Monday, January 3, 2011

He Went Thataway


With the new year, I've moved my blog to a new service. The story continues over here.

If you happen to be following me via RSS (cool), please recalibrate your reader to

See you there.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weaving a Patchwork Map ... in Real Time

We did something a little creative and unique at WNYC this past election night: We mapped the vote by "community type."

This revealed the diversity of the vote across New York State -- from the cities to the suburbs, boom towns and "service worker" centers -- in real time, on the air and on the WNYC home page.

And the diversity is striking. Despite Democratic wins in every statewide race, the Republicans running for state attorney general and comptroller "won" every community type outside "Industrial Metropolis" and "Campus & Careers" counties.

Patchwork Nation's Dante Chinni talked about this on air during WNYC's coverage election night, and has written more about it since.

The live map was a mashup of Patchwork Nation's unique take on the nation and the Associated Press's live vote totals. At the request of WNYC, Patchwork Nation programmers dove into the AP test results and quickly wove them into a new map based on PN's existing county maps -- customizing them for the event and adding real-time percentages by community type.

Bringing the Threads Together

In the months before the election, I had wondered how we might better understand the early returns -- those that come in typically between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. -- which often don't match the final results. I wanted more clarity.

At a Hacks/Hackers Open-Source-a-Thon, I started playing with the election data with help from Al Shaw (then at TalkingPointsMemo, now at ProPublica) and Chrys Wu (of Hacks/Hackers and ONA fame).

That evolved into a little program I wrote in Sinatra that generated vote-total map at the left, shading counties darker as more of their precincts reported. It also helped me better understand how the data were structured, how to retrieve the numbers and what it might take to make a live map.

So when Chinni asked if WNYC had any county-level data sets we'd like to put through the Patchwork Nation treatment, I had the perfect candidate.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Open All Night: The Great Urban Hack NYC

For 26 hours this weekend, a bunch of journalists and coders got together to make lots of great things designed to help the citizens of New York City.

My blog post summarizing the event and all of the resulting projects is upon Hacks/Hackers.

I helped Jenny 8. Lee, Chrys Wu and Stephanie Pereira organize the event. Then I joined a team working with digital heaps of NYC taxi trip data to make data visualizations and start some other projects. My favorite one is here (with a detail below), which is a representation of taxi usage for 24 hours, set around a clock. Beautiful. It was built by Zoe Fraade-Blanar using Processing and data crunched by the other teammates.

Click image for full view
I came away from the event with many new connections, excitement about learning Processing, some more skills in Sinatra and a note to check out Bees with Machine Guns(!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Open Ideas at the Open Source-athon

Wow: I learned a ton at the Hacks/Hackers Open(source).athon this weekend.

Check out the great writeup of the day for a summary of the event. Personally, I worked on recrafting some Associated Press Election data for a project we're working on at WNYC. I also had conversations that could lead to several collaborations, and even got some tips for programming in Ruby and Sinatra.

The day also gave me a great frame for my next hackathon, which is being run November 8 and 9 by Hacks/Hackers and Eyebeam, with support from WNYC and The Knight Foundation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Creatively Covering NY's New Ballot

New York switches to a new paper tomorrow -- Primary Day -- and ballot designers say voters likely will be confused.

At WNYC, we're covering this story in several ways that go beyond audio and written text.

Ballot Markup

For one, we had ballot designers help us annotate a ballot using DocumentCloud.

Sourcing Through Texting

For two, we're welcoming voters to share their experiences with the ballot via text. They (or you!) sign up by texting BALLOT to 30644.

Video Fun

The whole thing started when our host Brian Lehrer and reporter Azi Paybarah actually tried the sample ballot and made several mistakes. Which leads me to the third component: A video about using the new ballot:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hacking Journalism with Sidewalk Chalk

My presentation before a room full of talented programmers next week Thursday will include hair salons, semi-trailer trucks and sidewalk chalk.

It's TimesOpen 2.0, where digital tinkerers gather to talk about online data from the New York Times and the latest trends in information technology.

Next Thursday is Mobile/Geolocation night (which is free). Presenters will include Mano Marks from Google, John Britton from Twilio, Matt Kelly from Facebook and me. I'll be talking about The Takeaway's Sourcing Through Texting project.

My preso will likely be the lowest-tech of the bunch. Our aim was, and is, to connect journalists and citizen-sources using basic text messages, and our method was brainstorming, learning and prototyping in two neighborhoods -- Southwest Detroit and Miami's Little Haiti. We absorbed a ton. (And we sparked an investigative series on illegal truck traffic.)

There are certainly opportunities here to mash up APIs and build on some nifty platforms. I'll talk about that, too.  But as we continue working toward connecting with sources via texting, some of our best insights have come from coffee shop conversations, church bulletin announcements and short-codes scrawled on sidewalks.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Experimental Honor

What's so exceptional about the journalism innovation award The Takeaway won yesterday is that it's not for a broadcast, a series or a blog post.

It's for an experiment.

"Sourcing Through Texting" has been a process of immersion, exploration and rapid prototyping. Journalists and community leaders spend time in a neighborhood focusing on a simple question: How might reporters and citizen-sources make better connections through texting?

The answers are still emerging. We're still making prototypes. Yet, yesterday the concept won a Knight-Batten Special Distinction Award for innovation in journalism.

Since the award application went in, we've gone to Miami to run another experiment in Little Haiti, and Detroit's WDET aired a week-long series that evolved from the project.

That the award effectively predates those happenings is a huge jolt of support for experimentation, design thinking in journalism and everyone who contributed to this unique collaboration.

That includes folks from The Takeaway, Public Radio International, WNYC Radio, WDET Detroit, WLRN Miami, The Miami Herald, American Public Media's Public Insight Network, Mobile Commons, the Institute of Design at Stanford and the residents of Southwest Detroit and Miami's Little Haiti.


Sourcing Through Texting is a project of The Takeaway, which is produced by WNYC Radio and Public Radio International. It was made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

Disclosure and disclaimer: I helped develop and produce this project. As always, the words here are my own and not those of my employer or any of the entities mentioned.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

NYC Taxi Visualizations: The Pulse of the City

Fantastic presentation of GPS data from New York City Taxis in the New York Times today. So many stories embedded here, giving a wonderful sense of the city.

The ability to "play" the data is especially key. And the treatment itself hits all of my buttons. You just get it.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

This Is Not A Bag

So says the bag my new Timbuk2 bag came in.

No, it's actually a durable, waterproof San Francisco bike map!

Reduce, reuse, reuse. Nice.

Excellent Elevator Art

The elevators in this atrium beautifully blend the digital and the physical ... and celebrate books in the process.

They're in downtown Minneapolis at the Hennepin County Central Library.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Secret Decoder Ring

Today our education reporter had a bunch of data from New York State she was trying to match to schools in New York City. But the school codes used by the two governments look radically different.

For example, PS 15 on the Lower East Side is known to the state as 310100010015; the city calls it 01M015.

I once made a nifty formula to make the conversion(!), but a more straightforward and official approach involves the Excel spreadsheet found here. It lists all of the city schools, along with their addresses, various codes, and more. For a data cruncher, that's a secret decoder ring.

What made me smile was that the only reason I knew this document even existed was because of a little prototype I tried during the first swine flu outbreak. That experiment wasn't robust enough to make it beyond this blog, but it taught me a lot ... including where to find this ring!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Movies & Demographics

What a great visualization of Netflix movie-rental data from the New York Times! Love how you can see how different movies play across the city.

It's even more interesting when you know something about the demographic makeup of the zip codes. Look how the Harlem River between upper Manhattan and the South Bronx is a bright dividing line for almost every movie.

How about a mashup that would reflect this info and demographic data simultaneously?

(tip via Nate Westheimer @innonate)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Connecting Journalists and Technologists

Tuesday night I'll have the fantastic privilege of making a quick presentation at the NY Tech Meetup about our news-technology efforts at WNYC. I'll also invite folks to connect with us in the interest of, well, the public good.

Huge thanks to Nate Westheimer for his interest in our work and the opportunity to say a few words.

Acknowledgment where due: WNYC's public radio news-tech projects, including the Super Simple Mapping tool, are supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Code For Good (and Money)

WNYC is looking for news technologists who want to code with a purpose -- helping public radio stations cover the news and connect with listeners. These projects are funded in part by support from the Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Here's the posting:

WNYC Seeks Programmers with a Passion for News for Contract Project Work

WNYC Radio is working on several news application projects for public radio stations (including ours), and we're looking for more people to join our team to experiment, play and code. We're driven by a culture of prototyping, a bias toward action, a principle of show over tell, and a commitment to journalism.


* A passion for the news
* An understanding of the inner workings of the web
* Attention to detail, fairness and accuracy
* A genuine sense of collaboration, innovation, creativity and quality

And, of course…

* Fantastic programming skills and a love for the craft of making software in the public interest.

In particular, we're looking for people who have strong skills with the following:

* Python
* Django
* PostgreSQL
* Ubuntu Linux + Amazon EC2

If you know PostGIS and GeoDjango, that's great, too.

Right now we're signing up people on short-term contracts keyed to specific projects we're starting or building. You don't have to be in NYC to take part (though it's great if you are).

If this sounds like you or someone you know, drop us a note and a sense of your work at with "Contract ProgNews" and your last name in the subject line. We want to hear from you as soon as possible, but no later than January 15, 2010.

WNYC makes decisions to contract services without regard to race, creed, sex, color, religion, gender, national origin, ancestry, age, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, marital status, veteran status, citizenship status, or any other basis protected by applicable law.

(Credit where due: This description was inspired by and built from one posted by the Chicago Tribune news apps team, a group for which I have heaps of respect and admiration!)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Super Simple Mapping Tool

Making collaborative maps is easier than ever. But maybe not quite easy enough.

One of the projects I'm working on at the moment is a super-duper-simple tool to help public radio and television stations (and pretty much anyone else) collect and map local information from their audience.

We're in the design phase right now, and we've mocked it up for feedback. The video is below.

Whaddya think? Let us know!