Category Archives: Computers

Assessing the city’s “open government” initiative

“Open data” is a great idea for state and local governments, providing a way for the public to easily access the mountains of data produced by governments at all levels. If it works, it provides ways to check what the city and state are actually doing and to hold elected officials accountable.

Elected officials have given lots of lip service to the idea over several years.

I wondered about the status of Hawaii’s open data initiatives, and decided to take a quick look at the city’s efforts. I’ll check on the state’s progress at another time.

In November 2013, the City Council passed Bill 53 (2013) regarding open data. It summarized the background of the open data movement.

The Council further finds that on June 26, 2012, the Governor issued an Executive Directive to all state department heads announcing the Open Data Initiative. On August 10, 2012, then-candidate and current Mayor Kirk Caldwell, signed an Open Data Pledge. On October 4, 2012, State Chief data officer Sanjeev Bhagowalia unveiled the State’s Twelve Year IT Transformation Plan, which included as one of its top priorities the establishment of a State open data portal at https://data.hawaii.gov. The City followed suit and created https://data.honolulu.qov. These actions enabled public facing websites to facilitate the sharing of master data sets. On July 3, 2013, the Governor signed into law Act 263, which relates to open data. This new law requires state executive branch departments to make electronic data sets available to the public, absolves the State from liability for certain deficiencies or incomplete data, and requires the Chief data officer to develop policies and procedures to implement the open data initiative.

Finally, the Council finds that an open data policy has been shown to drive increased government efficiency and civic engagement, leading to social and economic benefits as a result of innovative citizen interaction with government. Social and economic benefits include, but are not limited to, empowering citizens through the democratization of information and fostering citizen participation in city government projects, supporting early stage entrepreneurship, encouraging positive environments that contribute to workforce development and job creation, and fostering a positive business environment and public-private partnerships.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The bill provides:

Each agency shall use reasonable efforts to make appropriate and existing electronic data sets maintained by the agency electronically available at no cost to the public through the city’s open data portal at data.honolulu.gov or its successor website designated by the city’s director of information technology….

As with lots of great sounding measures, there were several caveats. This seems to be the main one.

Nothing in this chapter shall require agencies to create new electronic data sets or to make data sets available upon demand…

I’ve just started to spot check what’s actually available at data.honolulu.gov. You can click on the link for a full catalog of available data. Since the list of available data sets is so large, dig in and share your observations with the rest of us.

Here’s my initial take.

Some of these data sources actually deliver on the promise. For example, the database of traffic incidents spans a period from 2012 through the present. That makes it possible to go back and spot problem areas, spots where more incidents are reported, etc.

Data on abandoned vehicles also covers a broad time period from 2007 to just the last couple of days.

But the database of “Crime Incidents” is described as “an active feed from the Honolulu Police Department.” But the last entries appear to be from August 22, 2015, where the data abruptly stops. So it’s almost complete, but somewhere along the line the ball was dropped.

Other data are much more limited. The Honolulu 311 reports are online. These are complaints or requests for service submitted using the Honolulu311 mobile app. When it was launched, this service got positive press.

But for some unknown reason, the online data only contain items submitted in the past month. That leaves no way to track the city’s performance over time, to identify problem areas, or the most frequent types of problems.

Some data looked interesting, but the links didn’t work, at least when I was checking. One promises to identify all state owned land. It provided an external link, which returned only an error message. A list of city owned properties couldn’t be opened without a county id and password.

Some databases are simple snapshots in time. For example, “Hanauma Bay Revenues FY14 2013-12-31.” Separate databases report revenues and expenditures at Hanauma over several fiscal years. That would at least make it possible to compile a time series to track changes or trends. Same with city budgets, reported in discrete files by year.

There’s a useful link for shoreline access points, which opens a map of Oahu with public access points shown as red dots. Click on one of them and you get a description of it.

Here’s one that might yield something interesting. It is apparently a list of the top ten internet sites accessed from each city department, but only covered the single month of Dec 2012. An updated list over time would certainly be of public interest!

In any case, there are hundreds of listed sources of data, but the list appears to contain lots of duplicates. Much of the data should be useful, others not so much.

But there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what’s in this collection of data, nor any sense that city departments are making progress in opening large datasets to the public.

I’ve seen some mainland jurisdictions provide access to the city’s checkbook, allowing micro-level analysis of departmental spending.

I searched for the term “contracts.” The only items found were city budgets. A search for “procurement” produced nothing. Of course, there are separate city systems for procurement matters, and I know lists of personal service contracts are provided regularly to the city council. But accessing these in the form of a database would make analysis of the lists easier and more likely for someone to undertake.

The other thing I notice is that few people make any use of these data. Only a handful of the thousand or so slices of city data have been accessed ore than a few hundred times since 2012. These seem to have been the most heavily used.

But even here there are problems.

Anyway, here are the most used databases, using the city’s numbers.

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The challenge of backing up digital photos in the cloud

For several days, I’ve been experimenting with using Amazon Cloud to store backups of my large collection of digital photos.

If you’re mainly dealing with pictures taken with your smartphone, you probably haven’t gotten to an unwieldy number of photos yet. But I’ve got quite a mountain of them.

I bought my first small digital camera in late 1998, and have gone through many generations of cameras since then. I’ve mostly relied on Canon digitals, but along the way used a couple of Nikons, and recently added a used Sony RX1, a small digital full frame camera. The result is tens of thousands of at-risk digital pictures.

Right now, I rely on a stack of portable hard drives containing photos back to around 2004. Initially, I had a primary storage drive and a backup drive for each year or two. For several recent years, I’ve used a RAID drive that automatically saves my photos onto two separate disks. And this year I added a third copy on a separate portable drive. Earlier pictures, starting at the end of 1998, were burned onto CDs.

But there’s always the fear. What if the house burns down, or a hurricane hits? What if something destroys the hard drives? Having another layer of backup copies stored online seems the way to go.

So on with the experiment. Amazon Prime Photos was my choice. Google offers a similar, highly rated service. But I’m already an Amazon Prime member, and their file storage is really a great deal. The price is now about $100 a year to join Prime, but you get free shipping on most items purchased through Amazon. If you shop online, shipping to Hawaii can often be exorbitant. Amazon Prime usually offers an easy way to avoid those issues. And Prime membership also includes Amazon streaming video, music, and a few other benefits.

Then, not long ago, Amazon added unlimited storage of digital photos in a variety of formats. If you aren’t a Prime member, you can buy unlimited photo storage for just $2 a month. Unlimited file storage of all kinds–photo, video, and document files–currently costs just $5 a month.

I should mention that Amazon’s terms of service limit their system to personal, noncommercial use. You can’t set up your Amazon backup to serve photos to a website, if I understand their conditions. And you can’t resell any of your own unlimited storage.

In any case, a few days ago I signed up for photo storage and started uploading pictures.

I pulled a one of my backup hard drives at random. It turned out to be photos from 2008-2009. You can upload via the web, or using an Amazon Cloud app that runs on my Mac (Windows versions also available).

So far, I’ve uploaded about 150 GB containing something like 15,000 photos, plus some video. It’s a slow slog.

Broadband speeds are not speedy when it comes to this many files. And, unfortunately, the Amazon photo storage isn’t automated.

You upload either through a desktop app, using a web browser, or photos can be uploaded directly from your phone. Amazon automatically organizes your photos by date, using the embedded descriptive data.

It’s relatively straightforward, but time consuming.

Here’s what I’ve done. First, I realized that wifi is too slow. So I ran an ethernet cable from the Hawaiian Tel broadband connection that’s up in one of our closets, and plugged it into my travel laptop. I’ve just been letting that run as an upload machine. Every couple of hours, if I remember, I stop by and set up another batch of pictures to be uploaded. I’m still trying to figure out the most efficient way to do these uploads. I’ve read about another app for automating the process, and I’ll probably go looking for a solution like that soon.

In the meantime, here’s the good side of things. The photos are stored in their original format at full size. I’ve read that files can’t exceed 2 GB in size, which isn’t a constraint for anything that I do. I’m not sure if that applies to video, at least if you’ve signed up for the unlimited photo AND video option.

Log onto your Amazon account, and you’ll see small versions of the most recent photos, with an option to jump to a particular year. Once there, yearly photos are arranged by month and, I presume, by date. I’ve discovered that some file formats, including the digital negative format, will only display an embedded thumbnail of the image. To see a full size rendering, you have to download that image. Yes, not perfect. But for redundant backup purposes, it doesn’t seem like a major limitation.

And all the photos become immediately available from my computer, phone, or tablet, or anyplace where I can access the internet. I’ve only used the Mac version, along with iPhone and iPad, but I understand they all run on other platforms as well.

You can also share individual photos via email

When I finish uploading all the files on the first drive covering 2008-2009, I’ll have to assess how long it will take to get all my photos into the cloud. Clearly it will take a while, may be months to get the whole backlog online, unless I can figure out how to get the process a bit more automated.

Using hard drive storage, there’s software to simply make a backup clone of a drive. It might take a while to physically make the copy, but it doesn’t take any more human intervention. Just come back when its done.

This process of uploading individual folders and files takes more work. I haven’t tried selecting all the files on a drive and moving them over to Amazon in one giant batch.

That’s all part of the experiment, I guess.

If you’ve got any experience using Amazon, Google Drive, or other ways of doing large scale photo backup, I would be most interested in your experience.

Lightly used iPad Mini 2 (with keyboard case) now just $150

Well, after getting no serious interest in the used iPad Mini 2 offered for sale a couple of days ago, we’re lowering the price.

The iPad Mini 2, 32GB, WIFI + AT&T Cellular, and Logitech keyboard case, all in excellent condition, $150.

This is Meda’s iPad, being relinquished only because she has traded up to the latest model.

The new price is based on what we could get directly from Apple as a trade-in, plus a small amount for the keyboard case.

If you’re interested, email me or leave a comment here.

For sale: iPad Mini 2 with Retina Display

Meda loves this iPad Mini, and relies on it so much that I bought her the latest version as a Christmas gift. So we’re selling the older one, which is in excellent condition.

It’s an iPad Mini 2 with Retina Display, 32GB, WIFI and Cellular for AT&T, Space Gray color, and comes with a Logitech keyboard case.

Apple sells this iPad model refurbished for $369, and I Amazon offers used versions for as low as $240. The keyboard sells new for over $80.

Both are in excellent condition, and have been pampered.

With charger and cable.

We’re now asking just $150 for the iPad and keyboard/case (revised 12-21). It’s a very good price.

Or make an offer and I’ll let you know.

If you’re on the mainland, I’ll add a few dollars for postage.

If you’re interested, comment here or email me.

From a recent review:

The imminent arrival of the iPad Mini 4 has pushed the price of the slightly even longer-in-the-tooth iPad Mini 2 (formerly known as the iPad Mini with Retina display) even further down, making it a good choice for anyone who doesn’t need the latest ‘new and shiny’. It shares an almost identical specification to the iPad Mini 3 sans the Touch ID fingerprint reader that isn’t as useful on a tablet compared to an iPhone. So really, it’s not that old.

And here’s Apple’s list of features of this model, lifted from its listing for a refurbished model:

Refurbished iPad mini 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular for AT&T 32GB – Space Gray

Originally released October 2013
Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
Bluetooth 4.0 technology
7.9-inch Retina display
5-megapixel iSight camera
FaceTime HD camera
1080p HD video recording
A7 chip with 64-bit architecture
10-hour battery life
Smart covers (sold separately), instant on
Multi-Touch screen
.75 pound and 0.29 inch

Let me know if you’re interested.

Comment woes continue

[Update: I made several changes this morning, including changing the WordPress “theme”, and suddenly several of your test comments have come through properly. Could it be fixed??]

I’m still working through suggested solutions to the ongoing problem with comments.

Although a few comments are getting through, most reports I’ve received concern comments that were entered but then just disappeared, or nothing happened when attempting to leave a comment.

Here’s where you can help.

Take a moment to write a brief comment and submit it, then let me know what happens. At some point I’ll hopefully stumble into the solution and it would be good to know when the whole comment machinery is working again. You can email me at ian(at)ilind.net.

Apologies for the disruption.

It’s a major pain in the you-know-what.