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May 09 2013

Four short links: 9 May 2013

  1. On Google’s Ingress Game (ReadWrite Web) — By rolling out Ingress to developers at I/O, Google hopes to show how mobile, location, multi-player and augmented reality functions can be integrated into developer application offerings. In that way, Ingress becomes a kind of “how-to” template to developers looking to create vibrant new offerings for Android games and apps. (via Mike Loukides)
  2. Nanoscribe Micro-3D Printerin contrast to stereolithography (SLA), the resolution is between 1 and 2 orders of magnitude higher: Feature sizes in the order of 1 µm and less are standard. (via BoingBoing)
  3. ThingpunkThe problem of the persistence of these traditional values is that they prevent us from addressing the most pressing design questions of the digital era: How can we create these forms of beauty and fulfill this promise of authenticity within the large and growing portions of our lives that are lived digitally? Or, conversely, can we learn to move past these older ideas of value, to embrace the transience and changeability offered by the digital as virtues in themselves? Thus far, instead of approaching these (extremely difficult) questions directly, traditional design thinking has lead us to avoid them by trying to make our digital things more like physical things (building in artificial scarcity, designing them skeumorphically, etc.) and by treating the digital as a supplemental add-on to primarily physical devices and experiences (the Internet of Things, digital fabrication).
  4. Kickstarter and NPRThe internet turns everything into public radio. There’s a truth here about audience-supported media and the kinds of money-extraction systems necessary to beat freeloading in a medium that makes money-collection hard and freeloading easy.

February 27 2013

Four short links: 27 February 2013

  1. Open Source Cancer Informatics Software (NCIP) — we have tackled the main recommendation that came out of our June meeting with open-source thought leaders: Keep it simple. Make barriers to entry as low as possible, and reuse available resources. Specifically, we have adopted a software license that is approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and have begun to migrate the code developed under the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid® (caBIG®) Program to a public repository. Our goal in taking these steps is to remove as many barriers as possible to community participation in the continuing development of these assets. Awesome! (via John Scott)
  2. NPR’s Framework for Easy Apps — their three architectural maxims: Servers are for chumps; If it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work; and Build for use. Refactor for reuse..
  3. Random Junk in People’s Labs (Reddit) — reminded me of the contents of my “tmp” and “Downloads” and “Documents” directories: unstructured historical crap with no expiration and no current use. (Caution: swearing in the title of the Reddit post) (via Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi)
  4. Sync — BitTorrent’s alpha-level tech to “automatically sync files between computers via secure, distributed technology.” Not only is it “slick for alpha” (as one friend described), it’s bloody useful: I know at least one multimillion-dollar project built on their own homegrown implementation of this same idea. (via Jason Ryan)

March 06 2012

Profile of the Data Journalist: The Daily Visualizer

Around the globe, the bond between data and journalism is growing stronger. In an age of big data, the growing importance of data journalism lies in the ability of its practitioners to provide context, clarity and, perhaps most important, find truth in the expanding amount of digital content in the world. In that context, data journalism has profound importance for society.

To learn more about the people who are doing this work and, in some cases, building the newsroom stack for the 21st century, I conducted a series of email interviews during the 2012 NICAR Conference.

Matt Stiles (@stiles) , a data journalist based in Washington, D.C., maintains a popular Daily Visualization blog. Our interview follows.

Where do you work now? What is a day in your life like?

I work at NPR, where I oversee data journalism on the State Impact project, a local-national partnership between us and member stations. My typical day always begins with a morning "scrum" meeting among the D.C. team as part of our agile development process. I spend time acquiring and analyzing data throughout each data, and I typically work directly with reporters, training them on software and data visualization techniques. I also spend time planning news apps and interactives, a process that requires close consultation with reporters, designers and developers.

How did you get started in data journalism? Did you get any special degrees or certificates?

No special training or certificates, though I did attend three NICAR boot camps (databases, mapping, statistics) over the years.

Did you have any mentors? Who? What were the most important resources they shared with you?

I have several mentors, both on the reporting side and the data side. For data, I wouldn't be where I am today without the help of two people: Chase Davis and Jennifer LaFleur. Jen got me interested early, and has helped me with formal and informal training over the years. Chase helped me with day-to-day questions when we worked together at the Houston Chronicle.

What does your personal data journalism "stack" look like? What tools could you not live without?

I have a MacBook that runs Windows 7. I have the basic CAR suite (Excel/Access, ArcGIS, SPSS, etc.) but also plenty of open-source tools, such as R for visualization or MySQL/Postgres for databases. I use Coda and Text Mate for coding. I use BBEdit and Python for text manipulation. I also couldn't live without Photoshop and Illustrator for cleaning up graphics.

What data journalism project are you the most proud of working on or creating?

I'm most proud of the online data library I created (and others have since expanded) at The Texas Tribune, but we're building some sweet apps at NPR. That's only going to expand now that we've created a national news apps team, which I'm joining soon.

Where do you turn to keep your skills updated or learn new things?

I read blogs, subscribe to email lists and attend lots of conferences for inspiration. There's no silver bullet. If you love this stuff, you'll keep up.

Why are data journalism and "news apps" important, in the context of the contemporary digital environment for information?

More and more information is coming at us every day. The deluge is so vast. Data journalism at its core is important because it's about facts, not anecdotes.

Apps are important because Americans are already savvy data consumers, even if they don't know it. We must get them thinking -- or, even better, not thinking -- about news consumption in the same way they think about syncing their iPads or booking flights on Priceline or purchasing items on eBay. These are all "apps" that are familiar to many people. Interactive news should be, too.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

November 07 2010

Play fullscreen

"Once Upon a Time (A Children's Tale)," from Marion Brown, Geechee Recollections [Impulse]. Marion Brown, alto and soprano sax; Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; James Jefferson, bass, cello; Steve McCall, drums; William Malone, autoharp, thumb piano; A. Kobena Adzenyah, African drums. Released 1973.


Georgia Recollections: Goodbye, Marion Brown : A Blog Supreme : NPRGeorgia Recollections: Goodbye, Marion Brownby Lars Gotrich

Marion Brown on the cover of Geechee Recollections, part of his trilogy about Georgia.

Marion brown
Enlarge Courtesy of the artist

Marion Brown on the cover of Geechee Recollections, part of his trilogy about Georgia.

As I see it, Georgia didn't open up to me until I left home. Don't be fooled: Atlanta suburbs are not the Old South. Neighborhoods are named for the farmers who once plowed the soil, and sweet-tea-sipped accents are at least five counties away. Not until I moved to Athens, Ga., and eventually to Washington, D.C., did I see Georgia for the weird and surreal place it was and is.

Marion Brown was born Sept. 8, 1935 in Atlanta (or 1931, depending on who you ask). He stayed in Georgia long enough to see the Confederate stars and bars added to the state flag at the height of desegregation. His travels took him to New York, where Archie Shepp and Ornette Coleman encouraged Brown to develop his talents. The alto saxophonist appeared on John Coltrane's Ascension and Shepp's Fire Music, his reflective and sometimes playful tone an ear-bending foil to the fire-breathing of his peers.


After time in Paris and touring Europe, Brown returned to Atlanta, where a surge of creativity flowered like dogwood: Beautiful and bright, but burnt at the tips. Inspired by the stark Southern reflections in Jean Toomer's epic work Cane, and his own birthplace enlightenment, Marion Brown released a trilogy of records dedicated to Georgia: Afternoon of a Georgia Faun (1970), Geechee Recollections (1973) and Sweet Earth Flying (1974). (The latter two remain out of print.) Adorned with pastoral poetry and folksong, these albums evoke a Southern experience.

At a certain point of reflection and education, I became a conflicted Southerner. I sought the harmony of my past, the understanding of a history I adopted as my own. (My family moved to Georgia at age seven, but "American by birth, Southern by the grace of God," we say). Like its soul food, Georgia's history is lush and cooked down, yet brutal in its lumbering wake. It's near impossible to reconcile what came and what is to come with a state that only in the last decade removed the Dixie from its flag. It is our heritage, yes. And in an odd way, those of us who've struggled with those issues are proud still.

There is hurt in Marion Brown's trilogy. How could there not be? Jean Toomer wrote of "Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads […] Bleeding rain / Dripping rain like golden honey." Beautiful and terrifying: In its unique and abstract way, this is how I eventually came to see my home. The quiet, percussive "Afternoon of a Georgia Faun" as a haunting spirit of the swampy urban jungle; the rhythmic dance of "Once Upon a Time (A Children's Tale)" as the celebration of summer; the solo bookends of the Sweet Earth Flying suite, played by Paul Bley (Fender Rhodes) and Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), two soulful and somber blues rendering Georgia dawn and Georgia dusk.

While this Southern trilogy certainly doesn't capture the breadth of Brown's work, it's a personal statement that speaks beyond music. It should be part of the Southern canon along with The Color Purple, Coca-Cola, Rev. Howard Finster, James Brown, the Stone Mountain laser show and Sid Bream's slide into home plate.

Multiple sources are reporting that Brown died in his assisted living community in Hollywood, Fl. this past weekend. Out of sight for the past three decades due to illness, Marion Brown was a musical spirit guide to those lucky to find him. Cradled between Anthony Braxton sides at WUOG was Afternoon of a Georgia Faun for me to discover in 2004. Listening then as now, I'm taken off I-85 and down the winding, unlit roads of 441, hearing the South in moving fabric. I'm home.

More remembrances and archival interviews: Clifford Allen, All About Jazz, Peter Hum.

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