Monday, September 29, 2008

Interesting online databases

Many interesting online databases are found in and it is amazing how much important information one can get through them.

I found a few that draw my attention more than others. One of them is Homicide map in 2007 database.

I was amazed to know that not fare from my new neighborhood there has been many homicides in the past year. I also noticed that among all the murders in year 2007 in Boston, about 90% of them were shootings. I like the fact that the graphics show very clearly in a map the areas of the murders and there is a distinction by colors to point out the method of killing, being shooting pink, stabbing blue and vehicular homicide yellow.

On the other hand I consider there is a lot of information missing in the map, like the exact number of shootings, stabbings and vehicular homicides in year 2007. The map allows to know where the majority of murders took place and through the colors which "type" of murder weapon was involved in most murders in a visual way, but does not mention the numbers.

Many questions come to my mind from this database for a story. Why are the murders concentrated in one area of Boston and why doesn’t the police reinforce its presence in that area? Why are there so many shootings, is it easy to get a gun in Boston? And if not, how do the murderers get the guns? Comparing to other years are the murders in Boston increasing or decreasing and why? Comparing to other cosmopolitan cities, how is Boston in its homicide rank, is it too high? I think that as Matt Caroll mentioned in class, searching other databases and asking the right people, a good story will come up from any information that answers these questions.

I also like the fact that it provides links to related sites such as Boston Police updates and how to report a crime in Boston.

The other one I found very interesting is the one that provides the Census results of the increase of the population of massachussets cities and towns.

Important facts about the state are available in it, such us the increase and decrease of Massachusetts cities population. It mentions for instance that Danvers in the North Shore is the one with the biggest growth in their community in year 2006-2007. I would search for a database of census from previous years in the state, and would look for the city that has had the biggest constant growth in its population and would do a story on what is going on in that city that makes people so eager to make babies.

I was also impressed by the online services you get through the My neighborhood section, besides getting access to every information you might need about your neighborhood you can also access pretty much anything that applies as citizens duties and services. From paying parking tickets to get a permit to film in Boston, everything is online so there thanks to this site there is no need to leave the house in order to go through those bureaucratic procedures anymore.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Political Databases

eToday I had the opportunity to go through these amazing sites, learn about them and compare them. First of all I think it is important to mention that these are terrific tools that allow common citizens to be informed about what politicians are doing, to have an opinion based in these facts and also be able to check whether they are indeed keeping their promises or not.
On the other hand there are factors that distinguish one among the other, so I’ll begin to point out a few I noticed.

I will start with US Congress Votes Database, that allows anyone browse every vote in the US Congress. I think it is the most organized and easiest to browse among the four we are going to analyze today. It has a well distributed and organized data base, which is taken from the Official Congress website and it is updated several times a day.

The search of any particular case is easy since you are able to look for it depending on any information you have about it, for instance you can look for a particular congress or member. You can also explore votes by margin, session or members.

You’ll find also the complete biography about Congress members.

It is does not have an appealing design, but it does not look bad for its purpose either.
These are incredible examples of what internet can do for common citizens that probably would not access this information otherwise and I believe it will be very useful in my country for instance, since citizens don’t trust their political representatives but have no way to check the facts themselves.

The following site is called Fact Check, a tool to monitor what major US politicians say. The site take their statements given through speeches, commercial ads and different media and check whether what they say it’s true or not, something very similar to Politifact, another site will analyze further in this blog.

The thing I like the most about this site are their weekly wires, the introduce a video one a week, with a summary of answers for the questions that readers have asked, the latest fact checks on candidate’s latest statements and campaigns.

I don’t like the fact that to check a piece of information you are interested in you have to know the month in which the statement or event took place and you have no other way to search it.

The third is the one I like the most:, a well rounded site that checks candidates’ statements in a very entertaining but also serious way. Besides being very appealing visually, they also make available a lot of video material of candidates commercial ads and speeches.

The thing that I like the most about it though is the same thing that concerns me the most. The truthfulness of the statements is measured by the site’s “rulings”. The statements by rulings from the “Truth O Meter” go from false, to barely true, to half true, etc. On one hand this in an intelligent evaluation since it is very difficult to determine when a statement is entirely false or true, it could be taken as a biased point of view of the journalist that analyses the statement. They are presented with weight images, which makes it visually attractive.

On the other hand, the “truth o Meter” appears as biased. Who decides that something is “partly true” or just “true”? The meaning of the two concepts is very different.

Finally we have the Projectvotesmart site. The most outstanding fact is that this is the only one that actually has political blogs that allows one to post comments in it which is obviously an extra point for the site. The information one finds in the site goes from campaign finances to information for voters, very instructive and easy to follow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A green emergency

Last week as part of the Public Policy Seminar Series “Advice to the next President”, Seth Kaplan, Climate Change Program Director of the Conservation Law Foundation was invited to Northeastern University to speak about global warming. And even though this is not a new issue to anyone in the world, every time they talk about it there are new facts that scare me to death .It feels like I'm hearing all over again for the first time that there is something called “ Global warming” and the danger our planet is going through.

After Kaplan explained in easy terms the effects of global warming, the same thing Al Gore did in "An Inconvenient Truth”, he mentioned some other scary facts. He said it took at least 1000 years for humans to get the planet the way it is right now on the edge of catastrophe. “We have created a different planet” he said. So if we are able to actually do something about it, this is not a change our children will be able to live because it is going to take another 1000 years to reverse the damages of the modifications that had been inflected to the earth.

As we already heard there is one basic way to help stop this problem: we have to diminish the Greenhouse Gas emissions to the atmosphere. Kaplan mentioned the emissions have to be reduced to at least 80 %to 90% by 2050. That is a lot considering that this emissions come from pretty much everything we consume such as the heat of our houses and cars to agricultural and industrial activities at a bigger scale. And although it is assumed that "we" does not necessarily refers to us but to our countries governments, we have to stop telling ourselves there is not much we can do about it because that is not true.

Kaplan said that in US the biggest emissions of Greenhouse gas comes from the following:
1. Energy
2. Transportation
3. Heat and Cooling for Houses.

Considering the factors mentioned above, we as citizens can do a lot. Kaplan mentioned that moving to a place near our work will make thousands of people stop using their cars. It is not such a crazy idea, is it?

A lot of people still think this issue is not as bad as it is presented, however changes ahead of us will be very bad ones. Kaplan said the environmental modifications will not be gradual, they will appear as big bursts: big and powerful storms. As we know they have already started taking place.

Our task is not simple, time is already ahead of us. It might sound as cliché, but we have to take measures now or we’ll end up taking away the planet from the children of our grand children.
If you are interested in the subject there are blogs such as Michael Brune’s Blockading Global Warming that provides information and opinion about the problem.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My three favorite blogs

I have to confess I don't usually read blogs. I began just a few days ago and I'm slowly getting used to the format and also enjoying it.

The first web that caught my attention is the Poynter web. I like the fact that in it you can find blogs with pretty much any information a journalist might be interested in, such as suggestions and tips amateur and senior journalists need nowadays to catch up with new everyday challenges in the journalism field. Amy Gahran wrote today about the importance of using blogs:

"Journalists at any career stage who hope to keep working and stay relevant regardless of the fortunes of any or all news organizations) should aspire to be as findable as possible. The easiest way to achieve this is to use your very own blog to build a strong, persistent personal brand.The key to building your personal brand is to publish easily findable content on your own site not just via your employer's site, nor just within a community site or group weblog. Your very own site. Having your own blog is media career insurance."

I will recommend also the Travel Pod website, it is essential for people who travels a lot and also for people who does not. If you will travel for the first time or you just don’t have that much experience in travelling this will be the ideal guide for you. You'll find comments about personal experiences from travelers that went to the most popular destinations, to places you’ve never heard of as well. If you are an experienced traveler, you’ll have a list of the top ranked hotels, restaurants and galleries, and amazing photos of those places.

Finally, I will suggest the Mabel Renfeldt's blog, a journalist in ABC Color newspaper from Paraguay. If you know a little Spanish, the blog will take you to places only good investigative reporting can. There is constant update on the development of current political and social issues in Paraguay and it is the most visited one in that country.