Thesis Diary

This blog is a form of digital diary for my second year thesis development process at the
Master of Fine Arts - Design and Technology (MFADT) program at Parsons School of Design

Sunday, October 09, 2005

VisualComplexity.com

Finally I has able to build the project that has been in my mind for quite a while. This is probably my last entry in this blog, since VisualComplexity.com is going to incorporate most of the research and projects previously shown here, and with time, much much more...

VisualComplexity.com intends to be a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks. The project's main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web. I truly hope this space can inspire, motivate and enlighten any person doing research on this field.

Feel free to explore it at:
www.visualcomplexity.com

Monday, May 02, 2005

Blogviz first tryout

It has been a while since my last post, but as you can probably imagine, for the last two months I've been totally absorbed in my thesis. My final presentation is tomorrow, which is coincidently my birthday. Anyway, the first tryout of Blogviz is out, currently mapping 10 topics and approximately 350 blogs. I still need to add a FAQ and visual exploration page, so that people might have a better understanding of the visualization techniques employed in the application. I will also build a bug reporting and comment form to help solving existing problems and hopefully receive interesting suggestions. There are SO many other features I want to implement, that I will post it later, when I have more time. But feel free to start “playing” with it. Here’s the link:

www.blogviz.com

Monday, February 21, 2005

Epidemiology | Diffusion of Innovations

Recently I drifted a little bit the focus and mechanics of blogviz, mainly because of my most current immersion in the domains of Epidemiology and Diffusion of Innovations Theory. I’ve been reading a lot of interesting things and made my own annotations about these two domains, which I consider to be amazing resources to understand the behavior of information diffusion (or meme activity). To anyone interested in reading my notes, here are the links of two pdf files, one regarding epidemiology and the other the diffusion of innovations.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

blogviz online

Blogviz is online, but still missing a lot of information. Nonetheless please check it out at: http://www.blogviz.com

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Blogviz.com

Very soon I plan to build my thesis website, however, this weblog will never disappear, it will just be an integral element of the website. It will contain all the research, writing, prototypes, presentations and a list of relevant precedents.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Blogviz Images

Here are a few slides from last semester’s final presentation. Since I’m in favor of sharing ideas, concepts and solutions for the sake of a continuous feedback and gratifying evolution, here are some images of Blogviz, a visualization tool for mapping topics diffusion across the blogosphere.

Example
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For more information check the Fall 2004 Final Presentation link on the right, under Presentations.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Fire Paranoia

Ok, I know this is a little bit off from what I’ve been posting in this blog, but maybe this way you can understand why I’ve been away from thesis and school these last 10 days. The day after I arrived in New York there was a major fire in my building, and here’s the desolating scenario of my apartment after the fire, major destruction… I’m ok now and just moved to another place in east village (I just love this neighborhood).

Friday, January 14, 2005

I'm Back

I’ve been away for over a month and I apologize to those who’ve been following my work and research for the last 6 months. I realize some of you share many of my interests and it’s truly motivating for me to feel I’m not doing all of this in vain. It’s always comforting to know that many others out there are working on parallel subjects and tormenting themselves with similar issues.

December was a busy month. Besides all the finals at Parsons culminating with several presentations, in particular my thesis final presentation, there was also a major deadline at PIIM on December 20th. After all the work was done I was finally able to catch my breath and enjoy a relaxing Christmas with my family in New York. On December 27th I came to Portugal where I’ve been spending the last weeks in total gastronomic bliss. Apart from finishing the reports for my scholarship foundations, my time in Portugal has been spent in the company of my family and friends. I just came back from a week in my island, in the Azores, and I’m now back in Lisbon where I’ll be staying until the 20th.

Very soon I’ll update this blog with all the work developed for my thesis at the end of the Fall 2004 semester.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Nemulator

Nemulator, a neuronal (neme-based) simulation project by Jared Schiffman (et al), is a very interesting project closely related to a recent drift in my thesis project, towards an improved understanding of meme activity.

As Jared Schiffman, Tom White and Max Vankleek clarify: “Central to the Society of Mind are the concepts of 'nemes', which are agencies responsible for representing fragments of states of minds. Together with K-lines, they form critical bridges interconnecting agents in different ways.”

Nemulator goes a step further, as the authors explain: “Our project will be to create a Neme simulator that illustrates the three axes of topology, function, and environment. Each of these axes will be illustrated by a system that allows active manipulation and graphical visualization of nemetic structure, its interactions with agents, or exposure to a variety of stimuli. Additionally, since the human mind would have to contain millions of complex interconnected nemes in order to enable us to recognize, memorize, and associate concepts the way we do, we will in this project, discuss the scalability of nemetic structures.”

Example
Copyright Jared Schiffman/Tom White/Max Vankleek

Example
Copyright Jared Schiffman/Tom White/Max Vankleek

Example
Copyright Jared Schiffman/Tom White/Max Vankleek

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Copyright Jared Schiffman/Tom White/Max Vankleek

The project can be seen at this link.
For a full report on Nemulator click here.

Jared Schiffman has a lot of interesting projects, for more information check his personal site at MIT Media Lab here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Memetics

In a conversation with my Thesis Writing instructor, Mark Stafford, I was able to understand how my thesis is closely related to the concepts of memetics and meme behavior. I believe I’m developing a “topological model of meme activity”, even if until now I was somehow oblivious to it. I was too much concentrated in the idea of a word-of-mouth behavior, an expression used by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point” and by Duncan Watts in “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age”. Meme is truly the concept I’m facing when tracking chunks of information among a certain online social community, and by visually mapping these information patterns over time, I’m in fact building a “topological model of meme activity”. Here’s a daunting definition of meme, from Wikipedia:

“A meme (comes from memetic and memory) is a unit of information that replicates from brains or retention systems, such as books, to other brains or retention systems. In more specific terms, a meme is a self-propagating unit of cultural evolution, analogous to the gene (the unit of genetics). (…) Memes can represent parts of ideas, languages, tunes, designs, skills, moral and aesthetic values and anything else that is commonly learned and passed on to others as a unit. The study of evolutionary models of information transfer is called memetics.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of a meme:

"An idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture."

The term meme originated in 1976 on Richard Dawkins’s notorious book “The Selfish Gene”.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Diffusion Patterns

While on my second prototype I was trying to deal with a structured way to map connectivity among blogs, by isolating the hubs and sort the nodes according to popularity, recently, I’ve been exploring possible ways of visualizing diffusion patterns over time. I tried several models based on a radial structure where time becomes the major constraint. In most of these experiences I faced a common problem in representing a continuous flow of infected blogs. The underlying radial structure seemed to impose its rigidness by enforcing fractures in the pattern, particularly whenever there was a day transition.

At the moment I’m becoming convinced that a horizontal array is truly the best way of representing the quantitative and temporal qualities of a pattern. Time is a crucial domain in a dissemination pattern, particularly in a word-of-mouth social behavior. The amazing potentialities of a horizontal assortment is the uninterrupted continuous flow of data and the possibility of collapsing time frames and still maintain a sense of scale and understanding of the pattern dynamics.

Since I produced these visual studies, about two weeks ago, I’ve been sketching, writing, and annotating like a mad man. I’ve built a few diagrams to get a full understanding of my system; built several taxonomies and dissected the mechanics of blogging. I’ll soon update this blog with my thoughts on this issue. One thing is sure, this examination process is helping me so much putting my ideas straight and getting a sense of what I’m dealing with, and also, I’m sure it’s going to be crucial when I start building the visualization system.

Here are some of the visual models I’ve done in the last two weeks:

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Monday, November 15, 2004

Information Flocking Boids

A few weeks ago I referred one of the best projects I saw at InfoVis 2004. The project author, Andrew Vande Moere, has recently updated his website with images from the project and a downloadable (.pdf) file of the paper. The title of the paper is “Time-Varying Data Visualization using Information Flocking Boids”, and it was truly one of the most innovative and appealing visualizations I saw in this year’s InfoViz Conference.

Here’s a short description and a few images of the project:

“This research demonstrates how principles of self-organization and behavior simulation can be used to represent dynamic data evolutions by extending the concept of information flocking, originally introduced by Proctor & Winter, to time-varying datasets.”

Example
Copyright Andrew Vande Moere

Example
Copyright Andrew Vande Moere

Example
Copyright Andrew Vande Moere

For more information about this project click here.

Directional Linkage

On my third presentation, where I showed my second prototype, I also illustrated some of my initial studies regarding the linkage among blogs. Connectivity in the blogsphere is a very binary process; we only need to make two questions. Is blog A connected to blog B? If so, who is linking whom? If none of them is linking to the other, they become momentarily isolated islands. For that presentation I explained a few visual studies where I mainly explored the concept of directional linkage, by visualizing inbound or outbound links, or putting it simple, who is linking whom.

Example

Example

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Bibliography

Here’s a list of my recent bibliographic references:

> Bibliography

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Context Paper

From a discussion in my Signs of Life class I decided to explore a little more the concept of the prefix tele- in my thesis writing lab context paper:

“If we explore the word syntax structure of most communication tools prior to the Internet, such as telegraph, telex, telegram, and telephone, we encounter the constant presence of the prefix tele-. Tele is a greek word that means “at a distance”, usually implying “to be distant” or “over a distance”. The first use of the prefix tele was in the word telescope which was actually adapted from Galileo’s Italian word telescopi, followed by the word telegraph, meaning “writing at a distance”. Telecommunications is the field that embodies all the systems that intent to communicate “at a distant” or “over a distance”. Once again we see the importance of geography as a crucial domain for human communication, where the advancement of technology, since the beginning, has been trying to diminish its constraints, by allowing people to communicate over an ever-present disturbing distance. I find this analysis particularly interesting in such a way that the Internet, and all features associated with it, have completely abandoned the prefix tele-, drastically assuming the medium, and replaced it with the prefix e-. From e-mail, to e-commerce, and e-business, the prefix e- is usually associated with the latest heat of technological revolution, an abbreviation of the word electronic and an obvious association with the word cyber.”

Click here to read my latest context paper, including 10 main precedents to my thesis.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Creative Code

Just bought the new book “Creative Code” from John Maeda. Pretty interesting even thought it’s not about Maeda’s work but his considerations over other new media artists/designers. Concentrating mostly in the work developed at the Aesthetics and Computation Group at MIT Media Lab, the book exposes a few known names, such as: Yugo Nakamura, Martin Wattenberg, Ben Fry, Golan Levin, Casey Reas, among others.

> Creative Code.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Mid-Term Presentation

Here it’s my first visual prototype shown at the mid-term review. The underlying concept was based on a major aspiration: nodes local stability and links global connectivity. What I tried was to position the nodes in a structured way, so they would remain fixed, and to some level, under control. The links, however, would be in constant change and the outcome would be highly random and unpredictable. The reason why I chose to sort all the nodes in a precise manner was to be able to isolate the major hubs and have some control over the lattice resulting from the links agglomeration. Looking at it now, it seems the result was too much rigid and strict. The radial diagram with its implosive structure reinforces the structure rigidness by resembling a closed system that probably doesn’t describe so well the blogs fundamental openness. Anyway, I believe it was a positive tryout and I learned a lot from it.

Example
For a larger version of this image click here.

I realized I had to take a different path. I was trying too hard to control the outcome and I believe the result showed exactly that. I’ll have to loose some of my constant need for control and let the system be more auto-sufficient, self-organizing and adaptive.

Another criticism I received during the presentation was that I was being to concerned with the visual aspect of it, and that I was thinking too much as a visual designer. Well, although I agree in part with the critic, my thesis assertion has always been the visualization of a specific dissemination pattern, and from my extensive research in complex networks, I truly believe that the only way I can positively contribute to this field is by employing my visual and interface design knowledge. In my first prototype presentation I dissected several problems on the visualization of complex networks and proposed distinct solutions that might solve some of its inconsistencies. I believe there has to be a balance between highly complex network visualizations that offer a poor functionality and highly aesthetic/innovative visual representations that might suffer from the same paradigm. I just have to pursue that balance.

You can see the whole presentation in the following link (use arrow keys):
> Mid-Term Presentation.

4 Million Blogs

Exactly a month ago, on September 24th, Technorati hit the 4 million mark, and it’s currently tracking 4,379,577 blogs. Coincidently, 4 days before, Wikipedia Foundation announced the creation of the one millionth article in Wikipedia. Interesting coincidence.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Blogs Statistics from LiveJournal

This link contains very interesting statistics from LiveJournal’s blog community, tracking 4.918.064 blogs/journals. The age distribution results are not surprising but I was impressed with the majority of blogs (67.1%) being maintained by women, against men’s less then half percentage of 32.9%. The raw data is free to use.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Code Profiles

Yesterday I went to the Chelsea Art Museum and I was happy to see Bradford Paley’s Code Profiles project. CodeProfiles was written in August 2002 and commissioned by Christiane Paul, Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.

“Code Profiles is a software that displays its underlying code and comments on itself. The code reads in its own source and displays it in a tiny font. As users move their finger over the touch screen, each line of the code becomes legible. The software moves three points in ‘code space’: the white line traces the code in the order it was written by the artist; the amber line traces the code word by word as someone might read it; the green line shows a sample of how the computer reads the code. The code lines themselves gradually get brighter as they execute more. In a self-reflexive way, Code Profiles unveils a ‘virtual object’ as the algorithms constructing this very object.”

The truly interesting feature of this project is that it’s displayed on a painting frame, and from distance it looks like a still image, until you get real close and move your finger over the touch screen that replaces the canvas.

Example

I apologize for the image size but this was the most decent one I could find online.

Here’s a link to the project:

CodeProfiles

This page offers a CodeProfiles Remix by Martin Wattenberg:

CodeProfiles Remix

Friday, October 15, 2004

Austin Images

While in Austin for the InfoVis 2004 Conference I took some pictures of the city. If you're interested check this link:

Austin Images

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Production

After two and a half months of a lot of reading and extensive research in complex networks visualization, which coincided with the conclusion of a parallel project developed at PIIM, I believe it’s time to delve deep into the production/design phase. As much as I like to research and analyze other people’s projects, I’m eager to start developing my own concept. I’ve been doing a lot of sketching and thinking on possible features of the project and ways of interrelating them in a solid interactive application. My future steps will incorporate the creation of visual models, technical experiments (back-end/front-end), and a lot of reflective design. Part of this process transition, from research to production, will be illustrated at my mid-term presentation, on October 21st.

On future posts I will describe my thesis final concept, my main goals and ambitions for this project. The choice of a subject of analysis has been a long difficult route but finally I dissected a subject that truly inspires me and represents most of my initial motivations.

InfoVis 2004 Projects

Geotime

The first project showed at InfoVis 2004, on Monday 8:30 AM, was one of the most innovative. Geotime by Thomas Kapler is a project financed by NGA and it aims to analyze observations over Time and Geography, which is a particular hard task to visualize. I believe this project is one of the best that I’ve seen in overlapping these two realms. For more information here’s a link to the project’s paper (pdf) Geotime. I will try to contact the author and see if there’s a way of downloading or experimenting the project online.

Example

MNIST Digits

This project was shown as a poster. The visualization is not highly innovative, although its 3D properties are quite interesting, however its resilience to complexity is extraordinary. I saw the author zooming in and out of our virtual spatial galaxy in his Dell laptop at a surprising ease. We could observe millions of other galaxies, millions of highly complex nodes, appearing on the screen in an effortless manner. Unfortunately the demo is only available for Windows and Linux, but nevertheless here’s the link to the website.

Monkellipse

Another project co-authored by Bradford Paley, author of TextArc, shown as a poster at the InfoVis 2004. Monkellipse maps all the articles and papers, divided by subject areas, that appeared at the InfoVis Conference since its beginning. One thing that really amazed me in this project was that it was built in flash. Since I’m building my thesis project front-end application in flash, I’ve been a little worried with its resistance to complexity. It was encouraging to see how smoothly a flash application can perform, even when it displays more than 640 nodes. Here’s a link to the project website.

Time-varying data visualization using information flocking boids

Unfortunately, one of my favorite projects shown at InfoVis 2004 is not available online, except for a fee of $19 at the IEEE website. This project is worthy of note since it illustrates innovative visual methods of displaying complex networks. The only free link I could find online was the author’s personal website, however, there are no images of the project. When I have the time I’ll scan a few images from the InfoVis proceedings publication so you can see what I mean.

Steerable, Progressive Multidimensional Scaling

This Project by Tamara Munzner and Matt Williams offers a compelling approach to Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) in the form of a computation engine and visualization tool that progressively computes an MDS layout and handles datasets of over one million points. For more information here’s the project’s website.

Example

Hierarchical Clustering Explorer

Hierarchical Clustering Explorer is a Bioinformatics visualization tool and can be downloaded here. (only for Windows)

Others

Sadly, many projects present at InfoVis 2004 are not yet available online. I will try to update this post when these projects become available.