NYU Session 2: Data Journalism and Sensors

The range of student backgrounds and voices continues to engage, excite, and make for lively discussion and experimentation. As Anthony Vanky said during the MIT workshop, I take a “mile-wide, inch deep” approach to structuring graduate workshops, with the aim of giving students a fat set of tools for going a mile deep on their own projects.

Some students are starting to form ideas for larger projects, which include (in no particular order): a chair timer (Graham), a modular/mobile/personal thermostat system (Justin), an exploration of NYC noise complaints (Changyeon), water and waste tracking stations (Greg), a bus tracker (Varun/Graham), and smart archeology and historic preservation (Will). Some projects will be more on the “quantified self” end of the spectrum, others will tackle the “smart city,” and some are somewhere in between. Some projects might take a meta-approach, as with our journalism student Claudia. Individual, environmental, or both? This semester, I expect all students to explain where their projects lie on this spatiotemporal spectrum, and I aim to give them tools to contextualize their work on this spectrum.

In the meantime, I’m learning new tools for and from the class. I appreciated Varun’s discussion of SCOT v TD in his approach to technology, as well as Kania’s reaction to the “more engaging, more intimate, and more focused” nature of our class setting. I continue to believe that our work comes first, and we are all here to learn from each other, myself included.

Our speaker this week, ProPublica’s NewsApps developer Al Shaw, gave a powerful guest lecture on data journalism’s unique ability to support text-based journalism, and how ProPublica’s NewsApps can extend data journalism beyond the dynamic range of the standard data visualization. He also explained his major 2014 project, a remote-sensing-based approach to Louisiana’s eroding wetlands and the changing nature (and location) of the Mississippi River Delta. For the resulting visualizations, imagery was obtained from the government, private companies, and also by ProPublica using citizen-science tools (hacked IR cameras mounted on balloons and kites) designed by Public Laboratory.

Not only was it fascinating to see what Al had been up to since early 2014, when I helped teach a remote sensing workshop where Al was a student, but I think Al’s lecture helped set up a macro/micro approach that I aim to continue throughout the semester: a guest lectures to help us look at the macro-picture and major questions around ourselves and our environments, followed by hands-on activities to get us familiar with the micro-challenges of developing new technologies.



  • Announcements. Class blog aggregator by Claudia coming soon.
  • FAQ on submission policy and my response time.
  • Al Shaw: Data Journalism and remote sensing at ProPublica.org
  • Q&A
  • Break
  • Working with a datasheet
  • Sensor experiments. Policy on borrowing sensors from me.


  1. Post or send a picture + write-up of your sensor experiment. What do you see as your next steps? How did Al Shaw’s talk help you to think about structuring and researching your next steps?
  2. Accept the Apple Developer Invitation, which should be in your Inbox or SPAM folder. If you plan to participate in the iOS training, please send your iOS device’s UDID to Marlon Evans (me42@nyu) and copy me. (Click here to determine the UDID.) Let me know if you want to participate and can’t find a device. If you don’t want or need to participate, you can use a GPS shield instead.
  3. If you plan to participate in the iOS training and haven’t ordered a bluetooth module yet, do so now or plan to share with someone else. I recommend the nRF8001 Bluefruit breakout.
  4. Download Multispec and QGIS in preparation for next week’s remote sensing exercises.