Author Archives: Rufus Pollock

Poem – Untitled #23 – Written on a Train

Written on a train, some years ago

The tail-end of dusk,
Its softness making beauty of the world

The distant horizon pinked up in pastels
Beckons to eternity

While leftward lies darkness
Gathering all to her endless embrace.

The trees now shorn to subtlety
Are framed against the remnants of the sky

Trees, hedges, houses
All are soft shadows of themselves

And even a car-park sheathed in raucous lights
Can not offend.

The hemisphere runs in colours
Tuned to some resonance within

That calls out to savannah’s long ago
Beauty is leaving us and -

I cannot, cannot hold this,
Cannot make enough of my mind space

To seize this fleeting figure of the world
And make it fast.

Slow Tech

A thought from a recent a recent Digital Supper: just as there is “Slow Food” do we need a “Slow Technology” movement – technology at a human pace.

A key difference is that this can’t work just from individual action – though that will help – we would need coordinated action if tech were to evolve slower.

Open Knowledge appoints Pavel Richter as new CEO

I am delighted to announce we have found the newest member of the Open Knowledge team: Pavel Richter joins us as our new CEO!

Pavel Richter

Pavel’s appointment marks a new chapter in the development of Open Knowledge, which, over the last ten years, has grown into one of the leading global organisations working on open data and open knowledge in government, research, and culture.

Pavel has a rich and varied background including extensive time both in business and in the non-profit sector. In particular, Pavel brings his experience from over five years as the Executive Director of Wikimedia Deutschland: under his leadership, it grew to more than 70 staff, an annual budget of nearly 5 million Euros, and initiated major new projects such as Wikidata. Pavel’s engagement follows an extensive international search, led by a team including members of the Board of Directors as well as a Community Representative.

Personally, I am delighted and excited to welcome Pavel as CEO. This appointment represents an important step in the development of Open Knowledge as an organisation and community. Over the last decade, and especially in the last five years, we have achieved an immense amount.

Going forward one of our most important opportunities – and challenges – will be to forge and catalyse a truly global movement to put openness at the heart of the information age. Pavel’s experience, insight and passion make him more than equal to this task and I am thrilled to be able to work with him, and support him, as he takes on this role.

Open Data Can Speed up Research – Andy Beck of Harvard Medical School

Dr Andy Beck of Harvard Medical School in Reddit AMA thread:

Interesting question. I think there is a lot of value in actually showing the utility of open data, by using it creatively to answer important research questions. There are now huge public databases available and growing everyday (e.g., https://tcga-data.nci.nih.gov/tcga/ , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/). I think it’s powerful to show a student that using open data they can answer a question in 5 minutes that previously may have taken an entire PhD dissertation to complete. In addition, to advocating through use of data, supporting high quality open access journals is also a great way to advocate. [Source]

All of our lock-in fears prove justified – Twitter

Having acquired Gnip, Twitter is cutting off bulk access (the “firehose”) for everyone else – see e.g. Datasift announce and piece on recode.

Twitter have also been gradually shutting off / increasing control of access over the last few years. E.g. RSS shut down, then they changed API terms of use and got increasingly aggressive about that use.

It was always likely what the direction of travel would be for these “free” services – after all, somehow they’ve got to make money whilst providing “web-scale” service. But there’s nothing like an existence proof to give a distant predictable reality an immediacy that justifies action.

Of course the tough thing is the very reason we all use Facebook or Twitter or even Google is the immense direct and indirect network effects. That’s what makes it so tough for us individually to do much. However, as the need to monetise and protect their monopolies grow I think we are nearing the tipping point where we get some interesting innovation and disruption.

For a good review here see: http://stratechery.com/2015/twitter-might/ whose final paras i esp like:

Twitter’s story in many respects makes me think of Google: both companies started out benefiting greatly from openness and the power of both connecting users to what they were interested in and opening up powerful APIs to developers. The monetization model is even similar: note the AdSense reference above. Over time, though, Google has pulled more and more of its utility onto its own pages (and the revenue balance in the company has followed), just as Twitter focused on its own apps, and now Google is even starting to eat its best customers like travel websites and insurance agents (members-only), just like Twitter ate Datasift.

Frankly, the arc of both companies is simultaneously understandable and saddening to me. I’ve loved them both for the ways they have connected me to truly new ideas and new people, and it’s frustrating to see the growth imperative push both companies to turn increasingly inwards. One does wonder if they might find salvation in each other.

Grey dawn, you welcome not my spirit to the day

Grey dawn, you welcome not my spirit to the day.
Locked deep in winter’s embrace, the depths of January
Are moribund of hope, and I can but think on Spring
To keep from despair and an endless sojourn in the soft arms of sleep.

The day does not begin but seeps in, in sluggish batches from the East.
The watery light of a half-begotten sun
Has barely strength enough to banish night and makes us only think
Ever of indoors, indoors!

Why weighs my spirit so this season’s lack?
There is good to take in it I’m sure, yet here,
Stood here, this Janus’d morn, with heaven swathed in grey
I cannot find it, and must survive with heavy heart
             these bleak mid-winter days.

Enlightened [TV Series]

I have nearly finished the first series of Enlightened, a TV Series created by Laura Dern and Mike White. The series is extraordinary – even in a world where TV series have become (over the last ten years) a predominant form of entertainment and art.

It is not an easy or fun series – which probably accounts for its cancellation after just two seasons (I’m sort of amazed it got made in the first place – I imagine Laura Dern had something to do with it). In fact, it is often profoundly sad (and funny) as we witness the small tragedies (and ironies) that attend upon Amy (Laura Dern) and those around her. Amy herself is a great tragi-comic creation who remains all too human and un-enlightened despite her initial sojourn at a meditation retreat at the start of the series.

The best way to sum the seris up is to imagine that Raymond Carver had switched from writing short story miniatures of the small desolations and tragedies of suburban America and made TV instead: Enlightened is what he might have produced.

Wanted – Data Curators to Maintain Key Datasets in High-Quality, Easy-to-Use and Open Form

Wanted: volunteers to join a team of “Data Curators” maintaining “core” datasets (like GDP or ISO-codes) in high-quality, easy-to-use and open form.

  • What is the project about: Collecting and maintaining important and commonly-used (“core”) datasets in high-quality, standardized and easy-to-use form - in particular, as up-to-date, well-structured Data Packages.
    The “Core Datasets” effort is part of the broader Frictionless Data initiative.
  • What would you be doing: identifying and locating core (public) datasets, cleaning and standardizing the data and making sure the results are kept up to date and easy to use
  • Who can participate: anyone can contribute. Details on the skills needed are below.
  • Get involved: read more below or jump straight to the sign-up section.

What is the Core Datasets effort?

Summary: Collect and maintain important and commonly-used (“core”) datasets in high-quality, reliable and easy-to-use form (as Data Packages).

Core = important and commonly-used datasets e.g. reference data (country codes) and indicators (inflation, GDP)

Curate = take existing data and provide it in high-quality, reliable, and easy-to-use form (standardized, structured, open)

What Roles and Skills are Needed

We need a variety of roles from identifying new “core” datasets to packaging the data to performing quality control (checking metadata etc).

Core Skills - at least one of these skills will be needed:

  • Data Wrangling Experience. Many of our source datasets are not complex (just an Excel file or similar) and can be “wrangled” in a Spreadsheet program. What we therefore recommend is at least one of:
    • Experience with a Spreadsheet application such as Excel or (preferably) Google Docs including use of formulas and (desirably) macros (you should at least know how you could quickly convert a cell containing ‘2014’ to ‘2014-01-01’ across 1000 rows)
    • Coding for data processing (especially scraping) in one or more of python, javascript, bash
  • Data sleuthing - the ability to dig up data on the web (specific desirable skills: you know how to search by filetype in google, you know where the developer tools are in chrome or firefox, you know how to find the URL a form posts to)

Desirable Skills (the more the better!):

  • Data vs Metadata: know difference between data and metadata
  • Familiarity with Git (and Github)
  • Familiarity with a command line (preferably bash)
  • Know what JSON is
  • Mac or Unix is your default operating system (will make access to relevant tools that much easier)
  • Knowledge of Web APIs and/or HTML
  • Use of curl or similar command line tool for accessing Web APIs or web pages
  • Scraping using a command line tool or (even better) by coding yourself
  • Know what a Data Package and a Tabular Data Package are
  • Know what a text editor is (e.g. notepad, textmate, vim, emacs, …) and know how to use it (useful for both working with data and for editing Data Package metadata)

Get Involved - Sign Up Now!

We are looking for volunteer contributors to form a “curation team”.

  • Time commitment: Members of the team commit to at least 8-16h per month (though this will be an average - if you are especially busy with other things one month and do less that is fine)
  • Schedule: There is no schedule so you can contribute at any time that is good for you - evenings, weekeneds, lunch-times etc
  • Location: all activity will be carried out online so you can be based anywhere in the world
  • Skills: see above

To register your interest fill in the following form. Any questions, please get in touch directly.

Want to Dive Straight In?

Can’t wait to get started as a Data Curator? You can dive straight in and start packaging the already-selected (but not packaged) core datasets. Full instructions here:

http://data.okfn.org/roadmap/core-datasets#contribute

Thank You to Our Outgoing CEO

This is a joint blog post by Open Knowledge CEO Laura James and Open Knowledge Founder and President Rufus Pollock.

In September we announced that Laura James, our CEO, is moving on from Open Knowledge and we are hiring a new Executive Director.

From Rufus: I want to express my deep appreciation for everything that Laura has done. She has made an immense contribution to Open Knowledge over the last 3 years and has been central to all we have achieved. As a leader, she has helped take us through a period of incredible growth and change and I wish her every success on her future endeavours. I am delighted that Laura will be continuing to advise and support Open Knowledge, including joining our Advisory Council. I am deeply thankful for everything she has done to support both Open Knowledge and me personally during her time with us.

From Laura: It’s been an honour and a pleasure to work with and support Open Knowledge, and to have the opportunity to work with so many brilliant people and amazing projects around the world. It’s bittersweet to be moving on from such a wonderful organisation, but I know that I am leaving it in great hands, with a smart and dedicated management team and a new leader joining shortly. Open Knowledge will continue to develop and thrive as the catalyst at the heart of the global movement around freeing data and information, ensuring knowledge creates power for the many, not the few.