Random Etc. Notes to self. Work, play, and the rest.

Archive for January 2007

If You’re Reading This… Success!

I've moved all my hosting (this site and Processing Blogs/Hacks) over to pair.com. The Processing sites worked right away (give or take a few permissions hiccups with the hacks site) but I messed up the DNS settings for my own site so that's taken a bit longer. Moving the files and database was super easy though, bless nomadic software and all its superficial complexities.

I'm pretty sure I haven't lost any email, but these things are always less certain than they should be. If you've sent me anything today and I didn't get back to you, please try again.

SxSW Interactive, Saturday March 10th


Just a quick note to say that on Saturday March 10th I'll be appearing at SxSWi in Austin, Texas as part of a panel convened by Flickr/geoblogger's Rev Dan Catt entitled "Mapping: Where the F#*% Are We Now?". In the fancy SxSW panel picker, Dan's proposal read:

"Last year online mapping was emerging, now it's everywhere; on your mobile, in your camera, on your wearable head-up display, in your location aware clothing, even on paper and in your kids. Which of those did I totally make up? Guess it's time to check in with those people who actually make maps, merge virtual and real worlds at location flux points, and, you know, put maps online."

It sounds great! I'll be wearing both my old, trusty OpenStreetMap hat and my new, fancy Stamen hat, which should make for an interesting balancing act.

Some Attempts at Twitter Visualisation

Twitter is a website that asks only one thing, "what are you doing?" and aggregates your responses intermingled with the responses of your friends over the last 24 hours. If you let it (I don't) it will SMS you every time your friends update, or if you prefer (I do) it will send you an instant message instead. It will also let you update by web, IM or SMS. It's certainly an easy way to SMS a group of people and only pay for one message, but the IM and web integration mean it's more than just group SMS.

So it's not IM, SMS or the web, but it talks to all three. I like it. I want to hate it. I suppose I cheat, because I don't let it SMS me very often. And maybe because most of my contacts are a continent away, so I only get a few messages a day (they're all asleep). But there it is: I'm not stressed out by it, I'm still Getting Things Done (though that system's not for me, yet). Continuous Partial Attention be damned.

Of course, it's fully Web 2.0 buzz-word compliant, so it has an API that you can use to get data in and out. Not a super-useful one for visualisation, but useful enough to get started. Knocking some ideas back and forth at Stamen with Eric yesterday I decided it was worth trying his idea of plotting twitter activity on a circle. I started with a circle representing the previous 24 hours, rather than a 12 hour clock face, for several reasons:

That's it really.

Given 24 hours of statuses I assigned each user a colour and plotted the status at an angle corresponding to how much of the day had elapsed. I joined each message to the previous message from that person, if there was one. Here is how my first pass turned out:

first twitter vis

And here's another variation, still with a colour per person but ditching the arcs and instead using concentric rings for status messages. There are small dots again mapped to time of day. Moire be damned.

second twitter vis

The top of the circle is midnight (PST), the bottom is noon. The data was sampled at about 4pm. I'm not sure where this circular/spiral visualisation is going, but if I revisit it I will probably unroll them into a rectangle in the hope that there is space to draw and read the messages. After all, the messages are what it's all about.

These were built with Processing, using the now-built-in XML support and the gorgeous PDF library. I haven't posted the applet because it doesn't work online with the Twitter API, sorry.

Five Things Most People Don’t Know About Me

Matt Webb tagged me with this one. Thanks Matt.

Of course, most people don't know anything about me, so let's go with 5 things most people who know me don't know about me:

1. I have an older brother, Nev. He's my foster brother, 5 years older than me, and my parents fostered him a year before I was born. Since his dad (whom we've never met) was Afro-Caribbean, he's a black guy and occasionally he's grown a mean afro (though he mostly keeps it short). He has cerebral palsy which means he's spent all his life in a wheelchair but it doesn't stop him sharing the same sly sense of humour as the rest of my family, or memorising entire Star Wars scripts or Guns 'n' Roses albums. If you think Jimi Hendrix, in a wheel chair, with a Yorkshire accent, you won't be far wrong.

Growing up with Nev gave me an interesting perspective on life, strengthened by the fact that my dad also works in special needs education. (It's also the case that having a black brother in a wheelchair gives you a weird kind of leverage in arguments, especially with racist and ignorant people).

Here's a picture I stole from my younger brother Henry's myspace page (I go on about Henry's band DARTZ! here from time to time) . It's Nev and Henry with my grandma's dog Lassie, from around 1986. Sorry guys.

Lassie, Henry and Nev, circa 1986

2. I used to play classical guitar. I haven't played seriously for years but I can still sight-read music and work things out by ear (I recently scored pretty highly - 88.9% - in this test). I was OK I suppose, but never particularly accomplished. It did come in handy when I wanted to learn bass so I could play in Puppet Show, the grunge band I was in until university mercifully got in the way. (Lead singer Robert went on to be the guitarist in Executive Distraction Tasks but we didn't sound much like that!). My musical dabblings also stretched to an unreleased (and long forgotten) album of music made with Buzz, an early free software synth package. That was my introduction to the demo scene and the world of generative computer graphics, so it's not all bad.

3. The first time I got in an aeroplane I was 20. Later that summer I wrote about it here in excruciating detail.

4. I'm vegetarian, an atheist and I don't (can't) drive. I realise this is actually three things you probably don't know about me but I just spent two weeks in Dallas, Texas where all three things mark me out as different. In the epitome of automobile-centric, bible thumping, meat-eating America, in some ways I'm the anti-Texan.

My vegetarianism is only through a general antipathy towards meat, rather than a particular philosophical/economic/political/moral stand. If it's a question of me vs the cow then the cow is going down and if I ever have the space then I might keep chickens.

My atheism is a product of being left to my own devices when it comes to religion: if you give a naturally skeptical person a blank slate, they're not wont to let people fill it with anything.

I don't drive partly because I don't need to, partly because I think the world would be better if everyone drove less, and partly because when everyone else was learning I found the endless stories about driving lessons completely unbearable.

5. I can't say anything useful in any language other than English. This is probably my biggest shame as a wannabe intellectual. In other countries I pick things up quickly and have a great memory for words and phrases, and sounds (I like to think I'm a natural and compulsive mimic), but I've never stuck to it with languages. Fixing this one is a perennial new year's resolution but this year I've already resolved to learn T'ai Chi. Maybe next year?

I suppose it's time to tag 5 more people. Mikel already went and tagged Steve and Wilfried, and Ben and Eric both seem dormant so they all escape my gaze today. Let's see if we can't get something out of Mike Migurski, Karsten Schmidt, Rev Dan Catt, Rod McLaren and Andrea Lau.