fixing that which is broken

on repair

Whenever I begin a reporting process, I do my research into what data potentially exists and then try to get my hands on it.

For the most part, the data I’m trying to get is government data. If I am extremely lucky, there’s a link to download the data on the agency’s site. I am usually not that lucky. Most often I am sending an open records request to the agency for the data we need and then waiting and pestering until we hopefully get what we asked for.

I would be lying if I told you that I often get data just as I hoped for it in my head. It’s maybe happened a handful of times and even when it does happen I find that I am deeply skeptical at how nice the data is.

The vast majority of data needs a little work. OK, that’s an understatement; most of it needs some serious work. There are a lot of reasons for this. The biggest in my experience is that a lot of data is entered by hand and a lot of misspellings and the like occur because people accidentally type things wrong all the time. I’ve already mistyped a bunch of things and we’re just four grafs into this newsletter.

Other reasons for dirty data include things like updates and changes to data over time that make some fields mean different things for different time frames in the data. No matter what makes data dirty, it is incumbent upon someone analyzing it to clean it up and ensure that the data they’re analyzing is useful for their purposes.

Cleaning and fixing can be the hardest and most time consuming aspect of your job, but to me it is the most gratifying.

While it’s not always the most fun task to do in the moment and is usually tedious, the end product is something that likely no one else has, including the government itself. That makes for a story that no one else has and new insights that can help inform the public and reform the government.

Of course I love to make my own databases but I will admit that there’s something deeply enjoyable about getting someone else’s data in better shape than it’s been.


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Most of the work I do in my woodshop is original. I design and build based on a client’s wants and needs and at the end of the day they go home with something that no one else has.

But recently, I have been taking on some side projects that involve rehabbing furniture and other wooden wares for folks to get them back to where they were in their prime.

Most recently, I rehabbed a large circular butcher block for a friend and colleague. The process of rehabbing something made out of wood is more different than building something yourself than you would think.

When I am building something myself, I get to determine how it comes together and so only I know the specifics of the joinery that I use. A person looking at a table I built wouldn’t necessarily know how boards on the top come together.

This is what makes repair and cleaning of someone else’s build so difficult. If I have to take things apart and put them back together, there’s no telling what might stand in my way and complicate everything.

The butcher block wasn’t in terrible shape but after nearly a quarter century of heavy use, the block had become to literally fall apart at the seams. To get the block back into shape, I had to take it apart where the serious crack was.

This was a slow process that involved wedging a chisel in and slowly pushing it further in, checking what joinery may exist and trying not to break the wood somewhere other than the seam. Fortunately, there was no joinery and I worked the chisel through slowly enough to get a clean break from the rest of the board. At that point, it was all about gluing the pieces back together, filling other small cracks and refinishing the whole thing.

Cleaning and fixing can be the hardest and most time consuming aspect of your job, but to me it is the most gratifying.

The final product is a butcher block that I hope can be used for another 25 years. Of course I love to make my own furniture but I will admit that there’s something deeply enjoyable about getting someone else’s in better shape than it’s been.


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datawork

Wheel of Fugitive? Sheriff Ivey's signature Facebook 'show' features non-fugitives — “While Gay is the first individual incorrectly featured on the show to speak out, he's not the only person to have been labelled as a fugitive from justice by the show when he was not. An investigation by FLORIDA TODAY of a year's worth of episodes of the BCSO's "Wheel of Fugitive," identified 60 individuals who were incorrectly featured across 45 episodes on the wheel between Feb 25, 2020, and Feb 23, 2021. Out of the 45 episodes, all but four included at least one non-fugitive. In the Nov 3, 2020, edition, seven out of the 10 'participants' were either already in jail, had been released or had no active arrest warrant at the time.” [Florida Today]

Tacoma police disproportionately use force against people of color, TNT analysis shows — “Tacoma police use force against Black people at roughly five times the rate they do against white people, according to department statistics. The News Tribune analyzed 657 reported incidents of police force between 2015 and 2019 and found officers most use force against white men, but disproportionately against Black men. In that five-year span, force was used about 22.56 times per every 10,000 Black Tacoma residents. In the same time frame, force was used about 4.5 times per every 10,000 white Tacoma residents. [The News Tribune]

Busy Signal: New Mexico’s unemployment office is struggling to answer millions of calls for help — “Unable to reach anyone on the state’s telephone hotline, they’ve been left in financial turmoil, sometimes facing hunger or eviction without the public assistance they’d been promised. Sometimes their accounts are locked because of a simple spelling error or an incorrect birthday. In many cases, applicants have no idea why the payments aren’t coming through. Meanwhile, the department reports rising hostility towards employees. Since the fall, McCamley said, more than 100,000 people have been receiving benefits at any given time — more than 10 times the number at the pandemic’s start — and his department has distributed over $3 billion in funds, the equivalent of about 40 percent of the current state budget.” [Searchlight New Mexico]

Redlined, Now Flooding: Maps of historic housing discrimination show how neighborhoods that suffered redlining in the 1930s face a far higher risk of flooding today — “Across 38 major U.S. metros, more than $107 billion worth of homes at high risk for flooding were located in historically redlined (and yellowlined) neighborhoods. That’s 25% more than the value of homes at high flood risk located in parts of the city deemed desirable — that is, white neighborhoods. Put another way, 8.4% of homes in historically redlined neighborhoods face high flood risk nationwide, compared with 6.9% of homes in historically greenlined neighborhoods. These patterns reflect disparities in development compounded by decades of disinvestment.” [Bloomberg CityLab]

Anti-Asian attacks rise along with online vitriol — “Authorities say they are not certain, at this point, that the alleged shooter, Robert Aaron Long, 21, was motivated by racial animus. But the broader trend of hateful words and deeds against Asians and Asian Americans is clear, researchers say, and appears to have spiked since the November presidential election and the contentious months that followed. Terms including “China,” “Wuhan” and “flu” surged on far-right forums on Telegram, 8kun and TheDonald.win as former president Donald Trump pushed baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud, according to data tracked by the Network Contagion Research Institute, which monitors misinformation and online extremism. The terms were used on those platforms 44 percent more in January than in the average month last year.” [The Washington Post]

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