I made a movie

Inspired by Robert Hodgin‘s impressive work, I decided I wanted to take a crack at making animations in Processing. Inspired by Rob Goodspeed‘s thoughtful experiments, I figured I might as well try to make it about something interesting.

The DC Office of the CTO makes a lot of interesting data available, so I decided to take a crack at doing something with it. Here’s my first pass: it’s a visualization of every reported crime incident in 2007.

Blue means property crime — robbery, larceny, etc. Red means violence — assaults, murders and the like. Green means sex crimes. The color-coding is obviously less than perfect, but is at least sort of interesting. Each frame in the video represents 8 hours — one police shift. Colors gradually fade to a dark, translucent gray after two weeks’ worth of time has elapsed. You can view a larger version of this video by clicking through to the movie’s Vimeo page, and an even better-quality version by then scrolling down to the lower right for a Quicktime download link. You’ll need to log in or create a Vimeo account for the Quicktime — but you should! Vimeo is the best videosharing site I’ve used by a mile.

At the moment I’m trying to figure out where I should go from this point. A few ideas:

  1. Add graphs and a calendar display to help users see the relative levels of crime over the course of the movie
  2. Identify and place a street map under the crime visualization
  3. Produce a static, high-resolution render showing the differences in location of crime between 2007 and 2008 (YTD)
  4. Do it all over again with the city’s pothole data (also geocoded!)
  5. Add a jaunty soundtrack

If you have any other suggestions, please let me know. Those of you interested in the geeky details should keep an eye on EchoDitto Labs — if I can find time I’ll be posting an accounting of the tools I used over there.

City-mandated disclaimer after the jump


toward a more enlightened vitriol

Yglesias links to a Feministing post about a GOP consultantdefense of the word “bitch”, then discusses the difficulty of untangling the high-minded, purely pejorative nature of the insult from its sexist connotations.

As it happens I found myself thinking about this just the other day when, while biking, a driver cut me off. I immediately thought some unkind things, then found myself tentatively rephrasing them when I saw the driver was a woman, then found myself backing off from the effort entirely when the most obvious alternate reformulation struck me as inherently sexist.

To be clear, I think that justifying the application of the word “bitch” to Hillary Clinton, as the consultant in question is trying to do, is pretty obviously sexist — Senator Clinton seems just as amiable as the next politician, and I doubt she’s ever done anything to this specific guy other than disappoint him by not having murdered Vince Foster. But in the abstract I wonder if the use of sex-specific insults is any more inherently problematic than the use of sex-specific pronouns. Obviously any such epithets will inevitably become tangled up with indefensible opinions and prejudices related to the gender with which they’ve been associated; but equally obviously, a truly egalitarian society will make it equally easy to spew venom at someone, regardless of their sex.

And, given that people will continue to get upset with one another, it seems like we’re probably stuck with gendered swearwords: perhaps my capacity for creative profanity just isn’t up to the task, but it seems like androgynous put-downs are inevitably stilted or lame. Whether that’s because they aren’t in common usage or because harsh words lose some impact when divorced from visceral, unspeakably ugly hatreds like racism and sexism, I couldn’t say. Ideally it’d be the former — and on this score, the decreasing (but still significant) ridiculousness of the word “frak” is encouraging.

But I suspect that all the best insults — the single words that actually sting — will remain connected to sexist conceptions of gender roles. But we can all at least aspire to liberally apply these horrible oaths more evenly across gender lines. That’s the future I’d want to live in, anyway. Call me a utopian dreamer if you must, but the next time I’m endangered by a driver I’ll call them an asshole loudly, proudly, and without consideration of their sex. To do any less would betray a lack of respect for a fellow human being.

summer may not be cancelled after all

Via Sommer I see that Fort Reno might be fine after all. I suppose this isn’t that surprising: the park’s initial closure was the result of aerial assays that used imaging to estimate the level of contamination. But of course the spectral signatures of arsenic and indie rock earnestness are nearly identical (despite the latter being at least somewhat less toxic).

machine-readable genetic grammar architecting for dummies

I’m not at all confident about which of his aliases I should be using, but I am quite sure that son1’s series of posts explaining the location of his work — right at the intersection of genetics and computer science — is pretty fascinating. I’m jealous, frankly: taking a problem and unraveling it into tasks that can be algorithmically accomplished is incredibly satisfying; I can only imagine how interesting it must be when the problem is something as complex and challenging as studying genes.

So go! Read! part 1, part 2, part 2a, part 3 and part 4.

I love iGuitar

Intelliscreen for the iPhone

For a while now I’ve been encouraging people to jailbreak their iPhones. And for a while now I’ve found myself without a good answer when they ask, “Why should I?”

Thanks to ZiPhone it’s not a difficult operation, but the payoff to replacing the little AT&T logo with your name isn’t enough to overcome the fear most people feel when they contemplate fiddling with their shiny new status symbol’s brains. I think it’s worth it: the Terminal app is incredibly handy if you’re the sort of person who regularly has to SSH into their own laptop to manually kill a runaway process. But there aren’t too many people who fit that description. Tinyproxy, which can theoretically provide emergency internet for your laptop over the phone’s cell connection, is a comforting safety blanket. But of course the connection is incredibly slow, and it takes a good five minutes to complete the necessary configuration on the laptop and phone prior to each use, and it didn’t work at all the last time I needed it.

But lo! There’s finally a reason to unlock your phone that doesn’t include pornographic videogames or touchscreen guitar simulations: IntelliScreen, which adds weather, email, calendar and other notifications to your phone’s lock screen. It’s pretty nice; give it a try.

when I became a manboy

Go forth and read Spencer’s piece in the Prospect about Iron Man’s evolution as an embodiment of American imperial power. And, while you’re at it, make sure you read Julian’s analysis of how comics have grappled with the rise of bellicose authoritarianism in the wake of 9/11 (although if you didn’t see that one in the print edition you really should hunt down a copy so you can see the associated art). Both are excellent.

But I have to admit that I’m a little embarrassed by just how excellent I think they are — how compelling I find the arguments, and how seriously I’m prepared to engage with them. Not because the authors aren’t brilliant, but because — c’mon — comic books.

Is our generation really about to start running society? Really? Shouldn’t an adult step in and do something about this before the joke goes too far?

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’m just feeling slightly sheepish about the fact that back issues of Marvel Universe seem poised to supplant French and German as gateways to the structures underpinning our society’s intellectual discourse.

To everyone who’s going to find this tedious: sincere apologies. It’ll only be for the next fifty years or so.

said it once before but it bears repeating

It’s hard to maintain a sense of what counts as novel. I run into this all the time when trying to come up with posts for TechDirt: the struggle to construct an interesting perspective rather than a bland restatement of what should be obvious to any casual observer. Yet, often as not when I fail and post something that seems like a vanilla rehashing of well-trodden ground, the comments fill up with people who are confused or shocked or in violent disagreement over what I thought were settled issues.

Basically, I need to get out more. On the internet, I mean.

Or I at least need to recognize that there might be some merit to repeating myself. With that in mind, let’s talk about software patents — partly because of this newfound resolution, and partly because I just can’t help myself.



On Saturday night Emily, Charles, Kriston, Becks and I staked out a table at Temperance Hall. And, while engaged in the larger project of noticing how much I like the bar’s jukebox, I was reminded how god-damned great Wolf Parade is.

Or how great they were, anyway. It’s been a while since that album came out. In between then and now most of the attention directed to Wolf Parade has been transferred to Sunset Rubdown, the incredibly self-indulgent side project masterminded by Spencer Krug, one of the band’s two founders. I did not approve.

WP is getting ready to finally release a new album (due to what I can only assume is a hilarious swapped-briefcase incident with the folks who run Pancake Mountain, it’s called At Mount Zoomer). And, as these things must, it’s trickled onto the internet and today, finally, onto my ipod. Stereogum gave it a review and liked it; I’m not so sure. It’s too early to say, really — these tracks sound to my uneducated ear like a rough mix. Either that, or the production is going to fall far short of the mark set by their debut’s trademark “being pursued in the dark through the wreck of an abandoned spaceship” timbre.

But even if that’s fixed, I doubt these songs are going to live up to Apologies to the Queen Mary. I need to give it a few more listens, though.

More cheerfully on all fronts: you can legally stream the forthcoming Mates of State album on MySpace right now. It’s short but excellent. Not as good as Bring It Back, maybe, but that record is one of my favorites. This new album, Re-Arrange Us, seems to me to be a little more emotionally one-dimensional — at least at first listen — but the band is continuing to avoid repeating itself while maintaining a beautiful pop center that somehow fails to be embarrassing. Not, of course, that I’m very good about being embarrassed by pop music, even when I probably should be.


Envelopes. Courtesy of Sweden, no doubt via an English-speaking-band promotional program from whatever they call their ministry of culture and/or tourism (see also: Figurines, Hives, ongoing Canadian musical dominance). Three cheers for socialized indie rock!

UPDATE: On the Amazon MP3 Store page for the album I see that each track can be purchased for five “Pepsi Points”. A quick look at ebay shows some folks engaged in what I presume to be subversion of the Pepsi Points license: they’re selling one or two pennies at what has to be considered a pretty unfair markup. And, oh yeah, throwing in a few hundred Pepsi Points. But those are just a freebie, you understand. You can take ‘em or leave ‘em — the pennies are the basis of the transaction.

Some of the auction descriptions are pretty funny:

You paying for 2 US Pennies or officially 2 U.S. Cents equal to 2/100 of a U.S. Dollar


On the Front: A profile of President Abraham Lincoln since 1909.

On the Back: A depiction of the Lincoln Memorial.

Dimensions: .75 inches in diameter, .061 inches in thickness.

Composition: 97.5 % Zinc Core, 2.5 % Copper Plating.

Toxicity: Zinc in large quantities is toxic, swallowing the coin can cause stomach uneasiness in humans and near fatal occurrences for other animals such as Dogs and Parrots.

Parrot owners of America, you have been warned.

Anyway, if you’re willing to go through the rigamarole (and the risk of getting expired codes), this is actually a pretty good deal. You can find buy-it-now deals as good as two cents/Pepsi Point. At five points a song, that’s a 90% discount from the Amazon retail price for MP3s.

ALSO: Amanda directs my summer music attention to This Is Ivy League. And she’s right to do so: it’s pretty catchy, very summery, and distinctly Belle & Sebastian-ian:

This Is Ivy League – The Richest Kids