How to estimate crowds

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I put together a primer to help journalists be realistic with crowd estimates. This could be especially useful when there is no official estimate from an independent party – only guesses from promoters of an event boasting about how many people were there. In short, only so many people will fit into any space. Read more details and background on crowd estimating at this link. The video below offers a brief overview.

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Excel median mystery solved

One of the shortcomings of Microsoft Excel is that you cannot easily obtain the median for several different variables. Mystery solved. I recently came across this link to step you through a formula that – at first glance – may look complicated. But it’s really not too difficult to recreate.

One note: be sure to exit the formula cell with this command – control/shift/return. That creates an array function.

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Embeds bring life to web pages

The Census Bureau really stepped up its offerings in the last couple of years for things that can be embedded in your own web pages. Especially good were the interactive state map/graphs as the Census 2010 numbers were being released some months back.

Here’s another twist.

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Microsoft option for quick, easy embedded graphics

Microsoft SkyDriveNothing beats hard-coding graphics and data right onto your website, but that’s not always possible – sometimes because of technical limitations and other times simply because of a lack of time.

For that reason, many of Google’s tools have become popular as embed options. But Microsoft would like a slice of the pie. A Microsoft representative at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in St. Louis recently showed me a slick alternative. I’ve begun using it in selective situations.

Simply take an Excel spreadsheet, spruce it up in the Excel “table” view and upload it to a Hotmail account in the document section known as SkyDrive. Use the share option to get an embed code. Take a look at the graphic at the bottom of this weather story. The bars add a graphic eliminate to what otherwise may have been a simple chart, and I like theĀ  ease for self-sorting.

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CANDO makes it easy for you to do quick data work

The folks at Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences have updated neighborhood profile information on their CANDO website.

This is an excellent site to bookmark for when you’re in need of Northeast Ohio Demographic data. The site gives you a chance to dig deep and quickly into a wide array of material from economic trends to racial breakdowns in the region.

And in case you wonder how they came up with the name, be glad it’s simply known as CANDO. Officially, it’s theĀ Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing.

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Are most people upset about taxes, or just a vocal minority?

Ohio Department of TaxationHere’s something to keep in mind the next time you’re doing a tax story. Is everyone really furious about the level of their tax bill?

I ask this because we came across a surprising – though totally unscientific – finding after putting together a package called Best Places. Best Places gives online readers a chance to express their priorities for a place to live in Greater Cleveland. Based on each user’s priorities, a unique ranking of communities, 1 to 100, is displayed.

The size of the local tax bill ended up being just a mid-level concern, behind features like safe neighborhoods, quality public schools, living close to downtown Cleveland and having a wide variety of municipal recreation facilities. Read what we learned.

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Quick stop to check job growth (and loss) numbers

Bureau of Labor StatisticsThe politicians love to boast about employment gains, or take shots at their opponents over job losses. It’s a separate debate as to the degree politicians are responsible for job gains and losses, but at least it’s easy to check

Here’s a link that will get you to the right spot to quickly fact check what is being said with the official numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, once there, it doesn’t take long to take a look at a wider timeframe so you can begin to draw your own conclusions.

From this link, it just takes three clicks and about 15 seconds to to see 10 years’ of monthly data: (A) select “top picks,” (B) select “Total Nonfarm Employmen” and (C) click “retrieve data.” From there, you can dig deeper if you like.

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IRS data helps identify moving trends

IRS logoIf you’d like to know where people from your region are moving, or from where new residents are coming, the Internal Revenue Service has the data.

The IRS provides databases on moving patterns, based on whether a person files their tax return from a different address from year to year. The data is available down to the county level, and offers a wealth of opportunities for journalists and other researchers.

Read our last story on migration, complete with an interactive map. We found all seven counties in Greater Cleveland are losing people to migration out of the area. This is even true for growing counties. Their gains were the result of local moves, not because they were attracting people from outside the region. Where are people going? Most often to Columbus, Phoenix and Charlotte.

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Converting those pesky PDF files to Excel

Ohio law is fairly clear. The public, including journalists, has the right to request public information in the format in which it is maintained. However, it seems a lot of government folks insist on responding to requests by providing a PDF. That’s no good if you want to crunch the data..

You can fight them. But sometimes it isn’t worth the time, if there is a quick solution.

There are many options out there to convert PDF files to database files. But I wanted to share one that’s been working great for me. It’s fast and it’s free. The website is www.pdftoexcel.org. Notice, the dot-org.

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