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

Posts Tagged ‘Work’

Square Payments in New Orleans during the Super Bowl

At Square I've primarily been working on internal tools and explorations of potential new customer-facing features. This week it was nice to change focus and collaborate with Faryl Ury from our communications team to put together some maps and summary stats about the effect of the Super Bowl on Square payments in New Orleans.

Here's the main image, produced with TileMill from the good folks at MapBox:

Square activity in New Orleans on Super Bowl weekend

Square activity in New Orleans on Super Bowl weekend

Ritchie King did a great job summarising our explorations over on Quartz, the new-ish business blog from Atlantic Media. Lucky for Square, two of their obsessions are mobile web and digital money, so I imagine they'll be watching us closely!

Bounce

Yesterday we announced the closing of Bloom Studio, Inc. A little bittersweet but not an unlikely outcome for a start-up like ours.

We tried a lot of things out, had a popular hit with Planetary and a thoughtful flop with Biologic, and gathered data and wisdom about how the world responds to highly graphical/interactive environments for exploring everyday information. Stubbornly, of course, I still believe there's something there, but unfotunately there's not enough there to keep Bloom going today. If you're thinking about trying something similar then do drop me a line, I'd be happy to talk through what worked and what didn't.

In more upbeat news, I started a new job as a Data Visualization Engineer at Square! I'll have more to say about that as it progresses, but for now I'm content to soak it up and get to know how everything works.

As Bloom wound down I was fortunate enough to have the time to explore several different opportunities in depth and learn a lot about different approaches to building teams, companies and products. In some ways it was the first time I've ever felt part of a job market so I tried to take full advantage of that. It's a very good problem to have, but making a final choice was difficult.

It was tempting to take what I learned from Bloom and help build another company from scratch, or to return to my consulting/agency comfort zone, or to find a small company of friends where I would have immediate impact. In the end I've chosen the role where I think I have the most to learn, where I'll have a chance to apply myself differently, and get to know a kind of team, vision, scale (400+ people) and trajectory (new office, new markets) that I've never experienced before.

Onward!

Bloom’s first iPad app: Planetary

Quick post for those wondering what we've been working on at Bloom. Now available in the App Store, our new app Planetary.

And here's a teaser video for those without iPads:

Planetary from Bloom Studio, Inc. on Vimeo.

More soon on the Bloom Blog and Robert's blog, once the dust settles!

Ah right, the blog.

It's been a while. Hello again.

A few months ago I left Stamen after almost 4 awesome years. I planned to review the work we did together here but I've been procrastinating on that for long enough so I thought I'd better post something before it's not news any more.

I already miss working at Stamen but in August, green card in hand, I felt it was time for a change of pace. I'm taking the opportunity to build a start-up with my friend and long-time Stamen collaborator Ben Cerveny. We'll both have a lot more to say about that as it takes shape, but you can stalk us here in the meantime if you want.

While we seek funding for our venture I'm freelancing a little bit, building demos for investors and trying to get exposure to some different ways of working. Stamen has proven there's at least one solid and sustainable business model for beautiful, interactive, dynamic mapping and data visualization. But a successful design service that like has a frenetic pace of work and high turnover of projects which I eventually found frustrating. Despite ongoing and successful efforts to build code libraries (like Modest Maps and Polymaps) I came to feel constrained by the clean-room/from-scratch implications of work-for-hire contracts.

That isn't a deeply serious criticism of Stamen. They continue to deliver amazing work (for clients like Bing, MTV and Nike) and art like Prettymaps and I don't believe their working style is flawed. This change is more about what I've learned about my own working style, my curiosity to explore different ways of working, and perhaps the shiny world-changing opportunities of the Bay Area. So with our start-up we plan to seek out and try other business models (licensing, advertising and more) that will allow us to tackle long term projects and give us space to build up our own tools and apply them across many different domains.

I'm also taking this time to re-immerse myself in the growing culture of creative coding that I came to know through the Processing community. That culture is alive and kicking in projects like ProcessingJS and Cinder and many other initiatives, something everyone involved with Processing should be proud of. At some point in the last few years I picked up deep javascript knowledge, which means I share the excitement about projects like Node and I've been making small contributions in that ecosystem whenever I can. All that javascript seems to have made me a better programmer in general, and while it's early days I'm also picking up C++ again using Modest Maps as my test rig for both OpenFrameworks and Cinder.

It turns out this is quite a bit to get across in a couple of paragraphs and I have to get out of the house to see my accountant... how times change! Despite my continued .co.uk-isms I'll be based in San Francisco for the foreseeable future. If you're here too and you've read this far we should probably be talking more. My email address is 'tom' at this URL, or if we've met before there's LinkedIn and Twitter too.

Interviews! Everything!

This week, Eric and Geraldine updated the Stamen homepage to include a list of Everything, Everything and Kicker Studio's Jennifer Bove posted an interview with me and Boris Anthony from Dopplr about information visualisation for Creativity Online.

Before that, but I've been slow to update, Tish Shute posted a long and detailed write-up of Where 2.0 and WhereCamp featuring a couple of quotes from me and a lot more from Aaron Cope.

Historical Hurricanes & Oakland Crime

Continuing three years of exploration and development at the intersection of mapping and time; a quick post about two new things I've been working on at Stamen.

Last week we released a Historical Hurricane map for msnbc.com, a follow up to our forecast tracker from last year which was recently accepted into the SIGGRAPH Information Aesthetics showcase. You can read more about the historical map on the Stamen site, or just go ahead and explore the finished thing:

Further to our updates earlier last month, we just released another round of improvements to Oakland Crimespotting. Mike and Eric have full details. I'm particularly pleased that we're able to open up our archive of around two years worth of data, but also that we're able to try something new with an interface for filtering by time of day.

We jokingly started calling this a time pie, and now we're stuck with it... in a good way. I'm still not 100% sure it's intuitive, but I think that working the real sunrise and sunset times in there should help. The only comparable interface I could find was this:

If you know of any other similar ways of selecting/filtering 24 hours, let me know in the comments!

Cloudspotting

We've been working on some updates to Oakland Crimespotting recently and Mike released the first iteration today. The most significant change is a switch to base maps using OpenStreetMap data. We're using the Pale Dawn cartography that we (Stamen) designed for CloudMade exactly as it's intended: a subtle backdrop for data that still includes the richer local information that OpenStreetMap contributors (like Mike) cover best.

Other changes we've made include numerous small performance optimisations, new sliders in the marker info-bubbles, date labels on the timeline and the crime-type filters now double as a full legend. The whole thing has had a design overhaul too thanks to Geraldine.

We've got a few more features planned for release soon, and we've started a blog to keep track of new developments. Now is a great time to let us know if you have suggestions or feature requests! Feel free to leave a comment here or email info@crimespotting.org if you prefer.

New Maps at London2012.com

At Stamen we've just finished building a new map for LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games). This map builds on the work we did last year, with some new work on the back-end to expose a wider variety of content and another round of improvements to the Modest Maps powered front-end. This time we're trying to organise and make spatial sense of the thousands of geocoded articles and photos that the London 2012 team are producing, highlight the ongoing works in the Olympic Park, London and the UK, and showcase the depth and breadth of information available on the main site.

As always when we've just released something, I haven't had a lot of time to reflect on what's been done since I stopped working on it every day, but I wanted to get some words down while the paint's still wet. As always, but sometimes it's important to state clearly: I write for me here, not for Stamen (though I'm not sure what I'd change) and certainly not for LOCOG (you shouldn't take any of this as an endorsement from them). As always, and sometimes you can't say it enough: not all the work shown here is by me, I'm part of a bigger team at Stamen and almost all of us had a hand in this one. We also have very attentive and supportive clients!

We've had a lot of fun paying attention to their brand; going to town with the bright colours, seamless transitions, polygon shards, flags and so on whilst keeping that controversial logo moving nicely. It's sometimes tricky to stay within the guidelines and still have things make sense on top of the maps we've made, but the style guide is tough but fair and it's definitely worth it in the end. Since the branding already pushes things from the graphic design standpoint we've taken the opportunity to push the interactive end of things. The map allows you to filter the content by category, time, search terms and place, with all those (except the search terms) happening client-side to give you an immediate update.

From a technical standpoint the trickiest bit was getting the clustering right. It uses multiple levels of the UK's administrative hierarchy behind the scenes to group different categories of content together into those numbered and coloured flags. When you click on a flag we display an info bubble with tabs containing excerpts from all the content. All of those elements update when the filters change, either immediately or with a slight (and hopefully imperceptible) pause, and hundreds or thousands of animations get kicked off every second if you drag the time slider. With all that going on, the clustering had to be robust!

It's one thing to identify that your map has too much content when it's zoomed out, or that when you're zoomed in some things are overlapping. But it's another thing to group things together in intuitive ways, and yet another thing to have those groupings behave appropriately with other UI elements, and to have the content (which is really all that matters) remain accessible at all times. Throughout the final stages of the project we were worried about cramming too much stuff into the info-bubbles that appear when you click on the flags, and we considered sending you to a separate page section below the map to read extended search results. In the end though we went with the tabbed info bubble approach (I felt a little better about this idea after seeing that people like Mapeed were taking a similar approach). This can sometimes present you with a lot of scrolling to do, but with the added control given by the filters (and the constant updating of the content in the info bubble) we're happy with how that turned out.

Anyway, it's not all about technical achievement, even if that was my personal focus. Some of the features are very simple conceptually, such as showing and hiding webcams depending on whether you're zoomed-in or not. But if you zoom into the park and it happens to have snowed, you can be greeted with a pleasant surprise:

And sometimes we're really just trying to get out of the way, so that the park can speak for itself:

What's next? Well I probably shouldn't say... but since it's custom cartography season at Stamen at the moment, and we all make our interests public, you might be able to guess where we'll take things next. We'll see!

3 For ‘09

November 2008 marked two years at Stamen for me, and I'm not done yet. Three purely technological things I'm excited about working with in 2009:

  1. Realtime messaging and XMPP. After some initial experiments, I'm really excited by the possibility of visualisations driven by realtime data feeds. I like the idea of XMPP, and although scaling it out gives me the fear it's a fear I'd like to confront in 2009 on a real project.
  2. Custom cartography and up-to-date maps. I'm a long-time cheerleader and supporter of the OpenStreetMap project and the project is reaching a level of completeness and complexity that competes with commercial map providers. I'm looking forward to writing tools and maps that work with OSM data in a way that just wouldn't be possible with Google-Maps-style mapping APIs or would require data well out of the budget range of most of our projects.
  3. Visualisation and vector mapping in a web-browser using NotFlash technologies. The healthy competition between Gecko (used in Firefox) and WebKit (used in Safari, Android, the iPhone etc.) is improving the performance of javascript, canvas and svg (not to mention the new CSS transforms). This means that the potential for interactive vector graphics in the browser is almost on a par with Flash. I imagine the developer tools will keep me with Flash for a long time, but I'm looking for the right project to kick-start a comparable tool chain for in-browser vector graphics, and looking forward to thinking about what that might look like for myself this year.

This post could probably use some supporting links, but I thought I'd get it out there before my first week back at work ended. Happy 2009 to you all.

SFMOMA ArtScope

Once again I've been beaten to the punch by Stamen, infosthetics, Geraldine, Esquire and more. But here it is for posterity: we released SFMOMA ArtScope a couple of weeks ago. This was a fun one, we're really pleased with the lens approach (rather than continuous zooming) and we're loving the serendipitous bouncing from piece to piece when you search.

screenshot from sfmoma.org/artscope

Inside info: the artwork is arranged by acquisition date, earliest acquisitions are top left and latest are bottom right.

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