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Archives: June 2008

Online tools for visualizing numbers and statistics

Many reporters use the football field as a visual metaphor for measurement as in “The plane was three football fields long.” But what if something isn’t nearly the size of a football field? It’s still important as journalists to translate statistics and mathematical figures in an easy to digest way. Most people won’t fully comprehend what 4,166 miles looks like, but they will more likely understand that something is the length of the Great Wall of China.

Luckily, Sensible Units is on hand to assist mathematically challenged journalists. Simply input a unit of measurement, small or large, and the site outputs a real life example of that the measurement looks like. For example 5,000 miles is equal to 18 Grand Canyons and 30,000 gallons is equal to 1.3 double-decker buses, according to the tool.

Reporters outside of the US using the metric system will appreciate knowing that 100 metres equals 31 male African elephants standing on top of one another or that 70 litres equals about 10 kettles.

Translating measurements can also be done visually as photographer/artist Chris Jordan has proved in his series Running the Numbers. Jordan takes hardcore statistics such as the 106,000 aluminum cans used in the US every 30 seconds or the 29,569 gun-related deaths in the US in 2004 and visualizes them using everyday objects.

For example, in the latter almost 30,000 handguns in one photograph represent the large number of gun-related deaths. The effect is sobering and thought-provoking and gives weight to statistics that might not be memorable otherwise.

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Stuff Journalists Like

I was checking up on Stuff White People Like, the hilarious blog that spawned the equally thought-provoking Stuff Educated Black People Like, when I realized nobody has accounted for the journalists of the world. So here it is, Stuff Journalists Like:

1. Messenger bags
2. All the President’s Men
3. Blackberrys
4. Holiday sweaters
5. Seinfeld
6. AP Stylebook
7. Vests with large pockets
8. Free food
9. Correcting bad grammar/typos
10. “This American Life”
11. Button-down shirts
12. Action figures
13. Exclusives
14. Credentials on lanyards
15. Small cars
16. Debates
17. Baseball caps
18. Blogs
19. Anchorman
20. Reporting overseas
21. The New York Times
22. Coffee
23. Telephoto lenses
24. Conferences
25. Lists
26. Standing up for the little guy
27. Cake

Feel free to add your own observations in the comments.

EDITED TO ADD: Visit the blog Stuff Journalists Like for more

"Find Your Inspiration" contest winner!

Congratulations to Mark Dodge Medlin who is the winner of the Find Your Inspiration contest. Mark correctly identified the works of art featured in the 10,000 Words logo and as such, received a $25 gift certificate. The temporary logo can be found here and the correct answers to the contest are below the jump.

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein

Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci

The Old Guitarist, Pablo Picasso

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí

Nude Descending a Staircase, Marcel Duchamp

I and the Village, Marc Chagall

Campbell’s Soup Cans, Andy Warhol

Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue, Georgia O’Keeffe

The Scream, Edvard Munch

The Luncheon on the Grass, Édouard Manet

Museums as Inspiration: Museum of Modern Art

The most interesting thing about the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is not its incorporation of new technology, but its treatment of old technology. Projector screens that use to be the standard way to show news reels are used in installations for kitsch value. Old copies of Esquire hang on the wall in front of schoolchildren to young to know what Esquire is.

In a wing of the museum dedicated to product design, a 1960s era typewriter sat behind a glass case. I felt bad for the typewriter, especially when a group of grade school children and their teacher passed by:

Teacher: “Look guys this is a typewriter!”

Kid #1: “My mom says it’s like an old computer.”

Kid #2: “Does it have backspace?”

The kids and I were more intrigued by the computer-based exhibits at MOMA. Many of the installations aren’t the flat paintings or sculptures one thinks of when they think art, but multimedia installations on large televisions. I was most impressed by one work that was like a live multimedia experience. In the installation “Wende >8080<)" by Hanne Darboven almost 150 pieces of sheet music line the walls of a very tall room. Because it would take forever to absorb that many pieces of paper, the music on the sheets is pumped into the room.

Unlike the Brooklyn Museum where patrons can dial a number of their cell phone to listen to additional information about the works on display, MOMA visitors must stand in line and hand over identification to receive an audio player that is exclusive to MOMA. The handheld device looks like a large remote control or, when placed to the ear, like an old school cell phone.

The process of procuring the device is reminiscent of the registration process required by some online news sites to read anything other than front page news. Sure its not difficult for a visitor to enter this information, but in this fast-paced, get it done world, who has the time?

Also on 10,000 Words:

Museums as Inspiration: Brooklyn Museum
Museums as Inspiration: California Science Center

Museums as Inspiration: Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is as traditional a museum as museums go (though one could argue that the work of artist Takashi Murakami currently on display is far from traditional). But much like journalism, another age-old institution, this museum is embracing the mobile phone and other new technology to heighten the experience of its visitors.

In the past one could meander haplessly through the halls, gawking at art and artifacts with no more understanding of each work than what was written on a tiny placard. Now, some of those placards have a cell phone icon and a number to dial that provides even more information about a particular exhibit.

At the Brooklyn Museum, visitors can call (718) 352-9589 and enter the item number displayed near the artwork (e.g. 12 corresponds to the intricate work “Flower Matango”) and listen to either the artist (in this case Murakami) or a curator discuss the piece. The best part is museum guests are allowed to leave comments on the phone system as they navigate through its halls.

It is true that other museums have special listening devices, but most can only be used in that particular location. Making the audio available by phone means that any of the billions of cell phone users worldwide can access the additional information. The theory is similar to creating a multimedia project that only works in Firefox. Sure, a large percentage of users can access the content, but those that can’t aren’t exactly willing to download a new browser just to view the one site.

Other multimedia features of the museum include video incorporated into the exhibits through the use of high definition televisions and computers strategically placed around the museum for visitors to leave comments. At last check, one computer had 474 comments, an impressive number for any institution, whether it be a museum or online news site.

Also on 10,000 Words:

Museums as Inspiration: Museum of Modern Art
Museums as Inspiration: California Science Center