Thresholds of Knowledge

Reading this essay by Jeff Jarvis on the future of newspapers (which encourages, among other things, radical experimentation as community-centric service delivery internet start-ups) I ran into this useful hierarchy of knowledge:

  1. knowledge of the tool and what it can provide,
  2. ability to spec requirements with a developer or expert,
  3. ability to adapt what has been developed without screwing it up,
  4. ability to make the thing,
  5. expertise or the ability to teach the tool or skill.

I'm in the midst of wrapping up a series of booklets on data visualization and these are handy. While it would be great to get everyone up to stage 4 or 5, practitioners at each of these stages require a different type of information and instruction. I'm hoping folks will at least move up one level.

>  15 August 2017 | LINK | Filed in ,


“Instead of always thinking that we need to make an app to 'solve' some problem, there are often really strong existing community processes. Wherever community is targeted by oppression, there are often strategies of resistance. The question is how a design can amplify some of those powerful existing projects, or frameworks, or approaches that are coming out of community organizing models.”
— Sasha Costanza-Chock, via NiemanLab

>  21 June 2017 | LINK | Filed in

NYPD Use of Force Complaints

Below, a visualization of use of force complaints against NYPD officers to the Civilian Complaint Review Board in 2016, via:

Flashlight as club: 6

Flashlight as club Flashlight as club Flashlight as club Flashlight as club Flashlight as club Flashlight as club

Gun fired: 10

Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired Gun fired

Gun as club: 12

Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club Gun as club

Continue reading "NYPD Use of Force Complaints" »

>  6 June 2017 | LINK | Filed in ,
Introduced in the NYC City Council: API all the things!
Twitter  25 May 2017 | LINK | Filed in
Of 4,624 NYPD arrests for skipping subway fare in the first 43 days of 2017, 90.2% of arrestees were either black or Latino.
Twitter  23 May 2017 | LINK | Filed in ,
Retired NYPD officer accused of stealing bees finds 70,000 bees in his bedroom wall.
Twitter  12 May 2017 | LINK | Filed in ,

Message Boards

The Internet Movie Database is shutting down its message boards. Acquired by Amazon in 1998, ongoing expense of community management and backend maintenance no longer justified itself to the bean counters. Sending it off, Colin Strickland recalls the harrowing days leading up to launch of a rewrite of the software behind the boards in 2001. While the technical details are of nostalgic, nerdy interest (mod_perl!) this passage on the message board community stands apart:

"I watched people fight and friend. Saw a few romances and a marriage or two emerge from the regulars. I read, and occasionally got involved, against my better judgement, in fascinating and productive conversations. I still bump into people IN REAL LIFE who reminisce about the boards and are to this day impressed with me when I tell them I had a big hand in their genesis. I once spent an evening in a darkened restaurant patio overwhelmed to tears as a kind man explained to me his young daughter, hospital-bound and dying of cancer, had used the Harry Potter IMDb boards as her main social life in her last year, and how much that had meant to him and her. Stories like that are just a profound privilege to have had even the most tangential involvement in."

For all the social and technical challenges of online communities at scale, the amazing impacts of these cultural corners, niches, and cupboards still make the web great.

>  7 February 2017 | LINK | Filed in


I built an SMS bot! Here’s the story: I’ve been looking at bots for advocacy and have been keeping a short list of inspiring SMS projects including TXTMob, Crises Text Line, mRelief, Planned Parenthood’s Teen Q&A line, and others. I’ve poked around the Twilio API. And then came this message on the Progressive Exchange email list:

Subject: ISO "find your elected officials" by text

I have to think this exists -- is there a simple "text KEYWORD to THIS NUMBER" that will return the names and phone numbers of your elected officials? Congress and state?


Turns out it does not exist — so I wired it up and announced it on the list. The response has been super positive.

Continue reading "LobbyPhone" »

>  5 December 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,
How to call your reps when you have social anxiety.
Twitter  21 November 2016 | LINK
I built a thing: text your US postal address to (520) 200-2223 and get a text back with your state & federal legislative rep phone numbers.
Twitter  20 November 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,

In Free Fall

Violence Is Mine, September 26, 2014:

"[Hito Steyerl's] video In Free Fall (2010) in particular demonstrates how sites of apparent digital illusion are tied to the real world. She traces a specific Boeing passenger plane that had been sold to the Israeli air force in the 1970s, where it took part in hostage rescue missions against the PLO, to a junkyard where it was bought by a special effects team. It is, in fact, the plane in Speed that Keanu Reeves blows up. What was left of the plane after the movie's filming was then sold to China to make DVDs. The spectacular violence of Speed, which viewers can revel in as consequence-free entertainment, proves to be part of a wider material network of real violence and the precarization of labor."

>  30 October 2016 | LINK | Filed in , ,

After Nineteen Eighty-Four

Towards an ironic history of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a book about pervasive surveillance and censorship under totalitarianism.

Man reading 1984 in Thailand, being documented by cellphones.

Egypt, November 2014:

“An Egyptian college student carrying a copy of George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ was arrested in Cairo, raising questions about free speech under the country’s government with President Abdel Fattah Sisi.”

Thailand, June 2014:

“Thailand has suppressed the film of Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s classic novel of dictatorship and surveillance, in the latest effort to quash dissent after last month’s military coup. Members of a film club in the northern city of Chiang Mai cancelled a screening of the film in an art gallery after police intimidated organisers with suggestions that it violated the law. Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a symbol of peaceful opposition to General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power from Thailand’s elected government last month after months of violent street demonstrations.”


“Police in Thailand yesterday arrested eight people for demonstrating against the nation's increasingly repressive military junta, including a man dragged away by undercover officers for reading a copy of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Internet, July 2009:

“In George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the ‘memory hole.’ On Friday, it was 1984 and another Orwell book, Animal Farm, that were dropped down the memory hole — by In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.”

USA, 1984:

“The [CIA] also changed the ending of the movie version of ‘1984,’ disregarding Orwell’s specific instructions that the story not be altered. In the book, the protagonist, Winston Smith, is entirely defeated by the nightmarish totalitarian regime. In the very last line, Orwell writes of Winston, ‘He loved Big Brother.’ In the movie, Winston and his lover, Julia, are gunned down after Winston defiantly shouts: ‘Down with Big Brother!’”

USA, 1981:

“It was banned and burned in the U.S.S.R. under Stalin’s rule for its’ negative attitude toward communism, and reading it could’ve resulted in your arrest. It has also been banned and challenged in many U.S. schools. During the Cold War, a teacher in Wrenshall, Minnesota was fired for refusing to remove 1984 from his reading list. In 1981, it was challenged in Jackson County, Florida (for being pro-communism!).”

>  2 October 2016 | LINK | Filed in , , ,
Over 900 images of HIV/AIDS UK graphics & campaigns now uploaded at

Twitter  24 September 2016 | LINK | Filed in , ,
Milk-based packaging is better than plastic - and edible!
Twitter  25 August 2016 | LINK | Filed in
@SarahKSilverman: This is a 1977 pin about the wage gap. Women made 59 cents 4 each man's dollar. We've come up 20 cents in 29 yrs

Twitter  8 August 2016 | LINK | Filed in

Law Professor's Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint

A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless.

Continue reading "Law Professor's Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint" »

>  8 July 2016 | LINK | Filed in

Real Men Pack Glue Guns

Thank you @JLeoNYC
Twitter  1 July 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,
ACLU launches legal battle to allow researchers to do anti-discrimination testing of algorithms and platforms.
Twitter  29 June 2016 | LINK | Filed in
Drawing the Line: How redistricting turned America from blue to red
Twitter  25 June 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,
New York City public schools to offer free tampons to students
Twitter  15 March 2016 | LINK | Filed in , ,

More? See March’s archives.
Or February’s.