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February 19 2014

April 16 2013

Four short links: 16 April 2013

  1. Triage — iPhone app to quickly triage your email in your downtime. See also the backstory. Awesome UI.
  2. Webcam Pulse Detector — I was wondering how long it would take someone to do the Eulerian video magnification in real code. Now I’m wondering how long it will take the patent-inspired takedown…
  3. How Microsoft Quietly Built the City of the FutureThe team now collects 500 million data transactions every 24 hours, and the smart buildings software presents engineers with prioritized lists of misbehaving equipment. Algorithms can balance out the cost of a fix in terms of money and energy being wasted with other factors such as how much impact fixing it will have on employees who work in that building. Because of that kind of analysis, a lower-cost problem in a research lab with critical operations may rank higher priority-wise than a higher-cost fix that directly affects few. Almost half of the issues the system identifies can be corrected in under a minute, Smith says.
  4. UDOO (Kickstarter) — mini PC that could run either Android or Linux, with an Arduino-compatible board embedded. Like faster Raspberry Pi but with Arduino Due-compatible I/O.

March 19 2013

Four short links: 19 March 2013

  1. VizCities Dev Diary — step-by-step recount of how they brought London’s data to life, SimCity-style.
  2. Google Fibre Isn’t That ImpressiveFor [gigabit broadband] to become truly useful and necessary, we’ll need to see a long-term feedback loop of utility and acceptance. First, super-fast lines must allow us to do things that we can’t do with the pedestrian internet. This will prompt more people to demand gigabit lines, which will in turn invite developers to create more apps that require high speed, and so on. What I discovered in Kansas City is that this cycle has not yet begun. Or, as Ars Technica put it recently, “The rest of the internet is too slow for Google Fibre.”
  3. Recommendations on Open SourceUse open source software in preference to proprietary or closed source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, Web servers, databases and programming languages.
  4. Internet Bad Neighbourhoods (PDF) — bilingual PhD thesis. The idea behind the Internet Bad Neighborhood concept is that the probability of a host in behaving badly increases if its neighboring hosts (i.e., hosts within the same subnetwork) also behave badly. This idea, in turn, can be exploited to improve current Internet security solutions, since it provides an indirect approach to predict new sources of attacks (neighboring hosts of malicious ones).

May 18 2012

Visualization of the Week: Urban metabolism

This week's visualization comes from PhD candidates David Quinn and Daniel Wiesmann, who've built an interactive web-mapping tool that lets you explore the "urban metabolism" of major U.S. cities. The map includes data about cities' and neighborhoods' energy usage (kilowatt per hour per person) and material intensity (kilo per person) patterns. You can also view population density.

Click to see the full interactive version.

Quinn writes that "one of the objectives of this work is to share the results of our analysis. We would like to help provide better urban data to researchers." The map allows users to analyze information on the screen, draw out an area to analyze, compare multiple areas, and generate a report (downloadable as a PDF) with more details, including information about the specific data sources.

Quinn is a graduate student at MIT; Wiesmann is a PhD candidate at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal.

Found a great visualization? Tell us about it

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring visualizations. We're always looking for leads, so please drop a line if there's a visualization you think we should know about.

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

More Visualizations:

February 27 2012

Creating Maker-friendly cities

Freeside hackerspace in Atlanta
Freeside hackerspace in Atlanta.

In an article in Slate, "What Beer Can Teach Us About Emerging Technologies," Dave Conz writes that many DIY activities can be illegal in some towns:

"Home brewing is part of a broad spectrum of DIY activities including amateur astronomy, backyard biodiesel brewing, experimental architecture, open-source 3-D printing, even urban farming. (My pet chickens Pepper and Fanny eat my spent beer grains and, in turn, feed me breakfast.) Many of these pastimes can lead to new ideas, processes, and apparatus that might not otherwise exist. Depending on your hobby and your town, these activities can be officially encouraged, discouraged, unregulated, or illegal. For example, it's illegal to make biodiesel fuel at home in the city of Phoenix (a simple process in which waste vegetable oil is mixed with methyl alcohol into which lye has been dissolved) but not regulated in the bordering towns of Scottsdale, Chandler, or Tempe (where I make mine). Based on its zoning laws, Phoenix considers the process 'industrial' and therefore prohibited in residential areas while the other cities do not. If making biodiesel were legal and encouraged, the reduction in exhaust emissions and diversion of grease from sewers and landfills could help clean up the 'brown cloud' of smog in the Valley of the Sun.

"We need more sensible policy like the legalization of home brewing beer. It's unlikely that we'll be able to successfully shop and consume our way into the best future, but we can make it brighter by encouraging DIY."

I agree that governments, particularly local governments, need to do more to understand and adapt to what might be called DIY citizenship. Cities need to re-examine their industrial policy and zoning laws, redefining what light-industrial means and relaxing regulations that were meant for the industrial age when production was housed in factories. We need cities to become maker-friendly and welcome makerspaces, foster new maker businesses and support individuals who are now doing things that lawmakers of yesteryear didn't expect them to be doing for themselves. It's re-inventing what you can do in and around a city, even what you can do in your backyard and garage.

One consequence of not getting this right is that a city shuts down a makerspace, which happened in Nashua, New Hampshire earlier this year, even as it funds economic development efforts to attract entrepreneurs. Cities should encourage this kind of "homebrew" innovation and inspiration, which is a healthy form of growth.

Studying the emergence of makers and makerspaces in cities would be a great urban planning research project, developing a set of policy guidelines for cities to implement if they want to foster the kind of innovation and social change found in the Maker Movement.

Note: I will be speaking at the FutureTense - Tinkering with Tomorrow event this Wednesday in DC.

August 22 2011

Four short links: 22 August 2011

  1. Cities in Fact and Fiction: An Interview with William Gibson (Scientific American) -- Paris, as much as I love Paris, feels to me as though it's long since been "cooked." Its brand consists of what it is, and that can be embellished but not changed. A lack of availability of inexpensive shop-rentals is one very easily read warning sign of overcooking. I wish Manhattan condo towers could be required to have street frontage consisting of capsule micro-shops. The affordable retail slots would guarantee the rich folks upstairs interesting things to buy, interesting services, interesting food and drink, and constant market-driven turnover of same, while keeping the streetscape vital and allowing the city to do so many of the things cities do best. London, after the Olympic redo, will have fewer affordable retail slots, I imagine. (via Keith Bolland)
  2. Bootstrap -- HTML toolkit from Twitter, includes base CSS and HTML for typography, forms, buttons, tables, grids, navigation, and more. Open sourced (Apache v2 license).
  3. Extra Headers for Browser Security -- I hadn't realized there were all these new headers to avoid XSS and other attacks. Can you recommend a good introduction to these new headers? (via Nelson Minar)
  4. Swarmanoid -- award-winning robotics demo of heterogeneous, dynamically connected, small autonomous robots that provide services to each other to accomplish a larger goal. (via Mike Yalden)

April 12 2010

Citizens as public sensors

scf_logo_fp.gifWhen people talk about the effects of Gov 2.0, the discussion tends to center around transparency and making data available to the general public. But information can flow in both directions.

SeeClickFix believes that the citizens may have as much to offer local government as the government may have to offer to the people. By letting the man (literally) on the street report issues to local city or town departments, and making them trackable, it shifts some of the management burden to the people most affected by them. Jeff Blasius, one of the co-founders, talked to us about how the program is working.

How SeeClickFix came to be:

Jeff Blasius: It started a little over two years ago when I was dealing with graffiti on my neighbor's building. After deciding that it was hopeless dealing with my neighbor, I went to call city hall. I left something like five different messages with the department that I presumed was responsible. At some point, while waiting on hold and getting different answers about what I could do, I started thinking: "I bet a lot of my neighbors have complained about similar issues and have had a lot of trouble, and it would be nice to know what their experiences were when attempting to contact city hall."

So we sat down on a Sunday night and said, "We're going to give ourselves four hours to try to come up with something." And at the end of four hours if we're happy and we like the tool, we would keep working on it. If not, we'd can it. At the end of four hours, we had a little Google Map where you could post issues on the map and that was it. We showed it off to friends. They thought it was cool. And the rest is kind of history.

How cities respond to SeeClickFix:

JB: The first city was New Haven, Conn., and the mayor and the chief administrative officer were both very receptive. So receptive that the mayor wrote a letter to about 100 other mayors around the country. The majority of responses since have been really positive. You get a few where they'll say, "Oh, but we already have a website where people can report issues." And, of course, our response is, "Yes, you do. But that website does not display issues publicly when you post them."

We have a ton of features that exceed standard city websites, and that helps move the ball forward in terms of acceptance of public, transparent, collective reporting. But in the beginning, really the only one-up we had on a city website was that we were a map-based transparent web reporting tool, and they were usually just a closed web form that was no better than leaving a phone call. You still had the same black box syndrome.

The threatening nature of transparency:

JB: I don't think I've ever had a public works official say to me, "We don't want this because it's going to make the information public." No one wants to be on record saying that. So what we do is, we don't really give them a choice.

The information is going to be public whether city governments receive alerts or not. And then we sign them up to receive alerts, if they don't sign themselves up. Many, many city governments have signed themselves up. But many others have been signed up by us or by a media partner or by one of their constituents.

When a problem is "fixed":

Gov 2.0 Expo 2010JB: We say a problem is fixed when it's actually fixed, not when someone says, "We're going to fix it." The way you know is because either the person who posted the issue closes the ticket and the status changes to closed, or the person who sees it fixed or actually fixes it closes the ticket.

Anyone can close it. The citizens all get emails. The initial reporters get emails when an issue is closed, and if they want to reopen it, they click the link. We did have someone in Winnipeg, Canada closing unfixed tickets. It's the only time it's happened. My impression is that it was the city employee that was doing it, and they were being pretty hostile about it. But citizens instantly said that the ticket's not closed. We helped to reopen some, and the citizens reopened some themselves.

How SeeClickFix has made a difference:

JB: We have thousands of potholes fixed across the country, thousands of pieces of graffiti repaired, streetlights turned on, catch basins cleared, all of that basic, broken-windows kind of stuff. We've seen neighborhood groups form based around issues reported on the site. We've seen people get new streetlights for their neighborhood, pedestrian improvements in many different cities, and all-terrain vehicles taken off of city streets. We've seen university shuttle buses slow down their speeds by 15 miles per hour across the board. We've seen people report and be informed about water quality from their reservoirs.

There was also one case of an arrest. The New Haven Police Department attributed initial reports on SeeClickFix to a sting operation that led to an arrest of two drug dealers selling heroin in front of a grammar school.

The benefits of SeeClickFix for local government:

JB: One benefit is taking out middlemen in city hall and sending issues directly from a citizen to the person who fixes the pothole. It empowers citizens to be sensors in the public space, as opposed to having to pay public works inspectors or city engineers to do that kind of infrastructure review. Then, it actually allows city workers to use the mobile tools to track down the issues in the field. These are all things that have budget or cost-savings ramifications, as opposed to just political ramifications.

The SeeClickFix revenue model:

JB: A piece of our revenue model is in sponsorship and advertising. A piece of our revenue model is software as a service, whereby we're selling the customization of our application as well as custom iPhone, Android and Blackberry applications. We call that SeeClickFix Plus. Cities as small as Maynard, Texas are using that for as little as $100 a month. Cities as big as Tucson, Ariz. are using that as well.

We also have SeeClickFix Pro, which is a dashboard with user licenses for tracking and acknowledging the issues and backing them up in Excel format. We are also signing on a few cities for SeeClickFix Connect, which is probably the most exciting piece because it ties all of SeeClickFix's reporting tools into a city government's existing work order system.

All of those revenue models are playing out in some form. Small, but in some form. Now we just have to decide which levers we're going to pull and how hard we're going to pull and when we're going to pull them.

How to get your town involved in SeeClickFix:

JB: We have grown really quickly because we empower local blogs and news sites to embed SeeClickFix in their websites so citizens can report issues to city government right from the sites they read everyday. We'd encourage people to get their newspapers to embed the tool, or to get their local blogger or neighborhood association to embed the tool.

After that, make sure someone is receiving an alert. If you go to your neighborhood or city, you can click the "Who's Watching" tab and you can see if your mayor or your public works department is already receiving alerts. And if not, you can sign them up. The last step is just reporting issues.

Note: This interview was condensed and edited.

April 27 2009

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