Songs off the Charts

I’m often asked about sonification—instead of visualization, turning data into audio—but I’ve never pursued it because there are other things that I’m more curious about. The bigger issue is that I was concerned that audio would require even more of a trained ear than a  visualization (according to some) requires a trained eye.

But now, Johannes Kreidler, with the help of Microsoft Songsmith, has proven me wrong:

Johannes, time to book your ticket to IEEE InfoVis.

My opinion of Songsmith is shifting — while it’s generally presented as a laughingstock, catastrophic failure, or if nothing else, a complete embarrassment (especially for its developers slash infomercial actors), it’s really caught the imagination of a lot of people who are creating new things, even if all of them subvert the original intent of the project. (Where the original intent was to… create a tool that would help write a jingle for glow in the dark towels?)

At any rate, I think it’s achieved another kind of success, and web memes aside, I’m curious to see what actual utility comes from derivatives of the project, now that the music idea is firmly planted in peoples’ heads.

And if you stopped the video halfway through because it got a little tedious, you missed some of the good bits toward the end.

(Thanks to Moiz Syed for the link.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009 | finance, music, sonification  

Eric Idle on “Scale”

Scale is one of the most important themes in data visualization. In Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Eric Idle shares his perspective:

The lyrics:

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 | music, scale  

Radiohead – House of Cards

Radiohead’s new video for “House of Cards” built using a laser scanner and software:

Aaron Koblin, one of Casey’s former students was involved in the project and also made use of Processing for the video. He writes:

A couple of hours ago was the release of a project I’ve been working on with Radiohead and Google. Lots of laser scanner fun.

I released some Processing code along with the data we captured to make the video. Also tried to give a basic explanation of how to get started using Processing to play with all this stuff.

The project is hosted at code.google.com/radiohead, where you can also download all the data for the point clouds captured by the scanner, as well as Processing source code to render the points and rotate Thom’s head as much as you’d like. This is the download page for the data and source code.

They’ve also posted a “making of” video:

(Just cover your ears toward the end where the director starts going on about “everything is data…”)

Sort of wonderful and amazing that they’re releasing the data behind the project, opening up the possibility for a kind of software-based remixing of the video. I hope their leap of faith will be rewarded by individuals doing interesting and amazing things with the data. (Nudge, nudge.)

Aaron’s also behind the excellent Flight Patterns as well as The Sheep Market, both highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 | data, motion, music  

Rick Astley & Ludacris

Someday I want to write like Ludacris, but for now I’ll enjoy info graphics of his work. Luda not only knows a lot of young ladies, but can proudly recite the range of area codes in which they live. Geographer (and feminist) Stefanie Gray took it upon herself to make a map:


You’ll need background music while taking a look; and I found a quick refresher of the lyrics also informative. More discussion and highlights of her findings can be found on Strange Maps, who first published Stefanie’s image.

In related news, someone else has figured out Rick Astley:


I’ve added the album cover at left so that you can look into his eyes and see his honest face for yourself. If you’re not a proud survivor of the 80s (or perhaps if you are), the single can be had for a mere 99¢. Or if that only gets you started, you can pick up his Greatest Hits. Someone also made another version of the graphic using the Google chart API (mentioned earlier), though it appears less analytically sound (accurate).

More from song charts at this earlier post.

Saturday, June 14, 2008 | infographics, music  

Robust Analysis of Socio-cultural Observations

money-vs-problems.jpgGiven the number of data points provided, it would be difficult to refute the findings depicted in this chart.

Related work can be found here and here. While later research findings (by latecomers who foolishly claim to have invented the approach) here and here.

Thanks to Raelynn Miles for the original link.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | infographics, music  

Visualizing Data Book CoverVisualizing Data is my book about computational information design. It covers the path from raw data to how we understand it, detailing how to begin with a set of numbers and produce images or software that lets you view and interact with information. Unlike nearly all books in this field, it is a hands-on guide intended for people who want to learn how to actually build a data visualization.

The text was published by O’Reilly in December 2007 and can be found at Amazon and elsewhere. Amazon also has an edition for the Kindle, for people who aren’t into the dead tree thing. (Proceeds from Amazon links found on this page are used to pay my web hosting bill.)

Examples for the book can be found here.

The book covers ideas found in my Ph.D. dissertation, which is basis for Chapter 1. The next chapter is an extremely brief introduction to Processing, which is used for the examples. Next is (chapter 3) is a simple mapping project to place data points on a map of the United States. Of course, the idea is not that lots of people want to visualize data for each of 50 states. Instead, it’s a jumping off point for learning how to lay out data spatially.

The chapters that follow cover six more projects, such as salary vs. performance (Chapter 5), zipdecode (Chapter 6), followed by more advanced topics dealing with trees, treemaps, hierarchies, and recursion (Chapter 7), plus graphs and networks (Chapter 8).

This site is used for follow-up code and writing about related topics.