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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte
A new interactive map visualization tracks radiation levels around Fukushima, Japan.

This week’s list of data news highlights covers August 31-September 6 and includes articles on a federal agency’s plan to mine employee data and an innovative hackathon in Southeast Asia.

1. Re-mapping the Atlantic Coast In High Resolution

The U.S. Geological Survey will deploy an extremely precise new laser mapping technology to re-survey the Atlantic coastline in the wake of Superstorm Sandy last year. The storm likely altered the coastal geology, although the extent of the effects are not yet known; lidar, the technology that will be used to recover this information, will do so with a margin of error of just a few centimeters. By 2023, the USGS hopes to have all of the contiguous United States mapped with this technology, which will replace hand-surveyed maps dating from the 1930s and the 1970s.

2. HHS Plans To Mine Employee Data

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to conduct data mining and sentiment analysis on its employees’ activities over the department’s internal social network. HHS has been using Yammer, an enterprise social network service, since 2012. Details are sparse, but GoodData, the firm that will be awarded the contract, offers a cloud-based platform for enterprise data science, which could be used to conduct the sorts of analyses HHS seeks.

3. Satellite Mapping Data Trove Released

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a massive trove of data from the Earth observation satellite program Landsat. Landsat, which is administered by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey and supported in part by ESA, has been collecting data for over 3 decades through its Earth-orbiting satellites. The data, which comes from the recently decommissioned Landsat-5, as well as the still operational Landsat-8, includes maps of Europe that measure various environmental variables, from snow cover to chemical spectra to geological features.

4. Data Sets Record Straight on Hacking Group

Predictive analytics firm Recorded Future announced this week the results of a data mining operation that found that the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) hacking group is not receiving help from hackers linked to Iran. The firm, which specializes in helping large organizations track emerging cyber threats, evaluated 300,000 web sources to find information on the rise of the SEA, and found that their activities and those of certain well-known Iranian hackers were not correlated. The analysis, which was conducted using open data sources, has reduced fears that the hacking group had outside support from Iran, a country with considerable computer science capabilities.

5. One State’s Push for Centralized Education Data

The South Carolina Department of Education has launched a new K-12 data platform for teachers, administrators and the general public. The platform, known as SLICE (South Carolina Longitudinal Information Center for Education), draws on existing educational data to create profiles of the state’s public education system, school districts, schools, classrooms and individual students. Immediate applications include academic history tracking and modeling of students at risk of failure. The Department of Education will make the system available to other departments in the state, to enable future cross-tabulation with metrics outside the sphere of education.

6. Malaysia Hackathon Looks To International Partners

The government of Malaysia is hosting a hackathon this weekend in partnership with AT&T, in an effort to develop mobile apps with civic data. The hackathon is, in part, an effort to encourage Internet-based entrepreneurship by connecting developers with would-be funders. The hackathon comes amid a countrywide effort to extend broadband Internet to rural areas and promote basic digital literacy.

7. Systemic Data Falsification in China

China’s national bureau of statistics has accused a south China county government of faking its economic data. The county allegedly pressured 28 local companies to report inflated industrial output figures. Such cases are not uncommon in China, where one critic says, “you have an incentive system that encourages the falsification of data.” Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has established an anti-corruption drive, which may help curb such errant reporting.

8. A Plausibility Study of Data Analytics in the Classroom

A think tank report seeks to provide a practical demonstration of using data analytics to assess student writing. In order to show how an automated writing assessment system could be deployed in a classroom setting, the authors used an online readability tool to analyze the writing of students in a single classroom over the course of a year. They found that their methods were helpful in ranking students and assessing classrooms as a whole, and that automated tools could be used to provide teachers with real-time feedback.

9. Mapping Radiation Levels Around Fukushima

A searchable radiation map offers a visual representation of the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. The map, which takes data from Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, is updated every ten minutes. Next steps for the map’s creators may be tracking the spread of radiation in seawater around the site of the disaster.

10. Fighting Urban Blight, the Data-Driven Way

The City of Buffalo, NY’s Operation Clean Sweep program seeks to use big data to fight crime and combat urban blight. The program mobilizes a small army of city employees, nonprofit health and human services providers, and volunteers, who take to the streets and complete a variety of cleaning, repair and public safety projects. Analytics allowed the city to prioritize its efforts and make better use of its enthusiastic citizenry, and the increasingly effective program managed to expand during the recession in spite of tight municipal budgets.

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