Should NYC Ban Text Walking Too?
August 15th, 2008

Queens Councilmember David Weprin is proposing a bill to ban text messaging while driving in the city. The proposal comes in response to an increase in text messaging while driving, particularly among young people, and an automobile crash involving text messaging that killed five teenagers in the Finger Lakes region last summer.

But should there be a ban on pedestrian text messaging too?

Last month, the American College of Emergency Physicians issued an alert warning that they are seeing an increasein emergency room injuries and deaths related to text messaging while walking, biking, and rollerblading, as well as driving. (Listen to a National Public Radio interview with an ER doctor talking about the dangers of “text walking.”)

OneIllinois lawmaker thinks it’s worth someconsideration and has proposed a bill to ban the use of wireless devices while crossing the street. “It’s becoming more and more of a common problem with people haplessly crossing an intersection and almost killing themselves,” Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago told the Chicago Tribune.

By on August 15, 2008, 8:56 am
In category: Tech,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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NY Techie Deported from China
August 14th, 2008

Noel Hidaglo, a fixture in the local tech scene here, brought his interest in activism and technology to China for the Olympics recently. But apparently the government there isn’t a fan of that sort of thing. After filming a protest held by Students for a Free Tibet, in Tiananmen Square, he posted it online.

He was then deported.

But that wasn’t his only experience there. His posts to FaceBook detailing his status during his deportation were being mysteriously removed. He says FaceBook is investigating. During his time in China, Hidaglo witnessed a journalist from ESPN being accosted for covering a banner drop, and he himself was shooed away from taking pictures of the banner by Chinese security. He also caught on video the pick-pocketing of a CBC journalist’s passport.

In related news, Gothamist reports that the International Olympic Committee is using the copyright on its logo to get YouTube to take down protest videos that include it.

By on August 14, 2008, 2:42 pm
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Mail Order Homes
August 8th, 2008

Although there’s no word on the exhibition of the winners from the Office of Emergency Management’s post-disaster housing design competition, the Museum of Modern Art has got its own display of pre-fabricated housing on display in their Home Delivery exhibit. One of the homes, the System3, was erected at the exhibition site in six and a half hours. Another building, designed specifically for New Orleans, is estimated to cost just $40,000 apiece if produced in large quantities. Each of the five buildings, on view in the museum’s adjacent vacant lot, has its own journal on the exhibit’s Web site.

Scribe Media video via Inhabitat.

By on August 8, 2008, 4:22 pm
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Verizon's Plan to Meet Electrical Codes Questioned
August 7th, 2008

Verizon failed to meet electric codes at certain locations when laying its FiOS service in the city, it was revealed last month when the franchise for the company’s cable service came up for approval at the New York State Public Service Commission. According to the Public Utility Law Project’s blog, which reported on the hearing, some of their installations weren’t properly grounded and could have put the public or workers at risk.

One commissioner, Patricia Acampora, actually voted against the franchise. She said she wan’t provided with enough time to look over Verizon’s plan to address the revelation and monitor compliance – which was delivered the day before the vote. Another commissioner, Cheryl Buley, voted in favor of the franchise with the understanding that there is a clear requirement for the company to meet all applicable codes. It passed four-to-one.

The PULP blog also pointed out that Common Cause submitted a joint statement with a number of other groups that the public was not being given enough notice for such a large deal. But the commission’s staff countered that it had followed all rules regarding public comment periods.

By on August 7, 2008, 4:50 pm
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More Setbacks for New Voting Machines
July 31st, 2008

The drama over New York’s compliance with federal voting machine rules never seems to stop.

After a protracted battle, voting machines were finally chosen across the state in February. And things were quiet on the voting machine front for a while.

Then there was the recent news that half of the machines Sequoia sent to the state were flawed. After that, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city’s Board of Elections had been using money set aside to comply with federal standards for regular budget expenses.

Now, testing of the new machines might not be finished by the time elections roll around. What now, you ask? Well, for one, some of the machines showed up for testing without hardrives or USB ports. That includes the ES&S machines that were chosen for the city.

Those “seem like pretty big oversights on the part of the manufacturers of the machines,” the Brennan Center’s blog said.

In response, some good government groups are worried this might be used as an excuse to rush along the testing process. If that happens, voting machine vendors will “continue raking in millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars while supplying bad equipment; a slap in the face for the public’s right to require accountability and quality from those who would profit off our vote,” says Bo Lipari of New Yorkers for Verified Voting on his blog.

By on July 31, 2008, 5:10 pm
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The Manhattan Grid of the Internet
June 4th, 2008

To Tom Lowenhaupt, Manhattan’s street grid represents a vision for the physical landscape that the city has yet to match on the Internet. New York needs to “organize and make accessible New York City’s digital resources,” he said recently during a presentation to the Internet Society’s New York Chapter.

So how can we bring order to the Wild Wild Web? Dot NYC, thinks Lowenhaupt. You’ve got .gov, .edu and .us – well now it’s time for .nyc, he says, and has been saying, since 2001, when he was member of Community Board 3 in Queens. And now he has started a non-profit devoted to pushing for the so-called top level domain.
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By on June 4, 2008, 1:15 pm
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Game City
May 12th, 2008

Whatever you think of the merits or evils of videogames (Too violent? Mindless? A skills tool?), they can help the economy. New York City already has about 30 game development companies and another 55 firms involved in some aspect of games, according to a recent count by the Center for an Urban Future. And the think tank’s report, “Getting in the Game” urges the city to try to attract more. “Doing so would help the city diversify its economy and create good-paying jobs in one of the nations most promising sectors,” the report states

But what do video games mean for our city’s image. The report comes amid much buzz — and huge sales — for the latest installment of Grand Theft Auto. The setting, Liberty City, is essentially New York.
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By on May 12, 2008, 2:16 pm
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Working From Home? Get Out Once and a While...
April 23rd, 2008

A common reply to the announcement that you work from home is: “Wow, that’s the life. Rolling out of bed and working.” But a number people that do work from home around the world seem to find something missing with the lack of an office. A common sentiment is the need for community offered by coworkers. There’s the absence of having somebody to chat with at the water cooler about new work ideas or somebody to grab lunch with. And a productive work space is another concern. Having a television five feet away from your desk can be a distraction for some.

In response, home-workers from the Czech Republic to Chicago have increasingly been forming a new type of work collective called “coworking.” And New York City – where about 1-in-25 workers stay at home – has a plethora of its own coworking events and locations. They range from meetings in people’s homes and in cafes, businesses that open up their offices for coworking events, and dedicated coworking office spaces where one can rent a space for a given period of time.
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By on April 23, 2008, 8:05 am
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Interactive Map of Community Plans
April 17th, 2008

The Municipal Arts Society, in collaboration with the Community-Based Planning Task Force, released its interactive Atlas of Community Based Plans this week. The atlas allows users to click through a variety of community plans dating back to 1989 – from rezoning plans, to transportation plans, to open space plans – all displayed on an interactive map. Billed as “the only publicly-accessible compilation of community-based plans in New York City,” the atlas, in its latest evolution, offers links to documents on all of the plans plotted on the map.

By on April 17, 2008, 5:00 pm
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Text Message Suboena Reactions
April 3rd, 2008

With not just a few references to Big Brother, the internet has lit up with disapproval of New York City’s decision to subpoena the creator of a program that allowed people to join a text messaging network during the Republican National Convention in 2004. But with an eye towards the 2008 conventions, protesters are already looking to avoid similar problems.
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By on April 3, 2008, 1:58 pm
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Ray Kelly: Techie
March 28th, 2008

A windowless room with a two-story video wall and a vast digital database is the nerve center of the Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center. With the center, police have access to a warehouse of data at their fingertips, providing up-to-date information with ease. The program, according to Government Technology magazine, sets the standard for the use of technology in government. As such, they have placed Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on their annual top 25 list of Doers, Dreamers and Drivers. The individuals on the list “represent the best and brightest in public-sector [information technology].”

“Kelly has continued New York’s pioneering CompStat crime-mapping strategy,” the magazine says, “but he’s also taken city law-enforcement efforts to another level, presiding over the development of New York’s Real Time Crime Center.”

The center, considered a critical tool in keeping crime low, was originally piloted in 2005 to address murder and shootings. But it was expanded in 2006 to include the addition of all police arrest records dating back to 1995, when the system also saw a number of technological improvements. The center supports over 100 detective squads and around a dozen Investigative Response Vans, and its data is available to all detectives investigating major and violent crimes including rapes, robberies, stabbings, kidnappings missing persons, and sex offenders. In his State of the City address the year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he plans to add “a comprehensive database of firearms evidence.” Soon, it will be connected to the city government’s municipal WiFi system.
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By on March 28, 2008, 11:33 am
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Weak Signals on DTV
February 29th, 2008

Our technology topic page writer, Joshua Breitbart, learned today that on top of the myriad stumbling blocks on the path to the digital television transition the $39.99 converter box won’t be available for another 4 months and those coupons expire in 3 months. If you’re planning to keep an analog television up and running, you better read up on the transition before February 19, 2009.

By on February 29, 2008, 8:36 pm
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Make Money, Help the Environment
February 29th, 2008

When most people think of recycling, they think of the environment. But another, less intuitive reason to recycle is to raise money. Yes, that old shirt or cell phone may actually be used to raise money for your school or to fight cancer. There are at least two programs operating in the city who use recycling as a fundraising tool.

On such program is called EcoPhones, a for-profit company that pays for electronic waste. At least six schools in the city collect old cellphones, CD players and ink cartridges, which EcoPhones collects and pays for.

At Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood, Brooklyn, they collect electronic waste throughout the school year, and have received about $300 from EcoPhone since September [corrected].

“It’s easy,” says Sandra Pinder, who administers the program, “If you have an old phone, you just bring it to us.” Not only does the school raise some money, it helps keeps trash that is often toxic from entering landfills.

Another program is Wearable Collections, which recycles old clothing and linen. This non profit organization will set up a bin a requested location in Manhattan (and sometimes the outer boroughs) and then collect it when it is full. They pay you for the textiles, and get the second hand clothing into the hands of people who need them all over the world.

Clothing and textiles account for about six percent of the garbage New York City generates, according to the Council on the Environment in New York City.

Wearable Collections’ founder, Adam Baruchowitz, started the program to raise money for spinal cord research after a friend of his was paralyzed in an accident, TreeHugger wrote in 2006.

By on February 29, 2008, 8:32 am
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Police No Help for Crime Map Project
February 22nd, 2008

When you type an address or zip code into Everyblock, the website presents you with a variety of localized information. You can find up-to-date news items, restaurant reviews or even CraigsList postings all laid out on a map. You can even subscribe, so updates for an area of interest get sent to you.

They also offer a selection of localized government data, such as building violations and restaurant inspections. But this information comes from publicly accessible databases. And as the folks at Everyblock seek to expand the available information on their site, they’ve begun reaching out to the city and other governments to provide more information than they can scrape from the Web. But the site’s founder, Adrian Holovaty, told the Fimoculous blog, “We’ve run into many roadblocks there, from the political to the technical.”

Currently, they are focusing on getting crime data for New York City. Everyblock is the direct decedent of, so it may be no surprise that they start here. They haven’t been having luck getting that data from the NYPD, however. “I have attempted to get incident level crime data from the Police Department, but was denied,” says Daniel O’Neil, Everyblock’s resident People Person.

No comment was available from the police by the time this post went up.

The CompStat program has gained national accolades for mapping out crimes. But unlike Chicaco’s CLEAR system, the CompStat statistics are not released to the public on a block by block level.

“We commend the Chicago police for doing that,” says O’Neil, “We think it should be the standard”

Everyblock’s next step is a Freedom of Information Law request.

By on February 22, 2008, 5:00 pm
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The Cattle Branding of Times Square
February 22nd, 2008

Karrie Jacobs wrote a decade ago that Times Square was the only place in New York to “explore the marriage of architecture and electronic technology, of form and image, that is emerging as the defining style of the early twenty-first century. But now, in Metropolis Magazine, she questions the relevance of “a district dedicated to overstimulation for overstimulations sake in todays environment.”

Times Square, she observes, “is now the epicenter of branding, its vitality dependent on the creative brio of the advertising industry. And branding, at this moment, is less a matter of originality and more a matter of claiming turf, whether that turf is a Times Square Jumbotron, a wee cell-phone screen, or the spot that blocks the paragraph youre trying to read on a Web site. Ive always loved Times Square, but Im sick to death of branding.”

Click here to read the article.

By on February 22, 2008, 11:48 am
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Council Members' Web Pages Underutilized
February 15th, 2008

When the City Council released its new Web site last December, one of the features it offered was the ability of council members to manipulate their member pages. The councils communications office even offered training for staffers and council members on how to personalize them. But two months later, the option has barely been used.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s page offers an example of how one could be set up. Members can create tabs for various pages on their site, and they can include links to relevant information. Quinn has a few different pages, where constituents can find press releases, a selection of speeches, or a biography.

The biography is standard, and all members offer that, as well as contact info. Two members offer a news or press page, but one has nothing on it, and the other only one item. Beyond that, however, there isn’t much to see.

“When people are looking for information about their representatives or an issue, their first stop is the Web,” says Tim Hysom. “They don’t go to the Web to find a phone number and then call to get that information.”

Hysom works at the Congressional Management Foundation, which rates the quality of legislative Web sites through their Gold Mouse Report. The elements they find most important in lawmakers’ Web sites are voting records, issue priorities, and the services they offer.

“Legislators’ Web pages are critically important for forming a relationship with constituents and building a community online,” he says.

By on February 15, 2008, 12:05 pm
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New Voting Machine Chosen for City
February 8th, 2008

The New York City Board of Elections today chose the ES&S AutoMARK voting machine as its new machine in a four to six roll call vote that took only moments. One machine will be placed in each polling place by the 2008 primaries to provide accessibility to disabled voters. It is an optical scanning device, so the actual ballot is cast on paper.

The only commissioner to explain his vote was the Democratic commissioner from Staten Island Queens, Terrence O’Connor. He said he chose ES&S because, “It was the least expensive, and we’re going to be voting again next year, and maybe next month.”

The decision comes after a series of twists and turns in a rapidly changing series of events, as O’Connor’s last comment would suggest. Just yesterday, the ES&S machine was placed back on the state’s list of voting machines that individual counties could choose from. This came after a series of lawsuits from voting machine vendors and reversals on certification from the state Board of Elections.

Even the city Board of Elections President James Sample didn’t realize a fourth machine was being considered. When he announced the machines the commissioners had to choose from, he left out one machine, and had to be corrected (although nobody voted for it).

NYPIRG‘s Neal Rosenstein credits Queens GOP Commissioner Anthony Como for the decision. In his observations, there was partisan deadlock over which machine to choose, and Como broke ranks with the other Republican commissioners who chose Sequoia’s Imagecast machine. He also suggested the vote be held today, a date that included ES&S’s machine on the list the commissioners could choose from.

The ES&S machine was one of those preferred by Center for Disability Rights. They had called on the state to include the machine on the certification list just days earlier.

And although NYPIRG doesn’t have a stance on which machine should be picked, Rosenstein is happy with the selection. “It’s clearly a victory for optical scanners.” But he has encouraged ES&S to ebrace some of the features of the Sequoia machine, primarily the fact that Sequoia’s software is available for inspection by the public.

“If anything,” he says, “it would help ensure public confidence in election results.”

By on February 8, 2008, 3:23 pm
In category: Albany,Governing,Tech | 5 Comments »

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And Then There Was One (Voting Machine), For Now Anyway
January 31st, 2008

After years of indecision, the New York State Board of Elections certified three voting machines for counties to choose amongst, and disabled voters would finally find one machine accessible to them at every polling place. A tempered sigh of relief amongst voting machine advocates ensued: The much maligned touch-screen machines had been avoided, and the disabled had finally found a modicum of support for their voting needs by elections officials, albeit court facilitated.

But it was only a fleeting moment of ease. It took less than a day for that decision amongst election officials – years in the making – to be thrown into question.

Immediately after their vote, makers of the electronic machines filed suit. One suit, filed by machine vendor Liberty Election Systems in State Supreme Court, asked that the Board of Elections be compelled to include their product on the list of certified machines. Bo Lipari of New Yorker’s for Verified Voting could “only gape in awe at Libertys unmitigated gall.” While the vendor’s request for a temporary restraining order was denied on Monday, the court will decide whether to force the board to include the machine today.

Then, as the lawsuits went on, the board basically decertified two of the three paper based machines they had approved only days earlier, leaving the only machine certified one that had never been tested in an actual election. The Brennan Center opined that they had “a hard time believing the decision had anything to do with which system was best for disabled voters, or New Yorkers in general.”

And all of this is only for 2008. The state still needs to decide which machines to approve for the replacement of all machines by 2009.

By on January 31, 2008, 2:14 pm
In category: Albany,Civil Rights,Governing,Tech | 2 Comments »

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The Moving Image: Taxi Patterns
January 25th, 2008

The images above are animated maps of taxi patterns in the San Francisco area, gleaned from GPS data by Cabspotting, an effort of The Exploratorium, a local museum.While the installation of GPS technology in every taxi in the New York fleet was a major complaint by striking cabbies and their sympathizers, the technology is well on its way to being incorporated into our city. Could New York now use the technology to produce such maps here? What could we gain from it, other than a very interesting art project?

The Exploratorium takes suggestions for various Cab Projects, which are individual websites that use the technology for differing purposes, to help answer that question. One of their projects found anecdotal evidence (point 8 on the map) that new cabbies congregated around the San Francisco downtown area, while more experienced drivers traveled between residential areas and medical centers.

Here in New York, another design intensive taxi study occurred a few months ago, before GPS technology arrived. A comprehensive look at the cabbies’ world was presented in a similarly engaging, albeit static, presentation (a 160 page book) called Taxi 07: Roads Forward, published by The Design Trust for Public Space, in cooperation with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

But if the animation has captured your imagination, The New Museum is featuring the Cabspotting project on Friday, Feb 8, as part of their monthly New Silent Series.

By on January 25, 2008, 11:20 am
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Criticism Over Permit Proposal Grows
January 18th, 2008

A bill that would require permits for the purchase or use of instruments that detect biological or chemical agents or radiation is facing opposition that continues to grow.

The legislation, being pushed by the mayor and the police department, is intended to keep the use of such detectors above the radar of the police and to ward off “excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety” resulting from faulty readings. And by mandating that alarms from the devices be reported, it ensures that police would know about it, supporters argue.

But critics made themselves heard at the committee hearing on the bill, and a vote scheduled for that day was postponed. Detractors, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and the the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a labor-backed advocacy group, said that the bill was overly broad and that the concerns about false alarms were unprecedented. Stringer said the legislation may undermine public freedom and add unnecessary red tape.

Some council members have hesitated to supporting it as well. My immediate reaction is that its a little overbroad, or a lot overbroad, Councilmember Alan Gerson told Downtown Express.

And as word of the bill spreads, a variety of blogs have weighed in, none of which like it.
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By on January 18, 2008, 7:15 am
In category: Civil Rights,Environment,Tech | 4 Comments »

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