The Pace of Progress

My first job at 14 years old was working at a family-owned franchise root beer and burger stand. Stewart’s Root Beer was iconic at the Jersey shore. It was a 50’s style drive-in.

When you started at Stewart’s, you were stationed at the fryers. It was the lowest job on the totem pole. You had to endure the hot (un-airconditioned) kitchen for long shifts in front of the fryers. I remember my face, hair, and white uniform and apron was filled with grease when I left for home after those long shifts. Disgusting.

But that part-time job, even at minimum wage ($2/hr), paid for a full year’s tuition at the local Catholic High School. I saved all summer, and was able to pay for my tuition and a 10-speed bike.

Of course, in those days social mobility existed, and kids like me knew Stewart’s wasn’t a career. It was an entrée into the workforce. Almost all the kids I knew took part-time jobs. Many of them worked on the Seaside boardwalk.

I am conflicted about this pace of progress. Spending my career in technology adds more weight to my angst. Experts predict 80% of today’s restaurant workers will be replaced by robots.

According to recent data, the majority of fast-food workers are women. And the average age is not 14; it’s 28. There are three and a half million people employed in fast food restaurants.

Now, in my golden years, I make no excuse for taking full advantage of my in-home robot services (Siri, Alexa) to turn on my lights, play my podcasts, tell me the news, and create my grocery list.

Acknowledging that technology and globalization are the fundamental drivers for income inequality, I do find myself wondering (worrying about) what will happen to those at the bottom of the income scale who have no social mobility options.

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?  


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.  



My Next Adventure: Big Mountain Data

YesAllWomen.006The week before I left for New York to witness my daughter getting married in Central Park and attend the Personal Democracy Forum, I was struck by the  #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag campaign that highlighted stories of misogyny and violence against women. I wrote about it on this blog. It was essentially the SCALE of the problem that got me started thinking about big data.  I was introduced to big data concepts by my old boss, Erik Huddleston.  Erik is now CEO at Trendkite here in Austin.  I had in the back of my mind an idea that big data could be leveraged somehow to solve the intractable problems that continue to plague society in the form of family abuse.  I had begun talking to people in the field about working in this area.  As a survivor (I prefer the word “escapee”) of domestic violence, I have always been interested in developments in the field.   As an aside, women who’ve left and are successful generally don’t reveal they were once in an abusive relationship.  Society still brands these women weak, less-than, and of questionable character.  It’s disgraceful, yet I can see easily how women don’t want to be associated with that stigma.  Nonetheless, I’ve paid attention to developments in the field of domestic violence, but never really saw anything that was truly break-through.

After I’d spoken to a few more experts in the field, I asked Erik to meet with me to discuss whether this might be an area where big data/data science could make some headway. We met for drinks on August 13, 2014. It was Erik that flipped the focus for me.  He loved the idea, but said to focus on the offenders.  The more I thought about it, I realized he was onto a big idea.  If one out of every four women experiences violence in her lifetime, then the numbers are equally staggering on the flip side of that equation.   You might even say that 1 out of every 4 men is then a violent abuser.  My sense is that’s probably not true.  One repeat offender will go on to abuse many women in his lifetime.  But, who are these offenders? What are the patterns in the data?  What can we learn about these men? How can we use this data to inform law enforcement, the courts, legislators?  Further, in the meetings and interviews I had with domestic violence experts, two things became increasingly clear: 1.) there was not enough evidence-based outcomes data available to satisfy funding source donors and 2.) most attempts to rehabilitate or identify repeat offenders have failed.

Hence, Big Mountain Data, became a thing.

The universe conveniently intervened on my behalf prior to naming the business (see name explanation below).  As I said, as someone who has paid attention to the field of domestic violence, one day in July on my Facebook news feed, I noted the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence unceremoniously announced the “resignation” of its longtime Executive Director, Rita Smith.   I immediately reached out to Rita, acknowledging that she was now a free agent, and asked her if she’d be interested in advising my little startup.  I was thrilled that she agreed, and I began having conversations and email exchanges with her.  When the Ray Rice NFL scandal erupted in early September, Rita was named as one of the experts on domestic violence that would be advising Roger Goodell and his team.  (Wow!  Good for Rita!)

Of course, this was good for Big Mountain Data too.  I immediately seized upon a big data-inspired idea and built a world-class team for a project that will have great implications in the field if we secure a sponsor for it. Hopefully, this sponsor will be the NFL, but any sponsor is welcome.  So, we have our first project that is still progressing as I write this.

I’m particularly pleased to be working on this business with my talented daughter, Lisa. We both have a long history with the ravages of what domestic violence can do to a family. It’s difficult for both of us to work on this, but what we lack in expertise in the field, we possess in first-hand experience which maybe trumps degrees and certifications. As I like to say, we have skin in the game.

Why Big Mountain Data?

Big Mountain Data logo

My sense is there are already mountains and mountains of data collected in the intimate partner violence (IPV) and abuse field. In my research, I’ve seen a lot of this data locked up in PDFs and reports that get distributed around the field, but I’ve not seen an open data source where all interested parties could have access to data files in many formats for reuse and remix.  If I learned anything at the Personal Democracy Forum, it’s that civic hackers need to have easy access to data in standard formats to do their magic.

As it turns out, there is a conference in Utah called, you guessed it, Big Mountain Data Conference.  It draws scores of data scientists and developers, so I’m hopeful I can make a connection there and find some recruits to work on our projects.  I’ve also reached out to Bayes Impact, an awesome data science for social good YC startup that does exceptional work for a great price. I was fortunate to buy the company domain from Jon Clayton, an Internet solutions provider, who now hosts I’ve also been in touch here in Austin with David Waldron who runs the ATX Hack for Change every summer as part of the Obama administration’s national day of civic hacking.  Dave has been wonderfully supportive and encouraged me to submit a project for the next hackathon.  I’ll also be attending SAP’s TechEd this month where I will be leaning on my SAP friends to see how I might be able to enlist some talent within SAP’s large civic hacker developer network.

What’s Next?

I have a couple projects in the works, including the project we are pitching to the NFL now.  I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to, well, customers.  Customers in this sense means organizations who’d be willing to pay for services where data science can solve a problem or provide unique insights.  On my list have been women’s shelters, domestic violence experts, law enforcement, academics, and think tanks.  I’m hoping now that I’m announcing what I’m up to, I can start reaching out to my contacts I have in the open data / opengov and civic hacking communities to understand the dynamics of working with them.

So It’s a journey. A new chapter for me. I’m asking all my friends, fans, followers, even my hatrs to get behind this new venture and offer any assists you can within your networks or capabilities.  I will probably try to get some startup social impact funding too as I get closer to identifying specific use cases for the business.  So, any ideas along those lines or contacts is equally beneficial.  To my friends whom I’ve already spoken to about this, including my amazing and heroic partners and members at Change Agents Worldwide, thank you so much for your support.  I will do my best to make a difference in this new area. You can count on it.

If you want to keep up to date on what I’m doing, I won’t be chronicling our progress on a blog. I’m going to use an email newsletter to send detailed updates on what we’re doing. Please subscribe if you’re interested in this work and our mission.