Chris McDowall

Whale Fall (after life of a whale) - Seeing Data

Oct 15, 2011

I find this video both informative and astonishingly beautiful. The film-maker uses paper cutout puppets to describe what happens to a whale’s carcass after the creature dies. Music provided by the excellent Rachel’s. Enjoy in full-screen with a cup of coffee. [vimeo width=”681″ height=”383″][/vimeo] … Read More

Plotting geographic data on a world map with Python - Seeing Data

Aug 12, 2011

Last week I promised to write a blog post detailing how I created this public transport animation. On reflection, it’s a topic best dealt with over a few sessions. Let’s start simple. How might you plot lots of geographic data on a map? In this post I will show you how to programmatically create a map of the World’s top ten most populated cities. It will end up looking something like this. This tutorial involves programming with the Python language and some additional modules. If you have never programmed before it might be a tad confusing. I suggest you first read one of the many fine introductory Python tutorials to get your head around the language. The rest of this post will assume that you understand how to install and import modules, how to write … Read More

Animating Auckland’s public transport network – Take Two - Seeing Data

Aug 04, 2011

In late January I created an animation of Auckland’s public transport network with data from the MAXX Auckland transport Google transit feed. As I noted in the post, there were several issues with the video. I carved out a little time this week to revise the animation and I am happy with the progress. The new video is embedded below. There is a lot of detail in this animation. It’s best viewed in high definition with fullscreen mode on. [vimeo width=”680″ height=”383″][/vimeo] Version Two distinguishes between buses (teal), ferries (blue) and trains (red). I also tidied some of the more obvious errors with the ferry route geometry data. This involved manually tweaking the route geometries stored in the transit feed “shapes.txt” table for many of the ferries. I still need to adjust a few (I’m looking at … Read More

Asteroid 2011 MD passes through the Earth’s GPS satellite network - Seeing Data

Jun 27, 2011

Tomorrow the ten metre wide Asteroid 2011 MD will pass within 12,000 km of Earth. How close is that? Well, it’s close enough that it will travel through the network of GPS satellites that circle the Earth. Pasquale Tricarico, a Research Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, has created a series of animations describing the event’s geometry. I have embedded my favourite visualisation from the series below. It depicts the encounter from the point of view of the asteroid. Amazing. Thanks to Michele Bannister for sharing the link. Read More

How do you Visualise a Conversation? - Seeing Data

Jun 24, 2011

Over the next couple of days I am helping run an online event called Magnetic South – an online game about the long term future of Christchurch. It is part of Christchurch City Council’s Share an Idea suite of initiatives and will input to the development of the Central City Plan. The game is being run on the ‘Foresight Engine’, a platform created by the Institute for the Future to support people thinking together about issues that are important to them in a way that is both productive and fun. If you want to explore possible futures for Christchurch then please create a player and get started! A big challenge for the Magnetic South team involves making sense of the many micro-forecasts people contribute during the event. Previous Foresight Engine events have produced thousands of … Read More

How do you explain a city? - Seeing Data

Jun 04, 2011

"To tell you about Penthesilea I should begin by describing the entrance to the city. You, no doubt, imagine seeing a girdle of walls rising from the dusty plain as you slowly approach the gate, guarded by customs men who are already casting oblique glances at your bundles. Until you have reached it you are outside it; you pass beneath an archway and you find yourself within the city; its compact thickness surrounds you; carved in its stone there is a pattern that will be revealed to you if you follow its jagged outline." "If this is what you believe, you are wrong: Penthesilea is different. You advance for hours and it is not clear to you whether you are already in the city's midst or still outside it. Like … Read More

Visualising the New Zealand Budget 2011 with Treemaps - Seeing Data

May 20, 2011

It is really difficult to grasp the significance of lots of big numbers. It is even trickier when the numbers are organised in a hierarchy. For example, yesterday afternoon Bill English, the Minister of Finance, delivered his third budget, outlining the nation’s revenues and expenses. The budget includes details such as how the government plans to spend $21 billion dollars on social development in the coming year of which $9.5 billion will be spent on superannuation, almost $1.9 billion on the domestic purposes benefit, nearly $1.6 billion on accommodation assistance… and I’m already lost. Treemapping is a technique for visually comparing groupings of numbers. A treemap represents a hierarchy of numeric values as a set of nested shapes – usually rectangles. I’m fond of this technique for several reasons, not least because it plays on existing associations. Big … Read More

Ring of Fire – Animated Map of World Earthquakes (Jan 1 – Mar 12, 2011 GMT) - Seeing Data

Mar 13, 2011

This video was made very quickly and could use some work. I post it here in case you find it interesting. I suggest you watch it full-screen, in high definition with scaling off. [vimeo width=”680″ height=”383″][/vimeo] The animation depicts two and half months of 2011 USGS earthquake data. Blue circles represent deep seismic activity recordings (>= 40km deep). Red circles represent shallow seismic events (<40km deep). Each event leaves behind a red dot to show the overall pattern. The animation ends the day after the 8.9 quake that hit Japan on March 11 and includes the shallow 6.3 Christchurch quake. I am keen to spend some time improving this animation. Perhaps I will find some time in the coming weeks. I intend to release the programming code as an open source project – I would love to see … Read More

New York subway system as a stringed instrument - Seeing Data

Feb 03, 2011

A short post to draw your attention to some lovely work by Alexander Chen. Conductor: pulls subway schedule data from New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and transforms it into dynamic musical animation. The end result is wonderful. Thanks to commenter Kate for sending me the link. [vimeo width=”680″ height=”383″][/vimeo] Here’s Chen’s description of the work: “The piece follows some rules. Every minute, it checks for new trains launched from their end stations. The train then moves towards the end of the line, with its speed set by the schedule’s estimated trip duration. Some decisions were made for musical, aesthetic, and technical reasons, such as fading out routes over time, the gradual time acceleration, and limiting the number of concurrent trains. Also, I used the weekday schedule. Some of these limitations result in subtle variations, … Read More

An animated map of Auckland’s public transport network - Seeing Data

Jan 20, 2011

I grew up in Auckland and spent many years using the city’s public transport system to get from place to place. While sitting on a bus, I sometimes wondered what the transportation network would look like if we could see the movements of the individual vehicles from the air. I would try to visualise the aggregate trajectories as each vehicle carved a path through space-time. After a few moments I would get hopelessly overwhelmed and go back to reading my book. Last year Auckland Transport published its Google Transit Feed data on the MAXX website and I realised it provided the information I needed to make the map I used to daydream about. The data is a series of (large) spreadsheets, each describing a different aspect of the bus, train and ferry network. Last week I downloaded the … Read More