Doing better storytelling with opinion polling

One of the more intriguing demos I saw at Georgia Tech’s People and Technology Forum 2012 a week ago is one with the seemingly obtuse name of “Tangible Anchoring.”

I’d taken a look at this project at an earlier technology demo at Georgia Tech and it continues to be refined and enhanced.

In the video above, Susan Robinson a PhD student in the Synaesthetic Media Lab at Georgia Tech talks about how it works.

It’s an effort to come up with something better than the “Magic Wall” type of displays you see on shows such as CNN’s “The Situation Room.”

Tangible Anchoring

The hub of the project is a tabletop data display. You can use objects (in the demo, lighted blocks) on the tabletop to query and filter databases displayed in a map view of United States or in other ways.

MultiMedia content, such as videos can also be launched from the tabletop. the tabletop view is also displayed on one of three screens above the table. The left and right screens could be used for to play those videos or switch to other video sources.

One of the sources that can feed the databases being manipulated on the tabletop is an Android issue-based polling app called iOpinion, developed as part of the project.

One model for using iOpinion is for reporters in the field to use the app to do “man in the street’ poll questions, including shooting video of the poll subjects and capturing capture geo-location information from the phone. It could also be used as a downloadable app with the ability to take an individual poll only once. Either way, it’s part of the data layers on the desktop that can be quickly and visually analyzed.

The students working on the project are Susan Robinson, John Chandler, Paul O’Neill, Basheer Tome, Jinhyun Kim, and Aman Parnami. Associate Professor Ali Mazelek of the Synlab oversees the research.

They see the project as a convergence of tabletop computing, mobile user-generated content, the Web and broadcast channels.

A paper published by the team says their research “explores how computational media might be used either to represent multiple viewpoints or enable viewers to examine bias, analyze opinions, and develop a balanced perspective.”

Work on this idea has been going on for a few years and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes. It’s a research project, not a polished project, but you can see how it could be powerful data storytelling tool for a variety of uses.

(Photo from Georgia Tech’s Synlab)

If you’re after culture change, it helps to be an emotional psycho

James FranklinAnybody that has ever been involved in a culture change or newsroom transformation effort has got to appreciate what Vanderbilt University football coach James Franklin has accomplished.

He has more wins in his two years at the prestigious private university in Nashville than any Vanderbilt coach since 1904-05.

The team is bowl-bound for the second year in a row, a first.

It was evident in the historic win Saturday night over Tennessee, that the team believed it could beat its in-state conference rival, something not seen in Vanderbilt teams or its fan base in many a year.

The 41-18 beat down of the Volunteers was the Vanderbilt’s biggest win over the Tennessee since 1923, when Minnie Pearl was just 11.

This from the school that had been marked a “W” for most Southeastern Conference schools as soon as conference schedules were released. Vanderbilt’s football peer group is Northwestern and Duke; it has to play Alabama and LSU.

I got to hear Franklin this summer at the 247Sports Publishers’ Conference.

He described himself as “a very passionate emotional psycho.” I’d agree. And if you watch him in the sideline, you’d believe him, too. But his passion is winning over doubters.

Franklin talked about how he is trying to change the mind set and culture of not only Vanderbilt’s players, but also it’s students and fans, the Nashville community, fathers and mothers of high school football players and just about anyone else that will listen to him for at least 30 seconds.

He is a loud, tough, blue-collar Philly guy who excelled as a quarterback at a small college.

His method for changing culture is uncomplicated and managable: “You just take it one bite at a time.”

It’s gritty and old school. He believes success comes from optimism (“we will nearly always get what we expect”), hard work (just out work ’em), attention to detail (pay attention to process) and a collective commitment to excellence.

It’s simple and a bit crazy: “I’m asking you to invest more than it might make sense.”

Whatever, it’s working. He’s changed perceptions. He’s changed a culture. He’s changed hearts.

Yet, a newsroom of cynical journalists isn’t quite the same as a locker room of impressionable young college football players when it comes to changing what people believe or how they act.

I wouldn’t tell Franklin that. He’s coaching in the toughest college football conference in the country, where losses mean firings (two coaches have been fired this after their games with Vanderbilt).

“A leader’s job is to set the standards and set the expectations. I believe the sky is the limit,” he said.

We could use a few more “sky-is-the-limit” emotional psychos like James Franklin in our newsrooms, don’t you think?

(Vanderbilt University photo of James Franklin.)


Are you ready for your cell phone to explode?


At a panel last week on “Mobile Devices and Beyond,” Bruce Thomas, director of the Wearable Computer Lab at the University of South Australia, held up his smartphone and said: “I just want to get rid of this.”

While many are running to catch up to the explosion of smartphone use, those in the vanguard of mobile are already considering what happens when your cell phone explodes.

And when it’s part of a “body network.”

And when its role becomes one of connecting other devices to data networks.

And, oh, Chester Gould had it wrong, the Dick Tracy wristwatch is not in our personal communications future. Wristwatches as technology for telling time and more got supplanted by cell phones. Wristwatches: More jewelry than tech.

Thomas was on a panel Tuesday at the “People and Technology Forum 2012” at the Georgia Tech.

While the panelists weren’t unanimous in their views on the future role of the cell phone, it does appear those working on the next generation of computing devices that we will carry – or even wear – see a disaggregation of the cell phone: the screen may move to glasses, the battery to your belt or even a shoe; and some of its apps moving to specialized devices talking to your cellphone.

The “glass brick” is not going away anytime soon, said Jay Wright, vice president of business development for chip maker Qualcomm. But he does see over the next five to eight years “slave devices,” input devices for the phone and more robust body area networks.

Thomas sees the disaggregation of the cellphone happening in seven or eight years.

“Having devices for specific purposes will become more common,” said John Avery, Engineering Group Manager for the Panasonic Innovation Center across the street from Georgia Tech, where the future of cell phone and computer technologies for cars is being envisioned.

What else is coming? Better voice controls, including the ability to listen for commands all the time, not just when you push a button. Another: The ability to control the phone with gestures seen by the camera. And every surface of the phone could be part of the “screen.” The viewing landscape may also change with more augmented technology built-in.

Longer battery life, however, is not moving at the same pace as the computer power. In fact, increased capabilities have resulted in dramatically shorter battery life. “Sometimes we over-feature things,” Thomas said.

Photo: “Mobile Device & Beyond” panel- Bruce Thomas, Director, Wearable Computer Lab University of South Australia & Jay Wright, Vice President, Business Development at Qualcomm discuss future of mobile devices & wearable computing — at Georgia Tech Global Learning Center. (Georgia Tech Photo)

The Magic Window

It’s fascinating how a low-cost, but powerful technology like Microsoft’s Kinect, a motion sensing device primarily marketed as an addon for the video gamer’s Xbox 360 but also available for Windows computers, is being used in creative ways. Here’s one I noticed at the Georgia Tech People and Technology Forum 2012 on Tuesday called “The Magic Window.”

It’s both simple in purpose and powerful in potential. Tie a Kinect unit to a fisheye video camera with a web app to allow people look into a “magic window” for a remote tour controlled by gestures like looking the left and right. Other types of content can be embedded in the presentation to add additionl depth.

Watch Brian Davidson, Operations Manager and Principal Software Developer with the Georgia Tech Research Computer Operations Network, show how it works. (Sorry about the shifting contrast in the video; I was trying to pull out some of the detail on the monitor.)

Students and faculty demonstrated many of the projects they are working on Tuesday afternoon, which I’ve found to be the most fun part of the event. Most of the projects are far from polished and some are at a very early stage of development, but the ideas are truly amazingly creative. I expect to see many of these to find their way into real world applications in the not too distant future.

New Journalism Fellowship on the Economics of Aging and Work

Fellowship Opp:

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, in partnership with the Associated Press Media Editors, is offering a new one-year journalism fellowship that will focus on the economics of aging and work.

This fellowship is a 12-month residential fellowship located at the headquarters of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

Mid-career journalists working for AP or an APME news organization are eligible to apply.

The topic and the work will be closely connected with the AP-APME special project “Aging America,” and the fellow selected will participate in that work.

The fellowship will include the opportunity to produce regular journalism for distribution by AP on issues related to the aging American workforce, to learn the skills of research-based enterprise reporting, to work with economists at the University of Chicago, and to participate in an original NORC survey on retirement planning issues facing the baby boom generation.

While the fellow’s reporting will be targeted for a national audience, there will be opportunities to add a local or regional focus. At the end of the year, the fellow will return to the newsroom with skills and experiences designed to elevate not just their own coverage of economic issues but also to share with colleagues.

More information about the fellowship including the online application process is available at

Applications are due Nov. 30.