WSJ goes the distance with the Google Maps API
Aug 10th, 2010 by Tom Johnson

A good piece on the  on how the Wall Street Journal crew created a fine set of maps illustrating various major-city marathons.  Go here for complete piece.

WSJ goes the distance with the Google Maps API

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The following guest blog post was written by Albert Sun of the Wall Street Journal. He takes us behind the scenes in the creation of a recent news graphic titled: “Going the Distance: Comparing Marathons“.

The Google Maps API has been a great boon for news websites and a great help in creating all kinds of interactive graphics involving maps. Here at the WSJ we're big fans of the API and happy that Google continues to improve it and roll out new features.

 We got the idea to map out the routes of Marathons from a story by Kevin Helliker about how despite the beautiful scenic route of the race, the San Francisco marathon was still very unpopular. The difficulty and the hilly terrain kept people from attempting it. To help people see this better, we decided to compare the San Francisco marathon to the big three US marathons: Boston, New York and Chicago.

The code for our marathons graphic grew out of a similar graphic we did for our coverage of the Tour De France. In this one, we managed to incorporate many improvements. Two new features of the Google Maps API played a big role in this graphic. The Elevation API let us quickly and easily get a comparison between the different routes.

Styled Maps let us give the map more of a distinctive WSJ look. We have a distinctive style for our maps in print, and there is some reluctance to run maps online that deviate from that style. Styled Maps lets us get close enough for what we're trying to show. When Styled Maps first becomes available we used the Styled Map Wizard to create a set of different looks for different types of maps, trying to recreate our own maps style.

Along with the Google Maps API, we used jQuery for its wealth of convenience functions and how much easier it makes writing programs in JavaScript. The core of the graphic is a basic Polyline drawn in Google Maps showing the route.  [more]


Internship in Bolivia
Jul 14th, 2010 by Tom Johnson

Jack Kinsella, of the Bolivian Express, writes:

“The Bolivian Express, an English language magazine in La Paz, Bolivia, set up by Bolivian graduates in collaboration with students from around the world. We are a subsidiary of the Grupo Express Press, which publishes another magazine in Bolivia, Revista Metro ( We would love if you could include us in your database of journalism internships and feature us on your website (

“The Bolivian Express has just started an ongoing journalism internship program in Bolivia where interns take Spanish classes, journalism classes, photography classes and cinematography classes. Participants are paired with Bolivians in La Paz and are then expected to explore Bolivian culture, eventually producing four pages of content for our magazine each month. This content is then passed to our editors who offer feedback, helping to improve our intern's writing skills. Due to the large numbers of classes offered our internship is perfect for students with a strong passion for learning.

“Our magazine is distributed on the ground, in the skies and, within the next week, online.

“For more information see our website:

Use "BatchGeo" to quickly generate Google Maps with multiple locations
Jun 19th, 2010 by Tom Johnson

If you've acquired a spreadsheet file with a bunch of addresses, you can quickly map them using BatchGeo.  We haven't tried it yet with a huge data set, but it works nicely with a couple hundred addresses.  Check out BatchGeo at

Have locations in a spreadsheet? Well try this free and unique tool to…

  • Map them using Google Maps
  • Publish a map on your Web site
  • Create a store locator
  • Get coordinates, print maps, and more!

Get started by following the steps below, or check out our video tutorials

What could I use this for?

  • Create a map – Copy directly from spreadsheet program such as Excel, Numbers, or the free Google Docs or OpenOffice Calc.
  • Distance Calculator – Calculate the distance in miles or kilometers to several locations from a single address.
  • Satellite Photos – Addresses are linked to Google Maps for satellite photos and driving directions.
  • Make your own Google Earth KML – Quickly create KML files with your address data for 3D viewing data in Google Earth.
  • Get postal codes / zip codes – Retrieve postal or zip codes for a given address internationally.
  • Print a map – Make a printable map with your addresses on it.
  • Save a map – Create a map with your locations and associated data to a web page for later use.
  • Create a store locator – Map your store properties, and then link to them from your website.
  • Get center coordinates (centroids) for a listing of zip codes, cities, or states.
  • For quick single address geocodes, zip code, city or state centroids use our Single Address Lookup Tool ”

JavaScript Solutions for Charts and Graphs
Jun 15th, 2010 by Tom Johnson

15 Crazy Useful JavaScript Solutions for Charts and Graphs

Graphs and charts are a great way to break down the information at hand to the user in a descriptive and visually enticing manner. These visual structures allow you to easily simplify complex data and output easier to understand content. Everyone can use a graph or chart, however, not everyone has the right tools to create an effective one. Below we’ve compiled the best JavaScript graphs and chart solutions. We chose to put a list of JavaScript graphs because of their flexibility and functionality.


San Francisco crime mapped as elevation
Jun 9th, 2010 by Tom Johnson

Once again, FlowingData points us to an example for first-rate mapping.

San Francisco crime mapped as elevation

By Nathan Yau – Jun 7, 2010 – MappingPost on Twitter

Doug McCune maps San Francisco crime in 2009 as if it were elevation. Peaks and valleys emerge with the rolling terrains of crime. The above is the map for prostitution:

My favorite map is the one for prostitution (maybe “favorite” is the wrong choice of words there). Nearly all the arrests for prostitution in San Francisco occur along what I’m calling the “Mission Mountain Ridge”, which runs up Mission St between 24th and 16th. I love the way the mountain range casts a shadow over much of the city. There’s also a second peak in the Tenderloin (which I’m dubbing Mt. Loin).

I love how realistic the 3-dimensional models look. They could almost pass for clay figures. Doug notes that the series of maps are more an art piece than they are information visualization, but these would be a great complement to your standard choropleth.

"Media badly misplaying Foxconn suicides"
Jun 1st, 2010 by Tom Johnson

IAJ Fellow Patrick Mattimore, currently living in Beijing, recently wrote in China's People's Daily Online:


Media badly misplaying Foxconn suicides

Patrick Mattimore

One newspaper has called the recent suicides at the electronics company Foxconn an epidemic. Another newspaper reports that Foxconn is experiencing a “spate of suicides.” Unfortunately, this is an instance of media hysteria and disregard for statistical facts which may have real world negative consequences.

Taiwanese-owned Foxconn has had seven suicides this year. That sounds like a lot, but the firm has an estimated 800,000 workers, more than 300,000 of them at a single plant in Shenzhen.

Although exact figures are hard to come by, even the most conservative estimate for China's suicide rate is 14 per 100,000 per year (World Health Organization). In other words, Foxconn’s suicide epidemic is actually lower than China’s national average of suicides.

French media similarly hysterically misreported suicides last year at France Telecom, the French telecommunications giant that employs 102,000 people in France. There were widely disseminated reports about those suicides and, as in the instant case, the suicides were not particularly out-of-line with national averages.

If the only upshot of these stories was heightened attention to workplace issues, such as improving workers' conditions, then the stories would not be troubling. The problem is that people are fired and the stories become political ammunition for various groups. In France, for example, last year's suicides at France Telecom were a political bonanza for groups like the increasingly irrelevant Socialist Party there.

Another problem is that responsible businesses like Foxconn often take benevolent, but misguided actions to try and “solve” their problem. Foxconn has reportedly established rooms with punching bags where frustrated employees can go to take out their aggression. Besides the costs and manpower to create the solution and maintain it, the punching bag room may actually worsen relations at the company.

The idea that we dissipate aggression by getting it out on a substitute for the real target of our anger (a psychological concept known as catharsis) has been tested and, as it turns out, doesn't work. In a variety of controlled trials, individuals' anger increases after they have acted out their substitute aggressions.

In other words, hitting a punching bag with your boss’ face on it will make you want to hit her even more.

Another troubling facet of misleading the public with the Foxconn suicide story is that there is a very real desire to scapegoat Foxconn. That tendency is understandable because it is human nature to want to shift the blame for the act of suicide to someone other than the perpetrator. However, that shift should not be mistaken for reasonably reading the situation.

Stories now proliferate to explain the “suicide problem,” accusing Foxconn of insensitivity, the same charge, incidentally, that was leveled last year at France Telecom. Disgruntled former employees are sought out to confirm the company’s poisonous culture and other explanations as to the deaths of the young individuals (i.e. broken romantic relationships) are either disregarded or made to sound like excuses if proffered by the company’s executives.

The larger problem stems from the fact that most journalists have not been taught to critically examine statistics. They follow the herd which often means that they report numbers without providing readers a context for making sense of those numbers. In his 2008 book, “Real Education,” Charles Murray, writes: “Widespread statistical illiteracy… is cause for immediate concern because none of us, no matter how thorough our training, has the time to assess the data independently on every topic. We all have to rely on the quality of information we get from the media-and, as of today, that quality is terrible.”

Reporters often write stories with statistics that are incomplete, misleading, or just plain wrong. Hopefully, the public will wake up to the fact that there is nothing wrong at Foxconn and demand that newspapers act more responsibly and begin supplying some context when they decide to instigate their next corporate suicide watch. [IAJ editor's emphasis]

The author is a fellow at the Institute for Analytic Journalism and a former psychology teacher.

The article represents the author's views only. It does not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

 Then “SiliconAngle” picked it up and commented:


White House to tie together mapping and data sites
May 28th, 2010 by Tom Johnson


White House to tie together mapping and data sites

By Aliya Sternstein 05/28/2010

The White House has contracted with a major developer of mapping software to merge a federal website that publishes geospatial information with, the government's depot for downloadable data sets, the company's president said on Thursday.

California-based ESRI began last summer tying to, the geospatial information gateway, said company President Jack Dangermond in an interview with Nextgov. He said he expects's map services, which enable Web-based applications from different sources to communicate with each other, to be available on within two months.

When the synchronization is complete, the new content on will benefit not only Web developers who mix government data with outside data sources to find trends, but also nontechnical individuals. Anyone will be able to create mashups on the free website, which ESRI launched on Saturday. Mashups are combined sets of statistics or information that typically are presented in the form of a map or chart to illustrate relationships. The site already allows anyone to search for graphic layers of information from data sets ESRI retrieved from federal GIS databases. Visitors then can add the layers to a base map, or a background map, to complete the picture. ESRI, which makes money by licensing software for managing and publishing geographic information, is offering the site free of advertisements and does not claim ownership of any content that people and agencies contribute, Dangermond said.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, who is responsible for, told Dangermond “to make sure your private sector investments help us leverage government expressions of data,” Dangermond recalls. He declined to disclose the cost to the company, but said it is in the range of tens of millions of dollars and involved three and a half years of work. “We can afford to do it through our software licenses,” he added. Users can share their work with a defined group of people, sell their creations on their own websites or share them with the public to let others enhance them. For example, individuals with little or no programming skills can use to see how the oil spill could affect livelihoods along the Gulf Coast.

A user could click on the area of the map where the he or she wants to visualize a trend. In this case, the visitor might want to click on Texas. The person then would search a library of map services for the word “oil,” which would pull up a list of several relevant items, such as a color-coded layer indicating the Gulf Coast area's proportion of revenue from fishing and seafood, as well as a layer representing the unemployment rate for March. The person would then choose from an array of base maps, including street and topographical maps, for the backdrop of the mashup.

The resulting image would allow the user to view the communities that are most dependent on the Gulf Coast waters for income and the areas that were experiencing high unemployment before the disaster occurred. The site is in beta mode so some of the content does not list the source of the material, as was the case with the two data sets as of Friday. The tool is an example of what President Obama would like to see agencies pursue under his open government initiative. A day after taking office, he issued a memo that called on federal managers to use new technologies to foster transparency, collaboration with industry and governments, and public participation.

With, state and federal agencies allow ESRI to tap geographic information stored in government databases, encouraging collaboration. The site invites the public to participate in the process by allowing people to save in a gallery any map they create so others can view it, by generating links to their maps, and by adding data, or metadata, to data sets based on personal knowledge they may have about a subject. The mashups also provide transparency.

ESRI won a contract in 2004 to build and host and last summer began informally helping the White House move thousands of geographic data sets from the site to so users could extract and manipulate basic maps. Earlier this year, the government paid ESRI about $50,000, as an add-on to the contract, to accelerate integration of the two sites, including the map services. Dangermond's plans for include collecting more source material from the federal government and citizens. “One of the big things is going to be more and more content: It's not just any data,” he said. “What we want is ready-to-use maps.”

Almost every federal agency has an enterprise license with ESRI but producing map services takes time, he said. also can serve the government, company officials said. “Events happen and events happen across jurisdictions and you have to respond very quickly,” said Bernard Szukalski, ESRI senior product manager. “This provides a framework for situational awareness.” Dangermond added, “The feds have data that they'll share back and forth. But what about the local data? The parcel data? Nobody knows who owns the property.

“Being able to bring in the map of local properties so it can be overlaid on top of the flood map” is something a government decisionmaker might want to be able to do in a hurry, he added.


GIS and Twitter mash-up
May 28th, 2010 by Tom Johnson

 From GISUser at

Social Media and Geo-Services – A Fabulous ArcGIS Explorer, Twitter mashup

Modeling real-time situations… This video goes back a few months to the Haiti disaster response, however, its a great example and reminder of how geo technology (ArcGIS Explorer in this case) and social media (Twitter) can be combined to result in a very useful application. Enter the video showing Real-time modeling of the disaster situation in Haiti. Viewing Twitter updates on the map in real-time really puts the situation in context and provides the responders with much needed situational awareness. No doubt these forms of Geo services and mashups will be useful in the near future with the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill response and cleanup efforts.

"BP tries to mislead you with graphs" — From FlowingData
May 27th, 2010 by Tom Johnson

 Go to:

BP tries to mislead you with graphs

By Nathan Yau – May 26, 2010 – Mistaken DataPost on Twitter

BP tries to mislead you with graphs

BP senior vice president Kent Wells explains in this new video what his group is doing towards repairing the leak. He presents the bar graph above to show the improvement in their efforts. It's increasing, so they must be improving. Nifty. The problem is that it's cumulative, and the rate at which they're collecting isn't improving.

From the Maddow blog:

[T]hose green bars go up because the tube has been in place since May 16. The longer it stays, the more gallons it collects. It's not necessarily collecting more oil on successive days, let alone “most” of the oil as Wells says they're trying to do.

Stephen Few provides a different view, with collection rates:

Few goes on to say:

While the amount of collection increased in the beginning, it has decreased or held steady for the last four days and is now well below the average amount of daily collection for this period as a whole. Things are definitely not getting better. How do you spin bad news like this? One way is to create a misleading graph, but cover your ass by doing it in a way that isn’t an outright lie.

To put it differently, you could easily spin BP's results in the opposite direction. A cumulative graph for the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf would be an increasing one too.

Reporting Complexity (with Complexity)
Mar 31st, 2010 by Tom Johnson

“Reporting Complexity (with Complexity): General Systems Theory, Complexity and Simulation Modeling

See the PPT slides from a vid-conference lecture from Santa Fe to

School of Public and Environmental Affairs
School of Journalism 
COURSE: Mass Media & Public Affairs
March 31, 2010

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