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The Unsteady Rise of Minority Civil Servants

August 19, 2013 Photographs from the riots that spread across American cities in the 1960s capture a telling detail about the era. The incensed communities, as history well remembers, were black. And, invariably, the police officers were white. The Kerner Commission appointed by Lyndon Johnson to study the causes of these "civil disorders" ...

Watch This Adorable Robot Scoot Down Utility Lines Searching for Damage

August 8, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Nick Morozovsky's above invention, the SkySweeper, has at least two brilliant benefits: The acrobatic robot can shimmy down cables and power lines, inspecting them for damage and beaming data back to utility workers, at considerably less cost than your average unmanned helicopter. And in the process, the colorful little guy ...

Watch the Intricate Patterns of Global Infrastructure Emerge From Geocoded Tweets

August 2, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow You may have seen earlier this summer a series of maps released by Twitter showing thegeography of different cities as revealed by millions of tweets. Such maps of digital information are compelling for the way they also illustrate concrete infrastructure: the road networks around cities, the public parks inside of ...

Twitter Can Tell Whether Your Community Is Happy or Not

July 22, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Governments from the local to the national are increasingly interested in "wellbeing," that subjective notion that's harder to measure than per capita income or GDP, that comes closer to capturing what we more vaguely think of as happiness. We'd all like to have it: quality of life, life satisfaction, fulfillment. ...

Yes, GIS Files Are Public Data, Too

July 11, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Back in 2007, the Sierra Club requested a copy of what it thought was a public record from Orange County, California, covering information like the location and addresses of 640,000 land parcels in the county. The local government held the information in a geographic information system, or GIS database, a ...

Are Civic Hackathons Stupid?

July 8, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow No idea ever gets too popular without a bit of a backlash. And now this is happening to the once-obscure civic hackathon. Just a few years ago, such app-developing marathons were rare, and the idea behind them sounded even stranger: Who would willingly give up a weekend to code municipal ...

Transit Agencies Fight Back Against an Infamous Patent Troll

June 27, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow For several years now, a curious company called ArrivalStar – which has no website, appears to produce nothing, and is oddly registered in Luxembourg – has been systematically suing public transit agencies in the United States. As we wrote last April, the company holds a collection of dubious patents tied ...

Visualizing the Stunning Growth of 8 Years of OpenStreetMap

June 10, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow The U.S. OpenStreetMap community gathered in San Francisco over the weekend for its annual conference, the State of the Map. The loose citizen-cartography collective has now been incrementally mapping the world since 2004. While they were taking stock, it turns out the global open mapping effort has now mapped data ...

Every Library and Museum in America, Mapped

June 7, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow If you have ever felt overwhelmed by the ubiquity of McDonald's, this stat may make your day: There are more public libraries (about 17,000) in America than outposts of the burger mega-chain (about 14,000). The same is true of Starbucks (about 11,000 coffee shops nationally). “There’s always that joke that ...

We're Only Beginning to Understand How Our Brains Make Maps

May 23, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow About 40 years ago, researchers first began to suspect that we have neurons in our brains called "place cells." They’re responsible for helping us (rats and humans alike) find our way in the world, navigating the environment with some internal sense of where we are, how far we've come, and ...