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Tools of the Day: Sparktweets and Chartwell

Two neat data visualization tools recently came on the scene which will be a great help for journalists and datamongers alike: Sparktweets and Chartwell.

Sparktweets is the brainchild of Zach Seward, Outreach Editor for The Wall Street Journal. Sparktweets builds on Edward Tufte’s invention, the sparkline, which is a small, high-resolution graph embedded in a context of words, numbers, or images. You see these mostly used on financial websites to describe the rise and fall of stocks, but Sparktweets takes this idea and builds on it by embedding Unicode histograms within Twitter’s 140-character limit. The effect is pretty neat. Take a look at these.

Sparktweets in @WSJ: ▇▆▆▇▇▇▇▅▂▁▁▂ Last 12 months of the U.S. unemployment rate http://bit.ly/mex1kyless than a minute ago via Sprout Social Favorite Retweet Reply


▁▆▇▃ Number of baby boys named Barack, 2007-2010. (5,52,69,28) #sparktweetless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Create your own Sparktweets here: http://www.datacollective.org/sparkblocks.html


The second tool I came across recently is a font called Chartwell from font designer Travis Kochel with TK Type. Creating pie charts, line graphs, and bar graphs has never been so simple. Just type your data numbers into an equation and you can have a graph in just a few seconds. In line with current trends, you can also embed the use of this font using the CSS3 property @font-face to create live charts on the fly (currently, this only works in Firefox 4). Travis includes more information on the Chartwell page at http://www.tktype.com/chartwell.php.

Chartwell Pie ChartsChartwell Pie Charts

Chartwell Line Charts

The fonts are $15 each (pie, bar, or line), or $40 for the entire set.

Optimizing News Websites for Google TV

Google TV

In late 2010, Google developed their new smart TV platform entitled Google TV. The service is built on the Android operating system, and functions as a set-top box to allow users to watch on-demand video services, such as YouTube, Google Reader, and Google Chrome. This integration allows users to subscribe to your site and have regular updates pushed to their Google TV devices (similar to an RSS feed with an RSS aggregator). Mobile phones and tablet devices are changing the landscape of the web for organizations, and soon you may even ask “how does my site look on TV”? This is especially important since Google TV will soon be able to access the Android Market, according to recent news. Since Google TV lies somewhere between mobile devices and desktops/laptops in terms of functionality and user experience, here are a few helpful guidelines to make sure your site is ready for prime time on Google TV.

Design for the Big Screen

According to the Leichtman Research Group, as of 2010, 61% of US households own at least one HDTV, with 26% owning more than one. These high resolution displays mean that there is an increased distance between the user to the television, which means that elements on websites need to be large enough to be seen across the room at a glance. Larger elements also means increased white space between elements. Lets take a look at the New York Times on Google TV.

New York Times on Google TV

New York Times on Google TV

Along with this, websites need to make sure that the most important information is at the top of the page. Web designers call this property “above the fold”, meaning that you include information at the top of a page to prevent users from scrolling vertically to find more information. Since HDTVs will more than likely be widescreen displays (either 720p or 1080p), this means that organizations should rely on either horizontal or grid navigation to make it easier for users to go through your site.

Function over Form

Keep in mind that the processors for most Google TV devices will be somewhere between your mobile phone and your desktop or laptop in terms of processing power. Google has partnered with Intel, Sony, Logitech for current Google TV devices, and new partnerships with Samsung and Vizio ensure that new, faster devices will be coming to the market by the holiday season. Websites designed for Google TV will need to be able to load quickly without a lot of extra animations or Flash videos. Google TV can display Flash content, but it will not be at the same speed as a desktop or laptop, so keep that in mind. Let’s take a look at Al Jazeera on Google TV.

Al Jazeera on Google TV

Al Jazeera on Google TV

Make Navigation Big and Simple

One thing the Al Jazeera site illustrates is that you should also look to use access keys for navigation, such as arrow keys or letters on the keyboard. The mouse pointer on Google TV is small and hard to see, so enabling navigation by keyboard to access a menu or a section of the website creates a great user experience. The key is to simplify user navigation as much as possible. Primary actions for the user should be available in one click; don’t hide key features for your site in menus. You should also provide a legend to explain your keyboard-based navigation system. Don’t make your users think too much about how to navigate your website on Google TV, or else they may change the channel.

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

The Chrome Browser in Google TV supports the non-standard CSS property called zoom. What does this do, you ask? According to Sitepoint, this property controls the magnification level for the current element. This means that text, videos, and other elements on your page can be enlarged to allow for viewing across large distances or for visually impaired users. Because zoom is a non-standard property, you would probably have to test this on Google TV for troubleshooting purposes.

KQED on Google TV

KQED on Google TV

Overall, these are just a few things developers can do to optimize news websites for Google TV. Other news organizations have already started developing for Google TV, including USA Today, Huffington Post, and KQED. Google has provided a full optimization guide, as well as a number of optimized templates. What news organizations have you seen on Google TV? Share your findings in the comments.

The 5 Best iPad Apps For Consuming The News That’s Important To You

With the recent release of the iPad 2, the Apple App Store is swarming with new and updated apps tailored for interactive news consumption. Some of the most compelling news apps are those that take a familiar concept–such as the simple act of reading a newspaper–and adapt it to the iPad’s unique platform. These are the apps that remind us that reading the news can be a fun and social experience. Here are five of our favorites:

1. Instapaper

Though many of us may spend all day on our computers, we don’t always have the time we want to devote to reading the interesting news stories that crop up throughout the day. Luckily, Instapaper exists for just this reason. The easy-to-use “Read Later” bookmarklet allows you to keep track of and aggregate all the stories you want to return to later, effectively allowing you to create your own personalized, well… instant paper. The iPad app easily integrates with the articles you’ve saved through your browser so that you can read through them at your own leisure. With version 3.0.2, updated just last week, the app boasts plenty of impressive capabilities including offline dictionary integration, a built-in web browser, and full-featured, native sharing on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more

7 Show-stopping headphones

As any audiophile will tell you, good audio starts with a good pair of headphones. If you want your headphones to look as good as they sound, check out some of the cool models below.

 

Swarovski DJ Headphones

These Swarovski crystal-studded Audio Technica headphones will make both your audio and you shine. At £1799.99 (about $2,900 USD) they may be pricey, but at least they come with free delivery.

 

Philips O’Neill Stretch Headphones

These cool headphones also come with some cool features — a tangle-proof cord, a stretch headband, and soft ear cushions — and for made for those on the go.

 

Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviator

Add a touch of class to your audio experience with these headphones that include suede and leather lining and gold accents, in addition to some powerful sound.

 

Miles Davis In-Ear Headphones

The spirit of legendary jazz musician Miles Davis are invoked in these in-ear headphones specially made for listening to jazz music.

 

Crochet Bow Headphones

These handmade, crocheted headphones look both cute and comfortable. While there are no guarantees on the audio quality, at least you’ll look pretty sweet.

 

Star Wars Headphones

R2D2, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, and other Star Wars characters and iconography are emblazoned on these Coloud headphones that include a built-in microphone/remote.

 

9mm Bullet Headphones

Who shot ya? You’ll be number one with a bullet with these in-ear headphones styled after some heavy-duty ammunition.

Stocking stuffers: 7 Unique pens and pencils

Every reporter needs a good writing instrument, even if you’re the most tech-savvy digital journalist in existence (you’ll never have to reboot a pen or pencil). Make sure your writing tool is as good as your writing with the following unique pens and pencils.

 

Smith & Wesson Military and Police Tactical Pen

The name itself is enough to send shivers down the spine but this pen/weapon packs a lethal punch. The aircraft-grade aluminum construction is enough to “fracture a skull,” according to one reviewer.

Amazon | $24.95

 

The Inkless Metal Pen

Instead of ink or lead that can smudge or run out, the Inkless Metal Pen adds tiny metal shavings to the page. This means you can write upside down, in inclement weather, and for a very long time.

VAT19 | $27.95

 

Sharpie Liquid Pencil

This unique Sharpie combines the best attributes of both the pen and pencil: it writes smoothly and erases like a pencil but after 72 hours, the ink changes and becomes permanent.

Amazon | $3.67 (for one)

 

Recycled Newspaper Pencils

Combine your love of journalism with your love of writing utensils with these cool pencils made from recycled newspaper.



 

TreeSmart.com | $8.00/24 pack

 

The Cramp Free Pen

Who knew that all this time we’ve been using pens and pencils that were not ergonomically designed? This pen may reduce the strain on your hand, but you may also get a few curious stares in the newsroom.

Hammacher Schlemmer | $19.95

 

The Seven Year Pen

The Seven Year Pen, so named because the jumbo cartridge means it lasts up to seven years, is a great idea as long as you don’t lose it or lend it.

Gent Supply Co. | $7.50 each

 

Hard Candy iPad Stylus and Pen

No need to switch between your writing pen and your iPad stylus with this twofer. Just make sure you don’t write on your iPad with the pen side.

Hard Candy | $34.95

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