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Wednesday was an inspiring day, though it was marred slightly by a friend's mysterious snub and yet another bout of late-afternoon lethargy and headachiness. (Damn sleep problems.) Martin Wattenberg, an artist and a researcher at IBM Watson, gave not one, not two, but three talks at SIMS: first for my information visualization class, then for a small group of students, then for the SIMS Distinguished Lecture Series.

I knew him for the baby name visualizer which he originally designed to help publicize his wife's baby names book, though its audience grew far beyond what he originally imagined. He tracked its uses by Googling for it and reading all of the blog entries and other references on it, and found that bloggers were treating it like a game, setting data-mining challenges for themselves. They roughly fell into the same categories that MUD users did: achievers, who were actually looking for baby names; explorers, who looked for quirks in the data such as I, O, ETH, LAT; socializers, who related the visualization to their own lives and used it as a conversation piece; and killers, who used it to make fun of names they thought were stupid. Because the system was interactive and playful and discoveries could be replicated easily, people could easily be drawn deeply into the data. Also, everyone had a fairly distinctive starting point - often their own name - which meant that the data set got a lot of coverage.

But his visualizations are far more numerous than just that one. Treemaps, timelines, and thought patterns, oh my! )... and some advice ) Of course, many of us wanted to know how he had gotten into doing visualizations like these (and by extension, how we could too). He got a math degree at Berkeley, though he had been doing design in high school. He worked for a financial company and did artistic designs on the side, sandwiched between his work and his home life. Even now, he has to make time to do the artistic installations outside of work, which makes for a stressful existence at times. He told us to take advantage of the time we had now in school and experiment, though he admits that when he was in school, he probably would have scoffed at such at suggestion. (At least when you have a job, you generally have your evenings and weekends free!) Between his talk and Mirrormask, I feel freshly inspired to continue my dabblings in art and design - it makes me feel so alive.


Utah Quicksilver, Park City and Salt Lake City's best transportation service
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I was invited, in stead of my advisor who is on sabbatical, to give a lecture in Mass Communications 10 today about the cameraphone project. Luckily, I didn't have to do it alone: I recruited mroth to help, and we traded off speaking throughout the hour. And we also had slides my advisor had presented a month or two earlier to work from. All things considered, it went well. You can see our slides here (be patient: it's 105 slides in a 5MB pdf file). I'm sure we made a few fans by ending 10 minutes before the class was scheduled to end, too, after 1 hour of lecture and 10 minutes of questions. Afterwards, the professor thanked us several times for a "wonderful lecture," and the two students who I knew from ballroom said that grad students should talk about their research more often. :~) Two other undergrads expressed interest in getting involved with the project. Overall, I was happy with how it went.


Students coming in - probably the biggest crowd I've ever presented to (except for my silly 5 minute talk at graduation)

After we finished, I rushed back for the last part of my second identity and storytelling class. I took a gamble signing up for it at the beginning of the semester without knowing anything about it, but so far it has been fabulous. I regretted that I missed most of it today, especially since one of the guest panelists was the creator of Flickr (though the topic was gaming, not photography). I would summarize the class content, but the class blog is doing a better job of that than I could do with limited time. I'm hoping to write about narratives in photo-sharing of various kinds for my paper for this class, perhaps extending it into my social psychology final project on identity and self-representation in photography.

I stayed on for Howard Rheingold's participatory media class, 7-9 on Tuesdays (so late!). I loved the lecture he gave as part of SIMS' Distinguished Lecture Series, but I haven't been as crazy about the course - it seems disorganized and nothing in it has really grabbed my interest. Summary of talk )

On the topic of the cameraphone project, there are plans afoot for three joural publications, and I'll be going with my advisor to 4S next week to see her present the work (and to see a friend and get to know the community). Stress! Excitement! I'm going to have to make this a short update, alas - I have two papers to work on, both due Friday. My dad's website is coming along, though more slowly than I (or he) would like. So much to do! I'll post more later when I have a bit less on my plate.

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January 2011

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