Chris McDowall

Geo-tweets and population density - Seeing Data

Dec 13, 2010

A few weeks back I animated 24 hours of Twitter data, mapping every tweet with geographic coordinates. I found it interesting to observe not only where geo-tweets occurred but also where they were absent. The video below tentatively explores the relationship between population density and where people are tweeting. This animation begins with a view focused on Wellington, New Zealand at midday on November 19, 2010 (NZDT time). The camera moves west across the Earth’s continents before ending at Honolulu, Hawaii. Things to keep in mind: The more red a place appears, the greater the population density. Each transparent blue circle is a single tweet. The darker the blue, the greater the number of tweets. The camera moves west at a constant rate. At any given moment, the local time at the place in the center of the map … Read More

Mapping a Day in the Life of Twitter - Seeing Data

Nov 25, 2010

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta... William Gibson, Neuromancer Last week I hooked a computer up to the Twitter data streaming API and, over the course of a day and a bit, grabbed every tweet that had geographic coordinates. I wrote a Python script to parse the 2GB of JSON files and used … Read More

Friday morning video — Watching Packets Fly - Seeing Data

Nov 12, 2010

This video by Carlos Bueno below depicts in slow-motion what happens when one computer requests an image from another computer over the Internet. I think it’s really neat. Imagine that the big grey circle on the left is your computer and the circle on the right is some website that you visited. Each flying circle represents a unit of data called a packet. The small green circles represent control packets. The larger blue ones are data packets. In this case it’s an image broken down into many tiny parts. The exchange begins with a handshake that establishes the rules for communication. We then see a slow ramping up of data being transferred between machines before the full speed download begins. While you watch the video, it might help to imagine the following conversation taking place. Client: "Hey, … Read More

Sienna Latham on Alchemy, Women and Data Visualisation - Seeing Data

Nov 10, 2010

This evening’s post is a guest contribution from my wife, Sienna Latham. She writes below about the role of data visualisation in her historical research. — I recently submitted my master’s thesis on English women’s chymical activities during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), exploring the intersecting histories of science, medicine, magic, women and religion. ‘Chymistry’ is a composite term acknowledging the fact that no clear, consistent distinctions were drawn between alchemy and chemistry in the early modern era. Like their male compatriots, my subjects harnessed chymical theories and techniques for both esoteric and pragmatic purposes. They practiced iatrochemistry (medical alchemy), incorporated chymical metaphors into creative works and sought the fabled philosopher’s stone, which promised both riches and freedom from disease. It’s useful to remember that science as we know it did not exist for Elizabethans, who engaged with God’s … Read More

Friday morning video – Powers of Ten - Seeing Data

Oct 29, 2010

This classic short documentary from 1977 helps viewers conceptualise the relative sizes of things in the Universe. Powers of Ten begins with a one meter wide scene viewed from a distance of one meter. Every ten seconds the camera zooms in or out by a factor of ten. It seamlessly transitions from galactic vistas to scenes rendered at sub-atomic scales. It’s twenty years since I first saw this film and I still find it breathtaking. The film has been remade several times. Here’s an impressive recent version from the Imax film Cosmic Voyage. Morgan Freeman provides the voiceover. … and the obligatory Simpson introduction. Read More

The Zen of Open Data - Seeing Data

Oct 12, 2010

This morning I was writing code in a programming language called Python. I hit a sticky problem and turned to an arcane feature of the language known as the “The Zen of Python” for guidance. There I read the words, “In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess,” and I was enlightened. Open data has been on my mind lately. Open data is a philosophy and practice advocating that data should be freely available to everyone, without restrictions. Following the experience I related above, I began to wonder what “The Zen of Open Data” might look like. I wrote something over morning tea that tries to boil down all the stuff I have heard and read on the topic over the past two years and posted it to the New Zealand Open Government Ninjas forum. I … Read More

Friday morning video — Touchable Holograms - Seeing Data

Oct 08, 2010

My jaw dropped when I saw this video of researchers at Tokyo University creating holographic images that “feel” like physical objects. The technology uses ultrasonic waves to create a sensation of pressure on the hands of people interacting with the hologram. When inaudible sound waves emitted by a set of ultrasonic transducers interfere, they can create a focal point that is perceived as a solid object. It’s a clever idea that brings us one step closer to building a holodeck. (via O’Reilly radar and BBC news) … Read More

Friday morning video – Journalism In The Age of Data - Seeing Data

Oct 01, 2010

If you are at all interested in data visualisation, please find 50 minutes to watch this excellent feature by Geoff McGhee. Journalism in the Age of Data explores how programmers, designers and journalists are creating visualisations to understand datasets, tell stories and encourage curiosity. There are great interviews and intriguing examples throughout. Highly recommended. [vimeo width=”651″ height=”366″][/vimeo] … Read More

So what is an API and why does it matter that Trade Me just released one? - Seeing Data

Sep 30, 2010

This afternoon Trade Me announced the release of their developer application programming interface (API). This is really cool news … but why? An API is a set of programming instructions and standards that enable different software applications to interact. Hmmm …. that’s the sort of description that probably only makes sense to people who already know what an API is. Perhaps it’s easier to look at a couple of examples. In recent years many organisations have released interfaces for other software developers to use to build cool new things. One reason you see Google maps all over the web is because Google have a rich, well-documented, easy to use family of mapping interfaces available for people to make custom maps with. Using Google’s APIs, developers can embed interactive maps into their websites and access … Read More

Friday morning video — Rain tables and gumboots - Seeing Data

Sep 17, 2010

A major storm is coming. At the moment the Manawatu is sunny and eerily calm. Soon the rain will be here. Then the rivers will start to rise and the fields near work will disappear under water. The prospect of the storm makes me wish for two things. The first is that I could play with/hack the cool “rain table” multi-touch system demonstrated in the video below. It was created by the University of Illinois at Chicago – Electronic Visualization Laboratory. [vimeo width=”651″ height=”488″][/vimeo] I would also like a pair of gumboots that integrate a rain level measurement gauge into their physical design. Perfect for measuring the height of the floodwaters on the walk home. (via BoingBoing.) … Read More