Blog Ipsa Loquitur

In my day job, I work with open data and government transparency. Government officials aren’t always super enthusiastic about putting their data online. In 2014, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers surveyed its members to determine the three biggest barriers to open data were.

The most common answers were, in order:

  1. Agencies unwilling to open data. (53%)
  2. Poor-quality data unfit for public. (49%)
  3. No reliable funding for open data. (33%)

I can tell you a big concern for particularly meaningful information is also “could this be used to embarrass us?” Agencies don’t want to publish how long it takes them to respond to Freedom of Information Law requests, because they miss the statutory deadline often, and it might make them look bad. (You say “bad,” I say “criminally underfunded – seriously increase budgets for records access.”)

In Chicago, the answer is yes. The local paper has caught the city red-handed… plowing a street with an important Alderman’s house faster than some other streets where Aldermen(?) don’t live.

The stretch of West 51st Street is far from Chicago’s busiest road, carrying only two lanes of traffic and dead-ending before Pulaski and the CTA’s Orange Line tracks. Still, the 3900 block of 51st got lots of attention from city snow-removal crews during and after last weekend’s intense winter storm.

The plows pushed through the block as early as 6:48 a.m. on Sunday and again at 10:31 p.m. that day. They returned two times Monday and gave a fifth sweep on Tuesday morning, according to city Plow Tracker data gleaned by

You see, 51st is where you’ll find the 5,600-square-foot home of the City Council’s longest-serving and most-powerful member, Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, and his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

Seriously, guys? Your government has one of the top municipal open data portals in the country, and you’re F5ing the snowplow tracker to keep your government honest? Really? We’ve settled all other issues of civic accountability and transparency? This is the last possible transgression against a perfectly democractic republic we have left?

Look, you don’t have to confine yourself to effusive praise for all Official State Data Sets, but this kind of inanity wastes everyone’s time. There are ways to be constructive about government open data, and ways to churn out pointless clickbait. This is just shameless.

Published on under We Can't Have Nice Things

Doug Van Hollen is of two minds about Wirecutter:

At first, I felt that this was the greatest website I’ve ever seen, and possibly the greatest service that the Internet has ever done to humanity (or at least capitalism). It was like Consumer Reports, except free and on an angel dust-Adivan cocktail (most reviews clock in at over 10,000 words). And the reviews are actually good. We bought our washer/dryer, dish soap, paper towels, and cheap earbuds based entirely on Wirecutter’s recommendation, and they have all been flawless decisions. And, best of all, decisions that I didn’t have to make. […]

But then I noticed the downside. I looked around my life and I saw all the things that I’d already bought, in the past, without the help of Wirecutter. These garbage products consumed without even three thousand words of testing and analysis. […]

I started to purge, at random, whatever was within arm’s reach.

The whole thing is very funny and very smart. He somehow simultaneously skewers both the fetishization and eschewal of the Platonic ideals which consumerism implies. And the whole concept of an “ideal paper towel” itself. It’s beautiful. But the single best part is that his primary target appears to be his own neurosis, which is also pretty much my neurosis.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

There might just be too much TV:

There are 352 scripted series on primetime and late-night TV. That means there are 352 original comedies and dramas with actual narratives and writing. 352 series that are fully staffed with writers and actors and directors. 352 series that are competing for Emmys and Golden Globes and SAGs and—even more importantly—your attention.

Those 352 series are broken down into 199 series on cable, 129 on broadcast, and 24 on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Those series aren’t further classified into half-hour comedies and hour-long dramas, but let’s, just for the heck of it, assume that they’re half-and-half each. That totals 15,840 minutes of television that were aired in regular episodic installments in 2014. That’s 264 hours. That’s about a week and a half.

Kevin Fallon, the author of the article, doesn’t necessarily spell it out: that’s a week and a half of “primetime” TV per week. As in, if you recorded all the TV in a given week’s 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot, you watch it 24/7 and still miss out on over one-third of the scripted series airing in primetime that week.

If you also count the 1,363 “non-scripted” (i.e. reality TV) series that air in primetime, there are roughly Seven and a half weeks of TV airing between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Every week. In three hours.

Now, sure, there are exactly zero TV series that air 52 weeks a year. I don’t know what the average production run for any of these shows is, but we can argue the reverse. If each of those series averages just 7 episodes per year, we as a culture are officially producing more than a week’s worth of primetime TV every week for the entire year.

That’s nothing, though. On YouTube, over 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Every hour, there are 6,000 hours of video uploaded. Every week, over a million hours of video. Mass media is unfathomably massive in the digital age.

Published on under The Digital Age

Lukas Mathis is a guy who knows how to put together software. He knows what makes a good user interface and what creates a lousy experience. He wrote a wonderful piece comparing Windows 8 (which he liked) and Windows 10 (which he calls “the most disappointing piece of software I’ve ever used”).

He takes a bit to get to the heart of his post. It begins with the reasons Windows has become what it’s become, as it slowly accumulates new features and refuses to excise outdated ones. It wants to be for a tablet, but it’s the same UI they’ve used since 1995. But then when Mathis gets going, he outlines his complaints very clearly and understandably.

See his site for the screenshots that illustrate his points.

The start screen is probably the worst offender. This is what it looked like in Windows 8. It’s simple, focused, looks good, and provides the features you want from an app launcher.

This is the start screen in Windows 10. This is the kind of designed-by-committee let’s-add-every-feature-we-can-think-of mess that made Windows terrible in the first place.

Instead of providing a clean, spatial, organizable, zoomable, user-configurable set of tiles, and a simple search field, Windows 10 adds everything. List of «places» you might want to access? Great idea! Automatically generated list of most used apps? Got you covered. List of recently added apps? Why not. Link to more apps? Sure. List of «Everyday apps»? Need that. Weird «Explore Windows» button? Let’s add it. Area for tiles? Why not. Power button? Weird star button? I’m sure we can find a place for that. Start button when you’re already in the start screen? Search field? List of running apps? Bunch of widgets? Current time? Eh, it’s already in the taskbar, so let’s throw that in, too!


I hope someone from Microsoft is reading this. Windows 8 was a solid tablet OS, but if Windows 10 is taking its user interface cues from Windows 95, there are some serious issues brewing.

Published on under The Digital Age

Sam Smith wrote a hit song called Stay With Me. Well, “wrote” might be overstating it. He wrote new words and sang it to the tune of the timeless classic I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty. Smith didn’t write a new melody over the same chord progression; he sang the same melody to the same tune. It’s pretty egregious. Listen to the original and the not-quite-cover version.

From Consequence of Sound:

Said one source close to the case, “When Sam’s track was originally released, it was clear to a lot of musicians that there were notable similarities between the tracks,” referring specifically to melodies of the respective choruses. “After it was pointed out to Sam’s camp, they didn’t try to fight it and amicably dished out royalties. It wasn’t a deliberate thing, musicians are just inspired by other artists and Sam and his team were quick to hold up their hand when it was officially flagged.”

It’s nice that they all were very friendly about it. Apparently, as part of the settlement, Sam Smith has given Tom Petty a songwriting credit on Stay With Me. This entitles Petty to a percentage of the royalties for future performances of his/their song.

According to ASCAP, there are now five people who have credit for Stay With Me. There’s Sam Smith himself, and now Tom Petty, and some professional songwriters and producers who were ostensibly paid to write this song but actually just lifted it from Tom Petty. I hope Mr. Smith kept his receipt.

But these aren’t necessarily the worst songwriters in the world. This is called cryptomnesia:

Throughout the 1990s, [Dr. Richard Marsh of the University of Georgia] and his colleagues conducted a number of studies on this issue, the most notable of which used the game Boggle to gauge how well people remembered whether they or their partner (in this case a computer) had thought of a specific word. The results of that particular experiment led Marsh and his colleague to recognize an “unambiguous existence of substantial unconscious plagiarism.”

Published on under Well They Sound Harmless

Google adopted a flippant and kind of passive-aggressive “we’re cooler than Microsoft” slogan around the turn of the millennium: Don’t Be Evil. At the time, they were the underdogs and Microsoft was the Evil Empire. Now it’s 2015 and Google dominates our lives in both the digital and analog world. They are more The Empire than Microsoft ever dreamed. The slightest adjustment or update to any service Google provides will affect… well, lots of folks. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. They’re just a really big company.

That’s not intrinsically evil. Google’s sheer size and reach makes certain … unpleasantness pretty much inevitable, but it’s not oppressive. Closing free services in favor of new free ones can’t be evil, right? Come on: their business model of “collect and monetize the personal information of billions of people” is arguably halfway across the Rubicon. Things like killing off beloved RSS reader services pales in comparison, right?

Stream of the Crime

Dear Reader: if, like me, you are slowly coming to terms with the fact that you are Out Of Touch, let’s go over some basics. Firstly, The Kids apparently listen to music on YouTube. A lot. According to one study, a whopping 64% of kids turn first to YouTube when they want to fleek out to some totally bae tunes. (Or not, maybe? We’re about as sure about kids’ habits as I am about their totally fetch vocabulary.)

Published on under Shakedowns Gonna Shake Shake Shake