Tags: data

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Monday, March 6th, 2017

Empire State

I’m in New York. Again. This time it’s for Google’s AMP Conf, where I’ll be giving ‘em a piece of my mind on a panel.

The conference starts tomorrow so I’ve had a day or two to acclimatise and explore. Seeing as Google are footing the bill for travel and accommodation, I’m staying at a rather nice hotel close to the conference venue in Tribeca. There’s live jazz in the lounge most evenings, a cinema downstairs, and should I request it, I can even have a goldfish in my room.

Today I realised that my hotel sits in the apex of a triangle of interesting buildings: carrier hotels.

32 Avenue Of The Americas.Telephone wires and radio unite to make neighbors of nations

Looming above my hotel is 32 Avenue of the Americas. On the outside the building looks like your classic Gozer the Gozerian style of New York building. Inside, the lobby features a mosaic on the ceiling, and another on the wall extolling the connective power of radio and telephone.

The same architects also designed 60 Hudson Street, which has a similar Art Deco feel to it. Inside, there’s a cavernous hallway running through the ground floor but I can’t show you a picture of it. A security guard told me I couldn’t take any photos inside …which is a little strange seeing as it’s splashed across the website of the building.

60 Hudson.HEADQUARTERS The Western Union Telegraph Co. and telegraph capitol of the world 1930-1973

I walked around the outside of 60 Hudson, taking more pictures. Another security guard asked me what I was doing. I told her I was interested in the history of the building, which is true; it was the headquarters of Western Union. For much of the twentieth century, it was a world hub of telegraphic communication, in much the same way that a beach hut in Porthcurno was the nexus of the nineteenth century.

For a 21st century hub, there’s the third and final corner of the triangle at 33 Thomas Street. It’s a breathtaking building. It looks like a spaceship from a Chris Foss painting. It was probably designed more like a spacecraft than a traditional building—it’s primary purpose was to withstand an atomic blast. Gone are niceties like windows. Instead there’s an impenetrable monolith that looks like something straight out of a dystopian sci-fi film.

33 Thomas Street.33 Thomas Street, New York

Brutalist on the outside, its interior is host to even more brutal acts of invasive surveillance. The Snowden papers revealed this AT&T building to be a centrepiece of the Titanpointe programme:

They called it Project X. It was an unusually audacious, highly sensitive assignment: to build a massive skyscraper, capable of withstanding an atomic blast, in the middle of New York City. It would have no windows, 29 floors with three basement levels, and enough food to last 1,500 people two weeks in the event of a catastrophe.

But the building’s primary purpose would not be to protect humans from toxic radiation amid nuclear war. Rather, the fortified skyscraper would safeguard powerful computers, cables, and switchboards. It would house one of the most important telecommunications hubs in the United States…

Looking at the building, it requires very little imagination to picture it as the lair of villainous activity. Laura Poitras’s short film Project X basically consists of a voiceover of someone reading an NSA manual, some ominous background music, and shots of 33 Thomas Street looming in its oh-so-loomy way.

A top-secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to Titanpointe, the site of a hidden partnership. Narrated by Rami Malek and Michelle Williams, and based on classified NSA documents, Project X reveals the inner workings of a windowless skyscraper in downtown Manhattan.

What should you think about when using Facebook? – Vicki Boykis

To be clear, every company currently does some form of this tracking of users. There would simply be no other way to measure operations. But Facebook has quite clearly been tiptoeing outside the bounds of what is ethically acceptable data business practices for a while.

A thorough round-up of Facebook’s current data collection practices and what you can do about it.

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Social Media Needs A Travel Mode (Idle Words)

We don’t take our other valuables with us when we travel—we leave the important stuff at home, or in a safe place. But Facebook and Google don’t give us similar control over our valuable data. With these online services, it’s all or nothing.

We need a ‘trip mode’ for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Open Access at ESA

Images, videos, sounds, and 3D models are now available from the European Space Agency under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Stuff in Space

A gorgeous visualisation of satellites in Earth orbit. Click around to grasp the scale of the network.

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Calling Bullshit

A proposed syllabus for critical thinking: Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.

Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

Practical tools and case studies are also provided.

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Trump: A Resister’s Guide | Harper’s Magazine - Part 11

You, the software engineers and leaders of technology companies, face an enormous responsibility. You know better than anyone how best to protect the millions who have entrusted you with their data, and your knowledge gives you real power as civic actors. If you want to transform the world for the better, here is your moment. Inquire about how a platform will be used. Encrypt as much as you can. Oppose the type of data analysis that predicts people’s orientation, religion, and political preferences if they did not willingly offer that information.

Friday, January 6th, 2017

From Tape Drives to Memory Orbs, the Data Formats of Star Wars Suck (Spoilers) | Motherboard

As always with sci-fi interfaces, the important part is telling the story, not realism or accuracy. Personally, I liked the way that the World War II trappings of Rogue One extended to communications and networking technologies.

A Day in the Life of Americans | FlowingData

Watching this data visualisation on its high speed setting is quite hypnotic.

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Data on the Web Best Practices

This document provides Best Practices related to the publication and usage of data on the Web designed to help support a self-sustaining ecosystem. Data should be discoverable and understandable by humans and machines.

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

Datafication and ideological blindness — Cennydd Bowles

Run from data-driven companies. In thrall to semi-science and blinded by their dogma, they’ve lost the ability to see intelligent alternative perspectives on their business, their products, and the world. Embrace instead data-informed companies. This isn’t mere grammatical pedantry – a company genuinely informed by data understands the risks of datafication and adopts sophisticated, balanced approaches to strategy that blend quant, qual, and even some of that unfashionable prediction and intuition.

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Designing for new digital rights

A series of quick’n’dirty prototypes to illustrate some of the design challenges involved in handling personal data:

If we don’t start exploring what the General Data Protection Regulation means for people, the same thing that happened with the cookie law will happen again.

These new rights have the potential to improve how our digital products and services work.

Is Dark Matter Hiding Aliens?

Here’s a fun cosmic hypothesis on the scale of an Olaf Stapeldon story. There are even implications for data storage:

By storing its essential data in photons, life could give itself a distributed backup system. And it could go further, manipulating new photons emitted by stars to dictate how they interact with matter. Fronts of electromagnetic radiation could be reaching across the cosmos to set in motion chains of interstellar or planetary chemistry with exquisite timing, exploiting wave interference and excitation energies in atoms and molecules.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Our World In Data

If you’re in need of some long-term perspective right now—because, let’s face it, the short-term outlook is looking pretty damn bleak—then why not explore some of Max Roser’s data visualisations? Have a look at some of the global trends in inequality, disease, hunger, and conflict.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

What’s wrong with big data? | New Humanist

The view that more information uncritically produces better decisions is visibly at odds with our contemporary situation.

A superb piece of research and writing by James, skewering the technological determinism that underlies the current faith in “big data.” At best, this misplaced trust is inaccurate; at worst, it is deadly.

To the algorithmic imagination, the practice of journalism and the practice of terrorism appear to be functionally identical.

The Digital Transition: How the Presidential Transition Works in the Social Media Age | whitehouse.gov

Kori Schulman describes the archiving of social media and other online artefacts of the outgoing US president. It’s a shame that a lot of URLs will break, but I’m glad there’s going to be a public backup available.

Best of all, you can get involved:

In the interim, we’re inviting the American public – from students and data engineers, to artists and researchers – to come up with creative ways to archive this content and make it both useful and available for years to come. From Twitter bots and art projects to printed books and query tools, we’re open to it all.

Friday, October 28th, 2016

Working with mobile technology - Digital Service Manual - GOV.UK

Excellent guidelines from GDS on providing services that work well on mobile. The watchwords are:

  • responsive design,
  • progressive enhancement,
  • open data, and
  • emerging technology (service workers, notifications, etc.).

Native and hybrid apps are rarely justified.

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Deep-Fried Data

Another typically excellent talk from Maciej, this time to the Library of Congress. Digital preservation, surveillance, machine learning …it’s all in there, and it makes for grim reading, but there’s also optimism:

My dream for the web is for it to feel like big city. A place where you rub elbows with people who are not like you. Somewhere a little bit scary, a little chaotic, full of everything you can imagine and a lot of things that you can’t. A place where there’s room for chain stores, room for entertainment conglomerates, but also room for people to be themselves, to create their own spaces, and to learn from one another.

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

The Future of Browser History — Free Code Camp

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It feels like a user’s browser history is an incredibly rich seam of valuable information just waiting to be presented in a more interesting way.

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

The Blog That Disappeared - The New York Times

Fortunately there’s a back-up on the Internet Archive, but this tale of Google’s overnight destruction of fourteen years of writing is truly infuriating.

When we use their services, we trust that companies like Google will preserve some of the most personal things we have to share. They trust that we will not read the fine print.

When you pitch your tent in someone else’s walled garden, they can tear down your home whenever they want.