Friday, October 05, 2012

Working the data behind Uncounted Casualties

For the past several months, the Statesman investigative team has been hammering away at a huge data-driven series, Uncounted Casualties, where we researched the deaths of Texas veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to startling result.

While this story started with data, it was shoe-leather reporting and story-telling that really made it stand out. Reporters Brenda Bell, Eric Dexheimer, Dave Harmon, Tony Plohetski and Jeremy Schwartz spent six months using scant information to identify and track down the cause of death of our vets, and then talked to the families of many so they could tell the story of these fallen service members. Jay Janner and Kelly West brought it all to life through photos and video. I worked the numbers behind the scene.

The conclusions we formed -- that overdoses are as much a problem with our returning vets as suicide, and that accidents claimed a disproportionate number of our pool compared to the Texas population -- could not have been made without good record keeping, analysis and comparison to state-wide data gathered through public information requests. One reason we spent the time to do this study was because no one else has; Veteran’s Affairs does not track causes of death among all their veterans, though they are trying to take steps to do so.

We started with a list of 72,000+ veterans who had died since 2003 that were in the VA system and receiving benefits. This Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (or BIRLS) list had only a few fields: date of death, age at death, primary disability code, branch of service and the ZIP code of residence registered with the VA. Since we wanted to focus on Iraq/Afghanistan vets only, we had to go back to the VA to get that service added to the files, narrowing our list to 345 veterans who were from Texas and had served in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Jeremy Schwartz outlines in a blog post the strategy to identify more than 300 of these veterans, and determine the cause of death for 266 of those. My part in this was to create a database (using Caspio) that the group could use to track the information they found, so we could later do analysis on those records. We had to code our information consistently so it could be queried and counted correctly.

We also wanted to compare the causes of death among our cohort with Texas as a whole, where we could, so I handled this as well. There are death statistics available online with the Texas Department of State Health Services, but the query tool only went up to 2009, and the age breakdown was in 10-year increments. It’s important to look at death rates by age group because wide ranges skew the numbers. (Infants don’t commit suicide and older people are much less likely to die of overdose.) So we requested the most recent data we could, broken into 5-year increments so we could look more accurately at “combat-age” groups that didn’t include Texans too young to serve in the military services, or older than our comparison cohort.

Once we had all our information in hand, we were able to do comparisons, by percentage, using the age-groupings of our sample. Because we knew our group had so many more men than women, compared to the general population, we also sliced the data by gender, although we found the trends generally the same.

Once I could query data (I used Microsoft Access and Excel,) we found some alarming trends. It was no surprise that suicides cases were elevated compared to the general population, just as has been widely reported with active duty service members, but we also found that overdoses were equally high, and the vast majority of those involved prescription medications.


When we looked at the veterans who had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the causes of death were even more startling. When looking at the group as a whole (the 266 where we were able to determine the cause of death), over 100 died of disease or sickness and other natural causes. But when we looked at just those veterans with PTSD, only two in 46 died of these more natural causes. Suicides, overdoses and accidents accounted for 80 percent of the deaths.

Another trend I didn’t see until we lay it out on paper as a graphic, was that almost all of our Marine veterans died young. Of the 42 Marines, only four were 35-years-old or older.

You can slice and dice this data set yourself in this wonderful interactive graphic designed by Rob Villialpando. Rob also handled the excellent online presentation, and I’d also like to wave at Scott Ladd, who brilliantly handled the print design.

We made the comparisons with a caveat. We know the group of veterans we were looking at were already seeking medical care and receiving benefits from Veterans Affairs, so they were “sick” in some fashion. While some of the older age groupings were small, the bulk of our cohort was in younger age groups where we had adequate numbers to see trends and build comparisons. We still find, and a former Texas state epidemiologist concurred, that our comparison is valid.

It was an enlightening project and one that I’m proud to be a part of. Hopefully by revealing these startling trends about suicides, overdoses and accidents among our veterans, we can better understand the scope of the problem and policy and laws can be shaped to help more veterans as they return from the battlefield and integrate with our communities.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

MS Access SQL tip: sum, iif and datepart

I've been working for a while on a large data set for a future story, and I created a query that I thought different enough to share.

sum, iif and datepart

I have a series of records that have a date in mm/dd/yyyy format. I wanted to know how many records there were for each month of a 3-year span, so I wanted to query and group by year, but I wanted a count of the records by month. I wanted it to look like this:


Units By Month
YR Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2009 89 75 92 72 97 75 112 122 112 93 82 96 1117
2010 113 102 105 116 116 122 149 126 113 109 118 115 1404
2011 144 107 143 149 152 134 142 158 181 139 134 174 1757


Thanks to a GeekAustin class on writing SQL, I had a way.

I used the MS Access iif function to count and sum a record if it met a certain condition, but to not count it if it didn't. In this case I was checking if it was the proper month for that column. This is the iif function:

iif(test,value_if_true,value_if_false)
Wrap that in a sum, and you count the record only if the value is true:

sum(iif(test,1,0))
So, I use the datepart function to test the record for every month:

SELECT yr,sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 1,1,0)) AS Jan, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 2,1,0)) AS Feb, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 3,1,0)) AS Mar, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 4,1,0)) AS Apr, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 5,1,0)) AS May, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 6,1,0)) AS Jun, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 7,1,0)) AS Jul, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 8,1,0)) AS Aug, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 9,1,0)) AS Sep, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 10,1,0)) AS Oct, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) =11,1,0)) AS Nov, sum(iif(datepart("m",DATE_OCCURRED) = 12,1,0)) AS [Dec],
count(*) AS Total
FROM data
GROUP BY yr;
The ""iif" is the cool part, but it's the "datepart" function that makes it powerful in this instance, as I can test if the month is true. I test if "m" (or month) equals "1" (or January.) If so, make the value 1 so it will be summed in that column. Otherwise, the value is zero and it is not added to the sum.

A big thanks to Boyd Hemphill of that GeekAustin class for that bit about summing the dates. It's gratifying to actually use code out of a class like that.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Tracking Private Water Wells in Austin


Just a quick post to note my most recent Google Fusion Tables visualization, this time showing water wells drilled in parts of Austin served by the local water utility. I helped reporter Dave Harmon with the research behind his story about residents drilling their own private wells, many so they can irrigate their landscaping without worry of the watering restrictions we face during drought years in Austin.

When we started with the analysis, we originally looked at ZIP codes that were mostly in the city boundary, using data from the Texas Water Development Board's Submitted Driller's Reports Database. But as Dave turned the story more about how folks were using these wells to bypass water restrictions, the more it made sense to focus instead on the areas that the Austin Water utility serves. I put in a public information request to the city to get the GIS shapefiles of the water service area, and I was able to us that to search by location for all the wells in just the service area (using Lat/Long from the Driller's Reports).

My basic steps were:

  • Download the Driller's Reports Database (in MS Access).
  • Query that database to get wells within ZIP codes in Austin (or in Travis County)
  • I exported the query and cleaned up the data. I could tell from my early map visualizations that some of the data had incorrect Lat/Longs.
  • I used Esri ArcMap to pull in the wells and plot them. I then layed on the Austin Water district and then searched for all the wells within the district, and then exported that result set.
  • More cleanup and custom columns, and then loaded that list of wells into Fusion Tables.
  • Using shpescape.com, I uploaded Fusion Tables the shapefiles of the Edwards Aquifer (pulled from CAPCOG and then edited) and the Austin Water Utility shapefiles from the city.
  • I used the FusionTablesLayer Wizard with some modifications to layer the three shapefiles on top of each other.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hanging with Dave Olsen of Hootsuite

At the Gingerman with Dave.
During SXSWi, Cory and I ran into Dave Olsen of Hootsuite, who had offered up an awesome panel earlier in the week about working the crowd like Tom Sawyer. It was cool to talk to him for a few minutes about his work, and to find out he was a Chief Scout, the Canadian equivalent of Eagle Scouts in the U.S.

 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SXSW Quick Hits: Day 5

South by Southwest Interactive is a marathon, and inevitably there is a wall. I'm glad to have done it, and I'm glad it is done.

The Right Tool for the Job: Native or Mobile Web?
This discussion on building iOS apps vs using the mobile browser had promise. It was a subject I'm interested in, and had good panelists from Tumblr and Facebook. They knew what they were talking about, but their subjects just didn't resonate with me.

  • There are advantages to writing native apps because you are closer to the hardware, but there is equal advantage to web apps because you get a lot of features for free in the browser.
  • Many applications are taking a hybrid approach, building navigation and posting in the native space, but opening a webkit window in the app to display rich text. Facebook. Apple Store. Some apps, like Flipboard, are rendering json from the local machine instead of the web.
  • A lot of talk about web browser standards for mobile and the Rng.io test.
  • Trying to guess which platform will be better a year down the road isn't wise. Develop for what you can do now.
Matt Thompson always puts on a great talk, and this was no different. Along with Gideon Lichfield of The Economist, they made a case that journalists could use some more Scientific Method in their reporting and publishing.
  • The Scientific Method makes a researcher's work collaborative, replicable and predictive. All things Journalists could use in their own work. Adding citations in stories, beyond the "xxxx, public information officer for yyyy, said." would allow readers and other journalists to see how the story was written. It would be more transparent where the facts came from, and others could replicate the work to verify that it is true (or false, under certain conditions, much like science.)
  • Some sites are doing this now: Politifact, by siting their sources on political statements, like the Obamameter. ProPublica has been able to spread the impact of their work by explaining their methodology and opening it up to others to test in similar or different conditions.
  • A reporter clarifying how they got information can influence the credibility of that information. Take these different attributions:
    • "blanket statement," he said.
    • "blanket statement," he said in a one-on-one interview.
    • "blanket statement," he said at a news conference.
    • "blanket statement," he said in a meeting over drinks after work.
  • Predictions need to be followed up on and be held accountable. They joked about the "Friedman Unit," which they define as "the length of time when a prediction will be forgotten." Apparently a policy watchdog tracked the predictions of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, of which there are many. Journalism needs a mechanism to test and track the the statements of their sources.
  • Whatever tools are created to help with these concepts of citations and hypothesis testing, the tools have to be self-justifying (useful to the journalist), interoperable (embedable in a story) and easy to use. Journalists are stuck in their ways and hard to change. Storify was put up as an example of such a tool that meets that test.
This was a great panel to follow the footnote speech by Jennifer Pahlka on Code for America, but unfortunately I missed that keynote to eat. At least this filled gave me some details on the project, even if I missed Pahlka's overview.
  • Matthew Esquibel of the City of Austin confirmed that government does have development challenges not unlike some other very large organizations with lots of red tape. (Like, say, a large media company?) They lack the hip, collaborative spaces and attitudes that startups and tech companies enjoy.
  • Esquibel held out the city's website redesign, austintexas.gov, as a break in the old mold. It was actually two projects ... the rebuilding of the site and the release of data.austintexas.gov. They spent three years studying how to do it, getting RFPs and then finally decided, with the hep of Open Austin, to build it themselves on Drupal 7. It took them seven months to build it once they came to that decision.
  • Julio Gonzalez of Open Austin talked described how open government and open data can help reverse the erosion of trust that Americans have shown in government. 
  • He said to reach the mass of making change, you have to:
    • Target the median voter (because that's what our city council does)
    • Thank the pick up the people who help you
    • Reach into the government to find those who can actually make change, and help them get the power to make change if they don't have it already.
    • Use social pressures to help your cause. Build a scoreboard of openness to push others to open their data.
    • Keep a coalition and don't get stuck with a charismatic leader that becomes the face of your movement, for good or ill.
    • Broaden that coalition to include others that may not be developers ... journalists and others who live in the "excel world".
  • Kevin Curry is an organizer with Code for America, and he described the Code for America Brigade and what they do. Last year, they had 18 fellows or so in 16 cities or so to develop projects that help the public and the cities they are assigned to. They build on open source platforms so the applications can be repeated and modified for other users.
  • Example as an Adopt a Hydrant project in Boston. This gives citizens a chance to adopt a hydrant to dig out of the snow, to save city firefighters time and staff to do other things, like fight fires. This application is being modified for Chicago for Adopt a Sidewalk.
  • Aurelio Tinio was  the lead engineer at The Bay Citizen before joining the Code for America Brigade, which requires a year commitment. He talked about his decision process to join as a fellow. He is part of the Austin team along with  ...
  • Emily Wright-Moore described what the year looks like as a fellow. They spend January learning from others in an institute setting. February is spent at the host city meeting with city staff and the community. March is a time they cook up the project they will work on over the next six months, which they they show off in November.
  • There were 550 applicants for the 2012 "season," yielding 26 fellows.
Always the last talk at SXSWi, Bruce is usually an entertaining rant. There's little news here ... it's just fun to listen.
  • He complained last year that SXSWi need to be more international. He did his part by brining a bunch of Europeans over with him, but was also blown away by the international flavor this year.
  • He spent time in Mexico City, which was wonderful despite the Narco Cultura that permeates there.
  • He extolled the virtues or James Bridle, and said we should all dress better.
  • For his prediction, we said thus: The future for us is "Old people in big dirty cities afraid of the sky." That was the easy one.
  • He talked about the "Stacks." Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. They control everything and permeate our lives like no other five companies have in the past. They are not hostile to us, but they want to render the others irrelevant. We are their livestock, with no value to the Stack beyond the data we allow them to harvest.
  • The Stacks are killing our modes of expression. Newspapers, film, music. We've spent 400 years coming up with different literature, and now they crumble.
  • But, it's not going to end pretty. The Stacks will be destroyed, just like email lists, geocities, myspace and the blogs of today. And our kids will be asking us why we let it happen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SXSW Quickie: The Trade Show

Ok, I admit my most important reason for going to the trade show was to pick up trinkets for my wife's fourth grade classroom treat box. But I did see some other cool things along the way in the two days I walked the aisles.

  • Strides.do and Sliderocket. Strides is a lightweight project manager with a Facebook-like feel in the way you can assign tasks and communicate about tasks. It lacked any time forecasting or management, though. Sliderocket seems like a great presentation tool for corporations. I know there are lots of fans for it.
  • The ZBOARD is an electric skateboard that I would totally buy if it was half the price. With a 5 mile range, it could get me to the park and ride and I could take the bus more often.
  • TuneUp is and app that fixes all your untitled tunes in iTunes, using a Shazam-like technology. It's normally $50, but they werer selling for $30 on the floor.
  • Netbase was catching some buzz as I heard others describing a couple of times outside the trade show. It helps they sponsored the SXSW shirts, of source. They scan social streams to see what people want and then help companies market toward that. Women want ice cream. Men want cars. In case you wanted to know.
  • Questionmine ads survey questions on top of video, capturing the metrics.
  • LightCMS was a resellable CMS for developers.

Sure, there was other stuff. Lots. That's just what caught my eye.

 

SXSW Quick Hits: Day 4

Tried to hit five panels yesterday, but was locked out of the last one. I figured I would be, that being Sean Parker and Al Gore.

Maps of Time: Data As Narrative

  • I came into this one a little late, but did catch Bert Herman of Storify, talking about the genesis of his product. For them, they collect the metadata from all social tidbits used in Storify, so they can use that to find the most curated tweets or what have you. Their product creates a new kind of journalism, or a new medium of curated journalism. No longer do reporters have to live with the inverted pyramid, and their stories don't have to "stop." They can be curated over time.
  • I was talking later with Meghan Krane of Memolane about this ... we should study how a tool like Storify changes how a reporter covers his stories or beats. We imagined that the quantity of their sources is greater, but what about the quality? And does the extent of their beat or interests expand when they have access and encouragement to use a tools such as Storify?
  • Drew Harry is a PHD student at MIT studying reflection in real time. He wants to know how back channels can change an event, and how he can facilitate that. Most reflection happens at the end of an event, but if it can happen more during the event, then participants can influence the event into a future they want to see. Think of the hashtag conversations that happen during a SXSW panel, and the questions asked through that. He takes it step further by creating an iPad app for a small class where they can track topics, time spend, discuss it, etc. And on a larger scale, he created a video game with included back channel called ROAR.

Shut Up & Draw: A Non-Artist Way to Think Visually

  • Oh, this panel was brilliant! Sunni Brown, Jessica Hagy and Dan Roam were hilarious, on point (or draw) and influential. Best panel of the day, by far.
  • Brown says most businesses don't have a whiteboard culture because we have a nationwide lunacy about visual language. The main problem is we think of visual language as ART, and then we bring a bunch of misconceptions about art along with that, like that it is luxurious, superfluous, created by the elite, with god-given skill, is frivolous and silly. All of that isn't true, because visual language is not art. it is not emotive, is not an act of self expression, it is not ambiguious. It is communication. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, it is not necessary to communicate.
  • People stop drawing because they thinking they can't do it well. But it doesn't have to be flawless and there are plenty of examples to prove that.
  • Roam told the story of the Laffer Curve, communicated through a drawing on a napkin.
  • I need to look up the Doodle Revolution. And buy some of theses guys books.
  • I miss my white board wall :-(

Data Vis Is Dead, Long Live Data Vis!

  • Rosten Woo's project to find affordable housing was an excellent use of a tactile visualizations. He says the slower proces of physically interacting with it pushes participants to ask more questions about policy, and creates more change in the world.
  • Dylan Lathrop's work with Good magazine was quite good and I want to pick up the most recent edition for the Beg, Borrow and Steal issue about the economic crisis. It's a mix of narrative and visualizations and arrows leading readers through a complex story.
  • The panelist built a site for more info.

It's Not News, It's Business

This talk was intended to look at monetization for news beyond circulations and traditional advertising. Several interesting points made.

  • All but a few news organizations can't develop in a timely,anger. They tend to buy products that others have done, and by that point it is too late. Justin Ferrell suggests that developers need to be included in top managment in the newsroom. They need to be startup incubators and create a startup mentality. I couldn't agree more.
  • Ann Friedman talked about Good magazine and how they sell alignment to their brand instead of advertising in the brand. No CPM. Companies want to be a part of their magazine because they have a mission that the company agrees with and wants to be a part of. It works for them, and issue oriented magazine that is not tied to geography, but does that work or could it work for a traditional news org?
  • One question was about the walls between the newsroom and advertising, and of they exist anymore. Good, as a quartly product, I think, has the time to work with advertising on all their issues. It is built into their workflow. Other orgs are lowering the walls and making them more porous, and the digital products have certainly made that possible through the years, but there is still not enough collaboration.

AND MORE

The highlight of the evening, beyond taking my lovely wife out, was meeting Dave Olsen of Hootesuite at Gingerman. I was able to thank him for his excellent presentation about crowd sourcing like Tom Sawyer. It was also good to catch up with Jen Lee Reeves. What fun!

 

Monday, March 12, 2012

SXSW Quick Hits: Day 3

Day two of the festival was fast and furious again, but I was also able to take in a couple of side trips I've been wanting to.

Storytelling Beyond Words: New Forms of Journalism

  • Journo panel with a favorite, Aron Pilhofer of the New York Times. Also Bill Adair of Politifact and Jim Brady of Digital First Media.
  • Pilhofer says you have to develop in the newsroom, and you need at least three people. Look for the guy with stickers all over his laptop.
  • If management or corporate doesn't support what you are doing, go rogue. You have to SHOW them what you can do. Create a proof of concept.
  • Pilhofer asks: What does the story want to be?
  • Brady says in early days, spend five to ten minutes thinking about different ways to tell a story.
  • If you have 15 tools in your storytelling toolbox, it's OK to use only three.
  • Example stories:

Cookbook 2.0: The Future of Recipe Content

  • Publishers used to be only a platform to sell the book. Now they are looking beyond that.Publishers need to thing about them being the conduit between authors and readers
  • Electronic price point is contentious. Consumers are looking for the $2.99 price point created by App Store mentality, but publishers can't survive off of that.
  • They need to blend print and online worlds. Include enhanced content. Embrace cross media.
  • Future includes: Backlist of recipes. Authors acts as content curator. Content with share ability. Selling the cookbook, but go beyond.
  • Examples:
    • Food 52: Former New York Times critic Amanda Hesser
    • Cooks Illustrated: Kept pay model online.
    • Blog Eats.
    • Chef going own route with crows-sourced funding and community involvement. I think it's John Sundstrom of Lark.

Go Forth & Make Awesomeness: Core Values & Action

  • This was actually my third choice panel, but it was really good. My first choice was a Big Data core conversation at the Hilton that was full before I even got there. Then I went for the Google are design panel, but it was full, too, though I was not surprised.
  • So, I landed at a panel with Leslie Jensen-Inman and Jeffrey Zeldman on being Awesome. And it was, you guessed it, awesome! (Say that with a funny voice.)
  • Jensen-Inman talked about her Map4 Awesomeness: Passion, Purpose Promise and Pursuit.
  • Zeldman, the guy behind A List Apart, has different motivations for building great things, some altruistic, and some not so much. One of his first sites in 1995 was Pardon my Icon, which was about crappy icon work.
  • One of the side benefits of this session was watching @Rohdesign sketch in his little book the main points of the talk. Most awesome!

ALSO

Google Village

A couple of cool things to learn at the a Google Village on Rainey Street, hosted in Lustre Pearl and other bars in this neighborhood.

  • Schemer is is a place to find stuff to do with your friends. Invites at schemer.com/join.
  • Google Map Maker helps crowd source the accuracy of Google maps.
  • Google has tips for business getting on mobile platforms at GoMo.
  • Google Play puts much of their entertainment platforms, like games and books, on the same platform.
Screenburn

This is so much better than last year. I'm not a huge gamer, but the proof came in the votes from my sons, 14- and 15-years-old. It was big, loud, with lots of screens, animation, more booths and more game companies. They gave it two thumbs up. Each.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

SXSW Quick Hits: Day 1 and 2

I hadn't planned on blogging about SXSW Interactive, but there were a couple of things that definitely inspired me that I want to share. So here are some quick hits from the panels I've caught in the first two days:

DAY ONE

Digital vs. Print: Storyboard to Digital Delivery

  • Magazine editors, at least those on this panel, are bullish about the tablet form factor. They know there is some cannibalization of their print audience, but in the end the combination of the two is greater than print alone.
  • Engagement on the tablet is 7x longer than on their websites. Much like the print magazine. The web is drive-by.
  • These publishers made sure that the tablet form factor had a pay model at launch. {sigh}.
  • Personalization of content is the future for them.
  • Cosmo has a digital-only version for men. No, I don't have a subscription.
The Power of Visual Storytelling
  • I hate to admit the best thing out of this panel was the Visible Tweets display on the big screen.
  • Before you post that tweet or blog, think: WIST? Would I share this? Because if not, we don't care.
Pocket Intelligence
  • A panel that promised not to suck, and maybe it didn't for some. Too little discussion about what we could do with the mobile handset.
  • The second reference to Highlight, a mobile app to show you about friends around you.
DAY TWO
I spent most of the day with Robert Quigley, Senior lecturer at the University of Texas, and he was live blogging all the sessions, so I'll just point you to him for now.

Real-Time Newsjacking & a Cold-Blooded Tweeter
  • For the Ad agency Lemz to do a commercial a day for IKEA, they had to turn commercial production on its head. They created a news show atmosphere with daily meetings to produce the 15-second commercials, one every day for 365 days.
  • Rob's blog, where he explains the @BronxZoosCobra
Crowd Sourcing Community Projects Like Tom Sawyer
  • My favorite panel of the fest thus far. Hootsuite's Dave Olsen talked about his crowdsourcing projects, and how they related to Tom Sawyer getting others to whitewash his fence.
  • It was the presentation style that was brilliant. Dressed in character. Tying every aspect back to that Mark Twain reference. Great physical visuals that you could pass around. It was a showcase example of a solo talk.
  • RobQuig's writeup.
  • Oh, and I want to try Hootsuite now.
Fantasy Sports: Where Does It Go from Here?
  • I'll come back to this one, as I'm running out of time this morning to write, but this panel was inspiring on several levels.
  • WR Greg Jennings of the Green Bay Packers was on the panel. Enough Said.
  • Bloomberg's baseball tracking software they sell to MLB teams is awesome. Just awesome.
  • RobQuig's writeup.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Facebook widget "Invalid action type"

UPDATE 11:25a CT: Facebook has fixed the "Invalid action type" error, so you don't have to change your code now, though I don't think the addition will hurt anything, either.

EARLIER: I came into work today with a note from my boss that our Facebook Recommendations widget was displaying "Invalid action type" on our home page. Not good.

I didn't know of another site off-hand that used the same widget, which was the iFrame version of the Recommendations Box Social Plugin, so I did a quick search for "invalid action type" and found that I wasn't alone, along with a possible solution.

GeeksTrack's suggestion is in a comment by Besnik Selimi, though it wasn't quite explicit enough for my tastes. It was enough to get through the solution.

First task was to switch from the iFrame solution to the Javascript SDK version, which I had tested but not implemented.

The affected code for the widget in question was:

<fb:recommendations site="www.statesman.com" width="300" height="245" header="true" colorscheme="light" ref="homepage"></fb:recommendations>


I added the 'data-action="like"' parameter, as suggested by Selimi:

<fb:recommendations site="www.statesman.com" data-action="like" width="300" height="245" header="true" colorscheme="light" ref="homepage"></fb:recommendations>


I'm not sure of a solution for the iFrame code. I tried adding &data-action=like to the url string and that didn't work. Interestingly, even Facebook's widget wizard is busted.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The birth of ONA Austin

UT Senior Lecturer Robert Quigley explains the genesis and dream of ONA Austin.

Tonight we held the first ONA Austin meetup at Opal Divine's Penn Field and I would say it was a roaring success. We had about 60 people show up from all walks of online publishing life. We had experienced journalists from print, online and TV. We had bloggers, entrepreneurs, coders, students, educators, marketers, you name it ... it was just a great collection of people.

There were some great suggestions for content topics for future meetups, and lots of suggestions for venues. We could always use more of those suggestions, and especially some sponsorships pay for little things like appetizers, name tags and such.

We are looking at the 4th Monday of each month for meetings, probably starting at 6:30 or 7p. Sign up at meetup.com/ONA-Austin so you can be notified about future events. You can also give us feed back and suggestions on Facebook and Twitter.


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