State of the City 2008
January 17th, 2008

Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his seventh annual State of the City address today and outlined a number of specific proposals, including:

-improving Fire Department technology and training

-taking DNA samples from every person arrested in New York City

-ending social promotion for eighth graders

-extending a $400-a-year property tax rebate and a 7 percent property tax deduction

-overhauling vocational and technical education in high schools and community colleges

-surveying 100,000 New Yorkers to determine how well they are served by the city government

-and creating a Charter Reform Commission to reform the Board of Elections.

The mayor also warned that the economy appears headed for difficult times, but the New York Times City Room blog notes that Mr. Bloomberg offered few details about the spending cuts he would propose, for the city fiscal year that starts on July 1, and he did not dwell on the economic conditions, including the weakening housing market and the subprime mortgage crisis, which have begun to hurt homeowners in every borough except, for the most part, Manhattan.

Read the full text of the speech at NYC.gov.

By on January 17, 2008, 2:53 pm
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Virtual Manhattan
January 11th, 2008

Who said video games were a waste of time?

Taking a cue from 3D games that create a virtual fantasy, a website called UpNext has created a virtual reality map of Manhattan. In a attempt to make searching the web more engaging, the site allows a user stroll around and “look” for what they need. When a building is clicked on, the businesses inside are displayed in a speech bubble. (via Borrow My Brain)

The site allows users to create a profile, save favorites and write reviews for locations on the map that others can see – if they choose to make them public. UpNext has also written a program for FaceBook, incorporating geography in the virtual social networking site. This way, if a user were looking at the FaceBook profile of somebody with similar tastes, they could view the places of interest that person has marked on the map.

The site was launched in July. The map takes a little while to load, and it is best viewed with the Safari web browser on a Mac. A lot of the information on businesses comes from LocalEze.

By on January 11, 2008, 3:58 pm
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Electronics Recycling
January 11th, 2008

To keep toxic materials out of landfills and incinerators, the City Council is proposing a new law mandating the recycling of electronic products. It requires manufacturers of such products as cell phones, computers and CD players to set up free and accessible recycling centers for their products.

Although the bill is expected to be passed by the council, the Bloomberg Administration has shown concern about the burden it would place on those manufacturers. And the bill was first introduced in mid 2006.

So in case things take a while, and you really like the idea, there are some options in the mean time:

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a recycling partnership with five cell phone manufacturers and the major electronics retailers Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot. Users can drop off electronic accessories at these locations. (via Inhabitat)

And Earth 911 provides a large list of organizations who offer electronic recycling locations in your neighborhood.

Retailers in the city that sell rechargeable batteries have been required since late 2006 to provide recycling drop offs at their stores. (Has anybody seen one?) In this case, a non-profit organization named Call2Recycle actually does the recycling.

Schools, city agencies, businesses and institutions located here are also already required recycle computer equipment.

By on January 11, 2008, 12:39 pm
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Fun With Surveillance Cameras (or Not)
January 9th, 2008

Institute of Applied Autonomy

With an estimated 4,200 public and private cameras in Lower Manhattan alone, New Yorkers should just resolve to frequently being captured on ‘film,’ right? Well not if the Institute of Applied Autonomy can help it. The technology and activist group has created a map called iSee Manhattan, where a user can plot their journey through the city, and the map will send them on the “path of least surveillance.”Say goodbye to your schedule, however: You might need to go pretty far out of your way to avoid cameras, as the map above shows. And with the Police Department planning another 3,000 in the area, you might end up having to go through Jersey to get from Wall Street to Union Square.

But why would anybody feel the need to do such a thing?

“We all do things that are perfectly legal, but that we still may not want to share with the rest of the world. Kissing your lover on the street, interviewing for a new job without your current employers knowledge, visiting a psychiatrist these are everyday activities that constitute our personal, private lives,” the site says of the average Joe. ” While there is nothing wrong with any of them, there are perfectly good reasons why we may choose to keep them secret from coworkers, neighbors, or anyone else.”

But they offer specific reasons for activists, “outsiders,” and minorities, among other subgroups.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on January 9, 2008, 11:48 am
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PATH in Your Pocket
December 19th, 2007

A new cell phone program will help commuters using the PATH train figure out when their next train is coming. ChoRong Hwang, a student at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, has developed an application called Mobile PATH that users can download to their cell phone. She says it can tell them how long until their next train arrives by within 40 seconds. The program places a timetable in your phone, which syncs up to its clock. While this means that somebody in a subway station could use the program because it doesn’t require a signal, it also means that if there is some kind of delay, it would not show on the phone. Currently, the program only works for the Journal Square/33rd St. line, and cell phones must be “Java Powered.”

By on December 19, 2007, 8:14 am
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New Council Web Site Gets Mixed Reviews
December 12th, 2007

Last week, the City Council revealed its new Web site after months of delay. While most agree that it is a step in the right direction, the site has received mixed reviews from people dealing with the intersection of technology and government.

The council’s new site is meant to be more stable than the old site, which was notorious for crashing. It offers more details on committee hearings, including direct links and briefings. An RSS subscription is now available for committee calendars, and there are plans to add RSS features throughout the site in the future. Council members also have the ability to update their own pages as they see fit and can add such features as voting records, calendars and press releases if they choose. The council’s communications office is training staffers and even council members on how to do so.

Cathilea Robinett, the executive director of the Center for Digital Government, said the new web site is very sophisticated for a council site. “This is an excellent use of technology with several innovative features. Congratulations to the New York City Council for a citizen-centric and citizen-friendly site.” The center publishes a yearly survey ranking American cities on their use of technology to reach out to constituents. (New York City has not been in the top 10 large cities since 2002, when it ranked fourth.)

Councilmember Gale Brewer, chairwoman of the Technology in Government Committee, was happy about the new site as well. She says that it is now much easier to find legislation and finds the additional information available for committee hearings useful. But her enthusiasm was tempered by what the site does not have.
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By on December 12, 2007, 10:07 am
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Broadband for All Citizens in New York
December 7th, 2007

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Gov. Eliot Spitzer yesterday announced a plan to deliver affordable broadband access to every New Yorker. In a speech (via the Albany Project) on the importance of agriculture to the upstate economy, Spitzer said, “Infrastructure means something different than it once did. Fifty or seventy-five years ago, infrastructure meant access to a paved road, electricity or a phone line. Today, it means access to the information superhighway – and all of the economic opportunity that comes with it.”

“Nearly two-thirds of people living in New York City lack access to affordable high-speed broadband,” he added. “Some neighborhoods – like Sunset Park, Red Hook and Hunts Point – don’t even have affordable access beyond a dial-up connection.”

The governor has committed to a goal of providing 24 hour access for every resident of major metropolitan areas to broadband at speeds of 100 megabits per second by 2015. It only takes about five megabits per second to deliver high definition video with some versions of free software. The rest of the state would have access to speeds of 20 megabits per second.
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By on December 7, 2007, 10:19 am
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The City's Worst Intersections
December 4th, 2007

Need a catalogue of bicycle or pedestrian accidents in your neighborhood? Well, transportation advocacy group Transportation Alternatives just revamped their Crashstat 2.0 – an interactive index of the most accident-riddled intersections in all five boroughs. The site was originally launched in 2004.

Using statistics from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the map details both pedestrian and bicycle accidents intersection by intersection, borough by borough or community district by community district.

Users can search data from 1995 through 2005.

(Here is a list of the top ten for each borough.)

The site argues it can be a resource for bicyclists and advocates lobbying for safer streets. We’ll see if these maps end up at City Council hearings.

By on December 4, 2007, 5:55 pm
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The News, Via a Cell Phone
November 30th, 2007

Nowadays, that person sitting on the bench next to you engrossed in their cellphone screen is more likely than ever to be watching videos or reading a newspaper. This is especially true now, with AT&T’s announcement this week (via CenterNetworks) of their expansion of broadband cell phone service in Brooklyn, Queens and Northern New Jersey. 200 new cell sites will offer high speed, third generation technology, or 3G, joining downtown Manhattan and the airports, which have enjoyed the technology since June last year. Users will need to subscribe to a plan to use the new technology, and they must have compatible phones. (The iPhone is not compatible, by the way.) While users can enter any web address, not all sites are formatted for mobile phones. Verizon, the national leader in 3G technology, has offered the service here since 2005. Maybe one day soon the person on the bus next to you will be reading the Eye Opener mobile edition?

By on November 30, 2007, 10:48 am
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Real Estate Meets Facebook with Geography Based Social Networking
November 20th, 2007

A lot of people are moving into the buildings arising from the soaring pace of residential construction throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. But most of them will know nothing about their neighbors as they move into the giant high rises that have been criticized as “vertical suburbs.” It was here that Matthew Goldstein realized there was a role that needed to be filled.

“People have a tendency to feel very uprooted and are afraid to go to people’s doors” when they move, he said. So, in attempt to foster a sense of community within large buildings, Goldstein created the social networking site LifeAt.

LifeAt offers the residents of hundreds of buildings around the city a password protected site where they can create personal profiles, talk with neighbors, post classifieds, and discover and discuss local services.

At 866 Eastern Parkway, a mixed use building with 57 condo units in a Hasidic enclave of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, 35 residents have created profiles and use the network. They have publicly used the site to try and organize halloween parties, set up an art class, discuss concerns about where dog owners bring their pets to do their deeds, and engage in light flirting. (It also seems that quite a few residents have an addiction to the Nintendo Wii game console.) The building’s management uses the site to post news about the building.

Read the rest of this entry »

By on November 20, 2007, 10:05 am
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Grind that Garbage
November 19th, 2007

The people at Neighborhood Retail Alliance have played Gotham Gazettes Garbage Game, and they object to the games alternative for food waste. The game provides the player with three options: Throw it in the trash, sort it for composting by the city (a service New York does not provide but other cities do) or compost it yourself. This will go over real well on the East Side in the multi-million dollar co-ops, and in the housing projects of the South Bronx where the residents see quite enough wild life, than you very much, the retail blog writes.

Instead, the alliance thinks New Yorkers should put their food waste down the drain to be ground up by a disposal and then go into the sewage system. This was not an option in the game, in part because New Yorks sewer system is already overburdened, and garbage disposals seem to have made little dent in the five boroughs. (It could also reflect at least one GG staff members childhood memories of clogged disposals and the nightly post-dinner racket as the grinder tried to do something with potato peels, chicken bones and the occasional stray fork.)

What do you think? Should we have included garbage grinders as an option? Were there other alternatives we should have considered? Play the game and let us know.

By on November 19, 2007, 1:10 pm
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The New York Times Keeps Up with the Times
November 8th, 2007

Oh, what a brave new world wide web we live in.

The New York Times has waded further into the tumultuous ocean of online discussion, and its writers are both excited and wary.

In his column, the Times’ Public Editor Clark Hoyt ruminates on the recent ability of readers to leave comments on actual articles, and not just blog posts. Comments must meet discerning guidelines to be accepted by moderators – they must be “coherent, on point, not obscene or abusive, and not a personal attack.” But still, as their experience with the blogs go, things can still slip through the editorial cracks. For example, one reader left a now removed comment on the Lede blog that said, Have all the displaced ILLEGALS from the FIRES Move into the TIMES NYC HQ Building … and let them urinate in the halls like they do infront [sic] of most every Home Depot in all the rest of the USA.

It’s comments like this that leads many bloggers to approve of the moderation. The NotionsCapital blog thinks these type of comments proliferate because of the anonymity the web provides, and wonders if they shouldn’t go even further. “What newspaper would print a “Letter to the Editor” without confirming the identity of the letter-writer?” it wrote. “It is time to apply the same standard to reader replies on the Web?”

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By on November 8, 2007, 9:12 am
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Sharing Space with Start-Ups [Updated]
November 2nd, 2007

Charlie O’Donnell doesn’t think working from home is the most productive way to get something finished. “You tend to be a lot more informal about meeting times and there’s a lot to distract you,” he says. But O’Donnell and his partner were unable to afford office space for their start-up business, which helps college students decide what to do after graduation. So they resigned to working out of their apartments and using sites like Cup of NYC, where they could find coffee shops with free WiFi. Soon, however, they caught a break. The CEO of a larger business had some free space, and offered it to the pair, free of charge.

Now, O’Donnell is reaching out to other mid-size companies, trying to get them to offer extra, unused space in their offices to other small start-up companies. He envisions the model as an informal form of incubator, where a company can gain a foothold while it grows into maturity.

“We use normal bandwidth for our regular office activities and hardly ever use the phone. We borrow a conference room about twice a week and we probably take two sodas/juices a day each from the free machine,” he says. “I’d be surprised if our actual incremental cash cost was $150 a month.”

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By on November 2, 2007, 8:46 am
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Mapping a Student's Education
October 11th, 2007

To help students become better citizens, researchers have pointed to digital mapping programs as a way to help social studies students better visualize abstract issues and how they effect their community. These programs can also help students to pass the history and geography topics on the Regents exam, which is needed to graduate in New York State.

To get students more involved, write (free subscription) Thomas Chandler and Heejung, in a journal of online education called Innovate, the programs “must be used in a way that relates the digital map to real-world experiences, such as comparing a digital map to actual geographic features found in the community.” Issues like urban sprawl, environmental degradation, economic inequality, and immigration are much better understood on a map, they say.

The Teachers College at Columbia University is giving workshops to New York City social studies teachers on one such mapping program, a free software called ArcExplorer. In one example of how it could be used, students at the workshop used the program to develop a map showing how a hurricane like Katrina would effect their schools.

By on October 11, 2007, 7:39 am
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Call Ahead for Traffic Alerts
October 5th, 2007

TRANSIT ALERTSoon, New Yorkers will be able to add 511 to the list of phone numbers they can call for services. The 511 system will give anybody the option to call a free number and find out what’s ahead of them wherever they are traveling throughout the state and metro region.

A caller will tell an automated system (in English, Spanish, or French Canadian) where they are going and how they are getting there and it will tell them if there are any problems along that route, whether it be by road, rail, water, bike, or foot.

At least one million users will also be able sign up to receive email alerts ahead of time. Text messages may also be available if any of the three contractors in the running to develop the system are able to provide text alerts. The New York State Department of Transportation is spearheading this initiative while the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is planning its own text messaging system. It is not clear how closely the agencies are working together regarding the two alert systems.

The 511 website will also act as a portal to the various traffic and transit sites like Trip123.com (take a look at that if you haven’t already) and TravelInfoNY.com.

Read the rest of this entry »

By on October 5, 2007, 8:35 am
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Entertainment, Not Civics, On Demand
September 28th, 2007

The Bloomberg Administration unveiled Monday the new NYC TV On Demand, an online companion to the popular municipal television channels. You can now go online and choose which channel to watch and what show to watch.

Just don’t expect to see a policy discussion. You can watch “Secrets of New York,” a series of Discovery Channel-like documentaries about the city’s infrastructure. But if you type “Michael Bloomberg” or “City Council” into the website’s search function, it finds nothing for you. You’re more likely to find a show about hot dogs.

Councilmember Gale Brewer, chair of the council’s technology in government committee, has been critical of the content on the channels for some time.

“You could do shows about restaurants,” suggests Councilmember Gale Brewer, “but what is the policy behind them? What are the issues with labor? Where do they get their food? Health issues. I get those questions all the time.”

While NYC TV’s programming has been hailed for its innovation, Brewer thinks the dearth of educational and civic content is inappropriate for a municipal television channel. “All we get is flash, flash, flash.” she says.

By on September 28, 2007, 1:20 am
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Sidewalk Constellations of Gum
September 27th, 2007


PolishSausageQueen’s Flickr Stream

Design blog Core 77 brings us an interesting case of design trumping policy: non-stick gum that is “removed within 24 hours by natural events.”

Courtesy of a firm called Revolymer.

By on September 27, 2007, 3:17 am
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Free WiFi for Williamsburg?
September 21st, 2007

The eight foot tower perched on top of the Capla Kesting Art Gallery in Williamsburg was a small sight to behold, but the much larger shadow it projected onto a nearby wall hinted at the true size of its implications. It captured, amplified, and rebroadcast unprotected wifi signals from the area to be used freely by anyone. But the signals routed through the antenna are easily monitored, so users needed be wary not to do things they wouldn’t want someone else to see.

The project was part joke, part public service. On the one hand, it poked fun at government surveillance by pronouncing it would keep an eye out for homegrown “terrorists,” like the pilot of the mock submarine prank in the East River. On the other, it strove to raise awareness about privacy concerns in a wireless world as well as the feasibility of cheap broadband access.

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By on September 21, 2007, 7:44 am
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Techie Solutions not Enough to Fix the MTA
September 6th, 2007

When the subway system was brought to a halt from the recent rains, solutions and complaints focused on technology: The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s website crashed, the subways need cell service, the transit authority will text message riders.

But the Manhattan Institutes’s Hope Cohen thinks “slick new technology alone” isn’t enough. If the transit agency had a culture of communication, she argues, the storm wouldn’t have been nearly as disruptive.

After outlining a few enlightening examples to back her theory up, she uses the incident to talk about the general problem of keeping the city’s infrastructure in check.

By on September 6, 2007, 8:57 am
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Little Impact from Hacks
September 5th, 2007

It seems the taxi strike has caused little annoyance for New Yorkers today some bloggers have even said they will relish in the next two days free of cabbies cruising and clogging the streets.

On Streetsblog, New Yorkers mocked the taxi strike. One reader asked, “Oh, there was a strike today?”

The Post is siding with the city, stating the seemingly limited support for the strike makes sense.

At a press conference earlier today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a similar stance. The mayor said an estimate that 80 percent of drivers bailed on work today is an exaggeration, and the strike has had “limited impact, if at all.”

Still, others found extra long lines at La Guardia, JFK and Pennsylvania Station, which at one point left commuters waiting in line for a half hour to catch a cab.

By on September 5, 2007, 3:35 pm
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