Hit the Slopes

Everything from the bunny hill to the double black diamond

Exploring the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library

A stroll through the Back Bay takes a tourist past the architectural and historical marvel of the Christian Science Center. Next to the church sits the Mary Baker Eddy Library, so named for the woman whose writings formed the basis of Christian Science. The library houses the Christian Science Publishing Society, most famous for The Christian Science Monitor, and the Mapparium, a spherical room made of 608 curved stained glass panels that form a map of the world.

Entrance to the Mary Baker Eddy Library, home of the Mapparium. Photography isn't allowed in the Mapparium. Click on picture for more images.

The room allows viewers to see the globe from the inside. The tour guide said the Mapparium presents the world in a different point of view. It represents “world consciousness,” the tour guide said, reflecting the worldwide reporting of the Christian Science Monitor and the worldliness of the Christian Science faith.

A brief audio presentation in the room greeted tourists in a dozen languages and repeated quotes from world leaders about world peace. That message touched Gayle Bullard, a tourist from Texas seeing the Mapparium for the first time this past Sunday.

Gayle Bullard, a tourist from Texas

“I like this aspect of Christian Science,” Bullard said. “The emphasis on world peace, the sense that we’re all one.”

When the Mapparium was first built, the artist intended to update the map as the world changed, but in 1935, the church decided to preserve it as a historical piece of art.

“That interests me just to see how the world has changed,” Bullard said.

Quick Facts:

Address: 200 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, Mass., 02115

Phone: 1-617-450-7000 or 1-888-222-3711

Website: http://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/exhibits/mapparium

Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Visitors must take a guided tour to see the Mapparium, which depart every 20 minutes starting at 10:20 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m.

Cost: $6 general admission. $4 for senior citizens (over 62), students (with a school ID) and youths (6-17). Free for children under age 6.

Handicapped Accessibility: The library is accessible from the street. All exhibits, including the Mapparium, are handicapped accessible. There are elevators and free wheelchairs to use upon request.

Closest T Stop: Symphony, on the Green Line’s E branch.

Strange Fact: Because of the spherical shape of the room, the Mapparium has very unique acoustics. Two people standing on either end of the bridge that runs through the Mapparium could speak in a whisper but hear each others’ voices as if they were standing next to each other.

To see more recommended historic places, check out the class’s Google Map.

The hilarity of ski fashion

Heather Burke at Boston.com’s Ski Guru blog reports on the 2012 ski fashion show in Denver, and some of the trends border on ridiculous. She writes,

So mom was right, again. Everything eventually comes back into style. Take a look at ski fashion, hats with huge pom poms and shiny metallic ski jackets are back. Another huge trend at the annual 2012 Ski Fashion Show in Denver was the return of rainbow colors from the 80s. Of course, ski wear manufacturers are smart enough to change and update ski styles, so you will look dated if you just drag your old bright red parka out of the basement (besides you will smell of moth balls).

Some highlights from her top 10 of 2012 ski fashion: Neon colors echoing 80’s fashion, animal prints, shiny metallic fabrics, and fake fur.

His outfit is outdated - he's rocking 2007 chic in this 5-year-old picture.

On a related note, a roundup of some of the funniest ski fashions I’ve stumbled across:

Photo (cc) Flikr user sportsandsocial and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Digital mapping: Is it journalism?

Today in class we discussed online mapping as a journalism tool, with a specific look at SeeClickFix.com. The site allows users to report a problem in their community such as a pothole in a road or graffiti on a nearby building. The site then sends a report to the relevant government authority, and problems are fixed (however long some take). Boston.com has integrated See Click Fix on its web site, providing a venue to voice concerns about faulty infrastructure in Greater Boston.

I think incorporating See Click Fix into local papers’ web sites is a step in the right direction to drive up traffic to a newspaper’s web site. What better way to engage your readers than to give them a soapbox to complain about issues other locals will relate to? The fact that many of the complaints are addressed and resolved only makes the See Click Fix incorporation even better – it holds local government and businesses accountable.

Another similar project is CrimeReports.com, a site that takes data about crime in specific communities and maps it out for users to peruse. Users can also report tips anonymously. Crime Reports works with numerous police departments in the U.S. and the U.K.

I did not find CrimeReports.com on the Globe web site. I actually stumbled across it on the Boston Police Department’s web page. It’s invaluable information for residents, and I think newspapers should be incorporating Crime Reports windows on their pages like the Globe is using See Click Fix. It could be very useful for a story about crime trends, for instance.

Online use of maps is not itself journalism, but it is a strong journalistic tool. Data visualizations are a large part of making statistics and large amounts of information understandable for the reader. This is especially true with 3-D interactive visualizations, common for major newspapers such as the New York Times.

I got to cover a lecture by the Times’ data artist in residence Jer Thorp in January, where I learned about some of Thorp’s other projects as well. One independent project he worked on is Open Paths, a site that allows cell phone owners to input data from their phones about where they have been the past year. Phone companies track and record the geographic locations of cell phones; owners can access that data and then see where they have traveled. The site has a map of where Open Paths users have been as well. Though not specifically journalism, the technology could certainly make for an interesting story if a journalist were to analyze the data provided.

I think data visualizations, especially digital mapping techniques, are very useful because they communicate information to the reader quickly and efficiently. They work very well as visuals to enhance the text of a story. The only detracting thing is that the visualizations will necessarily contain the bias of the visualization creator, making the reader absorb the bias as actual truth. This is very easy to accomplish by messing with the x and y axes on graphs, for example; surely, as data visualizations grow more complex, the ability to hide bias grows stronger as well. But I think, despite this possibility, data visualizations are an invaluable tool to the journalism field.

Tuesday Night Addendum, 10 p.m.: So instead of doing my homework like a good student, I’ve been following #backbayfire on Twitter all night. Twitter user @BostonUrbEx, a Suffolk University student, has a Google Maps compilation of information about the fire that’s quite interesting and proves that even citizen journalists can make use of digital mapping. Perhaps I spoke too soon in saying that digital mapping is not journalism itself but merely a journalistic tool.

Graphic is released for use under a GNU Free Documentation License. Some rights reserved.

Judging ski conditions at New England resorts

A recent article on Ski the East got me thinking about ski condition reports and how valid they can be. Ski the East “Editor at Large” Zander Basedepth (a pseudonym, I’m guessing), wrote yesterday that base depth measurements at eastern ski resorts are widely unreliable and can fluctuate enormously, even between two resorts near each other.

Zander Basedepth writes,

Early this year when dirt was everywhere, even on many open trails, we had ski areas reporting 18”-36” type numbers similar to what we see in March. What else should they do? It’s not their fault. There are input fields on the snow report, and ski area down the road has a certain number, so let’s go with 12”-22” and call it good. Right? Pretty much. But how does this equal a useful reporting stat? It doesn’t.

We need a new system. One that isn’t gameable, can be consistent between resorts, and will grant that fact that a 30” guess is no different than a 43” guess. By mid season at many resorts there are spots that have 0” of snow and other spots that have 100”. A 50” average of those two spreads is just as useless.

A guide on reading ski condition reports I found online corroborates a lot of what Zander Basedepth writes. The guide cautions skiers to look critically at ski reports. These reports are generated by and for each specific ski resort, so they naturally try to paint mountain conditions in the best light. There’s no regulation or regularly used standard for ski reports, so resorts can fluff up the report to entice customers to come skiing that day. Snowfall amounts, for example, can be reported in varying time periods, anywhere from the last 24 hours to the last 10 days. The guide advises readers to

Learn to read these amounts with some caution because some resorts add up the amounts in a confusing way. The amounts are designed to put the mountain’s snowfall amounts in the best possible light, even if there has been freezing rain, a major thaw or rain in between the periods reported. For this reason alone it is better to stick to the past 24 hours and ignore the rest of the information. Total snowfall for the season is usually on the bullish side. Most mountains count the higher number in a 2-3″ snowfall, for example. Over the course of the season it can add up and put them infront of a competitor.

The guide also advises readers to beware of a gain in base depth during a thaw. That means ski resorts could be lying about ski conditions, or reporting snow from snow making, not the natural powder snow that we all love to ski on. Be careful when you’re reading your snow report!

Photo (cc) Graham Horn and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Colorado ski trip: Days 3 and 4, Breckenridge and Keystone

Exciting ski week so far! Except the sore knees and bruised shins. And I have a terrible sunburn/windburn from going all day long, three days in a row.

The weather here has been incredible. Warm – in the upper 30s to low 50s – and sunny. Today got very windy, but yesterday was all sunshine.

Ski lift at Breckenridge. For more pictures, click the photo.

We spent the 5th at Breckenridge Ski Resort. The last time I came out to Colorado, I remembered Breckenridge as a personal favorite. We didn’t hit as much of the advanced terrain as we have in past years. We didn’t even ride the T-bar once up to ski in the bowls towards the top of a few of the peaks.

Also, I had forgotten how big the ski resort is – covering four peaks, about 2,400 square acres of ski area, just a bit smaller than Copper Mountain, where we skied on the 4th. It was a great day, very sunny, very laid back after the hard skiing we did at Copper.

Skiers at Keystone. For more pictures, click the photo.

We skied at Keystone Ski Resort today. This morning was good, but after lunchtime, the wind started picking up, especially at the top of the mountain. To top it off, the ski lifts were running a little slow, and they kept swinging around in the wind. We chose Keystone over Vail and Breckenridge today because winds were gusting up to 40 mph there.

Anyway, it was my first time at Keystone, and I think it was a pretty good time. Overall, I have to say Copper is my favorite thus far – but I can’t complain about Breck or Keystone. Good half a week still left.

Featured photos are pictures I took at Breckenridge on March 5, and at Keystone today, March 6.

Colorado ski trip: Day 2, Copper Mountain

Skiers at Copper Mountain. For more pictures, click the photo above.

We spent today at Copper Mountain Ski Resort, a good start to the week, I think. Copper Mountain is about 75 miles west of Denver. It has 126 runs, a majority of which are blue, black or double black trails. It has almost 2,500 square acres of ski area. In addition, for this ski season, Copper became an official training venue for the U.S. Ski Team.

When we went today, Copper was hosting a Special Olympics winter event, giving some athletes a chance to qualify for the World Special Olympics in South Korea next year. As we rode the ski lifts, we got to see some stellar athletes skiing in the giant slalom event.

As I type this out, my knees, shins and ankles are aching from skiing all day at Copper. Sneak peek at what I spent my day doing:

Colorado ski trip: Day 1

So I’m spending my spring break out in Colorado with my family on a ski vacation. I made sure to bring along my camera – finally, I don’t have to crawl through Wikimedia Commons for images to use on my blog! I can finally showcase my own photography.

Anyway, we flew out of Logan Airport in Boston on Saturday, March 3, to Denver Airport (and then it was a two-hour drive to the place we’re staying).

The view from the plane. For more pictures, click on the picture.

Going on a ski vacation, however great and fun, is still pretty expensive to fly. Luckily we flew Southwest, which lets you check your ski bag and boot bag as one of two free checked bags. In fact, most airlines let skiers count a ski bag and boot bag as one checked item.

When we arrived in Denver and got to the baggage claim, I was amused at the fact that they have a separate baggage claim for oversize luggage (that is, skis and snowboards) because so many people fly out to Colorado to ski. For context, an amusing video I found on Youtube:

To clarify, people are not allowed to ride on the baggage claim. I think these guys were just having some fun.

Once we finished our two-hour drive, we didn’t do much else but hit up the grocery store and get settled in. I’m looking forward to the rest of this week.

I took the featured picture Saturday, March 3, in an airplane over Denver, Colorado.

Video Project: On campus housing and NU growing pains

In class we’ve spent the past few weeks on a video news segment project. Because I had difficulty getting to a ski resort for a story related to my beat, I instead focused on a Northeastern-centric story. Northeastern requires freshmen and sophomores to live on campus now, to appease the surrounding community, but that’s forced some upperclassmen out of on campus housing who were counting on not having to find an off campus apartment.


This video, from start to finish, took a solid two weeks to film and edit. I’m not sure how television broadcasters do multiple stories in one day (though having a reporter and a cameraman cuts the workload in half). I am not really interested in broadcast journalism, so this was an interesting learning experience for me.

A big difference I noticed between conducting interviews with a camera and just with a notebook is people’s willingness to be interviewed. Man on the street interviews are easy when you approach people nonchalantly, pull out your notebook a little later, maybe take out a camera even later for a picture or two, if you’re lucky. People are self-conscious about what they look like on camera; the interview becomes less about their opinion and more about if they look presentable and coherent, which is frustrating.

Next time I do man on the street interviews with a camera, I’ll try approaching with a notebook first and then pull out the video camera. If I build a rapport with the person, maybe he’ll warm up to the idea of a videotaped interview.

Though filming was difficult and frustrating, the video editing was pretty enjoyable. I have some prior experience with editing, so I wasn’t learning the basics the whole time. Also, I wasn’t stuck editing in a lackluster program like Windows Movie Maker (which dies most of the time) or iMovie (I’m not a big Mac person).

It was a good experience. I’m pretty satisfied with how the video report turned out.

Boston has snow a day before NU spring break!

I got out of Reinventing the News class today, and it was snowing. We got some snow here yesterday, but then the rain washed it away, so it’s nice to see white instead of slush again.

Back when I was working at The Patriot Ledger, a common practice was to grab a digital camera from the newsroom and shoot some video, which we would post without editing. It was a common joke in the newsroom to say enthusiastically, “Ledger Video: Raw.” There was a special emphasis on “raw,” as if you were referring to the hardcoreness/intensity of eating raw meat, or having raw hands after a long day of manual labor, or exposing yourself to the world, vulnerable, at your rawest.

I’m not here to comment on the semantics of newsroom jokes, though. I just drew inspiration from my Ledger days and picked up my camera and filmed some snow. Have a watch:

Finally, that “at last” moment for New England skiers

Can I just say that I am so excited because finally, at last, the big snow storm is coming to Boston?

According to Boston.com, parts of eastern Massachusetts could get 6 inches of snow tomorrow, and other areas up to 10 inches. The more northern parts of the state are expecting more. But even so, it’s exciting to finally get that one snow storm that brings the city to a halt, cancels school and work and all sorts of events, falls silently in the early morning and then over the happy shouts of children playing in the snow as the afternoon approaches.

More than a snow day, though, is the joy of fresh snow on the slopes for skiers. Temperatures are supposed to climb back up into the 40s and 50s this weekend, so it looks like a great time to go skiing.

Over at Boston.com’s The Ski Guru blog, ski blogger Heather Burke calls March “the ski month” – with an emphasis on “the,” since the ski season’s been rather lackluster in New England thus far. She writes,

March is often the snowiest in the mountains, with the most sunlight, the best events, and some of the best deals as ski resorts try to keep you in the ski mood (and keep you away from biking, golf and spring sports). Ski areas in northern Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire are finally registering mid-winter conditions of packed powder and decent base depths after some late February snow storms to counter the balmy bust of a January.

In addition, a ton of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine resorts have trails 100 percent open. Look to ski the entire mountain at Jay Peak, Stowe, Smugglers Notch, Sugarbush and Saddleback, with a significant chunk of trails open in Attitash, Wildcat, Bretton Woods, Sugarloaf and Sunday River.

Though March is usually the beginning of the end, a start to spring skiing, it looks like it’s the time to ski this year. Perfect timing for a Northeastern student such as myself, as spring break starts this Friday, and I will be spending my time on some slopes!

Illustration (cc) Wikimedia Commons user Parhamr and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.