Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Piece for peace

Very interesting project by Graflex Directions, Piece Together For Peace is anti-war awareness Japanese project based on the twelve animal signs from the Japanese zodiac.
Here is a quote from the project designer himself:
[...] Our theme, PIECE TOGETHER FOR PEACE means that PEACE can be created by putting together PIECE like a puzzle [...]

I had a whole paragraph written here, explaining the nuances of the design, but after I read a few dozens of times, it didn't seem to quite capture the idea well enough, so... Here is a far more eloquent way of getting through:

[This video belongs Graflex Directions]

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

So what DOES it all mean?

[Saw on Infosthetics]

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This just in...

Quite the recurring subject, new stats on the war over your inbox. Seems that Yahoo is ahead of the game, followed by Windows Live virtually tied with AOL. Published by GOOD Magazine.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yet another baby!

Many Eyes has just released a brand new baby for us to delight ourselves with. We're all very familiar with the Word Tree and the Tag Cloud and Wordle features and I for one couldn't help to wonder what would happen if the clouds met the trees. Well, always one step ahead, folks at VCL have answered that question! Let's have a look...

When to use a Phrase Net

A phrase net diagrams the relationships between different words used in a text. It uses a simple form of pattern matching to provide multiple views of the concepts contained a book, speech, or poem. [...] The program [draws] a network of words, where two words are connected if they appear together in a phrase of the form "X and Y"

How Phrase Net works

Phrase net analyzes a text by looking for pairs of words that fit particular patterns. You can specify this pattern by using asterisks as wildcard characters. For instance, the pattern "* and *" will match phrases like "play and sing" or "vexation and regret." Punctuation matters, so it will not match "left, and then". You can choose from some useful defaults or you can type your own patterns in the field below the list.

Once you've specified a pattern, the program will create a network diagram of the words it found as matches. Two words will be connected if they occurred in the same phrase. The size of a word is proportional to the number of times it occurred in a match; the thickness of an arrow between words tells you how many times those two words occurred in the same phrase. The color of a word indicates whether it was more likely to be found in the first of second slot of a pattern. The darker the word, the more often it appeared in the first position.

I personally this is one of the most customizable visualizations in Many Eyes, making it extremely easy to think outside of the box, find new patterns in data, analyze texts, words and books and, well, just plain have some fun! Users can tweak the filters, zoom in and out, pan, highlight, see occurrences of the words and/or pair of words, hide or show common words and even choose the universe of words shown in the visualization. Phrase Net can process up to a million words from a single free text input.
For more [better written, more complete and thorough] information, visit Phrase Net's page on Many Eyes.
Check out the live thing below this image. (You need Java enabled to run any visualization on Many Eyes)

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Data is the pollution of the information age."

"Welcome to the future, where everything about you is saved."

Bruce Schneier, chief security technology ad BT, security guru and author of Applied Cryptography, Secrets and Lies and, more recently, Schneier on security, wrote an essay for BBC.com tackling the issues related to the current data gathering that is growing out of control in the world nowadays.
Although I personally think that most of it is better suited for Sci-Fi novels, he did convince me that this is not a subject to be taken lightly. Starting with his analogy: "Data is the pollution of the information age." - quite an affirmation. He continues to explain that what he means is that, like 100 years ago when people were so focused on rushing the growth of industry that they ignored the many problems of pollution, "we're ignoring data in our rush to build the Information Age."
Schneier gives plenty of examples to show the reader what happens nowadays when we do customary things, such as buying from Amazon, wiring train ticket expanses with our credit card or even RFID chips present in our cell phones and cars, can all be used to correlate our lifestyles with possible purchases. After, he goes on with a few possible outcomes that, to me, seem so very out there and not really possible. Nonetheless, I believe he is right on the money when stating that "[data]... is valuable when reused, but it must be done carefully. Otherwise its after-effects are toxic...". One of the things that allow society to work is the fact that conversations, whether live or on the phone or any other device, is ephemeral. People can't remember everything and every detail and they usually don't have to justify every single word they say (well, except to our wives - who are apparently also an exception to the rule of forgetting - and forgiving, to that matter). Well, this changes when we are presented with a scenario where space is so cheap that it makes sense to just store all that conversational information from MSN, SMS, telephone, mail and so on without a specific intent, but only so that it might be useful in the future.
Well, so far, most of those are stored only if the owner chooses to, but as Schneier states, when government starts to play a big part in making those choices, we loose our right to privacy. "Privacy isn't just about having something to hide; it's a basic right that has enormous value to democracy, liberty and our humanity" - meaning that just because I'm not breaking any rules, I shouldn't have to share personal information.
Back to the pollution analogy, in a few years from now, who knows what sorts of problems this lack of caution with how, when and, most importantly which data we store. A 100 years ago we couldn't care less about pollution and now it's the most discussed issue in the globe, who's to say data is not the next "pollution"?

Closing the post, here is something to take from this:
Future generations will look back at us - living in the early decades of the information age - and judge our solutions to the proliferation of data
- let's make the best of it while we still can!

[via writting | ben fry]

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Self surveillance

Last week I posted a few words on Nathan's self surveillance project, your.flowingdata and promised to post some results as soon as I had enough data to make it interesting. Well, this is not it - yet!
Although, Nathan published some words on the matter today citing a new project from Fitness First currently going on in the Netherlands. The health club has created an ad concept wiring up the seats with a scale which displays the user weight on a big LED. Not only it faces you and throws it your face, it's up there for any and everyone to see. I guess the concept is to shame you into getting fit.
My first reaction is that this is a great idea - everyone gets in shape, heart attack rates go down, health spreads, the whole shebang! Now let's look at this with some perspective. Suppose you don't really have the money, the will or even the patience to enroll yourself in a gym or health club. What are you probably going to do to get skinnier? Run your legs off, stop eating, etc... Not only that, how about people with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified)? Now these guys already have a problem that causes weakness, not they won't even be able to sit and wait for their bus to come.
I don't mean to raise any issues and whatnot. Personally, I think this would actually help me get to my weight goal a lot faster and I wish we had those here in Porto Alegre, but I really don't think this campaign was thoroughly thought through (man, that phrase seemed iffy) and I really don't think these scales will be out there for too long.
Let me know how you feel about it!

[via FlowingData]

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Monday, March 16, 2009

"Who" goes around, comes around?

Recently, I've stumbled upon an extremely well constructed visualization for migration flows inside the United States: "COMINGS&GOINGS: Migration Flows in the U.S.". It's based on December 17th, 2008 research on how people move from state to state, which states people choose to move from and which they choose to move to. For instance, you can see in the first two pictures that California has been loosing residents way faster than they've been able to get new ones. In the last two images, we can also see how the Northeast region had a much larger outgoing flow than nowadays (the opposite goes for ingoing flow), specially from/to the West).
Since the actual meaning of the data - although very interesting and well portrait - is not really this blog's main topic, let's get to business!
Colors: very well chosen, the palette complements each choice very well. Only thing that I don't like all that much, even though it's not a real problem, is the orange and green for the population movements and here is why: it gives a sensation of positive and negative reinforcements - which, by the way, are taken inversely by most of the Asian community. In the west, we tend to relate green as good and red as bad, in the east, it's usually the opposite. Conclusion: not the best choice ever, but it's not a big deal. I'd have used either blue, yellow or play with the hues.
Format: ok, not much to say here. I mean, it's the map of the U.S. - not much opportunity for creativity here, nevertheless, very well drawn!
Animation: Well timed, well designed... Basically: Well done!!!
Interactivity: Extremely well thought, although not fully explored. The hovering is so refreshingly easy and intuitive to use, but we could have some clicking involved, allowing the user to compare multiple states or regions.

Conclusion: great work! The user does not need to read the entire article to get the gist of the data. So many different views and options to play with, this could entertain you for quite a while and you learn a lot in the process!
Cuddles to the creating team!

Ok! Time for you to let me know what you think!

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Turing Award

This is just something you should know about:

What a brilliant woman:

Liskov, the first U.S. woman to earn a PhD in computer science, was recognized for helping make software more reliable, consistent and resistant to errors and hacking. She is only the second woman to receive the honor, which carries a $250,000 purse and is often described as the “Nobel Prize in computing.”

I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t more familiar with her work prior to reading about it in Tuesday’s Globe, but wow:

The latter day Ada herselfLiskov’s early innovations in software design have been the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java and C#.

Liskov’s most significant impact stems from her influential contributions to the use of data abstraction, a valuable method for organizing complex programs. She was a leader in demonstrating how data abstraction could be used to make software easier to construct, modify and maintain…

In another contribution, Liskov designed CLU, an object-oriented programming language incorporating clusters to provide coherent, systematic handling of abstract data types. She and her colleagues at MIT subsequently developed efficient CLU compiler implementations on several different machines, an important step in demonstrating the practicality of her ideas. Data abstraction is now a generally accepted fundamental method of software engineering that focuses on data rather than processes.

This has nothing to do with gender, of course, but I find it exciting apropos of this earlier post regarding women in computer science.

Original post by Ben Fry

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Watch over me

Recently I've taken a big blow in my personal life, but since this blog has absolutely nothing to do with personal lives, I'll live to this: MOTIVATION!
Nothing better for regrouping yourself than filling your day-to-day with structure, and when it comes to structure, the strictest, the better.
This brings us to Nathan's brand new mashup project: your.flowingdata. Far from being a unique idea, this project has a unique approach to it. Take Twitter, an already widely promoted, widely know and widely over-used web tool (I mean, even cell phones have been made so that it makes it easier to Twitter - it's changed the verb's meaning for crying out loud, you can't get any more know than that!) and mash it up with this very fresh project and you got yourself your very own watchman.
They way it works is you send private messages to a specific Twitter user with the correct keywords for the action your willing to report and it gets parsed into your very own activities log. Currently, actions being watched for are eating habits, entertainment, feelings, weight, sleeping habits, smoking and even bowel movements.
I've started watching over me today and as soon as it gets interestingly filled up, I'll be posting some statistics here - at least the not so personal ones!
The engine is still freezing a couple times since Twitters Whitelisting is not working as expected, but the results are in deed extremely refreshing.
I certainly hope this helps me get back on track...

Let me know what you think!

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Good chart x Bad Chart

Often I've criticized bad graphs, showing flaws, bad choices and mistakes along the way. Well, if creating a bad graph is easy, criticizing one is even easier, therefore, this post will show you a good graph, with the correct choices made in most places versus a bad one.
The good guy:

This graph was posted by the New York Times. Great choice of colors, nice labels and standard metrics. Very easy to understand. Not much to say really. The author didn't take that many chances, but the result was very straight-forward, which is good for the reader.

The bad guy:

Ok, now this guy has definitely taken a lot more chances than our hero. For absolutely no reason other then aesthetics, our villain decided not only to use a 3D presentation, but a curved presentation of the pillars. This decision, though very interesting and eye-catching, makes it rather difficult to compare correspondent values, creating a visual problem to understand the data. Plus, the curvature at the top of the image doesn't match the one at the bottom, which makes it even harder to read. The triple factor: the bar tops are not flat, but they have a curvature as well. Does that mean changes during that respective year's months? I think not. So what should we consider, top or bottom parts of the cut?

So you see what I mean, aesthetics is a very important part of making your graph successful and getting the information across, but it should never come at the expense of the objective, which is always to get the information as fast AND as correct as possible to the reader.

Let me know what you think!

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Friday, March 6, 2009

... aaand we're back - yet again!

After 4 days not being able to post on my own blog, I'm back!
And since I've lost all my drafts, here's a little humor for you:

Seen on Flowing Data

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Monday, March 2, 2009

... aaand we're back!

After nine grueling days of sunny beaches and great surfing conditions, I'm back at the office. Fresh and motivated, I've prepared a few posts in advance and I'll be publishing them in the next days so that I don't flood this blog with posts and make it so that most of them are missed.
Hang tight!

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