Finally… a post!

Sorry for the long delay between posts. I had a massive hard drive failure and have been consumed with data recovery. Luckily, I got most of my stuff back.

Add in grad school, work, family and traffic and it’s hard to find time to post. I need to get better about it, though, because I keep forgetting Sammy stories before I write them down.

Anyway, here’s a preview of our 2007 holiday card. More posts to come soon… I promise.


Halloween 2007

For Halloween this year, Sammy decided to go as a chicken. It wasn’t her first choice: that would have been “tiger.” Actually, before that she wanted to be a Care Bear, the same as last year. But when Cyn took her shopping for a costume, Sammy eyed the chicken suit and was sold.

“That! That! I want to be a chicken!” she shouted. And a chicken she was.

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USA TODAY on Fire!

Well, not really. But parts of California are. That’s my latest work from USA TODAY. Working with a couple designers, videographers, photographers and others in the department, we put together this interactive map to help tell the story of the fires. At its most basic, the map shows where the fires are. But over the last couple days, we’ve added heaps of content, from photos and videos, to other map layers, such as home prices, locations of past fires, wind speeds and direction, terrain, population density, and more. We even included an “update log,” so you could see how the map has evolved over time. Enjoy!


On Friday, a local church (which hosts various events in Lincoln Park like a live manger scene at Christmas, an Easter egg hunt on Easter, and this outdoor movie screening) took over a part of Lincoln Park to show “Cars.”

I was so excited! As you know, I’m a big fan of the church. No, wait. I mean, I’m a big fan of Pixar. I had wanted to see “Cars” since it came out in the theater. In fact, I took Sammy to see it when it came out, but she got scared about five minutes into the film, so we had to leave.

But that was then. This was now. She said she wanted to go. So I packed up her wagon — sleeping bag, pillow, camera — and off we went. Popcorn was first on the agenda. Check.

Then it was time for the film. We settled in. We watched. We got scared. We sat in Daddy’s lap. We got tired. We left.

At least this time we got about halfway through. One of these days I’ll see the whole movie. But that wasn’t the point. We had a great time under the heavens… er, stars.

Candidate match game

Today, months after coming up with the idea, we launched our candidate match game. This project has been a tough one. Not in a bad way, mind you. No, it’s just been a ton of work.

This graphic is a "game" in which users see how presidential candidates align with their views. To play, users answer 11 questions. With each answer, candidates who also share that view rise in the graphic. By the end, one can see how all 17 Republican and Democratic candidates compare. By weighing the issues, users can and watch how that changes the results. Roll over the answers to see candidates’ positions and our sourcing.

We came up with the concept for this game back in April. By May, we had a rough wireframe (at right) of how the game would work. The original concept called for three questions on the four issues foremost in the minds of Americans. As we researched issues and positions, that concept started to break down. That’s because candidates offer differing levels of detail on certain issues. Fred Thompson, for example, has said little about health care.

Researching candidates’ positions and gathering the supporting documentation was one big job. Another was programming the graphic itself. The designer, Juan Thomassie, spent at least a month working on the code, making adjustments, adding new features and squashing bugs.
The result, we think, is a fun game that is also informative. We hope you like it. Try it out and then pass it along to your friends.

Learning to read takes time…

This is just an amusing story… yesterday Cyn, Sam and I drove to Baltimore to visit with some of Cynthia’s friends. On the way, Sammy and I were playing reading games. As she’s just learning, it takes her a little while to recognize letters, sound them out, and figure out the words she’s seeing.

Anyway, we’re cruising along a boulevard and Sammy is looking for letters. She finds an “A,” and then a “B,” and she’s searching for a “C.”

A little while passes… I can hear her whispering as she works out what she’s seeing. Finally she breaks the near silence with an exclamation. “You need to slow down so I can read!”

Covering a demonstration

Yesterday I went to the A.N.S.W.E.R. anti-war demonstration/march/rally in downtown D.C. and shot some video for USA TODAY. Actually, I was in class at AU, but the professor sent us down to the march so we could observe it and then discuss the subsequent coverage. I figured as long as I’m there, I might as well cover it for USA TODAY as well.

I started out trying to shoot photos and record audio for a sights and sounds gallery, but switched to video, figuring that would be easier to manage, edit, and produce by myself. I was right.

The results aren’t great, but I thought I’d share. I had to edit the footage while helping with dinner and other household tasks. Anyway, here it is.

my recent usatoday work

Here are a bunch of links showcasing some of the pieces I’ve done at, with a little explanation about each. Take a look and enjoy (I hope!):

• High school drama boot camp (Aug. 2007):

This was a fun project (and there’s a separate blog entry on it). I did it in “real time,” which is to say, I shot episode one and then edited it while I was shooting episode two, which I edited while I shot episode three… and, well, you get the idea. I was quite impressed and inspired by the kids – their talents and their camaraderie. I’m going to miss those kids. By the way, this story started as small piece in the paper. I decided that it could be a much bigger video series.



• North Carolina barbecue trail (July 2007):

This video project took me to North Carolina for a few days of shooting and eating. I had terrible laryngitis on the trip, which made interviews interesting. But more importantly, I met some great characters, starting with Mr. Grady. The fact that the video is nine minutes generated some controversy at USA TODAY. It could have gotten shorter and tighter, I think, but I just ran out of time. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out.



• Going green (June 2007):

This little graphic isn’t anything spectacular – a good example of the more moderate stuff we do. But I do like the wording I use in it. Was that the day I got all hyped up an Claritin?



• 2006 elections preview (October 2006):

This graphic took an incredible amount of work to supply accurate and complete data. I was pretty adamant that I wanted every House, Senate, and Gubernatorial candidate on the ballot to be in the graphic, so that meant tracking down a lot of people, including many candidates who weren’t from the two major parties. I think in the end I have more than 1,500 candidates and photos. It was Hellish, but I was really pleased. I’m hoping we can use this graphic as a springboard for 2008.



• NFL training camp (August 2006):

This graphic came about because I’d always read about NFL training camps, but had never been to one and didn’t really understand how they worked. I was also trying to get familiar with my new video kit. The designer, Dave Evans, and I spent the morning watching the workouts and shooting some video. Then in the afternoon, we decided to “dissect” training camp with the help of Ravens player Gary Baxter. He was incredibly generous with his time. I wish I had miked him better. When my wife found out about the story, she found it amusing that this Browns fan would be spending the day at Ravens’ training camp. Hey… a journalist’s got to do what a journalist’s got to do.



• Global warming (August 2006):

I point out this piece because we unified the stories with a dynamic graphic that also served as a navigation tool. The topper, I think, is incredible effective at establishing a headline (it’s getting worse) through data, which the user can interact with. We swapped out the data for other information, depending on the story it went with. If you click on other stories, you’ll see what I mean.



• Virginia’s heritage music trail (August 2006):

A photographer and I drove more than a thousand miles through Virginia (which I never even imagined was possible) in just three days as we followed the so-called “Crooked Road” of Virginia’s heritage music. We heard lots of bluegrass, which normally isn’t my thing. But on this trip, it was fantastic. One of my very favorite assignements. I was also especially pleased with the design treatment the slideshow received. Hopefully that will be the standard from now on.



• 50th anniversary of the interstate (August 2006):

Long story on this project, but I’ll spare you that. Suffice it to say that at one point, I had an RV reserved for a month. In the end, I interviewed reporters who took short trips all around the country. (Another plan involving dashboard-mounted cameras fell through.) The design isn’t all that, but I enjoy these packages. I added a GarageBand soundtrack to each (watch them all through the pull-down menu), and a transcript option so people can read along. I feel pretty strongly that we need to do a better job of captioning our content.



• 2006 fantasy football planner (August 2006):

This was a neat data-driven graphic. We pushed a new feature with this one… saving Flash data to your computer. Big whoop, right? Well, maybe not so important in this graphic. But down the road, it’ll come in handy, I’m sure.



• Behind the scenes at PNC Park (July 2006):

This “sights and sounds” gallery was a fun quick trip to Pittsburgh, if such as thing is possible. (I kid…) Anyway, what was interesting about this was how the reporter and photographer and I had to work together. The reporter wasn’t used to a sound guy… the photographer had to keep track of us both… and I had to find a story that wouldn’t replicate the reporter’s. When I found the groundskeeper, I knew I had my guy. He had the perfect voice and was funny to boot. I just wish we had gotten a designer to make the pop-up look better. Anyway, first link is the sights and sounds. Second link is the story, with some “bonus” stuff I added to the page.





• 300 million Americans (June 2006):

This relatively simple piece is also one of my favorites. Why? Because the headline on the story is live. It actually counts and increases AS you read the story. This took some creative math and estimations (notice the disclaimer?), but I think it rocks. The pop-up graphic is nice too, though it suffers from a couple small usability issues.




• Presidential approval (May 2006, ongoing):

This graphic helped spawn the one above it. What’s cool about this is how it can be updated without design assistance. The ActionScripting scales the graph, so when new data is added to the XML file, the whole chart automatically adjusts. Very cool.




• Couples and their cash (April 2006):

I was a finalist for the ONA awards on this graphic. This was a multi-part series that started out as some basic ideas from the paper. I thought, “hey, we could do some really fun stuff with this!” And so we have video quizzes and more. Not everything turned out perfectly, but I was pleased overall.



• Basketball poll (March 2006):

This graphic really is a testament to one of the designer’s coding talents. Juan Thomassie did some amazing ActionScripting to make this one work. What’s really impressive about it is how much data is packed into this graphic, how many different ways there is to display it, and how easy it is to use. There’s no way a graphic like this could work in any other medium.



• Campus deaths (March 2006):

This is a another basic piece, but the audio is compelling and sad. I got a nice note from one of the victim’s friends. A tough piece to do, especially since it came on the heels of losing my youngest daughter.



• 2006 Oscars (February 2006):

I like this piece because it, like Olympics and Couples and their Cash, was a step up. We got the voting working, the videos work great. It was just a really nice well-rounded piece. Oscar McOscar is goofy to be sure, but I think it worked.



• Olympics graphics (January 2006):

These rank as some of my all-time favorites. A ton of effort was put into them (read the cool stuff in this graphic) and a lot of debate about how they should work. In the end, I think we did a fabulous job. Be sure to use the drop-down to look at other examples.



• Katrina and Rita coverage (September 2005):

After Katrina made landfall, I begged to go to New Orleans. Finally, two weeks later, I got to go. This isn’t among my best work, but considering the circumstances (which included getting bitten by a Pit Bull), I’m proud of the work. USA TODAY seemed pleased too, beause they sent me right back for Rita. First link are audio/photo pieces from my first trip. The second is the same from my return voyage. Third link is some video I shot with photo galleries. And the last link is a little story I wrote when I flew back for Rita.





Poker night

The Man Cave was fully operational last night with a steady stock of ice-cold beer, two decks of cards, and enough rebuys to make any heart palipatate.

See the photos for yourself.