Five Short Links

Picture by Tiger Pixel

How US News abandoned print and learned to love its data – How a magazine started monetizing its rankings of colleges, cars, high schools and mutual funds as a side-business, and ended up closing the traditional publishing business to focus on it exclusively. People in the publishing business often think they’re selling books, magazines or shows, but those are just the delivery mechanisms for the advice and entertainment people actually crave. – The power of Ushahidi – How the local online community responded to the Christchurch earthquake. The details in this account are crucial, especially how important the ‘neutral ground’ aspect of the service was. With no corporate logos on the site, competitors felt it was safe to cooperate without worrying that it would backfire on them. That attitude may seem crazy in the face of a catastrophe, but efforts like this are way more effective when they don’t require people to behave like saints.

Article text extraction from HTML documents – In-depth bibliography on all the projects out that take a web page, and try to extract the important “body” text, without the ads, boilerplate or navigation links.

Big Data, Analytics and Storytellings – I spent an hour chatting with Lyle Wallis last week, he’s spent years fighting in the trenches applying data analysis to real-world problems. He had a lot of insights, but this post captures one of the most obvious but also most overlooked: People respond to stories. As engineering-types, it’s easy to miss out on the power of laying out your explanation as a narrative, but it’s a marvelous mental hack for connecting with your audience. See also Ira Glass.

Mobile internet usage in Japan – Comscore does a great job of teasing out the effects of the quake on cell data traffic. It actually surprised me how subtle the patterns of the disaster were in the data, even through something that apocalyptic.

Five Short Links

Photo by Bill Bradford

Websockets Pacman – My friend Tyler Gillies created this basic but functional networked version of the classic game, where visitors to the site each take control over one of the ghosts. Here’s the playable demo. I love this because it shows how far our tools have come – just a few years ago it would have been a major engineering challenge, now it’s just a screenful of code.

The Anti-Predictor – Part of a fascinating interview with “Mathematical Sociologist” Duncan Watts, where he lays out the evidence against the existence of an elite of influencers, at least as most online marketers understand the term. “It does matter, on average, how many followers you have and how successful you’ve been in spreading your messages in the past, but it’s a lot more random than intuition suggests.”

The ethics of live mapping in repressive regimes and hostile environments – A detailed practical guide for online revolutionaries. The mundane detail of the precautions brings to life what enormous risks they’re running.

Componentization and Open Data – The data world is following the path that the coding world took a decade ago, as common foundational building-blocks start to become freely available. Certain parts, like address lookup, can be packaged as free and open components, which then allows engineers to work on the unsolved problems that really add value (and that you can charge money for).

FBI wants public help solving encrypted notes from murder mystery – Are you a cryptography geek? Donate some spare brain cycles to helping out the FBI.

Walking up Twin Peaks from the Upper Castro

A friend was asking me about a dog-walk I've been doing a lot on the weekends, heading up to the large antenna on top of Twin Peaks. Since it took me a little experimentation to figure out the best route, I've put together this little map and guide. It's a five mile round-trip, with some serious San Francisco hill climbing, and it's almost entirely along streets. It rewards you with some amazing views all the way though, especially from the summit. It usually takes me and Thor a little under two hours, so it's a great way to squeeze a good workout into a busy day.

I start off from my apartment at Church and Duboce, and walk a couple of blocks along Hermann, into the Duboce dog park. This is a fantastic diversion for both of us, there's almost always a good bunch of dogs and owners. After Thor's done his socializing, we then take Noe down to Market. Following Market for a couple of blocks takes you to 17th Street. This goes straight up, and keeps teasing you with false summits. Eventually, after a tough climb, you'll turn onto Clayton.

This turn is the only slightly tricky part of the route, since you take Clayton for a block, and then cross over to Twin Peaks Boulevard as it forks off. Going up past the small Tank Hill park, you'll then continue along Twin Peaks as it cuts left, away from Clarendon. This is the final stretch, and only the first section has any sidewalk. After that, you're walking on the shoulder, and while it's not too tough, be careful of the corners with poor visibility if you have a dog who thinks he should be able to walk down the center line. Some of the downhill bikes and cars pick up quite a lot of speed. There are social trails cutting a lot of the corners, so I'd definitely consider those.

Finally you'll make it up to the viewpoint. Especially after a rain, you get a magnificent vista, stretching out over downtown, across the Bay, and into Marin. Take it all in, and try not to be too disturbed by the posters asking for information on a recent homicide in the parking lot. I'm guessing it's quite a different world at night, but during the day it's full of visitors enjoying the sights.