When you use a free tool, you might get what you pay for

A few weeks ago, the Huffington Post posted a fascinating article about our field:

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Gets your attention, doesn’t it?

The author — who happens to be the head of communications for Canva, a maker of free online data visualization software — explains why today’s journalists really need, y’know, free online data visualization software. He uses visual aids — presumably created by the software he peddles — to show why we need to reach out to social media…

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…what percentage of journalists use various social media…

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…and the retention rate of visual information vs. good ol’ prose alone.

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There’s just one little problem with all these graphics. And I’m hoping you spotted it right away.

They’re not accurate at all. In fact, they’re laughably incorrect.

Visual journalist John Telford recently blogged about the Huffington Post story, going into great detail about picking it apart each piece.

For example, that bubble chart I just showed you. John writes:

Notice anything wrong with the proportions of the bubbles relative to each other?

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The most obvious issues are that the 16% and 14% orange bubbles are way off compared to the 30% gray bubble. However, just about all the proportions for every bubble are off to some degree. Let’s take a look at what the chart would look like if the proportions were correct.

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When the scale is off as badly as this, you lose credibility. People are more skeptical today than ever before, and if they catch what could simply be an innocent mistake but they perceive it as an intentional misrepresentation of the facts because you have an agenda to push, you’ve lost them.

Bubble charts have become extremely popular over the last few years, but they’re rarely the best choice to allow for easy comprehension (as is often true for most forms of circular charts). It’s almost always better to use a bar chart as they’re more easily understood and make for easier comparisons between categories.

Bubble charts are so easy to screw up. This is just what we need: A tool to help us screw them up more efficiently than ever before. Sigh.

John also has harsh words for the third example at the top of this post:

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John writes:

I’m not even sure what kind of chart it’s supposed to be exactly. However, since the author went to all the trouble to attach the data points to the arrow, it would have been good to use proper proportions to space the data points evenly.

…A much better solution would have been to use the humble bar chart:

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Wow! Now there’s an impressive looking statistic displayed in a chart that holds some impact and meaning.

Excellent analysis by John. Read his entire blog post here.

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A former artist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, John now runs a freelance infographics and design business based in Florida. Find his web site here.

Deeper in his writeup about bubble charts, John mentions one of my blog posts. In fact, I’ve written about bubble charts time and time and time again.

Deeper in his writeup about bubble charts, John mentions one of my blog posts. In fact, I’ve written about bubble charts time and time and time again.

Several years ago, I took issue with Dipity, a free tool that gave journalists a way of creating illustrated interactive timelines. Poynter had written about that tool in glowing terms. Find that blog post here.

Hey, free tools can be a great way of helping visual journalists make ends meet when you have zero resources and zero budget. But make sure you check back over the results those tools give you — just like you’d check back over anything you write. Don’t assume the developers of these tools know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to content going out via your site, your feed or under your byline.

Why build maps repeatedly when you can make a tool to build them for you?

Many of us graphics types keep a number of templates that we constantly pick up and modify from day to day, from story to story, from graphics assignment to graphics assignment.

And then there are those geniuses who go a step beyond and create software to do those repetitive tasks for them.

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Enter Patrick Garvin of the Boston Globe. He’s created his own open-source online tool that will turn Excel data into those chloropleth maps that we use so often.

He calls the tool Mr. Map Generator and it’s very, very cool. Especially since he’s giving it to us for free.

Here’s how Patrick describes the tool:

The user copies the contents of a spreadsheet, pastes that into a field, clicks a few buttons and then has code for a responsive, color-coded map that can be used on any browser on any platform. It can also be modified to be used in a vector file.

The reaction via social media Tuesday was strong and swift:

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Patrick tells us:

I created Mr. Map Generator this past summer. I had just finished updating my gay marriage timeline

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…and felt this void now that the timeline didn’t require daily heavy lifting. I wanted an evergreen project that I could work on in my slow times at work.

In the year or so since I had originally launched my gay marriage map/timeline, I found myself using the SVG of the U.S. map a lot. I had repurposed it for a web map about state by state insurance numbers and then gotten the idea to save that file as a PDF so I could use it for the print version.

From the summer of 2013 through the summer of 2014, I found myself repurposing the U.S. SVG a few times so that I could make color-coded maps. It saved time to reuse an old file, but I wondered if I couldn’t find an even easier and more efficient way.

Around the time that I had wrapped up version 2.0 of the gay marriage timeline, Chiqui Esteban and Gabriel Florit were both making web graphic generators for our department to use. These were in-house tools that helped graphic artists and web producers make web graphics that played nicely with Methode, our CMS.

Méthode, for those of you not familiar with it, is the Globe‘s front-end system — also used by the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Times of London and the Washington Post.

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My friends at Media24 in South Africa use it, too — except they call it by the name of its corporate parent, Eidos.

Patrick continues:

As I was looking for projects and was already considering ways to streamline my process of making color-coded maps, I followed Chiqui’s and Gabriel’s leads and began on a tool myself.

I was very much influenced by Shan Carter‘s Mr. Data Converter website.

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It has such a simple-and-easy-to-use interface. I wanted something as simple that would be of ease for web producers and graphic artists that might not feel comfortable yet with JavaScript.

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As of now, Mr. Map Generator has more steps than Mr. Data Converter, but I tried to keep that same feel. It might seem daunting to novices, but I wanted the steps to have screen grabs that explained things. I’ve found that in the explainers I’ve sent to staff members on other projects, screen grabs make a huge difference.

Therefore, you’ll want to bookmark this post — the one in which Patrick walks you through how to use Mr. Map Generator.

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He shows you how and where to enter your data and then what to do with it.

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In the end, you can generate files to post to your web site or PDF vector files that you can then open in Adobe Illustrator…

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…for incorporation into your print graphics. Easy peasy.

Currently, Patrick has templates for U.S., Massachusetts and Boston area maps — with more to come, he says.

The Massachusetts maps really paid off. Color coding 351 shapes by hand in Illustrator is a nightmare and can introduce errors. That anxiety is significantly reduced when the process is automated.

Color coded maps are common for graphics departments, and I think that simplifying the process has saved us time to focus on more complex projects.

Here are the links to save:

A 2004 graduate of the University of Missouri, Patrick spent a year-and-a-half at the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sun News before joining the Times-Union of Jacksonville, Fla., in 2006. He moved to Boston in 2010.

In addition, Patrick does stand-up comedy on the side.

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Find Patrick’s blog here, his portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.

The coolest thing you’ll see today…

…is this video of a fireworks show as seen from smack in the middle of it all, shot via a drone.

The guy who masterminded this — Jos Stiglingh — writes:

Flying through a firework show with a DJI Phantom 2 and filming it with a GoPro Hero 3 silver. The quad [in other words, the four-engine drone itself] was not damaged.

Jos reportedly shot this over West Palm Beach and posted it about a month ago. It’s received three-quarters of a million views since then.

Gregory Mitchell, who writes a legal column for Forbes magazine, warns anyone else to not try this. It’s not just unsafe, he writes, but also there could be penalties:

Most major fireworks demonstrations will have a Coast Guard established safety zone.  The punishment for violating a safety zone is a whopping $40,000 fine and for willful violations it is a Class D felony, punishable by at least 5, but no more than 10 years in prison!

Still: It’s a cool video.

The Boston Globe’s Chiqui Esteban on everything from mouseovers to responsive design

Over the holiday weekend, Jonathon Berlin of the Chicago Tribune and the Society for News Design posted a nice Q&A with Chiqui Esteban, graphics director of the Boston Globe, about the interactive work the Globe has been doing lately.

An excerpt:

Alexa McMahon, our BostonGlobe.com Arts producer told me the new issue of the “Most Stylish Bostonians,” a yearly special section, was coming together and she was wondering if we could do something for the site to present the featured people. I started thinking about what we could do, since there is not much information common to all and the only important thing was how they dressed and who they were.

Talking with Alexa she told me that the photo shoot was yet do be done, so if I needed something from it, I could ask for it. So that’s when I had the idea. We asked our great photographer Dina Rudick to take at least two photographs of each of the “awarded” Bostonians.
One posing and the other doing something crazy like jumping, raising a hand.

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The photos she got were just what we needed and much of the good of this graphic comes from that amazing work. After that, the execution was easy.

Q. Talk a little about how you think about that type of interactive project in a responsive sense. I was wondering what would happen and I chuckled when I narrowed the browser and the people nudged over. Elegant solution!

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A. Working responsive means that many times we work with groups of blocks that stack in different ways depending on the width. In this case that was even easier, because each person was a different block that could work individually, so we can stack them and break them wherever we considered it was necessary.

Find the entire Q&A here.

A 2002 graduate of the Universidad de Navarra, Chiqui worked at el Mundo, la Voz de Galicia, Diario de Cádiz and Publico.

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In 2009, he founded de Nuevas Narrativas for LaInformacion in Madrid, Spain, which he went on to direct for three years. He moved to the Globe in 2012 and was promoted to his current position in November.

Chiqui also blogs about news graphics. Find his web site here and his Twitter feed here.

Adobe’s senior creative director speaks about Illustrator

Wednesday, evidently, was the 27th anniversary of the launch of Adobe Illustrator.

The Next Web spoke with Russell Brown — senior creative director of Adobe  – about the past and future of Illustrator.

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A small taste:

Q. In what ways does the current Illustrator link with the past?

A. The thing that ties the past and present together is the Bézier curve, the function of controlling a curve with these long extended Bézier control points.

The learning curve in how to deal with Bézier curves — probably the most difficult thing to get people to understand — was how that line behaved. I recall learning it myself and it took a little bit of time and practice, but after awhile you picked it up. Today, it’s second nature for Illustrator users, the way the line bends and curves. They have full control over it.

It was very much like pen and ink; you drew it and that was it. There were no algorithms to soften the edges or round the corners. Did I even do crazy things like start to draw letterforms? There was also photographing things and bringing them into [the program] as bitmaps.

Q. What is the relationship between Illustrator and Photoshop? 

A. The biggest change is smart objects — a self-contained envelope, a package that contains all information about a placed object. I can place it [in Photoshop], and then double-click to open it back up in Illustrator. The cool thing is that you can run a blue filter on the file, or stretch and warp it, as if it were pixels.

I can add all the pixel effects on the Illustrator file, but I also have all the Bézier curves and controls. That’s exciting and a major change. Before smart objects, you had to render and turn it into pixels. I could never get the warping and twirling. The future is here and smart objects is the effect.

Illustrator will be around for a long time, but it doesn’t get as much love as Photoshop. It’s not as easy [to create] in Illustrator as it is in Photoshop. It’s a blank slate, an empty canvas, ready for you to create something.

Read the entire Q&A here.

Find Russell Brown’s old Adobe videos here.

Thanks to my old boss man Ken Mowry for the tip.

Virginian-Pilot launches free evening iPad edition

My former paper, the Virginian-Pilot, launched a new iPad edition last week.

The edition publishes six days a week: Weekday evenings at 6:30 p.m. ET and Sunday mornings at 6:30 a.m. And what’s more: The edition is free for download, says editor Denis Finley.

Here’s a promotional video the Pilot released last week:

Denis writes:

Think of [the Evening Pilot] as the reincarnation of the evening paper. Research has shown that tablet owners enjoy reading long-form narrative stories and flipping through visuals on their devices at night. That’s what motivated us to produce EP.

Other talking points:

  • In addition to featuring features, commentary, photo galleries wire reports and local stories, the Evening Pilot will enjoy the services of veteran reporter Lou Hansen, who’s been devoted to working for this project. Lou has been with the Pilot for 16 years. Find his Twitter feed here.
  • Editor Katrice Franklin — you’ll see her in that video — is also assigned to this project full time.

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Lou (left) and Katrice.

  • Josh Bohling is designing the Evening Pilot. See samples of Josh’s print work here.
  • The edition is available only for the iPad at the moment. It’ll soon be available for Android and other tablets, Denis promises.

Find Denis’ letter to readers here.

Download the daily app here.

Average daily circulation for the Virginian-Pilot is 142,476.

The state of news graphics in 1988

Tom Priddy — who would go on to be the managing editor for Knight-Ridder’s innovative Presslink service — discusses the importance of Macintosh technology in this two-minute promo for Apple Computer.

Tom is now digital products manager of the Spartanburg, S.C. Herald-Journal. In addition, he freelances shooting baseball. Among his clients: Baseball America, Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazines and the Washington Post. I wrote about him most recently here. Find his photo blog here.

He’s also a really nice guy. I became a fan of his work back when I was in high school. I’d read his music reviews in the Greenville News. I did a nice Q&A with him four years ago. You can find that here… minus the visuals, unfortunately.

Did you catch a glimpse of Tim Goheen‘s infamous “Lizard Man” graphic? What a hoot that was. Read more about that here. We’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of that little episode, so call your bakery now and reserve your Lizard Man Anniversary cake.

Thanks to Jonathan Kleinow for the tip.

Here’s a handy little tool that’s easy to use

I’m not sure how long this tool has been around, but I’m just now finding out about a cool social media counter from the folks at Muck Rack.

It couldn’t be simpler to use. Here is the home screen.

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Simply paste the URL of the article into the space and click the blue button. The engine counts the number of shares that article got via Facebook and Twitter.

I gave it a test run just now with yesterday’s Super Bowl page roundup.

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According to Muck Rack‘s calculations, that blog post was shared five times via Twitter and 33 times via Facebook. Which sounds about right.

Not bad. Find it — and bookmark it — here.

Thanks to George LeClaire of the Arlington Heights, Ill., Daily Herald for posting this today via Facebook.

Especially for scriptwriters: A free Courier replacement font

It’s not very often, perhaps, that visual journalists need a monospaced typewriter-like type face. When you do, there’s always Courier.

Mark Evanier — writer of comic books, animated cartoons and sitcoms and one of my favorite entertainment bloggers — stumbled upon a Courier replacement that has him all excited. He posted in his blog last night:

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This font is specially tweaked for the needs of scriptwriters. The developers write:

Screenplays have a lot of white space, so we made Courier Prime a bit heavier to balance things out. It looks just as good on your monitor as out of the printer.

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It’s calibrated to match the specs for 12-point Courier and Courier Final Draft. And the italics are real italics — not just slanted characters.

What’s more: The font is free. Find it here.

When the going gets tough, the Air Force turns to… reality TV?

Hugh Lessig of the Newport News, Va., Daily Press reports today that the Air Force is swamped with video footage shot from drones over battlefields in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. All that footage is piped to “a secretive, intelligence-gathering hub” at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, where analysts working horrible 12-hour shifts comb through it all.

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But the problem is the amount of data. It’s simply overwhelming. Lessig writes:

Adding more people helps to ease the workload, but it is not the solution, according Dr. Mark Maybury, a top-ranking Air Force scientist. Simply put, the technology is moving too fast.

Consider the surveillance technology known as Gorgon Stare, named for the mythical Greek monster. It can send up to 65 different images to users. Ten years ago, such a system would have been difficult to envision.

“Could we put 65 times more people on this project?” Maybury asked. “At some point, you run out of people on the planet.”

Therefore, the Air Force has turned to sources such as NFL Films, ESPN and reality TV producers in order to learn techniques on how to deal with it all. After all, each of those involve mounds of video. But each has learned how to to select the best, put it in front of viewers and discard the rest. And to do it without breaking the bank.

It makes perfect sense, if you stop and think about it. And you will, once you read the story.

The military, learning from entertainment media. How ’bout that?

Bonus points to Lessig for working both Snooki and Honey Boo Boo into a lede of a story about military tech. That’s how you game the SEO ‘bots, boys and girls.

A close call this weekend with my workhorse of a laptop

Posting here in the blog was a little light Sunday and Monday for a good reason: I was minus my trusty MacBook Pro for the better part of two days.

Late Saturday night, my Firefox web browser hung up. That happens from time to time. Typically, I simply force it to quit and then reboot Firefox.

This time, however, I couldn’t get the application to force quit. My Mac just spun and spun, working on it to no avail.

Hmm. Not good. So I rebooted my Mac. Much to my shock, the laptop wouldn’t boot back up.

This sent me into what you’d call a blind panic.

This little laptop has been my baby since the summer of 2009. It’s been with me through trips to South Africa (five times), Kenya, Nigeria, Reno, Iowa City, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Chapel Hill…

It’s treated me very well. And how have I repaid it for its loyal service? I hardly do anything at all to maintain it. Despite the fact that I have a one-terrabyte portable external drive, I’ve even become lazy about backing up my data.

Yikes!

Once I calmed down, I dug out my original system install discs and ran a diagnostic to see if I could repair the hard drive. The good news was that the minor problems on the drive were indeed fixable.

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The bad news was: My system still wouldn’t boot.

Or so I thought. I let it sit there while I took care of something else. When I returned — much to my amazement — the computer was up and running. Turns out the system was booting. Just very, very slowly.

Now, we were getting somewhere. The system ran very, very slow. That suggested my problem might be a bad hard drive. So that would be the next step: While the drive is still spinning –and before it seizes up or something — back up the rest of my data.

How long had it been since my last backup? A year or more, I guessed. When I hooked up my portable drive, I found the real answer: Twenty-nine months.

Oh, wow. Not good. That’s going to be one huge incremental backup via the Mac’s built-in Time Machine software. Especially with my drive running so incredibly slow.

So I moved in to my wife’s wife’s Mac Mini — in a corner of my downstairs library — and set up my ailing MacBook on a card table beside me so I could keep an eye on the backup process.

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I set this in motion around 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The backup wasn’t completed until 10:30 a.m. Monday morning — 19-and-a-half hours later. I kid you not.

Here’s the successful message that was waiting for me when I returned home early Monday afternoon.

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The next step: Replace the hard drive. Should be fairly simple… for a trained technician, that is. And I have one of the best: Kevin Copeland of Beach Tec, here in Virginia Beach. He’s a former Apple Genius Bar genius who set out on his own a couple of years ago by opening his own technical consulting firm.

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He understands Apples, of course. And he understands my needs. He’s a graphic artist and cartoonist himself. And he reads this blog. Meaning, of course, he’s man of refined tastes.

Kevin dropped by our house Monday evening, yanked out my hard drive, installed a new one in moments and found… nothing. No change at all.

Hmm. Not what either of us expected.

After experimenting around with my old hard drive, a brand-new one and a spare drive mount, Kevin came to the conclusion: My hard drive is fine, most likely. It’s looking like the problem might be with the connection between the hard drive and the motherboard.

What you see here is my old internal hard drive, functioning (very well, in fact) as an external drive in the mount Kevin loaned me.

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This is, in fact, how I’m operating for the next day or two: With a portable laptop that’s not portable.

If the ribbon cable connecting the internal drive and the motherboard is bad, then that’s an easy — and relatively cheap — fix. I ordered the part last night. So we’ll see.

If the problem turns out to be with the motherboard itself: Well, that could be quite a bit more expensive. For now, though, I invite you to join with me in hoping for the best.

The lesson in all this, if there is one: If you’re a Mac user, you have Time Machine built into your operating system. Plunk down $100 or so and buy yourself a 500 GB or 1 TB external drive (my Passport portable drive came from OfficeMax). And back up your computer once a week. Or even more often, if your livelihood depends upon it.

Or, better yet, subscribe to one of the several “cloud” services out there to back up your data.

I’m not quite out of the woods yet. But at the very least, I lost no data at all. So I got very, very lucky.

Do as I say and not as I do. Back up your work today.

Social media needs more designers who care about making their sites functional for users

A while back, I was having a conversation with someone about the current greats of graphic design. Among those that came up for discussion: The guy who designed Facebook “timeline.”

I just had to laugh. You’re kidding me, right?

I wouldn’t say that Facebook “timeline” qualifies anyone to be regarded as a great designer. Hell, I’m not sure that Facebook timeline is even competent design.

“Timeline” is hard to read — it forces the reader to bounce back and forth across an artificial barrier. That barrier seems to be purely decorative.

On your old Facebook “wall,” you simply read from top to bottom. Nothing could be easier. Now, however, you bounce around. It’s quite possible — depending on how active your “timeline” is — that you’ll miss posts on your own page.

What’s more: “Timeline” is universally disliked — at least among my nearly 1,900 Facebook friends. I don’t think I’ve ever head someone say they like it. I, in fact, like the big picture across the top of the page. But that’s the only thing I like about it. The rest of the design bites.

So it was great interest today that I found this article — on a tech site called the Next Web — that reports Facebook is changing its format again. To something that looks a lot like our old “wall” did before “timeline” was forced on us.

Check it out:

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See? That artificial, purely decorative line running down the middle of the page is gone. You now have only one (wide) column for postings. No more bouncing back-and-forth. No more missing posts on your own “wall.”

Yet, you still have access to much older posts (see the little “timeline” control at the extreme upper right).

This is what “timeline” should have looked like from the start. Had the folks at Facebook done their job properly.

NextWeb reports this new design is already being tested in New Zealand. Jon Russell writes:

The new redesign also tidies Timeline headers. Boxes that link through to ‘Friends’, ‘Photos’, ‘Maps’ and ‘Likes’ have been removed, these items are now listed in a menu which, when clicked, brings them up separately. Interestingly, relationship information has been removed from the header, which could perhaps be a focus on keeping personal details more private.

He goes on to note the most glaring shortcoming of this new format: An entire column of “wasted space” down the far right side of the page.

I doubt that space will remain empty. It’ll fill up with ads, just like that column does now. Which seems fair enough.

The bottom line here: While the journalism business needs more copy editors, the world of social media needs more designers who care about making their sites functional for users.

Find the NextWeb story here. The Chicago Tribune also posted a story on this today.

Columbus Dispatch delaying launch of new ‘compact’ edition

Remember that snazzy new “compact” format for the Columbus Dispatch?

I hope you’re not holding your breath. You might just have to hold it a bit longer.

A tint box at the bottom of today’s front page says:

To our readers

Because of unexpected mechanical problems in our production facility, the launch of the Dispatch‘s new format is being temporarily delayed.

Because the mechanical issues could lead to the risk of having late newspaper deliveries, the Dispatch Printing Company has decided to postpone the kickoff of the new format until these issues are resolved.

The new format was scheduled to bin on Sept. 10. The Dispatch is working with its vendors and will announce a new launch date once one is set.

The Columbus Dispatch

UPDATE – 9:45 A.M.

Evidently, delays have plagued delivery all week. The Dispatch told readers yesterday:

During the past week, many of you have experienced unacceptable delays in the delivery of your Dispatch. Compounding your frustration was the inability to reach someone within our company who could explain what went wrong because our phone lines were overwhelmed.

…Our production flexibility has been slightly limited as we transition to the new format. Some of our presses have been retrofitted for the new size while some are still set up to print the current format.

We will have more flexibility once the transition is made and all of the presses can be set up to print the new format.

Read more here. Thanks to Jim Romenesko for posting that Wednesday afternoon.

Today’s front page image is from the Newseum. Of course.

On the hunt for new — and affordable — drawing software

Robert Zavala of the Victoria (Texas) Advocate is on the hunt for new — and affordable — drawing software.

My thought was either a) You might can help. Or b) What Robert has found so far might help you.

Robert writes:

Here’s an illustration I did for a feature that sports editor John Hornberg is doing. The story is about an All-Star baseball team made up of people who originally came from the Victoria area and played pro baseball.

I “Frankensteined” the composition together using bits and pieces of found images in Pixelmator.

Pixelmator is Photoshop-like app for Macs only that costs considerably less than Adobe’s flagship product. It lists for $29.95 on the Mac app store and is currently the best-selling graphics app there. Compare that to Photoshop’s current asking price of $699. I’ve been using Pixelmator for about a year now to produce Uncle History and do illustrations for the Advocate when I work from home.

Usually at this point, I switch over to Painter for digital inks, but my new Mac Mini running OSX Lion won’t run my old copy. I recently purchased Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro from the app store for $29.95. Sketchbook Pro has proved to be a better fit for me than Painter in some respects.

The pencil tool has a better line for inking than anything I’ve used in Painter. It also has a really cool ruler and ellipse tool that is unlike anything in Painter’s toolbox. Plus, it costs a fraction of Painter’s usual $429 (it’s currently on sale for $279).

So there you go, two great apps for a total of $60 that replaced two other apps that would have cost me about $1,000.

Now if I could only find a decent Illustrator replacement.

An Adobe Illustrator replacement? Wow. This guy’s serious! I dug a little deeper. Robert replied:

I’ve tried a few Illustrator replacements such as iDraw and Sketch, which are both under $50 and they seem pretty good but I’m not sure.

My 3D tool of choice, Carrara, also needs replacing. I’m looking into Blender, which is free. It actually looks better than Carrara.

Any suggestions?

By the way, here’s how that all-area pro baseball team illustration looked on Sunday’s sports front:

Find the story online here.

Average daily circulation for the Victoria Advocate is 26,531.

Robert’s a talented guy. However, I probably write about him a bit too often. Find a much more detailed look at his work in this recent blog post.

See even more on Robert’s portfolio site.

A cool, subtle use of video… but in a slideshow

So you’re cruising the New York Times web site, checking out a great series of stories about the visual feast that is New York City. There’s a piece there — posted a couple of weeks ago — about the Butler Library of Columbia University.

The slideshow pictures — by the TimesCatherine Spangler — are just gorgeous.

But as you’re looking at it, something remarkable happens.

Passersby walk in front of the camera.

If you wait long enough, the same folks walk by again before the scene returns to normal.

And the same happens with the other pictures. Tree branches and bushes sway in the breeze. A long, darkened shot of stacks changes focus.

Clearly, this isn’t the still slideshow you thought it was. Count on the New York Times to apply taste and subtlety instead of the click-whoring the rest of us resort to every day.

I asked the TimesTyson Evans if those were GIF files. He replied:

They’re actually movie files in the slideshow (GIF files can be incredibly large at high quality).

He — and everyone else I asked — referred me to Times multimedia editor Andrew DeVigal. Who tells us:

To clarify, we launched [this technique] with Lady Liberty. With that said… we had those Moments from Damon Winter in our A Year at War package.

So they are NOT too new… though I would argue that these are slightly different from Damon’s Moments. Damon’s were more “editorial” in that it’s made for real good b-roll… where as these new ones are slightly more artsy and subtle… and lean towards the potential of these new-fangled “cinemagraphs” which is why they were confused as being animated GIFs. But I, too, enjoy the more subtle approach.

Drew points out that the Atlantic Wire wrote about these slideshows earlier this week, calling them “zen-like.”

The Atlantic Wire’s Adam Martin reports the technical details:

Times Culture desk Web editor Julie Bloom explained they’re actually short, looped videos, showing the movement of the water, leaves and sky in front of the statue. “They are HTML5 videos, not GIFs. They shot video using a 5DMkII and extracted sequences to look like photographs with a bit of motion. They are supposed to feel like moving photographs. They are looped silently and placed in a slide show player.”

Andrew tells us:

They were shot by Catherine Spangler and Leslye Davis. Presentation developed by Jon Huang. All three are multimedia producers.

We plan on doing this seven more times since the series will continue throughout the summer.

And this treatment isn’t for everything. In fact, I would argue we launched it for the perfect thing… something dreamy, arty and zen-like poetry.

Thanks to Pete Selkowe of the Racine (Wis.) Post for the tip.

The right tool, used in the right way and for the right assignment. And it’s an iPhone app.

Here’s a fresh way to shoot your local high-school all stars: With an iPhone app.

And it’s not Hipstamatic. Nor is it Instagram.

Click any of these pages for a larger view:

Rich Boudet — sports designer for the Seattle Times — tells us:

Bettina Hansen is our new photographer on staff. She comes via the Hartford Courant.

Bettina’s original idea was to shoot the athletes using Instagram (with full disclosure to the readers, of course). What she found was that she couldn’t get the images in the resolution we wanted for print so she stuck to using Camera+ on the iPhone. It’s like a $3 app. It does allow for some effects adjustments but it’s nothing that distracts or distorts. We all loved her idea.

She took the athletes a block away and shot them against an old building outside. Not having a big SLR in their faces was brilliant for getting them relaxed and you’ll notice the athletes were pretty candid (one even shows off his arm muscle).

Those were full pages for baseball, softball and boys’ soccer that inserted into Tuesday’s sports section. Here’s how the Times refered into those three pages from the sports front:

So, what’s the difference between this presentation and the Hipstamatic material shot last year by Damon Winter of the New York Times? The award-winning project I’ve editorialized against here and here?

First of all, Winter was shooting “documentary” pictures. These don’t strike me the same. They’re not shot in a studio or with studio equipment, but they could just as well have been portrait-type studio work.

Secondly: The topic. These aren’t soldiers in Afghanistan. These are local high school kids. With all due respect to Bettina, I seriously doubt Pictures of the Year International will consider this assignment for its Photographer of the Year award.

Thirdly: The filter here. Yeah, there is one. But it’s not nearly as obtrusive — or quite as gimmicky, I think — as the one built into Hipstamatic app that Damon used.

Bettina’s work here is an example of the right tool, used in the right way and for the right assignment. I can’t say the same for Damon’s work for the Times. Although clearly, I must be in the minority of folks who feel that way.

Back to this cool, cool project, though. Rich tells us:

Reader reaction was great: We got one email from a woman who said it was the best Star Times photos she’d seen.

We do Star Times for all three high school seasons year after year so you can imagine our well of good ideas for the photo shoot is easily dried out! Bettina went above and beyond.

A 2008 graduate of Arizona State University, Bettina served as a staff shooter and then assistant photo editor for the State Press, the school’s student paper. She also interned at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa and the Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., and served a Pulliam Fellowship at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix before moving to the Courant in 2009.

Find her web site here and her Twitter feed here.

Average daily circulation for the Seattle Times is 236,929.

The coolest viral movie campaign ever

This has absolutely nothing at all to do with journalism, and probably has no applications to journalism.

Still, I thought it was very, very cool. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it too.

A week from tomorrow, the movie Battleship opens in theaters. It doesn’t really look like a very good movie, in my opinion. I think I’ll wait and rent it from RedBox.

Yet, the folks at Universal Studios have come up with what has to be the coolest online viral campaign ever.

It’s called Battleship: Shred Your Street. Here’s how it works…

First, go to the Battleship: Shred Your Street web site and plug in your street address.

Click on the little grey bar directly below the address field if you do not want to spam all your Facebook friends.

And then sit back and watch the movie, which lasts less than a minute.

Alien warships take careful aim with their weapons turrets…

…and fire two deadly projectiles into the air. As you can see, CNBC is all over it.

What goes up eventually comes down, of course. As the projectiles near their target…

…we’re given a reverse point-of-view from the projectiles themselves. And that’s when you realize: Hey! That’s my neighborhood!

Yep. Using Google Earth and Google Street View technology, the site folks scenes of the address you enter into the movie.

The downside? Google Maps must be error-free in order for this to work. If you’ve ever sat in on one of my mapmaking lectures, then you’ve seen me demonstrate how Google Maps’ addresses and landmarks are way off in some neighborhoods — especially my own, Courthouse Woods condos here in Virginia Beach.

As a result, the projectiles fall seamlessly into the Google Street View picture…

…into the street a block or so away from us…

…and — POW! — take out our neighbors’ house.

Oops. Sorry, folks. Missed.

It’s amazing how well the site folds in the static shots from Google Streetview. These aren’t Academy Award-winning special effects. But they’re certainly entertaining.

My daughter and I experimented around with different street addresses in an attempt to have the web site destroy our own house.

We managed to wipe out the house across the street. But we never did figure out how to nail ours. This was as close as we got.

It’s just as well. The deductible on our homeowners’ insurance is pretty high anyway.

In some neighborhoods — like mine — Google Maps are horribly inaccurate. In others, they’re spot-on. Give Battleship: Shred Your Street a try with your own address and see what you think.

Or, better yet, key in the address of the company CEO who ordered the last round of layoffs. Or, for that matter, corporate headquarters. You’d be amazed how much better you’ll feel after the video.

A prototype system — in 1977 — for designing on a computer

Boing Boing today posted this fun promotional film from Bell Laboratories and AT&T that shows a  state-of-the-art prototype electronic system for designing and producing telephone directory display ads, way back in 1977. The film states the system would be given a “field trial” at Pacific Bell in 1978.

Enjoy…

It’s difficult to remember now, but the mouse simply was not a common computer tool back before the introduction of the Apple Lisa in 1983. Which predated the Macintosh by a year. It’s fascinating to watch the woman in the video navigate her ad with a stylus. And a very crudely-operating one at that.

Now, it just so happens that I spent a year — 1985 — as a “directory closing analyst” — kind of a junior assistant production/project manager, at a company in Atlanta called TechSouth. TechSouth was a subsidiary of BellSouth, which was the the big phone company at the time in the Southeast and one of the seven companies that resulted from the breakup of the old AT&T the year before.

TechSouth did all the design and prepress work for Yellow Pages directories in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina. TechSouth had an established office in Birmingham but then opened up a new facility in Atlanta. I was part of the original team Atlanta team. I was only there a year before I got back into newspapers, up the road in Athens, Ga.

However, the reason I bring it up: Apparently this system either wasn’t effective or it wasn’t cost-effective. Because a good eight years after that film was made, we were pasting up ads with wax and blowing up display type with a stat camera, because it was easier than having the copy reset.

In fact, I remember when TechSouth got its first Macintosh. The office manager sat down, messed around with it for a while and announced they were going to keep it in the front office for administrative use only.

Heh. You can see why I didn’t stay there much longer. I went down to the local computer dealer and began playing with the Mac floor models. Before long, I got pretty good at it — the salesmen were delighted when I’d show up, because I’d draw a small crowd to watch me work.

This, of course, left me extremely well-positioned when we eventually got our own Mac at the Athens Banner-Herald and Daily News. The whole episode was one big, lucky break for me.

BellSouth was eventually reabsorbed into AT&T. And, of course, hardly anyone, it seems, uses Yellow Pages directories anymore. Here at casa de Apple, they pretty much go immediately from the driveway to the trash.

Still, it’s a fun video.

Doonesbury takes on QR codes

Doonesbury took on QR codes Thursday:

Doonesbury of course, is by Garry Trudeau. Find the strip’s online home here.

Previous mentions of Doonesbury here in the blog: