Wonderings and wanderings: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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Bishkek is the Eastern Europe of 30 years ago, except with mobile phones and internet access. It is more or less a museum relic of the former Soviet Union Bloc.

This quote translates my exact feelings upon arrival in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. Although I remember nothing from the Soviet Union bloc 30 years ago, I do remember how my own homecountry looked like 15 years ago. And even if Bulgaria was not formally a part of the Soviet Union, it was close enough to the Big Brother to look strikingly alike. I have done my best to collect my impressions in a dedicated photoset: a concrete post-Soviet experience, in both senses of the term ‘concrete’.

I arrived on an early freezing morning after a nearly 11-hour trip. It was my very first visit to a country from Central Asia. The welcome was quite special when you think of all the army guys in uniforms checking my passport and the letters of invitation by the highest government authorities that I was carrying. Past this point, the airport was similar to any other airport in a small “developing” country: taxi drivers hurdling around and half-flirting while trying to get me in their cars. The hotel has sent a car for me—and as anytime a high-ranking hotel in a poor country from Eastern Europe wants to appear really high-ranking, they have sent a Mercedes…

On the way to the airport, I felt nearly like home: the road, hardly equiped with lights, was surrounded by trees with their truncs partly painted in white. This is seemingly done to help drivers comprehend where the road ends… Indeed, no safeguards exist on the road; yet, the cars’ lights are reflected by the white painting, so the driver understands where the road ends (well, hopefully). I remembered trees painted in white back home, this was a very bizarre thing to me as a child.

The impression of being suddenly sent back in time could not but grow in the coming days. The air smelt of warm coal, just like home when the general heating system is ON. The streets had multiples holes and cracks but benefited from little lights around. Nearly nobody speaks English, and the bulk of taxi drivers is under-qualified people having left their countryside to seek for a living in the capital. Which is why they have no idea whatsoever where you want to go—so, they ask you to tell them the way… Which is, erm, quite tricky for anyone coming to Bishkek for the first time ever. The people are however really nice yet straightforward (which may be seen as adversarial at times); the waiters and waitresses in restaurants stuff you with food and drinks as this is what hospitality means to them. Oh, and they still do these weddings in fancy restaurants with kitsch clothes and Western popmusic from the 1980s where everyone goes to the middle of the restaurants and dances. We bumped into one such happening, it was quite surreal for me to find the exact same scheme as back home more than a decade ago. And honestly? Really made me laugh and feel emotional again.

I visited Bishkek in late November 2014 while on a work mission for the World Bank. I was there to help bolster a demand for Open Data, leading the ‘demand side’ of the mission (my colleague, Ton Zijlstra, was leading the ‘supply side’ of the mission). With fellow Open Data enthusiasts from the Bank and other places in the world, we were organising the Kyrgyz Open Data Days and bootstraping an Open Data Readiness Assessment aimed to evaluate how best to initiate an Open Data initiative in the Kyrgyz Republic. The event live-tweeted under #OpenDataKG saw the Prime Minister delivering a speech (the guy on the pic below) along with quite a few government officials, NGOs and entrepreneurs joining.

The Kyrgyz press extensively covered the Kyrgyz Open Data Days: An example. Image by Ton Zijlstra, CC-by-NC-SA 2.0 on Flickr

The Kyrgyz press extensively covered the Kyrgyz Open Data Days: An example. Image by Ton Zijlstra, CC-by-NC-SA 2.0 on Flickr

Ahead of the event, World Bank and UNDP Kyrgyzstan staff have described some of the major challenges which Open Data could help address. The event and its stakes have been extensively covered by the World Bank and the live-tweet. I have also uploaded my slides, in both Russian and English:

See you soon, Bishkek! I think we could get to know each other better (despite your airport being a total dump).

[Announcement] OKCon Open & Citizen Science hackday: submissions

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I’ve already announced the OKCon ‘Open & Citizen Science satellite event’. As you may remember, we launched idea submissions several days ago. The detailed descriptions are below. You can vote for your favourite one and join us geeking out next Thursday, Sept 19. Don’t hesitate to get back to us either via Twitter (@MaliciaRogue, @stefankasberger) or via mail.

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[Announcement] Open and Citizen Science in the heart of Europe

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Stefan Kasberger from OKFn Austria and myself are organizing this one-day workshop as an OKCon satellite event. Join us!

Thursday 19 September, 10:00 – 17:00 @ Centre Universitaire d’Informatique Université de Genève, Auditorium, Ground Floor

Coordinators: Stefan Kasberger (Open Knowledge Foundation Austria) and Rayna Stamboliyska (Open Knowledge Foundation France), in collaboration with Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen CyberlabFrançois Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective)

Hacking science makes us happy. If it makes you happy, too, then, this year’s Open Knowledge Conference is the place to be!

Indeed, OKCon 2013 is where an amazing bouquet of insights from Open and Citizen science will converge. But if you thought there would be only food for the brain, you were wrong. A satellite event will take place on 19 September aiming at giving space for everyone to actually get great things done.

With our friends Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen Cyberlab) François Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective), we have come up with a way allowing everyone to take part to this exciting day.

I have an idea!

We know you do. Hence, we have a dedicated form ready for you to submit a short description of what you are keen to work on. You can also indicate what additional competences you need in order to get your project done.

Idea submission will be running from today until 10 September. Every week, we will be updating everyone (through the Open Science mailing list) telling you about the new ideas submitted. In addition, a community call will be scheduled to discuss and narrow down these ideas so that they actually become feasible within one-day long hands-on sprint.

Working together

The idea of the satellite event is to geek out together. On 11 September, we will be publishing a poll with all ideas so that you can be able to vote for the project you want to work on on Day D. Voting will run until 18 September.

Do not forget to bring your favourite geeking gear (laptop, some flavour of mobile device or a fancy notebook in the perfect 1.0 fashion). We will have WiFi, cookies and fun!

The workshop space can accommodate up to 45 people. To sign-up, express your interest in the topic and get in touch with the coordinators please write to openandcitizenscience@okcon.org.

Opening the Black Box of Governance: Alleviating Poverty With Data

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[First published on OECD’s website, prior to OECD’s Global Forum for Democracy.]

The constant rise of Internet and mobile phone use is an opportunity to enable more citizens to engage with governance. Technology can help improve citizen participation in decision-making and can re-energise participation in public life. Transparency and accountability is becoming a diverse and dynamic field for exploration worldwide. Opening the data produced by public administrations is part of an effective approach to poverty alleviation. Incredible amounts of data are produced every day, by a wide range of stakeholders: governments, media, mobile operators, citizens themselves. Despite the huge potential for using data about a society or government for the public good, it is rarely released and shared for public use. Additionally, reliable statistics can be hard to come by or are still the exclusive property of government or corporate officials.

Open Government Data by Justin Grimes on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Open Government Data by Justin Grimes on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Governments and citizens status: it’s complicated

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[This post was initially published on FutureChallenges.org.]

I have been mulling over how to frame my thoughts about the ‘relationship trouble’ between the people and the institutions that govern them. On FutureChallenges, Corina Murafa phrased a very interesting perspective; I, however, disagree with her main proposition: “governments, be they local, regional or national, are no better than their constituencies.”

I believe many out there have read Jacques Rousseau’s “The Social Contract”, either during the seemingly never-ending philosophy classes at high school or on some whimsical Sunday afternoon later on. In this foundation work, Rousseau firmly rejects a (not only at that time) pervasive idea that people can invest some group or individual with the authority to act on their behalf and rule over them. Instead, Rousseau considers that when you hand over your general rule to another person or entity, this constitutes a kind of slavery. More importantly, the mere fact of recognizing this authority is an abdication of moral agency. Such a surrender is even more striking when  you consider the hostility with which Rousseau approaches the election of representatives to sovereign assemblies: these vote and pass laws that bind citizens to terms and obligations the citizens themselves have not agreed upon.

Now, this is no scoop: many people have come to think that such an infantilizing political system needs to be challenged and reconstructed. Take the #Occupy movements, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, 15M, #IdleNoMore, the huge protests that have erupted even in a country as apathetic as Bulgaria… But I don’t want to get into an analysis of popular movements here: I’d much prefer to talk about a more ’2.0 version’ of a Rousseau-inspired fight against the abdication of moral agency. Let’s talk about Open Government initiatives.

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Size matters?

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Well, I don’t think so. But, since we all know that pessimists are out there, let’s try to convince them bringing some scientific evidence 😉 I found these maps below: you can see the sizes of penii all over the world, but also compare the distribution of the ratio IQ/penis size.

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[Special bookmark] Open Access and Open Data only

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There were lot of very interesting things on the Web these last days on Open Access and Open Data. I would like to remind you that the very first Science 3.0 Blogging Contest starting on October 18 is dedicated to Open Access and will run parallel to the Open Access Week! I greatly invite you to take part, as a blogger, as a reader, as both! You will find below several links to make you feel even more eager than now October 18 comes.

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Bookmark: Links to read, from here and there

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I am currently spending my time reading papers. And user guides. The cliché of the lab rat is not applicable anymore. The cliché of the computer geek neither: I am hardly launching sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude safe-upgrade on my Debian and this is it. The number of tabs in my browser is dangerously approaching 200 and this makes me nervous 🙂 So, here is a nice bunch of links:

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Get involved: Making metrics that measure what matters

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Cameron Neylon is inviting today everybody to join and take actively part in a poject to redefine bibliographic metrics. Creating this kind of system is essential for sharing knowledge and “there is an opportunity to connect technical expertise and data with the needs of funders, researchers, and perhaps even the mainstream media and government.”. The current proposal stands for a Barcamp day in UK followed by two-day hackfest. The proposal is available to view and edit as a GoogleDoc.

Bookmark: BMJ Open, accessible medical research

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This is an open access journal launched very recently and focused on medical research. It aims at publishing not only full-text reports, but also pilot studies and pre-protocols. Moreover, all data will be published online and reviewers’ comments will figure alongside the main text. This initiative emphasizes the importance of transparency and data sharing in science. Support BMJ Open, submit your results there!

Bookmark: BioMed Central launches a new initiative to promote data sharing

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Open AccessBMC Researcher Notes’ latest editorial titles A call for BMC Research Notes contributions promoting best practice in data standardization, sharing and publication. It announces a new initiative aiming at promoting best practice in sharing and publishing data, with a focus on standardized, re-useable formats. Thus, data from original research project described by precised Data Notes will be made publicly accessible and, along with, an example dataset will be included.

This great initiative is a new step towards open data and research reproducibility!

Read the original announcement from BMC.