Make graphs of your listening history at LastGraph.

This is from my profile data:
dorq\'s lastfm poster

Get the detailed PDF from which the above was captured (it’s so pretty).

July 12, 2008. information visualization, music, patterns. No Comments.


Wordle is a fun tool for making what I will call “nice-looking tag clouds”. It’s like tag-tinted glasses for the written world.

Here are two I made today.

LaTeX – from the first few paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry on LaTeX

My tags – from my

These are super-customizable but I can’t let myself play with it that long. (That’s what she said.)

I am very busy finishing my thesis; the plan now is to finish and move out of Cambridge at the end of July. I will come back to blogging, hopefully daily again, at that point. I miss it quite a bit. So stay tuned…

June 13, 2008. computers/programming, information visualization, words. 1 Comment.

The Mathematics in Music

I went to a very interesting performance today: “The Mathematics in Music: a concert-conversation with Elaine Chew”, in Killian Hall at MIT. Elaine is visiting Harvard for the year from USC, where she is a professor. She has an amazingly broad background that is super-pleasing… having studied math, computer science, music performance, and operations research.

Elaine performed four piano pieces, three of which were composed just for her, that use playful tricks in math as compositional inspiration. Some of these tricks included:

Elaine and her colleague, Alexandre Francois, developed a way of visualizing tonality called MuSA.RT, which accompanied her during two of the pieces. MuSA.RT shows (as a real-time accompaniment to MIDI-enabled piano) the changing notes and key of the piece along a spiral that is kind of like a 3-D version of the Tonnetz. More on the model in Elaine’s paper (PDF).


May 12, 2008. computers/programming, information visualization, MIT, music, patterns, sound. No Comments.

Where the yin yang symbol comes from

yin yangWow, this page has a description of where the yin yang symbol comes from. It claims that the symbol is actually a graph of the length of the shortest shadow observed each day throughout one year. It’s a simple spiral.

yin yang graph

(Apologies for linking to pages with pop-up ad windows!)

March 5, 2008. information visualization. 1 Comment.


graph·i·ca·cy [ gráffikəssee ]


understanding of symbols and diagrams: the ability to use and understand such things as symbols, diagrams, plans, and maps

[Mid-20th century. <graphic , after literacy]

More on Wikipedia. Also: graphicacy in education.
How have I gone so long without this word?

February 12, 2008. information visualization, words. No Comments.

Martin Wattenberg’s advice to me

Tonight I went to see Martin Wattenberg (from IBM’s Visual Communication Lab) talk about visualizing the patterns in Wikipedia edit histories (see history flow and chromogram). It was very fun, very interesting, and makes me think it’s possible to have a job that feels like play.

Afterwards I asked Martin if he had any advice for me, as I’m about to embark on my Masters thesis work, which is really just a big visualization project devoted to looking at people’s music collections. I was wondering what kinds of coding tools he’d recommend. (All of his Wikipedia visualizations were built in Java.) He said, “You’ve got one big question to answer first… Do you want to put this on the web, or not?” If I want it on the web, he says, go Flash; if not, try Processing. And he strongly suggested making it for the web, because that creates the possibility for an instant community and lets the project take on a life of its own.

Thursday, November 15, 7-9 pm

Visualizing Wikipedia: A tale of life, love, and bureaucracy
Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas (in spirit) , IBM Visual Communication Lab

Abstract: We report on Wikipedia’s evolution from a curiosity to a point of first
reference for millions. Applying data visualization techniques to
Wikipedia’s historical archives uncovers a story in three acts: life, love,
and bureaucracy. “Life” refers to the impressive ability of Wikipedia to
heal itself after vandalism and errors. “Love” is reflected in the
overwhelming scale of individual production and the passion shown by devoted
editors. And bureaucracy–an unexpected aspect of a free-spirited
community–is becoming prevalent as the site scales, with emerging
formalized processes and roles that help ensure quality.

November 16, 2007. academics, information visualization, MIT, patterns. 3 Comments.

“Visual Music” lecture

I gave my first lecture today. It was a 2.5-hour class on visualizing music, part of the Musical Aesthetics & Media Technology class I am TA-ing.

I spent much of the last few days preparing for this, and I found some impressive examples of visualizing music from the past few hundred years. In fact, there were so many examples that one of the hardest parts of preparing for the talk was defining its scope. I chose the examples I thought were most relevant to telling my version of the story, including Klee, Kandinsky, Oskar Fischinger, the Whitney brothers, Fantasia, all the way up to Ratatouille, the Music Animation Machine, and Martin Wattenberg’s The Shape of Sound. You can see all of these here, in my presentation:

Visual Music lecture
Click image above to download interactive QuickTime slideshow (4.2 MB)
Underlined texts are link-outs, and you can use arrows to navigate through the show.

My favorite example of all is Oskar Fischinger’s Allegretto, which blew me away. Unfortunately I can’t find this online, but there is a fantastic DVD with that video available here.

Fischinger's Allegretto

(Tomorrow or Friday I will follow up with a set of links that cover the best examples of visual music that I found, including a couple of killer blog finds. That set will be much larger than what I was able to cover in class today.)

October 4, 2007. academics, information visualization, media lab, music. 1 Comment.

Mapping your world

mobile mapping van outsideTele Atlas held a workshop at the Media Lab today, and I got to go on a ride in one of their “mobile mapping vans”. They drive up and down the streets of major cities and highways in this van, which is equipped with several cameras and laser range-finders on the roof, with a GPS receiver and a rack of memory on the inside. Tele Atlas uses the imagery and distance data to help enhance and texture their new 3D maps, which nicely represent the shapes and appearance of the buildings along the streets.

I climbed in next to the rack, in the only back seat, while my two friendly mapper-driver-dudes took me on a 5-minute ride around MIT, so that I could see the cameras in action. They have cameras on the roof, pointing to either side of the van, and two angled up at about 45º to get snapshots of taller buildings. They also have a “spherical” camera called a Ladybug, which has five cameras arranged in a ring, in a red housing. On either side of the roof are laser range-finders that map out the building layouts and shape as viewed from the road. (I love that the laser manufacturer is named SICK, and that they display this proudly on their devices.)

The guy in the passenger seat looks at maps and camera feeds on a pole-mounted laptop next to the seat, adjusting apertures and directing the driver to roads they have not yet covered. He’ll also mark a road if it’s under construction or one-way.

It seems slow-going; the van can’t take measurements if it travels above 33 mph. This guy’s been working with his partner to map Boston and Cambridge since the beginning of August. They’ll finish in the next week or two, and then move on to another city. I asked him how long it takes to map an area, and he tells me, “It depends on the traffic… Yesterday it was really bad in the Back Bay and Brookline, so we only covered about 75 kilometers in 6 hours.” On a good day, his best, they covered 170 km (106 mi).

Let the geo-nerditry commence!

mobile mapping van roof mobile mapping van cameras mobile mapping van laptop mobile mapping van front mobile mapping van rack

September 14, 2007. how things work, information visualization, media lab. 1 Comment.

How much do I move when I sleep?

For my final project for sensors class, I wore accelerometers on my head, arm, and leg for a full night’s sleep, and tried to track how much I moved during the night, and which positions I tend to sleep in.


Main findings:

I wrote up some quick notes about the project here.

June 14, 2007. academics, information visualization, media lab. 1 Comment.

Spirals, scoops, sailing

Today was awesome.

May 11, 2007. food, information visualization, sound. No Comments.

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