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Jon Garfunkel
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Jon Garfunkel

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Given the fascination for stats that the US Election brings out -- people checking Nate Silver's latest prediction percentage multiple times per day -- I'm surprised this hasn't been met by a similar drive for recovery statistics. Specifically, how many people are without homes, or with homes and without electricity or hot water (and likely trapped in high-rises)? This page from NYCHA at least has some of those stats for public housing: 7,000 without electricity, and 19,000 without heat. From there, it seems sensible to get a picture of which groups are servicing which apartment complexes.
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Jon Garfunkel

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I have a need for spare parts for home improvement. For some things it's just  easier to provide a picture of part than a text description (e.g. a shelf-holder nub). Does not a service exist where people can post pictures of things they need, and retailers (or other agents) can respond where to buy them? Something with the ease of Twitter, but the focus of posting to a consumer forum.
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Steve Coll, in The New Yorker's Comment this week: "The uproar over 'Innocence of Muslims' matters not because of the deep pathologies it has supposedly laid bare but because of the way the film went viral. A sectarian auteur with modest means used the Web to provoke enemies directly."

Wait -- just how did the film go viral? Mr. Coll did not explain, and the famously scrupulous fact-checkers at the New Yorkers glossed over this.

The first two links in the chain, the expatriate Christian Copts, one of whom apparently produced the film, and the other who forwarded it to Egyptian journalists, did the provoking, but it only provoked the powers-that-be. What likely provoked the masses was the deliberate airing of it on an Islamist television station. That's crucial to understanding how this happened. Some responsibility on the part of the leaders in Egypt -- and Pakistan as well, following the actions of a government minister over the weekend -- should be understood.
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Jon Garfunkel

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Roy -- I heard about your Herculean effort via Alex G. and Stacy R. -- maybe I'll be able to help next weekend. You seem fairly stat-minded, I was wondering whether you had any thought as to why the recovery stats weren't more front-and-center (as compared to the election).
 
Given the fascination for stats that the US Election brings out -- people checking Nate Silver's latest prediction percentage multiple times per day -- I'm surprised this hasn't been met by a similar drive for recovery statistics. Specifically, how many people are without homes, or with homes and without electricity or hot water (and likely trapped in high-rises)? This page from NYCHA at least has some of those stats for public housing: 7,000 without electricity, and 19,000 without heat. From there, it seems sensible to get a picture of which groups are servicing which apartment complexes.
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Jon Garfunkel

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I've had it with people who have no fricking clue about social media responses to disasters. I actually grew tired of this practice 5 years ago, when I wrote for PBS MediaShift about the generally cluelessness among the blogs following the Virginia Tech shooting. But, now, disaster has struck home.

The latest idiot is French Caldwell, VP of Gartner. I call him an idiot because he should well know better, and his clients should demand better -- Gartner is a $1.4B research firm, and one of the leading research firms in Information Technology. True, most of the solid research that customers pay for come in the form of subscription reports. But, given that he's a smart guy, probably enough people pay attention to him. I don't regularly follow him myself, but I remember him having some stature in the Business Process Management area, and I happened to see someone on Twitter or LinkedIn post a link to his latest off-the-cuff musings on social media and disaster response-- http://blogs.gartner.com/french_caldwell/2012/10/31/expect-to-hear-about-how-social-tech-enabled-self-relief-in-sandy/ 

What offends me most is that this rhetoric isn't a concerted effort to actually understand how disaster response systems work using coordinated approaches -- it's just to champion a particular technology segment by spouting off popular buzzwords. So we get ridiculous phrases like "flash mob of chain saws." Really, if that doesn't exist today, is that something we want? Of the people who own chain saws, there are probably two camps -- those who have other crap to deal with beyond cutting trees around downed power lines, and those connected in contractor networks who get a notification by phone or email for work to do. I assume that somewhere in the Gartner research knowledgebase -- or journals of operations research -- someone knows how these contractor networks work.

Caldwell: "I am also expecting these stories to take a twist -- we will hear about how neighbors organized self-relief efforts using social media."

This is 3 days into the Hurricane. People are using social media. And he hasn't heard of any stories yet?

Well, here on Earth (more specifically, the blackout city of downtown Manhattan), this is what happened: People met each other in the hallways. People saw charging stations, and met each other -- in real life. I live in an apartment building of about 200 units. It's not a named building, but, nonetheless, I could have created a hashtag for the building's address and tweeted that. Searching Twitter, I see none for my current building, and none for my last building (a "named" building). In one building I visited doing a water/food haul up/down stairs, I saw something novel in the stairwell: a sign, posted on the wall, informing neighbors that somebody was lending out a landline for emergencies.

Of course, these are all low-tech ideas are spread by media, both social and traditional. I don't see a reason to celebrate one vs the other.

At NYC bus stations, I finally noticed ads for Ready.gov. It's a compelling image of a girl in front of a canvas showing a mockup of some disaster theater, and the punchline is something about readiness theater. But, it has ZERO information besides the website address. Memo to FEMA: I failed to even recognize this sign before this week, let alone go to the website. Why not use that ad space to actually post the checklist? It's possible that this readiness checklist came in a new mailing. I do remember getting a mailing for recycling info (which we recycled, since our building already has that information in the garbage area). Maybe there's a way to get people to register proactively with the city once they move into to a new place? And combine that with the voting registration?

In many ways, "social media" should be understood as "a giant hack until better systems are built." Generally, we talk about systems like Facebook, we understand that it connects friends & families. When we talk about Twitter, we see it as a system which allows ad hoc communities to form, often around hashtags. Sometimes that works -- following a stream of tweets about ConEd, I did see the news about the ConEd substation explosion, and I figured we didn't have much time to prepare before the power shutoff. Granted, had someone said that they saw the explosion all the way from Brooklyn, I would have immediately realized how large and imminent the problem was. 

As I noted above, searching for building names comes up blank. So does searching for #SubwayShuttle -- the service that was inaugurated today to connect. I'm trying to find the rough timetables for the southbound route (the reverse times are hellish, that I can see on Twitter), and confirmations on how late it's running tonight. Yesterday I had asked an unrelated transit question on Quora -- a system designed for questions & answers -- but got no responses, and see no participation on the part of public agencies. 

You can see where I'm going. I don't want to keep hearing the calls for Twitter to be declared a civic defense resource and beefed up accordingly. I want a system to be built which works specifically for disaster response. I want a system which has a generally strict grammar for hashtags, and where the traditional media can effectively broadcast these hashtags to a mass audience. For example, #BucketBrigade should not be confused for various unrelated fundraising campaigns (as is the case on Twitter), but, instead, a very real bucket brigade that is needed to carry water up the stairs. Which works like Quora for asking & answering questions. Where people are encouraged to post very precise data (which ATMs are out of cash, which food stores are open) to spare the rest of us from having to plumb through a flood of information.
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FTR, French Caldwell sent me a very cordial note, dignified in responding to my indignant name-calling, and expressing that he understood my frustration in being in a disaster zone. I wrote him back, telling him that I had robbed myself of the knowledge of whether the substance of my argument, or the name calling, had got his attention.
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Jon Garfunkel

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The studies by Gallup and Burch at the University of Albany (SUNY) regarding semen's anti-depressive qualities have been getting a lot of smirking press lately. What few people have picked up on is that they are the likely source for Rep. Akin's comments.

As Scientific American's Jesse Bering summarizes the research in a blog post 2 years ago: "women’s bodies can detect 'foreign' semen that differs from their recurrent sexual partner’s signature semen, an evolved system that, Gallup believes, often leads to unsuccessful pregnancies because it signals a disinvested male partner who is not as likely to provide for the offspring."

Of course, this is mere theory, and I don't think there's firm consensus on this. And the authors don't anywhere near claim that the reproductive system can "shut down" all pregnancies via rape. And, furthermore, it's absolutely shameful for politicians to cherry-pick science for their own extreme agendas. But for those (like myself) who were wondering at the start of this week what got into Rep. Akin's mind, it's clear now that he pays much better attention to science-of-sex stories than most of the punditry. 
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Jon Garfunkel

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Never mind this comment, look at the commenter. Facebook says that they don't want pseudonymous commenters because they want a community where accountability is the norm. Fine. But it's acceptable to form a community (group?) and then post a comment on a discussion thread? did I miss something here? paging #nymwars ....
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Jon Garfunkel

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glad to see @Facebook has their ads properly matching in advance of their upcoming IPO. How did they know I was in the market for a $7.9M co-op??
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