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Surfing the magic board

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  • CNN using prototype technology to bring election stats to life
  • John King's "magic board" can zoom in on individual homes
  • CNN coverage will see "holograms" appear in studio
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By CNN's Michael Holmes
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Working on your weekend isn't always fun, but it was for me this past Saturday and Sunday.

CNN's John King demonstrates the magic board.

We had a lot of viewers ask about how we cover the elections, where our information comes from and what sort of gadgets we've got planned.

And so what's BackStory for, if not to answer precisely those kinds of questions?

So it was off to New York City and our election HQ at the Time Warner Center.

If you're a coffee drinker (who isn't?) the first thing you notice is that my colleagues in the NYC newsroom have a view worth the national debt from...yes...the coffee room. Straight across Columbus Circle to Central Park in the fall/autumn.

Here in Atlanta, the view is of, well, the coffee machine.

But I digress. After meeting up with producer Terence Burke (a friend and colleague with whom I've shared experiences in Baghdad and had cleansing ales in multiple cities) we hit the newsroom.

Now, I've been in the business more than 30 years (I started young, very young, ok?) and I've never seen such a scene. Dozens of technicians, producers, reporters, anchors et al in what seemed to be a scrum, but was in fact a ballet of sorts. Everyone knew their task and did it with a minimum of fuss.

Tonight's coverage involves not one, but two packed control rooms, several hundred people across the US and indeed the world, and some high tech gadgets I wanted to take home and play with.

They wouldn't let me.

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There's the John King Magic Wall-- and yes, you can see your house from there. What a machine! The data stored in there is simply staggering -- you can compare county results from four elections back. How county populations can swing a State. How the primary result in one State stacks up against polling data from yesterday. I got the feeling only John King REALLY knows all the cool stuff it can do. And it's all done with taps and finger moves on the screen. Video Watch King zoom in on voters' homes »

And you really can see your house.

The "virtual Capitol" is newer, and so perhaps cooler. I'm standing in the studio looking at an empty desk, and glance up at a monitor and see how a full model of the Capitol building has somehow been dropped on top of that desk (which is still empty). Then you can open the top of the Capitol (don't try this at home) and see how the seats are being won and lost as the night goes on.

But for technology on steroids, wait till you see the hologram. Correspondents and guests in Chicago and Phoenix will magically appear in the New York studio, in a very Star Wars-ish manner.

It takes dozens of cameras (yes, dozens), infra-red thingies (I'm not very technical) and a bunch of computers to make this happen. We haven't been allowed to show the images yet -- they're being saved for tonight's coverage. But I can tell you it seems to work pretty darn well. An intern subbing for a correspondent in Chicago magically appeared on the screen in front of me, just a few feet from Wolf Blitzer in New York.


Wolf can't see it, but fakes it admirably.

I'm not easily impressed these days, but my little visit to the Election Center was quite the eye opener.

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