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

Posts Tagged ‘Weblog’

Trulia Hindsight - Processing Prototypes

A few people have asked if I'm still using Processing now that I've joined Stamen (best known for their Flash work). Whilst it's true that I've been quiet on the Processing front, hard at work learning Actionscript 3 for Flash 9 to enable us to deliver Trulia Hindsight, much of that piece was informed by early sketches I wrote in Processing. (The graphs we made of a day of diggs were also made with Processing.)

Here are four movies we made from Trulia's data to get across the ideas we wanted to develop into Hindsight. It's a lucky thing that Flash 9 can shift many more points around the screen than Flash 8, otherwise we'd have been stuck. That said, it's still way behind Processing with OpenGL for this kind of visualisation, so choose your tools wisely when building a proof-of-concept in a different language to the one your project will be delivered in!

In the first few weeks of working with Trulia, we did some initial work exploring non-geographic views of their data such as tree maps and node graphs and so on. In the end though, the most compelling thing we came up with was to explore the different dimensions of the Trulia database in the form of animated maps.

Here are two movies, the first is San Francisco and the second is San Jose, showing the properties animated along an intuitive axis: the year they were built.

San Francisco by Year (Trulia Hindsight Prototype) from Stamen on Vimeo

San Jose by Year (Trulia Hindsight Prototype) from Stamen on Vimeo

And here are two more movies, also made with Processing, that show the properties that were sold in the last 10 years (under $2m), this time animated by sale price:

San Francisco by Price (Trulia Hindsight Prototype) from Stamen on Vimeo

San Jose by Price (Trulia Hindsight Prototype) from Stamen on Vimeo

The animations by sale price aren't available in Trulia Hindsight (yet) but we hope to work more on these less-intuitive dimensions for animation in the future.

No doubt whichever direction we go in next I'll still reach for Processing to try things out. It's the tool I find it easiest to think in, and although Flex Builder (based on Eclipse) is a great IDE, I still find myself wanting to bend Actionscript to be more like Processing when it comes to prototyping my ideas - it seems I'm not the only one!

The one with crazy 3D bar charts coming out of the Earth

Over the last few weeks I've been collecting circular visualisations. This week, I seem to keep running into 3D globes and heatmaps. I'm all for 3D done right, but even with my fondness for circular visualisations I'm still wary of these things. (Of course I'm not denying the eye candy appeal of any of it!).

First up, Twingly, which I think is a Swedish blog aggregator/search site of sorts, but I came across it as a screensaver video on YouTube:

Twingly blogoshpere visualisation

The person who posted it to YouTube helpfully describes the blogosphere for those of us not in the inner circle:

"The blogosphere is the total sum of all blogs connected into a social network. The term was cool a year ago but is too widespread now for the general blog crowd to use it. But since it's actually a useful term it is still referred to by the inner circle. From there it will work it's way back into the common language, acheiving a renaissance around febtuary next year."

So that's cleared that up then. Next up, an academic one, G-Econ from Yale (via Things Magazine), which plots geographically based economic data:

G-Econ from Yale

I admire their thoroughness in doing the whole world (check the site for country by country breakdowns), and their multi-megabyte eye candy movies. It's a shame it's all based on a GDP-like measure, which isn't the most intuitive or easy to visualise thing itself. I'm reading their papers now to see what the story is.

Lastly, I'm really pleased Dan Catt over at Flickr/Geobloggers can't resist plotting his interestingness heatmaps in 3D inside Google Earth. When the sky goes pink you know it's because Yahoo's Dubai office decided to build it for real.

Early Flickr Google Earth heatmap

Update: Eric found this one from ESRI:

Results 2004

Stamen is hiring a designer

Stamen, the company I work for in San Francisco, is hiring a designer.

If you're "someone who is a designer first and foremost, a coder a distant second, and who's interested in where these areas interleave" then please read the post on our site and consider getting in touch. I can't recommend us highly enough.

DARTZ! - This Is My Ship

DARTZ! - This Is My Ship

I've been following and supporting (and occasionally sheltering) my brother's band DARTZ! on and off now for nearly two years.  It's been a while since I read the NME, and I was never one to hang on every word inside, but it's moments like these that make you proud:

"It's been said that the Ramones only had two kinds of songs. Songs for punk rockers to go nuts to (the fast, agitated ones), and songs for punk rockers to smooch to (the slow, romantic ones.) It's fair to say that Stockton-born wobble punks Dartz!, on the other hand, only have one kind of song - ones for punk rockers to get the fuck down to (the fast, giddy, heart-bursting, dancable-as-shit ones).

The beyond-brilliant 'Once, twice, again!' twitches like the fleshy stump of a recently decapitated cadaver, while recent single 'St Petersburg' manages to sound like scene godfathers the Minutemen playing Chic songs. Nerdy, snappy and smart; this is jerk-punk played by real live jerks.

They've only got one kind of song, but hey, that doesn't matter one bit because it's a fucking brilliant one. 8/10" -- NME

There are many more reviews, and links to buy the album and singles, on their myspace page.  An album launch party of sorts is happening at Borderline in London on Monday.

Congrats to Henry, Phil and Will for keeping their heads down and doing what they do best - writing excellent, intelligent rock music and taking it to the people.  I miss them loads and I wish I could be there for the album launch.  Fingers crossed they come to San Francisco soon.

Neologism of the Day: Overflowded

I joined up with many British ex-pats at Adaptive Path yesterday evening for Schulze & Webb's The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Interaction Design. Suffice to say, the talk was excellent and thoroughly enjoyable.

In the Q&A session at the end I was delighted to hear a slip of the tongue from one questioner*, asking about Continuous Partial Attention: he wondered whether there wasn't a risk of being overflowded with information. OVERFLOWDED? That's lovely!

Coming a close second for me, but first for Yoz, was uncertainun. It was a good word day.

Update:  It was Reto Laemmler of Xcellery, who writes "I'm not a Poet or Writer and rather a Swiss guy who hasn't mastered English very well yet."  No matter! I hope the road to mastering English is paved with words like overflowded.

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.

This is what it looks like when I’m doing the washing up.

This is what it looks like when I'm doing the washing up., originally uploaded by Just_Tom.

This marks the end of my third week in San Francisco. No news is good news - it's all going swimmingly.

I'll be in Dallas from Tuesday for two weeks, not sure how well my internet connectivity will fare, but I hope to post a little bit about my first month in the US. In the meantime, "happy holidays" and all that.

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