New York Times VP Debate Interactive

Oct 05 2008

I love this thing.

I watched bits and pieces of the VP debate on Thursday night, but had a bit cute overload watching Palin, and donchaknowit – I had to turn it off.

So friday I looked around the interwebs for a good thorough recap of the debate and found the New York Times interactive video of the debate. I watched the whole thing over the course of Friday, and that night showed my brother the highlights. It was so easy to pick out the best parts: Palin’s shout outs and winks, and Biden on McCain the maverick and his family.

New York Times vice-presidental debate interactive

New York Times debate interactive screenie

It would be great to see more video presented this way – especially talking-head video. Better yet nytimes should linkify the transcripts of the debate, allowing people to go in depth and find out what the candidates are talking about.


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Map-Timeline Flash project UPDATE

Aug 29 2008

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently working on a project for my “Advanced Multimedia Storytelling” class. I dove into a lot of different tools to throw together an interactive map-timeline flash app. I used a great little library called ModestMaps. You drop it into a flash project and you can get an instant draggable, zoomable map that can pull map images from Microsoft, Yahoo!, OpenStreetMap or images you generate yourself. I used a bunch of public domain GIS stuff – from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois – to generate a map that clearly highlights the CTA rail lines in Chicago. I used the wonderful Mapnik project to generate the image. Check out Paul Smith’s A List Apart article for more on rolling your own maps – it’s a great starting point.

My goal for the project was to compile accidents and derailments on the CTA rails from the past two years. I was surprised to find that there really isn’t a good public record of this. It’s easiest to find first or second day stories for about 3/4 of incidents, but many of those articles have important parts missing. Unfortunately I spent most of my time getting the flash together, so I only put a few incidents in at this point. I am working on a FOIA with the CTA to get some reports about the under-reported incidents. I worked with the media affairs department at CTA to get some of the data I wanted, but apparently they have no easy way to fill my request. I tried to the RTA, but after a couple weeks of phone tag, still haven’t received a report I asked for and was promised.

I would like to put this app up on it’s own site with a user-editable back end. Make it easy for others to records incidents on the CTA, and other time- and geo-tagged stories.

If you have any thoughts or ideas, drop me a comment.


Checkout the google code page to get the source code. Click on the source tab and follow the instructions. You need subversion to download the code.

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Killer news app for the mobile space?

Aug 06 2008

A couple weeks ago I stumbled across a neat little reading applet called You copy and paste text into the applet, and then it would flash each word at you one-by-one. The idea being that it forces you to read faster, teaches you speed read or whatever.

To be honest was a little annoying to use because I don’t read one word at a time. It takes a lot of concentration just to follow the story and is not a great experience. I thought it might be usable if it showed groups of words and phrases and put pauses between sentences and paragraphs.

However the little applet struck me as something that would fit very nicely on a small screen.

Well guess what folks. Someone did exactly that. Spreed:News is a relatively new web-app that rolls up an RSS reader with a spreeder-like widget. Spreed:News is a bit better than in that displays a few words at a time, instead of one. And they just launched an iPhone app.

Neat. If I had an iPhone I would give it a try.

They need to get this out for more mobile devices and start working with content providers.

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Chicago Sun-Times publishes database of names and salaries

Aug 05 2008

The Sun-Times published the names, salaries and positions of 145,000 Illinois, Cook County, and Chicago employees on their website this weekend. The names and salaries are online in the form of a simple searchable database. The reporter published a couple articles with analysis of the massive database. One article talked about the top ten earners and another took a look at the Chicago police commissioner, who is the top earner.

A classmate of mine told me about it. Why did they just publish it all, she asked. Most of these people are just honest employees. She looked up the name of her friend who works for the government and found out how much he makes, which is what the majority of folks will do with it.

I think could be an interesting open-source approach to journalism – make a FOIA and release all the data to the public (as long as there are no privacy implications, which there might be in this case). But the Sun-Times didn’t really release the source to their product. You have limited access.

I want a link to download a csv file. I want to plug it into Many Eyes. I want to run my own reports on it.

I don’t know if they published the information with the intention that others should use it to find stories. But that would be cool.

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Tribune redesign, newspaper salvation, in the works

Jul 22 2008

Looks like the new Tribune editor, Gerould Kern, is working on “saving” the newspaper. The reported redesign takes the news off the front page and buries it in the second section. Whats more important for the front page of a newspaper?

“Consumer-oriented and entertainment features.”

According to the article at Crain’s, Kern said the redesign is still a work in progress, but the Tribune Co. COO Randy Michaels has ordered some kind of redesign. I think the money quote from Kern is thus:

“The newspaper business is in crisis. I want to do everything in my power to save it.”

Sure it would be great to go back to the golden days of year over year growth, but the Internet has changed everything. The editor of the Chicago Tribune should be focused on saving the newsroom: the reporters, quality and values. Not an obsolete distribution mechanism.

I’m at a meeting of the Knight Foundation grantees in Chicago, today. We just finished lunch and heard the CEO and President of the foundation, Alberto Ibargüen, talk about how Knight has changed its focus from promoting best practices in journalism to figuring out what those practices are now. While talking about their focus on local and community news, Ibargüen said that they aren’t trying to “save the newspapers,” they’re trying to “save the values” of journalism.

Out the window was a reflection the Tribune Tower.

I wonder when those condos go on sale.

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Old fashion democracy with the Internet

Jul 21 2008

I’ve often wondered what would happen if we could put the legislative branch of the government online and let citizens vote on legislation directly. Get rid of all those layers of representation that we built up and have a true democratic system.

While that may never happen (and maybe should never happen), I stumbled on a site that allows you to vote directly on bills in congress and send your position into the appropriate representitive/senator: It keeps track of your state and congressional district and how you vote, and stacks up it’s members against thier representitives in Congress.

Pretty neat.

The site looks new and seems to have a small community at the moment, but it will be neat if it gets enough interest.

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Free the data and let us figure out what to do with it

Jul 08 2008

The UK government’s ‘Power of Information Task Force’ is holding a competition for the best way to make government data available to citizens. They are offering a 22,000 pound prize/grant to make the best idea happen. Whats really cool is that a bunch of UK agencies published new APIs to get the juices flowing and encourage some mashup-making.

On this side of the pond, a technology policy paper was released with a name that sounds like a Harry Potter book: “Government Data and the Invisible Hand.” The Princeton University authors argue that the government agencies make thier data available on their own websites when they really should be building APIs to let the public decide what to do with it.

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New Media

Jun 27 2008

After a few months of blogging at my site focused on technology and social issues at, I am re-focusing my time and effort on this new blog on technology and media. This will be a kind of personal/professional blog for me, and unlike the the last site, directly related to my primary interests and what I spend all my time doing these days.

I have a lot of experience with building and designing web sites and applications and recently switched gears to study journalism at Northwestern University. I’m halfway through the year long program, and things are going to start getting interesting. I spent the last six months learning how to write and report, and I am going to spend the next six honing my new media skills and working on projects.

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Internet companies say not enough bandwidth, no to net neutrality

Jun 02 2008

The Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council, a coalition of 160 Internet companies, met on capitol hill two weeks ago to discuss net neutrality.

The meeting hosted input from BitTorrent and other large network operators. Members of the coalition came down against any kind of regulation of their networks.

According to an article on, members are saying that BitTorrent and video downloads are beginning to consume a lot of bandwidth, and that the network operators need not be burdened by regulation when they manage their networks.

From the press release on the FTTH Council’s website:

“There is a continuing need to monitor and manage the networks to ensure available bandwidth for all subscribers,” said John Andrews, President of US Sonet [a major network operator]. “Network management is crucial and necessary for the success of new broadband applications and services. And, changing network threats require constantly changing network management practices.”

Network operators know better how to manage their network than politicians do. However customers get mad when they buy an Internet connection and can’t use it the way they expect.

Customer protection through simplicity. This is what network neutrality has to be about. Right now I pay for a 5 megabit Internet connection, and I can use that connection as much as I want whenever I want. Special exceptions to these rules will cause confusion and frustration. The Internet is complicated enough as it is.


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The Internet's impact in Chicago

Jun 02 2008

The Chicago Tribune published an article this weekend about the impact that the Internet can have on the lives of people who are trying to make ends meet. The article mentions the WiMax rollout in Chicago, and the Lt. Governor of Illinois’ recently introduced ordinance to provide 15,000 low-cost laptops to Chicago Public School kids.

But the article is really about how the Internet gives people access to a whole new world. From the article:

Michael Bailey, who helps provide computer training for Chicago Housing Authority
residents, said that once people develop computer skills “they start to see that they can succeed. When they have the motivation, you begin to see lifestyle changes.”

The article quotes one woman who has a computer but cannot afford Internet service. She has a paying job, but other things are more important. But it started me thinking, for those who have a modest income, for whom a high-speed Internet connection might just be a little too expensive, could Internet access actually pay for itself?

With a little motivation, the Internet opens up a boat load of opportunity. Just getting the tools to apply to one job a day, or using online resources to education oneself, Internet access could result in a higher paying job. For those with time, who are willing to put some effort, everything a person would need to make money from the Internet is freely available online.

Is the Internet worth springing for, even if it might put a family outside their means? How long would it take for Internet access in a household to pay for itself?

One response so far

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