Andrew McGill

Andrew McGill
Andrew McGill is a former senior product manager at The Atlantic.
  • Rick Wilking / Reuters

    Would Electing More Women Fix Congress?

    A new study examines how female legislators embrace compromise—and men don’t.

  • Eric Thayer/Reuters

    Hope Is What Separates Trump Voters From Clinton Voters

    Donald Trump's supporters haven’t necessarily lost a job to globalization. But they’re afraid they’re next.

  • Andrew McGill / The Atlantic

    A Look at How Suicide Squad Is Defying Critics

    Yes, the Batman v Superman sequel is as weird and horrible as the reviews say it is. But a lot of people want to see it.

  • Andrew McGill / The Atlantic

    Is Trump's Campaign Locking Him Out of Twitter?

    An analysis finds the share of the candidate’s tweets sent from a phone suspected to be his in sharp decline.

  • Beth J. Harpaz / AP

    Can Twitter Fit Inside the Library of Congress?

    Six years ago, the world’s biggest library decided to archive every single tweet. Turns out that’s pretty hard to do.

  • Andrew Harnik / AP

    Where Clinton's Post-Convention Bounce Didn't Measure Up

    That whole likability thing? Still an issue.

  • John Minchillo / AP

    The States Where Third-Party Candidates Perform Best

    American voters might be more likely to give long shots a chance in places where the election outcome isn’t in doubt.

  • An Engineer Critiques Our Slack-Powered Doorbell

    Reader Bob Williamson argues that my solution for coworkers forgetting their key fobs was too “Epimethean”—it requires users to make a mistake first. In mythology, Epimetheus accepted a cursed gift (Pandora and her box) without giving thought to its future consequences. Compare him to his brother, Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus knowing he’d be punished harshly but would reap a long-term gain. A Promethean solution, Williamson says, would protect my colleagues from forgetting their keys in the first place:

    Pandora offers jar to Epimetheus (Wiki)

    Efficient error recovery is important in engineering systems, but prevention is better.

    How about an IoS button on the inside of the door that sends you a reminder to take your keys before you lock yourself out, again? At first I thought it could go on your chair and trigger when standing, but it would be nice to serve more than one distracted user. Could you identify the recipient by proximity to the exit? Ideally you’d get the message just before the  door closed, but that timing could be part of the training impact of the system.

    You could call this one dumbbellbot. ;-)

    A good point! It’s a challenging engineering problem—getting a “do you have your keys?” notification every time you approach the door sounds a bit overwhelming—but there must be some way to make this work. Thoughts? Update from reader Wes:

    I like the idea of the proximity sensor-based reminder, but I think it is predestined for failure in real use. I am reminded of various plane crashes and nuclear accidents where repeated—and therefore quickly ignored warning notices—paradoxically were contributing factors in the issue they were designed to avoid. I don’t know how the relevant safety agencies solve the problem, but it might take you down a fruitful path.

    My suggestion off the top of my head is to combine the key with something you would never forget. For your house key, for example, you might velcro it to your shoes. I personally put my office key card inside my cell phone cover.

  • Reader Invention: A Sensor That Monitors When a Bike Rack Is Full

    A design schematic of the bike rack sensor. Courtesy of Richard Smith

    A few weeks back, I wrote about building a smartwatch app that finds open Capitol Bikeshare docks while in transit.

    Richard Smith, 17, did me one better. (Disclosure: His sister, Rosa, is a new assistant editor at The Atlantic.) Last year, in Portland, Oregon, the teenager built a device that attaches to conventional bike racks and monitors how often they’re used, building a online heat map. It was a team effort with other classmates through Portland State University’s Innovation Challenge, an engineering contest for high school students. Here’s Richard:

    People can lock up their own bikes with their own locks completely for free. The system would collect data about how often people lock and unlock their bikes, where they do so, and when. This would allow the system to build a “heat map” of the most popular locations around town, and at what times these lock up locations are most active. It would also provide live information on how many spots are open at any given location. All of this information can be accessed 24/7 via a smartphone app or a website.

    To build the device, Richard used a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino—two credit card-sized computers—along with pressure sensors and a solar-powered battery:

    Courtesy of Richard Smith

    I’m planning to use my own Raspberry Pi for some upcoming projects. Their invention fit well with the challenge’s prompt, writes Richard:

    The prompt for our challenge was “Smarter Cities.” We were inspired to work on transportation because of how bad the traffic has become in Portland over the last decade. Because Portland is already a very bike-friendly city, we wanted to figure out a way to encourage people who don’t bike very much to do so more often—and not charge them for it either.

    Awesome stuff.

  • Joe Raedle / Getty

    How Donald Trump Beat Reddit

    His first Q&A on the site seemed free-wheeling and open to all, but it was actually obsessively controlled.

  • Chris Carlson / Reuters

    A 93-Year-Old Democratic Delegate Who Has Seen It All

    This will be the Ruby Gilliam’s eighth national convention—and she says she has a few more left in her.

  • #MakeEveryWeek 3: Beating the Crowds at the DMV

    How did a Department of Motor Vehicles become a national symbol of government incompetence? There are plenty of theories: uninterested employees, inflexible rules, interminable wait times. But one in particular caught my eye:

    DMVs have an atrocious problem with uneven demand. EVERYBODY shows up at the DMV in about 3 days at the end of the month, and the first two or three days of it. Go to a DMV in the middle of the month, and you will likely find far shorter lines. But unlike many private companies, DMVs can’t easily scale staffing up and down.

    This offers a window of hope. If you time your visit right, you can beat the rush and save yourself from the soul-grinding sandpaper rasp of a normal DMV experience. But how can one understand the mysterious rhythms of America’s most-visited bureaucracy?


    In this week’s project, I think I’ve found a way. The DMV in Washington, D.C., kindly provides webcam feeds of its centers, like this one in Georgetown. They’re updated every minute to show you the size of the crowd before you schlep down there.

    A programming concept called computer vision could help here. Computers aren’t good at intuitively understanding images—that’s why so many of those online human-checks you fill out before buying concert tickets or something involve deciphering a line of text in a picture. But they’ve gotten exponentially better at recognizing patterns. And in this case, the DMV long ago made a decision that will make determining the relative number of people in this photo very easy: They bought those goofy blue chairs.

    It’s a color that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the picture. And as the waiting room fills up with people, there’s less and less blue in the photo. By downloading the camera footage at regular intervals and counting how much of the image is colored that shade of blue, I can estimate how many open seats are still available. Here, the computer has run its analysis and colored all the blue seats bright red:

    Pretty good, huh? I’ve written the code (technical blog post here), and I’m now going to let the script run every minute for a few weeks so I can gather multiple datapoints for every time slot. Once I’ve built up enough information to puzzle out DMV traffic trends, I’ll visualize the results and post in this Notes series.

  • Drawing the Murder Rate

    Last week, we asked readers to draw their best guess of how the U.S. murder rate changed between 1985 and 2014. More than 11,000 of you participated. Here’s the result, with bright red indicating the areas with the most guesses:

    On the whole, most people drew a downward-trending line. But the hive mind’s guesses grew further dispersed as they drew closer to the current day, with more than a few people guessing the crime rate hit zero in 2014. On the other hand, only around 50 people thought crime had doubled over the intervening 30 years.

    Here’s the same graph with the actual crime rate added in white:

    Many folks missed the fact that crime rose in the early ’90s, drawing a reasonably flat line through the term of George H.W. Bush and the first four Clinton years. And more people thought crime was lower in 2014 than it actually was, rather than higher.

    Our experiment tried to give as few cues as possible: the starting point was centered vertically in the chart, and there were no guides directing the user in a certain direction. It appears most readers are knowledge of crime trends, are optimists, or both. Despite the dramatic headlines of the past year, the majority of people correctly determined that crime has fallen over the past few decades.

  • Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

    Trump’s Loyalty Problem

    Many conservatives changed their minds about the Republican several times during the primary. What will this mean for November?

  • A Silent, Slack-Powered Doorbell

    No one likes to feel left out. And you know what’s just as bad? Getting locked out. But the very worst is getting locked out and awkwardly waiting for someone to let you back in, a diabolical combination of both fears that plays out at least once a week in the offices of The Atlantic.

    We’re a modern, security-conscious workplace: Our office doors require employees to wave a fob over a reader before letting them into the main office. That means every time an Atlanticker heads to the elevators or uses the restrooms—both of which are outside the secured zone—they have to remember to take their keys along.

    And I, for one, often forget. So I’m locked out. And then comes the awkwardness. Sometimes I pretend to be on my phone until someone leaves the office, at which point I’ll theatrically end my conversation and grab the door. But when that fails, there’s no getting around it: I’m reduced to knocking on the glass and sheepishly waiting for a coworker to fetch get me.

    My second #MakeEveryWeek project seeks to solve this. The Atlantic essentially needed a doorbell. But not an actual doorbell; I fear that the incessant ringing of the Westminster Chimes would drive nearby coworkers to fits. My solution instead connects to Slack, our workplace chat client, and alerts a special channel that someone needs to be let into the office.

    That this was easy to do is largely thanks to Amazon’s new Internet of Things Button, a customizable variant of their Dash buttons (which are hard-coded to order specific products) that connects to WiFi and sends instructions over the internet. My code (technical explanation here) includes a random quote about doors to Slack message—not only does the variety liven things up, but it also makes it easier to tell door requests apart.

    Here’s what the doorbell looks like:

    This project won’t protect me from forgetting my keys. But it will save me the embarrassment of admitting I forgot my keys.

    I’ll probably use an Amazon IoS button for another project at some point—any suggestions?

  • A Watch App That Finds Open Bikeshare Stations

    If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, you’re probably familiar with Capital Bikeshare. And if you don’t, I bet the nearest American city might have something like it: A system of public bicycles available for rent, strategically placed throughout town for point-to-point trips. If you have a membership or a credit card, you can check out a bike at a kiosk, ride it to your destination and re-dock it at the nearest Bikeshare station. It’s one of my favorite things about the D.C. area.

    But! There are few things more annoying than wrapping up a satisfying ride and pulling into bikeshare dock ... that is completely full.

    It’s also a bummer to walk up to a station and discover that all the bikes have been taken.

  • Calling All Inventors

    Ilya Naymushin / Reuters

    It’s never been easier to be a mad scientist. Back in the day, it took so much work: You had to rent a dungeon, fashion your own Tesla coils, and spend half your life reading cracked leather tomes written your equally deprived predecessors.

    Not so anymore. Computers are small, fast and cheap, allowing a D.I.Y. types to slap a microprocessor on pretty much anything, and for less than $50. The internet can deliver a tutorial in an instant and any electronic component within a few days. And easy-to-program platforms have made controlling physical objects with code not only possible, but practical.

    All this is great for a would-be inventor. Unless, like me, your drive to work on a project (which seemed so strong in the morning!) somehow gives way to an evening of Alias reruns night after night. Life gets in the way.

    So here’s my resolution: Following the lead of WNYC journalist James Keefe, I’m resolving to buckle down and make a new thing every week this summer. It’ll ideally be a real thing—something you can see and could hold, not just ephemeral code powering an app. (Though I’m still keeping the ephemeral code door open if I hit a rough patch.) I’ll document what I’m doing through this thread, as well as more technical write-ups on my own blog. So far, I’ve built a smartwatch app that searches for nearby public bicycles and a silent doorbell for when my coworkers get locked out of the office.

    Are you a time-crunched tinkerer? Please join me this summer by sharing your projects: What have you built in the past? What are you working on now? And what should I build next?

  • Ricardo Arduengo / Reuters

    Is Violence in America Going Up or Down?

    See how your own perception of crime in America stacks up against the reality.

  • Joshua Roberts / Reuters

    Bernie Sanders Is Still Raising Too Much Money

    The Vermont senator has scores of supporters who have contributed over the legal limit.

  • Why FOIA Is Broken, From a Government Worker's Perspective

    Last week, Chris Haugh and I wrote a story about historic changes to the Freedom of Information Act, which makes government records accessible to the public—albeit imperfectly. We spoke to a number of folks who frequently make records requests, including an author who waited almost 20 years for one set of documents. They told some frustrating stories, to say the least.

    But a number of our readers have experienced the other side of the exchange: the agencies that must respond to FOIA request. One reader, via the comments section, related the plight of the beleaguered open-records officer:

    I’ve worked for state agencies, where nothing is more dreaded than FOIA duty. No one in the agency has the time to comply or has the slightest interest in doing so, because it is a tedious and unrewarding interruption to one’s “real” work and a terrible time suck. Everyone regards the FOIA people as an enemy, and the FOIA people are bored, unhappy, and demoralized. They’d also rather be doing “real” work for which they might actually be recognized and rewarded.

    Elaborating over email, the reader explained he worked for a district attorney’s office in New York City, which had one dedicated employee for open records requests, and a prominent Massachusetts commission, which had no one. He expects federal agencies are similarly understaffed but probably receive exponentially more requests. (If you field requests at a federal agency and would like to chime in, please let us know.) “At the federal level, can you imagine how many requests are received by NASA, DOD, FAA, etc. re UFOs?” he asked.