How Private is Anonymized Data?

All kinds of big data contests use large datasets in which the data has been ripped off of any data which might lead back to the people who filled it in.

However, when the data is about location based services, you are not that safe.

In March 2012 the bicycle renting company Hubway set out a data visualization data challenge, to show how their half a million bike rides were spread out. The data included the gender of the renter, the zip code and the year of birth from the annual renters.

Combining these three pieces of data with the power of the internet lead to the identification of many of the renters of the bikes by Harvard professor Latanaya Sweeney. As part of the Data Privacy Lab, she looked into the possibilities of these datasets, and set up the website AboutMyRide.com to show the results of this particular challenge.

When looking at the website one can see that it’s quite shocking to see that so much can be deducted from this anonymized data set. This also brings many other questions to the table, most of all related to the privacy of people, and the borders of it, a.k.a. where do we say no. Are we  open with everything or do we need to halt and rethink this development with the sharing of personal data.

I personally believe that for this data set it was not necessary to share all these data, especially since it turns out to be so easy to find the real person behind the data. It would be better to use categories of age (e.g. 15-25, 26-35, etc.) and only the digits of the zipcode, without the letters (so 1000 instead of 1000AB in the Dutch system) .

For every data contest this is something to consider. What do we share and can we share everything we want to? Only when we keep thinking we can have this discussion and maybe we can come to a decision where enough data will be shared, while at the same time the privacy will be kept at an acceptable level?

This will of course depend on the challenge, but put it on your decisions list when setting up a big data challenge!

Header image: g4ll4is on Flickr under Creative Commons License


Making Mistakes

There’s nothing more human than making mistakes. We all do it, and we all learn from it (at least, I hope so).

Some mistakes are small, like leaving the house at 6:10 in the morning with two different shoes on your feet because you weren’t that much awake (true story), but others are somewhat bigger and have significantly more impact.

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Like this place on the campus of the University of Technology in Delft.

At that place, the wind always blows harder than anywhere else around it. Today, everywhere else on the campus there was almost no wind, but at that spot you could really feel the wind and see hairs blowing in it.

Now when it is a normal day, this isn’t much of a problem, but when it storms, it all changes, and the gusts of wind literally blow people from their bikes.

Since this problem is too big to really do something about (demolishing the building is not an option), they decided on the simpler version: putting down some signs.

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Although it isn’t the best option, it does help on preventing people from falling down.

It also shows that everybody makes mistakes, and that you can (almost) always make a bigger mistake.

So feel good when doing something wrong, and learn what you did wrong so you can do it different next time (like switching on the light to check if you have a matching pair of shoes).


Room For Art In The Open

One of the problems with graffiti is that the artists don’t have a legal place to produce and exhibit their art.

Some municipalities understand this problem, and so Eindhoven has allowed all graffiti artists to use the bikers part of ‘de Berekuil‘ (the Bear Pit) as their canvas.

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Around there the most beautiful pieces of art are created, and are open for everyone to see. Plus the amount of graffiti in the rest of city is much lower, since this legal place exists.

This gives something to think about for everyone: Can you diminish the problem by permitting it to happen in a small part, especially when it not only takes away the problem, but also improves the area in which you allow it?

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When Gadgets Meet Beer

As the start of your weekends, I have something which attracts almost all men (and also some women, though probably less than men).

In Swansea, England, the first iPub has opened. In this pub you order your beers using an iPad. And if it’s just a regular pint, you can even tap it yourself.

All other food and drinks can also be ordered via the tablet and will be brought to your table within a few minutes.

This ordering at the table takes away one of the biggest troubles of being in a crowded bar, namely the ordering of your drinks at a bar while screaming at the bartender. Now, you can just do-it-yourself, reducing the costs of staff, and therefore also your beer.

So, anybody up for a field trip to see it ourselves?

Cover photo: Robert S. Donovan under CC


Nice View

Sometimes I wonder what the people who are responsible for the park benches think…

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Both of these can be found in Amsterdam.

Any other nice examples? Feel free to post them in the comments section.


Take One Step and Go Forty Four Years Back

Everybody knows one of them. Usually, they’re somewhat older males, who always state that ‘back in the days everything was better’. The real Grumpy Old Men.

In the current competitive environment in which almost all companies work they are rarely found at important places in companies. Innovation is the way to survive, so looking back and saying that all was better doesn’t help then.

In municipalities on the other hand, there are still a lot of these people to be found. Especially the retired can be found a lot in these places. And since they have enough time they sometimes get far enough to take a place back 40+ years in time.

I was born and raised in Dordrecht, a middle large city. I lived in the Dubbeldam district, a place with a highly above average age compared to the rest of the city, which automatically leads to a large group of Grumpy Old Men.

Now the extra complicating factor in this is that Dubbeldam was taken over in 1970 by Dordrecht, since Dordrecht was the larger city of the two and needed the extra space. This however, is still something a large group of people can’t cope with.

These people still believe that it’s possible to separate again, and so it happened that at the Dam square in Dubbeldam a new ‘Welcome in Dubbeldam’ sign has been placed.

44 years after the merge.

With this they’re trying to bring back the old days to the square. The square that is also the shopping centre. However, this is absolutely not what this place actually needs.

The centre has to undergo thorough renovation to become 21st century proof, but all that the current plans do is add a line of trees to not see the cars. Just like in 1950, when there were no cars.

What Dubbeldam really needs is a group of fresh blood that has the guts to change it into the 21st century. But as long as there are enough Grumpy Old Men, this will not happen.

Now I’m taking a step back, of the square, back into the 21st century. And so I can only hope that the patient will survive and won’t die before the real renovation happens.


How To Not Create Your Slides

Hello and Welcome back everybody. Yesterday I had to see a series of presentations on the Service Blue Prints of several other teams of one of my university courses.

The idea behind the presentation was to present your idea and show how it works, and every team had decided that it was the best to include (a large part of) their Service Blue Print.

The downside of this, however, is that absolutely nobody could see, nor understand any of the blueprints from the slides, since the information on it was presented way to little to read.

My view from about 10 meters from the presenters.Sorry for the crappy iPhone shot, but I thought it was too much to take out my big camera.

My view from about 10 meters from the presenters. In every block there are one or more words. Sorry for the crappy iPhone shot, but I thought it was too much to take out my big camera.

Also, I had the idea that they all drifted away from the main subject, they all took more time than given and that gifted speakers are still few in number. For some of these problems however, there is a simple rule which can help a lot in these kind of presentations.

It’s the 10-20-30 rule by mister Guy Kawasaki.

The idea behind is that you have 10 slides, present these in 20 minutes and that the smallest font you use on your slides is 30pt. Just that simple.

By keeping your presentation short and your slides readable you can keep the attention of the crowd, and you will see a lot less phone usage during your presentation.

Try this the next time you give a presentation, and you’ll immediately see an improvement.

That’s all for me today. On monday I’ll be back. In the mean time, Enjoy.


Adobe Creative Cloud

Hello and Welcome back everybody. As every year I had to renew my subscription for my Adobe applications. And since I really like their programs and like all the things I can do with it, I renewed my subscription and went over to the Creative Cloud.

My first impressions with installation of the software are that it has become very easy to only pick the apps that you want and install these. With the Adobe CC desktop app it becomes very simple. You log in using your Adobe Id, after which you can just simply click on the install buttons of the apps you want to download and install.

Do mind however, when you don’t buy directly from Adobe, but for example via your university, that Adobe wants to renew your subscription automatically after one year, at the costs of a regular subscription. It only works when they know your credit card number, but please, be aware when you insert your serial number that you don’t say yes to everything.

That’s all for me today. On wednesday I’ll be back with a new Site in the Spotlight. In the mean time, Enjoy.


Number 500

Hello and Welcome back everybody. Today the day has come, 1168 days after I wrote my first blogpost here: the 500th blogpost from me.

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Started of at the 31st of august in 2010 as a way to promote my photography, it has evolved into a platform on which I try to inspire people on photography, design and innovation thinking. Sometimes with humor, sometimes more serious, but always short and to the point.

In the next few years I hope to continue this, to keep on inspiring you.

But there’s always room for improvement. So what would you like to see on the blog? Do I need to tell more about how I come to taking a certain shot, do you want to be inspired more or anything else. Please, do shout out in the comments section below and I’ll try to do something with it.

That’s all for me today. I hope that you’ll stay with me the coming years and that in a few years you’ll see the 1000th blogpost here. But before we get that far, I’ll go back to the usual with this wednesday a new Site in the Spotlight for you. And in the mean time, Enjoy.


Laws of the Jungle

Hello and Welcome back everybody. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. They take a little bit longer, something has to be done again, or your crane breaks down and thereby takes down some of the overhead wires of one of the larger railway stations of the Netherlands, Eindhoven.

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This happened this afternoon, and although luckily nobody got hurt, it still took down train traffic for the entire rush hour which meant that all people had to be taken by busses to other train stations to continue their journey from their. And no matter how well you try to set this up, sometimes the rules of the jungle apply here.

In and around the station a large crowd of NS employees was helping everyone get in the right direction and get to the right crowd, since the busses were leaving in four different directions.

But certain things you just can not account for. Like the bus driver with the extra long bus which stops behind the bus in front of him and then opens all his doors. When this happens the laws of the jungle apply, and it is everybody for him-/herself. And so it happened that a lot of people who were waiting for a bus for quite some time were still standing there when the bus left with passengers who just arrived at the station.

Unintended consequences for which no one had accounted.

Besides all of this I must say that it was well coordinated and that my travel went smoother than normal when I have problems on my route.

That’s all for me today. On wednesday I’ll be back with a new Site in the Spotlight. Until next time, Enjoy.