Information Visualization ‘L’ plater on the loose

30 07 2012

For the last few years, I have been fascinated with the many and creative uses of data visualization. This was sparked by seeing more and more creative and innovate ways of presenting data, especially at events like THATcamp and GovHack. For example, local Canberra impresarios Mitchell Whitelaw, Tim Sherratt and Paul Hagon  have all done very interesting things with a range of national collections.

Of course, Paul Brown has been experimenting with data since the 1970s and is considered one of the pioneers of generative art. I like to add Paul because he is a legend and he included me in one of my first digital art shows in 1999 – SciArt’99 at the Queensland Sciencentre :-)

For my purposes, I am keen to learn how I can play with SNA and maps, as I am intrigued by the possibilities of creating tools that respond to location and audiences in different ways. Anyway, I am not sure exactly what I want to create – I guess I will find out. I know a little – tools like Processing and Gephi are popular, but at the moment I have little working knowledge of these tools.

In September 2012, I will be taking an online course in Social Networking Analysis,  with Lada Adamic at Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. I am really excited and hope to learn some neat stuff. The course outline says:

In this course you will learn about the structure and evolution of networks, drawing on knowledge from disciplines as diverse as sociology, mathematics, computer science, economics, and physics. Online interactive demonstrations and hands-on analysis of real-world data sets will focus on a range of tasks: from identifying important nodes in the network, to detecting communities, to tracing information diffusion and opinion formation.

Sounds fabulous eh! I hope that soon I will have something for show and tell – can’t wait!!

Here are some links to some groovy info vis sites:





Gov 2.0 Conference – Some thoughts

5 11 2010

The recent Gov 2.0 conference in Canberra was a great demonstration of the momentum that is continuing to build around social media and access to open government data.

These moves have not come over night, over the course of many years there has been a strong movement towards applying the principles of the W3C and the vision of the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee. In short, his vision is about a Web for everyone and by everyone­—accessible, usable and a space of equity. Berners-Lee’s creation was fueled by a highly personal vision of the Web as a powerful force for social change and individual creativity. See Weaving the Web (1999) if you are interested in his philosophical take on the web.

The reality is that although open source, free ware developers, artists and citizen journalists have been actively sharing, talking, forming communities and mixing online content for nearly two decades, government has been slow to come to the table. Issues of copyright, protection of information and IT security are all seen as potential barriers for government agencies to join the conversation.

The community online has also changed exponentially. For example, research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics about Internet Activity cited that 3.8 million Internet subscribers registered in Australia at the end of the September quarter 2000, and by June 2010 this had increased to 9.6 million. Also, the way we access the internet has changed – with wireless and mobile access now almost on par with broadband access. See Internet Activity, Australia, Jun 2010 for more information.

These videos from YouTube is a good example of the growth of social media


What this conference has demonstrated is that there is a significant risk to not taking action, as government will be left behind and not seen as credible, approachable or responsive to citizens concerns. Sadly to say, in many areas of government there is active resistance to the principles of Gov2.0 because of an unwillingness to acknowledge that the issues are not about technology but about effective engagement and fostering behaviour change. But on the positive side there is some very engaged use of social media and open data that demonstrates a willingness to ‘go to where the conversation is’.

Aside from the recommendations set forth in the Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 report put out by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and the Declaration of Open Government, there are also significant moves in the sharing of government data. Peter Alexander from AGIMO discussed a range of initiatives, which are all on the AGIMO Blog as well as the use of Creative Commons Licences (see the Qld Government Information Licencing Framework).

The range of talks was excellent and to have senior public servants supporting moves towards Gov2.0  is very encouraging – thanks especially to Mia Garlick, Andrew Stott, Andrew Mills, Patrick McCormack and Peter Alexander.

In conclusion, there are still many challenges to educate people in decision making positions about the benefits of social media and open data. Perhaps the wrong people were in the room as there was a sense of ‘preaching to the converted’.  The tweet stream reflected this sentiment with one tweet referring to the lack of support as CRAP – Chronic Risk Averse Paranoia, which I thought was hilarious. That said, what I took away from the conference was some potential solutions and strategies that may be effective in terms of building support for more open and engaged approaches to communications and information sharing.

Gov 2.0 2010 Conference themes included:

  • Update on where the government will take Gov 2.0
  • Promoting innovation
  • Using a crowd sourced community of peers to assist decision making
  • Implementing a business communication strategy that includes Gov 2.0
  • Demonstrating net outcomes and benefits
  • Upskilling your team in social media
  • Utilising open and closed online forums, blogs, twitter and e-newsletters
  • Managing engagement within the twitter sphere
  • Maximising the time of limited resources

Check out:





THATCamp CBR – Open linked data session

1 09 2010

The main focus on this session was the access and use of PSI (Public Sector Information). Asa LeTourneau, from the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) led this discussion.

This discussion focused on a range of issues including, developing APIs, data scaping from websites, and making data available and different institutions that have made their data available in different formats.

In many ways, this discussion ended up being more about the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ and I was hoping for more about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ on a technical level. That said, I did learn that it is important to write good XML and to have strong URIs :-)

The session proposal on the THATCamp blog read:

Web2.0 has taken hold at PROV and we are now trying to figure out ways to take our existing data and publish it in a usable form on a regular and automatic basis. The specific tasks we have in mind are:

  • how to extract data into xml format
  • design a tool that can harvest xml on a regular basis automatically
  • identify what is an archival standard xml and why and what are its elements
  • how to match our xml elements to the archival standard xml elements and describe why the matching has occurred
  • design a tool that can publish xml on a regular basis automatically
  • Currently users access the collection here. One day, with your help, they may be able to access it

Here are a number of examples of institutions offering data and some of the methods and tools being used:

  • one of the main methods of acquiring open data is by the use of a screen scraper and then put data into xml schema
  • PROV are scraping own website
  • Access the PROV collection
  • People Australia have an API – Basil D (People Australia) is interested in people who want to use apis
  • Powerhouse made available data in csv format
  • Gov 2.0 innovation plan
  • Open Calais?
  • Machine tagging and crowdsourcing as a community activity
  • LORE – anna gerber uq http://thatcampcanberra.org/camper/anna/
  • Design and art australia online – users make corrections to data
  • gate systems
  • Xpath
  • OpenSearch, please consider JSON output – it makes web UIs easier/faster
  • http://defining.net.au/wall/
  • metadata conference – analysis of comments from dutch archives – sigfried??
  • open annotation project www.openannotation.org
  • Koori records unit – wiki – prov
  • community project in western district – wanting to develop sensitive system where rights of access is respected – who can see what because of cultural appropriateness
  • Who am I project – ARC linkage project

There was a general comment that Australian government archives ahead of the game because of the ‘series system’ developed in the 1960s. This is a great opportunity for access and visualisation of open data on a global scale. There was also comments that there had been some very good work in this area in New Zealand.





THATCamp CBR – Digital mapping session

1 09 2010

BootCamp: Putting the Digital Humanities in its place … what, why and how to map
Presented by Ian Johnson.

This session was an excellent practical introduction into digital mapping. Ian provided some very good information about the basics of GIS (Geographic Information System) and the types of tools and databases used to generate visualisations that intersected data with mapping.

To begin with, the group was taken through an overview of GIS, which I found particularly helpful as I have not had any formal training in this area and have a great interest in learning skills in mapping and GIS.

The presentation then focused on a number of projects that have used GIS technologies, for example: Macquarie map of Indigenous Australia 2007; South Seas Project; Digital Harlem 1915 – 1930 and Dictionary of Sydney.

Ian then provided a list of tools that are used for developing these projects – most significantly Time Maps and Heurist.

I am looking forward to learning much more about digital mapping and building technical skills with some of the tools mentioned in the blog post.

Some dot points about  – digital mapping tools and technologies:

  • AusStage mapping service
  • what is spatial data? Vector – points lines, polygons – objects recorded with coordinates. Raster – aerial photos, satellite images, airborn scanner images, historical maps and plans.
  • Formats – CSV
  • shapefile – (old formats .shp .dbf .shx =ESRI) http://www.mapshaper.com/test/demo.html
  • KML (.kml, .kmx = Google Earth)
  • Databases – Access, MySql, ostgres, Oracle
  • TIF, GeoTiff = Remore sensed data
  • JPEG2000, MrSID, Zoomify = Tled images http://www.zoomify.com doesn’t need a image server
  • Projections, Datums, Coordinates – datum: point of reference and model of the earth; projecton: method of flattening earth on map; no such thing as a ‘correct’ projection, grid reference system (cartesian)
  • Lat and Long – GPS – uses WGS84 lat-long, no projection

Some projects worth mentioning:

  • Macquarie map of Indigenous Australia 2007
  • georeferencing – way of matching data
  • street address referencing
  • Geographical names register
  • Geonames
  • georeferencing 2 – usually raster arc gis
  • google earth and overlaying maps over time
  • PHALMS Parramatta Heritage Archeological Landscape Management Study
  • Digitising (Heurist)
  • South Seas Project
  • Digital Harlem 1915 – 1930
  • Dictionary of Sydney
  • CHGIS (Harvard, Griffith, Fudan, Russian Academy of Science)
  • A vision of Britain over time
  • Sydney Harbour landfill
  • BioMap – biofuel research in Europe
  • simile timeline MIT
  • Angkot fly through – real map with data vis laid on top

Some tools:

  • Field collection – i-pad looks very promising 3g model
  • smart phones – embedded GeoTags in images
  • FieldHelper Vsn 2 – GPS/camera mapping
  • abc innovation – using google earth and timeline
  • Sydney TimeMap – ARC SPIRT Grant (2000 – 2002)
  • TimeMap – useful tool – mobile version in development
  • Heurist Vsn 3 http://www.heuristscholar.org/heurist
  • http://acl.arts.usyd.edu.au/bootcamp/




The Blender Institute

20 07 2008

The Blender Institute in Amsterdam is a not-for-profit studio for open source 3D projects. Sounds exciting eh!

As a follow-up to the successful project Orange’s “Elephants Dream”, the Blender Foundation initiated another open movie project. Again a small team (7) of the best 3D artists and developers in the Blender community have been invited to come together to work in Amsterdam from October 2007 until April 2008 on completing a short 3D animation movie. The team members will get a great studio facility and housing in Amsterdam, all travel costs reimbursed, and a fee sufficient to cover all expenses during the period.

The creative concept of “Peach” was completely different as for “Orange”. This time it is “funny and furry”!

The Blender Foundation and Blender community have been the main financiers for Peach. As for the previous open movie, a pre-sale campaign to purchase the DVD set in advance will be organized.

Additional support from sponsors and subsidy funds has been realized as well.

Peach also was the first Open Project hosted by the new Blender Institute in Amsterdam. This will make the project more independent, without much involvement of production partners, and also will ensure continuity.

Their recent production Big Buck Bunny has gone live on youtube and you can check it out here…








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