White House taps the Da Vinci of data

President Barack Obama has appointed visual data guru Edward Tufte (previously mentioned: here) to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. Tufte will advise on such things as the Recovery.gov website, where citizens can punch their zip code into a track-the-money map and see all the recovery projects in their area.

Bob Garfield of New York public radio’s On The Media interviewed Tufte about the appointment this week (audio embedded below; transcript here).

GARFIELD: Tufte has inspired a generation of innovators with his ideas for the efficient, clean and rich presentation of information. He’s a fan of The New York Times website, the iPhone, and, most of all, the lowly sports page, with its tables and stats a reader can grasp in an instant. But he’s in a constant war with the average website, cluttered with scroll bars, logos, jargon and meaningless graphics.

EDWARD TUFTE: They make the simple complex. The design hand in there is from the marketing department, and it’s unfortunate because our eye-brain system is so powerful, in one long glance, maybe a 12-second glance at something, probably 120 megabits of information goes to our brain. And there’s no reason we have to be looking at impoverished materials because we process material at enormous rates.

Tufte’s first piece of advice to government: its websites should imitate the best news organization sites.

Hat tip: FlowingData.

CBC Radio iPhone app finds the Maritimes

The CBC Radio iPhone app has finally been updated, and now includes live streams from Halifax (and Fredericton and Saint John, but not Sydney or Charlottetown), and from at least one location in every Canadian time zone.

The app allows on-demand access to many good CBC Radio shows, but alas, only to “highlights” of Ideas, whose producers have for some reason been glacially slow to grasp the importance of the Internet’s time-shifting potential for this program.

Hat tip: Scott Gillard.

CBC Radio’s iPhone app finds Nova Scotia (pretty soon)

CBC Radio Ap-sCBC is awaiting approval from Apple for an update to the terrific CBC Radio iPhone app. The updated version, which should appear on  iTunes soon, will include live streams of CBC stations Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton, Fredericton, Grand Falls, Moncton, Ottawa, Regina, Saint John, St John’s, Thunder Bay, Windsor, and Winnipeg. (Can Sydney be far behind?)

The original app (free download here) did not include any streams from the Mountain, Central, or Newfoundland time zones, and only Goose Bay in the Atlantic zone. Stations in the missing locations streamed in Windows Media format, which the app could not handle. As stations switch to MP3 streaming, they can be added to the app via updates like the one that’s pending.

In areas with marginal radio reception, but good WiFi or cell signals, the app beats the hell out of radio. You can time-shift effortlessly to catch an interview you missed, and you can hear many CBC programs on demand. You can do this on your computer as well, though less easily, but not in a car or out walking.

Local lapses in CBC Radio’s iPhone app explained

sScreenshot - iconsThis month, Apple approved a free CBC Radio app that offers yet another reason to own an iPhone. It will prove a boon to radio listeners not tied to their radios all day.

The CBC Radio app will give iPhone or iPod users live audio streams from of Radio 1, 2, and 3 (the corp’s net-based, indy-oriented network). It will let users listen in any time zone, so when Atlantic Canadians miss a national program, they have four chances to catch up.

sScreenshot - network menuWant to listen to a local show in real time? Pick it off the station menu (below left), our use the “find-your-location” feature.

It also offers archived episodes of many CBC Radio shows. Miss an episode of Spark (currently contrarian‘s favorite CBC program)? It’s there on your phone, on demand, whenever you want it.

You can do most of these things on the CBC website, too, but the iPhone app interface is so much cleaner and easier to navigate than the website, many listeners will reach for the phone.

sScreenshot - station menuAs initially released, the program has a few startling lapses. There are no Maritime locations listed on the Radio One station menu, and the find-your-location function directs Nova Scotiams to Ottawa or Goose Bay, of all places.

It turns out that CBC is in the process of converting all its streaming audio feeds from Windows Media to MP3 format. (That’s a good thing; the CBC’s streaming audio files have tended to be balky.)

Jonathan Carrigan, the CBC’s  Product Development Manager for Digital Programming & Business Development, says the missing stations will be added as soon as their streams are converted to MP3. This will require one ore more upgrades to the app, and these will be coming “very soon,” he says. Once the audio stream conversions are complete, Carrigan promises more upgrades, and more features.

The da Vinci of data shows why the iPhone works

Edward Tufte, the Yale University statistician known to Business Week as “the the Galileo of graphics,” and to the New York Times as, “tbe da Vinci of data,” explains why the iPhone works so well. The secret lies in the “magnificent and intense” resolution of its screen, and its “brilliant suppression” of content-stealing “computer administrative debris.” Moneyquote:

Here’s the general theory: To clarify, add detail. Imagine that. To clarify, add detail. And, clutter and overload are not an attribute of information; they are failures of design.

If the information is in chaos, don’t start throwing out information, instead fix the design. And that is exactly what the iPhone platform has done.

More at Tufte’s website and his Vimeo videos..

You have my iPhone and I know where you are


One minute Kevin Miller had his iPhone 3G with him at the sketchy Chicago bar where he and two  friends were taking a break from the Brickworld Lego convention.

Next minute it was gone.

The waitress was sympathetic, but the phone had vanished. As the minutes ticked by, the chances of getting it back looked more and more like a Jewish environmentalist’s chances of getting into the Nova Scotia cabinet.

But Miller had recently activated the Find My iPhone feature of Apple’s otherwise dubious MobileMe network. Using a friend’s laptop, Miller logged on to MobileMe and clicked the Find-my-iPhone link.

He picks up the amazing story here.