Category Archives: Data Visualization

3D Passenger Pigeon Bones

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I’ve been working with Bernard Means who runs VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory1. We spoke briefly a while back about building a site to allow for interactive views and downloads of 3D STL files his team has made of passenger pigeon bones. One of the goals was to allow mobile devices to interact with the site in an “app-like” fashion. This is more than a desire for the PR boost that seems to come with creating an “app”2 What we’re working toward is the ability to cache this stuff and enable archaeologists in the field to interact with the virtual shapes on mobile devices or download the shapefiles, print them out, and carry the replicas into the field (next up is a consideration of points). We wanted to get the passenger pigeon bones out in time for the anniversary of the extinction of the species which was 100 years ago today. Due to the excitement and drama that is the new school year, I didn’t end up getting the bones or focusing on this until Thursday.

This was the first website I’ve made by hand (non-cms) in a while. I figured it’d be good for me and I thought it’d help remove complications. I don’t know if that ended up being true but it was a decent idea. It was a hassle to update the shared structure across the websites. I’ll have to figure a way out of that in the future.

Step one was to get a decent responsive structure. I used a quick and easy bootstrap template generator called Lay Out It. It is amazing how many free options like that exist now.

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The second concern was trying to think through was using an old school image map as the main visual navigation. We wanted people to be able to click on the bones and end up at the 3D interactive pieces. I hadn’t made an image map in a long time either. I did suspect that there’d be some issues with responsive image resizing and navigation like this. A bit of googling later and it turns out there’s an answer for this and it’s on github and it uses Power Puff girls for the example. It worked perfectly. The first two steps took about 10 minutes from desire to working prototype. All hail the Internet.

The third piece, and the one that ate up most of my time, was making interactive web components from the STL files. My ignorance of 3D shapefiles knows no limits but I did find three.js a while back and it has loaders for STL and a number of other common formats. I installed it and hand no trouble running the examples but failed at loading the pigeon bones. I failed at binary exports. I failed at ASCII exports. I failed, I failed, I failed in so many different ways. I then attempted to really cheat and use some of the hosted solutions where I quickly ran into size limits and requests to pay for things and other sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make.

I then circled back to GitHub. Turns out it does a really nice job of automating the display of 3D shapefiles up to 10 MB and makes a handy iframe embed option available. I had to use quadratic edge collapse decimation on a few of the files in order to get under that limit but left the larger files available because GitHub makes that so easy.

I wanted those iframes to be responsive as well. This nice little post answered that question quickly and easily.

As always, there are lots of things I need to do better and many ways I can/should improve the site. I’ll be looking at caching options, making this a more portable structure that others will be able to add to and improve.


1 I do need to see if we might offer some attractive reasons to come over from wordpress.com.

2 The media is an enemy of the people.

Voyant (Green) – it’s a peephole!


h/t the wily Alan Levine

Seeing Cindy’s post which put “As We May Think” in a tag cloud, I started wondering about other text visualization options and understandings they might drive. ManyEyes was long my default for this type of thing but the hassles with Java security have driven me away. So I decided to give Voyant a try. Will Berry1 had used it so well with students, it seemed worth a more in depth exploration.

You can play with the text of “As We May Think” in Voyant here.

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As you can see you get the typical tag cloud. You do have the additional ability to hide words using pre-constructed common word lists or custom lists you build yourself. That can be awfully useful.
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You also have the ability to select certain words from the corpus2 and they will be charted in relative or raw distribution rates across the corpus. Incidents of “as”, “we”, and “may” are depicted below.
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You can also view occurrences of selected words contextually. Below are “record” and “thought” as I was curious how closely they would parallel one another.
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I think the contextual piece is nice, not quite as nice as the branch stuff ManyEyes does but nice and space appropriate. It’s interesting to see that in combination with when the words appeared. Bush seems to stick with “record” almost exclusively and then move into “thought” which is encouraging me to re-read the piece and see if that exposes a deliberate move from something I see as more trivial (record) to more complex (thought).

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I also looked at “man” vs “human” because of Morgan’s comment on Bush’s use of “man”. Always interesting to see how time impacts language and how contextualizing writing to its time can change how you read it.3 In any case, it seems like “man” and “human” are used in close proximity and in similar amount with the exception of the middle of the work where “man” is used in isolation repeatedly.Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 9.46.02 PM

I don’t know if I have any answers on why Bush chose man or human but looking for reasons and playing with rationale has been fun though.


1 #thoughtvectors participant bonus score

2 Humans and works as collections of strange things.

3 I’m sure David could hit me with some interesting sociological perspective on this. Maybe more should be stressed about when “As We May Think” was written. Bush does reference the whole war context in the intro but it may not be clear to all readers what war this is. The time period matters quite a bit as this would not be a very interesting essay if it were written in the 1990s.

Two Different Time Lapse Experiments

Time Lapse Trip from Richmond VA to Tampa FL from Tom Woodward on Vimeo.

This is my first attempt with the GoPro. I think it’s set to one shot every 30 seconds. You can see me fiddling with the settings a few different times if you’re masochistic enough to watch it through. The battery ran out early in the trip and resulted in me using it without the stand. That helps explain the repeated drifting as the USB cord1 pulls it slowly towards the driver’s side. It is interesting to see a 12.5 hr trip condensed down to 4 minutes or so. I may do it on the way back but pointed mostly towards the sky or maybe at the kids.

Knowing where the stops were makes me wonder if something similar would make for a interesting take on Dan Meyer’s original graphing stories.


On the other end of the time lapse spectrum is this attempt to condense one my attempts to fix a photo from the reddit pic request group. This one is kind of amusing to me in that you can see me googling some stuff for a sick child in the middle and finishing up with some posts to reddit and flickr. There is no sound but it’d be pretty easy to narrate if you wanted to make it more instructional.

The screenshots were generated based on this post. It is a copy/paste terminal command that will take a full desktop screenshot every X seconds.

i=1;while [ 1 ];do screencapture -t jpg -x ~/Desktop/screencapture/$i.jpg; let i++;sleep 4; done

Semi Tutorial

In either of the cases above you end up with a fist full of images. It used to be that you could set default input length for still images in FinalCut. I can’t figure out how to do that in FCP X. There are lots of people claiming (and even showing) other ways to bulk change the length of static images once they are in FCP. Several ways didn’t work for me. What did work is …. drag/drop the images into the timeline then . . .


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward

Just click yes or change the settings to your preferred set up.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward
Once things have calmed down a bit, select all the images then ctrl click/right click. You’ll select “Create a compound clip“.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward

Then it’s Modify>Retime>Fast and your choice of speeds. You can also go back and enter a custom speed to get things to around the duration you want.


1 How strange to be able to easily charge USB devices in the car and even stranger to have the need to do so.

A Non-Definition of OER

THe following two photographs of slides are from David Wiley’s presentation on open education (which was awesome). I am playing against his definition for a variety of reasons which may become clear as I progress.

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(1) Any kind of teaching materials- textbooks, syllabi, lesson plans, videos, readings, exams

“Teaching materials” are in the eye of the beholder but leading with this phrase puts people in a certain mindset around content and one that is actually harmful. People make fun of “educational” resources for good reason. A large part of what needs to be opened is our ideas around what content might be educational and how we might use that content.

IMG_9374

(2) Free and unfettered access, and
(3) Free permission to engage in the “4R activities

I won’t argue much with #2, although I do realize I “pay” for access to some of this content when a 3rd party tracks me.

While I recognize the importance and goodness of #3, I hate to exclude all the content that falls outside that definition. I’d rather have a larger “house” of content and a few rooms that help people decide what they can do with it. I think it’s actually good that content might be ephemeral and might eventually go away. I am ok that I can’t remix certain things. I still find the content worth using. My goal is to first get people to open their eyes to the wealth of really engaging content around us and then the idea of remixing and making that content becomes both more likely and more interesting.

See Food!
I tend to see this as representative of most “teaching materials” only less exciting. The content is pre-chewed and equally unappetizing.

I’ll start with fairly normal media sources and drift outward towards stranger places and tools.

[Invitation to attend the execution of Tiburcio Vasquez]
The Flickr Commons has many good things (and a decent search interface), including this invitation to an execution that I found randomly as a result of subscribing to this RSS feed of the Commons’ photos. Since I knew Jim Groom was teaching a course on crime I passed it on and Jim did the rest. It’s also a decent example of the value of working in the open. If people know what you’re doing they may come bearing gifts. My favorites in Flickr are full of items waiting for uses.

This disturbing film records the successful experiments in the resuscitation of life to dead animals (dogs), as conducted by Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. Director: D.I. Yashin.

I found this very disturbing video on Archive.org- specifically wandering around the Prelinger archives which are full of all sorts of odd things. All this content is remixable and the potential is limited only by time and imagination.

XKCD's What if?
There is a cartoonist who specializes in romance, sarcasm, math, language and happens to answer hypothetical physics questions on a weekly basis. I find this interesting in a variety of ways- not the least of which is that there is an audience for this. There is even a Twitter account that documents all the interesting numbers found in the pursuit of these answers.

Backstory
There are so many beautiful podcasts out there. This one is amazingly well done and a model for how we might teach history- 18th, 19th, and 20th century lenses on the same topic. They interview experts and provide resources that allow people to delve even deeper. This kind of thing starts to get at the idea of transmedia- different media paths with different depths driven, to some degree, by a narrative. The timely nature of the content is also quite useful- this Columbus episode for instance which would go nicely with this Oatmeal comic.1

There are so many things out there, it helps to have other people tell you about them. Eric Hoefler let me know about this one.

I do think it’s worth noting that I’m ok with degrees of “truth” from these sources. I want all information to be suspect.

There’s an endless additional supply of media but from here I’ll start to branch out into the idea that tools have as much or more value. A few of my favorites are below. I like them because they start with plenty of content and plenty of options but they also offer you the ability to fill them with your own data.

GapMinder
(Not sure why Gapminder doesn’t generate a screenshot via the WordPress Snap feature. . . it is a real place. You can click on the 404 image and go there.)

Google Earth/Google Maps- Short version – It’s full of stars.


Many Eyes

Under the tools category also falls all sorts of javascript libraries – Timeline JS, Simile Widgets, Dojo etc. etc.

And then there are people, so many people focused on finding interesting things in various areas of focus. A few content focused examples include2 -

Shorpy Fresh Photons It's OK to be Smart Literary Tattoos Literally Unbelievable

And what’s better than people? Communities. Legions of people working towards your goals is handy.

Like this reddit focused on colorizing historical photos.
Colorized History


1 and some fava beans

2 I would note that content focused blogs should be rounded out. It’s important to look outside education.

Some Elementary Attempts

I’m working more closely with some of our elementary specialists this year. It’s been a good while since I worked with this age group. I’m pretty excited the potential to do some interesting things.

chihuahua.001

Measurement is a big issue for our students in elementary. It spans math and science standards and kids are not connecting it with their lives. I’m playing around with some graphic ways to get students engaged.

When I tried this out with my own kids (ages 9, 7, 5) they all really wanted to know how big the dog was. I realize it’s not the best sample but they aren’t shy if they don’t like things.

I don’t know that will stick with an apple as the visual reference object. I’d like it to be something they have in their hands at the time and on a regular basis.1 I hope to encourage a lot of measuring against their own bodies. My kids like that- holding their hands up to where on their body the dog’s head would be.

It might also be interesting to run a number line down the wall and have kids move to the numbers to indicate guesses, kid of a kinesthetic graphing exercise. I am pretty sure I saw that someplace.

I’m attempting to imitate some of Dan Meyer’s three act math strategies (guess too high/low, what information do you need?, progressive release of additional information) but may be missing the mark. If you look at the other Flickr photos, the guidance may be way too heavy handed. I’m still feeling my way here and will need to see it live.

Another problem area in English is synonyms and antonyms. I happened to see these two items in the grocery store that day. I have no idea how they’re differentiating chopped vs diced foods. I’m hoping that by modeling capturing media of this type you’re turning on a lens for both teachers and students. It feels like it ought to be so easy to do things like this.2 We are bathed in words every day, we just have to look around.
Chopped
Diced

I saw a number of other interesting language choices in just this one trip in a tiny section. I was told by someone that I looked lost. After I responded “I’m just capturing vocabulary in the wild to use with elementary students.” She opted to move on.

These mushrooms were growing in our front yard. I added the quarter for scale but have one without it as well. That might be an interesting piece for measurement as well. The idea of context for measurement is more and more interesting to me. Strangely, I remember reading in Capstick’s Maneaters about how hard it was to estimate the size of crocodiles in the water because of the lack of visual references, even by experienced guides. This lead to claims of really huge reptiles. There’s probably some interesting way to use that.


1 A pencil might work but I wonder about it changing size as it’s sharpened.

2 Clearly it isn’t.