tecznotes

Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Aug 29, 2004 7:25pm

reinventing a party

How To Reinvent The G.O.P. (New York Times, reg. required, blah blah blah) is a fascinating read, especially during the current national convention in New York.

Gripes about the party's socially-retarded platform aside, it's interesting to read some background about the core beliefs of the republican party, and to try to understand what it is that George W. Bush was sent to Washington to accomplish. I don't agree that he's worthy of reelection, but I do believe that the underlying Republican position is one that is morally defensible.

In an Interview with Bill Moyers, Lou Dobbs summarizes well the one thing that I'd like to hear during one of these rah-rah conventions (from the delegates inside, or the protesters outside):

I want to hear one of these candidates sharply and clearly say this country is about the people who live in it.

One week into writing this thing, and I've already broken my rule about politics.

Aug 26, 2004 4:07pm

a cloud of black ink

This New York Times opinion piece was as notable for its source, as its content: Hiding the Truth in a Cloud of Black Ink.

...But too often, Congress and the American people lack the best information - in the form of declassified intelligence and national security materials - to ensure that the job is done right.

The authors of this article are Trent "all these problems over all these years" Lott [open secrets, wikipedia] and Ron Wyden [open secrets, wikipedia].

Lott and Wyden propose the creation of an independent national security classification board, which would oversee the national security classification system, set and review standards used to classify information, and review classification decisions. There's a small gotcha at the end, regarding the status of information that is "born classified", but overall it shows tremendous respect for the value of reliable, accessible data for the healthy functioning of a free and open society.

The article's title reminded me of another possible cloud of black ink: the meaningless haze of an information surplus, where so much data is being released that it becomes impossible for the average citizen to form a clear mental model of what's going on. As I've been researching Open Secrets, it has struck me that much valuable information becomes lost in the flood of government disclosure. Normally, the task of comprehending, digesting and reporting this information falls to journalists, but the advent of a 24-hour news cycle and reliance on press releases to fill in details appears to have made it more difficult to derive specific, meaningful knowledge or understanding from the facts made available.

Open Secrets (bless their hearts) strives to process these facts so that they can be presented in a concise, readable format: the site features pages and tables of top campaign donors, lists of lobbying firms, campaign contributions broken down by party, industry, and channel. Everything is derived from FEC filings, and can be traced and fact-checked.

The information provided lacks a higher-order: it's possible to find facts, but difficult to compare them. It's easy to match funds to legislators, parties or congressional committees, but difficult to relate these facts to contextual information. Open Secrets is sorely missing is a visual component.

Aug 23, 2004 11:51am

two maps

Today's NASA Picture of the Day is a reprise of the famous "Earthlights" image of two years ago, probably updated with new component photographs showing further spread of electricity, urban srawl, and humanity into the dark regions. It's interesting to compare the NASA image with one showing Population Density, looking for the places where electrical output and population density don't necessarily coincide, like North Korea.

Aug 21, 2004 10:56pm

temporary troubles with In The News

I discovered today that Google had made some small tweaks to the HTML structure of their news page. It caused an interruption in my ability to scrape their site between the afternoon of August 20th and the morning of August 21st. Hopefully this won't be noticeable by tomorrow as my fix works its way through various levels of caching, but it does highlight the difficulties of working with capricious methods like page scraping. I'm currently looking at the feasibility of doing a similar visualization investigation with Open Secrets, and troubles with unexpected modifications to data formats underscore the usefulness of web services with stable API's. "Small pieces, loosely joined" —Flickr gets it, even Google gets it with their normal search service. Here's hoping that Google News moves out of beta soon.

Aug 19, 2004 4:45pm

In The News 1.2

I added an autocompleting search widget to In The News today, to make it easier to get to specific names without having to manually hunt around through the smaller news item slivers. It was necessary to offset the news left-to-right sorting of the news items. In version 1.0, they were sorted alphabetically. Easy to find what you're looking for, but I felt it was a waste of a potentially meaningful source of information. Now, the items are sorted by first appearance on Google News: the oldest items are at the left, and the newest items are on the right. This gives the horizontal display a "sedimentary" behavior, if you imagine gravity pulling to the left. I hope that the new search widget will make it easier to find specific items. Darren rightly points out that I will now need to add up/down arrow functionality.

Aug 18, 2004 12:00pm

a structured delivery mechanism

This page has existed in various iterations for almost 8 years, though until now it has always been strictly a static portfolio of my work.

I have decided to convert a part of it into a blog, to take advantage of the structure provided by commodity blogging software and to stop kidding myself that CVS makes for a good content management system.

I plan to use this space as notebook and journal, a warehouse for links and information, and a sounding board for projects I've got in the works.

Topics I'm interested in writing about:

  • Visual representation of information. Graphs, charts. Data visualization.
  • Pervasive flow of data, through autamated means. News feeds, aggregation, cURL, cron jobs, open data formats. Social, political implications of same.
  • Internet application development.

Topics I'm interested in, but don't think I ought to discuss here, because I feel that I have little to add to the copious amounts of existing discussion/noise:

  • Web development and W3C minutiae, including XHTML/CSS/etc.
  • U.S. politics, impending de-election of George Bush.
  • Social software.

Enjoy.

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