Open Data Camp Day 1


If I don’t post a few notes from today’s Open Data Camp now, I never will, so here are a few things I scribbled down- it could be worse, I could have posted a PDF containing photos of the the actual scribbles!

So out of this choice

odcamp-sessions

…I picked, Open Data for Elections, Open Addresses, Data Literacy, Designing Laws using Open Data, and Augmented Reality for Walkers.

Open Data for Elections

I’ve been following @floppy‘s crazy plan to get elected for a while, so this was the easiest decision of the day: what drives someone to embrace the gory inner workings of democracy like this?

Falling turnout it would seem, and concern for a functioning democracy.

The first step of his journey was the Open Politics Manifesto, which I’ve so far failed to edit- must try harder.

Perhaps more interesting was how this, and use of open data, fits into a political platform as a service. It would be nice to have the opportunity to see a few additions to the usual suspects at the ballot box, and Eastleigh got a rare chance to see what that could be like with a by election. Perhaps open data services for candidates could tip he balance enough to encourage more people to stand.

Things that sounded interesting:

  • Democracy Club
  • OpenCorporates
  • Data Packages
  • Open data certificates (food hygiene certificates for data?)
  • Candidates get one free leaflet delivery by Royal Mail- I wonder how big they expect those leaflets to be!

Open Addresses

@floppy and @giacecco introduced the (huge) problems they need to overcome to rebuild a large data set without polluting that data with any sources with intellectual property restrictions. Open Addresses still have a long way to go and there were comments about how long Open Street Map has been around, and it still has gaps.

They have some fun ideas about crowd sourcing address data (high vis jacket required) and there are some interesting philosophical questions around consent for addresses to be added.

It will be interesting to see whether Open Addresses can get enough data to provide real value, and what services they build.

Data Literacy

Mark and Laura led a discussion around data literacy founded in the observation that competent people, with all the skills you could reasonably expect them to have, still struggle with handling data sets.

Who needs to be data literate? Data scientists? Data professionals? Everyone?

Data plumbers? There were some analogies with actual plumbers! You might not be a plumber but it’s useful to know something about it.

If we live in a data driven society, we should know how to ask the right questions. Need domain expertise and technical expertise.

Things that sounded interesting:

Designing Laws using Open Data

@johnlsheridan pointed out that the least interesting thing to do with legislation is to publish it and went on to share some fascinating insights into the building blocks of statute law. It sounds like the slippery language used in legislation boils down to a small number of design patterns built with simple building blocks, such as a duty along with a claim right, and so on.

Knowing these building blocks makes it easier to get the gist of what laws are trying to achieve, helps navigate statutes, and could give policy makers a more reliable way to effect a goal.

For example, it’s easier to make sense of the legislation covering supply of gas, and it’s possible to identify where there may be problems. The gas regulator has a duty to protect the interests of consumers by promoting competition, but that’s a weak duty without a clear claim right to enforce it.

John also demonstrated a tool – http://ngrams.elasticbeanstalk.com – exploring how the language used in legislation has changed over time, for example how the use of “shall” has declined and been replaced by “is to be”.

Augmented Reality for Walkers

My choice of Android tablet was largely based on what might work reasonably well for maps and augmented reality, so I seized this opportunity!

Nick Whitelegg described the Hikar Android app he’s been working on, which is intended to help hikers follow paths by overlaying map data on a live camera feed.

The data is a combination of Open Street Map mapping data, with Ordnance Survey height data, which is downloaded and cached as tiles around your current location. Open GL is used to overlay a 3D view of the map data on the live camera feed, using the Android sensor APIs to detect the device’s rotation.

I’ve just downloaded and installed Hikar and, while my tablet is a tad slow, it works really well. I live somewhere flat and boring but the height data made a noticeable difference when Nick demonstrated the app in hilly Winchester.

Still to come: Day 2!

Unfiltered


According to BT its parental controls are ‘completely customisable’ and apparently it is possible to add specific sites to allow or block which, unless you’re Claire Perry, is obviously essential. Even so I’ve experienced just how pointless internet filters are before, so I’m keen to avoid ‘porn’ filters on my home broadband connection for as long as possible.

CoffeeGeek-filter

I don’t know how filtering works on other ISPs but these are just a few of the problems with BT’s implementation which contributed to an upcoming switch to a completely unfiltered broadband provider:

  • Applies same filtering to every device… hopefully there aren’t actually any homes without adults around. Apparently they do allow you to schedule when the filter is active but that seems like a solution from the last century.
  • There’s no way for me to find out if a site would be blocked by the filter. There are sites I might want to make certain are blocked but I obviously wouldn’t want to have to visit them to find out!
  • There’s no way for site owners to find out if their own site would be blocked by the filter.
  • The standard filtering has a couple of glaring omissions which I would be interested in: I want to block adverts targeted at children, and I want to block any form of tracking.

There are more details of BT’s filtering in the Open Rights Group blog post, BT answers our questions about parental controls.

Photo © Mark (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Digital Curtain


The internet was a bit dingy yesterday as part of a worldwide protest against some proposed US legislation. There is already plenty of information and commentary about the latest attempts to tackle issues of ‘piracy’ at the expense of a free and open internet so I won’t try and repeat it all here. I did want to say something though since, basically, I don’t actually get a say. While the Digital Economy Act here in the UK was hardly a shinning example of democracy in action, its impact was at least limited to people within the UK who could in theory influence the final outcome at an election.

The thing that seriously concerns me about the US proposals are the extraterritorial implications. Perhaps I’ll be getting a postal vote in the next US elections, along with everyone else using the internet. I hope they send it to my new address.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, and I hope attempts to tamper with the workings of the internet only make it better. I’ve long thought that DNS is basically flawed, so perhaps this is an ideal opportunity to work on improvements like IDONS (Internet Distributed Open Name System). And the sooner the internet routes around the UK and US, the better!

Photo © Federico Negro (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Nothing better to do?


MPs must have finished debating all the important issues recently because now they’re getting all flustered by a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a blanket ban on prisoners voting is unlawful. If the primary purpose of prison is punishment, then I would have thought it would be better to keep inmates slopping out rather than taking their vote away.

The suggestion that keeping the ban on voting for some prisoners while allow others to vote also seems fairly pointless. Why even worry about where to draw the line? If my calculations are right, the entire prison population is less than a single constituency like the Isle of Wight. Even then, it seems optimistic to think that voter turnout in prisons would reach the heady heights of around 65% outside prisons. It looks like only 4% of prisoners even registered to vote in the Republic of Ireland.

Giving prisoners the right to vote is hardy going make any difference to re-offending rates is it? So just give them all a vote and stop whining. I do understand why a lot of people don’t like the idea of prisoners getting votes, but who likes the idea of bankers getting bonuses? And how’s that working out?!

Photo © Andrew Bardwell cc by-sa 2.0

Crushing phones


There seem to be more people doing this kind of thing around recently…

© José Luís Agapito. Some rights reserved.

I guess the current deterrent doesn’t worry some people. My mum had an interesting idea though: what if your mobile phone was confiscated and crushed if you are caught using it while driving? That might be a real deterrent. Not just because of the cash value of some modern phones, but because people are so attached to their phones. Could it work? Cars already get crushed for not having road tax in the UK, so it doesn’t seem too much of a leap.

Blustering Politicians


Earlier this week I spotted an article about a very entertaining protest against the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The basic idea is to bring a little of the world cup atmosphere to BP to remind them about what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico. Or to put it another way, use the formidable power of the Vuvuzela to annoy BP into submission. I think it’s a brilliant idea, but I do wonder what it’s intended to achieve.

I agree with Nigel – there’s a lot of less than constructive criticism. It’s hard to be sure given the amount of political and media spin, but it does seem that BP are well aware of the pain they are causing, and they do seem to be taking reasonable steps to do something about it. How can you complain about BP spending money to put it’s side of the story forward when it’s facing an onslaught of negative publicity? One thing that appears to have been somewhat overlooked in the clamour of blame-storming is that people have tragically died as a result of this accident. They barely seem to get a mention.

As for the environmental impact of the accident, I would be interested to find out how it compares to the damage done across America, and around the world, every single day. Of course, it is hard to ignore something so large and unpleasant right on your doorstep. No wonder Barack is so upset, except that it’s a little late now. I have no idea how strict the regulation and monitoring of the oil industry is in the US, but I have to admit I’ve been speculating about how it compares to the building control inspection process in the UK. A friend of mine is building a small extension on his house, and it seems like the inspector is there more often than the builders! Surely it would make sense for inspectors to have the power to stop drilling when issues are found, before they turn into problems, rather than drag someone in for a telling off when it’s too late. (The clips of Tony Hayward’s questioning I saw just annoyed me as well. What exactly did it achieve? I’m also not surprised by the accusations of double standards.)

Essentially it seems to me that it’s very easy to blame BP for something which we should all be taking responsibility for. There will always be accidents, but the likelihood and impact of those accidents must surely increase when our demand for oil means it’s even viable to extract it from oil sands. Carbon footprints might be all the rage, but what about our oily hands? Just think about how much oil we all use in our daily lives. How big will the oil handprint be for the Vuvuzela protest? Aren’t Vuvuzelas made from oil in the first place?!

Yes, it’s a terrible accident. Yes, BP should do everything they can to put it right. And yes, the Vuvuzela protest is pure genius, but they should be blowing those Vuvuzelas at all of us.

(Thanks to Marie M for making the handprints available under a creative commons license.)

Updated: added link to BP oil spill disaster: Clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico IET article. (5 July 2010)

Updated: added link to The 10 worst forms of pollution. (8 July 2010)

Apathy


I’m finding it very difficult to get any enthusiasm for the election. Every day there’s another campaign leaflet to add to the pile…

…often more than one, but they just aren’t helping. (Two more arrived as soon as I took that photo!)

Going by the number of leaflets, you would think that the Lib Dems are the most keen for my vote with around 18 so far. Sadly most of them just put me off voting Lib Dem, and I’m still waiting for a reply to my letter to Chris Huhne.

If I was voting based on quality of campaign leaflet content, the Conservatives would be ahead by a nose. Only five from them but on the whole they are much more positive and go in to more detail. Entertainingly, their major negative streak is about the dire consequences of a hung parliament, which includes a claim that financial experts predict a fall in house prices. Excellent, a hung parliament is sounding better than ever, sign me up for some of that!

Labour have managed to deliver a grand total of zero leaflets. Well, saves me the effort of moving them from the letter box to the recycling bin. Have enough to fill that up already.

UKIP and the National Liberal Party (that name just reminds me of a scene from the Life of Brian!) are tied on one leaflet each. Plus we also got a random leaflet campaigning against a hung parliament. I had been planning to add leaflets to TheStraightChoice.org but with my new found apathy I haven’t got very far. I did add one scanned by a colleague after he got a leaflet from the only independent candidate standing in Eastleigh.

Perhaps all the campaign posters are supposed to get me more excited about voting. They tell me a huge amount about what the parties stand for don’t they? Still, there is some entertainment from the, ‘who moved my sign’ squabbles. I had thought that the Lib Dems were going to win the prize for most signs, with the Conservatives taking gold for largest surface area, but after the Lib Dem banner appeared on the M27, there’s still everything to play for. (I’d love to know what the local council would have to say if residents stuck up random signs the rest of the year. Perhaps we could all declare our favourite supermarkets to find out!)

All of this old style electioneering should be consigned to the history books by now with the dawn of the digital age. Elections 2.0 should enable candidates to really engage with voters. Early signs were promising, with four of my candidates having twitter accounts: @ChrisHuhne, @MariaHutchings, @LeoBarraclough and @raymondfinch. Sadly I wouldn’t recommend following any of them. Broadcast media seems to be more their cup of tea. (There is one local candidate who deserves an honourable mention for his Election 2.0 posters, not that I can vote for him unfortunately.)

In the past I have always been very keen that everyone should vote, but given the quality of the choices available I’m coming round to the idea that not voting may actually be the best option. (I do like the Nobody poster!) Some lucky people even get to vote for no candidate. In the end though, even if I don’t vote, I’ll be doing it in person; it’s not actually apathy, it’s lack of choice.

Is blindly sticking a cross on a bit of paper once every few years just an illusion of democracy? What do you think the chances of any real change are after Thursday? Whatever happens, the politicians are going to win.

Update: a couple of links that might help when deciding who to vote for: (5 May 2010)

  • Hedge End People have a General Election group and some of the candidates have responded to questions on local issues.
  • Unlikely to help the apathy, but this article has an interesting graphic view of where the parties stand, and how the three main parties have shifted over recent years.