Capitol Case: Robert Freeman’s Enduring Fight Against Government Secrecy

first_imgRobert Freeman has been helping people extract public information from New York state agencies for four decades. He is the executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, a division of the New York Department of State that advises the public on the Freedom of Information Law — the state statute authorizing access to public records.While Freeman gives Gov. Andrew Cuomo credit for making a substantial amount of state data available online, he says the administration has been slower and more difficult than any previous administration in responding to formal Freedom of Information requests.Several ProPublica reporters have recently experienced delays and resistance from New York state agencies in responding to such requests. Joaquin Sapien has spent the last several weeks reporting on violent crimes perpetrated by youngsters living in group homes throughout New York City. Last week, he received a response to a request for inspections of the homes and enforcement actions made against their operators from the Office of Child and Family Services. The response came two weeks past the 20-day-deadline and said the agency needed an additional 75 business days to fulfill the request.Meanwhile, ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell has fought a three-year legal battle with the New York Police Department trying to obtain records on the department’s use of X-ray surveillance machines.Freeman agreed to participate in a Q&A with Sapien. In it, Freeman, 68, draws on his experience working under seven different governors to speak to such delays in the release of public information and their underlying causes.The transcript of the Q&A has been edited for clarity and space. (Listen to the full interview below or on SoundCloud.)Sapien: What is the Committee on Open Government? How did it start? And how’d you get involved?Freeman: The committee is a creation of the state’s Freedom of Information Law, which was initially enacted in 1974. And it came about, in fact, as the result of commentary by members of the news media. The news media pushed for the creation of some sort of an oversight body.That led to an amendment to the original enactment to create what was then called the Committee of Public Access to Records. Our function really is quite simple. We give advice and guidance, either verbally or in writing, to anybody who has a question about public access to government information. The staff is tiny; it’s myself and one other. I describe this office as the smallest state agency that actually does anything and leave the rest to people’s imagination.Sapien: Governor Cuomo, when he was running in 2010, pledged to usher in a new era of transparency, saying, “We must use technology to bring more sunlight to the operation of government.” Has he lived up to that promise?Robert: The truth is, in relation to technology, in many ways, the answer is yes.The governor has initiated an executive order which deals with open data, making data available online that is usable in ways that most of us can’t imagine. Certainly, there’s much more that is available online than in the past.But then again, when it comes to the typical freedom of information request, state government has engaged in too many instances, in my opinion, in unnecessary and unwarranted and unreasonable delays.Sapien: Has that been happening more now than before?Freeman: I think it has but it has for a variety of reasons. Number one, Freedom of Information Law, I used the term FOIL before, it is part of the language in New York.Our website receives literally millions of hits every year. People know about it and they use the law. That, I think, represents something of a cultural difference between New York and other places in this country, and in the world for that matter.We fight City Hall. We make lots of requests. That has resulted, in some instances, in delays. In other situations, my belief is that delays have occurred due to, let’s say, a failure on the part of many to have the ability to act independently.Sapien: What’s at the root of that failure? Is that a cultural issue within this administration, that’s particular to this administration?Freeman: Every administration has wanted to exercise a degree of control. Some more than others. In my view, this administration seeks to do so more than its predecessors.Sapien: Give us some examples of that.Freeman: There are any number of situations in which agencies receive requests and are told that they really should not respond until they have an OK from the executive chamber. If you deal with press people at state agencies, you know that it’s difficult to get quick answers from them.Once upon a time, and I’ve told this many times, years ago, I had a friend who worked here in Albany at the Capitol. I said to him, “There’s a significant story on every floor of every state agency building. You just have to get it.”Back in the olden days, you could just walk into a state agency and talk to people. You can’t do that anymore. Generally speaking, the average state employee cannot talk to the press.Sapien: Is it true, then, that information is more tightly controlled under the Cuomo administration than it has been under previous governors?Freeman: I think that that is true.Sapien: I want to bring up a specific example of Mr. Cuomo’s approach toward public records with regard to preserving and disclosing emails.Apparently, he has adopted a controversial tactic of allowing or maybe even encouraging staffers to conduct official business on private email accounts. My colleague Justin Elliott has written about it.Freeman: As I mentioned earlier, our law was enacted in its initial form in 1974. It was completely revised in 1978. When we were drafting the amendments in ’77, we tried to correct what we perceived to be deficiencies in the federal act. One of the deficiencies that exists to this day is that the federal Freedom of Information Act does not define what a federal agency record is.The truth is [New York] got lucky. We got lucky. We drafted a definition of the term “record.” At the time, think about the late ’70s, high tech was an electric typewriter. We used carbon paper to make copies. There was no such thing as the (commercial) Internet or email. But since ’78, our law has dealt with all agency records. And the term record has been defined expansively to mean any information in any physical form whatsoever kept, held, filed, produced, or reproduced by, with, or for a government agency.If I go home and I sit down at my home computer and I use my personal email address and I communicate with you in my capacity as an employee of the Department of State, that is a Department of State record. It falls within the coverage of the Freedom of Information Law and, like any other record, its content would determine what’s public and what’s not.The question came up years ago, “Are those communications covered by FOIL?” The answer, based upon the definition of the term record, is clearly yes.Sapien: Do you get the sense that public officials are doing this on purpose, that using a private email account will make it more difficult for people to get their hands on those records in the future?Freeman: Sometimes, that may be so. The truth is, we heard about that in the Bloomberg administration. We’ve heard about it many times since. Whether that is done purposefully, or with knowledge of FOIL or not, I don’t know. I don’t know and I think it will vary from one situation to the next.Sapien: Taking it back down to a local level, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York also ran on a campaign of openness and transparency. How does he stand on answering open records requests? What are you hearing about that?Freeman: I’ve been somewhat disappointed. You might know that when Mr. de Blasio was public advocate, he engaged in what amounted to a freedom of information audit of New York City agencies. He put out a report which consisted, by and large, of a report card where city agencies were graded relative to their compliance or absence of compliance with FOIL.Based upon that interest, my hope was that, with the new mayor, the implementation of FOIL would improve in New York City. I don’t see that that has happened.Sapien: What’s the evidence that it hasn’t happened?Freeman: Again, there are any number of situations in which a request will be made and the agency engages in what I would consider to be unreasonable delays. There have been other situations in which I believe that they have engaged in unreasonable denials of access. For better or for worse, it is not uncommon.Sapien: The NYPD has long frustrated the press and advocates with its obstinance on public records. I’ll give you an example from our very own reporter, Michael Grabell.In January of 2012, Michael was writing about xray machines used by law enforcement. He learned that the New York Police Department was using them, and that the machines have raised serious civil rights and privacy concerns, and radiation from the machines has been linked to health problems.He submitted a FOIL request. He asked for some basics: How many xran vans the police had, the after action reports, documents regarding policy and procedure, things like that.For three years, Grabell and the department went back and forth with appeals and denials. Finally, in December 2014, a New York County judge ordered the police department to produce some of what he’d been asking for.Now, the police have appealed to a higher court. The soonest a ruling could come would be in January of 2016. So that’s one request, four years of legal drama, and still no records. How common is that?Freeman: Several points to be made. In terms of the delay, I mentioned earlier that the Committee on Open Government submits a report to the governor and the legislature. We offer legislative proposals. One of them is soon to go before the governor. It’s passed both houses of the legislature. It would deal with the issue of delay.Any time somebody sues, the loser has 30 days to appeal. Thirty days to file a notice of appeal. Thereafter, it has a certain period of time within which it must perfect the appeal by filing a brief. It can be, in some cases, as much as nine months.What you described happens far too frequently. We described the issue as access delayed is the equivalent of access denied. This bill would say, yep, the agency still has 30 days to appeal, but from there it has 60 days, not nine months, to perfect the appeal. If they don’t do that, the appeal would be deemed abandoned. That’s point one. We’re working on that. My hope is that that will become law within a very few weeks.Sapien: So take us behind the scenes a little bit. I think reporters often wonder what these FOIL officers are doing when it takes months or years to respond to a request, often with a blanket denial.Is this deliberate? Is it laziness? Is it a cultural problem? What’s going on in these state agencies when our requests go unanswered for so long?Freeman: I think it’s a combination of all of those things. First of all, I do know, and I’m going to defend the agencies, we are as thin as we have ever been. The truth is that there are many, many agencies that simply can’t do as much work as they used to do not so long ago.It’s an aging workforce. I’m an old guy. The truth is that people leave. They retire. They die. In too many situations, you don’t have people at the agency who have the ability to pick up the ball and carry out the duties, the functions in the same way.Sometimes, yes, I think it is institutional resistance. Sometimes, it may be sloth. We just don’t want to go look for it. We don’t want to go through it. We don’t want to do what the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has told us. And in fact, you used the phrase that the court used. The court rankled when the New York City Police Department engaged in what it called, “The blanket denial of access.”FOIL says that all government agency records are available except those records or portions of records that fall within a series of exceptions. There are any number of situations in which some elements of a record, even on a single page, will be public. Others might justifiably be withheld. But it is unusual that the entirety of the page, of the document, will justifiably be withheld.FOIL says, at least the way I see it, very basically that all records are available except those records or portions of records that fall within a series of exceptions. Those exceptions are based upon common sense.All the law really should ever say is that everything is available except to the extent that disclosure would hurt – either somebody in terms of an invasion of privacy, the government in terms of its ability to do its job well on behalf of the public or, on occasion, a private company visàvis its competition.The real question in so many instances is, “What would happen if we had to disclose?” And unless the answer in the gut is, “Ouch, this would really hurt,” disclosure ordinarily should be the outcome. Obviously, that’s an oversimplification, but that’s what the law is about. In fact, the law specifies that the government has to meet the burden of defending secrecy.Sapien: You’ve obviously been outspoken and in favor of disclosure for a long time now. You’ve helped a lot of people get records, many of whom in our own office.Freeman: It’s hard to believe that they pay me to do this, actually. They don’t pay me very much.Sapien: That’s what I’m getting to. Being a state employee, have you been the subject of criticism or backlash from your colleagues in state government?Freeman: Not as far as I know. Behind closed doors, probably, but I think that there’s a recognition that to function at all this office has to be independent.It’s interesting that you raise the question, because for all intents and purposes, my first real boss was Mario Cuomo, who above all, was a lawyer. He arrived as Secretary of State, his first government job, in 1975. I was pretty much a kid. I picked up the phone because it rang and answered people’s correspondence because it landed on my desk and offered what I believed to be the right answer under the law, regardless of the source of the question.Things have not changed since then. This office has always been independent.Sapien: So what’s the big picture lesson for folks who want to obtain public information? How do we heighten our chances of getting the most and the best information possible through our FOIL requests?Robert: Number one, use our website. It’s easy to find. We’re the only Committee on Open Government in the world. You simply Google “COOG” and you’ll get there. We have an immense amount of material that’s available online. You scroll to “Freedom of Information Law.” There will be a box that says, “Advisory Opinions.”We’ve written 25,000 over the course of years. They’re indexed by key phrase. Use them. You find an opinion that supports your point of view and you make a request. Attach it to the request so that you can show that you’ve done your homework, that it’s not you alone who wants it, that other people have wanted the same information in the past, that you’re referring to the language of the law, and usually judicial precedent to back you up.The other thing that I think is absolutely critical, and I’ve said this a thousand times, I refer often to the statement offered by Judge Louis Brandeis 102 years ago. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” That’s what you do. You shed light on situations.Often, when you do, when you tell the world, either good things begin to happen or bad things stop happening. I think that the effort to continue to do that has to go on forever.Help us investigate: If you have experience with or information about transparency in government, email [email protected] stories: For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on the Cuomo administration’s use of private email to conduct government business and our legal fight for New York Police Department records on X-ray surveillance machines.ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter. Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York last_img read more

Tuesday’s Chelsea quiz

first_imgTest your Chelsea knowledge. See how many of these five questions you can answer correctly…[wp-simple-survey-18]Follow West London Sport on Twitter Find us on Facebooklast_img

Warriors mailbag: Analyzing the Dubs’ post All-Star slump

first_imgPHILADELPHIA — The Warriors’ stars are laughing at the absurdity of it all.Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins all sounded amused over inquiries on whether they felt worried with the Warriors losing three of their past five games since the NBA All-Star break. And why would they be? It is late February and early March. Not April, May or June.It appears Warriors fans are just as calm, at least the ones that sent questions to latest mailbag. But they still wonder what’s going on …last_img read more

Darwin Report Card, continued: How Useful Is Evolutionary Theory?

first_imgDarwinism is useful in one demonstrable way: it keeps thousands of biologists employed in the business of evidence-free storytelling.Continuing the previous entry, we look at actual scientific research to see if Darwin’s idea about life improving through mutations and natural selection leads to scientific understanding of nature. To evaluate the theory honestly, we have to exclude theory rescue devices, such as ‘convergent evolution’ or ‘evo-devo’ or ‘warp-speed evolution’ which merely coin phrases to escape troubling evidence. How often do Darwinians find actual, incontrovertible evidence that mutations and natural selection lead to new complex features? How often does Darwinism exclude all other explanations for observed traits? Is biological science better off since the Darwinians took over and expelled all their critics?Darwin was wrong: evolution moves at warp speed. Look at what Nature News just said: “How warp-speed evolution is transforming ecology: Darwin thought evolution was too slow to change the environment on observable timescales. Ecologists are discovering that he was wrong.” This shock headline deserves some elaboration, because surely Nature is not about to give up on Darwin and cede biological science to creationism. What do they mean? Rachel Lallensack begins with an example of stick insects. Do green ones and striped ones confirm ‘warp-speed evolution’ by mutation and natural selection? Does the evidence go beyond mere variation in color, which creationists would not dispute? The scientists put striped stick insects on plants where they didn’t blend in, and ditto for green ones. They found that birds, finding these glaring out-of-place insects, flocked to the bushes and picked them off, then stuck around and cleaned the bushes of other unlucky insects caught in the crossfire. It’s a bit like parking a Mercedes in a crime-ridden neighborhood; which car is likely to be stolen or vandalized? Interesting result, to be sure, but what to make of it? Did anything actually evolve?The article proceeds to argue that evolution can happen quickly (especially when biologists interfere, as in this case). But the evolution illustrated is “in reverse,” they say. It’s really about population dynamics, when creatures wind up outside their normal habitat. Put a dairy cow in the Serengetic and watch what happens. Is that “evolution”? Has Darwinism been confirmed in cases of a “force for local extinction”? Do these observations justify the claim that “ecologists must take evolution into consideration”? All the field evidence cited deals with which existing animals with existing traits survive in altered conditions. Nowhere does the reader find anything about the origin of a new species or complex trait. Given this notion of evolution, we would have to conclude that Yazidis underwent ‘warp-speed evolution’ when ISIS drove them out of their homes into refugee camps and killed many others.Horse evolution revisited. Just when you thought horse evolution was an established icon of evolution, Science Daily poses a ‘revolutionary theory on horse evolution‘. Time to rewrite the textbooks again? A researcher at New York Institute of Technology claims to have found evidence that modern horses’ hooves still have remnants of their ancestors’ five toes; “they believe that all five digits have merged to form the compacted forelimbs with hooves that we know today.” As evidence, they find a “greater number of arteries and nerves than would be expected in a single digit.” They also cite hoofprints from Laetoli, Africa from the 3-toed Mesohippus, an extinct equine, suggesting evolution was proceeding from five toes to one over time. This seems odd as an example of evolution. One can always invent a just-so story, such as theirs: “As horses evolved to live on open grassland their anatomy required a more compact design to enable movement across the hard plains.” But if that were a law of nature, all the other animals on the hard plains would be one-toed, including early humans. Imagine that. Even if humans had ‘evolved’ to lose their toes, would that confirm Darwinism? Actually, a horse’s legs show incredible design, with pogo-stick-like tendons and muscles with dampers to reduce shock. How did those traits evolve? By focusing on changes in toe numbers, are evolutionists distracting attention from far more interesting questions?The evolution of the scenario: Darwin speaks with forked tongue. The University of Helsinki puts its headline in big, bold type: “The ori­gin of snakes – new evol­u­tion­ary scen­ario presen­ted.” Whenever a salesman announces something as new and improved, it implies the old product was not so hot. OK, so what do these researchers have in mind? Do the Finnish finish the job? “The early evolution of snakes happened from surface-terrestrial to burrowing in the lizard-snake transition suggests a research group at the University of Helsinki,” the press release begins. “The group’s new findings redirect the debate on evolution towards a new underexplored evolutionary scenario. Thus, the study adds another dimension to the investigation of snake origins.” At first glance, the ‘scenario’ (fancy word for just-so story) looks Lamarckian: once upon a time, a snake burrowed into the ground, and all its children lost their limbs. At second glance, we wonder why rodents and other burrowing animals didn’t read the script of this scenario. The only evidence presented is about skull shape, which seems to have little to do with burrowing. We read in the article that “snake evolution and diversification was not a straightforward process but rather an interplay between natural selection and developmental processes.” This seems to force Darwin to share the award stage, but leads to a follow-up question of how creative ‘developmental processes’ can be outside of natural selection. Adding one blind process to another doesn’t seem particularly helpful. And for anyone who thinks Darwinism has led to understanding about snake evolution since 1859, we also read that “Three major competing hypotheses for the habitat of early snakes – burrowing i.e. worm-like, aquatic, or terrestrial – have been debated for more than a century by biologists and palaeontologists” (italics theirs).Too much fitness. Dinosaurs were too successful for their own good, say evolutionists from the University of Reading on The authors of this scenario must believe in ‘extinction of the fittest.’ According to them, “The inability of the dinosaurs to adapt rapidly enough as the Earth became full may explain why they were in decline prior to the asteroid strike, and why they were so susceptible to almost total extinction when it hit.” Does this make any sense? The storytellers had just told us that dinosaurs had diversified extensively, so as to fill every niche. Now they’re saying they couldn’t diversify because they filled the earth. But the earth is a very big place. Surely some of them could have survived, but not a single species remains. Butterflies and butterworts did just fine.On the origin of termites by negative natural selection. Evolutionists from the University of North Carolina pretend to tell how termites evolved from cockroaches ( First, they establish their turf by asserting evolution with gusto: They [termites] evolved. Ants and wasps evolved. Termites evolved a broad range of immune mechanisms. Cockroaches have evolved many mechanisms to resist the broad array of offensive chemicals they encounter in their environment, including insecticides. Sufficiently indoctrinated via repetition, the unwary reader is unprepared for the only empirical evidence offered: specialization of diverse chemosensory genes in cockroaches for the social habitats of termites. It’s another story of evolution by subtraction masquerading as scientific explanation: “The far more specialized but evolutionarily related termite experienced considerable losses of smell and taste genes, commensurate with the more specialized chemistry of its ecological habitat.” Just as a blind cave fish can survive in its specialized environment, a termite with fewer tools can do quite well in its colony, compared to its better equipped relative, la cucuracha.  “The German cockroach now holds the world record for the diversity of its chemosensory gene repertoire.” If a decathlete decides to compete in the pentathlon, has he evolved?Evo-Devo or evil devil? Another case of adding ‘developmental processes’ to the scenario of evolution is found in Current Biology, which writes about “Evo–Devo: The Double Identity of Insect Wings.” The subtitle could be confused with Grimm’s Fairy Tales: “Sometime [i.e., once upon a time] in the Devonian, perhaps about 400 million years ago, insects became the first clade to conquer the sky. Recent evo-devo studies have begun to unravel the mysterious origin of the flight structure that made insects into extraordinary six-legged fliers.” Inquiring minds want to know: did they “conquer the sky” by intelligent design? If not, does adding one blind process (evo-devo) to another (classical natural selection) open the eyes of science to understanding? Have the storytellers listed all the requirements for a heavier-than-air animal to conquer the sky, overcoming gravity with powered flight? Current Biology readily admits that insects are “extraordinary six-legged fliers,” but the origin of any flight is “mysterious” only when it is attributed to blind, unguided processes. It’s not so mysterious when intelligent minds bring it about, like the designers at Boeing or Lockheed.Compounding the problems. If the evolutionary origin of flight once is miraculous enough, how about twice? PNAS shamelessly writes about “Dual evolutionary origin of insect wings” as if this is not a problem for Darwinism. The authors admit that the origin of flight is a profound challenge: “The origin of insect wings is still a highly debated mystery in biology, despite the importance of this evolutionary innovation.” Using evolution-assuming words like ‘acquisition’ and ’emergence’ does not seem particularly convincing for those of us hunting for evidence of understanding on the question. For someone not already assuming Darwinism, how much understanding is evident in the Abstract?Acquisition of morphologically novel structures can facilitate successful radiation during evolution. The emergence of wings in hexapods represents a profound moment in eukaryotic evolution, making insects one of the most successful groups. However, the tissue that gave rise to this novel and evolutionarily crucial structure, and the mechanism that facilitated its evolution, are still under intense debate. By studying various wing-related tissues in beetles, we demonstrated that two distinct lineages of wing-related tissues are present even outside the appendage-bearing segments. This outcome supports a dual evolutionary origin of insect wings, and shows that novelty can emerge through two previously unassociated tissues collaborating to form a new structure.As stated, “wing-related tissues” represent only a piece of the puzzle. Wings are useless unless attached to muscles that are controlled by nerves responding to a program in the brain. Not only that, the entire body plan of the animal needs adjusting to life on the wing. But even giving these Darwinians the time of day, they should realize that similar wing-related tissues in two lineages does not provide sufficient evidence to attribute wings to Darwinian evolution. We see similar materials used in unrelated man-made inventions. Why must the reader accept the presumption that Darwin did it?Convergence is a word, not an explanation. We’ve seen Darwinians many times misleading the public with the word ‘convergence’ when similar traits appear in unrelated organisms. According to Darwin’s tree, similarities should only appear on the same branches, but often, similarities appear on different branches. How does that happen? Convergence is a word, not an explanation. It assumes the similar traits both evolved by Darwinian processes, when actually, neither one has been demonstrated. Here’s a recent example from Science Daily: “Convergent evolution of gene regulation in humans and mice.” The opening paragraph is simply an assertion, not a demonstration:Organisms that aren’t closely related may evolve similar traits as they adapt to similar challenges. It’s called convergent evolution, and familiar examples include the wings of birds, bats, and insects, and echolocation in bats and dolphins. Now, molecular biologists have found evidence of convergent evolution in an important mechanism of gene regulation in humans and mice.What is the evidence in this case? Evolutionists “described a complex system that regulates the same genes in the same way in both species, yet evolved independently in the two lineages.” None of the details presented have anything to do with mutation and selection. Those words don’t even appear in the article. Instead, the authors simply assume that the similarities evolved, even though “In the case of human and mouse, their lineages diverged about 90 million years ago.”Outing the endosymbiont theory. For decades, evolutionists have told us that a prokaryote merged with a free-living mitochondrion and became a eukaryote. Yet PNAS still admits that “The origin of mitochondria is a challenging and intensely debated issue.” So how did it happen? They don’t know that, either: “It is unknown whether mitochondria were acquired early or late, and whether it was captured via phagocytosis or syntrophic integration.” So many things would have had to change for this to work, it baffles the ability of Darwin’s theory to account for it. It should also be noted that the story is inherently Lamarckian (inheritance of acquired characteristics). The latest spin in this paper uses the analogy of farming: the host farmed out some of its metabolic work to the new tenants, “like humans farm pigs.” Well, then, did the hosts do this by intelligent design? Analogies can be useful for teaching, but can be misleading in scientific explanation. We expect better from scientists.Mixing unlike processes. Another PNAS paper tries to apply Darwinian theory to very different things: biological inheritance and learning. In “Evolution of vertical and oblique transmission under fluctuating selection,” they apply Darwinism where it doesn’t belong: “The evolution and maintenance of social learning, in competition with individual learning, under fluctuating selection have been well-studied in the theory of cultural evolution,” they say. But when teachers teach, are students ‘evolving’? When a caveman shows his son how to make a flintstone axe, is the son evolving? It sounds ridiculous, and it is: it completely ignores the role of intelligence as a cause, as opposed to genetic mutations and blind natural selection. This should be obvious, but the authors point to previous literature as a bandwagon argument to validate their foray into “cultural evolution” as if it is another dimension of biological evolution. Even so, they have to introduce a new concept of “fluctuating selection” to explain the differences. CEH has long argued that natural selection reduces to the Stuff Happens Law. Now, we learn that Stuff Happens at different rates. How that improves scientific understanding is left as an exercise.Evolutionary explanations are deductions, not findings of science. “It evolved, therefore.” Better yet, “Stuff happens, therefore.” We’re sure you understand biology better now. Aren’t you glad you have the accumulated wisdom of 158 years of Charlie D’s Authentic Stuff Happens Snake Oil to shed light on the living world? My, what would we do without the Darwinians to heal all of our intellectual maladies? It’s so relaxing not to have to think any more. Stuff Happens; that’s all you need to know.(Visited 441 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

GEM Project goes the extra mile on Mandela Day

first_imgGEM has the potential to curb unemployment. (Image: Gem)GEM Project, an app that links volunteers to good causes, practiced what they preached on Nelson Mandela International Day when they took part in various activities at 10 organisations.Among other noteworthy causes, GEM – which stands for Go the Extra Mile – got their employees and volunteers to garden, bake and paint the exterior of New Jerusalem Children’s Home in Midrand, work at the soup kitchen at Thusong Youth Centre in Alex, clean the premises at Ethembeni Children’s Home in the Johannesburg city centre, and a participate in a food drive at Balkan Burger in Greenside.At the Nelson Mandela Day launch held in July, GEM Project co-founder David Shields said the app was a social development drive that aimed to mobilise communities within themselves. Activities can include clothing drives, assistance with homework, job shadowing and skills development, which all South Africans will be able to support.Play Your Part, a Brand South Africa campaign that promotes active citizenship, is involving GEM in its events that uplift disadvantaged communities.GEM has the potential to curb unemployment. In many cases, volunteers are unemployed people who spend their time contributing to their communities. And with GEM’s reward system, the volunteers are guaranteed to earn something for their good deeds.When volunteers complete a good deed, they are eligible to receive a reward via the app, which is called a Gem. These Gems can be redeemed for products such as airtime, data, pre-paid electricity and even movie tickets. But Shields makes it clear that Gems are not a means of financial support. “Rewards are to be seen as a gesture of goodwill, not payment.”During Mandela Month, GEM offered another way to use points. “Volunteers are encouraged to donate their Gems back to the needy causes during Mandela Month,” said Shields.To ensure continuity and mobilise support even beyond Mandela Month, corporates were also encouraged to donate Gems so they could be allocated towards causes on an ongoing basis, he explained.GEM A CALL TO ACTIONBrand South Africa’s acting chief marketing officer, Sithembile Ntombela said the GEM app is a call to action so that every day can be a Mandela Day.“This partnership is an extension not only to the commemorative month’s activities and actions of goodwill by South Africans, but we hope that the nation will continue to contribute to positive change because a nation of people who care deeply for one another, and the environment in which they live, is beneficial for everyone.”The statistics below show how effective GEM has been since its launch in July 2015, just a few days before Mandela Day.358 South Africans engaged on a personal and altruistic level14 320 Gems rewarded which can now be used as disposable income for underprivileged do-gooders or given back to organisations in needAs of July 24th, 146 transactions had already taken place.Thousands more were reached via #PlayYourPart & GEM social media platforms1 256 users are currently making use of the GEM platform on both smart and feature phonesSuccessfully proven that South Africans want to help out and make a difference, they just needed an avenue/platform to streamline the process.last_img read more

Mint’s iPhone App: Now With Budgets, Push Notifications, and an Extra Layer of Security

first_imgRole of Mobile App Analytics In-App Engagement The Rise and Rise of Mobile Payment Technology Mint, the popular personal finance site that was just acquired by Intuit, just released a major update to its iPhone application (iTunes link). While Mint’s iPhone app was always quite good, this new version brings a number of new features to the app that make it more useful and, most importantly, more secure. The new features include the ability to edit transactions on the phone, mobile access to Mint’s newly enhanced budgeting features, and the app can now also receive push alerts which can be customized on the service’s website.One new aspect of the app that users will definitely appreciate is the extra layer of security that Mint has now added. Users can now specify a passcode that will keep others from opening the app even if they have access to the phone. In addition, the application now automatically exits whenever a user receives a call or text message.Hide Your Data Behind a PasscodeOverall, this update brings Mint’s iPhone app in line with the company’s regular web service. Having access to the budgeting features is a nice addition, as is the ability to edit transactions right on the phone. The most important update, however, is the added layer of security that the application-level passcode now brings. Carrying access to all this financial data around on a phone will definitely make a lot of potential users feel queasy about using the app. This extra level of protection, however, should give users enough peace of mind to give the app another try. Related Posts frederic lardinoiscenter_img What it Takes to Build a Highly Secure FinTech … Why IoT Apps are Eating Device Interfaces Tags:#mobile#news#NYT#Product Reviews#web last_img read more

7 Do’s and Don’ts for App Preview Videos If You Want a Shot at Going Viral

first_imgMore companies are relying on apps to succeed, whether the app is the primary source of revenue or whether it’s merely an extension of the business. In any case, social media is one of your greatest tools for finding new potential customers and keeping your existing users up-to-date; with the right visual content, you could potentially even go viral, reaching millions of new users with a single promotional asset.But how can you create a video that accurately demonstrates your app while still maximizing that potential reach?The New iOS App StoreEverything starts at the app store, which you should consider the hub of your app video marketing campaign. App stores not only provide the best (and most popular) discovery tool for new apps, they also set the standards for what users expect of videos.The iOS App Store, for example, recently went through some changes that have redrawn what’s expected of app producers. In addition to offering more in-depth search features and more discovery elements, Apple has introduced preview videos—auto-playing videos specifically intended to show off the main features and functionality of your app.Why Videos Are So Important for App SuccessSo why are videos so important for your app’s success? The statistics don’t lie. As many as 64 percent of web visitors are more likely to purchase a product if they’ve seen a promotional video for it, indicating the sheer impact potential that an app video can have. And because videos are becoming so popular, more users are relying on them to make purchasing decisions; 57 percent of consumers view a product video before finalizing their purchase.Part of the reason for this reliance on video content is the confidence users feel when making a purchasing decision; if they’ve seen the product in action and feel they have an accurate idea of what to expect, they’ll be less concerned about the possibility of getting less than what they paid for. On top of that, human beings simply process visual data better than other forms of data, processing images more than 60,000 times faster than text.“Videos are crucial nowadays; we live in such a fast paced society that people don’t have time to read. Aside from giving you information a video can also provide an experience that text or images just cannot – simply put there is no way to replace an enticing app store video – only the video would give you the full experience; and therefore, the only way to remain competitive is to quickly jump on the trend,” says Eddie Nuvakhov, CEO of LNC Productions.Plus, videos are easy to share. Videos relay information far quicker than text and are user favorites, so they’re more likely to be shared than other forms of content. If you produce a video that truly resonates with users, social channels will make it easy for that video to circulate to new audiences.Do’s and Don’tsSo what does it take to produce a video that could achieve that social success?1. Choose your partner carefully. Unless you have direct experience creating app videos or other marketing videos, you’ll need to work with an outside expert to perfect your approach—but not all video marketing firms are alike. “Sometimes people do not understand the importance of a well crafted video – a video asides of being a communication device it’s also a strong representation of your brand. My advice is to stay away from screen recording and take the opportunity to do something more, rely on a partner with experience and you will definitely end up seeing a higher ROI that you could achieve on your own, ” says David Levy, Nuvakhov’s business partner.2. Target the right audience. Everything depends on audience targeting. You wouldn’t sell your app the same way to a teenage girl and a middle-aged man, so think carefully about the content, the tone, and the distribution method of your promotional material.3. Don’t add more than you need. Users don’t generally have the patience to watch the full content of a minutes-long video. They might also turn away if your video doesn’t immediately grab them. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to keep your video as short and concise as possible, getting users’ attentions within the first few seconds.4. Make the video useful with and without audio. Apple’s new App Store auto-plays without audio, so make sure your video is optimized for both an audio-heavy and audio-absent experience. That way, you’ll appeal to the greatest percentage of viewers.5. Don’t neglect the App Store guidelines. Pay close attention to the App Store guidelines. You’ll need to make sure your content falls in line with Apple’s standards, and ensure it’s formatted properly before you upload it.6. Build a video portfolio. Don’t rely on just one video to do all your work for you. Create a video portfolio you can use for a variety of different marketing and advertising applications.7. Choose the right social channels for promotion. Finally, choose the right social channels to distribute your videos; chances are, your audience favors one platform over another, and catering to that platform will give you a much higher ROI than simply broadcasting your video wherever you can.Videos make it easier to demonstrate exactly how your app works to an audience hungry for more visual content. If you put the effort into differentiating that video from those of your competitors, while staying true to the functionality of your app and making users excited about it, you could potentially reach thousands—if not millions of people. Frank Landman Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business. 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Bihar govt. issues notice to over a dozen IAS officers


Proposal to cultivate cannabis in Odisha rejected

first_imgA proposal to allow cannabis cultivation for medicinal purposes in Odisha was rejected on Tuesday.“Many pharmaceutical industries were approaching us, seeking permission to undertake cannabis cultivation for medicinal use. They also wanted assured supply [of cannabis] from government agencies that can take up cannabis plantation,” said Sushil Kumar Lohani, State Excise Secretary. A high-level meeting was convened to take a call on the proposal at Lokseba Bhawan here.“We had referred the issue to the Law Department for its opinion on whethre cultivation of cannabis can be permitted. The Law Department has formally rejected the proposals, saying there is no such provision under existing laws to grow the illicit crop,” said Mr. Lohani.Clandestine produceaOdisha is one of the leading ganja (cannabis) producing States in India. Clandestine cultivation is flourishing in remote forested areas in the State. Officially, more than 4 crore hemp plants, whose value was estimated at approximately ₹4,000 crore, have been destroyed in the past five years. To curb the plantation of cannabis unlawfully, the State Police, the Excise Department and the Narcotics Control Bureau have intensified enforcement of the law. As many as 13,706,989 hemp plants, whose approximate market value could be estimated at ₹1,370 crore, were destroyed in 2018-19. Similarly, 7,932,006 illicit plants worth ₹793 crore were set on fire in 2017-18.On average, 1,500 hemp plants can be grown in an acre. Upon harvesting, each hemp plant produces least 500 gm of ganja. Locally, the ganja is sold at about ₹2,000 per kg. There is, however, no report on the production of charas, another by-product, by refining parts of hemp plants further, in Odisha.‘Stringent action’“We are taking stringent action against the persons involved in cannabis cultivation and booking them under the strict provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985,” Niranjan Pujari, State Excise Minister, told the Odisha Assembly on Monday.Cannabis plantations are widespread in districts such as Malkangiri, Sambalpur, Deogarh, Kandhamal, Boudh, Rayagada, Gajapati, Angul and Nayagarh. Law enforcement agencies have also stepped up action by arresting 1,822 persons and seizing close to 50,000 kg of ganja in the past five years.According to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, cannabis cultivation is illegal. However, many advocate that cannabis can be used in medicines and in the manufacture of fabric. Former Biju Janata Dal MP and editor of the Odia daily Dharitri, Tathagata Satpathy, backs commercial cultivation of crop. Mr. Satpathy even wore a hemp kurta on a visit to Parliament House.last_img read more

Kenya to Set Up 4 Innovation Hubs in Every Constituency