Monthly Archives: December 2014

Popular US Baby Names — BabyCenter versus Social Security Administration

I was listening to the latest episode of Slate’s “Mom and Dad Are Fighting” parenting podcast and one of the topics was baby names.  The guests was BabyCenter executive editor Janet Ozzard, who talked about the most popular baby names of 2014.  BabyCenter collects its information on baby names from those that have given their baby’s name to the site, which for 2014 included somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 names.   I thought it might be fun to see how similar this is to the Social Security Administration (SSA) list of baby names, which is essentially the entire population of babies in the US, rather than a self-selected group.

Now the Social Security Administration public list contains the names of about 3.6 million babies born in the United States in 2013.   This information comes from Social Security card applications and includes all babies born in the United States if the name has at least 2 letters, and information on state of birth, sex, and year are included.  They do exclude from the public list names that are given to 4 or fewer babies, for privacy reasons.

On the other hand, the BabyCenter list only contains the names of those that have been given to them by participating parents (usually the mother).   While 400,000 or 500,000 is a lot of people, these are clearly not representative of the US population.   First, it’s likely that those that have registered on BabyCenter are different in some significant ways from the overall US population, if for no other reason than they are on the Internet.   According to the Pew Research Internet Project, those not on the Internet are more likely to speak Spanish, have lower incomes, and have less than a high school education.  And, of course, not all BabyCenter visitors are from the US, perhaps only about 50%.

Listed below are the top 20 names for 2013 for boys and girls for both BabyCenter and the Social Security Administration.  I used 2013 data, as that’s the most recent year for which data is available for both the SSA and BabyCenter.  There are some interesting differences.   For girls, the first six are almost exactly the same (Mia and Ava switch places).  Then we get into some big differences.   Zoe is #8 on the BabyCenter list, but only #31 on the SSA list.  However, this is because BabyCenter combines similar names while SSA treats each unique spelling as a different name.  And if you add the number of girls named “Zoey” (#24) and “Zoe” (#31) on the SSA list, they would end up being #7.  However, Lily is #7 on BabyCenter, but only #27 for the SSA.  Similarly Madelyn is #13 on BabyCenter but #68 on the SSA list (although if you combine this with Madeline (#90) it would be #23.  Conversely, Elizabeth is #10 on the SSA list, but all the way down to #46 for BabyCenter.

For boys, initially the differences look greater, but again part of this occurs because BabyCenter combines similar names.  Jackson is #1 on the BabyCenter list, but only #16 on the SSA list.  However, if this is added to the number of boys named Jaxson (#46 on the SSA list), it would be number one too.  Still, the #2 name on BabyCenter list is Aiden, which isn’t even in the top 10 on the SSA list (#12).   And, in the other direction, William is #5 on the SSA list but only #20 for BabyCenter.

So, if you’re a BabyCenter user, and want to know what others like you are naming their kids, look at the BabyCenter list.  If you want to see what people in the US are naming their children, go to the SSA list.   And if you want a cool visualization of historical changes, go to the NameVoyager.

 Girls Boys
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Drones for Law Enforcement — but with what privacy and fourth amendment protections?

Ars Technica reported yesterday on the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) acquisition of two drones.  Of course, use of drones still needs approval from the FAA.   According to the ACSO, “The reason for specifically acquiring this is search and rescue.”  However, according to the ACSO General Order supporting the drone use, search and rescue is the 4th out of 10 uses.   These includes two that are very broad — “post-incident crime scene preservation and documentation” and pretty much anything related to a felony.

Drones can be a good thing.  In fact, for the stated goal, search and rescue, drones can be great.   In comparison to other aerial surveillance options (e.g., helicopters or planes) they’re cheaper and easier to implement.   ACSO says they’re spending $97,000 on this, which is a very little compared to a helicopter.  And training is certainly a lot easier too.

So what should government agencies do when they want to use drones?  The Electronic Frontier Foundation lists three requirements for drone legislation.   While two of these deal with private and commercial use of drones, the third emphasizes the need for law enforcement to get a search warrant when using drones for investigative purposes.  The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office policy, as currently posted, does not require a warrant for any use of drones.  Similarly, the ACLU recommends that the following be included when government organizations implement a drone program.

  • USAGE LIMITS: Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency, or when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act.
  • DATA RETENTION: Images should be retained only when there is reasonable suspicion that they contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial.
  • POLICY: Usage policy on domestic drones should be decided by the public’s representatives, not by police departments, and the policies should be clear, written, and open to the public.
  • ABUSE PREVENTION & ACCOUNTABILITY: Use of domestic drones should be subject to open audits and proper oversight to prevent misuse.
  • WEAPONS: Domestic drones should not be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons.

Note that one of these recommendations is that the public actively participates in the  decision to set up a drone program.   However, in Alameda County Sheriff’s Office situation, the Sheriff seems to have excluded critics from the process — EFF and the ACLU of Northern California only found out about the press conference from a story in the newspaper.  And I’d go even further here.   When a government agency sets up any program like this, including drones, surveillance cameras, automatic license plate readers, and so on, the public should be involved, there should be regular (e.g., annual) reviews of such programs, and independent evaluations conducted to determine if these programs are meeting the goals set for them.  This can help eliminate wasteful programs and reduce “mission creep.”

I also want to mention the “public” survey that Sheriff’s office has touted as support for their purchase (given that my day job is actually conducting surveys).  According to the reporting, they did get over three hundred responses.  But this survey clearly suffers from selection bias — the people who responded to the survey aren’t representative of Alameda County residents, but people who attended a “Cop Shop Barbecue” (and paid $12 to do so).

While I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if a significant number of people are okay with unfettered use of drones, the one poll I’m familiar with actually suggest the opposite.   A Monmouth University poll from 2013 (PDF) showed that three-quarters of respondents wanted law enforcement to have to get a search warrant from a judge before using drones versus only 14% think that law enforcement agencies should be able to decide on their own when to use them.



Cool TED Talk on using surveillance to reveal government atrocities

Here’s a very cool TED talk on human rights activists turning surveillance on its head — using  tiny hidden cameras to document atrocities for the world to see, and for the oppressors to know that the world sees their actions.  It’s by Oren Yakobovich, head of the human rights organization Videre.

We should remember that in the US, we should have the right (except under very limited circumstances) to film or photograph government officials, including the police, while they are performing their duties.

A good resource for this is the Photography is not a Crime website.  The Washington Post also just had a decent article on this issue.  And here’s an ACLU post on it by Jay Stanley, which includes an incident that the ACLU-NJ handled where the police not only detained a student for filming them, they illegally searched her phone and deleted the video.

A related issue exists when citizen journalists and activists want to film local governmental meetings.   While a government agency can place reasonable restrictions (e.g., time, place, and manner), they (at least in NJ) can’t forbid video audio or video taping.  The ACLU-NJ has a PDF pamphlet on New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act.

Do I have the right to record public meetings? Although the Sunshine Law does not address this topic, the New Jersey Supreme Court held in Tarus v. Pine Hill, 189 N.J. 497 (2007) that members of the public have a common law right to videotape public meetings, subject to only reasonable restrictions. You also have the right to audiotape public meetings as well. A public body may adopt written policies that reasonably restrict recording to ensure that the recording does not disrupt the meeting. The policies could require you to sign up in advance to record the meeting and may limit the number of people recording and the number of cameras, as well as their position, lighting and location.


Criticism from the Police used to stifle dissent

The latest major example of the police or government “expressing their opinion” in a way that stifles dissent happened after Sunday’s St. Louis Rams/Oakland Raiders football game. Five Rams players (Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt) entered the stadium in the now classic “hands up/don’t shoot” position, as many protestors are doing.  Following this, the St. Louis police association strongly expressed their disapproval and “… called for the Rams and the NFL to apologize and discipline the players involved.”

This is certainly not the first time government officials tried to use the power of their office or position to stifle the free speech of NFL players.   In 2012, when Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo expressed support for marriage equality, Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns Jr called on the team owner to discipline Ayanbadejo and tell him to not talk about the issue.

In my home state of New Jersey, a similar incident happened in Trenton, also about the killing of Michael Brown. In this case, the Trenton Downtown Association (TDA) authorized a mural, and the artist painted a picture of Michael Brown with the words “Sagging pants is not probable cause.”  However, after the Trenton Police and the TDA had “discussions” the city painted over the mural.   Fortunately, the ACLU of New Jersey and the Trenton NAACP have voiced their disapproval and made OPRA (Open Public Records Act) requests to understand how this happened.

Should we give them the benefit of the doubt? Do the police and government officials really think they’re just using their first amendment rights to express their opinions?  I don’t think so. In most cases, they’re surely fully aware that people do what they say because of the power they have.  Their thoughts aren’t merely contributing to the marketplace of ideas, but they are using their power to accomplish what they want.

But it really doesn’t matter if government officials and the police think they are merely expressing their opinions.  We need to ensure that they don’t succeed in stifling free speech.

"Thank You Volunteers" cake

Non-profit micro-volunteering

Huffington Post has a short article on how to recruit non-profit board members who are concerned about the amount of time that it takes to be on a board.  Most of their suggestions are really ideas about how to run an efficient board (and letting potential board members that you do so).

However, sometimes being a board member isn’t the best use of time.  More and more I’m trying to think of “micro-volunteering” opportunities, both for my own service and for others who might work with the organizations I’m involved with.   Peggy Hoffman of Mariner Management and Marketing has written a lot about this concept.   Micro-volunteering can be as simple as asking people to be greeters at events, tweet about upcoming activities, or review papers for you.  These are short assignments, and often ones that can be done virtually.

This may require more oversight or thought (e.g., chunking volunteer efforts into discrete pieces), but the payoff can be worth it.  By engaging more volunteers, in roles that extend beyond your typical activities, you can expand your volunteer base and get more people with a greater connection to your organization.  This also can serve as a “feeder” to other, more long-term volunteer activities, including board service.


My ten-year-old cat, Beast

Cat blogging

It seems semi-obligatory for progressive blogs to post pictures of cats.  Here is mine.   Her name is Beast and she’s ten years old.   When she was found on the streets and taken to a foster home with her two siblings, she would stand in front and hiss at anyone who would approach, while the other two would hide in back.

However, she’s hardly beastly to me.   My wife has a different opinion however.


Continue reading Cat blogging