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Open Data Tells NYC Residents Where the Rats Are 93

Posted by samzenpus
from the save-the-cheese dept.
itwbennett writes "The New York City Health Department's Rat Information Portal provides raw data on where the rats are, based on inspections done by the health department, as well as by their rat indexing initiative. The portal isn't a new open data initiative, but if you're a NYC resident and not a big fan of rodents, the site is worth a look. 'The most interesting part of the portal is the interactive heat map of rat inspection data,' says ITworld's Phil Johnson. 'Using this interactive map, you can look up the inspection history, going back to 2009, for any address in the five boroughs. It will tell you the dates and results of any inspections, as well of any follow up compliance checks. As for raw data, the site provides city-wide rat reports, aggregated to the zip code level, going back to 2006.'"
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Open Data Tells NYC Residents Where the Rats Are

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  • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @08:45PM (#46041739)
    And not Washington. Holy crap, the map would just be red, highlighted by ultra red around congress.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      And not Washington. Holy crap, the map would just be red, highlighted by ultra red around congress.

      Yeah, yeah. But seriously, have you been in a big city and seen the swarms of rats? Chilling.

      • There is something preternaturally chilling about the sight of both rats and roaches, something ingrained in our DNA perhaps, and these vermin are ubiquitous in human history.

        "If you're a NYC resident and not a big fan of rodents..." __What's a guesstimate on the percentage?

        • by reub2000 (705806)

          Somehow I doubt that fear of certain animals are ingrained in our DNA. Certain animals are considered pests or cute based on personal experience and cultural factors. Certainly I consider snakes to be scary, while many people consider them to be good pets.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @10:36PM (#46042505) Homepage Journal

        Urban rats are manageable if people aren't pigs. But we've got rats here in Chicago who can chew through a heavy-duty plastic municipal garbage bin. At first, I would see these big bites taken out of the garbage can lids and I had no idea what they were, then one day I'm walking the dog and she scares a rat who was sitting on top of the can chewing the lid. It was the first one I'd seen.

        Considering how few rats I've actually set eyes on and the number of bites taking out of the garbage cans out in the alley, Chicago rats must wear cloaks of invisibility or something. I'm out walking the dog 365 days a year, morning, noon and night and I've probably seen two rats in 10 years.

        Racoons on the other hand are another story. There were some living under the gutter of the house that was being renovated a few doors away. They were as big as Shetland ponies. I mean giant. And they make this weird mewling/growling sound that sounds like they're possessed by Satan.

        Urban wildlife. Dude.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Out in the wild areas of wild north america, we get around the problem of wildlife getting into the garbage by using lid-locking metal cans. I've yet to see something chew through galvanized steel, and do it successfully. Even the bears give up after a time if they can't smash the lid off.

          • by Trepidity (597)

            One issue in urban (and suburban) areas is that, to save pickup costs, cities are increasingly using automated pickup systems [youtube.com] so they can run 1-man-crew garbage trucks, and those don't work with locking lids, at least at present.

            • by Mashiki (184564)

              Out in Alberta they make bins that have a lock, but are reinforced plastic. And can be auto-unlocked by the handler on the truck. I should have taken some pictures of it when I was out there, since it was neat as anything.

        • Did you know even some *humans* live there in the wilderness? Even though it looks like a ghost town, if you look carefully, you can sometimes still find a home that still has someone living in it.
          • by PopeRatzo (965947)

            Chicago looks like a ghost town? Are you insane? Right now it's 25 degrees below zero windchill outside and there are still a half-million people who come downtown to work. I live just to the West of downtown. If the Sears Tower were to top over to the West, the tip of the antenna would fall on my bed, hopefully on my wife's side. I'm in a better position to see Chicago than you, certainly. Don't mistake Chicago for Detroit.

            Cities are like women (sexist metaphor coming!). Chicago and Detroit are both

        • But we've got rats here in Chicago who can chew through a heavy-duty plastic municipal garbage bin.

          All rodents can do that, including mice and voles. The thing that's different about Chicago is that the humans are so detached from nature that they don't know this.

          Rodents cannot chew through glass, and it takes them a very long time to chew through metal or concrete. If you live near rodents, use a galvanized metal can; if you live near raccoons or possums use raccoon springs.

          • by PopeRatzo (965947)

            The thing that's different about Chicago is that the humans are so detached from nature that they don't know this.

            I'll have you know we Chicagoans are not detached from nature, my friend. In fact, just last week I had a pigeon crap on my car and last spring I ran over a squirrel.

            I got yer nature right over here.

            • I wish I could "like" your post, but on the other hand slashdot on its worst day is probably still better than Facebook.

      • by jd2112 (1535857)

        And not Washington. Holy crap, the map would just be red, highlighted by ultra red around congress.

        Yeah, yeah. But seriously, have you been in a big city and seen the swarms of rats? Chilling.

        At least they got rid of that Bloomberg rat.

    • by Krishnoid (984597) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @08:56PM (#46041865) Journal
      That's really not fair to rats, considering the research results showing their empathy for their fellow rodent [phys.org].
      • Politicians also display strong tendencies to keep each other out of jail... It's just that their empathic behavior drops off pretty sharply with distance.
      • by nbauman (624611)

        In contrast to some humans I can think of.

        http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c... [nytimes.com]

      • Rats are very cool animals as long as they're not in your food supply or carrying plague. They're naturally very timid, but can make good pets once they get used to being around people. I have rats around to feed my Ball Pythons, but I've had several that were extremely friendly and became pets. They can turn their feet backwards to help in climbing ropes, which is pretty weird to see.
    • by TripleE78 (883800)

      Haha, jokes about congresscritters aside, D.C. and surrounding inner suburbs really do have a serious rat (the actual animal) problem.

      Besides, you forgot K St NW. It's where all the lobbyists are.

  • Bioengineer RFID chips into all the NYC rats so you can tell where every one of the little bastards are at all times.

    • Bioengineer RFID chips into all the NYC rats so you can tell where every one of the little bastards are at all times.

      Woudln't work -- not only are they intelligent enough to remove the chips and hide them in other mobile objects, NYC gets a constant stream of rodent migrants coming in by land, air and sea. At which point, if you could bioengineer an RFID chip that would be dominant, why not just bioengineer dominant male infertility?

      • You'd probably need something more subtle... You want a trait that substantially enhances the target's reproductive chances (so that the trait spreads through the population as quickly and thoroughly as possible, per unit expense of introducing new engineered carriers); but somehow either makes them less noxious, or cripples them. If you are too good at engineering an aggressively heritable trait, you'll just strengthen the target population; but if you dial up the lethal/fertility-compromising, your carrie
        • by Cryacin (657549)

          As an alternative, you could try to implement the defect in a viral vector, and have that spread through the population. They've done some work in Australia trying to get virally-transmitted immunocontraceptives to work on rabbits...

          Yeah... what could *possibly* go wrong with that? Why don't you start by cross breeding AIDS with ebola?

          • Oh, you worrywart you. Just think of how much more pleasant airplanes, movie theaters, and similar crowded public spaces would be without obnoxious screaming babies and children kicking the back of your seat!
        • by icebike (68054)

          Maybe you need generation skipping genetic flaws that will not kick in until the entire population is infected.
          Then the sterility gene suddenly turns on.

          Seems unlikely this could be contained, and would probably spread out of control via some unforeseen vector.

      • by icebike (68054)

        why not just bioengineer dominant male infertility?

        In theory, that sounds like the fastest route to reducing rat populations.
        One generation, and done.

        In practice, it simply isn't likely to propagate, so dominant mail infertility is an oxymoron.
        (I can only assume you had your tongue firmly lodged in your cheek when you suggested it).

        However non-lethal chemical castration can work to make a drastic temporary reduction in
        population, if rats weren't so smart. You would have to come up with constantly changing feeding
        techniques so you don't end up eradicating on

        • why not just bioengineer dominant male infertility?

          In theory, that sounds like the fastest route to reducing rat populations.
          One generation, and done.

          In practice, it simply isn't likely to propagate, so dominant mail infertility is an oxymoron.
          (I can only assume you had your tongue firmly lodged in your cheek when you suggested it).

          However non-lethal chemical castration can work to make a drastic temporary reduction in
          population, if rats weren't so smart. You would have to come up with constantly changing feeding
          techniques so you don't end up eradicating only those rats that eat corn, or only those
          that live in buildings.

          I'm curious: why don't you think it would propagate? Something similar has already successfully been done in certain species of mosquitoes successfully.
          Dominant male infertility propagates through the females, who carry the dominant gene to their male and female offspring. The male offspring cannot reproduce, but still compete with the males that can, which provides a slow generational decline (which is important) in population, until the only female mice still in the area are all carrying the dominant ge

          • by icebike (68054)

            Mosquitoes are irradiated, not genetically modified.

            New experiments [treehugger.com] that painstakingly injected male mosquito embryos [nature.com] are simply too expensive to use in the field. Surgically injecting a mosquito or a rat does not scale.

            In short, they aren't "breeding" sterile males, they have to make them one by one in a laboratory.

            Further nobody has ever demonstrated this in a mammal. Further your statement:

            The male offspring cannot reproduce, but still compete with the males that can, which provides a slow generational decline (which is important) in population, until the only female mice still in the area are all carrying the dominant gene,

            is chock full of magical thinking.

            Where did all these female carrier "mice" come from? (The story is about rats, n

      • by Anonymous Coward

        why not just bioengineer dominant male infertility?

        The problem there is that it just doesn't breed true.

    • by khelms (772692)
      What if they learn to put wet towels around their heads?
    • Or just track the phones of everyone who works on Wall St, and get the same data more easily.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Introduce some new workers on the payroll ... cats. Spayed and full treatments. Have them able to be clearly identifiable so people know they are on the job.

    I moved into a new suburb that is predominately a dog neighbourhood about two years ago. I still wake up most mornings to a nice dead rat on the welcome mat. I still cannot believe the number of rats that he's caught.

    And don't hit me with the argument of native wildlife. Dogs are just as bad and most species now are introduced. The hit rate of ver

    • Introduce some new workers on the payroll ... cats. Spayed and full treatments. Have them able to be clearly identifiable so people know they are on the job.

      I moved into a new suburb that is predominately a dog neighbourhood about two years ago. I still wake up most mornings to a nice dead rat on the welcome mat. I still cannot believe the number of rats that he's caught.

      And don't hit me with the argument of native wildlife. Dogs are just as bad and most species now are introduced. The hit rate of vermin to non vermin way, way high.

      In some cities there are coyotes brought in for this purpose. http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulw... [npr.org]

  • by mbstone (457308) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @09:05PM (#46041961)
    • by game kid (805301)

      They check the map, yes, but they also look up advice on how best to treat, play with, and groom their pet humans. It's not like they only chase after food, now.

  • by swb (14022) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @09:09PM (#46042005)

    I'd like to see a Google Maps mashup with the data overlayed over it for better panning and zooming.

    The NYC GIS map is awkward to use and the rat data doesn't appear to show above a very close in zoom level.

    There may be some other link to a city-wide heat map but I didn't find it on the rat portal web site and slashdot's total brain damaged linking to most stories doesn't help.

    • Many municipalities have (usually hidden somewhere in the dusty crevices of their websites, sometimes not even that visible) proper GIS data access in place. The web-based viewers, while convenient, are usually pretty terrible (Google's is at least polished, if pretty lightweight). If they offer access to the data, though, you can have a proper application take care of that problem for you.
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      That's what we need on Google Maps, a rat overlay. It'd look like the traffic overlay, except red would indicate a significant likelihood of being eaten.

  • How about that; it's centered in Washington DC.

  • by Nemyst (1383049) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @09:30PM (#46042143) Homepage
    Seriously, a health department makes a project with the acronym RIP? I hope they weren't dead serious about it.
  • City Hall?

  • by koan (80826)

    Don't you mean "Rodent Americans".

  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:35AM (#46043257) Homepage Journal

    and public health data, I'm always skeptical about datasets and maps like this. The reason is that what looks like a lot of data usually turns out to be not that much when you spread it out over all the environment you have to deal with. And it usually turns out to have all kinds of selection biases too -- at least the found stuff; data you collect as a side effect of other activities, rather than collected according to some kind of sampling protocol.

    To see what I mean, look at the rodent heat map of NYC. You'll see red hot parcels adjacent to ice-cold parcels. Sometimes you'll have an ice-cold parcel with no reports surrounded on three sides by red hot parcels. Does that mean that one side of the boundary is teaming with rats and the other side has none whatsoever? Of course not. It means that somebody has reported a lot of rats on the "hot" parcel. Why is this? Well, maybe there's an observant resident. Maybe there's a place where it's particularly easy to see rats going about their business. Or maybe the residents of an area have banded together to generate a lot of reports so the city will do something. I've certainly seen stuff like that happen.

    Imagine you are a rat looking at NYC. What are your top priorities? (1) water; (2) food, (3) shelter (or harborage in the rat watcher's lingo). And you're going to find those things *everywhere* in NYC. In fact the best places for you will be where you can go about your business unnoticed. There are many, many blocks with no rat reports surrounded by very similar blocks with lots of rat reports, and I'm guessing it's not because there are no rats there. And I doubt there's much more than a weak correlation between the rat population in an area and the number of reports.

    Don't get me wrong. I think it's terrific NYC is making this data available. But I doubt you can conclude much about the rat population of your block from rat reports; it's safe to assume there are rats everywhere. If you want to know which blocks have the most rats, what you need is a field survey performed by experts.

  • automatic rat killing machines
    http://www.wisecon.dk/?lang=en [wisecon.dk]
    in the sewers and you have a rat massacre. :)

  • The portal isn't a new open data initiative, but if you're a NYC resident and not a big fan of rodents, the site is worth a look.

    It's also worth a look if you are a big fan of rodents.

  • Here [google.com] they are! Get them! Squash 'm! Eradicate 'm! Rid the world of this vermin!

  • The rat problem in NYC seems to be legendary. But, if there wasn't as much for them to eat then it wouldn't be an issue any bigger than any other city, right? Are there better solutions found in treating the cause rather than controlling the symptom?
  • "You can generate maps of neighborhood rat inspectation [sic] data."

    It's confusing that the high rat density areas are shown in green, since many of the areas happen to be parks and parks are normally green on maps. Plus, green usually means 'go' and is a pleasant color that makes me think "this is good".

    It also struck me funny that the department is actually called "The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene"

    Reminds me I need to pick up some mental floss at the drugstore.

  • You cook 'em right, they're good eating, rats. Vermin problem? No problem!

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