We're always interested in how many folks are viewing our WNYC Data News projects at a given moment, and Chartbeat answers that question. But we don't always want to watch Chartbeat's dashboard for the latest info.
Enter the blinkies.
Using a string of colored LEDs, an Arduino and a little bit of code, we now have an ambient indicator that generally reflects our traffic and alerts us when thing get intense. A program running on my desktop computer checks Chartbeat for the latest number of simultaneous and passes that information across the room using Bluetooth, something I've wanted to play with for a while.
I can wear my heartbeat on my sleeve.
Actually, I meant to put it on my sleeve, but turns out that sewing something inside of a sleeve is colossally frustrating. So it's along the front zipper.
The heartbeat hoodie is a blend of two things I wanted to play with: Soft circuits and consumer heartbeat monitors. I first made the basic LED hoodie, and later added on the heartbeat feature. And since the basic LED hoodie is easy and fun in its own right, I'll describe how I made that first, followed by the heartbeat addition.
When Kristin is about to get her period, everyone in the house knows it.
A light on her nightstand tells us so.
What we now call the "Mood Cube" tracks my wife's cycles and has helped foster household harmony. It also makes Kristin smile every day.
It was easy to build. You can make one, too.
The Mood Cube story really starts with Louise Ma, a great interaction designer and my colleague on the WNYC Data News Team. She knows her mood tracks closely with her menstrual cycle, so she put up a chart of different faces and hangs a rubber band on the face that matches her feelings.
Stop by Louise's desk for a chat, and you immediately know where she's at. Talk about transparency!
Louise has made a hobby out of tracking her moods and cycles. Kristin had tried to track hers, too. She used several of the flowery iPhone apps designed to help, but didn't stick to them. She put the dates in Google calendar, but they never really lined up.
And each month she was surprised by bouts of intense stress, frustration and agita -- always followed by her period just a day or two later. After a recent episode she texted me: "I want Louise's chart!"
I had another idea.
I wanted to make an ambient indicator -- something in Kristin's life that was subtle but clear. I wanted it to be peaceful, friendly and needinig no attention. And it shouldn't be harsh or shaming.
Challenge to myself: Build an ornament for the Christmas tree in the few hours before Christmas Eve dinner.
Using the TinyDuino's prototyping board, I decided to solder the positive (long) ends of six LED's into the board so they radiated around it like this:
To play Minecraft for real, we needed a new computer. So we decided to build one.
It should take a week or two. And with any luck, it'll cost less than $300.
For several months now, my daughters -- ages 8 and 10 -- have wanted to play the computer version of Minecraft. The computer version is far superior to the pocket version they've been playing, which, among other things, has no wolves, horses or dragons.
Buying a whole computer just to play the game didn't seem, well, appropriate. But making one? That we could do.
So we're on our way. And I'll update this post en route to document our progress.
Episode One: The parts
Poking around the internet, I found the hardware requirements for Minecraft. A little more fishing landed this Lifehacker article about making your own PC. It included links to an entire computer-building lesson series and PC Part Picker, a service that helps you buy your parts and ensure they're compatible.
Here's our parts list. It's based on the original Lifehacker article, minus the optical drive (we won't need it) and plus a wifi card (we will need that). We also upgraded the processor just a tad.
The first component to arrive, symbolically, was the shell into which we'll put the rest of the parts -- once they show up!
All the parts have finally arrived! Let the building begin.
Joining me on the panel are:
Nadav Aharony, co-founder and CEO at Behavio.
And my slides are here.
Here are the slides for my presentation, including links I reference.
I also wrote a quick outline about our thinking on how we could best serve our audience during the storm, called "Predicting Questions, Building Answers."
More data journalism classes are on the way, at little schools and big ones. I'm hearing this through the grapevine. Several grapevines today, in fact. And I think it's fantastic.
When asked what such a course might look like, I point folks to Brian Boyer's theoretical and amazing Hacker Journalism 101. Journalism needs more journalists who can code, and this is a great way to get there.
That's programming, though, you say. We can't teach programming in a journalism class!
You can, and you should. Basic programming will help journalists understand and deal with data used by cities, cops, politicians, agencies, campaigns, companies, banks, stores, non-profits, advocacy groups and just about any other source you can think of.
Knowing how to code, even a little, is like having a solar calculator for that database you just scored.
In addition to programming, here are some of my favorite topics for classes, readings or workshops:
- Finding data for your stories
- Finding stories in your data
- How to tell one story well
- All data is dirty ... and what to do about that
- Basic stats
- Percentage points for journalists
- Mapmaking made easy
- Lying and truthing with easily-made maps
- When maps shouldn't be maps
- Basic chartbuilding
- Lying and truthing with charts and graphs
- Did I mention programming?
And I'd have 'em code something. Every week.
What have I left out? Add comments below and I'll update this post -- and my advice to others.
Photo: My daughters in a UW-Madison lecture hall where I studied geography. Both of them have dabbled in coding.