Music, art, games, and context – who would’ve thought of the all the different apps that could be created around the presidential debates?
Inspiration and creativity were the bywords of the weekend, as Hacks/Hackers Boston held a “Hack the Presidential Debate” hackathon this past weekend. At least 40 people participated between Friday night and Saturday. The idea was to create apps that could be used for the third and final presidential debate Monday night (Oct. 22.). The event was sponsored by Hacks/Hackers, The Boston Globe, and the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, which hosted the event.
Two winners were picked. Debatify claimed first place. The app wraps music around spoken clips from the earlier debates. Debatify was a crowd-pleasing hit, inspiring waves of laughter from the crowd and judges. It was created by Joanna Kao, Jennifer Hollett, Dan Siegel, Max Rothman, Ying Tan, and Leon Lin.
The second place winner was Potato, which placed contextual art and links to stories alongside a live transcript of the debate. Team members were Alvin Chang, Jin Dai, and Matt Carroll. The app was created using software written by Dan Schultz. (Hopefully, a link will be up by the time of the debate Monday night.)
Other entries: Xin Xin and Gabriel Florit worked on an app that created artistic data visualizations, which might help show the emotional state of the candidates or how often they referred to different topics.
Andrew Inglis and Chris Amico worked on a game that would be played by two people, who could score points by guessing which words would be used by the candidates. The idea of the game was to help unite people of opposing political beliefs in an interesting, fun way.
Schultz also showed off an app that scrambled the transcripts, making it seem as if the candidates had been drinking.
The event was judged by Brian Mooney, a veteran political reporter for the Boston Globe, with more than 40 years of experience, Michael Workman, digital design director at the Globe, and Michael Morisy, founder of the freedom of information site, Muckrock.com, and now the editor and curator for The Hive, a blog on innovation and startups on Boston.com.
By Mark Lewis, Sr. Product Manager, Boston.com
One of the great joys of bringing RadioBDC into the Boston.com family has certainly been the “Live in the Lab” concert series. For the uninitiated, the “Live in the Lab” series is a steady stream of musical acts that perform in the Globe Lab. Typically, the Lab hosts a band for three to five songs, largely acoustic. To date, we’ve had six bands: Animal Kingdom, The Lumineers, California Wives, Bloc Party, Stars, and the sixth, Minus the Bear.
Much like anything else, we’ve come a long way in the way we produce and distribute the concerts to the Boston.com and RadioBDC audience. We thought it was time to peel back the curtain and show off how we tackle set-up, warm-up, lights-up and tear-down. In this post, we focus on what it took to get Minus the Bear live on air.
4 pm (minus 1 day to show)
RadioBDC director Mike Snow begins the stage build-out by setting up the speakers, microphones and monitors for the band. He’ll also set up the mixer (Mackie ProFX12) that will serve the live studio audience and the live video feed.
Another lynchpin of the production, Ed Medina spends the night before arranging the platform for the camera and tripod. If time permits, he’ll drop some lights. Time does not permit for this performance.
10 am day of show (3h, 30min to show time)
Depending on how much access we have to the Globe Lab, or how productive we feel like being, we try to set up studio speakers, monitors for the band and lighting the night before a performance. That’s if we are smart. We’ve done it all in 45 minutes in some instances. The “stage” takes four 400 watt lights, two with red gels to warm the set. In the photo you can see Executive Producer of the Live in the Lab series Chris Rattey setting up the stage video monitors. These are six monitors stacked Brady Bunch style. When not called into concert duty, these monitors usually display Chris Marstall’s innovative Boston Instagram montage. But, for the shows, we hijack the screens for RadioBDC pub and band photos (see video). Rattey has finally mastered setting this up without “herniating” a disk. Chris explains the process in this short video…
Other set-up items accomplished this early are “hanging” studio art work and setting up the camera.
11 am (2h, 30min to show time)
At this point most of the lighting and set accoutrements are in place. It’s time to break out the conduit to the web – the LiveU backpack. Boston.com invested in the LiveU backpack back in January to shoot large breaking news events. It’s come in quite handy recently with all of the live performances. Essentially, the backpack is a TV satellite truck stuffed in a 20 lb. pack. Since the pack relies on cell service (4G if available), it’s always smart to run a test early and often. Too little bandwidth and your stream can be poor. So, there are ways to dial back the quality a bit – if you have enough bandwidth, sky is the limit. The bandwidth gods smile upon us today, signal is strong.
The pack is configured right to our Brightcove account. So, at this point, it’s plug-and-play. Getting out to the web also has an additional step – a CDN. In this case we use a company called Mirror Image. Mirror Image helps us split the video stream into three – flash, HLS (for iOS) and whatever Blackberry needs.
Noon (1h, 30 min to show time)
Minus the Bear is definitely not on “band time.” These guys are pros and show up 90 minutes before the show to make sure everything works. Usually we have more time to set-up as bands are known to stroll in a bit late. We’re happy they are here so we can test levels and shots with actual talent.
We’re used to a vocalist and an acoustic guitar player, but Minus has brought a full arsenal – five band members complete with three guitars, keyboard and a new one for us – drums. Another key ingredient Snow has to worry about is Program Director Paul Driscoll is recording the show on his Mac to playback on RadioBDC. Paul confirms he is getting the feed.
12:30 pm (1h to show time)
At this point we’ve fully tested the video stream. Problem – we have moving pictures, but no audio. We run an XLR from the camera to the board. After 10 minutes we realize a mute button is pressed on the mixer. Problem solved. We listen for the audio stream with Minus the Bear warming up and realize we are only hearing music in one ear. Is the mixer only sending mono? We hope not. Darren Durlach, our shooter for the day, points out that we are taking the stereo feed from the board and it’s clear in the camera.
Monitors are giving us fits and starts but between Snow and Radio BDC’s own Adam 12 they figure out how to get the band the sound they want.
1 pm (30 min to show time)
While the band scarfs down some of Café BG’s finest sandwiches, the production team plows through more testing. All is well with the live video stream. We now have full audio. Crisis averted.
Lucky RadioBDC contest winners start filing into the first few rows of seats in the Globe Lab. Employees from the Globe start to fill in the rest of the seats.
1:15 pm (15 min to show time)
Minus the Bear takes its place on stage and loosens up. All of the technical aspects are behind us, it’s show time.
1:30 pm (show time)
Julie Kramer is given the thumbs up to intro the band and start the show. Just have to hope all of the prep work pays off.
1:40 pm (show time +10)
A light briefly powers down in between songs. A wall hanging drops and almost takes out the drummer. Welcome to live TV! Here is a short clip from the show.
2:00 pm (show’s over)
Show is over, Minus the Bear is nice enough to take some photos and meet the fans. Another “Live in the Lab” in the books. Here is a link to the full set.
Great work by all of the people behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Time to start tearing down. Bela Fleck is in the Lab in 12 hours – time to reset for the fourteen time Grammy winner.
What’s the news story that all my friends are talking about? Boston.com is now testing out a new ‘social sharing’ toolbar that will let you see what stories your Facebook friends are reading on Boston.com and in turn share what you are reading with them.
Only a small portion of our users will be randomly-selected to try this feature at first — and you’ll need to choose to use it. If you want to try it out, you can go to this page and turn on social sharing. Once you’re participating, you can invite your friends to share as well.
We hope this will be fun — knowing what your friends are reading, and discussing it with them (you can use a special comment box at the bottom of articles to do that).
After you opt-in, social sharing will share stories you read, photo galleries you view, and videos you watch on Boston.com with your Facebook friends, on Facebook and on Boston.com. (Not all pages on Boston.com are enabled for this feature yet).
You can turn sharing off for individual stories, or entirely, and we’ll always pop-up a little notification to remind you. Facebook will NOT show every single article you read to your friends, so you won’t be spamming them. Even if your friends choose not to turn on social sharing, they’ll still be able to the read the stories on boston.com.
Why are we doing this?
There was a time when your whole social circle might read the same printed newspaper each morning and watched Walter Cronkite each evening. Social sharing may recapture a bit of that shared media diet by letting you read the same articles your friends have read. That could make it easy to turn reading the news on Boston.com into an experience where you connect with your friends.
Still have questions? Read the FAQ. And let us know what you think.
Joel Abrams, Senior Product Manager, Boston.com
The Boston Globe is looking for a creative, organized designer to join the design and development team for our two websites. BostonGlobe.com is a subscription site launched in 2011 featuring groundbreaking responsive design. It was named “World’s Best Designed Website” by the Society for News Design. Boston.com, our free site, is the sixth-largest newspaper-related website in the country. This position requires the ability to communicate design principles verbally and through wire frames, comps and HTML/CSS/JS. We’re looking for a team player able to easily move across disciplines to work with the editorial and product teams.
As a designer at Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com, you will …
• Assess a project and come up with the best design approach.
• Work closely with the design director to define and maintain consistent style across all of our digital products, from desktop to mobile and beyond.
• Convert designs into clean front-end code.
• Be a leader on projects across all platforms and work with colleagues in other departments to ensure seamless integration.
• Be part of a team that redesigns Boston.com
The ideal candidate …
• Has an excellent eye for design. Candidates should know great web UI when they see it and be able to explain why it’s great.
• Is a highly organized individual, with close attention to detail.
• Is always looking to learn.
• Needs to be fluent in Adobe design products to create wireframes and comps.
To apply, click here and/or send your portfolio and resume to michael.workman at boston dot com
— Michael Workman
Digital design director
Since I joined the Globe a year and half ago, I’ve been getting props (and funny looks) for my fancy title: Creative Technologist. In my book, it was the coolest job in the building.
Meet Dan Schultz, our newly-hired 2011/2012 Knight-Mozilla Fellow. He’s now got the coolest job at the Globe. Here are four reasons why I think that:
Independence. Dan says he feels “loosely coupled” with the newspaper he works for. That means he can have conversations that need to be had, but that might not fit into anyone else’s official job descriptions. For example, he just got off the phone with the CIO and CTO of our parent, the New York Times Company. He was asking them how code is shared between the Globe and the Times, and how technologists collaborate with the newsroom.
Deep embedding. Dan’s got his feet in many different parts of our organization. In his time here he’ll pull rotations on our CMS team, our R&D team and our interactive newsgraphics team. He’ll walk out the door next summer knowing more about how this place runs than people who’ve been here a decade.
Awesome field trips. Dan just got back from 3 weeks in Europe on the Foundation’s dime. He spent 2 days in Florence hacking TOR, a week in London hacking on a team in the Guardian’s Discovery Week, and a week in between kicking around Europe’s news innovation scene with the rest of the fellows. “Travel was awesome,” he tells me, “but the community that was both built from and connected to that travel was amazing.” He likes “the fact that you have fellows, you hang out and you will immediately make X new friends, and it’s not just random people, it’s people in the space you’re passionate about.”
Freedom to hack. Dan’s going to spend part of his on-the-clock time working on his own mad scientist projects. Currently on deck are two hackathon-bred projects, NewsQuest (AKA “News your own adventure”) and TOR Wolf , which he describes as “a game designed to teach journalists the value of using TOR when working with a contact in oppressive regimes.”
Jealous? Don’t be. Here’s the kicker: you can have his job. He’s rotating out of here next summer, to make way for our 2012/13 Knight-Mozilla Fellow. That could be you! The deadline for applicants is August 11. You could end up at the Globe, BBC, the New York Times, Der Spiegel, Zeit Online, lanacion.com, The Guardian or Pro Publica!
For more information, check out Dan Sinker’s post on the subject.
- Chris Marstall, Creative Technologist, Boston Globe/boston.com