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August 03 2012

Palo Alto looks to use open data to embrace ‘city as a platform’

In the 21st century, one of the strategies cities around the world are embracing to improve services, increase accountability and stimulate economic activity is to publish open data online. The vision for New York City as a data platform earned wider attention last year, when the Big Apple’s first chief digital officer, Rachel Sterne, pitched the idea to the public.

This week, the city of Palo Alto in California joined over a dozen cities around the United States and globe when it launched its own open data platform. The platform includes an application programming interface (API) which enables direct access through a RESTful interface to open government data published in a JSON format. Datasets can also be embedded like YouTube videos, as below:

“We’re excited to bring the value of Open Data to our community. It is a natural complement to our goal of becoming a leading digital city and a connected community,” said James Keene, Palo Alto City Manager, in a prepared statement. “By making valuable datasets easily available to our residents, we’re further removing the barriers to a more inclusive and transparent local government here in Palo Alto.”

The city initially published open datasets that include the 2010 census data, pavement condition, city tree locations, park locations, bicycle paths and hiking trails, creek water level, rainfall and utility data. Open data about Palo Alto budgets, campaign finance, government salaries, regulations, licensing, or performance — which would all offer more insight into traditional metrics for government accountability — were not part of this first release.

“We are delighted to work with a local, innovative Silicon Valley start-up,” said Dr. Jonathan Reichental, Palo Alto’s chief information officer, in a prepared statement. (Junar’s U.S. offices are in Palo Alto.) “Rather than just publishing lists of datasets, the cloud-based Junar platform has enhancement and visualization capabilities that make the data useful even before it is downloaded or consumed by a software application.”

Notably, the city chose to use Junar, a Chilean software company that raised $1.2 million dollars in funding in May 2012. Junar provides data access in the cloud through the software-as-a-service model. There’s now a more competitive marketplace for open data platforms than has existed in years past, with a new venture-backed startup joining the space.

“The City of Palo Alto joins a group of forward-thinking organizations that are using Open Data as a foundation for more efficient delivery of services, information, and enabling innovation,” said Diego May, CEO and co-founder of Junar, in a prepared statement. “By opening data with the Junar Platform, the City of Palo Alto is exposing and sharing valuable data assets and is also empowering citizens to use and create new applications and services.”

The success or failure of Palo Alto’s push to become a more digital city might be more fairly judged in a year, when measuring downstream consumption of its open data in applications and services by citizens — or by government in increasing productivity — will be possible.

In the meantime, Reichental (who may be familiar to Radar readers as O’Reilly Media’s former CIO) provided more perspective via email on what he’s up to in Palo Alto.

What does it mean for a “city to be a platform?”

Reichental: We think of this as both a broad metaphor and a practicality. Not only do our citizens want to be plugged in to our government operations — open data being one way to achieve this among others — but we want our community and other interested parties to build capability on top of our existing data and services. Recognizing the increasing limitations of local government means you have to find creative ways to extend it and engage with those that have the skills and resources to build a rich and seamless public-private partnership.

Why launch an open data initiative now? What success stories convinced you to make the investment?

Reichental: It’s a response to our community’s desire to easily access their data and our want as a City to unleash the data for better community decision-making and solution development.

We also believe that over time an open data portal will become a standard government offering. Palo Alto wants to be ahead of the curve and create a positive model for other communities.

Seldom does a week pass when a software engineer in our community doesn’t ask me for access to a large dataset to build an app. Earlier this year, the City participated in a hackathon at Stanford University that produced a prototype web application in less than 24 hours. We provided the data. They provided the skills. The results were so impressive, we were convinced then that we should scale this model.

How much work did it take to make your data more open? Is it machine-readable? What format? What cost was involved?

Reichental: We’re experimenting with running our IT department like a start-up, so we’re moving fast. We went from vendor selection to live in just a few weeks. The data in our platform can be exported as a CSV or to a Google Spreadsheet. In addition, we provide an API for direct access to the data. The bulk of the cost was internal staff time. The actual software, which is cloud-based, was under $5000 for the first year.

What are the best examples of open data initiatives delivering sustainable services to citizens?

Reichental: Too many to mention. I really like what they’re doing in San Francisco ( but there are amazing things happening on and in New York City. Lots of other cities in the US doing neat things. The UK has done some high-quality budget accountability work.

Are you consuming your own open data?

Reichental: You bet we are.

Why does having an API matter?

Reichental: We believe the main advantage of having an API is for app development. Of course, there will be other use cases that we can’t even think of right now.

Why did you choose Junar instead of Socrata, CKAN or the OGPL from the U.S. federal government?

Reichental: We did review most of the products in the marketplace including some open source solutions. Each had merits. We ultimately decided on Junar for a 1-year commitment, as it seemed to strike the right balance of features, cost, and vision alignment.

Palo Alto has a couple developers in it. How are you engaging them to work with your data?

Reichental: That’s quite the understatement! The buzz already in the developer community is palpable. We’ve been swamped with requests and ideas already. We think one of the first places we’ll see good usage is in the myriad of hackathons/code jams held in the area.

What are the conditions for using your data or making apps?

Reichental: Our terms and conditions are straightforward. The data can be freely used by anyone for almost any purpose, but the condition of use is that the City has no liability or relationship with the use of the data or any derivative.

You told Mashable that you’re trying to acting like a “lean startup.” What does that mean, in practice?

Reichental: This initiative is a good example. Rather than spend time making the go-live product perfect, we went for speed-to-market with the minimally viable solution to get community feedback. We’ll use that feedback to quickly improve on the solution.

With the recent go-live of our redesigned public website, we launched it initially as a beta site; warts and all. We received lots of valuable feedback, made many of the suggested changes, and then cutover from the beta to production. We ended up with a better product.

Our intent is to get more useful capability out to our community and City staff in shorter time. We want to function as close as we can with the community that we serve. And that’s a lot of amazing start-ups.

July 21 2012

LA artists fight for soul of one of the city's cultural landmarks

Trustees of Museum of Contemporary Arts split by row over dumbing down of shows

A furious row has broken out at Los Angeles's leading art institution, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is pitting some of America's most celebrated aesthetes against a billionaire property developer.

Moca, one of the symbols of LA's recent emergence as an art hub to match New York, is dedicated to the presentation and study of recent art and has long been a home to the erudite and esoteric. But the museum has been hit by the defection of high-profile artist board members furious at a perceived dumbing down.

The conceptual artist John Baldessari was first to resign, followed by agit-prop graphic artist Barbara Kruger and "queer-space" photographer Catherine Opie. Then Ed Ruscha, possibly the city's best known artist internationally, followed suit. Their resignations, they said, could be read as a protest at the commercial, pop-culture direction of the museum at the expense of education and scholarship.

"The artists in LA are very upset," said Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, author of Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s. "There's a schism between the trustees. It's a complicated situation."

Angry fingers are being pointed at Eli Broad, a billionaire property developer and art collector who bailed out the financially struggling institution three years ago with a $30m donation, and his choice of director, the pop-art minded, former New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

With Broad's backing, Deitch, they claim, effectively engineered the removal of the museum's long-serving chief curator, Paul Schimmel, setting up a confrontation between artists and a deep-pocketed collector allied with museum managers charged with raising revenue and exhibition attendances.

Art in the Streets, a Deitch-orchestrated survey of the graffiti and street art movement, drew a record number of visitors. That was followed by a retrospective of Dennis Hopper's artwork. Earlier this year, the actor James Franco curated a show that drew inspiration from Rebel Without a Cause.

"Jeffrey represents a populist streak that many in the art world consider vulgar. He goes for spectacle more than scholarship," says New York art critic Carlo McCormick. "They feel he's dumbing down the cultural values of the art world."

And behind that, many suspect, is a billionaire whose motives are not entirely clear. While Broad saved Moca and wants to keep it viable, he is also constructing a rival museum across downtown LA to house his own collection.

In addition, the original trustees of the museum have been bolstered by big-money figures such as hedge fund whale Steven S Cohen and Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian who collects Damien Hirst. "The influence of collectors is probably at an all-time high," says McCormick. "Art is highly professionalised and market-determined at every level."

LA artists expressed dismay that educational aspects of the institution have been cut from the budget and said they worried that Moca was becoming "a cliche of Los Angeles or a part of the entertainment industry. We want to know the direction of the museum and to know that curators are respected and their shows are being funded."

LA art critic Mat Gleason said: "Deitch is actually inoculating the museum from conflicts of interest with high-wealth collectors." By putting on more pop-culture orientated shows, "he can go to low-level donors and say, 'We throw really cool parties, why don't you donate to us?' " In response, Deitch wrote to museum members saying the institution's programme was "a response to and an articulation of the current art and cultural landscape today". Moca, he said, would continue to engage audiences in a "dynamic and scholarly way".

Friends of Deitch say he's tired of being criticised for placing pop art or shows about disco culture ahead of cutting-edge art. But they also say he's perfect for Los Angeles because it is a city "wrapped up in celebrities and celebutantes".

It's the artists, then, who may have to accept that they live in an entertainment town. "But, of course, they're freaked out that people like James Franco are getting exhibitions because it's not serious and it doesn't matter," says a Moca supporter.

Artists, however, not collectors or institutional managers, may still have the final say. "If showing at Moca means selling out, then no one is going to want to show there," says one.

• This article was amended on 23 July 2012. The original wrongly gave the location of Eli Broad's rival museum as Wilshire Boulevard. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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May 19 2012

Finally, mystery of the famous faces of art may be revealed

Californian university project will use facial recognition software to identify subjects of paintings

A Californian university has won funding to use advanced facial recognition technology to try to solve the mysteries of some of the world's most famous works of art.

Professor Conrad Rudolph said the idea for the experiment came from watching news and detective shows such as CSI which had a constant theme of using advanced computers to recognise unknown faces from murder victims to wanted criminals.

Rudolph, professor of medieval art history at the University of California at Riverside, realised he might be able to apply that cutting-edge forensic science to some of the oldest mysteries in art: identifying the real people in paintings such as Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, Hals's The Laughing Cavalier or thousands of other portraits and busts where the identity of the subject has been lost. Work on the project should begin within a month or so.

Police and forensic scientists can use facial recognition software that identifies individuals by measuring certain key features. For example, it might measure the distance between someone's eyes or the gap between their mouth and their nose. In real life such measurements should be almost as unique as a fingerprint. Rudolph is hoping that the same might be true of portraiture, whether it is a sculpted bust or a painting.

To start with, his team will use facial recognition software on death masks of known individuals and then compare them to busts and portraits. If the software can find a match where Rudolph and his team know one exists, then it shows the technique works and can be used on unknown subjects to see if it can match them up with known identities.

The identity of the subjects of some of the most famous pictures in the world are unknown, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, the 17th-century portrait that inspired a film starring Scarlett Johansson. The Imagined Lives exhibition now running at London's National Portrait Gallery features portraits of 14 unknown subjects. Many of those paintings were once thought to be of historical figures such as Elizabeth I, but the identities are now disputed. The truth behind several paintings of Shakespeare – such as the Chandos portrait and the Cobbe portrait – has also been much disputed. It is possible facial recognition software could help solve these mysteries.

To be identified, the subject of a portrait would need to be matched to the identity of another named person in a separate picture. But Rudolph has some tricks up his sleeve. He believes that another forensic technique – whereby an "ageing" programme is run on a subject – could also help solve art mysteries. In fighting crime the software is usually used to produce "adult" pictures of children who have been missing for many years. But it could see if the Girl with a Pearl Earring had been painted again as a much older woman, whose identity might be known.

Away from the high-profile cases there are a legion of other unknown subjects that might be more easily identified. In many works from before the 19th century wealthy patrons often inserted themselves, their families or friends and business associates into crowd scenes.

Facial recognition technology could be used to identify some of these people from already known works and thus provide insight into personal, political and business relationships of the day. In other cases families in wealthy homes commissioned busts of relatives that were often sold when estates went bankrupt or families declined.

The new technique could identify many of these people by linking the busts to known portraits. "These are historical documents and they can teach us things. Works of art can show us political connections or business links. It opens up a whole new window into the past," Rudolph said.

In order to transfer the process to analysing faces in works of art, some technical issues will need to be overcome. Portraits are in two dimensions and are also an artistic interpretation rather than a definitive likeness. In some cases, the painter might have simply not been very accurate, or attempted to flatter a subject, which would make recognition more difficult.

"It is different using this on art rather than an actual human," said Rudolph, "But we are trying to test the limits of the technology now and then who knows what advances may happen in the future? This is a fast-moving field." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 25 2012

Liverpool's DaDaFest wins prestigious prize

The international disability and deaf arts festival has scooped the Lever Prize

The DaDaFest in Liverpool has won this year's prestigious £10,000 Lever Prize, just over a year after I wrote about fears over the festival's future funding due to Arts Council cuts.

The UK's largest disability and deaf arts festival, which attracts international artists was chosen by senior representatives of the 30 largest companies in the north west to receive the prize.

In 2011, DaDaFest celebrated its 10th anniversary, having begun in 2001 as a community arts event. Over the last decade, it has attracted 100,000 visitors.

When it started, there were a handful of performers; last year the number of artists has swelled to 313, with a total of 1,200 participants and visitor numbers expected to reach at least 11,000.

The festival's aims are simple – to inspire and celebrate talent and excellence in disability and deaf arts. The performances took part in mainstream venues – Liverpool's theatres, art spaces and galleries, so the festival was accessible to all audiences.

At the time, festival's artistic director, Garry Robson, explained its ethos. He said: "DaDaFest is here to present the work of deaf and disabled artists, whose work is on a par with mainstream artists.

"Disabled and deaf people are not simply passive consumers of a tragic destiny but active participants in all areas of life, with a unique and valuable cultural perspective that we plan to share during the festival."

In 2011, there was an international feel to the festival with performances from north and south America, Europe and Australia, as well as the UK. American writer and director Christine Bruno is performing Screw You Jimmy Choo, a play "about a woman obsessed with men she can't have and shoes she can't wear."

Ugandan hip-hop artist Rockin Ronnie, who is involved with Krip Hop Nation, a collective of musicians based in Berkeley, California, wrote and performed a festival theme song.

The festival's CEO, Ruth Gould, said that research undertaken to evaluate the festival shows that 75% of participants have gone on to get employment in the creative arts sector.

"At DaDaFest we know that the arts give us a voice; give us a hope in a world where we feel excluded, forgotten and ignored," she says.

Previous winners of the Lever Prize, named in honour of 19th soap magnate and philanthropist William Lever, include Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and Manchester International Festival.

Each year the prize is judged by the North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) in partnership with Arts & Business North.

Arts groups, buildings, events, festivals, libraries and archives are all eligible and in addition to the £10,000 cash prize the award opens the door to collaboration with the region's top businesses. Last year's winner of the Lever Prize was the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.

Gould said: "We're delighted the NWBLT have acknowledged the unique work DaDaFest does in representing disability and deaf culture in the north west and internationally.

"The award and resulting creative collaborations with NWBLT members will allow us to present an even more relevant and enticing festival later this year."

Geoffrey Piper, chief executive of NWBLT said: "DaDa's success in landing the 2012 Lever Prize is a truly outstanding achievement having seen off an extremely impressive range of the north west's other well-known arts organisations to win this major accolade."

This year's DaDaFest takes place from July 13 to September 2. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 21 2011

TERRA_616_Witness Series_1.flv

Trust is a 10-part series about a perfect trifecta. The Public Trust Doctrine is a legal doctrine that traces back to Roman times and holds governments accountable to protect the resources we all share in common and depend upon for our very survival. The principle of inter-generational justice is enshrined in international human rights law and simply put, it means that the adults can't have a party on the planet and leave it a mess for our kids. Combine the Public Trust Doctrine with the principles of inter-generational justice and passionate youth who are fighting for their future in both the courts and on the streets, and we have the perfect trifecta. Why? Because youth across the country are bringing legal actions - based on trust - against the federal and state governments so we will all open our eyes and protect our atmosphere and our futures with smart strategies rooted in science. Part 1: Meet Alec Loorz, a 17-year old climate change activist from Oak View, California. When Alec was 12, he saw Inconvenient Truth for the first time. Since then he has been a dedicated activist for climate change. Part 2: Meet John Thiebes, a 23-year old beginning farmer has set out to change the agricultural practices on a worn-out patch of prairie in the agricultural heart of Montana. Go to to learn more about the campaign.

November 11 2011

Paul McCarthy's Hollywood nightmares

In pictures: Prepare yourself for an orgy of ketchup and mayonnaise as the artist's visceral visions arrive in London

October 06 2011

How Steve Jobs put the seduction into technology

Apple reshaped the personal computer from a wobbly, Professor Branestawm-like contraption into a kind of digital jewellery

I wrote this just a few weeks ago when Steve Jobs announced he was quitting Apple:

"The Macintosh turned out so well," Jobs, who resigned as the CEO of Apple last night, once told the New York Times, "because the people working on it were musicians, artists, poets and historians who also happened to be excellent computer scientists."
And the people who bought the first Apple Mac computers were often architects, designers and journalists. One way or another, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the creators of the Apple Macintosh computers in the 1970s, came up with a line of products that – though clunky at first – had great appeal and continue to excite those engaged in design and the media – those who were best placed to sow the Apple seed.

Steve Jobs died on Wednesday. I'm writing this on an Apple desktop computer. When I rush off to work on another story today, my personal Apple MacBook will come with me. I also have an iPad, a Christmas present that has insinuated itself into my working and private life. With all these Apples about, it can be like living in a digital orchard.

As someone who still loves his Olivetti Lettera and who has learned to come to terms with the digital world slowly and cautiously, Apple has eased the transition. It's not just that the technology is "user friendly" to writers and millions engaged in what are known as the "creative industries", but that the physical design of Apple gizmos is seductive.

The iPad is like some magic tablet that comes alive and glows as if a genie has answered at least some of your wishes. Invented by Jobs and his team and styled by Apple's Jonathan Ives, it is one of those products that I like to imagine transporting back in time and showing our equally inventive ancestors as they built a pyramid or engineered a Gothic cathedral. Look what we've learned to do!

There would, of course, be one major snag. With no electricity, cables or satellites, let alone service providers and all the rest of the digital panopoly, the iPad's screen would remain resolutely dark, its crisp and gleaming plastic and metal case holding little interest for the architects of the Great Pyramid of Cheops or Salisbury Cathedral.

So Apples are very much objects of our time, so much so that each has been superseded by the next at a speed that might suggest a policy of built-in obsolescence. It's not that, although any company wants to sell us its next product or go out of business. It's more a case of design and technology moving on rapidly. And, in Jobs's case, of making Apple products indispensable in the way a wristwatch, handbag or wallet are to so very many millions of people.

Jobs, with incisive assistance from his design team, reshaped the personal computer from a wobbly, Professor Branestawm-like contraption lashed together at the back of a garage, or from an early Moog synthesiser lookalike, into a kind of digital jewellery.

Machines that, when he was growing up, were the stuff of men in white coats poring over punched paper tape and whirring, tape-recorder style reels in sealed, air-conditioned rooms are, thanks to Jobs, sleek hand-held devices that slip into handbags – wallets in the next couple of years, no doubt.

The very first Apple computer went on sale in 1976, its digital gubbins protected by a wooden casing. That was just a generation ago, and yet the latest Apples design make it look as though it might have been a tool used by medieval masons.

George Stephenson did not invent the steam railway locomotive, but when he and his son, Robert, shaped Rocket in 1829 – a pretty canary yellow and white design – they made this revolutionary machine aesthetically and emotionally acceptable to a largely suspicious and sceptical public.

Jobs has done much the same thing with Apple and the personal computer. There is, of course, something almost touching about the fact that most of these gleaming, seductive 21st-century devices are charged, when plugged into walls, by electricity generated by the mighty stationary steam engines we know as power stations.

Not everything under the digital sun is new, but Jobs knew how to make it shine into our offices, our homes and our private lives. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 09 2011

The Apple has landed: Steve Jobs' plans for futuristic new campus

Steve Jobs gave a masterclass in how to charm your local council planning meeting this week, personally presenting for 20 minutes on its ambitious plans for a new headquarters in Cupertino.

The small Californian town, which is part of the patchwork of cities that make up the sprawl of Silicon Valley, has become synonymous with Apple, which employs 2,800 people at the base on Infinity Loop.

With a very different persona to the one we see at Apple's product announcements, Jobs was authoritative but humble, and personal enough to give anecdotes about growing up in Cupertino. He was also disturbingly thin and at times seemed breathless, and when one councillor asked on Apple's no-smoking policy he snapped: "Both my parents died from lung cancer, so i'm a little sensitive on that topic."

The vision of a vast, circular building is designed to impress. Jobs told the council that through its experience building retail stores, Apple has developed a specialism in building the biggest curved pieces of glass in the world for architectural use. Jobs, who has a summer job as a teenager at Hewlett Packard who used own the land, said there used to be apricot trees on the site and wants to plant apricot orchards. The 150-acre site will be 80% landscaped, he said.

Ground breaking will start next year and the campus will be finished by 2015.

It will be four storeys high, hold around 12,000 people and have its own auditorium. Perhaps future WWDCs will be held here, instead of the Moscone Centre? "We put on presentations, much like we did yesterday, but we have to go to San Francisco to do them."

One councillor asked how Cupertino residents will benefit from Apple's new campus in the city. "Well, as you know we're the largest tax payer in Cupertino and we'd like to continue to stay here and pay taxes. If we can't then we have to go somewhere else like Mountain View and we'll take our current people with us and the city's largest tax base would go away." He added that Apple employs a lot of talented people who end up being affluent members of the community.

Couldn't Apple at least provide free wifi, suggested the councillor? "I'm a simpleton," said Jobs. "I think we pay taxes and the city should do those things. If we can get out of paying taxes then I'd be glad to put up wifi. I think we bring a lot more than free wifi."

"I think we do have a shot at building the best office building in the world. I think architecture students will come here to see this." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 07 2011

TERRA 607: Students Saving the Ocean

STUDENTS SAVING THE OCEAN tells the story of the how the conservation community in the Bay Area comes together to improve the health and environment of the California coasts. ;Students lead the charge to explain how everyday decisions have a big impact on our oceans.
TERRA 607: Students Saving the Ocean

STUDENTS SAVING THE OCEAN tells the story of the how the conservation community in the Bay Area comes together to improve the health and environment of the California coasts. ;Students lead the charge to explain how everyday decisions have a big impact on our oceans.

September 09 2010

As California goes, so goes the nation?

How will the most populous state in the nation move forward with digital elections? When California secretary of state Debra Bowen endorsed open source voting systems at yesterday's Gov 2.0 Summit, the validation naturally struck many people in O'Reilly's community as significant, given the size and prominence of the Sunshine State in the world.

"Open source election software saves us a ton of money, and can be re-used in other states," she said. Bowen's interview with Tim O'Reilly at Gov 2.0 Summit, embedded below, featured a wide-ranging discussion of trust, digital literacy and the future of electronic voting in thousands of California's precincts. While open source voting poses challenges in implementation, Bowen's perspective on the subject are worth reviewing.

As a one of the country's pioneers in open government reform, election integrity, and personal privacy rights, Debra Bowen is well positioned to comment. "How do we create an education plan in CA so that everyone has 'access'?" she asked, focusing what a continued digital divide would pose for widespread adoption of electronic voting online or using smartphone apps. Bowen pointed to the potential for new tools and apps to engage young people and save money for government, particularly as millennials make different choices for media consumption.

Integrating more efficiencies into the system isn't a theoretical or aspirational goal, either. As Brian Kalish reported in Nextgov, one of the silliest things is that officials in Los Angeles County will be transcribing by hand 30,000 to 40,000 voter registration forms every day in advance of Election Day in November 2. "Paying people to type data from a form is one of the silliest things we can do in 2010," Bowen said, and the manual process naturally creates instances where mistakes enter the system as election officials try to discern names.

When I interviewed California's Secretary of State after her conversation with Tim, she elaborated on the utility of open source software in elections and electronic voting. As California resident Alan Silberberg pointed out before our interview, Secretary Bowen de-certified electronic voting machines due to concerns over the security and validity, a decision that she enduring considerable blowback. In our conversation, she talked about on whether it will possible to deploy digital voting in California any time soon. (Spoiler: there will continue to be barriers in terms of record keeping and security in the near future.)

As California resident Ryan Alfred observed during Bowen's conversation with Tim O'Reilly, open source voting platforms sound great in theory -- but can technology increase the percentage of citizens who vote? Bowen said that it comes down to trust in the systems. In response to New York State Senate IT staffer Noel Hidalgo's question on the role does open source have in closing state budget deficit gaps, Bowen pointed to replicability and the comparable cost of proprietary systems.

On the bigger questions of how the future of civics, the digital divide information literacy relate, Bowen reflected more about how California addressing the digital divide. Both interviews with the secretary provided fascinating insight into the state of how digital democracy will evolve.

April 16 2010

Debt: Greece vs California

(Global Pulse: April 16, 2010) A question being hotly debated by bloggers: who is buried in worse debt, Greece or California? News reports lean towards Greece as the real basket case, while TV news loves any reason to show video of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both Greece and California are cutting deep to balance the books, and their people are hitting back with protests and anger. Will either receive a bailout, or are they both doomed to default? For this special News Hunt episode, we'll grab facts from worldwide news reports and weigh the options with both hands. To be a part of the News Hunt for good journalism on the economy go to

SOURCES: Al Jazeera English, Qatar; Fox News, U.S; BBC, U.K; Deutsche Welle, Germany; NBC, U.S; RT, Russia

June 17 2009

TERRA 517: Sealed Off!!! PART ONE

The beach known as The Children's Pool in La Jolla, California, has been a point of pride in the town for 75 years. Today almost no one goes there to swim, not since a pod of 200 harbor seals took up residence on the sand. Should La Jolla return the beach to use by people or make it a seal preserve? Sealed Off!!! takes a quirky look at this unusual controversy through the eyes of some of the people most intimately connected to it.

October 20 2007

TERRA 346: Bioneers 2007 PART ONE

Green has gone global. But for the past 18 years, one of the major epicenters of the movement has been the national Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California. Now that green is moving rapidly into the mainstream, their is a new buzz in the air in San Rafael this year. There are also some new challenges: like how to preserve the moral compass of the movement and how to keep on the cutting edge . . . join us for a 'live' glimpse into Day One (more coverage to follow).
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