Archive for September, 2015|Monthly archive page

A Big Data Revolution for Humanitarian Response | United Nations Global Pulse

I wish I had been there—but am here, in Budapest, for ACEU. I do wonder: would big data have given the telling signal to have had effect prior to the Rwanda massacre? Of course not. It is not just that the data be gathered fairly and responsibly and analysed with scientific detachment and skepticism. It is that it must also have a chance of being used. But that raises another question. There has been a century or more of often superb scientific work that, if attended to, would save lives today, stop global warming, and otherwise prevent the crimes committed against the world and its sorry inhabitants. And these studies have been not only “ignored,” but active suppressed. The moral being….. but actually, the moral here is that the varnish of Big Data, with all the multinational wealth it ints at, might actually make a difference to lives, and even to the structures of society.

Source: A Big Data Revolution for Humanitarian Response | United Nations Global Pulse

Digital Humanitarians: How “Big Data” is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response by Patrick Meier | Always on Call | Stanford Social Innovation Review

I was reading over this review by Lucy Bernholz of Patrick Meier’s book, “Digital Humanitarianism” and winced at the paragraph I’ve cited below:


The best parts of Digital Humanitarians are those that show how humanitarian institutions, independent volunteers, and leading digital companies reinforce each other’s efforts. The tale that Meier tells is one of complementarity: Digital humanitarians are not replacing established aid organizations or government agencies. Instead, humanitarian aid has become a dynamic ecosystem that encompasses amateurs and experts, one-off participants and long-term professionals, drone operators and satellite imagery analysts. The global digital “nervous system” provides the context in which they do their work.

Source: Digital Humanitarians: How “Big Data” is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response by Patrick Meier | Always on Call | Stanford Social Innovation Review

Why my wince? Well, sure it’s nice to have civl society cooperation. But a lot of what Meier writes on seems to be a governmental responsibility, and for a couple of reasons. One is that there is a greater chance of accountability and transparency. Yes, underfunded bureaucracies are terrible things. The solution is to fund them better, not make them worse. And I’d argue certainly not make it the responsibility of those most affected by the events demanding large scale remedies.That’s blaming the victim. But that doesn’t mean that the denizen (not everyone is a citizen) is out of the picture; it means rather that she is involved as an agent, acting on her own behalf, but not wholly liable or responsible for the work. This engaged model has worked pretty well with middle-class PTAs and schools–at least until recent paranoia has changed what schools do and are about.

A story of dirty emissions … and copyright law |

Yet more on the issue, first raised by Moglen in a _NY Times_ article. Now this, and then also the _Le Monde_ cartoon. Moglen’s point was that operations affecting the public should–must–be open to that public, as otherwise one is trusting in the good faith of those companies which are constituted to maximise their profit. Companies like Exxon, BP, and of course, Volkswagen; but it’s hardly alone. Japanese auto makers have acted with contempt for their buyers time and again in the last few years. All of which is to suggest that, as we seem unlikely (or unwilling) to rid ourselves of this arrangement, that we need systems of regulation.And it is not the business of the people to do what government is entrusted to do; that is a version of blaming the victim. Open data policies do not mean that the people must be vigilantes.


Digital Millennium Copyright Act can protect automakers from scrutiny.

Source: A story of dirty emissions … and copyright law |

Data Driven Decisions: Connecting vulnerable women with health services in Pakistan – Making All Voices Count

An interesting and useful article. But the quoted paragraph below says it all, and also points to the use of “Big Data” or just data—evidence. That is: it can be used to subvert the normal ways in which decisions are made, which appears to be without regard to actuality (the data). The point is not to come up with novel questions leading to novel discoveries, or at least, not here. It is to use the same old questions, and to substantiate the conclusions with data that can be validated. That’s fairly powerful. But, as the question’s tone suggests, it’s also by no means certain that the powers that be will attend to the evidence. And if they do, whether they won’t, as Canada, Australia, or as several states in the US have done, simply stop gathering evidence that would counter the persistence of the desired if not actual world.

Perhaps the next steps are asking how governments who are leading the way in making data-driven decisions can learn from each other, and challenging the perceptions that ‘government’ is resistant to change.After all – government officials, just like us normal folk, are a mixed bunch. Let’s make sure we work with the champions that are there.

Source: Data Driven Decisions: Connecting vulnerable women with health services in Pakistan – Making All Voices Count

Open source chat applications for team collaboration |

I confess I use Slack, like it and feel guilty about all that. I also use more than enough Apple devices and used to feel guilty, until one day, I noted at an Oscon nearly all—!!—the open source developers there were on MacBook Airs. Yes, Oscon is expensive. But it was not the only one. Developers are pragmatic. In fact, that’s why so many like open source and open standards. Makes life easier and also more interesting.

Still, it’s good to see open source alternatives to Slack. Having used nearly all of these, and rather liking IRC, I have to say that Slack is still better. it is less obtrusive, its UI is a pleasure to behold—-and these are not trivial aspects.


Need a team chat application as a part of your collaboration tool suite? Here are five open source chat applications that will help your team stay connected.

Source: Open source chat applications for team collaboration |

e-Government Platforms Kenya

Rather more realistic than “psychopath” Hintjens and certainly less self-aggrandising (what is it with these open source mavens?), a piercing look at claim vs reality in Kenya.

From the blurb:

Researcher Nyambura Salome asks whether Kenya’s new e-government platforms have helped to increase citizen engagement with the state – or is it all politics for show?

e-Government platforms for citizen engagement with the state in Kenya

Source: e-Government Platforms Kenya

Ten Rules for Open Source Success –

Source: Ten Rules for Open Source Success –

Global Innovation Competition

The Global Innovation Competition 2016 is calling for entries until October 4th and offers the chance to win a grant from a pool of £450,000.

Source: Global Innovation Competition

Mobile money, trade credit, and economic development | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal

*Risk* is central here, and the technological bridge offered by mobile payment reduces the out-of-control risk characterising corrupt and otherwise textured political landscapes. In effect, the pick up of M-Pesa and its ilk trump claims for the cruciality of community—itself a vagueness more satisfying to anthro-nostalgic rich nations than practical actuality.

Source: Mobile money, trade credit, and economic development | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal

Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet – The New York Times

A good article with pithy quotes from Eben Moglen on the dangers of secret, proprietary software. The VW software was (and is) protected by the DMCA, and it was only because of naïve testing by academic engineers hired to prove the environmental worthiness of diesel engines to Europeans that the cheating was discovered. The underfunded EPA, which can only sample randomly and must rely on the good faith of those whom it regulates, did not find the deception and would not have. And this is but one item in a vast array of things using secret, proprietary software. The question, likely to be raised by defenders of the practice: Would we be safer, as a populace if we could inspect, if not alter, the source code running the world of things? If we knew what was in our food and, more to the point, had the ability to access that information? Defenders would say, No: that revealing the source code would invite sociopaths and industrial spies, even aid terrorists; it would also diminish the value of intellectual property and thus weaken the entrepreneurial drive. I’m sure they could come up with better arguments, for none of those is remotely persuasive and one need not even look to hypotheticals.

via Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet – The New York Times.

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