April 2013 Archives

Every leader has their “how I got here” story

Opportunity to share your data stories with Brett Goldstein and Q. Ethan McCallum

On Goldstein, McCallum, and their upcoming book, Making Analytics Work: Case by Case
By Alex Howard

Alex Howard

Alex Howard

People have been crunching numbers to understand government since the first time an official used an abacus to compare one season’s grain harvest against another. Tracking and comparing data is part of how we’ve been understanding our world for millennia. In the 21st century, organizations in all sectors are transitioning from paper records to massive databases. Instead of inscribing tablets, we’re browsing real-time data dashboards on them. Using modern data analytics to make sense of all of those numbers is now the task of scientists, journalists and, intriguingly, public officials. That’s the context in which I first encountered Brett Goldstein, when I talked with him about his work as Chicago’s chief data officer. Goldstein has been a key part of Chicago’s data­-driven approach to open government since Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected in February 2011. He and Chicago CTO John Tolva have been breaking new ground in an emerging global discussion around how cities understand, govern and regulate themselves.

I saw Goldstein share his ideas for data analytics in person at last year’s Strata Conference in New York City, where he and Q Ethan McCallum, the author of the Bad Data Handbook, talked about text mining and civic engagement. Their thinking on big data in the public sector is helping to inform other cities that want to follow in Chicago’s footsteps. Urban predictive analytics are making sense of what residents are doing, where and when — and what they want from their governments. Both men have steadily built and earned excellent reputations as a public servant and a trusted authority in in the field.

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A Human Approach to Postmortem Reviews

Dave Zwieback on how considering the human side of outages and postmortems can help build more resilient systems and teams.

There is nothing pleasant about postmortem reviews following an outage, and many companies struggle to execute positive, effective reviews. In a recent interview, Dave Zwieback (@mindweather), head of infrastructure at Knewton, said that we often focus only on technical issues during postmortems, to the exclusion of human elements. We also tend to fall into the “blame game” and point fingers when assessing particularly bad outages, he said.

In the following interview, Zwieback addresses the importance of including human and organizational elements in postmortem reviews, and outlines contributing factors to take into consideration, such as particular stressors and cognitive biases. He will address these issues further in a free online webcast, The Human Side of Postmortems, at 1 p.m., (PT) April 30.

How are postmortems typically approached, and why is it so important to make human and organizational factors more of a concern?

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How you can stop trashing PHP code

Design patterns for PHP

William Sanders (@williebegoode) is a Professor of Interactive Information Technology at the University of Hartford and author of over 40 technical books! His latest book with us is Learning PHP Design Patterns. We recently sat down to talk about design patterns and how they can help create reusable code and save you valuable time. You can also check out more from Bill at his website.

  • Why use design patterns for PHP? [Discussed at the 0:28 mark.]
  • Big programs and lots of code can become unwieldy [Discussed at the 2:06 mark.]
  • Mobile devices and PHP design patterns [Discussed at the 5:30 mark.]
  • Bill talks common design patterns and how they help [Discussed at the 7:25 mark.]
  • How to start using design patterns with PHP [Discussed at the 10:15 mark.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video:

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Four short links: 25 April 2013

Four short links: 25 April 2013

iOS Package Manager, Designed Satire, API Fragility, and Retweeting WWI

  1. Alcatraz — package manager for iOS. (via Hacker News)
  2. Scarfolk Council — clever satire, the concept being a UK town stuck in 1979. Tupperware urns, “put old people down at birth”. The 1979 look is gorgeous. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Stop Designing Fragile Web APIsIt is possible to design your API in a manner that reduces its fragility and increases its resilience to change. The key is to design your API around its intent. In the SOA world, this is also referred to as business-orientation.
  4. @life100yearsago (Twitter) — account that tweets out fragments of New Zealand journals and newspapers and similar historic documents, as part of celebrating the surprising and the commonplace during WWI. My favourite so far: “Wizard” stones aeroplane. (via NDF)
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Visualization of the Week: Every recorded U.S terror attack 1970-2011

Using START Global Terrorism data, Simon Rogers mapped every U.S. terror attack recorded between 1970 and 2011.

The recent terror attack at the Boston Marathon prompted the Guardian’s Simon Rogers (who will soon be Twitter’s Simon Rogers) to look into the history of attacks on U.S. soil. Using data from the START Global Terrorism Database, Rogers mapped every recorded terrorist incident in the U.S. from 1970 to 2011.

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PHP Design Patterns

Bill Sanders tells us why design patterns for PHP save time and money.

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Social media’s 2.0 moment: Responsiveness beats planning

The social web is pressuring organizations to accelerate all forms of communications.

In 2004, O’Reilly Media delivered a counter-cultural (at the time) message: The dot-com bubble had burst, but the web was here to stay as an economic and social force. The meme they coined was Web 2.0, and their manifesto was captured in a seminal blog post by Tim O’Reilly. Web 2.0 was not meant to indicate a version number, but to point out the deep, persistent patterns of the web that were rewiring business and society.

I led the consulting practice at O’Reilly Media after we coined the term Web 2.0, and I think we now find ourselves at a similar (though softer) inflection point. There are a lot of valid questions regarding the business models in social: Is Facebook not a scalable vehicle for advertising and thus overvalued? Is Groupon bad for merchants and thus doomed to fail? Was social gaming (and Zynga) overhyped?

Taking a cue from Web 2.0, I believe we need to look beyond specific applications of social media — even, God forbid, specific platforms like Facebook — in order to sort out the underlying design patterns that will endure and continue to disrupt marketing and communications.

So what are those design patterns? Here are four: Read more…

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Stop standardizing HTML

It's time for developers to create their own vocabularies

When HTML first appeared, it offered a coherent if limited vocabulary for sharing content on the newly created World Wide Web. Today, after HTML has handed off most of its actual work to other specifications, it’s time to stop worrying about this central core and let developers choose their own markup vocabularies and processing.

When the W3C first formed, it formed around HTML, the core standard of content on the Web, defining the structure, appearance, and behavior of content. Over the next few years, however, it became clear that HTML was doing too much, and the W3C and other groups refactored appearance, behavior, and many semantics into separate specifications:

  • Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) took responsibility for presentation and layout.

  • JavaScript took responsibility for behavior, aided by the Document Object Model (DOM) and a variety of APIs for handling device and multimedia interactions.

  • WAI-ARIA took responsibility for accessibility semantics, ensuring that content remained available to a broad audience even if developers pushed the current boundaries of markup.

It’s not a completely neat separation – some of CSS feels like behavior, and JavaScript can manipulate presentation, for example, but it certainly took a lot of pieces out of HTML. A few aspects of HTML, notably media inclusion, are still mostly handled at the markup level, but most of them aren’t any longer. Forms and linking are both still defined in HTML itself, but aren’t difficult to implement separately.

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Four short links: 24 April 2013

Four short links: 24 April 2013

Solar Numbers, Process Managers, BitTorrent Sync, and Motherfrickin' Snakes in Your Motherfrickin' Browser

  1. Solar Energy: This is What a Disruptive Technology Looks Like (Brian McConnell) — In 1977, solar cells cost upwards of $70 per Watt of capacity. In 2013, that cost has dropped to $0.74 per Watt, a 100:1 improvement (source: The Economist). On average, solar power improves 14% per year in terms of energy production per dollar invested.
  2. Process Managers — overview of the tools that keep your software running.
  3. Bittorrent Sync — Dropbox-like features, BitTorrent under the hood.
  4. Brython — Python interpreter written in Javascript, suitable for embedding in webpages. (via Nelson Minar)
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Yet another JavaScript book?

For the next 15 weeks, a new learning video every week.

Eric Freeman and I are writing a new book: Head First JavaScript Programming, and to go along with it, we’re creating a series of teaser videos to give you a taste of what’s coming in the book, and a chance to learn a few JavaScript tidbits.

Why undertake writing a JavaScript book now? After all, isn’t there already a Head First JavaScript book (not to mention all the many other JavaScript books on the market)? Well, to make a long story short, when we published Head First HTML5 Programming, a book that teaches you how to use all the new HTML5 APIs (with JavaScript, of course), we discovered something: a lot of folks know a little JavaScript, but really want to understand it at a deeper level. They want to go beyond just simple scripting. To remedy that, we ended up taking a month to write a brief introduction to JavaScript in our Head First HTML5 Programming book, but it wasn’t enough. Readers needed more.

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