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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Daniel Castro
night sky

This week’s list of data news highlights covers August 10-16 and includes articles on imaging from microsatellites and data analytics being used to promote clean drinking water.

1. Citizen Scientists Swab Data, Not Decks

A joint U.S.-U.K. project dubbed “Old Weather Navy” is recruiting citizen volunteers to transcribe antique ship logs. Sailors recorded detailed information in these logs, including information on winds, temperatures, barometric pressure and cloud conditions. This information is incredibly valuable to scientists, such as those engaged in climate modeling, but until recently it was not feasible to digitize all of the hand-written paper records.

2. Chicago Loves Open Data

Chicago now has more open data sets available than any other city in the United States. Increasingly cities are recruiting civic hackers to help build applications that utilize public data. For example, when Chicago Public Schools marked 129 schools for closure or consolidation, civic hackers came together to create SchoolCuts.org to let parents and city officials compare all public data about the schools that might be affected and have a more informed debate.

3. Smile for the Cameras in the Sky

Companies such as Planet Labs and Skybox Imaging are deploying fleets of inexpensive, low-orbiting microsatellites equipped with high-resolution cameras to take frequent photographs of Earth from space. Among its many applications, data from these satellites can be used by environmental researchers to track deforestation, by insurance companies to validate insurance claims, or by agricultural companies to track crop yields.

4. Using Data to Promote Clean Water

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is sponsoring a project in Tanzania to use low-cost smartphones to collect data on the quality of the water supply and map the results. The goal of the project is to help public health officials better manage the quality of drinking water.

5. Using Computers to Count the Stars

Astronomers today are more likely to be staring at a computer screen than gazing at the stars as the science becomes increasingly focused on data. For example, every ten seconds NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory takes an image of the sun, sending back 1.5 terabytes of data daily. As a result, astronomers are quickly becoming some of the world experts in statistical methods for large data sets.

6. Big Data for Small Towns

While large cities like New York and Los Angeles have stolen the spotlight for harnessing the power of data, public officials in small cities are joining the game as well. Three cities in New Jersey—Bogota, Englewood and Teaneck—have started using data analytics software to better manage operations. For example, Englewood is currently tracking historical trash pickup data to learn if new automated garbage trucks outperform the old ones.

7. Intel Designing Chips for Big Data Applications

Intel is applying its engineering talent to optimize its chip designs for better performance in big data applications, such as predictive analytics. Making improvements at the chip and instruction-set level to speed up task execution will allow its processors to better handle big data workloads. In addition, the company has released its own distribution of Hadoop customized for those using Intel hardware.

8. More Schools to Offer Data Science Degrees

IBM has announced partnerships with a number of major universities, including Georgetown University, George Washington University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Northwestern University, to develop new curricula on data science. Many universities are creating undergraduate and graduate-level programs to meet the growing demand for workers with skills in data analytics.

9. Data Analytics Good for Yogurt Companies

Dannon has found that using IBM’s predictive analytics tools has allowed it to substantially increase the accuracy of its sales forecasting and inventory planning in the highly-competitive yogurt industry where products have a short shelf-life. For example, the company found that regional markets displayed different sensitivities to price and so it developed different pricing strategies for each region.

10. Using Data to Design Effective Lesson Plans

Gooru, a non-profit education start-up, advertises itself as a “free search engine for learning” that is designed to help make it easier to discover, organize and share educational resources.  In addition, Gooru tracks all user interactions so that it can learn which resources lead to better educational outcomes for which students and offer personalized recommendations.

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