CTA Incidents project code up

Nov 10 2008 Published by Ryan under Projects

I’ve setup a Google code project with my work on the CTA Accidents and Derailments project. I’m slowly plugging away at building a Django back-end to make data entry simple and open to everyone.

If you are interested in contributing to this project in any way send me a message or leave a comment.

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enviroVOTE is a sucess! UPDATE

Nov 05 2008 Published by Ryan under Projects

My fellow hacker j-school classmate Brian Boyer and I spent our weekend putting together a web site called enviroVOTE. It tracked the election results and showed the envirominty-ness of the elected candidates. We lined-up candidates with endorsements each received from environmental interest groups and used a meter to show how the environment was faring in the election.

Lifted from my story on the News 21 project website:

How might this election change our country’s policy on the environment? At enviroVOTE.us, we show you the potential impact of this election by reporting how people are voting for candidates endorsed by environmental groups.

The centerpiece of the Web site is a large meter that fills up based on the number of newly elected candidates with environmental credentials. We are also comparing this year’s election with previous elections to see if the new crop of law-makers are greener then the last. Think environmintier officials to freshen the breath of the country.

Drill down through the site and find the meters for the results in specific states. Look at individual races to see what endorsements the candidates received and find out more about each candidate.

The night went well, we ran into some technical issues throughout the evening, but no show stoppers. Brian did a great job of promoting the hell out of the site. Here is some of the coverage:

Brian also setup a twitter page. At the last minute, he wired up envirovote to automatically twitter as we updated election results in the system. Very cool.

We had a lot of help from Medill grad students Alexander Reed and Julia Dilday, without whom entering all the election results would not have been possible.


Another post about enviroVOTE:

AcClimate: How “enviro” were Tuesday’s votes?

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Map-Timeline Flash project UPDATE

Aug 29 2008 Published by Ryan under Projects

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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Web standards body gets involved in social development

May 27 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international body charged with managing the standard file formats and protocols that make the web work, has formed a group to look into connecting people with mobile phones. The Mobile Web for Social Development interest group (or MW4D, they really like acronyms) will be looking in how to better utilize mobile phone networks to provide services to rural and under-privileged communities in developing countries.

Mobile phones are increasingly touted as the key to issues from how to provide content to people to how to get rural communities online. Wireless cell networks are cheaper and easier to setup and phones have become inexpensive. The MW4D will bring together industry leaders in mobile technology and hopefully come up with some good ideas on how to make use of these networks.

Although the mobile device is hailed as by content producers looking for the next revolution, it has a way to go before it can be use for more than the simple communications it’s designed for.

I have a Windows smart phone right now, and it was the top-of-the-line when I bought it from AT&T last summer. Let me tell you, I really don’t like using for anything other than making calls, sending texts and sending emails. The screen is too small, the software is not well designed and the Internet connection is slow in most places. In the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to use an iPhone and I have been impressed by how it seems to finally fix most of the problems with using a mobile phone to access Internet services. Most mobile web pages are added as an afterthought, but the iPhone gets around this by doing a great job of displaying full size web pages.

It’s good to see W3C paying attention to the problem of using Internet services on mobile phones. We shouldn’t all have to buy iPhones to be able to make use of services on the web, mobile device designers and content creators need to focus on the big opportunity on the small screen.

via Businesswire and Cellular News

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ITU in Honduras, connecting communities

May 19 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

The ITU, or International Telecommunication Union, has produced another video about their efforts to connect  a remote and impoverished area of Honduras. They sent out a technician to install a wireless telephone that locals can use to communicate. This kind of thing can make a big impact in communities, allowing businesses to communicate with suppliers and buyers who only come to town once and a while.

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Technology creating generation of 'nobodies' says scientist

May 11 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

Oxford professor and neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield, said children’s brains are rotting from too much exposure to technology. In an interview for The Sunday Times Life & Style section about her life and work, Greenfield discusses her theory about the effect of video games and Internet Media exposure on the brain chemistry of developing children.

Greenfield theorizes that the structure of modern technology emphasizes method over content and will rob children of imagination, creativity and personality:

If the purpose of a game, for instance, is to free the princess from the tower, it is the thrill of attaining the goal, the process, that counts. What does not count is the content – the personality of the princess and the narrative as to why and how she is there, as in a storybook. Greenfield avers that emphasis on process in isolation becomes addictive and profoundly mind-changing.

-John Cornwell, The Sunday Times

What about games that emphasize content and interpersonal relationships, like the Sims, or massive online multiplayer games, where getting along with other people is critical for success? What about the online masses who would rather participate in social networking than isolated video games, or split time between the two? As someone who has enjoyed video games throughout my life, the things Greenfield says about the addictive nature of games rings true, and yet I think I have personality.

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