Friday, October 30, 2015

The Civic Data Divide

I'd like to coin the term "civic data divide", and given that Google shows zero results for it, I think I can make that claim.

More importantly, I've been working on a paper looking at factors that affect the strength of a nation's open data policy. The numbers show that, although some people have theorized about the importance of both internet access and education for open civic data, neither of these factors play a role, at least not on the national level, indicating that, as we might expect, the early users of and agitators for open civic data are those who can use it: those who have internet access and those with the education to work with numbers. This is a minority of the citizenry, and as such the national measures for overall education and overall internet connectivity do not statistically relate to the strength of a nation's open data policy.

This should not come as a surprise, given the many other socio-economic divides in terms of access we've seen before, such as the digital divide. The civic data divide, I would argue, is an extension of what scholar Pippa Norris has discussed as the democratic divide, where there are some who use the internet to engage with governance and those who do not or cannot.

Yet this is not an overly problematic scenario. Internet access and education are indeed not evenly distributed across any one country, but many of those working with civic data and open data policies work every day with the issues faced by nations and cities, and as such they are aware of and engaged with socio-economic inequalities, and, more importantly, are trying to address the issues and make things better for all citizens. Along with the expansion of civic data programs and outreach (such as MIT's Civic Data Design Lab and NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress), although the civic data divide currently exists, the very ideals behind open civic data are working to overcome it.

Google as of October 30, 2015, 5pm NYC time.

Edit: So, this does imply that those working on civic data are able to utilize their resources (socio-economic) for education so they have data skills, and so they can do this outside of their nation's educational system. But besides those that already have the resources for education, I'm guessing there are some who instead learn the needed skills via online courses, meetups, and other alternative educational avenues. But you still have to have the time to work on these projects.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Blue Background, White Text

Microsoft Word used to have a fantastic option, making the background blue (instead of white) and the text white (instead of black). I and many people liked the change of contrast. I first remember falling in love with this feature in the much-loved Word 5.1 a long, long time ago (circa 1992).

I use it on my home machine with Word 2011. But with my new laptop, Word 2011 was not an option, I had to use Word 2016, which I rather like so far (despite initially causing massive problems for my citation management software). And, the option for blue background, white text is gone. And that's disappointing and problematic.

Having most of the screen be white (the background) makes the screen very bright. It's like staring into a light, albeit a dim one. You want to keep the contrast between the text and the background, but you don't need black on white to do that. A lot of interfaces do that and I think it is stupid. Even this Blogger editor is doing that (but notice what I've chosen for my blog layout). This is a blog, it isn't ink on paper, it's way beyond that.

Which is another part of the issue: the paradigm. This is a computer, it's not ink on paper, which is a whole other technology. Yes, writing papers on the computer stems from typing in black ink on white paper on a typewriter, but this isn't a typewriter. You can change the writing in your document to two columns, add images, add footnotes, move anything anywhere, add page numbers, make sections, change something to italics after you write it, have hyperlinks.... You know. Computer word processing is based on typing on a typewriter, but it is light years beyond even an IBM Selectrix II with correctable ribbon. The computer can spellcheck. You can edit on the page and it will shuffle the text around. You can justify the text after you type it and change all the margins, then undo and redo all of that. You can repaginate on the fly (they actually just do this these days). I could list probably hundreds of ways in which a word processor is different from the black ink on white paper typewriter experience. You can change the typeface and font size after you have typed the words--try that on a typewriter. Yet, the product managers for Word at Microsoft have decided that this is the right way, and the only way, to do it. It's an outdated paradigm, and it sucks for my eyes.

Feature creep is one thing. Removing a useful feature that's been around for over 20 years is another.

And I loved the file icon:

AoIR 2015

Just spent a few days at AoIR 2015 in Phoenix! Note the hilarious typo ("indipendent") and we were not sure how that happened (it was discussed).

Thursday, October 15, 2015

More Borderlands 2 Homage

Two more examples to go with the previous post, although ones I ran into, not from Twitter.

The first one is from the movie Top Gun, referencing the Kenny Loggins song "Danger Zone", which is hilarious, in this quest, and the name of the quest is also a line from the film.

The second is from the amazing kids' book that you should all read, The Phantom Tollbooth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

More In-Game Homage

I have written, not at all exhaustively but somewhat extensively about in-game homages before, including one example from Borderlands 2. But I was in Twitter and ran into some Borderlands tweets about their in-game homage, although they referred to them as "Easter eggs" which isn't exactly how I would contextualize it. I like the topic, and the two examples they had, so present them here.

Homage is a great thing, and we love to play with the things we love, so there is cultural play, and being in the know about things also makes us feel special, or clues people in to what they should know if they don't so they can be in-group. In-game homage about other games is fantastic, but interesting given intellectual property laws.

The first, and if you're a gamer you won't need these explained, is homage to Donkey Kong, an early Nintendo game I played in junior high in about 1983 in the back of Sage's Jr around the corner from my school, and where you played as now-famous Mario. "Donkey Mong" is holding a barrel above his head, about to throw it, just like Donkey Kong.

This one refers to a current favorite, Minecraft, both via the blockhead appearance and part of the text refers directly to Minecraft (this could be an approved homage for all I know, it's unusually direct in the text and most homages aren't, they change something small like Donkey Mong for Donkey Kong).

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fixing Gephi on Your Mac

TL;DR: Download JDK 1.6, then point a Gephi startup file to it maybe with one change (/Library... and not /System/Library...).

UPDATE: New Gephi is out!
Original post continues below.

The longer version is that Gephi, which I love, hasn't had an update (as of this writing) in quite some time (parts of it have, parts haven't) and it doesn't work with the newer versions of Java. The 0.9 version download file for OS X doesn't seem to be where the link says it should be (again, as of this writing in early October, 2015).

Apparently Gephi 0.8 needs Java version 6, not version 7 or 8. Java appears to have lots of parts, names, and maybe even v6 is "1.6" and v7 is "1.7" which I don't understand but I don't do Java so I'm not going to spend time figuring it out--I got Gephi to work, that was all I cared about right now.

My new laptop, to replace my five-year old one, didn't even have Java on it (ah, the purity of it all). I got the JDK (Java Developer's Kit) 1.6 from part of the Apple Support website, which is what you want.

But you have to tell Gephi about it, as far as I know. This article was awesome except it turned out on my machine not quite right (but close enough that I figured it out). Java wasn't where I thought it would be. This article on Stackoverflow helped me find Java 1.6, although note the article is about Java 1.7, so make the command this:

/usr/libexec/java_home -v 1.6

(Ok now you don't need to read the Stackoverflow page, just run that in your terminal if you've installed 1.6 and don't know where it is.)

Turns out, I don't know why (and I don't care, it's working) Java 1.6 wasn't in /System/Library... it was instead in the same path but not the one in /System, it was just in /Library....

So, put that line in the Gephi startup file near the top as per the directions (I made it the first command) and so far Gephi actually loads, which it wasn't doing before. Granted I haven't actually tried to do anything with it, and who knows if this will blow up other Java things (or maybe my machine really didn't have any Java on it at all).