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The Boston Globe gets a look at a DB of every bomb the US has ever dropped (bostonglobe.com)
81 points by eob on July 30, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments



   He worked nights and weekends finding out. 
   Robertson unearthed 1,000 original World War I 
   raid reports, and entered each by hand. For World War II,
   he scanned roughly 10,000 hand-written or typed pages.
   More modern conflicts meant combing a hodgepodge of
   conflict-specific databases.

This is the kind of thing I wish they [the Pentagon] would open up to hackathons. How many hours of this valuable historian's time was wasted doing manual entry, something that could've been expedited with some mTurk + OCR work? Not all civic data projects draw attention, but this one at least has the cachet of notable history, worldwide good (to help identify areas of possible unexploded unordinance) and, of course, things that go boom.


Those reports could contain phrases like "we didn't see our target, so we dropped them on the city". Making them public could be painful for some people and might lead to litigation.

I also guess most of the time spent will be spent in interpretation (is this target code consistent with what we know happened from other sources?), not in data entry.


Are you sure that the reports aren't already public? Are you saying that aircrews were allowed to pick their own secondary targets if their primary targets were not reachable?


Saying: no. That 'could' and that 'guess' give that away. I do think there will be quite a few non-public reports in there, certainly for recent history (Iraq, Afghanistan)


How many "hackathons" are about pure data entry? In my opinion the hackathon comes after the data entry process...


5x Redudant Mechanical Turks? (I've made up the 5x, not an expert in redudancy, but just thought if 5 people enter the same information about same bomb, it might be considered safe).


The point is that a lot of this could get automated and plenty of hackers would've been willing to help out.

Edit: Fuck it, I'll make something to help normal people do this.


Right, the goal could've been to create a framework for splitting apart documents, recaptcha-like, and sending it out to mTurk or other transcription services. OBviously, there are tons of datasets to build this against, but this one might have sparked extra interst.


I expect he had help with the manual work. Personally I think this is an excellent use of a historians time.


It is worth pointing out that the article never claims that the database contains information on every bomb the US has ever dropped. The article clearly states that more information is needed, eg:

    "For the Korean War Robertson found the detailed mission records for the 
    first 10 months of the three-year conflict but he is still trying to 
    get his hands on the rest."


"One particularly relevant example: From October 1965 to May 1975, at least 456,365 cluster bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, according to the records analyzed. Cluster munitions, designed to release small bomblets, often did not explode on impact and still pose a hazard to villagers."

Apparently Laos is the most bombed country in the world:

"During the Vietnam War, Laos was the target of the heaviest US bombing campaign since World War II, making Laos the most bombed country in history."[1]

I believe the story is that US B52 bombers would take off out of Thailand to drop their load on Vietnam targets. However, if they bypassed their target they were not allowed to dispose of their load on Vietnam terriroty. Since the bombers can't land with their load on board it has to be disposed of before landing. Apparently Laos was the place of choice. [2]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bomb_Harvest

[2] http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/bombies-the-secret-war/


> Apparently Laos is the most bombed country in the world

Yep that is unfortunately true, and many people there are still suffering from this today. The famed Ho Chi Minh Trail went primarily through eastern Laos as well. It's such a shame, Laos is a wonderful, beautiful country full of good people who were never involved in any conflict.


"The database, he said, has recently been used to investigate civilian deaths in Afghanistan and to judge claims by Iraqi villagers that bombs containing depleted uranium contaminated their water supply."

Wait, how about we have a "hackathon" to figure out ways to stops those bombs from being dropped in the first place! That would be totes awesome!




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