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petronius's Journal
petronius's Journal
May 1, 2014

A discussion on the dos-and-don'ts of Data Journalism

Old article, but I just ran across it and found it interesting. The specific term 'Data Journalism' is new to me, but apparently a fast growing segment of the media industry.

Programmers explain how to turn data into journalism & why that matters

By now you’ve heard about how The Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., published the names and addresses of thousands of local gun permit holders.

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We can all agree that sort of violent retaliation went too far. But there’s less agreement about whether the paper erred when it published the information in the first place.

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That seems to be the real sticking point in the broader discussion: Do journalists have a free pass to do whatever they want with public-record data?

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But when a journalist chooses to copy that information, frame it in a certain (inherently subjective) context, and then actively push it in front of thousands of readers and ask them to look at it, he’s taken a distinct action for which he is responsible.

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Lots more at the link above; the snips don't do it much justice...

From: poynter.org
April 29, 2014

White House Raises the Bar for Colleges’ Handling of Sexual Assault

From: The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Obama administration unveiled stringent new guidelines on Tuesday designed to help colleges combat sexual assault and provide victims with a "road map" to file complaints against institutions that fall short in their responses.

In 20 pages of recommendations, the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault provides practical instructions for colleges to identify, prevent, and respond to sexual assault. And it prescribes several steps to improve and bring more transparency to federal enforcement of applicable civil-rights laws.

President Obama created the group in January, promising a coordinated federal response to deal with rape and sexual assault on campuses. The group’s membership includes the U.S. attorney general and the leaders of several other cabinet-level agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Education.

The task force’s report comes at a time when students are driving the debate over how colleges should prevent and respond to sexual assault. Over the past year, activists and rape survivors across the country have publicly faulted colleges—which are legally required to respond to reports of sexual assault—for what they see as inadequate responses. In many cases, the students have filed complaints under the federal civil-rights law known as Title IX.

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Link to full report at Whitehouse.gov
April 27, 2014

Simon Winchester: "The Great Bend" (a geological 'what-if')

Geology is in all senses a more solid intellectual exercise than most, and when it comes to imagining truly plausible geological counterfactuals—what tectonically realistic what-ifs could have shifted the four-billion-year course of the planet’s history—it becomes quite clear that the possibilities are really rather limited. By comparison with earth scientists, historians have it easy: it is perfectly simple to imagine, for instance, the cascade of consequences that might follow if Hitler had sipped chamomile tea instead of a double espresso on a certain afternoon at Berchtesgaden; or, more recently, if the American secretary of defense had broken his neck instead of his arm when he tripped on the curb of his Chevy Chase driveway. In history all is plausible, so all is possible.

The earth, however, does not permit such flexible imaginings. One cannot realistically suppose a volcano erupting in Manhattan; and it would be difficult to persuade any reputable geophysicist that the Atlantic Ocean could be ten thousand miles wide instead of its present three. The hard facts of the earth’s equally hard surface circumscribe such fancies. Even in those areas where some imaginings can reasonably occur—what if the Bering Strait had never closed, or what if the English Channel had never opened, both of which are within the realm of the geologically possible—the imagined effects are generally rather limited too.

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In a far corner of the world, however, there is one geological possibility—a very reasonable, very plausible one at that—which, had it been exercised about forty million years ago by the planet’s subterranean engine, would have changed just about everything. And that is the imagined shift, by just a few hundred yards, of a small and insignificant-looking mountain that rises two thousand feet from within a flower-filled valley in the southern part of the Chinese province of Yunnan. If Cloud Mountain, as it is locally known, had been only half a mile from where it currently stands then the entire world would be a very, very different place.

It all has to do with the Yangtze River and with a geological configuration known all across China as the Great Bend.


April 26, 2014

Two tips for buying the best tasting beer no matter where you shop (LATimes)

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There are two tricks for buying craft beer at spots that may not be your first choice for beer buying. The most important thing to do is check the bottles for date codes -- this is a great habit to get into whenever you buy beer. You wouldn't buy a jug of milk without checking the expiration date; you should give beer the same caution (even though “expired” beer won’t make you sick, it may just taste “off”).

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The second trick to ensure the best tasting beer is to be mindful of which styles you’re buying, if you're shopping at what might be questionable sources. Some beer styles can weather a long stint on a shelf better than others. More malt-forward styles like stouts, porters and brown ales stale more gracefully than hoppy beers that are best as fresh as possible. Belgian and Belgian-style beers are often bottle conditioned, which protects them from going stale, and higher alcohol brews are more rugged than lighter products (though even a 10% double IPA will go south quickly).

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Where to find 'bottled-on' or 'drink-by' dates on the bottle, by bewery: http://drinkingfresh.com/list

Probably the most useful thing I'll learn today...
April 26, 2014

Mind Games: Making the case for an academic calling in a neoliberal age

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In the United States, and increasingly in the world at large, we tend to reduce the conversation about the value, role, and scope of the scholarly life to how it serves short-term and personal interests like career preparation or job training. Sometimes we discuss higher education as an economic boon, attracting industry to a particular location or employing thousands in a remote town. Or we probe it as an engine of research and innovation. And sometimes we use academia as a tableau for satire or social criticism when we expose the excesses of the lazy and self-indulgent professoriat or giggle at the paper titles at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association.

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Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin—among others—founded new, ostensibly secular institutions that they naively hoped would civilize slaveholders into a life of enlightened public service based on science and deliberation rather than on superstition and tradition. But they never fully overturned the monastic traditions. Instead, they invented traditions of their own. In the nineteenth century, public land-grant universities taught farmers the latest breakthroughs in agriculture and developed remarkable feats of engineering and analysis; they thus served as catalysts of economic growth and national expansion. After World War II, Americans got the idea that anyone could work her way into college and that higher education could be an engine of social mobility. And, for less than a third of Americans in 2014, the four-year degree has been just that.

Now, however, that promise of mobility appears to have stalled out. Since the economic collapse of 2008, we have encountered tirade after tirade, book after book, lamenting the ways the American university fails to serve society yet succeeds in indulging itself. The university, like the music business before it, our cohort of brave new digital pundits tells us, is due for “disruption.” It has to adopt a new “business model.” It’s “broken”—like everything else that someone does not like.

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The market surely can’t—and shouldn’t. The richest nation in the history of the world subsidizes all sorts of luxuries and inefficiencies. Football stadiums, bridges to nowhere, bases and planes that even the military does not want, churches, temples, cathedrals, and vacation homes. Yet in the present consensus on the future of our higher learning, the notion that perhaps we can afford a reasonable level of public investment in the inefficient institutions that gave us the Green Revolution and Google is deemed unrealistic. The public debate is locked on measurable outputs. But the opportunity costs of failing to reinvest never come up. What is the public expense, for instance, if we continue to gouge funding for research on communicable diseases or climate change? How do we measure the cost of failing to inspire and guide the student who might write the next great work of political thought that can guide us safely through the challenges of this century? Why can’t the richest country in the world afford to adequately support passionate potential scholars in the pursuit of their calling? We make explicit value choices in this republic. We have chosen tax breaks over history, poetry, and science. Nothing is inevitable. We can choose otherwise.

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April 24, 2014

"All odd and splendid as freaks and nobody able to see himself"

"Someone told me it is spring, but everyone today looked remarkable just like out of August Sander pictures, so absolute and immutable down to the last button feather tassel or stripe. All odd and splendid as freaks and nobody able to see himself, all of us victims of the special shape we come in.”

-- Diane Arbus (referenced here)

No comment, really - I just liked it and it felt interesting. Plus I'd never heard of August Sander...
April 24, 2014

The battle to build Shakespeare’s Globe

This week marks the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. Yet the way we remember history’s most renowned playwright might have been very different had it not been for a formidable foe.

In November 1596 a woman named Elizabeth Russell declared war on Shakespeare and his theatrical troupe, in the process nearly destroying the dramatist’s career. Russell rarely features in accounts of Shakespeare’s life, yet her actions determined how we think of him today: as the Shakespeare of the Globe Theatre.

In the National Archives in Kew there is a bundle of curious papers, identified by the prosaic reference number SP 12/260. The documents include two petitions to Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council. The first is headed by Lady Russell and records her endeavour to block the opening of a spectacular new theatre which Shakespeare was about to occupy less than a two-minute walk south of her home in Blackfriars, London. This unassuming manuscript discloses a scarcely believable act of betrayal, for among its 31 signatories are Shakespeare’s publisher, Richard Field, and his patron, George Carey, the Lord Hunsdon.

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Lady Russell’s robust personality matched her breeding. One contemporary described her as being “more than womanlike”, after witnessing her physically assaulting a nobleman in a court of law. She sparked numerous acts of rioting, violent affray, kidnapping, breaking-and-entering, illegal imprisonment and armed combat. For Russell warfare was a way of life. “A Lady of my place,” she had insisted, should scorn to be “contemptuously trodden on and overbraved by my malicious inferiors and adversaries.” Shakespeare would discover, to his cost, how true this was.

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April 24, 2014

How the elevator transformed America

When Daniel Levinson Wilk steps onto the elevator at work, he doesn’t just stand there and zone out. Instead he focuses on what’s happening to him: the strange push against his feet, the sense of moving through a dark and hollow artery in the middle of his building. Over the next 90 seconds, Wilk absorbs—or tries to—the sense that he’s having an experience that profoundly changed America.

The elevator, Wilk says, is responsible for shaping modern life in ways that most people simply don’t appreciate. An associate professor of history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a board member of the Elevator Museum in Queens, Wilk would like everyone to be more conscious of the elevators in their lives. But he is particularly disappointed with his fellow academics—people who are supposed to be studying how the world works—for failing to consider just how much elevators matter.

“The lack of interest scholars have shown in the cultural life of elevators,” he wrote in a recent e-mail, “is appalling.”

For most city-dwellers, the elevator is an unremarkable machine that inspires none of the passion or interest that Americans afford trains, jets, and even bicycles. Wilk is a member of a small group of elevator experts who consider this a travesty. Without the elevator, they point out, there could be no downtown skyscrapers or residential high-rises, and city life as we know it would be impossible. In that sense, they argue, the elevator’s role in American history has been no less profound or transformative than that of the automobile. In fact, according to Wilk, the automobile and the elevator have been locked in a “secret war” for over a century, with cars making it possible for people to spread horizontally, encouraging sprawl and suburbia, and elevators pushing them toward life in dense clusters of towering vertical columns.

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Elevators deserve a lot more serious consideration that I realized...
March 27, 2014

8 great public spaces hidden in downtown San Francisco

San Francisco has more than 65 privately developed spaces that are open to the public. No two are alike, and not all are readily apparent. Some are on rooftops; some are tucked inside buildings. Others are hidden in plain sight, easy to walk by without a second glance.

The city’s Planning Department has a web page devoted to these spaces — here’s the interactive map – and the civic advocacy organization SPUR has a similar guide that even rates each site as of 2009. I’ve written about the nooks on several occasions, including the need to keep them looking good as they age.

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Very cool - I think I'll plan part of my walks next time I visit around these places...
March 26, 2014

Good ruling. I like that explanation from Justice Sotomayor and the DOJ quote:

“Indeed, ‘most physical assaults committed against women and men by intimates are relatively minor and consist of pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting,’” Sotomayor wrote, quoting a Department of Justice report. “Minor uses of force may not constitute ‘violence’ in the generic sense. … But an act of this nature is easy to describe as ‘domestic violence,’ when the accumulation of such acts over time can subject one intimate partner to the other’s control. If a seemingly minor act like this draws the attention of authorities and leads to a successful prosecution for a misdemeanor offense, it does not offend common sense or the English language to characterize the resulting conviction as a ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.’”

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