Sounds of the street

Over at Tumblr I have an ongoing project I call Audio Litter. When I see a discarded CD, cassette, pair of earbuds, or other audio carrier or listening device, I snap a photo and post it. Simple. Most of the photos I’ve taken so far have been on my walk between my apartment in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island and the SI Ferry terminal.

I was inspired by the changing character of our audio litter — more cheap earbuds, fewer CDs — and I had been thinking along the same lines as Atlantic writer Adrienne LaFrance who last year filed a piece on deteriorating CDs:

Disc drives are disappearing from newer models of laptops and cars. Many of the places we used to buy CDs—Tower Records, Sam Goody, Borders—are gone. The memory of jogging with a Discman in hand seems absurd now, but that rain-slicker-yellow Sony Sports model was once top of the line. Even the iPod that replaced it feels like a brick compared with its slim successors.

Yes, the ubiquity of a once dominant media is again receding. Like most of the technology we leave behind, CDs are are being forgotten slowly. Eventually, even the fragments disappear. No more metallic shards of broken discs glinting from the gutter. No more old strands of tape cassette tangled in tree branches like tinsel. We stop using old formats little by little. They stop working. We stop replacing them. And, before long, they’re gone.

But once I started keeping my eyes peeled for this musical trash, I was surprised at the number of CDs and even cassettes I found on sidewalks, streets, and medians. Of course, in my neighborhood there are a lot of cars, and older cars do still have players for these things. That would explain the shattered Belkin cassette adapter I found last December. But I expect to make fewer discoveries like these in the years ahead.

Diving into the 2010 “shock plunge” in NYC math test scores

“Shock plunge in kid test scores,” screamed the New York Post in late July 2010. “New York City test scores plummet year after officials makes statewide exams tougher,” was the Daily News headline, while the sober New York Times went with, “Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests.” At the time I was working for the United Federation of Teachers, the labor union that represents New York City’s public school teachers, so I remember the story well. In a way, it’s a simple cause-and-effect: after New York State education officials raised the standards for proficiency in math more kids failed the math test. But thanks to NYC’s commitment to open data we can dig into the test data and hopefully learn a little more about what happened in 2010.
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