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

Posts Tagged ‘Processing.org’

Processing Blogs Fixed II: Electric Boogaloo

Let's try this again. If you're reading this on Processing Blogs or via its feed, then everything should be working.

Instead of Feedwordpress and Planet Planet put together with sticky tape and glue, I'm using the better documented Planet Venus and WP-Venus so our archives are maintained.

If you ever need to run a site similar to Processing Blogs and your web host can run python then I definitely recommend Planet or Planet Venus as the solution. WP-Venus complained a little bit when I converted from Feedwordpress, but it looks good so far: hopefully the archives will be worth the effort.

Processing Blogs Fixed

If you're reading this on Processing Blogs, or via its feed, then everything should be fixed. For some reason, Feedwordpress just stopped working and wouldn't re-subscribe to lots of the feeds that were previously fine.

Feeds are now being grabbed robustly by Planet and merely massaged by Feedwordpress. Here's the current list:

Please do let me know if I'm syndicating too much or too little, and especially if I'm missing people or if I'm syndicating your blog and you don't want me to. Otherwise, the site should run itself for a while.

Design.Yahoo: Web 2.0 meets War Games?

Whilst I wrestle with my reaction to the reception of Twitter Blocks, it's interesting to look at what other people in information visualisation are working on.

Yahoo Design

Yahoo's new design research outfit, apparently also known as yhaus, have just put up a site outlining their work so far. The first thing I noticed is that they've snagged an amazing subdomain: design.yahoo.com. The second thing I noticed is that compared to other teams I'm aware of in the field (including Stamen) they have a pretty good gender balance (a thorny issue but I'm noting it anyway). The third thing I'll note is the guest appearance of non-Yahoo work in the portraits of the team: I see Torrent Raiders, Fidg't... what else?

Sadly, all but one of the demos there so far is a big Quicktime movie. I know that with millions of users Yahoo has to be a stickler for browser support and compatibility, but I hope they get a chance to take this work live on the web as well as demo it in movie form. There's some solid realtime Flash and Processing work hiding in there, and people (OK, I) want to see it in its interactive entirety.

There's clearly some healthy collaboration and influence going on there (much as in our work, e.g. Ben Fry's zipdecode looms large over the interactive version of our Trulia search animation). Yahoo's Aaron Koblin is best known for his Flight Patterns piece, and this visualisation by Michael Chang of Yahoo trip planner data is very similar:

Yahoo Travel

Likewise, Aaron's work on traffic patterns bears a close resemblance to Flight Patterns:

Yahoo Traffic

I don't want to pick on them too much, because it's really beautiful work I admire a great deal (and it might seem like sour grapes), but both the pieces I've highlighted do suffer from something we've tried to avoid at Stamen: animated information graphics on top of black backgrounds and vector maps can easily look like screenshots from a modern-day War Games:

War Games: Missile Warning

I'm glad other people as well as us are experimenting in public, and I'm glad sites like Infosthetics and Visual Complexity are cataloguing our efforts. We need our own visual language around this kind of visualisation that doesn't resonate with the imagery of war.

Apple's iphone has made a strong impression with slick transitions in its interface design, but the maps application still borrows from Google's pseudo-shadows and static pins. The playful interfaces of the Nintendo's Wii games certainly offer a different path, but the rest of the games (and movie) industry's cinematic-realism aesthetic exerts a strong influence over our generation of designers and it isn't going to meet these goals any time soon.

It's a fairly regular topic of conversation at Stamen: how can you make a visualisation of e.g. 911 calls actually look like emergencies, and not birthday parties or toilet flushes, without freaking people out and without making it mundane? Is it possible to use great circles to connect air travel destinations without it looking like missiles? Can you animate growing and shrinking red and yellow circles on an aerial map without it looking like Gulf War I weapons company propaganda?

It's a bloggy weekend here at Random Etc, if you're reading along I'm definitely interested to hear your thoughts.

Processing Hacks Fixed

Sadly (due to my neglect as sys-admin) processinghacks.com hasn't been accepting new edits/users since I moved hosts a few months ago. I finally got around to fixing it today, so everything should be working now.

The site hasn't quite reached the ambitious heights I had in mind for it when toxi and I first put the wiki together and drafted the contents. Some of the hack suggestions are out of date now, and many of the existing hacks don't work with the latest release yet. That said, I hope to put some time towards kicking it into shape over the upcoming weeks and I'd be delighted if you'd join me.

I should also mention that there's a good incentive to get your hacks written up, because we're planning to move Processing Hacks to processing.org - you might have seen a note about that in the Learning section. Fame and fortune (or at least some geeky glory) await!

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.

Travel Time Tube Map mentioned in New Statesman

My Travel Time Tube Map is mentioned at the end of Peter Ackroyd's City of Illusions article for the New Statesman.  Here's a direct link if you've just arrived from there:

Travel Time Tube Map

Processing 0116 is out

The beginning of the acadmic year must be upon us, because Ben Fry and Casey Reas just released the latest round of bug-fixes and updates to the Processing libraries and development environment. The changes are meticulously documented here (update: corrected link!) . There are also changes to the structure of the learning resources and discourse forum and Casey is collecting links to third-party tutorials here.

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