Showing posts with label open data. Show all posts
Showing posts with label open data. Show all posts

True Story: New "StoryCorps" App Aims To Preserve Diverse Histories

Since the dawn of mankind, humans have passed down traditions, songs, legends, folklore, family history, and more via the medium of storytelling.  In modern day, transcribed oral histories have lent insight into some of the most important events of recorded time.  Now, a method to preserve these tales for the ages has been made easy in app form.

"That's how much of my intestinal tract the German bomb eviscerated,
but I still bayoneted five of 'em before I passed out."
-"Uh...Dad, weren't you born in Ecuador?  In 1950?"
(Image courtesy

"'The Truth At Any Cost' Lowers All Other Costs": Former US Spy Robert Steele's Admirable Advocacy For "Open Source Everything"

After organizing a major CIA intelligence conference, the highly-respected Marine intelligence officer and CIA agent Robert Steele tried to explain that open-source information (the idea of using freely-accessible knowledge to implement policy, rather than secretly-obtained information) is the means to true freedom. The CIA promptly banned him from organizing further conferences. Now, he's taking his wisdom to the masses.

"Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realize such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth - all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity. This is the 'utopia' that Buckminster Fuller foresaw, now within our reach," states Steele.

With this attitude firmly in mind, Steele writes, lectures, and advocates for the concept of "Open Source Everything": taking the power of knowledge from an elite few and making sure it is disseminated throughout all the world, with a focus on long-term goals that benefit all of humanity. Steele advocates truth as currency over violence, using international stewardship councils of experts in varieties of topics to check, balance, and spread information, looking far down the road on the effects that humanity's decisions of all sorts will have. An Open Source Agency, he claims, would collaborate to share this wisdom, with information coming and going from many elements, particularly including the expanse of information-sharing options available to the average computer user.

As Steele told, "We have over 5 billion human brains that are the one infinite resource available to us going forward. Crowd-sourcing and cognitive surplus are two terms of art for the changing power dynamic between those at the top that are ignorant and corrupt, and those across the bottom that are attentive and ethical. The open source ecology is made up of a wide range of opens – open farm technology, open source software, open hardware, open networks, open money, open small business technology, open patents – to name just a few. The key point is that they must all develop together, otherwise the existing system will isolate them into ineffectiveness. Open data is largely worthless unless you have open hardware and open software. Open government demands open cloud and open spectrum, or money will dominate feeds and speeds."

On the homefront, Steele maintains that the massive national "security" infrastructure we currently have in place is too big, too expensive, too unaccountable, too nonproductive concerning "terrorism" (which he claims has never been thwarted by the NSA), and ultimately bound to fail (though he admits properly-maintained surveillance should certainly remain in place for issues like corruption, pedophilia, and other crimes.) With intelligence out of the pocket of banks and politicians, citizens can better decide what will truly be of help for themselves and others. If a professional spy is willing to show how this is currently all going wrong, surely America and maybe the world can eventually learn to realize and remedy this?

Steele's revolution pre-conditions checklist.  We qualify, now how do we quell it?

Reality Mining: Techno-utopian Fantasy or Totalitarian Nightmare?

At the MIT Technology Review, Nicholas Carr reviews the work of Alex Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory.  Pentland's work apparently aims to help create a fully programmed social order that would be difficult to distinguish from your worst nightmare of a totalitarian surveillance society.  Excerpt:
Pentland describes a series of experiments that he and his associates have been conducting in the private sector. They go into a business and give each employee an electronic ID card, called a “sociometric badge,” that hangs from the neck and communicates with the badges worn by colleagues. Incorporating microphones, location sensors, and accelerometers, the badges monitor where people go and whom they talk with, taking note of their tone of voice and even their body language. The devices are able to measure not only the chains of communication and influence within an organization but also “personal energy levels” and traits such as “extraversion and empathy.” In one such study of a bank’s call center, the researchers discovered that productivity could be increased simply by tweaking the coffee-break schedule.

Pentland dubs this data-processing technique “reality mining,” and he suggests that similar kinds of information can be collected on a much broader scale by smartphones outfitted with specialized sensors and apps. Fed into statistical modeling programs, the data could reveal “how things such as ideas, decisions, mood, or the seasonal flu are spread in the community.” . . .
What really excites Pentland is the prospect of using digital media and related tools to change people’s behavior, to motivate groups and individuals to act in more productive and responsible ways. If people react predictably to social influences, then governments and businesses can use computers to develop and deliver carefully tailored incentives, such as messages of praise or small cash payments, to “tune” the flows of influence in a group and thereby modify the habits of its members. Beyond improving the efficiency of transit and health-care systems, Pentland suggests, group-based incentive programs can make communities more harmonious and creative.
Call me cynical, but it seems just plain deluded to assume, as Pentland apparently does, that such technology, if adopted widely by governments and businesses, would ultimately fulfill these techno-utopian fantasies, and not result in a dystopian nightmare of surveillance and control.

Big Problems with Big Data

A recent piece in FT Magazine questions the claims of big data hucksters.  From FT:
Cheerleaders for big data have made four exciting claims, each one reflected in the success of Google Flu Trends: that data analysis produces uncannily accurate results; that every single data point can be captured, making old statistical sampling techniques obsolete; that it is passé to fret about what causes what, because statistical correlation tells us what we need to know; and that scientific or statistical models aren’t needed because, to quote “The End of Theory”, a provocative essay published in Wired in 2008, “with enough data, the numbers speak for themselves”.

Unfortunately, these four articles of faith are at best optimistic oversimplifications. At worst, according to David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge university, they can be “complete bollocks. Absolute nonsense.”

21 Notable Data Sets from NYC Open Data

Over the last few years, more and more states and cities have begun bringing open data sites online and making vast troves of information freely available to the public in both machine and human readable formats.  The federal government launched back in 2009 and since then, numerous states have done the same.  New York State launched its open data site last year, and New York City's Open Data Portal has been up and running for at least a couple years now. With thousands of massive data sets at your fingertips, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available.  And if you're looking for a specific piece of information, it sometimes feels like you're looking for a piece of hay in a haystack.  Today, we'll try to narrow things down a bit and take a look at a number of notable data sets available at NYC's Open Data Portal.


Wifi Hotspot Locations
"Location of wifi hotspots in the city with basic descriptive information."

City Government Social Media
"Twitter, Facebook, Youtube statistics from various NYC agencies and organizations."


NYC Jobs
"This data set contains current job postings available on the City of New York’s official jobs site . . . Internal postings available to city employees and external postings available to the general public are included."

NYC After School Programs, Jobs and Internships
"Facilities in New York City, by agency and site, that offer the following after-school job and internship programs: Summer Youth Employment, In-School Youth Employment (ISY), Out-of-School Youth Employment (OSY), Youth Employment, and Adult Employment Programs for children in age groups 14 to 24, 16 to 21, children in all grades, and adults"

Complaints and Grievances

311 Service Requests from 2010 to Present
"All 311 Service Requests from 2010 to present. This information is automatically updated daily."

NYC Public Drinking
311 service requests filtered for public drinking complaints.  

NYC Graffiti
Take a tour of reported graffiti locations across the city.


Ratio of Single Men to Single Women, by Neighborhood
Can't find a date? Maybe you're looking in the wrong neighborhood.

Population by Census Block
"Population Numbers in New York City by Census Tracts."

NYC Top Baby Names, 2009-2010
There sure are a lot of 4 and 5 year old Isabellas and Jaydens out there.

Food and Drink

Sidewalk Cafes 
With spring around the corner, you may find this data set helpful to locate a sidewalk cafe anywhere in the city if you're looking to sit and relax and watch the world go by.

Farmer's Markets
This data set contains a list of 137 farmer's markets in all five boroughs. The information is somewhat dated (it's from 2012), but it is highly likely that many if not the vast majority of these markets are still going strong.


Subway Entrances
"Map of NYC Subway Entrances."

Parking Facilities
They seem to be everywhere, but you can never find one if and when you really need one.

Politics and Government

City Expense Budgets by Agency
"Data set contains expense budgets by agency for actual fiscal years and five financial plan fiscal years in All funds."

City Council Discretionary Funding, 2009-2013
Wonder where all that tax money goes?  "This dataset reflects applications for discretionary funding to be allocated by the New York City Council between the years 2009 and 2013."

City Council Discretionary Funding for Upcoming Year 
"The dataset reflects applications for discretionary funding to be allocated by the New York City Council in the upcoming fiscal year (July 1 - June 30)."

Campaign Contributions, 2013
"A listing of campaign contributions for candidates for City office during the 2013 election cycle."

Campaign Expenditures, 2013
"A listing of campaign expenditures for candidates for City office dating back from the 2013 election cycle."


NYPD Complaints Per Uniformed Officer 2009-2011
"This table represents complaints per uniformed officer."

NYPD Disciplinary Penalties 2009-2011
"This data set represents police department disciplinary penalties imposed by NYPD."

Type and Number of NYPD Allegation Complaints 2009-2011 
"This table represents the type of allegation and total number of allegations received for a particular type of complaint. Types of allegations and complaints are Force, Abuse of Authority, Discourtesy, Offensive Language."