I decided this year to get accustomed to both Python and Ruby and spent quite some time getting my 10.5.8 Leopard mac working with Xcode and pip and all sorts of Terminal-coding-environment things that were quite buggy, as it turns out. (Whoever recommended to me to use MacPorts last year: Shame on you.)
Now that I have nice virtualenv Python instances and tidy little rbenv Ruby silos, it’s all fun and games. I install libraries into my selected builds, and it works. So I’m finally able to run sample code without it throwing a whole bunch of errors about how outdated my environment is. (So embarrassing!)
I’ve just started on Dan Nguyen‘s The Bastards Book of Ruby, where he actually encourages cut-and-run in chapter 2, on ‘Tweet Fetching’, perhaps just to get you excited about coding. (It runs! It does stuff! I’m hacking Twitter!)
But yeah, I mean, it is fun.
When the exercises turned to downloading and running some simple stats on sets of tweets, I decided to use something that is much more interesting than my own feed: @ScanBC.
ScanBC is an online community in British Columbia of people who like to monitor emergency radio communications* — and in some cases, hook up and stream live feeds over the Internet.
Occasionally, someone from within that community tweets out what is overheard… and if you’re trying to get a handle on what big police/fire/ambulance incidents are going down across the province in real time, it’s a great account to follow.
When I began working regular weekends at a news desk job, I added ScanBC into the routine of all the feeds I monitor and follow, and quickly became a big fan.**
So I edited and ran the Tweet Fetching Ruby scripts provided in The Bastards Book, and got a glimpse into the makeup of what did get re-broadcast via the ScanBC Twitter account:
You might have to lean in close to the screen to read that. Sorry.
The last list of Twitter usernames is the list of accounts that ScanBC replied to at some point.
The top 20 words, and top 20 ‘longer’ words almost tell a compound story of what happens in a typical emergency here.
The only thing that is a little misleading is the average tweet rate, of about 2 per day. Though the account was established in 2009, it didn’t really go into frequent use until June 2011.
If I chop off the oldest page of results (I downloaded 19 pages of ~100 tweets each), then I get a better sense of frequency: between 6 and 7 per day, on average.
Over time, that’s a lot of monitoring. That’s a lot of work.
* Is there a word to describe yourself if this is you? Like “trainspotters,” is there a word such as “scannerheads”?
** Note that, as a rule, most news organizations (the ones I know, anyhow) do not rely on or report on information gleaned from radio/scanner feeds directly, or indirectly. For a story to use information that went out over the scanner, official confirmation is often required.