Justin Levinson
Professional problem-solver and Internet Swiss Army knife.
Fintech Startup
CTO, UX Design, and Lead Developer

This financial startup aimed to bring values-based investing to a broader audience. We developed surveying techniques to rank and understand what clients valued most: environment, governance, and several other factors. We fed this knowledge into our algorithms to identify poorly-aligned assets and strategies for replacement while minimizing variance from a standard market portfolio.

I built out our prototype to maximize flexibility for the company's inevitable pivot. A Python backend and Flask-based API let us tap into the wide array of math libraries available and maximize developer speed while we tested algorithms. React let us componentize the frontend, which let us quickly iterate on designs and shuffle code for the client-facing survey.

Designing the survey raised interesting questions: how do you avoid socially normative answers (nobody will say they don't care about child labor) and ask questions more interesting than 1-5 star ranking? I created a variety of question formats to keep the survey engaging, and worked with the team to come up with a series of tradeoffs to make sure we were getting the real answers.

Reports had to be informative enough to be useful without overwhelming to investors who didn't have a strong financial background. I framed each section as an answer to a specific question: What do I own? How can my portfolio better fit my values?

HarrisonRand Advertising

For this third-generation advertising company's site, I partnered with the client's preferred designer to create a showcase for their work and history. They were excited to have a slideshow-style site, but it needed to be editable by non-technical staff to add projects and tweak copy.

The slideshow style posed some challenges: it limited the amount of copy present on a page when viewed on a phone, and the library expected the site to consume one long HTML page, necessitating a branching tree of pages and specialized templates in order to use as much of WordPress' existing infrastructure and provide an editing experience that felt smooth and seamless to the client.

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Community manager, researcher, project manager, developer

Before crowdsourcing became a household word (depending on your particular house), there was Mutopo. Beyond the spec-work competitions normally associated with the term, we were looking at something deeper and weirder: what does it mean to actually collaborate with people who don't work for your organization?

Along with the array of miscellaneous tasks and general hacking required to keep the wheels turning on a 3-person startup, I got to work on some awesome projects: community managing an open design competition to replace the paper coffee cup and one to cram a huge loft's functionality into a tiny apartment, putting together a conference on the future of work, and researching how people work together and why they contribute to a big open design project (spoiler alert: it isn't money).

Mutopo no longer lives in the US, but is alive and well in Brazil.

Hacker-in-Chief, Reporter, Editor, Developer

Makeshift's beat was the informal economy: prosthetics formed from milk jug plastic, Nigeria's booming movie industry, and bicycle-powered farm equipment. The stories focused on individuals and their creative solutions to problems, usually in resource-constrained environments, and every quarter a beautifully printed issue with 90+ pages of new ones showed up on subscribers' doorsteps.

Faced with resource constraints of our own, we added onto the core magazine product in as many directions as we could: one founder and I taught design classes at the School of Visual Arts and other venues and designed an award-winning course pack for UPenn, while other team members pursued video production and syndication partnerships – all without a physical office.

My reporting beat was a perennial favorite: high-tech crime and the shady side of the Internet. I've posted up several of my articles below.

Sadly, the economic realities of an indie print magazine caught up to Makeshift, but the content lives on at mkshft.org.

Vacant New York

A mapping and data visualization project that started with a question: how bad is the retail vacancy problem in New York? Combining NYC's open datasets, data collected from brokers, and some old-fashioned street research, I tried to come up with an answer.

As soon as it was released, it became a lightning rod for the issue. People had clearly been observing the growing number of empty storefronts and the effects on their neighborhoods for a while, and this was both validation and a place to talk about it. In the weeks that followed, the project generated a lot of media attention.

The map, some context and analysis, and all the gory technical details are up at www.vacantnewyork.com

Hack Manhattan
President, Founding member

Imagine a space with all the best tools and toys like 3D printers, laser cutters, and bandsaws, filled with a friendly and passionate community, and open to the public to come in and be part of at no charge. That's Hack Manhattan.

We started in 2011 with 8 people in a 150sf space and modeled ourselves after other hackerspaces whose ideals we liked, always making sure we were as open and accessible as possible. Over the years we've grown in membership and size, but the community remains at the center.

My contributions have largely been in communications and overall experience: designing the site and communications, working with other members to organize outreach and events via Meetup, and helping visitors and the general public understand the space's mission and find a home here.

Visit us online at hackmanhattan.com, or better yet in person: 137 W 14th st, our open house events are held every Tuesday and Thursday evening.

Honor Among Thieves
Published in Makeshift

The trust and community that keeps digital black markets rolling.

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Disloyal Armies
Published in Makeshift

Hundreds of thousands of computers’ secret double lives as soldiers in botnets.

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Double Crossings
Published in Makeshift

The art and science of passport forgery.

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Filling the Gaps
Published in Makeshift

The street-level response to Hurricane Sandy.

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Barrio en Resistencia
Published in Makeshift

The heart and soul of Mexico City’s largest black market, Tepito.

Read article (PDF)