Category Archives: Open Knowledge Foundation

WikipediaJS – accessing Wikipedia article data through Javascript

WikipediaJS is a simple JS library for accessing information in Wikipedia articles such as dates, places, abstracts etc.

The library is the work of Labs member Rufus Pollock. In essence, it is a small wrapper around the data and APIs of the DBPedia project and it is they who have done all the heavy lifting of extracting structured data from Wikipedia - huge credit and thanks to DBPedia folks!

Demo and Examples

A demo is included and you can see some examples of the library in action at the following links:

Colophon

One of the reasons for creating WikipediaJS is that we think it can be useful in Timeliner and other apps as a way to quickly add new items to your timeline.

State Budget Crisis Task Force Report

The State Budget Crisis Task Force was convened in June 2011 and issued its report in July 2012.

The top line quote from the main site states:

State finances are not transparent and often include hidden liabilities as well as rapidly growing responsibilities which are difficult to control. While state revenues are gradually recovering from the drastic decline of the Great Recession, they are not growing sufficiently to keep pace with the spending required by Medicaid costs, pensions, and other responsibilities and obligations. This has resulted in persistent and growing structural deficits in many states which threaten their fiscal sustainability. [emphasis added]

Full report (pdf)

Debt Does Not Equal Revenue Except in California

Striking quote on inability to understand that debt != revenue:

California is also confused about the meaning of the term “revenues”. Asked at a 2008 budget conference whether Schwarzenegger would consider raising revenues to balance the budget, Thomas Sheehy, deputy director of the Department of Finance, replied that the governor’s budget, in fact, already included new revenues: $3.3 billion from the sale of deficit bonds! A corporate executive who reports borrowed dollars as sales is angling for for a bunk in federal prison. It doesn’t take much financial sophistication to understand that a cash advance on your credit card isn’t revenue. It is debt.

California Crack-up, p.95

The authors follow this with this comment which I think is of striking relevance to Open Spending:

The first, crucial step towards responsible and democratic budgeting is to present the state’s fiscal information to Californians honestly and clearly.

It also reminds me of Niall Ferguson’s statement quoted in a previous post:

The present system is, to put it bluntly, fraudulent. There are no regularly published and accurate official balance sheets. Huge liabilities are simply hidden from view.

Not even the current income and expenditure statements can be relied upon in some countries. No legitimate business could possible carry on in this fashion.

Timeliner – Make Nice Timelines Fast

As part of the Recline launch I put together quickly some very simple demo apps one of which was called Timeliner:

http://timeliner.reclinejs.com/

This uses the Recline timeline component (which itself is a relatively thin wrapper around the excellent Verite timeline) plus the Recline Google docs backend to provide an easy way for people to make timelines backed by a Google Docs spreadsheet.

As an example of use, I started work on a “spending stories” timeline about the bankruptcy of US cities (esp in California) as a result of the “Great Recession” (source spreadsheet). I’ve also created an example timeline of major wars, a screenshot of which I’ve inlined:

Code

Source code for the Timeliner is here: https://github.com/okfn/timeliner

If you have suggestions for improvements, want to see the ones that already exist, or, gasp, find a bug please see the issue tracker: https://github.com/okfn/timeliner/issues

The Data Transformer – Cleaning Up Data in the Browser

This a brief post to announce an alpha prototype version of the Data Transformer, an app to let you clean up data in the browser using javascript:

http://transformer.datahub.io/

2m overview video:

What does this app do?

  1. You load a CSV file from github (fixed at the moment but soon to be customizable)
  2. You write simple javascript to edit this file (uses ReclineJS transform and grid views + CSV backends – here’s the original ReclineJS transform demo)
  3. You save this updated file back to github (via oauth login - this utilizes Michael’s great work in Prose!)

This prototype was hacked together in an afternoon a couple of weeks ago when I was fortunate enough to spend an an afternoon with Michael Aufreiter, Chris Herwig, Mike Morris and others at the Development Seed offices. It builds on ReclineJS + oauth / github connectors borrowed from Prose.

It’s part of an ongoing plan to create a “Data Orchestra” of lightweight data services that can play nicely together with each other and connect to things like the DataHub (or GitHub …): http://notebook.okfn.org/2012/06/22/datahub-small-pieces-loosely-joined/

Public Debt, Public Finances and OpenSpending

Excerpts and commentary on Niall Ferguson’s first Reith Lecture. All emphasis added.

In reading this piece I thought constantly of the Open Spending project where we are endeavouring to collect together government (and other public) financial information from around the world and present it in an understandable way. In particular, it made me wonder whether we should try to do more beyond collection and presentation of the data to provide additional (necessarily somewhat speculative computations) such as proper financial balance sheets.

Fraudulent and inaccurate public finances

The present system is, to put it bluntly, fraudulent. There are no regularly published and accurate official balance sheets. Huge liabilities are simply hidden from view.

Not even the current income and expenditure statements can be relied upon in some countries. No legitimate business could possible carry on in this fashion.

The last corporation to publish financial statements this misleading was Enron.

There is, in fact, a better way. Public sector balance sheets can – and should be – drawn up so that the liabilities of governments can be compared with their assets.

That would help clarify the difference between deficits to finance investment and deficits to finance current consumption. Governments should also follow the lead of business and adopt the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

And, above all, generational accounts should be prepared on a regular basis to make absolutely clear the inter-generational implications of current policy.

US liabilities

The most recent estimate for the difference between the net present value of federal government liabilities and the net present value of future federal revenues is $200 trillion, nearly thirteen times the debt as stated by the U.S. Treasury.

Notice that these figures, too, are incomplete, since they omit the unfunded liabilities of state and local governments, which are estimated to be around $38 trillion.

These mind-boggling numbers represent nothing less than a vast claim by the generation currently retired or about to retire on their children and grandchildren, who are obligated by current law to find the money in the future, by submitting either to substantial increases in taxation or to drastic cuts in other forms of public expenditure.

Scape-goating

As our economic difficulties have worsened, we voters have struggled to find the appropriate scapegoat.

We blame the politicians whose hard lot it is to bring public finances under control, but we also like to blame bankers and financial markets, as if their reckless lending was to blame for our reckless borrowing. [ed: but bankers often engaged in efforts to enable and prolong reckless borrowing, and this included heavy lobbying to prevent effective regulation, after all one of the roles of the State is to help its citizens avoid bad decisions]

We bay for tougher regulation, though not of ourselves.

Weekly Update: Rufus Pollock – 2nd April 2012

Availability

  • All week

Last Week

This Week

Weekly Update: Rufus Pollock – 19th March 2012

Availability

  • All week except Thursday (in London Tues + Fri)

Last Week

This Week

Shuttleworth Fellowship Quarterly Review – Feb 2012

As part of my Shuttleworth Fellowship I’m preparing quarterly reviews of what I and the Open Knowledge Foundation have been up to. So, herewith are some some highlights from the last 3 months.

Highlights

  • Substantial new project support from several funders including support for Science working group and Economics working group
  • Our CKAN Data Management System selected in 2 major new data portal initatives
  • Continuing advance of projects across the board with several projects reaching key milestones (v1.0 or beta release, adoption by third parties)
  • Rapid expansion of chapters and local groups — e.g. London Meetup now has more than 100 participants, new chapters in Belgium and Switzerland are nearly finalized
  • Completion of major upgrade of core web-presence with new branding and theme used on http://okfn.org/ and across our network of sites (now numbering more than 40)
  • Announcement of School of Data which drew huge attention from the community. This is will be a joint Open Knowledge Foundation / P2PU project.
  • Major strengthening of organizational capacity with new staff

Projects

Major new project support including:

CKAN and the DataHub

OpenSpending

  • Major breakthrough with achievement of simple data upload and management process – result of more than 9 months of work
  • OpenSpending now contains more than 30 datasets with ~7 million spending items (up from 2 datasets and ~200k items a year ago, and under 10 datasets a 1.5m items just 4 months ago)
  • Substantial expansion in set of collaborators and a variety of new funding opportunities

Other Projects

  • BibServer and BibSoup, our bibliogrpahic software and service, reached beta and have been receiving increasing attention

  • Public Domain Review celebrated its 1st Birthday. Some stats:

    • The Review now has more than 800+ email subscribers, ~800 followers on Twitter
    • 20k visitors with over 40k page views per month
    • An increasing number of supporters making a monthly donation
  • Initiated a substantive collaboration on the PyBossa crowdsourcing platform with Shuttleworth Fellow Emeritus Francois Grey and his Citizen Cyberscience Centre

  • Annotator and AnnotateIt v1.0 Completed and Released

    • Annotator is now seeing uptake from several third-party projects and developers
    • Project components now have more than 100 followers on GitHub (up from ~20 in December)

Working Groups and Local Groups and Chapters

Working groups have continued to develop well:

  • New dedicated Working Group coordinator (Laura Newman)
  • Panton Fellowships run under auspices of Science Working Group
  • Funding of Economics Working Group

Rapid Chapter and local group development:

Additional items

Events and Meetings

Participated in numerous events and meetings including: