Oct. 31, 2011

American Gangs

This is a tiny demo using raphaeljs and jQuery. Data is from FBI's 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment.

Warning: gang names compiled by FBI contain offensive language. View with discretion.

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Oct. 27, 2011

Tribune's iPhone app

Back in January of 2010, I was privileged to be invited by the Sun's then-editor to sit in on a conference call with a project manager in charge of developing a "news reader" iPhone app for Tribune Interactive. This app was to be eventually distributed to all newspaper sites that Tribune owns.

This app was being built by a team under TI's standard project development schema - that means product manager, project manager, QA team, "UX" guys, solutions architect (really, what the heck is that anyhow?) and lastly 5-6 developers and a few designers.

So what's missing there?

Editorial.

You'd think that, for something that is essentially a newspaper product, the newsroom would have some say in the matter. Thus, I bravely interrupted a choreographed presentation and asked "excuse me, but who in the newsroom has been providing feedback during your development?"

(Paraphrasing): "Well, we don't consult newsrooms on technological development. Besides, at this late stage in the project, we don't have time for that."

Well, late or not, seven months later the app got reviewed by the most brutally honest critics in the universe - paying customers. I will let the app store speak for itself (juicy comments only viewable on iPhone or iTunes), but, the consensus is that the app was built with absolutely no consideration for either the editorial aspect or the consumer.

Perhaps I'm an idiot (on many tangents for that matter), but, my philosophy is that a newspaper app should not be a "reader."  This team overlooked the fact that smartphones are bidirectional communication devices with GPS capabilities. While they integrated their little "NASCAR" social media login with the app, the app lacks features that would really take newspapers to the next level.

One tiny example of such features that I'd like to see: Integration with subscriber services.

Why shouldn't I be able to report delivery issues and give GPS coordinates in my report? Or inform delivery that I'm going on vacation - so please hold the paper? Or, this is probably too crazy sounding but, subscribe for newspaper delivery and get charged on my iTunes account?

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Oct. 12, 2011

Query string limits: encoding hundreds of checkboxes with RLE

Old fashioned run-length encoding can be used to shorten a URL predictably. This writeup explores how to optimize query string length once you reach extreme size limits. Given 200 countries as checkboxes and if all 200 checkboxes are checked, you can achieve greater efficiency using clever encoding:

Theoretical bits aside, give the live demo a try at bottom of this post.
Update: I wrote an object-oriented library for this in PHP and JavaScript. See:

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