End lifelong punishment for what’s no longer a crime

I just sent this letter to Washington’s new[ish] Governor, and I’d like to encourage you to do similar:

Dear Governor Inslee,

In the same election that brought you to power the people of Washington chose, by a significant margin, to legalize marijuana as fully as we are able without control over Federal law. According to the FBI’s Universal Crime Reporting data (as cited in http://marijuana-arrests.com/docs/240,000-Marijuana-Arrests-In-Washington.pdf ), about a quarter of a million people have been arrested for marijuana possession in Washington over the past 25 years. While the jail terms for this “crime” were already so short before the 2012 election that few of these people are still in jail today, many of these people have permanent criminal records, limiting their access to jobs, housing and education. In effect, these people are being punished for life for an act that Washington voters have clearly declared should not be a crime at all.

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Blame the worker, not the tool

Yesterday the Daily Show featured an interview with Missy Cummings, a former Air Force pilot and current MIT Professor, who wants people to freak out less about drones. It’s well worth watching—a good interview with a person who clearly knows what she’s talking about—but what she leaves out is rather problematic.

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Delight and dole

I love Twitter. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that; if you didn’t then I’ll just mention that I’m much more garrulous over there. But there’s one thing about it that bothered me until very recently: my stream’s tendency to not simply be all over the map emotionally, but be at highs and lows at the same time. In face-to-face conversations, it’s pretty rude to be laughing and joking at the same time as talking about serious, depressing matters, but that’s what Twitter presents me with all the time, and it’s often what I present to the people who follow me there.

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Getting to the mountains, 2013 edition

UntitledThis post is a quick update on last year’s collection of public transport routes to ski areas. It’s heavily biased towards my own needs (i.e. central Seattle pickup locations). Please let me know if there are any I’ve missed! Continue reading

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Same love

In the recent election, Washington legalised gay marriage. There’s a slight delay built in to such things to give the relevant agencies time to prepare, so the first weddings took place this past weekend. Judge Mary Yu opened up the county courthouse at the stroke of midnight on Saturday, and City Hall was turned into the venue for 140 of the most public wedding ceremonies through the day on Sunday. Seattle responded with a little bit of apologising:

a sign that reads 'congrats and sorry it took this long'

but mostly a lot of cheering and celebrating. Continue reading

Posted in Out in the world, Seattle | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Help please: what detailed data exist on local ocean acidification?

I’m taking Alberto Cairo’s excellent online infographics class. For the first few weeks, he gave us very structured assignments: critiquing some published infographics (a terrible one to get us warmed up and then a quite good one to make us think more deeply about it), and then visualising two specific datasets that he provided. For the final assignment he gave us a completely free hand:

This time, I am giving you the freedom to do whatever you want. Choose a topic, gather the appropriate information, and present an idea of how to show that information in graphic form, either as a static display (for print) or an interactive one (for the Web or mobile). If you already feel comfortable with any software tool, try to turn in a finished product. If you are still in the early stages of learning, do hand-drawn sketches (but try to make them readable!).

Melinda had the great idea that I should do something about ocean acidification. The trouble is, everything I can think of that would be better than existing graphics I’ve seen seems to need data that I can’t find and may not exist at all. Continue reading

Posted in Requests for ideas | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The genius of the Rolling Jubilee

Having set up a bit of an ambitious goal in the previous post, I’m going to start with an idea that wasn’t mine at all, but it’s timely so it gets to go first. A contingent of Occupy Wall Street is promoting what they call the Rolling Jubilee. The idea is beautifully simple: since “distressed debt” is sold on public markets for a fraction of the money owed, buying it and simply writing it off is a form of poverty relief with an extreme multiplier. Apparently at current prevailing rates, the multiplier is around 20, so a dollar donated allows $20 of debt to be written off. That favourable ROI in turn means that if the average beneficiary then channels just a small proportion of the debt they’ve just been released from back into the fund, it can keep going, hence the Rolling Jubilee. I think this is brilliant for a number of reasons.

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You voted. Now what?

Last week I wrote a rant about voting that left some important things out. I didn’t really explain why I think our whole electoral system is structurally incapable of doing any better, I didn’t really explain what else I think everyone should be doing that’s better than merely voting, and I referred vaguely to “my anti-voting friends” without naming them or giving them a voice. Helpfully, the two people I was mostly referring to both published excellent explanations of their stances, shortly afterwards:

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Vote, dammit! Then work on real change.

A couple of friends, who I respect greatly and whose opinions I usually agree with, have pledged not to vote in this election and are arguing that others should also refrain from voting. Meanwhile I can’t vote because I don’t have the right pieces of paper lined up yet, but I resent that deeply, would vote if I could and want you to vote too. It wouldn’t exactly be a joyous vote—I’m almost as disillusioned with politics as my anti-voting friends—but it still matters.

First of all, I should say that I’m more than disappointed in Barack Obama. In 4 years I’ve gone from being excited about his election to outright angry with him. This isn’t about all the good things he’s failed to do, which I blame far more on Congress than on him. My anger is almost entirely about things he has chosen to do which have made our present and future bleaker than they would otherwise have to be. Continue reading

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Rain redux

A few months ago, I made a rather rudimentary visualisation of some historical rainfall data for Seattle: Will it rain on my parade? I had some ideas about improving it, and got some helpful feedback. I didn’t initially have all the technical skills needed to get it done, so I’ve been using this as a platform to learn some new things, and now that it finally does everything I want it to, it’s time to publish the update (click the image for a full size, interactive version): It now displays temperatures as well as rainfall, has a longer history to make the data less noisy, and lets you choose between 14 cities. I’ve also published all the tools you would need to quickly make one for your locations of choice. It needs a catchy title, and I’m interested in any feedback about how to make this still better.  Continue reading

Posted in My work | Tagged , , | 9 Comments