Yes Virginia, There is a Universe

paintingIt was the strangest thing.

I was walking downtown in Orlando to present to a local Meetup of Data Scientists about Big Mountain Data. I had just arrived in Florida two months before from Texas.

It was early evening, and I was running late. As I briskly walked past an art gallery, I glanced to my left and there she was: “The Girl.”

I literally felt the image pull me toward her.

I “saw” her.

It stopped me in my tracks. I thought to myself, “This is the woman I’m working for.”

That night I even mentioned it on Facebook. The experienced stayed with me.

I was thinking about this piece of art this week, as Big Mountain Data is turning a corner in 2017.  The past two years have been rewarding, and I’m more hopeful than ever that we are on the brink of creating something truly meaningful.  My mind drifted to this piece of art.  When I saw it in the gallery, she had a hefty price tag, but I was thinking I might be able to afford this in 2017 somehow.

So, yesterday, I started doing some image searches from the photo I had posted  on Facebook.  I found the artist, and discovered she was a local.  She had a Facebook page, so I inquired if the piece was still available.  An assistant replied within minutes, and said she’d check.  The artist, Pamela Loudon, responded to me herself with an affirmative and asked me to contact her about it.

I thought about it and decided to tell her the odd story about how the piece “spoke” to me that night in downtown Orlando.  I told her what I do, and that I felt a strong connection to this work:

“I saw your piece walking past an Orlando gallery downtown. It was the evening of April 23, 2015. I was on my way to present to the Orlando Data Science Meet-up (a group of nerdy developers and data scientists). The artwork stuck with me.  It is something about the way the woman is fractured, kind of has a black eye, yet is surrounded with vivid color.  I felt a connection to the piece in a way I had never had a connection to a piece of art.”

Pam called me within moments of reading my email.  She had just returned from being out of the country for many months.

She said, “This is very strange.” She told me the history about this particular piece. That she was walking up a hill in Marseille, France and “The Girl” was pasted in burlap to a wall and a group of men were tearing her down.  She was moved by the work and told the men to STOP.  She pieced her together in her studio and started applying color.  She told me she felt this woman represented all women who are “torn off the wall by men.”

Long story short, as a traveling photographer and digital artist, Pam has visited places and witnessed events (including Nicole Simpson’s house in Brentwood) where women were abused horribly.  She told me that this piece was her first experience of how “spirited stuff” can find its way into art.

I always tell people that bizarre events happen all the time for me since I’ve been working on Big Mountain Data.  Coincidences and things that cannot be rationally explained.  Pam said, “You have to be open to the universe.”

I told her, I am.  I am.

The good news is she agreed to sell me the artwork at a price and payment plan I can afford.  She is happy “The Girl” is going to someone who truly appreciates her and will use her eery power in a way that will empower women everywhere.

Thank you Pam, and you out there in the cosmos working for us.

I Wrote a Song for My Startup

Okay, maybe not exactly original.  Readers of this blog may not have been alive when this song was recorded or popular, so maybe I can get away with it.

My last post was a poetic, meandering bit of self-reflection about how selfish it was for me to pursue a line of work that could negatively impact the people I love the most.

Well, sorry kids.  I can’t do it.  I’m addicted to this work.

Every day, there’s another death. There’s another reason to keep going.  I realize I’m starting over, reinventing myself at the bottom of a low-paying field, yet all arguments to give up fall away in the face of the opportunity to make a real dent in this particular universe. So, I’m continuing.  I took a pause, but that was about it.  I grabbed those bootstraps and yanked harder.

Good news is coming.  I promise.  Stay tuned.

News flash: it’s not about the money.

(But, you know, we do need that to survive… so, I encourage your support.)

 

Big Mountain Data Heads to San Francisco!

Rocky Mountains

Big Mountain Data heads West to participate in a world-class Hackathon

At Big Mountain Data, we believe that we can scrutinize the big data that surrounds the phenomenon of domestic violence and family abuse to find answers to solving this hidden-in-plain-sight national tragedy. With domestic violence affecting 75 women every hour, you have big data. It’s a problem at scale.  One comment we hear consistently when we’re talking to people in the field – at every level and type of organization – is that the data is a mess, so it’s hard to tell what’s working and what’s not in the fight against domestic violence.

September’s media circus associated with the NFL Ray Rice scandal, highlighted many experts and programs around the country.  In a 5-second clip on ABC’s This Week, I discovered Police Chief Marty Sumner of High Point, NC who said:

“In the five years before we began this [program], we had 17 domestic-related homicides.  In the five years since, we’ve had only one.”  – Marty Sumner, Chief of Police, High Point  N.C.

I listened to the clip again and again.  WHAT the HELL were they doing to put up results like that?  I had to find out.

So, I wrote to them.

I received a wonderful response from the department that included two downloadable PDFs that explained High Point’s offender-focused deterrence program.  This approach was exactly the approach we wanted to focus on – offender-based strategies.  I devoured the PDFs and did further research.  Soon enough, I had some ideas of my own how we could even improve upon what they were doing, and achieve greater exposure for their success story.

So I reached out to them again.  “Can we have a conversation?”

They liked our ideas and agreed to engage with us collaboratively in an online social network to gather ideas around projects and various initiatives. I brought in outside experts, and connected with their partners.  The first project we’re engaging on together is coming up this weekend in San Francisco.

I’m (more than) pleased to announce The High Point Police Department is now included in the inaugural Hackathon for Bayes Impact, a prestigious Y Combinator-backed nonprofit that applies Data Science for Social Good.  Our project is competing with The Gates Foundation and The White House.  How cool is that?  

challenge

We are supplying four, rich datasets for the data science teams.  We are looking for one specific insight and one more general one.  As it turns out, the officers on the ground have a hunch on some key indicators that may lead to repeat domestic violence.  I choked up when Captain Tim Ellenberger said, “If we can intervene and deter the offender at the precise moment before the first arrest is made, we can prevent the cycle of violence from ever beginning.”  The data scientists will be able to see this indicator in the data.  Our second prompt is focused on the subgroup of repeat offenders and explores internal and external datasets to see what correlations exist that may identify actionable markers.

One of my favorite flicks of all times is, “The Butterfly Effect.”  I know it’s not an award-winning film, but the notion that one could go back and correct a devastating moment in history is a fantasy every victim entertains.  Behavior does not happen in a vacuum.  There are triggers, forces, and sets of circumstances that can be analyzed as discrete data sources. What used to be considered science fiction is now possible by identifying behavioral patterns that can prevent a lifetime of harm, and can even save lives.

It’s very exciting.  If Big Mountain Data closed today and this was ALL we did, I would celebrate heartily.  But, of course this is not all we’re doing. This is day one in our #fightback strategy of preventing family violence from stealing the lives and sanity of innocent victims.  We are fighting domestic violence with math and science.

Special thanks to Ian Thorpe of the United Nations who offered the very cool prize of a private tour of the United Nations in NYC to the winning data science team.