Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

November 27 2013

Four short links: 27 November 2013

  1. CT Scanning and 3D Printing for Paleo (Scientific American) — using CT scanners to identify bones still in rock, then using 3D printers to recreate them. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Growing the Use of Drones in Agriculture (Forbes) — According to Sue Rosenstock, 3D Robotics spokesperson, a third of their customers consist of hobbyists, another third of enterprise users, and a third use their drones as consumer tools. “Over time, we expect that to change as we make more enterprise-focused products, such as mapping applications,” she explains. (via Chris Anderson)
  3. Serving 1M Load-Balanced Requests/Second (Google Cloud Platform blog) — 7m from empty project to serving 1M requests/second. I remember when 1 request/second was considered insanely busy. (via Forbes)
  4. Boil Up — behind the scenes for the design and coding of a real-time simulation for a museum’s science exhibit. (via Courtney Johnston)

November 19 2013

New hope for the vision of metropolitan regionalism

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on Glenn’s CityState blog. This version has been lightly edited.

Others have written — and I’m sure will continue to write — with enthusiasm and hyperbole about the ways that new web portals and mobile apps are changing the landscape of public participation and responsive city planning. It seems that we are constantly being showered (or perhaps barraged?) with fun new social media tools to engage citizens and activate urban sharing networks — for everything from reporting graffiti to mapping public murals (yes, the irony is noteworthy), and from finding a parking space to avoiding being mugged, and so on. Whether or not these apps will ever wind up being the “game changers” we are often promised remains to be seen, but the level of excitement and activity they are generating is undeniable, especially after so many years of resignation and inattention to urban problems.

That said, despite the energy that has been thrown behind developing and promoting these new weapons in our urban information arsenal, one aspect of these tools has been noticeably overlooked: the potential they provide to facilitate regional collaboration between municipalities, an as-of-yet unfulfilled dream of urban planners in the past century.

For starters, consider the unremarkable case of permits for “open burning” in Massachusetts. Regardless of whether one supports or opposes the concept of open-air burning of brush, clippings, forest debris, and agricultural waste (and there are many reasons to oppose the idea), the law in most states still allows this practice, with all sorts of regulations and permit requirements. In Massachusetts — where, famously, “all politics is local” — it is not surprising to learn that while the State Department of Environmental Protection has established a broad policy framework for the issue, actual permits must be obtained from one of the state’s 351 different municipalities, typically from the local fire chief. (And, of course, 351 different municipalities means 351 different addresses, 351 different forms, 351 different hours of operation, and so on.)

If you’re an old-timer (and chances are, most open-air burners are), this probably doesn’t strike you as all that unusual — just head down to the fire station, grab a cup of coffee, chat with some of the other old-timers, and maybe pick up a permit while you’re there; it sounds rather civilized, in fact, and quite communal. That said, it is nonetheless a pretty inefficient system: why can’t we just do this from home, via some online interface?

Well, if you’re lucky enough to live in Berkshire County, you probably can. Residents in 12 of the county’s towns can visit the Berkshire County Online Application for Open Burning Permits to read the regs and apply in real time for a permit. The site is simple — crude, even — without any bells or whistles, and the process is still a bit arcane (permits are only available between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.; if you live in the Town of Dalton “you must first visit the fire station between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and pay a $5 fee for the season,” and so on), but it gets the job done. And more importantly, this single little unassuming website represents a major step in regionalization, breaking down 12 little principalities of permitting power to deliver simpler, more consistent, and more efficient municipal services across the county.

Indeed, one real strength of apps and online portals is their potential for scalability: once one agency creates a tool to solve a common problem (such as issuing burn permits), there is little cost to sharing it with others. If it’s done well and widely adopted, it can even help set the standard for entire urban information networks, which is what we are beginning to see on the other end of the state with a tool called Commonwealth Connect. This mobile app (originally known as Citizens Connect) was developed by the coders at the City of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics to help empower residents to “be the eyes and ears of the city,” reporting potholes, vandalism, missing street signs, graffiti, and the like. Recognizing that the virtues of this “participatory urbanism” do not stop at the city border, the state’s Community Innovation Challenge Grant Program provided $400,000 in funding to expand the program, which now seamlessly serves more than 40 cities and towns in the region.

Stories such as these bring new hope to the vision of metropolitan regionalism. As always, the devil is likely to be in the details of implementation; but, by starting small, scaling up, and working incrementally through the challenges of cooperation to improve the delivery of some of these basic services (and in the process, recognizing some cost savings and economies of scale), we are starting to see the inklings of a quiet revolution. And, in time, I expect that this sort of “regionalism from the ground-up” is likely to result in more lasting change than the top-down approaches of the past.

September 17 2013

Four short links: 17 September 2013

  1. Quarka web browser with a formally-proven kernel.
  2. High-Assurance Base64 — formally verified C implementation of Base64.
  3. z3 — fast theorem prover from Microsoft Research.
  4. libphenom (GitHub) — Facebook’s open sourced eventing framework. (High-scalability, natch)

August 13 2010

Four short links: 13 August 2010

  1. The Myth of Scientific Literacy -- I'd love it if there was a simple course we could send our elected officials on which would guarantee future science policy would be reliably high quality. Being educated in science (or even "about science") isn't going to do it. It's social connections that will. We need to keep our elected officials honest, constantly check they are applying the evidence we want them to, in the ways we want them to. And if the scientific community want to be listened to, they need to work to build connections. Get political and scientific communities overlapping, embed scientists in policy institutions (and vice versa), get MP's constituents onside to help foster the sorts of public pressure you want to see: build trust so scientists become people MPs want to be briefed by. (via foe on Twitter)
  2. Three Papers on Load Balancing (Alex Popescu) -- three papers on distributed hash tables.
  3. Meridian -- iPhone app that does in-building location, sample app is the AMNH Explorer which shows you maps of where you are. Uses wifi-based positioning. (via raffi on Twitter)
  4. Fixing What Apple Won't -- the jailbreakers are releasing security patches for systems that Apple have abandoned. (via ardgedee on Twitter)

May 25 2010

Four short links: 25 May 2010

  1. Lending Merry-Go-Round -- these guys have been Australia's sharpest satire for years, filling the role of the Daily Show. Here they ask some strong questions about the state of Europe's economies ... (via jdub on Twitter)
  2. What's Powering the Guardian's Content API -- Scala and Solr/Lucene on EC2 is the short answer. The long answer reveals the details of their setup, including some of their indexing tricks that means Solr can index all their content in just an hour. (via Simon Willison)
  3. What I Learned About Engineering from the Panama Canal (Pete Warden) -- I consider myself a cheerful pessimist. I've been through enough that I know how steep the odds of success are, but I've made a choice that even a hopeless fight in a good cause is worthwhile. What a lovely attitude!
  4. Mapping the Evolution of Scientific Fields (PLoSone) -- clever use of data. We build an idea network consisting of American Physical Society Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS) numbers as nodes representing scientific concepts. Two PACS numbers are linked if there exist publications that reference them simultaneously. We locate scientific fields using a community finding algorithm, and describe the time evolution of these fields over the course of 1985-2006. The communities we identify map to known scientific fields, and their age depends on their size and activity. We expect our approach to quantifying the evolution of ideas to be relevant for making predictions about the future of science and thus help to guide its development.

January 20 2010

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl