Algorithms are a fascinating use case for visualization. To visualize an algorithm, we don’t merely fit data to a chart; there is no primary dataset. Instead there are logical rules that describe behavior. This may be why algorithm visualizations are so unusual, as designers experiment with novel forms to better communicate. This is reason enough to study them.
But algorithms are also a reminder that visualization is more than a tool for finding patterns in data. Visualization leverages the human visual system to augment human intellect: we can use it to better understand these important abstract processes, and perhaps other things, too.
I’m also reminded of a video I came across some time ago, visualizing the inner workings of 15 different sorting algorithms:
“Her pitch was pretty genius. She would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity—they’d open the app and see all these cute girls they knew.” Tinder had fewer than 5,000 users before Wolfe made her trip, Munoz says; when she returned, there were some 15,000.
Yahoo is working on a way-finding algorithm for determining the most beautiful routes between two points (rather than the shortest or fastest). From the abstract:
Based on a quantitative validation, we find that, compared to the shortest routes, the recommended ones add just a few extra walking minutes and are indeed perceived to be more beautiful, quiet, and happy.
Working is hard, but thinking about working is pretty fun. The result is the software industry.
Doomed to Repeat It by Paul Ford.
A Better Place is a positivity filter bubble. It uses terrible sentiment analysis to strip out negative Twitter posts from your timeline; hopefully leaving you with a few morsels that make your day tolerable.
A pleasant response to those Facebook mood experiments.
Ingress, Google’s augmented reality game that turns the world around you into a giant playing field, finally launched on iOS this week. This is probably the first and only Android-exclusive app I’ve been longing for as an iOS user. Of course, I haven’t had time to play yet, but Tim Bray just shared some Ingress tips that should help getting me started.
You might have read in recent days that Facebook did a somewhat questionable thing by experimenting with more than 600.000 Facebook user’s moods in the name of research. If you’re interested in the details of the story, Wired has the best overview of the whole matter I’ve seen so far.
Later still: The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook Experiments were plentiful and had few limits. danah boyd explores the ethical dimension of the experiment and why the public backlash against it might be directed in the wrong direction and missing the bigger issues at stake.
Even though Argentina won’t be playing until tomorrow, with the quarter finals starting today it seems a fitting moment to post this: Benjamin Morris took a very extensive look at how Lionel Messi compares to other contemporary soccer players and concludes that it’s impossible how good he is:
It’s not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It’s not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It’s not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It’s not possible to lead the world’s forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it’s certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.
But Messi does all of this and more.
Chock full of detailed analysis to make the case.
Messi also rarely dives:
Now imagine that being Robben instead of Messi in the video :P
[W]e don’t need to wait until a hypercapitalist techno-utopia emerges to do right by our struggling neighbors. We could make the choice to pay for universal health care, higher education, and a basic income tomorrow. Instead, you’re kicking the can down the road and hoping the can will turn into a robot with a market solution.
[R]obots are always part of the future. Little bits of that future break off and become part of the present, but when that happens, those bits cease to be “robots.” In 1945, a modern dishwasher would have been a miracle, as exotic as the space-age appliances in The Jetsons. But now, it’s just a dishwasher
Alexander Karpazis recently posted samples of his UI design work for Ubisoft blockbuster game Watch Dogs on Behance. It’s interesting to see how this design work relates to both the user interface of the game itself (menus, HUD, etc.), as well as the user interfaces inside the game world.
By now this story is almost a year old, and I have no idea how I’ve failed to post about it before, because it sits right at the intersection of three things of interest to me: Google Glass, design fiction and porn.
Last year, Mikandi set out to shoot the first porn video with Google Glass and Vice was present to write about it. Apparently not content with producing a storyless gonzo flick, the result turned out as a rather funny piece of critical design fiction. Find the (nsfw) trailer after the jump:
Bill Lindmeier’s Tunnel Vision overlays a map of NYC with additional information about the city’s population and transportation:
A few brief comments about yesterday’s Apple WWDC keynote. If you haven’t watched it yet, MacStories has two great overviews of what’s coming to iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite (could we please just call it OS ten ten ten, for fun?), and The Verge compiled a great highlight reel of the keynote. I think there were four big themes in this keynote:
First, a tighter coupling and improved integration between OS X and iOS. The visual overhaul of OS X brings its UI design more closely in line with the design of iOS 7, but aside from this superficial alignment, Apple spent a lot of time talking about improved integration between their operating systems. Airdrop now works between Mac and iOS (finally), it’s now possible to conveniently set up an instant hotspot from your Mac without touching your phone once, Messages now works more closely together across Mac and iOS, you can now answer phone calls on your Mac, and Continuity allows you to transfer whatever you’re working on seamlessly between your devices (e.g. start composing an e-mail on your iPhone, walk over to your Mac and seamlessly pick up composing that e-mail on your Mac without manually saving drafts and all that entails). I think this is a pretty big convenience feature in our current multi-device reality and a feature that will be difficult to match for any company that doesn’t control the full stack from hardware to software to services. Of course this level of tight integration comes at a price for consumers, as it requires them to fully embrace the Apple ecosystem across all their different devices.
My second take-away was that Apple is beginning to take cloud services seriously. With iCloud Drive their iCloud storage offering is finally getting to a point where it might actually be useful (I never found much use for iCloud in its current incarnation due to the limiting nature of its app silos). iCloud Drive allows unrestricted access to all the files in your iCloud account and seems very similar to Dropbox, Google Drive or Skydrive (again, finally). In addition, this will probably also improve the flexibility of file handling across different apps on iOS. The new Photos application puts iCloud as the canonical storage space for all your photos front and center, which should hopefully quell some of the confusion around photo stream syncing in its current incarnation. One caveat on photo syncing: 5GB of free iCloud storage seems vastly too restrictive for photo storage and I seriously doubt that a majority of iOS users will opt for paid plans, even if their pricing seems quite competitive. And once again, iCloud is another step towards locking consumers into Apple’s ecosystem: iCloud Drive will be compatible with Windows, but other platforms like Android are locked out.
The third theme was positioning the iPhone as a Digital Hub, something Ben Thompson already expanded on in a great post back in March. Steve Jobs famously described the Digital Hub strategy in a 2001 keynote, placing the Mac at the center of our (then-new) digital lifestyle. In his final keynote at WWDC 2011, he followed up on this concept of a Digital Hub, with iCloud taking the place of the Mac as the center of our (now-current) digital lifestyle. This strategic positioning of iCloud at the center rings true to some extent: iCloud is clearly the glue holding together the multitude of Apple devices we own. But iCloud is severely limited in its reach beyond Apple’s ecosystem, and this seems to be a deliberate choice: when it comes to extending Apple’s reach beyond their own products, they seem focussed on the iPhone as its bridgehead to do so. This first became evident when Apple introduced CarPlay back in March this year: rather than allowing car makers direct access to Apple’s software or services (an approach that Google is taking with Android), they are granting them very limited access to the device itself, turning the car into a kind of (very expensive) iPhone accessory. This trend seems to continue with HealthKit and HomeKit: while the details are still somewhat vague, it appears that in both instances your iOS device (rather than a cloud service) will serve as a gatekeeper for medical accessories and home automation hardware.
Last but not least, Apple appears to be opening up iOS to developers considerably. With all new widgets, inter-app communication and system extensions, developers get many new tools and iOS is finally catching up with the flexibility and extensibility that Android has offered for years. It’s hard to tell how these new capabilities will be utilized by the developer community, but I expect these changes to have far-reaching consequences for what iOS devices are capable of and how we use iOS devices. It also seems to be another small step towards enabling users to multitask on their iOS devices without exposing them to a traditional window management environment. Nevertheless, this flexibility makes me ever so slightly nervous: the settings menu in iOS 7 is already a mess as it is. Wrangling with the fine-grained settings for notifications or privacy on a per-app basis is an exercise in frustration and the idea of new settings for all these new system extensions and widgets (again on a per-app basis) isn’t enticing at all. At the other end of this equation, not making these app extensions user-configurable doesn’t seem scalable. I’m really curious about the specifics of how these system extensions and widgets will actually work.
Aside from these four themes, I’d be remiss not to at least mention Swift, Apple’s new programming language to supercede Objective C. I’ll have to reserve my comments for later when I’ve had time to dig in, but what I’ve seen so far I like a lot.
Microsoft just recently introduced the Surface Pro 3. Just like its predecessors it strikes me as a solidly engineered, high-quality product delivering on something no one really asked for. This time around Microsoft was careful to emphasize the Surface Pro 3 as an alternative not to Apple’s iPad, but rather the Macbook Air (and obviously other laptops as well, but Microsoft could never admit to that without disgruntling its hardware partners).
I still remain unconvinced that there’s significant demand for a tablet-laptop hybrid, especially in a form like Surface Pro (I think if tablet-laptop hybrids were to succeed, something like Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga has a better chance at success). Most laptops today are much better at doing laptop-y things than the Surface. iPads are undoubtedly much, much, MUCH better at doing tablet-y things than the Surface. This tension is well exemplified by how Panos Panay, Corporate Vice President of Surface Computing, stressed the improvements made to the kickstand hinge, enabling more flexible viewing angles: The original Surface Pro kickstand only supported one viewing angle, the Surface Pro 2 kickstand supported two different viewing angles, and the brand-new Surface Pro 3 supports flexible viewing angles. This could be a solid improvement, except that laptops have supported flexible viewing angles for as long as I can think back. It basically took Microsoft two iterations and more than 18 months to fix a weakness they designed and created themselves.
I will admit that I wouldn’t mind the Surface’s aspirations as a full laptop replacement if I didn’t believe that these aspirations compromise the Surface’s qualities as a tablet. As it is, the Surface Pro in all its iterations strikes me as a tablet that’s trying so hard to be a laptop that it becomes a worse tablet for it.
Spurious Correlations finds and documents completely arbitrary correlations. Like how the number of people who drowned in a swimming pool correlates with the power generated by US nuclear power plants. Or how US spending on science, space, and technology correlates with suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation.
100 years from now someone will have to explain why all the written artifacts from 2014 are stored as images. I would love to be around to hear the explanation.
You chose to use helvetica for Businessweek. How do you perceive and use modernism?
I chose helvetica because it felt like the wrong thing to do at the time. And because I was lazy. I am lazy. So I think in some ways I use modernism just like everyone else – lazily. I perceive modernism now (at 3:34pm on a rainy Tuesday afternoon) to be the result of design by committee, everyone trying to solve different problems, unable to agree on anything except a grudging mutual acceptance of what they hate least. An autocratic ideology where content is always king, the product is always the star, about a design system that gets out of the way. A simple, reductive form of slippery group-think. I see modernism being a fear of personality. Or rather personality that bends to the demands of the machine. Clean lines and an absence of mistakes. Tasteful and compliant. Easy to navigate. Fearful and elegant. Unarguably average. Confidentally minimal.