Nebraska, Spreadsheets, NYC Trees, More: Saturday Buzz, January 2, 2016


The state of Nebraska’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions have gone online. “The pages have long since yellowed on first editions of Nebraska Reports that date back to 1871, when the state was in its toddler years and the Nebraska Supreme Court had newly formed….Some 145 years later, the cases could be all but forgotten to those not in the legal profession but for a project to go digital with all current Nebraska Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions. That led to the idea to create an online library of all the courts’ cases and offer it free to the public.”

Oh, how fascinating! A spreadsheet for things that aren’t certain. “The first reaction of many people to uncertain math is to use the same techniques as for certain math. They would either imagine each unknown as an exact mean, or take ‘worst case’ and ‘best case’ scenarios and multiply each one. These two approaches are quite incorrect and produce oversimplified outputs. This is why I’ve made Guesstimate, a spreadsheet that’s as easy to use as existing spreadsheets, but works for uncertain values. For any cell you can enter confidence intervals (lower and upper bounds) that can represent full probability distributions. 5000 Monte Carlo simulations are performed to find the output interval for each equation, all in the browser.”

The 600,000 trees in New York City have been mapped. When I was in New York I kept thinking the trees looked depressed. “The 600,000 trees that line the streets of New York City have been mapped, revealing a diverse array of greenery in the midst of one of the world’s largest cities. Jill Hubley, a web developer who lives in the New York borough of Brooklyn, used official city data to create a visualization of where each of the 600,000 trees, which cover 168 different species, are situated.”

A new (newish) Web site lets you report when Web sites censor creative works. “[Jillian] York developed the idea for the project with Visualizing Impact CEO Ramzi Jaber in 2012, after Facebook removed a link to a pro-Palestinian song that Coldplay published on its band page. The post received more than 7,000 comments, but it disappeared after thousands of users reported it as abusive. The episode was emblematic of the problems of social media: a crowd of offended users flags a post as inappropriate for personal or political reasons; the offending party is never notified; and then censorship is enacted by corporations — or really, the people who work for them.” It seems to be focused on social media for the moment. I’m not entirely comfortable with the word “censorship,” as these are not government entities. I’m trying to find a different word.


The state of Kansas has put its criminal record check application online (PRESS RELEASE). “Persons operating a facility or facilities licensed under the Kansas Adult Care Home Act or Kansas Home Health Licensure Law are able by law to process criminal background checks on potential employees. This law was established to prevent individuals, including juveniles, with serious criminal histories from working in said licensed facilities.”

DJI has updated its geofencing software. “Unlike the current software, GEO allows maps and restrictions to be updated anytime according to unfolding events like wildfires so responders can tackle the emergency situation without having to worry about camera-equipped drones getting in the way. It’d also work for special events such as sports games, allowing organizers to prevent irresponsible drone owners from flying their machines above both crowds and competitors. Once the event is over, relevant maps can be updated and flight restrictions lifted.”

USEFUL STUFF has made a bunch of resources free for January. Free records include some from Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives blog has some hints for archiving born digital word processing files. “Throughout the years, we have written about our digitized and born-digital materials that include images, video, architectural drawings or CAD, and websites. We have not touched upon the preservation of word-processing documents very much, though. Most do not find them as exciting as an image of a Smithsonian event, a drawing of the plans for a museum, or an animal video from the National Zoological Park. So, they can get overlooked as something that needs digital preservation. However, consider all the typing we do on a computer either at work or at home. Some of those digital documents do have long-term value.”

Did you make any New Year resolutions? Not me. But in case you did, Mashable has a roundup of apps for helping you keep those resolutions.

TechCrunch slideshow roundup: The best apps for finding events.


Interesting talk: the website obesity crisis. I have been on the Web long enough to remember when you were cautioned against using too many dancing icons and stuff, because of the poor people on dialup. There are now very few poor people on dialup, but there are plenty of people on crappy mobile.


Which software had the most security issues in 2015? Adobe Flash? Nope! Mac OSX. “Which software had the most publicly disclosed vulnerabilities this year? The winner is none other than Apple’s Mac OS X, with 384 vulnerabilities. The runner-up? Apple’s iOS, with 375 vulnerabilities.” Please note that not all vulnerabilities are created equal and you could spend days arguing over the best parameters for making a list like this. I just thought it was interesting.

If you don’t mind starting your New Year off a little sour, check out this Quartz article on Public Domain Day and realize how much is left out of our culture because copyright laws in the US are ridiculous. “The US changed its copyright term to 70 years in 1978, but it also retroactively extended copyrights twice—first as part of the 1978 law and then again in 1998. As a result of these extensions, no published works will actually enter the public domain until 2019. (Unpublished works do enter the public domain, but this is a much smaller and decidedly less illustrious group.) Good morning, Internet…

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