Hi Reddit, I just released a brand new Capitol Bells - you can download it for iOS for free here.

For the last 7 months, I have been hacking Congress to provide accessibility, transparency, and engagement in the legislative process because I want to make every voice in the US count EQUALLY.

Learn more at my indiegogo campaign, and help me get Capitol Bells out on Android before Congress gets back from it's five week long summer vacation.

Verification

Edit: VOTES STARTING - for everyone who just downloaded the app :)

Edit 2 (3:00pm): I need to take a break for an hour to get a bite to eat and to fix a bug (amendment vote alerts stopped working!) I will be back to answer the rest of your questions soon. Thank you so much for all the encouragement and support! Your appreciate means a lot.

Edit: Hi Everyone, thank you so much for all the great questions, tips (thanks ednark), and comments. And thanks for checking out my app. This has been an awesome day thanks to you guys! I have to take a rest, but I'll follow up with some questions later for sure. Thanks again!

Comments: 892 • Responses: 101  • Date: 

ednark393 karma

You should get someone with a .gov email address to register your app on apps.usa.gov. It houses public app galleries for government related things. You could have it listed there. I might be able to sponsor it if you can't find anyone else. PM me if you need more info.

CapitolBells188 karma

I had no idea about that. I'll definitely look into it.

CapitolBells24 karma

I asked and I have a friend who can help who works at the office of science and technology policy!

Salacious-362 karma

Could you define the word "hacking"?

CapitolBells310 karma

In this case, I'd say gaining access to public data, both physically and programmatically, that was for all intents and purposes unavailable to the general public. And for that matter CSPAN has made deals to try to keep the data I've hacked inaccessible for their own monopolistic benefit, being the sole corporate purveyor of live congressional floor coverage.

flekkzo546 karma

Please refrain from using words such as "hack", "gain access", etc as idiots/old people/etc gets very very afraid when they hear them. They don't understand, and voila you are a commie evil terrorist monster and needs to be put to death.

It's like Batman, the hero we need, not the hero we deserve.

CapitolBells133 karma

I agree that these are sensitive terms to use. I hope that redditors here will take the time to read what I am referring to though and help get the word out that this is a tool of good, not of subversion.

Talman18 karma

Redditors aren't the problem. Right now, editors are reading your AMA and wondering if they can spin it against you for tomorrow's tech news and political blogs. Evil hacker!

CapitolBells26 karma

Ha, any press would be GREAT press as far as i'm concerned. I just want to get the word out.

Jerseywhat17 karma

No worries man, general audience way different from reddit audience.

Hack is fine, the word has moved on and it's a great way to cut through clutter.

-An app (game) developer

CapitolBells20 karma

Yeah exactly. Thanks.

m0th39 karma

Paul Graham wrote a great article on the definition of hacker: http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html

CapitolBells36 karma

I appreciate that article. Thank you. I think it's unfortunate that people think hacking has to be something negative or destructive.

franklin_stubbs13 karma

If it's public data, why does it need to be hacked?

CapitolBells32 karma

Because no one bothers making it accessible, and some people (ahem CSPAN) don't want it available anywhere else.

canadian_intransit153 karma

What has the response from Congress been to your app? Are there any Reps using it?

CapitolBells241 karma

Dozens of Reps are already using it for the vote alerts and updates because even they can't get those without physically being in the Capitol building. Actually, the Minority Whip Steny Hoyer just tweeted about it yesterday https://twitter.com/WhipHoyer/status/359729423735468032

Dear_Occupant78 karma

I just emailed my former boss about it. Pretty sure he's going to love this.

CapitolBells69 karma

Very cool. Is he a former member?

HarlequinSunshine132 karma

What is one bit of information you have "hacked" that everyone in the public should know/see?

CapitolBells380 karma

I think my most important hack is my first, getting the actual vote alerts, because that makes it effortless to keep tabs on our elected officials and gives an easy way to let them know that we are watching them. I found out that the buzzer/bell system in the Capitol office buildings were all connected by a central short range radio transmitter in the main building. Then once I confirmed that the signal itself was technically public, I set up a receiver at the same frequency and started figuring out what each signal actually meant and how it corresponded to actions taking place on the House floor. I get the data for the Senate too.

strikefire83136 karma

Can I just say: "wow that's really fucking cool.

CapitolBells67 karma

Thanks! Please share it with your friends! It's more powerful the more people we get using it.

oranggit61 karma

So, how soon before they change frequencies or implement frequency-hopping?

CapitolBells59 karma

It's more likely they'd change to a digitally networked system first. They've been on these radio signals for decades.

CDBSB54 karma

Am I the only one who thinks that this information should already be public and that you shouldn't HAVE to employ this kind of work-around? Honestly, how hard would it be for them to live feed this data to their respective websites?

CapitolBells39 karma

I totally agree. It's absurd. I am been asking them to make this easier to access and others have too.

seldomsimple14 karma

Who votes for what is public record. This streamlines it so you can be lazy. Now people who have no idea what's going on in politics will have more access to data they don't know what to do with and will use it for their own purposes.

Needless to say, the Tea Party will love it.

CapitolBells40 karma

I hope they will. I hope everyone who wants a voice in our republic likes it.

mastigia22 karma

You should post this in response to those in the top thread comments who were not pleased with your use of the word "hack" to describe your activities.

And you are fuckin awesome btw.

CapitolBells24 karma

Thank you. I get the irritation at using the word "hacking" and the liability there, but I think that it is also a word with some strong implications that are relevant to this discussion of representation in congress. To me it really feels like Congress is something that is so broken that something extreme needs to be done to get it back on the right track.

mastigia46 karma

You are acquiring and repurposing signals...from congress, and it is immediately useful. If that isn't a glorious form of hacking then I quit.

When I saw your post I thought you meant it in the way that Lifehacker uses the word, which you do. But then reading on, you are also literally hacking their system in a very traditional manner. It is a wonderful double entendre, reddit has just had like zero sense of humor lately. It is like an echo chamber of screaming infected vaginas, I have no idea what is going on.

All that said, we are rapidly approaching conditions where what you do will get you quietly put in jail. Where any form of organized internet activities and public interest in the ruling bodies will be regarded as conspiracy and collusion against the state. Right now the crazy people are starting to sound sane and that is scary as hell. Be careful out there and thank you.

CapitolBells10 karma

Ha glad to see someone appreciates (poor) play on words.

On the bright side, a lot of Members of Congress have been supportive of this project, and I don't think I'm making any enemies so far - except for maybe with C-SPAN.

ideadude6 karma

That's way cool. There should be a documentary about you.

CapitolBells15 karma

Heh, that might be a pretty boring documentary! I haven't led a vey exciting life - I spend too much time sitting around thinking or zoning out playing games.

Dear_Occupant1 karma

So now the whole country has to learn that insufferable bell and light system. As a former House staffer myself, I don't know whether or not I like this idea. I knew people who had been on the Hill for years and they still hadn't figured it out.

CapitolBells2 karma

Lol, no one has to learn it - the english translation appears to the left of the lights.

trackerbishop-35 karma

Please stop misusing the term "hacked" - it sounds incredibly stupid.

CapitolBells1 karma

Sarahsmydog56 karma

What are the implications of such an application? How will it enable and allow the public to be more active and engaged in congressional activity?

EDIT: Spelling

CapitolBells126 karma

You'll get an alert when Congress starts to vote, so you don't need to remember to check up on them.

Then you can review the bills they are voting on if you need to, or immediately upvote and downvote them, like on reddit, instantly creating an anonymous, visible record of your position.

You can also tap the bill number/title to follow the hashtag on the bill to a conversation about it on twitter.

Sarahsmydog38 karma

Wow man that's awesome. How did you come up with this and how likely do you think it is congress will vote more along the lines of their constituents knowing that information is so easily attainable?

CapitolBells114 karma

When I was working in Congress, I became very frustrated that it seemed like Members weren't really accountable to their constituents - the effort more was to mollify them. Everyone who came into the offices to have their voice heard were lobbyists, advocates from interest groups, corporate representatives, other members, unions, etc. I felt like there has to be a better way to hold Members accountable to their constituents in a way where anyone one person's opinion didn't weigh more than any other's. When I stumbled upon the radio controlled clocks, I had an epiphany.

As more people use Capitol Bells (or something better if it comes along), it will create a political liability that Members are forced to pay attention to. If a congresswoman has a large percentage of her district voting on Capitol Bells, and she consistently voted against positions, you can imagine a lot of unhappy voters who see that record, and headlines showing that Congresswoman SoandSo is only representing you 10% of the time.

abnerg28 karma

Is there a way to validate that you are indeed a constituent of said congresscritter?

CapitolBells54 karma

It's in your interest to choose your own district. I only let you change your district a few times before locking you into one (with a warning first), so you'll want to stick with what's relevant to you.

For emphasis, even when you use your congressman's website, he can't really verify that you are his constituent - sometimes he just asks for an email, but even if he asks for a physical address you can easily just google map one to use, but why waste your time? Some people do waste their time sending mail to tons of Members claiming to be a constituent - which is useless. But with my app you only get to cast your vote to one district per bill even if you haven't been locked into a district yet.

legalbeagle514 karma

I would like to point out that for city residents like myself, I move relatively frequently (every 2-3 years). So what is the lock rate? My reps can change rather often depending on where I move.

CapitolBells3 karma

I used to live in NYC, so I know exactly what you mean, and I had that in mind. For now you get 4 shots at it.

shaggorama13 karma

Then you can review the bills they are voting on if you need to, or immediately upvote and downvote them, like on reddit, instantly creating an anonymous, visible record of your position.

You're basically inviting lobbyists to abuse this if it seems like the app catches on with actual congressmen (which it sounds like it has the potential to). Do you have any plans to mitigate the potential "popularity gaming" that might happen to these bills?

CapitolBells29 karma

Au contraire. A lobbyist's vote is worth no more than your vote. I hope lobbyists use it too, but they'll be on the same playing field as everyone else - 1 person 1 vote.

wikiwikiwow13 karma

What is in place to prevent registering multiple accounts? While very lame, this is a common tactic to game voting systems.

CapitolBells15 karma

Only one account per device - and I'd like to make it a little more restrictive going forward.

ThikMcLargehuge47 karma

This is a very interesting idea! I applaud you on your creativity, industry, and intent; but I worry.

Legislation that comes before the house is so long, often hundreds of pages of text. Most users voting with the app won't read the whole bill. We have all heard about congressmen slipping in unrelated things into bills that are going to pass, or even naming bills things that don't reflect what the bill actually does and just sounds catchy (e.g. "Patriot Act").

I am worried that widespread adoption of a system like this would put even more power in the hands of big media marketing individual bills, naming bills positive things to get more people to vote for them, and simultaneously take power away from elected representatives who vote against otherwise nice-sounding legislation because of the dirty politics buried in the details, since now they would have to deal with the backlash of voting against their constituents, who have been drawn to the surface rationale of the bill.

What do you think about this notion?

CapitolBells51 karma

This is something I have thought a lot about to, but I have come to the conclusion to treat Capitol Bells' users like adults. This system of live voting notifications gives you and me the exact same amount of time to learn everything we can about the bills being voted on as our elected Representatives have. To help divert reliance away from mass media, Capitol Bells is integrated with twitter - you can tap on the bill titles (HR 999) to go straight to that twitter hashtag and see what people are saying about it. And I'm linking to all the official information available on it at Congress.gov.

ForeverUntoned14 karma

But don't they have staffers to read the bills for them and give them summaries? I am a slow reader and I am not paying myself with others' taxes to read these bills so where can I find the time?

How long do they normally have if we are being "allowed the same time" to learn about the bills?

CapitolBells21 karma

From the time the bill was introduced to Congress to the time its taken to a vote - that can be months or it can be days. Each case is unique. I do hope that the bill title linking to twitter will help us crowd source perspectives on these bill since we dont have our own staffers to study them.

Cyberneticube7 karma

So can people outside of USA vote "under the radar" ?

CapitolBells4 karma

The app is only accessible from the US app store. Later I could add measures to prevent it from being used outside the US, but that could open a bag of worms.

maxmaus45 karma

What are your personal feelings on the transparency (or lack of) in the United States govt?

CapitolBells96 karma

Especially in terms of democracy, knowledge is power. That's why with the rise of the information age we're starting to turn the tide on many issues that have long been unjust, like marriage equality and cannabis regulation. It's a lot harder for the government to claim cannabis is a destructive substance more dangerous than alcohol, nicotine, and even heroin, when the data and research are visible to everyone.

It's the same reason I added virtual voting to Capitol Bells that are always visible. Public opinion at the district level is almost entirely opaque on most issues Congress weighs in on. I bet your Member of Congress never publishes how many calls he gets in support of and against any bill he votes on. By getting people to participate and making that data publish, they can't avoid being accountable to us.

player_manager23 karma

According to former NSA chief Michael Hayden, when a culture considers transparency a virtue it becomes an existential threat to it's own security. What do you make of that nonsense?

CapitolBells62 karma

Sounds like a shill, shilling for his own interest.

maxmaus16 karma

Following up, do you see information transparency as a left issue, a right issue, or just an issue?

Also, would you like to eventually see Capitol Bells as a platform (or perhaps catalyst?) for social change? Like, is that your final goal?

CapitolBells66 karma

I see it as a democratic issue and as a justice issue. Without information transparency, how can we know that the decisions our elected leaders are making are responsible and in our best interest? Just like in the scientific method, I want the conclusions a Representative comes to to be based on a repeatable, logical process - not to be the result of hidden data or back room dealings. For instance, why should we be putting people away for pot if we don't know it's quantitative and clinical safety profile? The reasoning behind the law, and thus the data needs to be public.

I think Capitol Bells could be a new method for implementing democracy, and it's not limited to the US Congress. The same formula of getting the alert an elected body is voting, and virtually voting just ahead of them could work just as well at the state and local level, as well as in other democratic nations. It enables us to publicly (but anonymously) record our positions at a granular, local level. That in turn creates a performance metric to compare any individual Representatives official actions to, which could bite him in the ass when the next election rolls around.

kstocks34 karma

Thanks for doing this. Do you have any plans to release an android version of the app? Looks interesting but not all of us use iOS. Are you planning on covering the Senate as well?

CapitolBells54 karma

Hi kstocks, check out my indiegogo campaign to get it out on Android before Congress is back from summer vacation. I'm going mobile first, but my next step would be to build out a widget for webpages so you could participate even if you don't have a smart phone at all.

The Senate will be integrated too (I have the data for it), but I am focused on building out access to the House of Reps first since it is meant to be the people's body.

outer_isolation21 karma

Since you already have the iOS app built, why would an Android app take $20k to build? I figure you already have a platform-agnostic API you're using, and Android development is very quick. Just seems like a lot to me.

CapitolBells43 karma

I'm trying to build a more robust platform in addition to porting it to Android. I need to create a streaming database of vote records, introduced legislation, Representative profiles, and all the meta data that entails, so we can compare our votes to our members personally and at the district level, and to vote up legislation on popular issues our Members are more comfortable ignoring like on marriage equality, domestic spying, climate change, and cannabis regulation.

vna_prodigy18 karma

As a college undergraduate who doesn't have a smartphone and interested in the future of US politics, I would use that widget everyday.

CapitolBells11 karma

Cool, yeah I think it would be a great way to extend the app to an even larger portion of the country.

sdasd9a8s7dn9727 karma

Hello Ted,

First, I think Capitol Bells is a great idea. I particularly find the idea of making civic engagement "addictive" to be a key factor of success. Technological social networking is a powerful new phenomenon for society, but for it to be more than just a medium for cat photos we need to push it, to find ways to let it express the most important aspects of society. So thank you for being a part of that effort.

Questions: Do you see this being a career? Do you see a company or team forming from this? I see you are at $150 of the $20,000 goal. What happens if you don't reach your goal? Do you go on, or will Capitol Bells stagnate? Is there a money making mechanism or business model in mind?

I ask these kinds of questions not because I am worried you'll turn into some kind of evil corporation, but because I am worried you will fail, will not make enough to support yourself, and that the idea will completely halt. And this, to me, would be a shame.

Also, you obviously understand that representation on more than iOS is important, including Android and the web. I just wonder if you need help with development, and I wonder what your plan is to keep pace with a potentially fast growing idea.

Thus, my final questions: Have you considered open sourcing the project? Can the idea/app be something of the people, by the people, for the people?

Thank you for your time. Best of luck in your endeavors. I think we need you to succeed, and I hope you do.

CapitolBells11 karma

Hi name-i-wont-try-to-type. I would like this to turn into a career, yes. And if I can't raise enough money to keep doing this on indiegogo, I will look for grants, investors, or whatever else might work. That said I won't start charging for the app, and I do no want to do anything that will undermine the actual purpose of that. Otherwise, I suppose the short answer is "I don't know." I would like to open source it once I get it into a stable state.

sdasd9a8s7dn973 karma

Thank you for your response. Sounds to me like you are open minded, and prepared to explore your options. I think that's a great stance to take on a new young project which has great potential.

Best of luck to you, sir. I will considering donating later, when I can more closely look at the details.

CapitolBells3 karma

Thanks. Sharing it with your friends is also very helpful!

smoktimus_prime17 karma

How is what you're doing different from other groups like Sunlight Foundation or OpenCongress?

CapitolBells22 karma

I could not do this app without the groundwork laid by the Sunlight Foundation, pure and simple. They have a grand vision that information empowers democracy and good government, and they are 100% correct. Capitol Bells is just an extension of that ethos. We get the data, we make it accessible, then we get people engaged.

jcarbaugh36 karma

I work for Sunlight and the office was abuzz with talk of your app this morning. Really fantastic work! I'm one of the developers of the Congress for iOS app... we should talk :)

CapitolBells19 karma

No way! That's awesome. I'm always down to talk.

Dopple_Deaner13 karma

There's a lot of apps that have come out lately that promise more transparency. What's different about yours that makes it more useful to the average person?

CapitolBells19 karma

Capitol Bells is actually linked to Congress in real-time, and because it is a mobile app first, it can notify you directly like a phone call or text message will when something is happening. It's passive, s you don't need to remember to check, or rely on a reporter writing about it in the news. You get the alert, open the app, review the bills, and vote.

jjug71wupqp9igvui3616 karma

What about allowing users to vote and comment on individual sections of the bill - thereby highlighting for congressmen the parts of the bill that the public find controversial?

CapitolBells4 karma

That could be very cool! It would be a tough project too. A step toward that would be to let users vote on amendments, something I am working on.

dlmcleo113 karma

How do you feel, generally, about the current state of DC politics? Are you hopeful? Also, do you think it will ever be possible to get money out of politics?

CapitolBells23 karma

I listen to too much Kojo Nnamdi, and have to say I think DC politics are pretty filthy. I think even that popular WalMart living wage bill was just a shake down - the the City Council really believed massive companies in DC should pay a living wage, they'd write a bill that applied to all of them.

RidingTheHTrain18 karma

[deleted]

CapitolBells14 karma

HAHAHA oh wow, I'm a dufus.

CapitolBells20 karma

Money in politics isn't going to be worth as much if a Representative's decisions are forced by the public will of his constituents, like they are supposed to be.

Armando_Catastrophe12 karma

how did you hack congress without them knowing?

CapitolBells41 karma

Great question! They do know, and I've actually been making a big stink about it. It turns out all the data I'm mining is meant to be public, but CSPAN and the administrators at the Capitol haven't made any moves to actually provide access to it, so there is nothing they can legally do to stop me.

bl00dshooter12 karma

Did you have to consult a lawyer before doing this? Also, wouldn't it be safer for you to release the data anonymously?

CapitolBells32 karma

Yeah, I spoke with a few lawyers. One of them used to be a general counsel for the House of Reps, so I feel pretty confident that I'm in the clear.

esd070043 karma

Even though it's legal, do you have any reason to believe they might change their internal system to go around Capitol Bells in the future?

CapitolBells15 karma

If they change the system, it will be to make it available through a public API in which case we'll only be getting even better data.

nvoetfiv12 karma

This has the potential to make history. I admire your initiative. PLEASE don't fuck it up.

My actual question:

I'm guessing you have a grand vision for this. Is 'open source democracy' the ultimate goal?
Oh, and wouldn't this app have to reach everybody for this to work, not just the 15-35 age bracket?

CapitolBells16 karma

Yeah, it needs to get to Android, then a widget for the web, then other operating systems as necessary to make is available for as many people as possible.

Armando_Catastrophe12 karma

being a former house staffer, isn't true that members actually work during the august recess, not just take vacations? I think your member might be offended!

CapitolBells23 karma

You're right, a lot of Members work very hard over summer recess asking for money from their campaign contributors. I'm not worried about calling it like it is. Their only job is supposed to be to listen to their constituents, not to me.

cgillett4 karma

What is it like to be a congressman? What do they do when they're not on the floor? How much sleep do they get? What are the benefits of being a congressman? I ask because I want to be one.

CapitolBells12 karma

They spend a LOT of time at fundraising asking people with deep pockets for money.

cadian16th9 karma

Why isn't this getting more attention? I feel like this is MUCH more important than people seem to give it credit.

CapitolBells11 karma

My thoughts exactly yesterday morning. I sent out a bunch of requests to the press to take a look and each one fell on deaf ears. That said, I think with this tool or one like it, it is really the responsibility of the people to share it, so PLEASE share the download link with your friends (and the indiegogo campaign link if you are feeling generous - http://igg.me/at/CapitolBells/x/3921704).

maaseyracer9 karma

A serious word of caution. Be cautious of your use of the word "hack" or "hacker". I went into an investor meeting a few months back and described our data acquisition specialist as bit of hacker (which he was). That really scarred that investor and took months to repair that damage and trust to the point where he now has referred us to someone who is investing in us.

Actual "Hackers/hacktivists" may feel that you are diluting their efforts. The word has been sensationalized by the media and by pop culture.

It is not to say that everyone will react this way, but I would use other words than "hack" to describe what you have done. Especially around congress and older people.

Best of luck with the app, I just installed it and am going to start playing with it.

CapitolBells7 karma

ACtually a very good warning. I could attract the wrong kind of attention. My intentions are good though.

brianronan49 karma

Any advice for people just starting to program computers?

CapitolBells21 karma

I love Codecademy. It makes learning code addictive.

Not_A_Hipster_8 karma

Bad Luck Brian

  • Creates an amazing app to create a more informed electorate.

  • Top voted comment is a long argument about the definition of the word "hack"

CapitolBells5 karma

That's the reddit we all know and love :) Whatever gets people using it!

fat_genius8 karma

I like this. I'll contribute to your indiegogo. What are your plans for the data you'll be building of representative votes versus constituency votes? Any plans for an API so others can piggyback off this and find creative ways to make discrepancies more public (like representation report cards in the media come election season)?

Also, I noticed none of the backer levels seem to include a copy of the app when it launches, will it be free?

CapitolBells16 karma

Ah I should have made that clear. THE APP WILL ALWAYS BE FREE. It doesn't work if it's not free.

As for an API, YES. I very much hope to develop an API. I just need help getting there - it would be great to start building a real team.

thewebsitesdown8 karma

How can you assure that your program doesn't get manipulated?

CapitolBells13 karma

I have controls built in and security layers, but it's something I will have to continue to work on and monitor.

aidirector3 karma

Strike up a relationship with the reddit admin team. They have a lot of experience with vote manipulation and fighting spam, I'm sure they could offer useful insights.

CapitolBells6 karma

Wow, actually that's an incredibly smart idea. It's a long shot, but I might know someone who knows someone at reddit....

didierdoddsy7 karma

Is there any prospect of someone developing this in the UK?

CapitolBells10 karma

Hey, help me get this one rolling then I'd love to start working on one for Parliament too. http://igg.me/at/CapitolBells/x/3921704

TommyFoolery6 karma

What makes you think that providing more transparency will do any good?

In all seriousness, I'm honestly curious. If an approval rating the likes of which this country has never seen, phony scandals appearing every day, and real scandals being ignored, all haven't had an inch of impact, what makes you think this will?

This is not me trying to troll or anything. It's just been a while since I had any faith in our government, and sometimes wonder what keeps people like you (the ones fighting to good fight) going.

CapitolBells13 karma

Those approval ratings and opinion polls are never applied to individual congressmen and individual districts. This creates a record of public opinion on every bill that each own of them is personally accountable for. It won't look good for them when election time rolls around if they only voted with their constituents 10% of the time.

nivek5646 karma

there was an article on here a couple weeks ago about porting iOS apps to android.

http://www.apportable.com/

This seems to be the cheap alternative to a complete re-dev on Android. any reason you wouldn't want to do it this way?

CapitolBells5 karma

Cool, I'll check it out.

RIGHT-IS-RIGHT6 karma

If that doesn't work out, you could be Marco Rubio's doppelgänger.

CapitolBells7 karma

Ugh, Rubio.

hungryhungrhipomygod5 karma

I have a specific developer question for you, if there's a chance that you can answer it: is there a web api/interface in which I can automatically download the title and text of bills being voted on? I checked opencongress.org some months ago, but it felt absolutely impossible to see the bills that are being voted on, much less access it in an automated fashion. Thanks!

CapitolBells6 karma

With Sunlight Foundation you can see the "upcoming bills" that will be considered for the week, but you can't get the bills that are being voted on today or "right now."

ggggbabybabybaby5 karma

Your app looks like it is iOS 7 ready. Good job. :)

CapitolBells4 karma

Ha, thanks for noticing. I tried.

darkwolf2215 karma

What's up man! Cool idea. Do you have a webservice that handles everything important and just need the android front end developed? I ask because I may be able to help out. My name is Travis Cornelius and I've been developing on android for years. I teach peeps how to code on my YouTube channel mybringback. You can email me at [email protected] if you're interested. Best of luck gangsta!

CapitolBells3 karma

let's chat later!

nocomplaints5 karma

This app is brilliant! I'm loving it already. Do you have plans to create a website version also, for people without smartphones?

CapitolBells5 karma

Yeah I'd like to create a widget, but I need help getting there - http://igg.me/at/CapitolBells/x/3921704

bnmurray143 karma

Who's your favorite and least favorite Congressman?

CapitolBells4 karma

I love Henry Waxman. Brad Sherman is disappointing though.

mack2nite3 karma

Have you tried to hack Anthony's Wiener?

CapitolBells5 karma

I'm more of an explorer, to many others have been there and seen that.

RonBurgundy_says3 karma

So forgive me if I'm misunderstanding how this works, but what makes you think congresspeople are going to be looking at the feedback from the users of your app?

CapitolBells5 karma

If a significant portion of a district is on there, a congressman would be ignoring users in his district at his own peril because we will be creating a record of how often he voted with the district and how often he voted against. And with the additions I am adding you will be able to see personally how often he represented you by comparing your votes to his - http://igg.me/at/CapitolBells/x/3921704

heyiknowstuff3 karma

How have other staffers reacted to your "hacking?" Have you lost your contacts on the hill or have you noticed most don't care/support you?

Also, this Capital Bells app is so fucking useful, god damn. So much easier then having to watch votes.

CapitolBells6 karma

The reception to the app on the Hill has actually been overwhelmingly positive, even House leaders have been supportive - https://twitter.com/WhipHoyer/status/359729423735468032

SnapeWho3 karma

How does one go about getting a job in the House?

CapitolBells3 karma

Intern (indentured servitude) for a while or have a connection.

shaggorama3 karma

You said you're picking up radio transimissions from the capital. I'm guessing this means you live nearby. How will you ensure that your app will continue to operate in the event that you move? Or are these radio transmissions something you're able to pick up from pretty far away (i.e. do they get relayed around)?

CapitolBells3 karma

You are right, I need to be within a few miles of the Capitol to get them. I am hoping to raise enough money and support to keep this project growing and ongoing - and always free.

carraway3 karma

Regarding governmental transparency, what existing companies/apps out there do you find interesting? Are there examples of tools or services that actually help citizens get heard?

Full disclosure: I work at SeeClickFix, which deals in 311 transparency.

CapitolBells5 karma

Honestly, this is my first foray into transparency app making. I know there are a lot of great tools cropping up for local level for oversight- like Optigov.com - but the tools out there for Congress and for getting voices hear are ineffective - like popvox, for instance.

The best tool for having our voices heard now is probably just twitter, but it's not focused enough or quantitative enough.

Pablo_Smash3 karma

Are you ever able to get dates when you call yourself a gamer?

CapitolBells5 karma

Haha, sometimes it's best to keep it under wraps until you have them hooked!

Jerseywhat3 karma

This is awesome and you are awesome, but I have to ask: what about the root?

37% vote in congressioninal elections in non-Presidential elections. What is it, ~711k average house district size or something? 37% voting=263k... so it takes an average of 25,000 people to move an average election 10%.

That's not that many people... there's so much attention on capturing active market, 'new' customers are of course way more expensive, but the active market is so relatively small their value seems quite high.

tl;dr: why don't we just focus everything on voter registration and follow up?

CapitolBells5 karma

That's a good point. One of the most important things Capitol Bells does is to LOWER the bar to participation. You don't need to call or write any letters, you don't need to go anywhere. You just download the app, and it tells you when to open it up, then all you do is vote up or down like on reddit.

Squigley_q3 karma

How has your summer been?

CapitolBells5 karma

It's been pretty grueling so far trying to get this thing out before congress goes on their five week long vacation.

CowTippingMidget2 karma

Any timeline to bring your app to Android?

CapitolBells3 karma

I am aiming for September 9, when Congress comes back from their 5 week long vacation.

Pablo_Smash2 karma

Capitol Bells sounds like the name of the gay congressional staff association. Did you have any other names you were considering?

CapitolBells9 karma

If I could go back, I'd call it "ByThePeople"

tslj16 karma

I like "Capitol Bells" more

CapitolBells9 karma

Nice! That's good to hear. Thanks.

Mantan17012 karma

If I understand, you want to bring TRUE Representation back, correct? HOW can this be achieved in a cesspool of corruption and backdoor deals with major lobby interests?

CapitolBells4 karma

By holding them accountable to a public record of their constituents' opinions. By election day they will be responsible for a record that shows they only voted with their own constituents 10% of the time.

Spinalzz2 karma

whats your favorite game?

CapitolBells7 karma

Tough question. Mostly been playing FTL since I've been coding nonstop lately and it's easy to stop and start. But I've been a massive fan of Natural Selection since the original.

theultimatetrol2 karma

Are you planning to do the same in other countries?

CapitolBells3 karma

If I can get this one up and running and funded somehow, my vision definitely includes applying the same formula to other congresses/parliaments. Yes!

Yoga_Butt1 karma

What's your relationship like with members of Congress?

CapitolBells3 karma

Most Members who have it love it so far because they were having to rely on their assistants to call them when votes started, and there wasn't a way they could watch vote counts in progress before getting to the House floor (votes can be as long as 40 minutes sometimes). So they find it very useful. We'll have to wait and see what most think of the constituent votes coming through, but Steny Hoyer and Jared Polis but like it - https://twitter.com/WhipHoyer/status/359729423735468032

JeremyM411 karma

First, I would like to say this is awesome, and I contributed what little I could. Second, do you think in the distant future we could get rid of representatives and have a direct vote through an app like this?

CapitolBells3 karma

Thank you! Thank you!

It's a possibility, but in an ideal government, it makes sense to have professional Representatives who have the time to study the policy and the law as long as long as they are accountable to us first.

idownvotetheassholes1 karma

Cool app! Any chance you could use something like this as a Direct Democracy simulator?

CapitolBells1 karma

Hmm what do you mean?

mcollins99151 karma

Are worried the U.S. government will come down hard on you like snowden?

CapitolBells5 karma

No, I'm told by lawyers that what I am doing is legal. The data I'm hacking is meant to be public, it's accessibility is just limited to cable tv or being physically on the Capitol grounds.

johnson3321 karma

Have you ever "hacked" anything and though to yourself that what you found was unbelievable or wrong? (and if so, what if you can mention it)

CapitolBells4 karma

In college I printed a message on someone's printer down the hall to put his pirated movies back up on the network. It freaked him out, but he put the movies back up. I never admitted it was me.

BluePragmatic1 karma

I have two questions.

1.) At what age did you get into programming?

2.) Do you feel an equal sense of accomplishment from revealing hidden public information as you did dread for it being hidden in the first place?

Edit: Format

CapitolBells2 karma

I started around the age of 11 thanks to my parents, and I have continued to learn on and off since then.

The hidden data frustrates me like nothing else. Even working in Congress some data is completely secret - public health and safety studies on marijuana for instance.

shijjiri1 karma

What is the most interesting thing you've discovered in the last seven months?

CapitolBells1 karma

That people are actually pretty excited about this idea once I get the chance to explain it to them. That's been a huge surprise because I often worry no one gets my ideas but me.

caterpielvl991 karma

Will you eventually be able to see how often any congressperson votes with the majority of their constituents?

Thanks so much for doing this, this is amazing! Once it's on android I'll download it first thing

CapitolBells2 karma

Yes, I am trying to do exactly that with my indiegogo campaign - http://igg.me/at/CapitolBells/x/3921704

MeanOfPhidias1 karma

Why bother to put your talent and resources towards democracy?

It's a failed, broken system that ostracizes minorities and forces individuals to become collectivists. There are many other, better, solutions to government. Why not focus on those and make a new, better, system that out competes the current one instead of polishing the current turd?

CapitolBells2 karma

Our Congress is broken - but democracy is still a powerful idea. I hope that Capitol Bells can leverage democracy by making it personal. You will be able to see personally how often your Congresswoman represents you, and really know if she deservers her job when election day comes.

Dear_Occupant1 karma

Do you have any plans to merge this with constituent management software like Intranet Quorum? I could see a lot of use for this for staffers. Maybe you should take this to Lockheed and see if they'll buy it / hire you.

CapitolBells1 karma

I think constituent management software if necessary and useful, but I don't think constituent correspondence is an effective way to exert the will of the people. Members don't publish the mail they get publicly, they don't share their internal tallies of constituents for an against issues, and they have weeks to respond - often waiting until after the vote has taken place only to explain in hindsight why they were against it.

Capitol Bells is instantaneous, public, and easy way to quantitatively show how many constituents are for and against a piece of legislation.

PrinceTrollestia1 karma

What's your favorite food item in the Longworth House Cafeteria?

CapitolBells2 karma

Bagel, peanut butter, banana.

BalletTech1 karma

Whoever this is probably works for the NSA.

CapitolBells5 karma

Haha, nope. But I was considering it at one point. I don't take kindly to domestic spying though.

GigglesTheDragon1 karma

What are some of your hobbies? Minus hacking.

CapitolBells5 karma

Computer gaming, fantasy/scifi novels, biking, trail running, yoga. You?

GigglesTheDragon2 karma

Nice, yeah same here actually. Computer gaming (i.e. Company of Heroes), hiking, fishing, and hunting.

Another quick question. I actually received my Bachelors in Computer Science and have been working as a programmer for a software engineering company. Any advice on a developing individual in an ever changing environment? It seems like there's a new type of software gets released daily. What type of software do you primarily stay with?

I'm most comfortable with Python but was introduced to Sublime and impartial towards it.

Thanks for doing the AMA. Big fan and supporter.

CapitolBells3 karma

I love python. But actually I am not a professional programmer, although I have been programming on and off since the 5th grade thanks to my parents. My academic background is in mechanical engineering and in climate science.

Thanks for the support!

Orange_Spaghetti0 karma

Sounds like someone is gonna end up in a FEMA camp or in GITMO.

CapitolBells4 karma

hahaha. CRAP!

SHITLORDHERE-20 karma

Waste of time. 80% of America is comprised of overweight, complacent, unintelligent, mouthbreathing losers. Now, if this were Canada, the UK, Germany or some similar place you might have a chance at making a difference.

CapitolBells15 karma

I think you're wrong. This is made for the lazy like me who aren't going to call or write their congressman, but will upvote or downvote a post. The more people who are using it, the more meaningful the user input becomes. It will be a lot harder for a member of congress to vote for a SOPA bill when 70% of his constituents just went on record saying no.