Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Measuring Life (cont.)

Not too long ago, I blogged about self-surveillance and I've made some informative observations since then.  Starting off, my biggest concern was what to measure.  There's a trade-off between the time it takes to log information and the value you receive from collecting it.  Ideally, it'd be nice to have another me to collect all the information about me; but that's just silly.

I started doing it for nutrition, so I knew that I was going to track everything I eat and drink.  But, I can log other information, so... what else?  Well, I began by logging when I go to sleep and wake up, when I start and finish showering, when I start and finish brushing my teeth, when I start and finish watching tv/movies/jtv, when I start and stop working, and when I start and stop driving.

So, these particular points are all durations.  The sleep duration makes sense.  I still log my showering duration, which doesn't make much sense, but I haven't come to dropping it like I have brushing, watching and driving.  Working is a bit special, but I still log that duration.

So what happened?  Why did I choose to drop driving, but not showering?  I tried to just let my inclinations (amount of nuisance) drive what data I collect.  Brushing takes about 2-3 min each time, so there's no need to track that.  Logging my "watching" habits was not convenient enough - I don't know (even generally) when I might watch tv or a movie... it doesn't seem like a "structured-enough" action.  I've concluded about the same for my driving habits - mostly I forget to log the arriving time.  I figure (when cars include standard wireless internet), I'll be able to write a script that logs this info automagically.

So far, I've realized that logging my life is and will be a journey.  I need to explore the aspects that are important and what I can and can't log about those aspects.  For example, all of my receipts that I save (along with Blippy, if needed) gives me a financial record of my life.  Right now, the trick appears to be automation, which I don't do at all yet.  With time, I hope to figure out useful ways to collect the most valuable information.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Calculating Words


I can assure you that word is a calculated one.  I put it there so you could read it.  Now tell your children - jk.

I just finished watching an entire documentary about this word - it was called, "Fuck."  There was an obvious attempt at making the conversation two-sided, but it was just as apparent that the makers of the film were not... prudes.

Beyond that single word-of-curse, I really like using all of them.  I like changin' 'em up, and making my own words out of em.  One of the best examples of this is Bobby Bowden's identifying, "Dagnamit!" ... obviously a euphemism for "Goddamnit!"  But this way, he can save face and retain the Christian image that he portrays.  I don't mean to say that he's being cowardly or anything like that - I love Bobby with all my heart, and I'm really fuckin' annoyed with Jim Smith for coming out and saying that he needed to go - that bastard.

Anyway; I was saying.  I remember my father mentioning something that occasionally comes to mind when I use words like fuck and shit, and whatever else just pops into mind.  What he told me seems to ring true in most cases where I hear/use words like this.  He told me, "Curse words are used when our vocabulary fails us."  Well, I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was right along those lines - and that definitely sounds like him.

These words can be meaningful, but in most cases they seem to find their use in eliciting emotion, rather than delivering an accurate representation of what you mean to say.  Of course there's also validity in meaning to elicit emotion in such a way, but it would seem that these words find their use in arbitrary contexts more often than a "valid" context.  So, what is a "valid" context then.  I'm not really sure, outside of the word's literal meaning; but in retrospect, when someone's applauded for their poignant and calculated use of certain curse words, maybe that's a "valid" context.  Not really sure.

Regardless, they're only words and we will continue to fight about them.  It's sort of fun to be honest.  It's like there's a supply and a demand for these words, and "fuck" is just really scarce (considering the situation - i.e., the audience of a concert hall).  So I leave you with a possibly more valuable word in this market of curse:


Pick o' the Post #9: "Satan Will Rape You on Valentine's Day" by Cunt Amputation

I normally wouldn't recommend such a ridiculous song by such a ridiculous band, but it's valentine's day and this one's for all the single dudes out there... and all the single girls who might prefer Satan to the unbearable reality that you are alone.  hehe - jk.

Happy Valentine's Day

The Life & Times of Dan Bowen

So, I had a short office conversation with BookLamp Prez, Anthony Hauser, about Twitter.  Tony's point was question about why anyone would care to log the various "minutia" of their life.  I find it interesting that most people who don't use certain social networks tend to ask the same question: "Why would I want to do that?" - whatever it is... Twitter, Blippy, etc.  After hearing this over and over again from skeptic after skeptic, I found myself frustrated with the question.  I think my perspective promotes an alternate, but similar question:  "Why not?"  Maybe this is the difference from those personalities who are open and those who aren't.  Research and caution is always warranted, but these services (for the most part) are "customizable" enough to allow as little or as much information into your life as you care to.  It seems to me that ignorance is bliss, but at the cost of your own unrealized benefit.

So, I felt I had to find a solid, legitimate reason for social networks outside the obvious benefit of instant information.  To name one application, I can aggregate a personal history of life with more detail than an individual who's opted out of the various social services.  Maybe a good project for retirement.

On that note, I need a way to archive my social logs.  I haven't found a great way to do this yet, but I think I'll have a lot to write about when the time comes.  I want to make sure I have all of my life's data to reference.  I'm on the case.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What!? The BC Olympics are only accessible to arbitrarily fortunate few!? ... many really, but F#$*!!

If you know me, I love just about anything athletic.  Curling's sort of on the fringe of that preference, but I'll watch it if nothing else's on.  That said, I've been pretty pumped about the Winter Olympics... then March Madness (streamed by CBS)... then the World Cup in S. Africa (???).  This was certainly shaping up to be a great year for athletics.

Uhhh... no.  I just got a big boot in my ass today when I learned that NBC's taken up the ESPN360 business model, and Qwest is proving to be pretty gay about these affiliations - at least ESPN360 and now these Olympics.

Something doesn't feel right about this.  Of course, many people have televisions, and I'm part of a minority who will consequently end up on JTV watching crappy streams that NBC will continuously shut down.  What's wrong with this picture?  It's the Winter Olympics, not the NBC Olympics, right?

Oh wait, I can follow the live twitter/blog updates from the Games!  Bullshit.  I am so enraged right now.

Give me a Google-sponsored Olympics.  NBC can kiss my ass.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


So my roommate first introduced me to mousepath (Mac, Windows), a java applet that tracks your mouse's activity as you use your comp.  FlowingData mentioned this already, but when I first was told about this and saw some of the output I definitely thought, "Jackson Pollack."  It's a fun little novelty.

So I created one while I was working this afternoon, and another while I was playing a random multiplayer RPG later at night:


You can see I do a lot of scrolling up by the tabs, and all the corners are from using expose and spaces on my macbook.  There's also a bunch of lines straight across in the middle of the image... I tend to highlight text as I read - prolly a bad habbit.


So this is me playing Neverwinter Nights with the BookLamp crew.  I can't make much out if it, except it's obvious that I was playing a windowed version of the game, because there's not much action outside that "box".  All the little dots (rather than the big ones from work) are from constantly moving and clicking my character around.  If I recall, the size of the dot represent the time that the mouse sat idle.

Interesting way to represent usage on a computer.

Pick o' the Day #8: "Wild Man" by Galactic on ya-ka-may (sorry, no link... yet)

A little short on lyrics, but I like the beat.

This album was released today, and I got to hear a bit of it on NPR, so I decided to see if the vinyl was available because I enjoyed what I had heard.  I enjoyed about half the album.  I likes the more groovy, bluesey-esque songs.  The turn-off was the dragging "rap" tracks scattered throughout.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My "Big Bad Idea Monster" - ad-hoc IP economic analysis

I just watched a movie about the interaction between intellectual property law and human ingenuity.  With the huge sums of money that were being thrown around, it's no question that this is certainly a job for economics.  I'm not sure we have the tools to analyze this problem - and revolution may be the only answer.  The movie was about a musician who's instrument is the sample.... "Girl Talk".  If you don't know who this is, you should look him up.

The question:  Which provides the greatest benefit to society... copyright, or "copyleft" as the movie mentions (putting some weird political seasoning on the argument)? ... I'm going to do my best to analyze my understanding of what copyright is and how it might fit in today's cultural world.

I'll admit, I am by no means a master of copyright policy, or even the economics of IP.  Again, I want to do my best to balance this argument.  Being part of a younger generation I grew up with napster, limewire, and now the proliferation of torrent files, I can't ignore the impact that these instruments have had/are having/and will have on our society.  I also recognize the importance of copyright law; my education demands that I do. ... I guess I'm a little freer to think now (since I've graduated), but it would be naive to ignore my education, so I don't.

Copyright is in place to protect innovation and give innovators the ability to develop their original ideas for a profit.  A head-start, if you will, to keep others from saying - "hey, that's a great poem.  I'm going to write it too, and sell it to buyers for a profit."  Of course, this extends well beyond text, into music, medicine, technology, and (questionably) ?life?, among a myriad of other mediums.

The opposing argument is that, if the original idea is a public one, then there are any number of interested people who can develop the idea, exploring all of it's various iterations.  This argument proposes that the social welfare gains from this "public development" are greater than those of confining the development to a single firm/individual.

The economic concern with not having copyright is that a society's willingness to innovate will diminish.  Is this the case?  Was this the case?  Will this be the case?

I recently stumbled upon Robert Nozick's "Utility Monster," which I don't totally understand, but I thought I'd create a similar monster and conduct my very own thought experiment.  Say hello to my "Big Bad Idea Monster" (BBIM), who is loosely defined as the only entity in an entirely copyright-free society with an "idea radar."  So it chooses to build the teleporter I just finished planning in the dream I had last night, but decides against other ideas that have little or no merit - like, square pegs for round holes.  This creature has a budget constraint, and the development and marketing of these "good" ideas are just as constraining as time and money allow.  It simply has all the ideas.

There are two worlds that I want to observe this greedy creature in: 1) a very local world - i.e., pre-telecommunications (Pre-t) - which is some time in the 1800's I guess; and 2) a world some time in the future, where individuals are not limited by the words they conceive for a google search to find the information they require.  Additionally, these two worlds are not to be depicted chronologically.  They are entirely independent of each other.

At first glance, it seems that the BBIM would have a great advantage over the innovators of the Pre-t society.  It can see all the ideas that everyone is having, and will capitalize on the best ones within it's ability to.  The best innovators are SOL.  They subsequently see the futility of their endeavors and distribute their labor to more profitable uses - physical labor.  Eventually, the BBIM is left to its own facilities in creating and developing new ideas for the marketplace.  The benefit of copyright law is blatantly obvious.  And innovation drives a flourishing society - all is right... ahhh.

In my second world, we are all much closer to being our own BBIMs.  The OG (Original Gangsta, for the uninitiated) BBIM still has an advantage, but the playing field appears much more level.  Given the budget constraint of the BBIM, it may even be that the BBIM is at a disadvantage.

To me, this sounds very much like the debate that is currently going on with regards to IP in the digital age.  Though the two worlds I described are independent, they are certainly analogies of our past and future.

Does the public availability and development of ideas provide for greater social value than traditional copyright law?  Will it diminish innovation as much as I've been taught?  Is there a middle-ground? ... are all ideas the same?

Markets for ideas (mostly artistic markets, from my perspective) appear to be in a state of flux.  Can this on-going transition  be a graceful one through policy, or does it have to be a fight to the death to arrive at whatever the future holds?  Unfortunately, I think the latter is true.  Walras' auction will continue to play itself out, and we will eventually experience the result.  We'll then acquire entirely new problems that have yet to be conceived.  I can't wait for the future, but I'm forced to wait forever.

Pick o' the Post #7: "Blackwater Park" by Opeth on Blackwater Park (2001)

... I just bought this album on vinyl, so I decided that I have to make another Opeth pick.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I calculated some words and made a cool heatmap....

I don't think I can say what it represents, but I wanted to share it.  I will say that the bottom-most row (there's 1001 rows), represents reference values, and is entirely white.  As your eyes follow the rows up, each row represents a distance from that first row.  I was expecting this gradient (though small) to appear, and it did.  So, there you go.  My first word calculation... as an image... a random image... with no meaning.  Yay?

I'm becoming very interested in data visualization, and I hope to have some cool concepts to display in the future - as well as the means to say what they represent.  For now, you get this - a meaningless image.  Oh well... I did calculate words to create it though.  You have to trust me on that one.

Pick o' the Post #6: "The Lotus Eater" by Opeth on Watershed

My BB Storm has it's own (secret) agenda... and why I despise it.

BEH BEH BEH BEH BEH - my alarms going off, and my phone just (auto) turned on.  Time to log check any emails/msgs I received for whatever reason between the late hour I go to sleep and 8a.  I need to log some data at your.flowingdata.com through twitter.  And... wha?  you're busy!  What the hell could you be doing!  I don't have (auto) "do stuff" turned on.  God I hate this phone!

There's only so much rant that can go on about what my phone's doing, because I have no idea.  It's got a secret agenda that I am not aware of.  I feel like I've got Windows running on my phone.  It's very annoying.  This fall my contract runs out and I will be getting an iPhone, something I can trust, and that doesn't suck.

How can you calculate words on a phone that just wants to calculate its own bulls#@%! ... oh look, I got a new message, not I get to helplessly watch that damned red light flash away my battery.  Really, it's not that much battery - I just needed something to fill in the blank.  And, damn I'm pissed off.



Wednesday, February 3, 2010