enviroVOTE: Tune in tonight to track the environmintiness of the elections

This morning, Ryan Mark and I launched enviroVOTE!

Conceived last Monday, and built in a three-day coding sprint that ended in the wee hours this morning, the site tracks the environmental impact of the elections by comparing winning candidates with environmentally-friendly endorsements.


The numbers

Amy Gahran got the scoop with her E-Media Tidbits post:

The site’s home page features a meter bar currently set to zero. That will change as election results come in tonight. You can also view races by state, with links to specific eco-group endorsements given to specific candidates. …

But the analysis goes deeper than that. Below the meter bar is a percentage figure. That’s where Envirovote gauges the level of enviromintiness of the 2008 elections. Boyer defines enviromintiness as “The freshness of the breath of the nation. Technically, this is the percent change in the eco-friendliness of this year’s elections compared to the last applicable elections for the same seats.”

We calculate the eco-friendliness of a candidate based on how many environmental endorsements they’ve received compared to their race-mates.  Most of the endorsement data, as well as candidate and race information was lovingly sucked through the tubes from Project Vote Smart.  Other data was pulled from Wikipedia and the environmental groups’ websites.

The awesomeness to come

The enviro-meter hasn’t moved yet, but very soon it’ll show the environmental impact of today’s election.  We’ll post the results as they come in tonight, and if America made environminty choices, those bars are gonna start turning green!

So, what are you waiting for?

Check out enviroVOTE tonight, as the polls come in!  And for the play-by-play, follow us on Twitter!

Building a news product with agile practices: How we’re doing it

The Crunchberry Project is using agile software development practices as we build a new product for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.  On the team blog, I’ve begun writing a series of pieces detailing our process.

Part one was a brief attempt at defining agile and explaining why it’s important:

What can happen in a year?  Twitter catches on.  The stock market crashes.  Your competitor releases a new product.  A new congress is elected, and they change the laws.  It’s discovered that margarine is healthier than butter.  Your business model becomes obsolete.  And you’ve invested nine months in a product that nobody needs anymore.

And let’s just say that you’re living in a time warp, and the world remains completely static, who’s to say that you even got the requirements right in the first place?  If you’re wrong, you just invested a year of work in a system that doesn’t work for your users.

As a great Chicagoan once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.”  Your requirements will change.  Agile teams are prepared for the chaos.

Part two in the series begins to explain how our team is implementing agile processes: how we meet, the weekly atomic work cycle known as an iteration, and why we think meetings are toxic.  Plus, it’s got a great parenthetical reading list:

(… If you want to do this right, read Agile Software Development, Principles, Patterns, and Practices by Robert C. Martin, and The Pragmatic Programmer, by Andy Hunt, and Dave Thomas.  Or even better, go to Ann Arbor and learn it from the badasses at The Menlo Institute.)

(Also, read Getting Real by the folks at 37signals.  Please, just trust me on this one.  It’s important.  Much more important than reading this silly blog post, that’s for sure.)

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be sharing our design process, task and defect tracking, how we test, and lots more.  Stay tuned!

The hacker journalist: in whom programming and prose intersect

In an essay at MediaShift Idea Lab, I’ve tried to enumerate the job roles of a programmer-journalist.  It was a helpful exercise.  I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do six months from now, but a couple of the following are appealing…

  • CMS developer
  • CMS implementor
  • CMS user (Web producer)
  • Applications developer
  • Hunter, gatherer and data-miner
  • Visualizations developer
  • New media translator
  • and my favorite, the hacker journalist:

‘Hacker’ is a compliment in my world. If you’re a hacker, you’re an especially good programmer. So, what are you if you’re a hacker journalist? Think about what photojournalists do — they tell stories with a camera.

A hacker journalist tells stories with code.

The roles will overlap in the real world, and I’m probably missing one or two.  What other hats could a hacker wear at a news organization?