before dropping in at another party.
  • Nutrition. Most wearables are supported with apps and services that let you track what you eat, so you can get a clearer idea of how many calories you’ve consumed and whether you have room in your day for another mug of hot chocolate. Just making the effort to record your diet can inspire you to make healthier choices.
  • Friends. The apps and services that support wearables let you connect with your friends and peers, so you can cheer one another’s progress. Special competitive challenges let you push your friends to get in more movement during a day, workweek or weekend. And just as tracking your food makes you more conscious of the dietary choices you’re making, knowing that others are watching your activity can make you more determined to reach or even exceed your fitness goals.

Whether you’re tuning in to any (or all!) of the games Thursday or heading out to see the Thanksgiving Parade, a wearable fitness device can help you keep your health and fitness goals in mind — a nice way to keep from being naughty this holiday season.

Celebrating Small Business Saturday

Celebrate Small Business SaturdayThe holiday season kicks off with plenty of excitement — from family to food to shopping, there’s plenty to keep you occupied through the winter months. One day to keep in mind is Small Business Saturday — a day to support small businesses and community work and for small business owners to celebrate their successes. This year’s Small Business Saturday takes place November 29, the day after Black Friday, and we encourage all of you to join us in supporting local small businesses.

How Microsoft Helps

Microsoft supports small businesses in their unique challenges by providing the proper resources and technology a small business needs to thrive. Our partnership with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, for example, is one way to deliver education and technology insights to SMBs so they can save customers money.

Small business owners rarely have a full-time technology member on staff, so Chicagoland Chamber helps them transition from Office to Office 365, focusing on moving to the cloud. Cloud technology allows efficient, collaborative work amongst a team without constant face-to-face meetings, helping businesses save money and time. When small businesses are given tools that large enterprises have, they can implement them faster, giving them a competitive advantage.

How You Can Help

This Saturday, support your local small business. Visit and shop, dine, or whatever you can do to help them grow. Don’t forget to showcase them on social media and show everyone what your favorite local small business is doing. Keep up with Small Business Saturday on Twitter using #SmallBizSat. Business owners can also use #ShowUsYourMenu and #DineSmall to promote their own campaigns.

December Coming Attractions: Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code


Even though our thoughts right now are on family, turkey and shopping (not necessarily in that order), it’s also time to look at Coming Attractions! in December. No, not the latest holiday movies….something much more important. 

Join the movement and participate in Computer Science Education Week December 8-12 and the Hour of Code!

What is the Hour of Code?

It is a technology industry-wide campaign to get 100 million students of all ages to learn an hour of code during this year’s Computer Science Education Awareness week, December 8-14, 2014. – a nonprofit of which Microsoft is a founding partner – is organizing the effort. The campaign aims to give students a taste of computer science ideas and tools, demonstrate to parents, teachers, and policymakers how accessible learning coding can be, and drive demand for expanded computer science courses and activities in schools. Please see to learn more about the campaign.

How is Microsoft Involved?

Microsoft is supporting with significant financial resources and volunteer leadership because we share the same goal that all kids should have the opportunity to learn computer science in high school. This effort is part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative – our company-wide commitment to create opportunities for youth that empower them to imagine and realize their potential. We are encouraging our Microsoft offices, stores and nonprofit partners to host events; asking employees to volunteer to teach; and driving awareness through our digital and social media channels.

How Do I Get Involved in the Hour of Code?

We encourage you to make sure all of the youth you reach have an opportunity to learn an Hour of Code! has curated a variety of hour-long tutorials for anybody to try on the website. Microsoft’s TouchDevelop, Kodu, Windows App Studio and Small Basic have created terrific tutorials and can be found on Microsoft’s Hour of Code curated website at These sites are open to anyone-parents, teachers, community groups and of course students. Participants can complete the tutorials with computers, tablets, smartphones, and some with no computers at all.   There are also “how-to” guides for volunteers, parents, schools, etc. at

Chicago was a rock star last year on the Hour of Code “Leaders Board”. There already are a wide range of activities planned and we aim to be #1 City that Codes in 2014!

Here is a small sample of some of the groups which are participating — join the movement!

  • Chicago Public Schools has a wide array of programs planned across the city. Plus, with computer science now part of CPS’s core curriculum, every student has a chance to be the next great programmer. Join @ChiPubSchools on Twitter and check events with your local school.
  • Englewood Codes is going to be in a different Englewood school each day of Computer Science Education Week doing Hour of Code programming. Check out @citizendrummer.
  • The Museum of Science and Industry, in partnership with Microsoft, is running 3 Hour of Code sessions on Saturday, December 6th to kick off Computer Science Week. Check out
  • @BLUE1647 in Pilsen will be running a series of coding sessions during the week.
  • @MSFTChicago will be hosting sessions at our Microsoft Technology Center. Contact Mary Monroy-Spampinato at if you are interested.
  • You can watch an on-demand training on how to run an Hour of Code event at
  • Microsoft Retail Stores in Chicago, Oak Brook and Schaumberg will be running several classes at all Retail Stores throughout the week-for free! Young developers can jumpstart their futures and participate in 2014 Hour of Code though our YouthSpark Field Trip program as well as coding workshops during CS Education Week.
  • YOUmedia is coding, too! Join YOUmedia at the Harold Washington Library Center for Hour of Code and participate in a series of activities such as the digital collage poem, programming LED lights, a live-stream Hack and Slash, and more! Sign up by calling (312) 747-4960 or tweet them at @youmediachicago.

Remember, anybody can learn coding— everyone starts somewhere, and coding gives you the power to create with technology, not just use it. As we have discussed, these skills are critical to success in the 21st century economy. So burn off some of those Thanksgiving day calories and learn to code — you can even start now with Hour of Code’s current Angry Birds and Frozen programs!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Chicago is a City of Neighborhoods

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood (and there are more than 200) has a distinct culture, character, and vibe. They also have varying levels of digital assets and a population that may embrace technology to a greater or lesser extent. We had the good fortune this week to take a tour of some key city neighborhoods doing interesting things around bringing digital literacy to their citizens. It is clear that the tech movement is taking hold in Chicago’s neighborhoods. The tour was led by Laura Williams of World Business Chicago who took us to 4 neighborhoods who used a variety of approaches to this challenge, each reflecting its community’s unique attributes and assets.


This tour started in Englewood. Englewood is a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, and one whose name Chicago: A City of Neighborhoodsappears in the news quite a bit. The news pieces that report on violence in this area do not show the full picture, and is certainly not representative of the positive momentum that has been built. There is the full spectrum of community-led engagement working to bring economic development, housing, quality education, and healthy living to Englewood and the surrounding communities. Teamwork Englewood is a partner that is a catalyst and focal point for these activities.

We visited a FamilyNet Center, which is part of the Center for Working Families. Located at a city college (Kennedy-King College), this is positioned as an “online entry point” for Englewood’s residents. Perry Gunn and Clarence Hogan spoke to how this community facility is staffed by career Chicago: A City of Neighborhoodscounselors to help residents land a job, and a retention counselor to help them retain those jobs by building the foundational tech skills.

Tech Organizer Demond Drummer has built a number of programs that influenced public policy as much as it did citizen digital literacy. Englewood Codes has taught teens to learn competitive skills around web development, design, and coding. The Englewood Portal helps residents find services, job prospects, and community news. And LargeLots was successful in not only simplifying land ownership, it influenced public policy. And the list continues.


We then moved on to Pilsen, a neighborhood on Chicago’s lower west side. Manufacturing jobs brought thousands of immigrants to this area in the 1870s. In the middle to late part of the 20th century Pilsen saw varying degrees of decline and crime. Today, a largelChicago: A City of Neighborhoodsy Latino neighborhood, Pilsen prides itself on its colorful street murals as much as its amazing food. We visited (my second time) a community organization called The Resurrection Project (TRP). TRP is a neighborhood organization that works on education, organizing and community development. They have been working tirelessly since 1990 to turn Pilsen into the vibrant and thriving community that it is today.

Pilsen’s transformation can be summed up thus:

When I used to tell people I lived in Pilsen, their response was something along the lines of “I’m sorry.” Now they say, “Pilsen, there are some cool things happening over there.”

Chicago: A City of NeighborhoodsCool things, indeed. We looked at TRP’s Smart Communities plan, where they envision a tech ecosystem that expands beyond tech. Rather, it uses tech as the foundation for workforce development, the arts, culture, and commerce.   It represents a balance between building a forward thinking base of digitally savvy residents, a sustainable community, and cultural preservation. The plan includes broadband access along the portal main commercial corridors, tech kiosks and connection centers around the neighborhood, and a portal that serves as a focal point for it all.

Being a predominantly Latino neighborhood, TRP has taken care to take into an account a large immigrant community. Chicago: A City of NeighborhoodsThe portal is in Spanish and English, as is much of their programming. They have special Skype access points to facilitate communication with friends and family outside of the US. And the list continues. They also recognize that they have a large number of creative residents. To that end, they are leveraging the technology in their portal to become a platform for citizen writers, journalists, and poets. This is the perfect example of leveraging tech to highlight your existing assets.

Little Village

The residents of Little Village call it the “Mexico of the Midwest.” I remember about 10 years ago participating in a run that went through Little Village, and it lived up to its name with older men cooking chicken on grills on the street, and the sounds of mariachi music welcoming the runners.

The focal point of digital literacy for Little Village is their public library branch. They are currently housing a traveling Mini Maker Lab, where residents can experience digital design, fabrication, robotics, and coding. In addition to using Chicago: A City of Neighborhoodsthe 3D printers, vinyl cutters, and Microsoft Kinect 3D cameras, library patrons can take workshops that take them from never being in a maker space to building 3D objects and doing robotics programming. The idea is to make every leading-edge technology accessible to everyone, as well as building learning communities.

The point here is to get residents exposed to science and engineering concepts. They can explore, at no or little cost, digital design and advanced manufacturing in a fun and nurturing environment. As we were told, it gives them the ability to connect with Chicago’s informal “maker ecosystem,” as well as more formal spaces like the Chicago City Colleges Advanced Manufacturing curricula.


Chicago: A City of NeighborhoodsThen we were off to the Harold Washington Library downtown. We were met there by my friend, Library Commissioner Brian Bannon. Brian is young, smart, energetic, and very emblematic of what we have come to see as the new crop of public servants in urban areas. He honed his craft building the digital and technology strategy for the San Francisco Public Library, as well as leading the design and construction process the largest capital improvement program in the history of the SF library system.

At Harold Washington, we visited the YOUmedia labs. The YOUmedia program thinks about how to support youth learning by leveraging digital media. According to First Deputy Commissioner for CPL Andrea Saenz, it starts with the understanding that teens need to have regular access to digital technology. As chief of staff to the Chicago Public Schools prior to coming to the library, she knows a thing or two about how to engage youth. Since digital technology is such a broad term, she understands that you need a variety of tools for students to access and tap into. To that end, YOUmedia includes spaces that are designed for video production, audio production, design spaces, and the like. YOUmedia has become a national model for what is known as Connected Learning.

The CPL is not only focused on teens. We also visited the Computer Commons, which gives everyone access to the internet and Microsoft Office tools. We saw 133 public access computers, and everyone seemed to be occupied. Brian told us that these access areas, open every day of the week, serve out 400,000 sessions per year.Chicago: A City of Neighborhoods In addition, the library has digital coaches called CyberNavigators. CyberNavigators are available to residents for one-to-one coaching. They assist people in everything from how to use a mouse and a keyboard to building a resume using Microsoft Word.

And that is just four examples of a fraction of what is being done in four parts of the city. We are at the cusp of a transformation of the digital landscape of Chicago, where we can take the best of what each of these neighborhoods is doing and scale it out with coordinated and aligned investments and programs across the city. It is a truly amazing time to be here and to be part of it.

The Intersection of Art, Design, and Data

Last week, we were fortunate to host Bo Rodda at the Chicago City Data Users Group. This group has members with a broad and varying set of interests around how to effectively use government data in their various endeavors and areas of expertise. So it makes perfect sense that we hear from someone who is uniquely qualified to talk about an aspect of the use of government data (and any data, for that matter) that is sometimes taken for granted: design.

The title of Bo’s talk was The Intersection of Art, Design, and Data.   This could also be the title of Bo’s biography. He has an ample art side of his brain. He teaches architecture and design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in fact some of his students were in attendance. Bo is also co-owner of a think tank/design studio where you can see such exhibits as the UnFolding Chair and the Boolean Lamp.

To leverage the data side of his brain, he is a research fellow at the University of Chicago’s Urban Center for Computation and Data. And for the last four years or so, he has been a Building Intelligence and Energy Efficiency Specialist at Argonne National Laboratory. In his spare time, he worked on the City of Big Data exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (do not miss this if you are in Chicago).

To bring his two brain-halves together, he is involved in projects like the Data Visualization Collaborative course. This is where the power of art, design, and data come together. It takes faculty from Northwestern University’s Engineering department, brings them together with a cohort of School of Art Institute of Chicago faculty (artists, architects, performance artists), and has them work on collaborative project. The project culminates in an art show.

Given that background, it is natural that he was able to inspire a group of data-focused folks to start thinking about design. He gave examples of classic design objects, interesting problem sets where data can be applied (including energy usage at Argonne National Labs), and lots and lots of very cool data visualizations.

But I locked in on something that he said, almost in passing. Bo notes in his talk (which you can see here) that “the interesting thing about data is that it doesn’t mean anything to anybody until you show them what is going on”. I may be reading some of Bo’s personality and background into this statement, but this speaks to more than just interesting data visualizations. It speaks to design. Design matters.

I have heard it said that “good design” equals “easy to use and understand”; Poor design” = “a difficult experience”. I now understand that this is an over simplification. Design, the way Bo spoke of it, takes into account all of the potential users, and the way that those users are likely to use whatever it is that you are building[i] .

Think back to that UnFolding chair.   The thing is made in solid bronze and must weigh 100 lbs. It can’t be folded, and it can’t be stacked on top of other chairs. It sells for $4,800, not $19. What is the value of that?

The Intersection of Art, Design, and Data

To answer that question, you have to think of all of the users, and all of the potential uses. Bo jokingly remarked that it is great to save a space to park your car that you have shoveled out of the snow. And he is right. That is one user. Another user would be someone interested in it as sculptural art. Another user might want it to lean on. Etc.

Data visualization and design can be thought of in the same way. The subtext that I took away from Bo was that to assign meaning to data means connecting with the user. To connect with the user means to understand who the user is and how that user might potentially leverage the data. Once you can identify the users and the uses, then you can “show them what’s going on”. This is where art, design, and data intersect.

[i] For more on this topic, check out this great article in Civic Quarterly:

Bunker Incubator: Honoring Veterans Year-Round

Today, and every day, we thank our veterans for their service. Veteran’s Day is the perfect opportunity to highlight ways to help our servicemen and women. By 2020, around a million veterans will make the difficult transition back to civilian life. After months to years of service in leadership positions, it is difficult for veterans to enter employee roles. That’s where programs like 1871’s Bunker Incubator step in.

The Bunker Incubator is a product of 1871 Chicago and is now expanding into seven other cities. Moving to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Austin, Texas; and Tacoma, Wash., the Bunker hopes to help veterans on a more national level. Run by CEO Todd Connor, an Operation Iraqi Freedom Navy veteran, the Bunker supports veteran-run startups and helps new veterans secure careers with these startups. Veterans in the Bunker Incubator know how to embrace the mission of civic technology: they recognize civic problems and take charge with strength and leadership to secure that they’re fixed. That’s the spirit of a veteran, and that’s what startups need to thrive.

This year for Veterans Day we want to thank the Bunker for serving the men and women who’ve served us so selflessly.

Read more on the Bunker Incubator: via ABC7Chicago.

Lake View High School Parent Open House Celebrates STEM Education

Lake View High School Parent Open House Celebrates STEM EducationOur mission in civic engagement includes a heavy involvement in our future, and that starts with our children. Chicago is filled with bright, eager, and passionate students who care about things that matter to both the city and the world. That’s why we support schools that promote STEM education — schools like Lake View High (LVHS).

LVHS focuses on STEM through Computer Science, Design Thinking, and Project-Based Learning programs, encouraging their students to pursue college programs and careers in the STEM field. Together with LVHS, we seek to close an opportunity divide. By empowering students through STEM/STEAM education, we can inspire students to become innovative, entrepreneurial, and focused on careers that help our city (and our world) thrive. Along with 4 other Early College STEM Schools, LVHS received a shout out from Mayor Rahm Emanuel at last month’s Microsoft Ignite press conference:

“It is one of the unique schools in the city of Chicago for STEM education that goes from 9th grade all the way through into college.”

The first place students gain inspiration in their education is at home. And it’s important for parents throughout Chicago to understand how 21st century skills learned through programs like those at Lake View HS will help ensure their children’s success. That’s why we joined Lake View High School for their Parent Open House on November 1st to celebrate STEM education. Together with Principal Scott Grens, and Assistant Principal Angela Newton, we provided an interactive display of the latest technology and top programs. Our team of volunteers spoke with parents who embody the STEM spirit and wanted to learn more about the curriculum. The Open House included STEM tutorials, a Microsoft product showcase, and, best of all, parents (and students) wholeheartedly invested in the value of STEM education. About 200 parents and students spent time in the Microsoft room to chat with us, visit our device bar, and to explore our Kinect demo. Thank you to all of those who stopped by and showed us why our partnership with Lake View High School matters.

Take a look at some of our photos from the event and be sure to share them with parents and students alike: