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Try the Royal Statistical Society Christmas quiz

Datablog (the Guardian)Fri, 12/19/2014 - 10:12



Try and get through the quiz requiring a large dose of mental agility at this festive time of year and win a subscription to Significance magazine

For the past 21 years, the newsletter of Royal Statistical Society has published a fiendish Christmas quiz for its members.

To successfully tackle the quiz you’ll need a mixture of general knowledge, logic and lateral thinking. No specialist mathematical knowledge is required. Are you up to the task?

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The Top 10 Posts of 2014 from the Cloudera Engineering Blog

Another word for itFri, 12/19/2014 - 01:46


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The Top 10 Posts of 2014 from the Cloudera Engineering Blog by Justin Kestelyn.

From the post:

Our “Top 10″ list of blog posts published during a calendar year is a crowd favorite (see the 2013 version here), in particular because it serves as informal, crowdsourced research about popular interests. Page views don’t lie (although skew for publishing date—clearly, posts that publish earlier in the year have pole position—has to be taken into account).

In 2014, a strong interest in various new components that bring real time or near-real time capabilities to the Apache Hadoop ecosystem is apparent. And we’re particularly proud that the most popular post was authored by a non-employee.

See Justin’s post for the top ten (10) list!

The Cloudera blog always has high quality content so this the cream of the crop!


Announcing Apache Storm 0.9.3

Another word for itFri, 12/19/2014 - 01:32


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Announcing Apache Storm 0.9.3 by Taylor Goetz

From the post:

With Apache Hadoop YARN as its architectural center, Apache Hadoop continues to attract new engines to run within the data platform, as organizations want to efficiently store their data in a single repository and interact with it for batch, interactive and real-time streaming use cases. Apache Storm brings real-time data processing capabilities to help capture new business opportunities by powering low-latency dashboards, security alerts, and operational enhancements integrated with other applications running in the Hadoop cluster.

Now there’s an early holiday surprise!


GovTrack’s Summer/Fall Updates

Another word for itFri, 12/19/2014 - 01:14


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GovTrack’s Summer/Fall Updates by Josh Tauberer.

From the post:

Here’s what’s been improved on GovTrack in the summer and fall of this year.


  • Permalinks to individual paragraphs in bill text is now provided (example).
  • We now ask for your congressional district so that we can customize vote and bill pages to show how your Members of Congress voted.
  • Our bill action/status flow charts on bill pages now include activity on certain related bills, which are often crucially important to the main bill.
  • The bill cosponsors list now indicates when a cosponsor of a bill is no longer serving (i.e. because of retirement or death).
  • We switched to gender neutral language when referring to Members of Congress. Instead of “congressman/woman”, we now use “representative.”
  • Our historical votes database (1979-1989) from was refreshed to correct long-standing data errors.
  • We dropped support for Internet Explorer 6 in order to address with POODLE SSL security vulnerability that plagued most of the web.
  • We dropped support for Internet Explorer 7 in order to allow us to make use of more modern technologies, which has always been the point of GovTrack.

The comment I posted was:

Great work! But I read the other day about legislation being “snuck” by the House (Senate changes), US Congress OKs ‘unprecedented’ codification of warrantless surveillance.

Do you have plans for a diff utility that warns members of either house of changes to pending legislation?

In case you aren’t familiar with

From the about page:, a project of Civic Impulse, LLC now in its 10th year, is one of the worldʼs most visited government transparency websites. The site helps ordinary citizens find and track bills in the U.S. Congress and understand their representatives’ legislative record.

In 2013, was used by 8 million individuals. We sent out 3 million legislative update email alerts. Our embeddable widgets were deployed on more than 80 official websites of Members of Congress.

We bring together the status of U.S. federal legislation, voting records, congressional district maps, and more (see the table at the right).
and make it easier to understand. Use GovTrack to track bills for updates or get alerts about votes with email updates and RSS feeds. We also have unique statistical analyses to put the information in context. Read the «Analysis Methodology».

GovTrack openly shares the data it brings together so that other websites can build other tools to help citizens engage with government. See the «Developer Documentation» for more.

A Survey of Monte Carlo Tree Search Methods

Another word for itFri, 12/19/2014 - 00:59


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A Survey of Monte Carlo Tree Search Methods by Cameron Browne, et al.


Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) is a recently proposed search method that combines the precision of tree search with the generality of random sampling. It has received considerable interest due to its spectacular success in the difficult problem of computer Go, but has also proved beneficial in a range of other domains. This paper is a survey of the literature to date, intended to provide a snapshot of the state of the art after the first five years of MCTS research. We outline the core algorithm’s derivation, impart some structure on the many variations and enhancements that have been proposed, and summarise the results from the key game and non-game domains to which MCTS methods have been applied. A number of open research questions indicate that the field is ripe for future work.

At almost fifty (50) pages, this review of the state of the art for MCTS research as of 2012, should keep even dedicated readers occupied for several days. The extensive bibliography will enhance your reading experience!

I first saw this in a tweet by Ebenezer Fogus.

Google’s alpha-stage email encryption plugin lands on GitHub

Another word for itFri, 12/19/2014 - 00:34


Topic Maps

Google’s alpha-stage email encryption plugin lands on GitHub by David Meyer.

From the post:

Google has updated its experimental End-to-End email encryption plugin for Chrome and moved the project to GitHub. The firm said in a Tuesday blog post that it had “always believed strongly that End-To-End must be an open source project.” The alpha-stage, OpenPGP-based extension now includes the first contributions from Yahoo’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos. Google will also make its new crypto library available to several other projects that have expressed interest. However, product manager Stephan Somogyi said the plugin still wasn’t ready for the Chrome Web Store, and won’t be widely released until Google is happy with the usability of its key distribution and management mechanisms.

Not to mention that being open source makes it harder to lean on management to make compromises to suit governments. Imagine that, the strength to resist tyranny in openness.

If you are looking for a “social good” project for 2015, it is hard to imagine a better one in the IT area.


Another word for itFri, 12/19/2014 - 00:11


Topic Maps


From the homepage:

DeepDive is a new type of system that enables developers to analyze data on a deeper level than ever before. DeepDive is a trained system: it uses machine learning techniques to leverage on domain-specific knowledge and incorporates user feedback to improve the quality of its analysis.

DeepDive differs from traditional systems in several ways:

  • DeepDive is aware that data is often noisy and imprecise: names are misspelled, natural language is ambiguous, and humans make mistakes. Taking such imprecisions into account, DeepDive computes calibrated probabilities for every assertion it makes. For example, if DeepDive produces a fact with probability 0.9 it means the fact is 90% likely to be true.
  • DeepDive is able to use large amounts of data from a variety of sources. Applications built using DeepDive have extracted data from millions of documents, web pages, PDFs, tables, and figures.
  • DeepDive allows developers to use their knowledge of a given domain to improve the quality of the results by writing simple rules that inform the inference (learning) process. DeepDive can also take into account user feedback on the correctness of the predictions, with the goal of improving the predictions.
  • DeepDive is able to use the data to learn "distantly". In contrast, most machine learning systems require tedious training for each prediction. In fact, many DeepDive applications, especially at early stages, need no traditional training data at all!
  • DeepDive’s secret is a scalable, high-performance inference and learning engine. For the past few years, we have been working to make the underlying algorithms run as fast as possible. The techniques pioneered in this project
    are part of commercial and open source tools including MADlib, Impala, a product from Oracle, and low-level techniques, such as Hogwild!. They have also been included in Microsoft's Adam.

This is an example of why I use Twitter for current awareness. My odds for encountering DeepDive on a web search, due primarily to page-ranked search results, are very, very low. From the change log, it looks like DeepDive was announced in March of 2014, which isn’t very long to build up a page-rank.

You do have to separate the wheat from the chaff with Twitter, but DeepDive is an example of what you may find. You won’t find it with search, not for another year or two, perhaps longer.

How does that go? He said he had a problem and was going to use search to find a solution? Now he has two problems?

I first saw this in a tweet by Stian Danenbarger.

PS: Take a long and careful look at DeepDive. Unless I find other means, I am likely to be using DeepDive to extract text and the redactions (character length) from a redacted text.

EDU Tip – Introduction to QGIS via Self Paced Learning

AnythingGeospatialThu, 12/18/2014 - 22:44


TweetHere’s a fabulous New Year E-learning opportunity for the young GeoGeek, or anyone looking to polish up their programming skills. QGIS, much like Python, is a skill all the cool kids are...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

SearchCap: Google Store Visits, Bing iOS App & AdWords Scripts

Search Engine LandThu, 12/18/2014 - 22:00


Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: To Prove Online-To-Offline Impact, Google Rolls Out “Store Visits” Metric In AdWords Measures impact of search ads on in-store traffic as part of...

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Mediacurrent: New Year's Resolutions: Drupal Edition

Planet DrupalThu, 12/18/2014 - 21:46



Lose weight. Eat better. Run a 5K. Travel more. These are resolutions we all make year after year. But this year, we challenged our team to think outside the box and inside the drop. Now that 2014 has come and gone, and we prepare to countdown to 2015, we asked our team what they are looking to accomplish in Drupal in the New Year.

“Get more of my modules out for D8.” - Andrew Riley

SPONSOR MESSAGE: SEO Tools Marketer’s Guide

Search Engine LandThu, 12/18/2014 - 20:00


Are you considering an SEO software tool or curious why you need one? This report will help you navigate the SEO tools marketplace and understand how recent social media and marketing trends affect the growth in this market.It includes the latest industry statistics and vendor profiles. Sponsored...

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Drupal Watchdog: At Your Request

Planet DrupalThu, 12/18/2014 - 18:29



In the beginning there was the Common Gateway Interface, commonly known as CGI – a standard approach used to dynamically generate web pages. Originally devised in 1993 by the NCSA team and formally defined by RFC 3875 in 2004, CGI 1.1 took seven years to go from the original RFC to an endorsed standard.

In 1994, not long after the original CGI standard was documented by NCSA, Rasmus Lerdorf created Personal Home Page tools (PHP Tools), an implementation of the Common Gateway Interface written in C. After going through a number of iterations and name-changes this grew to be the PHP language we know and love.

One of PHP's strengths was the way in which it made many of the request and server specific variables, as defined by the CGI standard, easy to access – through the use of superglobals, namely $_POST, $_GET, and $_SERVER. Each of these is an associative array. In the case of $_POST, the request body is parsed for you and turned into an array of user-submitted values, keyed by field name, and conveniently supporting nested arrays. Similarly for $_GET, the query string is parsed by PHP and turned into a keyed array. In the case of $_SERVER, the gamut of server-specific variables are available for your script to interrogate.

Blink Reaction: Try Drupal 8 now

Planet DrupalThu, 12/18/2014 - 18:08



You may have heard and read a lot about Drupal 8 lately, without much support to go along with it. Well here at Blink Reaction, we are working on changing that and contributing as much help as we can to the community with the issues that we’ve come across so far in Drupal 8. In this post I will show you how you can try Drupal 8 by installing dependencies such as composer and drush so you can have a Drupal 8 site running on your local machine.

Cartographic Survey: The Year In Video Game Maps

Read/Write WebThu, 12/18/2014 - 17:49



Editor's Note: This was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen as part of Kill Screen's Year In Ideas series.  

Open a map in one of this year’s big video games and you’ll see mostly blank space. Sometimes it’s pitch dark outside the bubble of detail around your landing in the world. Sometimes the landscape is sketched out but not yet colored with icons, which spread wherever you set foot. We don’t ask how our character draws the map, or why, in a modern setting, she would ever need to.

For more stories about video games and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

Though not common to all games, these conventions are instantly recognized. Beating the game means illuminating the map. Maybe it dates back to Wizardry-era dungeon crawls and the age of graph paper mapping, a tradition carried on in this year’s Persona Q and the re-released Elminage Gothic (which makes players buy consumable maps to spot-check their location.) But however they started, dark maps were everywhere in games this year.

The map of a game like Grand Theft Auto V or Far Cry 4 works more like a memory than a pocket reference. The real work of navigation is usually done by floating icons onscreen, distance counters, and GPS overlays; the skin of the map grows in as you chase symbols. The characters of GTA V should be able to see every corner of Los Santos just by glancing at their phones. Instead they do the legwork themselves, filling in the city like a giant scratch card.

GTA V: A Clean Guide To A Complex World 

The form of a map tells us about a game’s ambitions, or at least helps us guess. In the latest GTA our slowly expanding vision suggests the series’ new emphasis on progression, as does the return of San Andreas’ character stats. That wasn’t always Rockstar’s focus: in 2008, Niko could survey the whole layout of Liberty City as soon as he got off the boat. Franklin has to turn on the lights in his hometown block by block.

In a year of overcrowded maps, GTA V gave us a clean guide to a complex world. The skeleton of the city is laid out like a monochrome negative, but the black-bordered gray roadways have more pop than their predecessors in GTA IV or Watch Dogs, and the arterial lines twine together with elegance that puts real maps of Los Angeles to shame. Icons are kept small and sparingly colored, making them easy to match with the relevant protagonist (green for Franklin, light blue for Michael, orange for Trevor). The irrelevant symbols even shrink when you’re playing another character.

GTA’s real achievement is using multiple viewpoints to help players build a layered mental map of the area. At one point in Kevin Lynch’s seminal 1960 study, "The Image of the City," he mentions that L.A. residents could vividly describe to him the areas surrounding their home, but got progressively more vague when envisioning a journey downtown. (Lynch contrasts “formless” L.A. with Boston, where residents could clearly describe the city center.) 

See also: Want To Learn About Game Design? Go To Ikea

If not for GTA V’s character-swapping, players might remember little except their safehouse and the city’s two poles, the Del Perro Pier and the Vinewood sign. But our leaps between different homes and perspectives literally give each district its own character: we learn the alleys around Franklin’s first place in Strawberry/Crenshaw, then the sloping roads behind Michael’s mansion in Rockford/Beverly Hills, then the shortest path to the ocean from Trevor’s place in Vespucci/Venice Beach.

Outside of GTA—which is, technically, a 2013 game that happened to get an essential remaster—recent “open worlds” have been dispiritingly similar. The maps of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4, and Dragon Age: Inquisition are all cut from the same cloth. Each is filled in progressively as the player claims structures that double as fast travel points: AC’s Viewpoints, Mordor’s Forge Towers,Far Cry’s Outposts and Radio Towers, and DA:I’s camps. It’s the template Ubisoft popularized.

Assassin’s Creed:  A War Between Mathematicians And Realtors

If GTA V was the best of this year’s maximalist maps, then Assassin’s Creed Unity was by far the worst—a clownish bleed of distractions over plots of ghostly buildings shipped in from Chengdu. Synchronizing a new map section reveals a mass of hexagons with magnifying glasses or scrolls or shields inside, GPS flags, medals inside transparent circles, staircases, orange hexagons containing various symbols, fast-forward icons, chests in four different colors, houses colored red or black, and hexagons with houses inside them. 

It looks like the record of a war between mathematicians and realtors. And it barely even works. Overlapping icons obscure fast-travel points until you change filters or zoom in and tease out the edge of what you’re trying to click on. Once, my mission icons disappeared on every filter setting. But the flat map does have a tilt function, which I imagine is a comfort to the lunatic who created it.

Mordor steals AC’s ideas, but at least it improves them. Its markers get more space to breathe and can be sized up at a glance: red shields (orc events), yellow shields (story), white shields (challenges), and blue Forge Towers. It beats AC at the little things, like the sharper snap your cursor does when it rolls over an icon, the crisper borders around each district, and the fine outlines of walls provided in place ofUnity’s hazy tofu shapes. Apart from the scratchy Ithildin symbols, it doesn’t look very Tolkienesque; then again, neither do the zipline stealth kills. Mordor is a playground, and its map takes care to keep things simple.

 See also: Call Of Duty Doesn't Understand Grief—But Who Does?

Both games lack distinct areas and routes—in Kevin Lynch’s framework, they lack “imageability.” The lines of fast travel cut up the land and prevent you from holding continuous strips of scenery in your mind. The sensation of traveling isn’t accelerated but removed. After many hours with the game, I didn’t remember much of Unity except the player’s base at the Café Théâtre; Mordor is a blur outside of one stronghold (Tol Crossing?) that I kept finding target orcs in.

The intensity of a mental image, Lynch pointed out, comes from continuous use. He broke down our impressions of an area into paths, edges, nodes, districts, and landmarks, calling paths the “predominant” organizing feature in most cases. That may be why the worlds of Unity and Mordor are so forgettable: they’re all nodes and no paths. Even if you don’t abuse fast travel to turn swaths of the map into flyover country, you can hold down a couple of buttons to make Arno or Talion barrel past almost any enemy and launch themselves over any barrier, taking the shortest line from point A to B. There’s no starch in either game to stop players from walking all over it. (The one inconvenience I remember in Unity is the Seine, which sometimes made you look for a bridge.)

Compare that to the mindfulness of the Los Santos resident, who takes his life into his hands whenever he crosses the city. Steering a vehicle around poles and pedestrians, weaving between trucks and into oncoming traffic, glancing from the mini-map to the street: these are all complex tasks that challenge us to balance speed and caution and draw on our memory of the area as well as the map. We learn the city road by road, rather than having entire districts dropped on us at once. The result is a lasting after-image of the area that we can call to mind weeks or months later.

See also: Sweden's Sexism Test For Games Is A Great Idea

The maps of Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition amend AC’s template, but never go too far afield. FC4’s map may be the year’s most colorful, having seemingly absorbed every pigment absent from GTA’s negatives and Mordor’s blueprints. The splashy look suits the franchise’s celebration (ostensibly, interrogation) of tourism, also seen in the gold boxes that surround chapter titles like the National Geographic logo. Even the names of places have their own energy: Satish’s Sad Room, Great Drought Chorten, Kalinag Returned, and so on.

The main novelty of FC4’s map, outside of fiddling like the division of Viewpoints into Outposts (fast travel) and Radio Towers (map illumination), is the prominence of animal ranges. Giant rhinos and wolves are a larger-than-life presence on the landscape of Kyrat, and the knowledge that you’ve wandered into “badger country” tends to have more weight than being told that you’re in Faubourg. By suggesting each animal’s territory rather than marking it outright with a dotted line or glow, the map introduces welcome ambiguity to a game that is otherwise about driving between icons while listening to the worst radio station that has ever been created or imagined.

If you prefer the dotted line, Inquisition is there for you, drawing purplish search zones all over its map in an unmistakably Azerothian touch. If the ground wasn’t oversalted with lost shards, Dragon Age would be a capable mashup of the Ubisoft map and World of Warcraft. But the former doesn’t need another imitator, and the latter deserves to be copied more. In WoW, quest-givers move to new zones in pursuit of their own goals, the landscape is transfigured by story events, fast-travel points are generously spaced, and every wilderness sometimes holds rare mobs that give you a reason to visit. In Inquisition and in most of its open-world cohorts, the map is static.

See also: Four Things I Learned While Writing A Book About Super Mario Bros. 2

Inquisition’s maps are finely illustrated, though, and an area cleared of icons wouldn’t look out of place printed inside a fantasy hardcover. It’s one of the only navigation aids I saw this year that avoids a technical, schematic appearance—even the terrain of FC4 looks like a grainy satellite capture when you zoom in. DA:I doesn’t maintain the extravagant detail of its War Table map on its blown-up area maps, but I doubt anyone expected it to.

A few major games this year escaped the influence of the Ubimap. Grimrock II carries on the old practice of step-by-step, tile-by-tile exploration, and its directions and riddles require actual study of one’s surroundings. (Kentucky Route Zero and Grimrock II sometimes feel like the last two games in the world that still trust you to find an old oak or take the second left after the crossing without marking it with a beacon visible from space.) As mentioned above, Persona Q gets even closer to the days of manual mapping, though it saves everyone graph paper by providing a digital grid.

Alien: Isolation: One Of The Most Tactile Digital Maps Ever Made

The real map of the year wasn’t of a dungeon, though it came from another game where every step counted. It was even laid over a grid. Of course I mean the lovably antiquated, closely packed, curiously aqua-colored widescreen schematics of the Sevastopol in Alien: Isolation, which are always on the verge of being snowed in by the inches of static piling at the base of the screen.

See also: Hatsune Miku Is Here To Destroy Everything You Love (And Hate) About Pop Stardom

I have no doubt that it’s one of the most tactile digital maps ever made. Just listen to the snap and whirr of unseen reels as you zoom—not in one continuous motion, but shuddering between two fixed positions. Listen to the plonk of the new button used to switch floors. For once, the map isn’t just in your head. Ripley collects it personally, pulling new layouts from glowing terminals around the station.

And sometimes this analog masterpiece is wrong, apparently by design. One of the game’s peak suspense sequences later on, for instance, makes you explore an altered area of the ship where your map critically misleads you. But it’ll occasionally lead you astray even before that, sending you to the wrong floor or to a vent that’s not there. The magical thing is that I think sometimes the map wasn’t even at fault. I was just livid that it left me room to make my own mistakes.

The mission of many game mapmakers is to destroy ambiguity. Isolation infuriated people by restoring it. In Isolation, you are only human and your map is only a map. You look at the map and make a plan, and sometimes your plan is only a guess. No onscreen marker stops you from taking the second right instead of the third, even when the second right means death. The gap between our memory of the map and the reality of it becomes a space for fear to grow.

Since no actually qualified individuals seem to be rating the year’s maps, it falls to me. Alien: Isolation receives every award. Best Map Design. Best Map Font. Best Adapted Map. Rookie of the Year. Thanks, Creative Assembly. Carry these accolades in your head, like an image of Michael’s driveway.

More From Kill Screen

For more stories about video games and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

Local council cuts: spending power by authority

Datablog (the Guardian)Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:39



Cuts to English council’s overall spending power for councils have been announced by the government, with a promise that no council will see more than a 6.4% cut. But how do the numbers differ by local authority?

Councils in England will face an average cut of 1.8% in their overall spending power in 2015-16 according to an announcement by the government on Wednesday.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Kris Hopkins, communities and local government minister outlined the the provisional local government finance settlement 2015 to 2016. He also said no council would see more than a 6.4% cut in overall ‘spending power’, as part of an overall reduction of 1.8%.

It’s opaque in a way that makes comprehension difficult. But it doesn’t mean that people won’t notice the impact on [services like] transport, culture environment and planning.

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