Tech Talk

Dot-Govs Get a Much-Needed Facelift

Is it time to give the government website a makeover? For years, city and state sites have been designed as portals through which the public could find as much information as possible. The motto was clearly, “the more, the better.” But the result has been an overwhelming hodgepodge of columns and boxes filled with tiny text, drop-down menus that run on and on, and buttons everywhere. 

With so much information crammed on to a home page, visitors are lucky if they manage to find what they’re looking for, says John McKown, president of Evo Studios Inc., a Web design firm that works with municipalities. “The problem with so many government websites has been information overload.”  READ MORE

4 Reasons Data Analytics Often Fail

The Chicago Police Department thought it had a fail-proof strategy for keeping a lid on violent crime: a heat map of the 400 individuals most likely to break the law. The index of violent individuals was the result of a predictive analytics program that used a mathematical algorithm to sift through crime data. It worked much like the analytics programs Netflix or Amazon use to predict a person’s next movie rental or book purchase. 

But the algorithm ran into a firestorm of controversy in late 2013 when a Chicago Tribune article told the story of a man on the list who had no criminal arrests. While the police defended the tool, critics said it was nothing more than racial profiling. They compared to it to a bad version of Minority Report, the popular sci-fi film about police who predict crimes before they happen.  READ MORE

CIOs Fear Mass Exodus of Government IT Workers

When New York state Chief Information Officer Maggie Miller testified in February before the state legislature, she warned lawmakers of a looming IT staff crisis. Within the next few years, she said, her agency expects to lose 25 percent of its staff to retirement. As those retirements unfold, they will reduce the average level of experience for senior state IT workers from 40 years to 11 years.

New York is not alone. Maine is also facing a mass exodus of its IT workforce. It estimates that 24 percent of IT workers are eligible to retire in the next two years. A National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) report last year found that 40 percent of states expect that between 11 and 20 percent of their workers will be eligible to retire in the next year, while 86 percent found it challenging to recruit new workers to fill vacant IT positions. CIOs also cited a lack of funding for training as one of the top three impediments to developing, supporting and maintaining IT services, according to the survey.  READ MORE

Hackers Hold Police Files Hostage for Ransom

In June 2014, an officer with the Durham, N.H., Police Department opened what she thought was a digital fax attached to an email about an investigation she was working on. Instead, it was a type of malicious software that infected files throughout the entire police department’s network of computers. By the next morning, the entire system was in serious trouble. 

The officer had accidentally downloaded an extortion malware program popularly known as ransomware. It encrypts a computer’s files (meaning they can only be accessed by the cybercriminals) and then sends victims a digital ransom note, demanding money to decrypt them. READ MORE

Know CPR? New App Sends Alerts When Someone Nearby Needs It

While attending church last year in Santa Clara, Calif., 53-year-old Kory Trebbin suffered a heart attack. As a fellow churchgoer spoke with a 911 dispatcher, a software program linked to the city’s emergency dispatch system searched a database of CPR-trained citizens, found one in the vicinity of the emergency and sent an alert to his smartphone. The nearby off-duty emergency room physician who responded was able to reach Trebbin and perform CPR until paramedics from the Santa Clara Fire Department arrived. Ultimately, Trebbin survived.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 325,000 people each year. The American Heart Association estimates that if a CPR-trained person was able to provide immediate help, the chances of survival could double or even triple. But it can take several minutes for a fire department’s EMS team to reach a victim. READ MORE

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