Tim Davies on Open Data

by Matt Zagaja on December 12, 2014

Today I watched this video by Tim Davies at the Berkman Center on open data in government and thought it was worth sharing. In the video Davies outlines three important parts of open government data: proactive sharing, machine readability, and legal ability to use and share. It seems that we often end up with open data that only hits two of these three pillars. Also while watching the video I developed another idea for an open dataset to hack on that I submitted to the CT Open Data portal, so I wanted to encourage you to vote for it.

Connecticut's Open Data Portal

by Matt Zagaja on December 10, 2014

The other day I finally took the time to explore Connecticut's Open Data portal in depth. While I was aware of the portal before I did not extensively use it. Like many members of the public I looked at a few of the interesting example data sets and moved on. My goal was to figure out if there are some interesting data sets that I can pull down and use with some of the new algorithms that I have been learning. However no specific data set stuck out to me.

One of the best practices that I have seen recommended is that open data portals provide a log of FOI requests. The Hartford open data portal has a running log but that log was not interesting. It was mostly media organizations requesting e-mails or attorneys requesting documents relevant to their cases. So I went to the section of the website where I could suggest a dataset and was encouraged to see there have been several suggestions already and the site administrator has been responsive to them. So after making an account I posted my suggestion and the administrator responded within 24 hours. I do not know how long it will take for this to appear, but I am hopeful he is able to find some of this data and release it.

My first request is for you to vote for my suggestion on the website so they see there is support for it. The second request is to check out the portal and let me know if you find any interesting data sets that you think should be wrangled and let me know in the comments.

Applying for Health Insurance

by Matt Zagaja on December 09, 2014

My mission for today was to apply for health insurance for next year through our state health exchange website. Last year I went through this process and ended up calling the call center to help me through the process because it was confusing. Most of the questions are designed to be easily answered by people with simpler life situations. They know what their job is next year and live in a suburban house with their children. I however am a millennial that lives at home and I have no idea what I am doing for work next year as I continue to apply for things. I do not quite fit into the box they designed.

Today I made it to the point where I had to arduously interrogate my parents for their information because you have to apply as a household. This is in spite of the fact that both of my parents have insurance. While the website itself is not difficult to use, much of the language around the application is ambiguous as it applies to specific situations. For example it asks when income ends but isn't clear whether that end date should be the date that it finishes accruing or the date it finishes actually paying out. Meanwhile I've had to go back and research quite a bit of my own financial information relating to student loan deductions.

I now realize that my bias against dealing with paper is coming back to bite me as there are many paper documents that would be useful to access if they were scanned into Evernote. I typically use TurboScan on my iPhone to scan documents but it can be slow for larger volumes, so now I am considering moving to a ScanSnap. I suppose I could get more hanging folder boxes and just keep paper records there until I am ready to scan them with my iPhone, but they take up space and are not as easy to use.

Keyboard Shortcuts

by Matt Zagaja on December 08, 2014

One of the most useful and underrated things you can do to be more efficient with your computer is to learn keyboard shortcuts. Some of the ones I use regularly include Copy, Cut, and Paste with CMD+C, CMD+X, and CMD+V respectively. CMD+Z is undo in almost every application. I also have keyboard shortcuts I have mapped to easily add information to programs like OmniFocus and Fantastical. The number of shortcuts can seem overwhelming at first so I recommend trying and learning a few at a time. Apple has a useful list of shortcuts.

Using GitHub

by Matt Zagaja on December 05, 2014

A year or two ago I learned about and started using GitHub. I have not put many of my projects on my GitHub account because some are properietary and confidential and others are not ready yet to be public. In Chemistry class we learned about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the idea that observing a phenomena changes it. I believe this is as much the case with software development as it is with electrons. So one of my new resolutions is going to be to do more of my development and projects in the open. Hopefully this will push to me to be a bit more organized, less lazy, and to document more. As a part of that I updated my first repo so that it is easier to digest and included a PDF of the presentation I made to the Civic Hack Night group at SeeClickFix back in March.

I also made my first contribution to another project, known as a pull request, by uploading 2012 shapefiles for Connecticut's voting precincts. It did not require any coding on my part, but it was a fun milestone to help someone out with their project.

I am currently in the process of reading John Foreman's Data Smart book so you will soon see some data analysis projects in my GitHub account. Let me know if you have any suggestions for data sets I should wrangle.

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