Rhiza Blog public data

Wild Horses and Burros of the American West

Horses

Whenever I picture the American West as it was at the turn of the 20th century I always picture wee homesteads, rocky country, trucks with curved fenders, and big herds of wild horses. After watching the Misfits, starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, I assumed that every last feral horse in the west had been rounded up long ago and shipped off to dark ends.

Artist's Interpretation
However, to my surprise, I learned this week that feral horses are a protected animal population in the United States. They have safe haven in many western states and are allowed to live unfettered. In Nevada (the setting of the above mentioned film) there are over 16,000.

There are also populations of wild donkeys roaming the empty spaces of the American West, which, unlike the horses, I knew about first hand. I met a small heard of them in the cascade mountains once when I was a little girl. They could smell a sucker from a mile away and would wait outside of our cabin until I would come out with a bag of carrots. They’re shaggy, friendly beasts and always happy to trade a pat on the nose for fresh produce.

They aren’t as numerous as wild horses and don’t have the same protections, but they still manage to get by on their charm. Yes, there is such a thing as burro charm.

Going to Transparency Camp in DC this weekend„ Look Rhiza up

This weekend, the Rhiza team will be joining “a trans-partisan tribe of open government advocates from all walks” at Transparency Camp, an un-conference at George Washington University for sharing “knowledge on how to use new technologies to make our government transparent and meaningfully accessible to the public.”

We’re hoping to raise awareness of how sharing public data in the Information Commons promotes a positive feedback loop between government transparency, accountability, efficiency, and permanence. We’re also hoping to learn more about other folks’ efforts to promote government transparency with new technology.

Can’t make it yourself? Check Josh and Andrew out on Twitter for live updates over the weekend, and read more about Rhiza’s open government solutions.

Planning to attend, or just planning to be in DC this weekend„ We’d love to meet you. Send an e-mail to info@rhiza.com before Friday; during the conference, get in touch with us via Josh’s Twitter. We can’t wait to hear your story.

Where Does Data Go When Services Die?

If Flickr closed tomorrow and turned off its servers without a word to its users, what would happen to all our photos? They would go the way of our GeoCities sites and our AOL Hometown Pages, of course — except for the copies that users had saved on their own hard drives.

What if the Library of Congress, like most libraries across the nation, faced such severe funding cuts that it did not have the funds necessary to preserve our nation’s public documents? What if the outgoing President of the United States deleted all electronic records of his communications under the assertion of executive privilege?

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All Our Digital Eggs

In December, Google discontinued its Google Research Datasets service. The idea behind the service was great: Google provided scientists who needed to share very large datasets with storage space in the Google cloud of servers. Their decision to cut the service is part of larger belt-tightening effort as a result of an alarming 68% drop in their fourth quarter profit from the previous year. I don’t blame Google for taking this action, but it nonetheless is a jarring example of how putting all of your data eggs in one basket can be very dangerous.

It’s great to see researchers and others in the public sector sharing more and more of their data. Trouble is, most of the data they’re sharing exist on one server, housed either on-site, or by third parties like Google’s now defunct service or Amazon.com Public Data Sets. The problem with this particular approach is that when servers crash, companies decide to drop their services or political winds change, the data disappear forever.

Our ancestors made this same mistake during the third century BC with the creation of the Library of Alexandria. The Library was charged with collecting all of the world’s knowledge, which it accomplished with monetary and other support from the royalty of the time. When the Library was destroyed, most of the source copies of much of the world’s documented knowledge vanished along with it.

Will we repeat this mistake, or is there a better way„ (more…)

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