Back once again with the renegade master.

Nine Lessons Drawn from NaNoWriMo

by xaosseed

I am cruising in towards landing my NaNoWriMo for 2015 – the first time I’ve really done the challenged. I had a go back in 2011 and choked out fairly rapidly though that book did subsequently get finished as Book II. Book I was cannibalized from a rag pickers collection of all sorts of stuff back while I was down in Port Harcourt – including a NaNo attempt in 2004! Hey, I’d forgotten that one… I’ll confirm against my desk calendar but I think that was correct. Read the rest of this entry »

Going home again: Atlanta

by dixie

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d given up on the trip blogging. I made it past the halfway point of the month of insanity and stalled after the drive between Savannah and Atlanta. Part of this is because my blogging time has been replaced by life, but part of it is because Atlanta is unlike the other places I’ve been blogging about. My stay was unique, not just in how I got there. And writing about it has been entirely impossible. So this week I’m breaking format and sparing you the “meta” entry, writing one whack of words for Atlanta, then moving on.

My standby flight adventures were a series of one-night stands with every city that would have me. I’d met a few of them before, even had relationships with some of them. London and I, for example, have been paramours for a very long time. DC and I were together for a good while and we greeted like old lovers who’d moved on but who’ve had enough time and space to admit we still rather like each other. Denver and I have history. But Baltimore had only winked at me in passing, and Providence and I were sort of surprised to meet each other.

AtlantaRunMy relationship with Atlanta is very different.

Atlanta isn’t home anymore, but it’ll always be where I’m from. Returning to Atlanta, once I get over the irrational dread, feels like slipping into my own skin. It’s familiar in ways I’m not entirely comfortable with. That old skin fits, but I like my new one a lot better. I do not want the old one, and it bothers me that it goes on so easily.

I went running on streets that I ran on when I was in high school. I drove through neighbourhoods I drove through as a teenager. I met up with people I knew then, in places that are still there. I had lunch in a restaraunt where I used to escape to for late night pizza, and that teenaged me would not have recognised the me that turned up this year.

Anyone who says you can’t go home again clearly did not grow up in a Delta hub; I keep having to go back, despite not wanting to. Atlanta and I greeted each other like siblings who never really got along, poking at each other, vaguely resentful, and while we managed to behave ourselves while we were together we were both happy when I left.

Ireland’s Open Data Strategy

by dixie

Writing about Atlanta is proving tricky, and in the meantime life is galloping away with me. Just so you don’t forget about me, I’ll offer another non-travel blog to tide everyone over.

Two weeks ago I attended the public briefing at the Department for Justice and Equality on the state of Open Data in the State. The minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has expressed an interest in encouraging public bodies to make their data sets available to the public. Some offices like the Central Statistics Office are already pretty amazing about this. Others less so.

A good number of people turned up on an otherwise quiet Monday night. There were a few academics, a handful of activists, a good bunch of civil servants, and a few representatives from startups and industry. After the formal presentation discussion was opened up, and I enjoyed the variety of perspectives. How reliable are the data sources going to be? How will sustainability be ensured? Will there be any enforcement, and what form would that take? What about groups that don’t want to release their data at all?

Since it was an information-gathering evening as much as a briefing, D/PER didn’t have answers for a lot of those questions. They invited further comment, and the deadline for submissions is this Friday. The format for submissions is…wait for it…an e-mail address. Not a forum, not even a form on the website. So in the spirit of open discussion, this is what I’ve sent as my input towards Ireland’s open data strategy.

Thank you for engaging the public the issue of Open Data and creating a strategy for Ireland. The public briefing on 8 September brought together a fantastic array of perspectives and concerns, generating a good set of questions that a complete open data strategy should address.

I’m a researcher in Trinity College, so my interest in data availability focuses primarily on having that data available as the raw material for research. When I’m developing predictive models or exploring the effects of change, I look for existing bodies of data to test those new methods with, ensuring the model is accurate. The key concern I have, then, is that the data is easy to find and obtain, and that it’s in a format that’s easy to read (machine readable for preference, but having multiple formats available would be even better) and work with. Simple is better. And when data is updated, older sets should remain available with version numbers — this is key for ensuring research is reproducible for other researchers.

One of the greatest risks in this undertaking is that the work will end up being lost due to lack of maintenance. As technology and the means for accessing data change with time, the data itself will need to be taken care of to ensure continued access to it. The best way to achieve this is by hiring people to do just that. It’s hard to justify in a tough climate for public service hiring, but without this investment there’s a great risk of all the current effort (and funding!) being wasted. Even if it’s just a small team of people based in one department who are responsible for curating Ireland’s public data, that might be enough. This could also be an incentive for various public bodies to make their data available, if a team of data experts could be made available to anyone who wanted or needed that expertise.

It’s an investment, certainly, but I think the return would be dramatic.

Thank you again for making this a priority, and I’ll be very interested to see how the strategy develops.

Peer review is not a panacea for woo

by dixie

Two weekends of actually doing stuff have led to a dearth of blogging. I won’t abandon y’all in the South, it’s just that the Atlanta blogs are going to take another week for me to get to you.

In the meantime, I offer a head-twistingly ludicrous paper published in a peer review journal owned by a reputable academic publisher: “Schizophrenia or Possession?”. There’s a summary (okay, biased, but I’m in the choir it’s preaching to) that includes an invited comment from the editor here. Unless it comes to light that believing in a schizophrenic’s demons is a valid way of treating the disorder, I can’t really see how this adds to any scholarly discussion on the topic.

And yet, this is a published paper the author can put on his CV.

Going the distance

by dixie

“The Savannah airport is best described as ‘intimate.’ It has two major shops: a flip-flop shop and a sunglasses emporium, facing each other across the concourse. Also, not a shred of data access. I do not want to be stuck here.”
— My journal, 14 April 2014

The Savannah regional airport is a skylight-topped place that feels more like a train station than an airport. The shops seem to be there mostly to remind everyone that if they’re not on their way to Hilton Head or one of the area’s ruggedly beautiful island beaches, they’re doing it wrong.

I've learned to love small airports.

Small but perfectly formed.

I spent almost no time in the Savannah airport. Sometimes I’ll browse shops when I arrive in an airport, especially if I’ve nowhere to be that night, but usually I keep walking. Before SAV-ORD-ATL however, I made it to the gate in SAV in just enough time to start the slightly nervous waiting for a seat on the plane, no time to spare for shopping or daydreaming. It became clear that I wouldn’t make it onto the flight I’d booked, so during boarding I started arranging to rent a car and drive to Atlanta instead. The gate agent eventually came to me and apologized for my being the first person in the standby queue to not get a seat, and within half an hour I was outside, clutching a cup of coffee and a banana and gently but firmly convincing a very well-meaning rental car company employee that I was going to take my chances driving without their ludicrously expensive insurance, thank you very much.

Americans are born behind the wheel, my Russian ex-boyfriend used to say, and Georgia is where I learned to drive. I was in my first car accident at the tail end of a drive very like this one, from the barrier islands to Atlanta, and my first road trips were on these Georgia “expressways.” Experiencing it now made me wonder how much of myself was created from all that time on Atlanta roads.

Driving in the South is, I realize now, a massively multiplayer game. The object is to get where you’re going as fast as you can without attracting the attention of the many ill-tempered cops that lurk along the sides of the roads. You don’t get to talk to your fellow players but you do interact — you can signal to players on the other side of the road to let them know there’s a speed trap ahead, and you can work with players on your side of the road to speed your journey. The cops can’t pull over everyone, so people who want to drive more than ten miles over the speed limit often travel in packs of 3-4 cars.

I thought I’d dreamt this, a figment of adolescent memory embellished by the passage of time, but about an hour outside of Savannah one of these packs whooshed past me. Almost by instinct I pulled out into the left lane and joined them, positioning myself neither first nor last, my attention instantly sharper than before when I’d set my cruise control to the maximum non-ticketable speed. The pack broke up after about half an hour, and I participated in two more before I reached the city limits.

All semblance of cooperation vanished on the approach to Atlanta. There we were caught in the quicksand of rush hour traffic, something I had learned how to avoid as a kid but had learned to cope with in LA (where it’s always rush hour somewhere in the city). My GPS flaked out and I felt my way through the streets I drove as a teenager, the driving equivalent of wandering blind with my hands outstretched, making my way towards my destination.

Dublin shoud not be this warm.

And then, suddenly, I found myself in Dublin.

During the recklessly fast drive across the state I found myself in Dublin (Georgia), stopped for petrol and took pictures, then continued the odd spiral of returning to the place where I’m from. There’s a tension every time I go back to Atlanta, even if it’s just to change planes. A part of me wonders “Haven’t I spent enough time here?”

I took the long way through the leafy green suburbs I used to be so familiar with. Many of the landmarks I knew had changed; trees had been cleared or put in, strip malls had been added or replaced, but the streets were all the same. The bones of the city hadn’t changed, even when everything else had, and after a little bit of confusion I was able to feel my way to the neighbourhood I was aiming for.

SAV-ORD-ATL wasn’t the first journey I completely failed to make due to standby denial, but it was the only one I ended up making by car instead. Those four hours on the Georgia expressway ended up being as much a homecoming as arriving in Atlanta itself was.