Plan and Profile of a Louisiana Landscape

I’m working on the illustrations for The Makers of Things. Some get done quickly; some take far longer than I imagined. The illustration that pairs a map view with an elevation cross section proved to be one of the latter (as always, click to embiggen):

Plan and Elevation of Eunice to Mamou

Plan and Elevation of Eunice to Mamou

I’m fairly happy with these stripped-down maps, focusing, I hope, readers’ attention.

Visualizing Time

Many thanks to the folks at O’Reilly for organizing and sponsoring the webcast “It’s About Time: Using Temporal Visualization Techniques to Give Data More Meaning and Context” with Hunter Whitney. Here’s O’Reilly’s description:

We typically don’t give a moment’s thought to the timing and sequence of most of life’s activities and events, but time and order play a significant role in much of what we do. Further, the overlap between one series of events and another can reveal complex patterns and prompt important insights, once detected. However, most database and visual analytics tools are not equipped to reveal the meaning and context that nuanced time representations can provide. Temporal visualizations can shed new light on many areas from healthcare to cybersecurity to sports, to name a few.

This webcast will include key ideas, techniques, and practical applications to represent and explore event sequences and their temporal patterns. To illustrate these ideas, a visualization tool called EventFlow will be demonstrated by researchers at the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab, where the tool is being developed.

Here are links both from the presentation and from the group chat:

  • The book Visualization of Time-Oriented Data “starts with an introduction to visualization and a number of historical examples of visual representations. At its core, the book presents and discusses a systematic view of the visualization of time-oriented data.”
  • EventFlow is software designed by UMD’s HCIL to help hospitals visualize patient-based workflows: what got done when and in what sequence. (It looks very complicated and very specific, but I wonder if it couldn’t be bent to other purposes.)
  • The Wind Map is the coolest thing I have seen in a long time.
  • Merely a Node has some examples by Whitney.
  • A nice example of being able to compare months.
  • Don’t forget Google Charts.

Only the Shadow Knows

I hate the title of the special issue of Differences on the digital humanities, “In the Shadows of the Digital Humanities”, but I am intrigued by some of the articles, especially the ones by Adeline Koh:

This essay explores the “social contract” of the digital humanities community. I argue that the social contract of the digital humanities is composed of two rules: 1) the notion of niceness or civility; and 2) the possession of technical knowledge, defined as knowledge of coding or computer programming. These rules are repeatedly raised within the public sphere of the digital humanities and are simultaneously contested and criticized. I claim that these rules and the social contract come from humanities computing, a field commonly described as the digital humanities’ sole predecessor. Humanities computing has historically differentiated itself from media and cultural studies, defining itself as a field that uses computational methods to address humanities research questions rather than exploring the impact of computation on culture and the humanities. I call for a movement that would go beyond this social contract by creating multiple genealogies for the digital humanities; by arguing that current conceptualizations of the digital humanities have not only developed from humanities computing but also include additional fields such as new media studies, postcolonial science and technology studies, and digital research on race, gender, class, and disability and their impact on cultures around the world.

I am curious about her claim that humanities computing is often positioned “as the digital humanities’ sole predecessor.” I was under the impression that digital humanities was an umbrella term invented — and this history here intrigues me — to accommodate both the old humanities computing and the newer digital/media studies. But while I have apparently been flirting with the digital humanities for quite some time, I am a latecomer to its intellectual history.

I’m also interested in code studies and in the idea of a critical technical practice, which Michael Dieter explores:

This article reflects theoretically on the conditions of possibility for critical work to be conducted in the context of the digital humanities and aims to provide a broad conceptual vocabulary suitable for supporting and expanding this rapidly changing subdiscipline. It does so by elaborating on the framework of critical technical practice (CTP) first proposed by Philip Agre, suggesting how this notion might be connected productively with philosophical lineages of antipositivist epistemology, but as such traditions are reimagined and retooled for today’s informational contexts. Here, CTP is considered through the work of sociotechnical problematization, especially by the various techniques that differentiate existing infrastructural solutions on the basis of the purported material problems and difficulties they claim to address. The origin of Agre’s notion of CTP is linked back to its inspiration in the specific methodologies and concepts in the work of Michel Foucault. It is also suggested that other important connections to the thought of Henri Bergson, Gaston Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem, and Gilles Deleuze can be made. While presenting a rich set of resources for the consideration of sociotechnical problems, the argument is made that these resources might be productively placed in dialogue with existing digital methods and techniques through a reflection on media aesthetics. The article concludes by illustrating the relevance of this general framework with reference to a number of projects by media practitioners relevant to digital humanities, including the work of Rosa Menkman, YoHa, Julian Oliver, Dmytri Kleiner, and Esther Polak.

My chief problem? I can’t seem to access the current issue of Differences — if I can, my university’s infrastructure makes it very difficult to understand how.

Cultural Hubs

One of the things that I think we face in era of big data and especially in the moment when data visualizations/projections are so popular is that the data you start with is not objective. Case in point is the animation that asks us to “Watch How the Cultural Hubs of Civilization Have Shifted Over Centuries”. Go ahead and click on the link and watch the visualization. It’s quite compelling.

Did you notice how densely populated Europe and North America are? How sparsely populated China is? Let along Africa and South America? We’re talking civilizations here. The great kingdoms of China. The empires of the Incas and the Aztecs must cutely be counted among the civilizations of our planet worth noting? Well, not quite:

By tracking where 120,000 notable historical figures were born and died, researchers have charted the ever-shifting appeal of the next up-and-coming Big City. The video above shows the migration of notable figures—artists, explorers, philosophers, missionaries and others—from 600 B.C. to 2012 A.D., says Nature.

The animation reflects some of what was known already. Rome gave way to Paris as a cultural centre, which was eventually overtaken by Los Angeles and New York. But it also puts figures and dates on these shifts — and allows for precise comparisons. For example, the data suggest that Paris overtook Rome as a cultural hub in 1789.

Ah. It’s those 120,000 notable figures upon which the graph is based that is the problem: it’s not very inclusive, is it?

Winning at Monopoly with Math

I am a complete fool for articles like Business Insider‘s “How To Use Math To Crush Your Friends At Monopoly Like You’ve Never Done Before”. I like that the math involved can range from the simple — how the distribution of dice rolls affects where most people will land, given a particular starting point — to the complex. If the slide decks length puts you off — there’s sixty plus slides in there!, you can always scroll to the end and read the half dozen concluding slides that tell you what you should do. But, really, the fun is in the careful working through of the numbers.

Things in Life

Don Stover, one of the lyrical greats of the twentieth century, wrote a song called “Things in Life” that once heard can never leave your head. If you were to take that song and make it into a slightly more upbeat list, it would look like this:

Read Quote of Tom Wills’ answer to Life Lessons: What is the most difficult thing to learn and accept about life? on Quora

Hey, Youtube has Stover: