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Random reviews, remarks, reports and rants!

Archive for March 2011


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Last year I wanted an iPhone4. I thought I wouldn’t be sad enough to queue and I’d pick one up a few weeks later. That never happened, mainly due to the fact that I rang every morning I was free to be told there was already a queue outside which was longer than the number of phones they had.
Apparently, people were buying them and selling them abroad for a handsome profit in places like Saudi Arabia, hence the big queues every morning and the fact that some were buying more than one!
Anyway, I have got fed up with lumping a heavy laptop around when an iPad would do the job as well, if not better (due to the much better battery life) so I thought I’d get one of the new ones when they came available.
Like with the iPhone, I assumed that people would probably not bother replacing theirs if they got one last year, but on arriving in Birmingham and checking the queue, it was already quite long and growing by the second.
So I have become one of the Sardis queuing and although mainly very boring, it has been somewhat interesting too.
Firstly, the amount of Apple gear some people have must be worth a fortune. The guy in front of me has an iPhone 3GS, an iPhone 4 and is planning on buying two iPad 2’s! What anyone would want with two is beyond me, so perhaps he is buying one for a friend. He also tells me that he queued for the iPhone 4 but was turned away when hey sold out, yet he’s back for more queuing fun!
So far, as well as being fed and watered by the Apple staff with donuts and bottled water, the Birmingham Post and BRMB radio have both been asking for photographs an interviews of my fellow queue members.
Also the mall nazis have been round numerous times already, telling people to move, fold up portable chairs and stand up. Apparently having a chair could be dangerous in such as fast moving line (#sarcasm) and siting on the floor breaches health and safety regulations. Though what regulations it infringes is anyone’s guess! I suspect they are just being jobsworths!
So hours left to queue and to withstand the withering scorn of passers by who obviously think every one of us in insane! The way my backside is already feeling numb, I think they could be right!

With about 2 hours to go, the windows were all blacked out so we couldn’t see inside and as 5 o’clock approached all the staff ran out, around the centre and back in again, cheering, whooping and high five-ing anyone within reach. Then as the whooping continued they tried (and failed) to get a Mexican wave started!
Then when the doors finally opened, I have to admit they were very speedy at serving. It helped we had all been given a card with our choice on it as we queued.


Written by Andy Watt

March 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

Posted in Personal

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We can work it out!

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The biggest problem I had with my Production Labs project was that the client wanted an animated timeline map showing the Manchester cuts in sequence. No matter how much I searched, I could not find a way to do it within my current abilities.

I even spoke the the Flash developers at the Financial Times, but they said that I would need a lot of expertise to achieve what I wanted. Then over a beer in the afternoon a fellow Online Journalist, Desi Velikova, suggested I look at Tableau to see if that would work.

Firstly, I made sure I had all the longitude and latitude data in the spreadsheet, dates formatted correctly etc and then loaded it into Tableau. At first it just showed a map with one large circle in the middle, but then I found out the default setting was to find the average of the numbers, so correcting that immediately changed the view to one of Manchester with all the locations of the cuts correctly displayed.

Next, through trial and error (as the help facility was anything but helpful), I managed to work out how to add a time element to the map and also change the size of the markers depending on the size of the cut (dropped from the final version) and how to change colour depending on which department the cut was from.

You can see a screenshot of the resulting map below, or to see it in action, have a look on Kijamedia.

Written by Andy Watt

March 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Liz Taylor: A Life In Numbers

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As a practise for visualising data, I decided to use information about the life of actress Liz Taylor to create a handful of visualisations.

I used Many Eyes, Fusion Charts and Google Docs.

The first was a collection of random data such as how many films she had starred in, how many grandchildren she had, how many front covers she had graced etc.

Next I decided to look at films, and I discovered that in relative financial terms, her movie ‘Cleopatra’ is still the most expensive film ever made which I showed with the following visualisation.

Finally, I looked at a very famous aspect of Taylor’s life, namely how many husband she had, and turned that into a visualisation.

You can see all of these in their full animated and interactive glory here.

Written by Andy Watt

March 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm

SOOBy Bus Cut Report

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Children attending Selly Oak Trust school (for children with special educational needs) have used a service known as the SOOBy (Selly Oak Only Bus)bus for a number of years. This service followed the same route as the Number 11 bus, meaning the children would familiarise themselves with the route and learn how to use public transport, which would be an invaluable skill for them in the future.

In the curriculum section of the school website, the service is listed as one of the programs offered by the school as a step towards independence.

In the Step By Step Program to Independent Travel, it states:

As part of their progress towards independent living and employability, students are encouraged, where appropriate, to become independent travellers.

When students start the school in Year 7, the majority of students travel in minibuses or taxis. A small number join the SOOBy bus.

The same page on the school website describes the SOOBy bus as:

There are two SOOBy buses which run clockwise and anticlockwise around the number 11 bus route. Each bus has an escort. Students who live within walking distance of the number 11 bus route are invited to travel on a SOOBy. Parents and carers, with the school and the school transport department of the Local Authority, decide whether it is appropriate for their children to travel on the SOOBy. In addition, a decision has to be made regarding safe travel between the bus stop and home. Some students are escorted by a responsible adult, and put into the care of the escort on the bus and received from the escort at the end of their journey home. Students who are confident in their home areas but are not yet able to travel to and from school on public transport can walk to and from the bus stop unescorted.

At home time the students who travel on the SOOBy are allowed to leave lessons five minutes early to meet their escorts who take them to the SOOBy. The SOOBy buses are usually the first ones to leave the site.

If the student is to be collected at the bus stop and there is no one there to meet them, the escort will keep the student on the bus and return them to the school. Where school staff will make arrangements for the student to be collected.

The SOOBY bus offers students the opportunity to feel more independent whilst being accompanied at all times and students are being familiar with the route and the skills needed for travelling on the bus whilst travelling on the SOOBY.

With what appears to be the minimum of consultation or notice, this service has been scrapped. Listen to how this cut has impacted directly on one family by clicking the player below.

Clicking on the </> on the right hand side of the player will allow you to share the interview with social networking sites and also provide a direct link to the recording on Soundcloud and also an embed code so you can use it on your own website or blog.

If you would like to use the audio above in your own site, you are free to do so.

Update: We have been trying to get to the bottom of this story, but our investigation has raised more questions than answers. We asked the school to comment on the change to the transport arrangements, but after being told they would provide one, the headteacher changed her mind and asked us to request a statement from the local authority instead.

So we approached Birmingham City Council who told us

The service has been withdrawn due to lack of use with very few children using the service. There was no sense continuing with it as it wasn’t being used; it has not been cut because of the financial situation we find ourselves in, the cut would have been made at anytime. The children who were using the service are now using the home to school system so no children have been left high and dry.

This is at odds with what the parent we spoke to was told, that the removal of the service was due to financial reasons.

We also submitted a Freedom of Information request to Birmingham City Council regarding the wider issue of transport for children with special educational needs. They told us:

  • The total budget for transport cost for 2010/2011 is £10,260,798. This is the total budget for contract hire and bus passes (NB This includes mainstream travel assistance). The budget for guiding costs is approximately £4,000,000.
  • Approximately 4,000 pupils are provided with daily specialised transport assistance and approximately 3,000 pupils receive help with free bus passes.
  • We contract all of our work out to external transport operators so employ no drivers. We employ 660 pupil guides.

In response to a question on how many of these services had been cut since the start of the current academic year (ie September 2010), they said

We make changes to routes as required according to pupil needs, where
they live etc. Our current policy is currently out for consultation for
change and will be subject to Members Agreement.

They claimed not to have any information on:

  • How many children had been affected by cuts since September 2010
  • How many services were planned to be cut
  • How many children would be affected by these cuts
  • How many redundancies will the cuts result in
  • Financially, how much would the cuts to these services save

Interestingly, when asked “Legally, how much notification do schools and the Authority have to give parents that a service is being withdrawn”, they replied

As an authority we have a duty to act reasonably and, although there are no prescribed timescales, the authority would take into account the responses to its consultation on any changes to be made and would also consider whether any transitional arrangements may be necessary as part of any proposed changes.

This final response raises some interesting questions. How much of a consultation was entered into with parents? Were their responses taken into account and how much consideration was given to any transitional arrangements?

We will be looking further into this in an attempt to uncover the truth relating to the removal of this service.

Written by Andy Watt

March 23, 2011 at 10:48 am

Posted in Online Journalism

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We Are What We Tweet – Promo 3rd Cut

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Below is the third cut of the We Are What We Tweet promotional video. I replaced a couple of clips for those with better definition, added the logo to the start and as a graphic during the promo and also changed the text colour to match that of the logo.

Written by Andy Watt

March 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

BBC Sport and Social Media

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Following my meeting yesterday with Ollie Williams from the BBC, he has decided to test one of my recommendations for using social media as part of the BBC’s Olympic strategy. Ollie has opened a VYou account which you can see here. VYou allows you to ask questions of other users and receive a video response as a reply.

So if you have ever wanted to ask something about the Olympic Games, then why not see if Ollie can help?

Written by Andy Watt

March 22, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Interview on Audio Journalism

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Over the weekend, I was interviewed by the Audio Journalism Blog in regards to the LinkedIn group I set up.

If you would like to check it out you can read it here.

Written by Andy Watt

March 22, 2011 at 12:47 am

Posted in Online Journalism

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