Personal Projects, Technology

Map of whiskey producing countries

For some time, I’ve been meaning to play with web friendly mapping and visualization tools such as d3.js, datamaps.js or crosslet.js. D3 is quickly becoming the defacto standard for displaying statistical visualizations on the web, and other libraries are hooking in to add additional capabilities, like mapping. Communicating data effectively is the future, if not right now, and being able to get that data on to the web efficiently is a valuable skill.

Like all skills, you need experience, and as a beginner it’s often best to dive in and muck around. It’s helpful, too, to have a purpose, or an itch to scratch when playing around with new tools. In my case, I wanted to create a map of countries that produce whisk(e)y.

First, I needed which countries produced whiskey. There’s no real definitive list, thus I used a composite of sources. And by produce, I mean distill. Also, I may have missed some countries or left them off if I could not corroborate what info I did find. Note, Scotland, Wales, England are part of the United Kingdom.

Next, I chose datamaps.js as my mapping tool. It looked straight forward and minimal. Tweaking a few settings, I set the default map color to grey and whiskey producing countries to red. To tell the tool to flag countries, you use an international three letter abbreviation and assign it an attribute. For example, here’s the designation for Australia:

AUS: {
fillKey: 'MAKES'
}

Datamaps.js can also add other contextual information in its rollover of a country. Say you know how many distilleries there are for a country, you can add an additional property.

Below is a screenshot of the map. Click here to view the map of whiskey producers in the world.

whiskeymap

Countries colored red are those that distill whisk(e)y.

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Music, Technology, Thoughts

An internet dialogue about music, creation and ownership

Emily White, an NPR intern, kicked off the discussion early in the week, stating she never made the transition from physical to digital consumption of music.

I never went through the transition from physical to digital. I’m almost 21, and since I first began to love music I’ve been spoiled by the Internet.

I am an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric. I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs.

Then, Camper  Van Beethoven and Cracker founder, David Lowery, responds with a nearly 3,000 word essay regarding the ethics and philosophy of creating music (or art) and being compensated.

Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights. Not the other way around. We cannot wait for these entities to act in the myriad little transactions that make up an ethical life. I’d suggest to you that, as a 21-year old adult who wants to work in the music business, it is especially important for you to come to grips with these very personal ethical issues.

But Jonathan Coulton takes the idea further in a different direction, using Legos to speculate what may happen with physical goods if 3D printers proliferated.

Your kid loves Legos. He’s got an X-wing fighter kit that he’s super excited about, and as he’s putting it together, one of the little pointy laser turret pieces on the tips of the wings slips out of his hands and falls down the central air conditioning vent. No problem. You fire up the old internet, and you find www.legowarez.to, the small crazy place where all of the Lego nuts go to obsessively upload and catalog 3D scans of every lego piece that has ever existed. This site is ad supported, and some douchebag in Nigeria is getting rich off it. But you find the file for the piece you need, you download it, and a few minutes later you’ve printed out a replacement piece.

Jay Frank gets curious and uses Google Trends to seek out data about potential piracy.

Google, as the worldwide leader in search results, is a strong indicator of actual file trade demand. In fact, industry watchdog Moses Avalon argued such this week at New Music Seminar. Yet, when I went to look on Google Insights to see the level of demand for free music by David Lowery’s group Camper Van Beethoven, the message I get is, “Not enough search volume to show graphs.”This basically means, from what I can gather, that less than 50 people per monthin the entire world are even showing intent to steal his music. Statisticians basically refer to this as essentially zero.

In the broader sense, creators deserve to be paid for their work, regardless of the medium or method of distribution. The transition to legal, digital services to do this is only a recent development. Upon discovering Spotify, friends marveled, “How is this legal? There’s so much.” But if there’s no demand for an artist’s work, irrelevancy seems a much steeper price despite whatever medium the art is in.

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Personal Projects, Technology

Google and Duck Duck Go search results comparison

I couldn’t remember what Apple’s pricing was for their print on demand publishing for books.  So, I googled.

That’s… not helpful.  Let’s try Duck Duck Go.

Helpful, easy to see what I need, and answers my question. (Note: screenshots are same size.)

Just for fun, I blocked out all the non-search result content for the Google version.

Pitiful.

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Technology

Kaggle and data prediction competitions

Competitions, where all things being equal, brings out the best results. Nine players on a baseball diamond work through nine innings against nine other players. Open bidding for contracts in response to a proposal to meet a business problem puts companies against each other for the best solution.

Kaggle is a competition market where players (yes, they call participants players) build the best predictive data model for a problem. In one case, individuals created a model to predict auto collisions nearly 3.5 times better than Allstate’s own models. An ongoing competition is seeking to predict health care admittances. That’s powerful stuff.

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Creativity, Technology

Bell Labs and innovation

Bell Labs brought us into the future, making science fiction science fact. This is all due to forcing people to interact.

ONE element of his approach was architectural. He personally helped design a building in Murray Hill, N.J., opened in 1941, where everyone would interact with one another. Some of the hallways in the building were designed to be so long that to look down their length was to see the end disappear at a vanishing point. Traveling the hall’s length without encountering a number of acquaintances, problems, diversions and ideas was almost impossible. A physicist on his way to lunch in the cafeteria was like a magnet rolling past iron filings.

This comes from John Gertner’s forthcoming book, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

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Technology, Thoughts

Review of Doxie Go scanner

It seems too good to be true, a wireless, portable scanner that can send documents to your computer or iOS device. Perfect for one’s office within a Starbucks. Kind of.

Measuring a foot long, two inches tall and about 3 inches deep, weighing in at less than a half a pound, the Doxie Go is definitely portable. It powers on to a default scan mode of 300 dpi and can be toggled to 600 dpi, if needed. The power button can easily be erroneously pushed, too. Paper (photos, too) get scanned face side up, and the scanner gently pulls the item through, saving the scanned item within its on board memory or an SD card that you can add. The scanner seems fickle when pulling the item through.  If the item isn’t lined up perfectly, or you hold on to the paper a moment more, the Doxie Go doesn’t scan. Also, if the paper goes in angled or as it goes through and the paper catches on a random object on your desk, the resulting scan is a trippy blur of digital LSD. And don’t even bother with wrinkled or worn paper–vending machines take crumpled money better. Ideally, you’re scanning a relatively flat piece of paper and you either have a very clean desk or surface to scan on or you guide the paper through, catching it so it doesn’t get caught on any stray pens or keyboard.

The catch, for wireless scanning, is you have to add the wireless capability yourself with an Eye-Fi wireless SD card. So in a sense, it is wireless, but to get the scans off it, out of the box, it’s not.

Oh. OK.

Otherwise, to get your scans off the device, you must connect the Doxie to your computer via a mini USB cable,use a thumb drive, or, in the case of non-Eye-Fi SD cards, a memory card reader. Then, to do anything with the scans, processing through the Doxie software is required.

The software is free and actually pleasant to use.  Before your first use, the Doxie requires a setup procedure. To note, the Doxie Go I received needed a full charge before using. Setup is painless. To import the scans, select import, and the scans will be moved to your computer within a Doxie application directory.

The quality of the scans is quite good at 300 dpi, usable and the equivalent of a very good, clean fax machine. Scans can be saved to JPG, PNG, PDF, PDF with OCR (object character recognition) in black and white or color. Images scanned OK to good.  Scan images that have a purpose, e.g. labels, clips from magazines, and don’t necessarily have to be reproduced.

Each scan can be tweaked for clarity and contrast via several sliders (see screen shot below). A neat feature, to group scans, like a 10 page legal form, you select the 10 related pages (make sure they’re in the order you want them). One lacking feature is the ability to zoom in on a document. Legal forms look the same, and distinguishing them was a challenge in Doxie’s software.

doxie editing controls

Battery life seemed to be less than I expected.  I’d only get about two dozen scans out of it across several weeks. It comes with a mini USB cable, carrying case, which is a black bag, a calibration card, a guide in which to place 4″x6″ images and some random dongle that I have no clue as to what its purpose is.  I never go the Eye-Fi to work properly with the Doxie Go, despite several attempts. If Eye-Fi can put a wireless transmitter in something the size of an SD card, why couldn’t the engineers at Apparent put a wifi transmitter on their device to begin with? Would it really raise the price more than the additional $80 it costs for the Eye-Fi?

If you’re regularly out of your office and need to scan a document or three, the Doxie Go will work. Pass on it, if your multifunction printer already has this capability or own a flatbed scanner.

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Technology, Thoughts

Autoplay on the web is rage inducing

Go to the grocery store. Grab your shopping cart, carefully choosing the one with four squeak less wheels. Liesurley browse for bananas, add the box of Cheerios, select the pepper jack cheese that’s on sale (bonus!). Now, browse to the frozen food section. Scan the frosty shel-.

“HEY THERE SHOPPER. BUY SOME O’ THIS GOOD FROZEN ICE CREAM.”

Shocked, you’re now either at best surprised, or at worst, angry, and if anything, annoyed at the unexpected interruption. For all the media encountered during the day, you think you’d be desensitized to these random bouts of advertorial extroversion.

Websites do this constantly. Videos auto play. Advertising attempts to do something clever. The granddaddy of them all, the pop up, still makes an appearance. These are all hostile interruptions to the user and moreover, disrespect the site’s content.

On YouTube or a music site, you expect something to automatically start. On news pages, where there’s only a video story, that’s expected as well.  On a news page with video and a text story, the video should not auto play. If they do, why so damn loud?

The solution, which publishers are in an arms race with, are browser plugins that disable auto play and other forms of advertising. Users get fed up with the interruptions and unruly, distracting advertising and install the plugins, which then the publishers seek to find a different way to make money off the users accessing the content.

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Technology, Thoughts

Pinterest is the new women’s magazine

I picked up my mother’s copy of Women’s Day.  Thumbing through a few pages I read about dinner (and cookie) recipes, household tips, clever pop culture items, quick style blurbs and general interest items.

Scrolling Pinterest’s front page, I spy a recipe for a sugary confection, photos of style “looks”, make up tips, pictorial witticisms, photos of cool things to make or do around the house.

Women’s Day, the paper magazine, is social to the extent of giving the magazine to someone or clipping out an article and physically sharing it.  Pinterest is social as simple as finding something you like and pinning it for anyone one to view.

 

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Technology

Twitter Stories

Twitter splendidly presents stories of tweets or clever uses of its service in Twitter Stories. A guy who saved his mother’s book store. Fishermen who sell the day’s catch while still on the boat. Complete recipes in 140 characters. Twitter is finding a singular purpose–enabling people to communicate uniquely and directly to the entire world, no filter needed.

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