Workshop: Quantified Self + Viz with Processing (Apr 20, NYC)

Apr 13, 2014 | Code, Processing / Java, Workshops


Viz: takeout order history (timestamp demo)

Workshop: Quantified Self and data visualization with Processing
Date: Saturday, April 12, Williamsburg, NYC
Rescheduled: Sunday, April 20, Williamsburg, NYC

Update: I had to cancel Saturday’s workshop due to a brain-scrambling flu. I’ve rescheduled the workshop for Sunday, April 20th, and there are two spots still open.

This workshop will introduce participants to Quantified Self and personal data tracking, with the aim of creating custom code-driven visualizations.

We will use Processing to parse, analyze and visualize data (CSV, JSON) generated by popular tracking tools, establishing basic principles and useful workflows that can be applied to common QS scenarios.


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Code: (text anonymizer)

Apr 8, 2014 | Code, Processing / Java, Workshops

New GitHub Gist: Simple Lorem Ipsum text replacer for Java/Processing. It is useful for anonymizing text content in data sets (email, SMS, direct messages etc.) Upper/lower case is preserved as best as Java String supports (Locale twiddling might be needed in some cases) and will leave all non-letters intact.

The class uses two built-in dictionaries: A list of replacement words and a “whitelist” of words that should be kept as is. For brevity, these are set as inline preset strings here. They can easily be changed in the code or changed to be customizable by adding a mechanism for setting the dictionaries.


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A Cornucopia of Quantification: QS apps + tools, Pt.1

Mar 28, 2014 | Code, Geo / locative, Links, Software, Workshops


Outline for my March 29 Quantified Self workshop (now sold out, the next date will April 12.) Diagrammed with XMind.

For anyone who has been paying attention it will be clear that 2013 was arguably the year that Quantified Self exploded. It could also be argued that the focus on pedometers and personal fitness augmentations represents a sort of “QS Lite”, limiting itself to ideas that can be conveniently explained and marketed in the form of soundbites. Good for business, visionary not so much.

The sheer number of new tracking services and apps that have emerged in the last year is both a blessing and a curse. It’s exciting to see new approaches being explored, even though the vast majority are simply re-hashing the same basic ideas. How many workout apps can the market possibly support? QS might be on the brink of becoming a cash cow, but for now it’s mostly a bubble.

Some newcomers (Moves, Tictrac, Reporter ++) do feel like a real evolution, both in terms of user experience and their underlying design concepts. Data hackers and coders should be happy to note that some developers understand their needs and value their participation. A decent export mechanism (cloud-based or not) and maybe even a GitHub repo with sample code is a good start.


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You Are Big Data: CIID Summer School

Jul 15, 2013 | Open source, Processing / Java, Theory, Workshops


Screenshot: Manic Time, a particularly obsessive time tracking app

The following is a summary of tools and resources for my two week “You Are Big Data” workshop for CIID Summer School in Copenhagen, in which we’ll be dealing with Quantified Self and data sculpture. This is in part a repost of a previous list.

Andy Polaine wrote a post that referenced my previous summary, in which he made some good critical points and provided a link to a tool I was unaware of: Slogger by Brett Terpstra (sadly, I don’t have a MacOS / Linux setup for testing these kinds of apps myself.)


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Self-Ethnography at AHO, aka Big Data OCD

Jan 21, 2013 | AHO, Links, News, Open source, Theory


Screenshot: Manic Time, time tracking app

Possible resources of interest in connection with the upcoming Self-Ethnography and Data Visualization module at AHO, focusing on tools and inspiration. Please also refer to the lecture note and the articles I put on Dropbox.

Articles / videos

Tools and software

  • Two options for auto-tracking everything you do on your computer: Rescue Time and Manic Time.
  • has a decent overview of available self-tracking tools: Guide / iPhone products
  • More obscure but Open Source and quite powerful if the documentation can be trusted: Selfspy, Python-based and runs on MacOS, outputting to a local database.
  • Popular social services: FourSquare,
  • Self-tracking goes well with an Open Source, information-wants-to-be-free attitude: See Open You or search GitHub for quantified self for all kinds of related projects.
  • Fitness enthusiasts, runners and bikers are avid data trackers. They drive the personal data tracking market while often remaining blissfully unaware of the Quantified Self utopia: MapMyRide, Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Snore Lab
  • For periodic on-the-run logging of any type of information: your.flowingdata and Daytum offer convenient logging with charts and data export, clearly aimed at data heads. Compare Daily Tracker, which is more aligned with the narrative of self-improvement.
  • Evernote is not strictly about data tracking, but it is a very convenient tool for it. Focused on cloud-based note-taking that bridges across mobile devices, your web-based services and even normal office software, it’s a blank slate for any number of uses.
  • Services built around calendars and to-do lists: Clocked In, Wunderlist, Basecamp. Not obviously related to data logging, but often relying the same mentality of self-discipline.
  • Life Hacker is a respected blog discussing strategies to help you stay productive and in charge of your own life / career / inbox. Data tracking is one such strategy, popular since it promises to provide quantifiable analysis.
  • Somewhat related: Getting Things Done (or GTD) is a bestseller book about time-managing, but it also has a large online following that is pretty much a subculture in its own right.
  • On a more personal and emotional note, mood tracking was an early hit. It is now increasingly being presented as a possible self-help tool against mood disorders:, Moodpanda.
  • Also: Mydrinkaware, Recovery etc. focus on battling addiction issues.

Projects / inspiration: So much to pick from, so little time. Google is your friend.

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Screensaver Culture – Twitter responds

Jan 17, 2012 | AHO, Theory, Workshops

After posting my Screensaver Culture presentation yesterday it was blogged on Creative Applications by Greg Smith and I’ve gotten quite a few responses on Twitter. Some of the comments are on point and some are just funny.

Below is a more or less complete list. In summary, the arguments are roughly as follows:

  • “Screensavers are outdated / unnecessary.” Well, yes. But that has never meant much in terms of deciding whether a cultural phenomenom succeeds or is banished to the Wasteland of Forgotten Memes. Tamagotchis or animated GIFs, anyone? 90% of all iPhone / Android apps are unnecessary for everyday living, yet the smartphone app culture is a runaway train.
  • “Developing screensavers is currently way too hard.” I share this sentiment and suspect it to the main culprit along with its corollary: “Installing screensavers is too hard / scary / likely to mess with the rest of my computer.”
  • “It’s impossible to improve on flying toasters.” This terrifying thought is exactly why I would suggest screensavers need revisiting.

In conclusion: Between being tricky to develop and just as tricky to install and successfully use, screensavers stand no chance of recovering ground as a cultural phenomenom. Despite their close link to the app culture that is currently dominating our lives, screensavers (aka “ambient software”) will get no love.

This might not seem like such a terrible loss, but I still posit that ambient data gadgets with possible integration to web / mobile apps would’ve been a great usage scenario. There are some ways this could still happen:

  • Microsoft and Apple realize the lost potential and relaunch their screensaver frameworks complete with app stores for screensavers. (Unlikely.)
  • Google develops a screensaver mode for Chrome as part of their Chrome apps initiative and allows sales of screensavers through the Chrome app store. (Entirely possible if a little optimistic. My favorite option by far, though. Google, are you listening?)
  • In both these scenarios, new screensavers would be based on HTML5 with WebGL, allowing them to be cross-platform and based on open standards. Because you all understand that proprietary is stupid, right?

A sad footnote: I had to uninstall the brilliant Briblo screensaver after realizing it was interfering with the taskbar on Windows 7. So I’m back to the ever popular blank screen, like so much of the world population.

The Tweets


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Screensaver culture

Jan 16, 2012 | AHO, Processing / Java, Theory, Workshops

Update: After this was posted it got blogged on Creative Applications and I’ve received quite a few responses via Twitter. See the separate post “Screensaver Culture – Twitter responds” for a summary, as well as some further thoughts on the demise of the screensaver.

Task: Make a screensaver for 2012
  • Your task is to come up with a concept for a screensaver that is both suitable to the screensaver format and updated to a 2012 understanding of interaction design. We are looking for ideas that go beyond the traditional screensaver format, or which reinvent that format by applying design thinking to a field full of visual cliche.
  • Two general directions are suggested (but not required):
    1. Ambient data gadgets – screensavers as data aggregators and visualizers.
    2. Computational graphics – parametric visuals.
  • If your idea is too ambitious to realize in a 3-day time frame we want to see convincing screen mockups of how the screensaver would work. But we would rather see a real demo that’s rough around the edges than a slick Photoshop sketch. You must submit at least one Processing sketch illustrating part of your screensaver’s functionality.
Screensaver Links

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Self-Ethnography lecture & notes

Sep 15, 2010 | AHO, Theory, Workshops

20101013 AHO Infoviz, Self-Ethnography

Lecture notes – Information Visualization & Self-Ethnography course

I have uploaded the introductory lecture from Monday to Scribd, as seen above. The list of suggestions for possible data sources and comments on possible challenges are at the very end of the document. The visualization examples I used in the lecture are listed below.

In the section on self-ethnography I made rather heavy use of Nicholas Felton’s Feltron Report as a valuable reference. Please see his web site for more information on that project, you can even purchase hardcopies of the report for your own pleasure.

Visualization links & examples
Self-Ethnography – tools

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Personal data logging and Information Visualization

Sep 13, 2010 | AHO, Software, Theory, Workshops

RescueTime graphs

Productivity charts generated by tracker

The next two weeks I am teaching a workshop in Information Visualization and Self-Ethnography for the Interaction Design course at AHO. I’ll be posting links and resources here on the blog in the next few days.

Required Reading

Data collecting tools

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Data, data, data

Apr 11, 2010 | Code, Open source, Theory

Ever since doing Stockspace project it seems I am getting asked to do data-related work. This despite the fact that my personal interests diverge from such masters of insightful infographics as Martin Wattenberg, David McCandless or Jonathan Harris.

Suffice to say that I am more concerned with exploring data structures as spaces than I am with providing new understandings of the information contained within them. Manuel Lima’s Information Visualization Manifesto calls for a seriousness on the topic of data treatments, while my projects remain comfortably frivolous.

Recently I’ve been working on a project that has required researching data sources and adapting them to illustrate a bigger idea, which has led to much Googling in the absence of good data from the client. Sometimes you find the right thing immediately, but sometimes data is hard to find in a format that is freely available and easily parsable. Since I have found some good sources I thought I’d share them here…

Miscellaneous free data

I would be interested in hearing tips about any great data sets out there, particularly interesting time series data.

Miska Knapek recently sent me a link to a source of weather sensor data from Helsinki, including measurements of wind direction at the top of Helsinki’s Olympic Tower in 5-minute intervals. He has already made some wind visualization videos and some fabricated wind data sculptures based on this data.

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