U.S. GAO – DATA Act: Data Standards Established, but More Complete and Timely Guidance Is Needed to Ensure Effective Implementation

U.S. GAO – DATA Act: Data Standards Established, but More Complete and Timely Guidance Is Needed to Ensure Effective Implementation

As required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued definitions for 57 federal spending data elements. GAO found that most definitions adhered to leading practices derived from international standards for formulating data definitions. Specifically, 12 of the 57 definitions met all 13 leading practices and none met fewer than 9. However, GAO found several definitions that could lead to inconsistent reporting. For example, as shown in the figure below, the Primary Place of Performance definitions’ inclusion of the word “predominant“ leaves much open to interpretation. Without more interpretive clarification, agencies run the risk of reporting data that cannot be aggregated government-wide.

OMB and Treasury addressed some of GAO’s earlier concerns on draft technical guidance for implementing data standards. However, final technical guidance has not been issued, which could impede agency implementation. While OMB and Treasury have released interim versions of technical guidance, they have not yet released final guidance to provide a stable base for agency implementation. They also are developing an intermediary service (“broker”) to standardize and validate agency data submissions. GAO’s review of selected implementation plans found that agencies need the technical guidance and the intermediary service to be finalized before they can develop detailed agency-level plans. If this guidance is not aligned with agency implementation timelines, agencies may delay taking key steps or need to revise existing plans once final technical guidance is released, thereby hindering their ability to meet DATA Act requirements and timelines.

GAO found that the three agencies it reviewed—the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service—have formed internal teams and are inventorying their data and assessing any needed changes to policies, processes, and technology to implement the DATA Act.

[This is just for 57 data elements. Most of the data elements come from other standards like agency codes and country codes. Five of them are dates.]



The Taxes That Raise Your International Airfare

The Taxes That Raise Your International Airfare

Airfare taxes, despite their name, are not collected by airlines, airports or any industry within the aviation business but rather by governments. Each government gives different purposes to their taxes, some of which are collected to reinvest in security, infrastructure, passenger service etc. We examined itineraries from the United States’ three largest international carriers, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines when booking a round-trip, main cabin flight to each country’s busiest airports. The graph below shows what percentage of a round-trip fare from New York’s JFK is taxes, the green representing what goes to taxes, the blue being base fare and other airline charges.

Taxes constitute 5% to 50% for your airfare, and no flights are affected more by this than the short-haul flights. We usually think of taxes as a rate, and intuition says the longer the flight, the more expensive it should be. Airfare taxes are instead, a flat amount imposed by the U.S and the country you travel to. As a result, taxes have a disproportionate impact on shorter and cheaper flights. Over 35% of the cost of a flight from JFK to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada can be attributed to airfare taxes, while longer distance destinations like China have less than 10% of their airfare made of taxes.

The following goes into more specific detail of the amount of taxes each country imposes on American travelers. The chart below details the amount each country charges excluding the $63 taxes from the U.S.

Some air travelers have found the benefit of using frequent flyer miles to book free flights. In the United States, AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, and United MileagePlus are the three largest programs. Understanding how taxes varies between countries will be immensely important when booking a reward flight. While all U.S taxes with the exception of the $23 is covered by miles, international taxes are not covered by miles. Thus, flying into London you will face the full extent of its $165 taxes, on your “Free” flight. Next time booking a reward flight, be wary which country you fly into, and plan any subsequent travel accordingly, always trying to avoid connecting flights when booking with miles.

We mention above how understanding airfare taxes can be pivotal in planning a cost effective itinerary. Below you can see how stopping in certain countries can end up adding a lot more money to your travels.

[Knowing about what drives the cost of flying is helpful but it rarely defines where people are traveling to.  The destination is picked first then the cheapest flight is found.]


Idea to retire: Leaders can’t take risks or experiment | Brookings Institution

Idea to retire: Leaders can’t take risks or experiment | Brookings Institution

In this period of exponential change, all of us across the public sector must work together, enabling more inclusive work across government workers, citizen-led contributions, and public-private partnerships. Institutions must empower positive change agents on the inside of public service to pioneer new ways of delivering superior results. Institutions must also open their data for greater public interaction, citizen-led remixing, and discussions.

All together, these actions will transform public service to truly be “We the (mobile, data-enabled, collaborative) People” working to improve our world. These actions all begin creating creative spaces that allow public service professionals the opportunities to experiment and explore new ways of delivering superior results to the public.

21st Century Reality #1: Public service must include workspaces for those who want to experiment and explore new ways of delivering results.

21st Century Reality #2: Public service agencies need, within reason, to be allowed to have things fail, and be allowed to take risks.

21st Century Reality #3: Public service cannot be done solely by government professionals in a top-down fashion.

Senior executives need to shift from managing those who report to them to championing and creating spaces for creativity within their organizations. Within any organization, change agents should be able to approach an executive, pitch new ideas, bring data to support these ideas, and if a venture is approved move forward with speed to transform public service away from our legacy approaches.

In turn, senior executives must shift their roles to recruiting, encouraging, and rewarding creative problem solvers, who were empowered to take action to resolve longstanding issues and would be held accountable to address issues within their domain with the backing and willingness of the executive to “take flak” if friction were to occur. This includes executives operating as internal venture capitalists on new, experimental ideas to transform how their organization delivers services faster, more effectively, and with better outcomes for the public.

Such a cultural shift can include simply letting employees know that a safe space exists where they can bring forward good ideas relative to technology, process change, and improving the delivery of an organization’s different missions.


Why Americans Still Refuse to Give Up Tipping in Restaurants – CityLab

Why Americans Still Refuse to Give Up Tipping in Restaurants – CityLab

Last year, the New York restaurateur Danny Meyer announced he’d be eliminating tipping at 14 of his restaurants by the end of 2016, affecting most of his 1,800 employees’ compensation. That, plus experiments by a handful of open-minded restaurant owners throughout the country and even the management of the chain Joe’s Crab Shack, seemed to signal the stirrings of a shift that would overturn an American tradition that’s now a century-and-a-half old.

But any tipping revolution will have to come from the top, because the public isn’t on board: According to a poll conducted by the ad-buying firm Horizon Media, 81 percent of American restaurant-goers aren’t interested in getting rid of tipping. According to the survey, diners are still attached to the idea of rewarding good service, and are concerned that losing the ability to tip would produce a rash of inattentive waiters and waitresses. The concept of being forced to pay a service charge—which is how most tipping-free restaurants implement their policy—doesn’t sit well with people.

Some groups, though, were more open to ditching tips than others. In the poll, 29 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 thought tipping was outdated, more than twice as many as in the 50-to-64 age bracket.

There are some sound reasons for getting rid of tipping. Research suggests it’s not very fair: Tips have been found to be based just as much on servers’ race and age or the weather outside as on the quality of service. Plus, at The Modern, the first of Danny Meyer’s restaurants to stop accepting tips, average hourly wages in the kitchen were expected to jump from about $12 to $15 an hour—which should mean not just better treatment for restaurant workers, but also less employee turnover.

How have The Modern’s customers reacted? One employee told The New York Times said that when she called up diners to confirm their reservations, she informed them about the policy and didn’t receive any negative feedback. Perhaps there is a class dimension to this acceptance of a no-tipping rule—diners at a restaurant where dinner starts at $122 are probably not fretting about the costs of built-in gratuity. Indeed, some of The Modern’s first customers were so okay parting with their money that they didn’t just accept the service charge—they left tips as high as 30 percent on top of their bills, despite the protests of servers.

Outside of New York, though, other American restaurants are seeing what happens when they get rid of tips, and finding that it brings mixed results. One San Diego restaurant owner wrote in Slate that abolishing tipping improved food and service, but a local alt-weekly helpfully noted that his restaurant wasn’t very popular and eventually shut down. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, a restaurant called Bar Marco got rid of tips and started paying full-time chefs $35,000 a year (with benefits) without much ado. Bar Marco’s sister restaurant, though, went through with a similar move, only to find some employees upset—three bartenders resigned, and very few other Pittsburgh restaurants have adopted the practice. “Ours is not a good model for everyone,” Bar Marco’s co-owner said to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


A Decades-Long Quest to Drill Into Earth’s Mantle May Soon Hit Pay Dirt | Science | Smithsonian

A Decades-Long Quest to Drill Into Earth’s Mantle May Soon Hit Pay Dirt | Science | Smithsonian

Early in the spring of 1961, a group of geologists started drilling a hole into the seafloor off the Pacific coast of Baja California. The expedition, the first if its kind, was the initial phase of a project intended to punch through Earth’s crust and reach the underlying mantle. Little did they know that their efforts would soon be overshadowed when John F. Kennedy launched the race to the moon in May of that year.

By the end of 1972, after expending billions of dollars and via the collective effort of thousands of scientists and engineers, six Apollo missions landed on Earth’s orbital companion and brought home more than 841 pounds of moon rocks and soil.

Meanwhile, the earthbound geologists who dreamt of getting a glimpse of Earth’s inner workings were left empty-handed with the remnants of various programs thanks to budget cuts.

Since the 1960s, researchers have attempted to drill into Earth’s mantle but have not yet met with success. Some efforts failed due to technical problems; others have fallen prey to various sorts of bad luck—including, as discovered after the fact, picking inopportune spots to drill. Nevertheless, those efforts have shown that the technology and expertise to drill to the mantle exists. And now the first phase of the most recent attempt to reach this important part of our planet is boring through a thin section of ocean crust in the southwestern Indian Ocean.

Don’t worry: When the drillers eventually pierce the mantle, hot molten rock won’t surge up the hole and spill onto the seafloor in a volcanic eruption. Although mantle rocks do flow, they do so at a speed akin to the growth rate of a fingernail, says Holly Given, a geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

The mantle is the largest part of this planet we call home, yet scientists know relatively little about it through direct analysis. The thin veneer of crust we live on makes up about one percent of Earth’s volume. The inner and outer core—solid and liquid masses that are largely made of iron, nickel and other dense elements—occupies only 15 percent of the planet’s volume. The mantle, which lies between the outer core and the crust, makes up an estimated 68 percent of the planet’s mass and a whopping 85 percent of its volume.

Think of the mantle as a planet-sized lava lamp where material picks up heat at the core-mantle boundary, becomes less dense and rises in buoyant plumes to the lower edge of Earth’s crust, and then flows along that ceiling until it cools and sinks back toward the core. Circulation in the mantle is exceptionally languid: According to one estimate, a round-trip from crust to core and back again might take as long as 2 billion years.

[This is not what Sarah Palin is talking about when she says “Drill, baby, Drill”.]

Vertical parking: A space-saving solution when early cars invaded cities

Vertical parking: A space-saving solution when early cars invaded cities

The invention and rapid adoption of the automobile at the turn of the 20th century presented an immediate problem: where to park so many vehicles, especially in dense urban areas.

Above-ground and subterranean parking garages allowed multiple levels of vehicle parking, but resulted in footprints with much empty space.

The first foray into space-saving automatic parking systems was the Garage Rue de Ponthieu in Paris, which in 1905 unveiled an internal elevator which could lift cars to different levels to be parked by attendants.

More automated systems followed. One of the most popular was the paternoster system, which lifted and stored vehicles in boxes, much like a Ferris wheel, allowing eight cars to be parked vertically in the footprint space of two cars.

The popularity of automatic parking systems ultimately waned due to the long wait times required for customers to retrieve their cars, but they can still be found in cities worldwide.


Lights, Camera, Animation: USC Pioneers Live Action Visual Effects

Lights, Camera, Animation: USC Pioneers Live Action Visual Effects

Quick, can you name the best animated movies you saw this year?

If films like Inside Out or The Good Dinosaur were on your list, you’re not alone. But what about live-action blockbusters like Jurassic World, The Avengers or Mission Impossible?

“Nobody called Avatar an animated film, but it is,” says Michael Fink, chair of the film and television production division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. In that film, he points out, nearly all the scenes on the planet Pandora were computer-generated with animated performances closely based on the performances of live actors.

Today, movie fans can be forgiven if they can’t tell the difference between animated and live-action films. Films with cartoon characters are easy calls, but what about special effects-laden projects such as Gravity or The Hobbit? They feature live actors shot in front of green screens, and many scenes use computer-generated animated effects that increasingly blur the line between reality and fantasy.

But moviegoers watching a superhero shrink convincingly to the size of an ant or a monster shake its realistic tufts of fuzzy hair might not realize the complexity behind it all. It takes math, computer science and software development—as well as a rich understanding of human emotion, movement and artistic rendering—to bring these characters alive.

And they also may not know the critical roles that the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts at the School of Cinematic Arts and several units at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering play in pushing the boundaries of what can be visualized. USC has a reputation as a longtime leader in cinematic arts and game design, but its faculty and alumni are also at the forefront in creating digital humans, virtual reality, 3-D digitization, science visualization and other technology that brings fantasy worlds to life.


8 Beloved Animated Characters Created by Trojans


Bread for the City » Barriers to Obtaining Identifying Documents: Personal Wealth (Post 1 of 4)

Bread for the City » Barriers to Obtaining Identifying Documents: Personal Wealth (Post 1 of 4)

Privilege makes it is easier to build an officially recognized ID paper trail. I’m still me and you’re still you without bank statements, pay statements, and a current lease, but the system wasn’t built to recognize someone without them.

DC agencies require an applicant to prove who they are before receiving a birth certificate, ID, or Social Security Card. Across agencies the standard of proof can more easily be met by those with personal wealth than by those without.

In practice, the policies create higher barriers for black applicants than for whites. In 2013, wealth for white households was thirteen times the median wealth for black households across the country. Half of the accepted proofs at DC Vital Records are indicators of private wealth/income: federal tax forms, car registration, photo ID from a school or job, or a utility bill.

That list of proofs omits several non-wealth based forms of documentation that many people have, such as school registration/records, medical records, or proof of public benefits. The DC DMV accepted proofs of DC residency are similarly biased: statements of accounts with financial institutions, utility and home services companies, financial loans, property taxes or insurance, a deed, or a mortgage/settlement.

The ID system is also riddled with fees for services. A DC birth certificate, required by the DMV to apply for an ID, costs $23 and there is no fee reduction or waiver program. The DC DMV charges $20 for a DC ID and $47 for a DC Driver’s License. Only the elderly, citizens returning home from incarceration and residents experiencing homelessness may request that the $20 ID fee be waived. There is no waiver system for the $47 driver’s license fee. There are a few local groups that provide financial assistance but the demand greatly exceeds their resources.

[DC has nothing to do with getting a Social Security card. That is though a federal agency. The problem still exists.]


City cops in Disneyland’s backyard have had “stingray on steroids” for years | Ars Technica

City cops in Disneyland’s backyard have had “stingray on steroids” for years | Ars Technica

New documents released on Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of California show that for the last several years, police in the city of Anaheim, California—home of Disneyland—have been using an invasive cell phone surveillance device, known as a “dirtbox.” The ACLU obtained the 464 pages of documents after it sued the Anaheim Police Department last year over the agency’s failure to respond to its public records request concerning such surveillance-related documents.

The DRTBox has been described by one Chicago privacy activist as a “stingray on steroids,” referring to the controversial cell-site simulator that spoofs cell towers to locate phones and intercept calls and texts.

Last year, both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice (which oversees the FBI) said that they would require a warrant during stingray deployments. A new law that took effect in California on January 1, 2016 would also require use of a warrant for a cell-site simulator.

“If a city of a few hundred thousand can have this kind of arsenal, it raises questions as to what similar cities across America might have it as well,” Matt Cagle, an ACLU lawyer, told Ars.

Anaheim is now the third city in the US, after Los Angeles and Chicago, known to deploy this particular surveillance technology. It has also been used by the National Security Agency in France and likely elsewhere. (The spy technology was also mentioned briefly in the first episode of the new X-Files miniseries.) A heavily-redacted letter shows that among other devices, the APD likely acquired the DRT1201B, the same one used by the Air Force years earlier.

The Chicago activist, Freddy Martinez, who is currently suing his city’s police department over access to stingray-related records, told Ars that these new documents raise notable questions. He points out that a newer version, the DRT120C, is capable of full digital interception and recording.

“It’s troubling that DRT is in The Intercept’s catalog and that local police departments are buying similar models,” he said. “It makes me wonder if this surveillance is doing full scale voice decryption on possibly hundreds of people.”

As Reveal reported in August 2015, a DRTBox can “simultaneously break the encryption of communications from hundreds of cellphones at once. A 2011 purchase order for this equipment by the Washington Headquarters Services, a branch of the Pentagon, states the devices can retrieve the encryption session keys for a cellphone ‘in less than a second with success rates of 50 to 75% (in real world conditions).’”


A new open source cloud management tool… from Walmart | Ars Technica

A new open source cloud management tool… from Walmart | Ars Technica

If you want evidence of just how different Internet retail and brick-and-mortar retail are, you just have to look at what’s going on with the world’s largest retailer. In the same week that Walmart announced the closing of over 100 physical stores, the company’s e-commerce unit announced that it is releasing a piece of its cloud-management infrastructure as open source—publishing the OneOps platform on Github. The company’s internal e-commerce development unit, @Walmartlabs, has released OneOps under the Apache 2.0 license.

OneOps is a tool built around the philosophy of DevOps—a “cloud management and application lifecycle management platform,” as Walmart Chief Technology Officer Jeremy King described it in a blog post. That places it in the same space as tools like Chef, Puppet, Ansible, and Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Beanstalk but with some specific differences that have driven its development and adoption at Walmart.

OneOps works with any public, private, or hybrid cloud that uses the OpenStack cloud environment (including CenturyLink and Rackspace), as well as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. It can automatically configure, repair, and scale up applications across multiple cloud providers. Like other tools, it also automates the creation of virtual machine instances for developers, handling security settings and other image configuration tasks. But it can also move applications from one cloud to another on a user’s command as lower costs, better availability, available bandwidth, security, capacity, or other technological advantages dictate.

Couchbase has built integration with its NoSQL database platform into OneOps. The Apache TomEE and OpenEJB “tribe” has also contributed a plugin for Tomcat and TomEE, and Walmart has built plugins for a laundry list of common Web and cloud application components. These include Node.js, the PostgreSQL and Cassandra databases, the Ubuntu and CentOS server operating systems, the Docker application platform, and a number of Web scripting and programming languages (including Ruby, PHP. Perl and Go).

King said that the company is publishing OneOps as open source because “Walmart is a cloud user, not a cloud provider. It makes sense for Walmart to release OneOps as an open source project so that the community can improve or build ways for it to adapt to existing technology.”