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COMPUTATIONAL DESIGN & DATA VISUALIZATION

THE DATA MADE ME DO IT...

Swords forged from speech and other experiments in communicating through code.

Regardless of industry, Big Data is the rage because people know instinctively that there are untold stories to be discovered, and new stories promise new wisdom. But building a compelling story from data requires more than just strong visualization tools. It often involves honoring literature’s lessons about what makes a story different from some other form of record: reliable plot threads, moral questions, compelling characters, and world-building. It also involves selecting a medium (or many) that highlights what is unusual or compelling about that data. What follows are smaller pieces I’ve created that follow this approach.

Making A Piercing Sound

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. But what happens when you turn fiction's famous speeches into swords? I’ve always been fascinated with the power of words, whether as weapons, or as tools of encouragement, praise, exultation, or despair. The idea that this power could transform something intangibly heard into something tangibly felt motivated this computational design project: a nifty bit of Processing code that takes audio waveforms and exports them to line files. These files can then be manipulated in CAD software to create 3D printable, physical blades.

© 2015

Above: Initial concept sketches. The goal of this project was either to create a data visualization, or to use computational simulation to generate form. I was interested in splicing the two options, to see if I could create a data visualization that took abstract or intangible data-sets and created tangible objects. Both of my ideas stemmed from short stories of mine that explore the relationship between sound and matter. Below: A prototype 3D-printed blade for Theoden's speech from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

A Dozen Reams of Nonsense

I constantly hear complaints, from writers and non-writers alike, that writing is time consuming and difficult. Students who turn in essays walk away grumbling, 'that took all night, and it sucks anyway!' Authors spend years writing novels and re-writing them when editors give feedback, and aspiring authors sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of their projects.

 

This flash visualization tries to encourage writers to keep working, regardless of how much they might doubt their talent or hate their output. I used XML to track the word counts from all the creative writing files on my computer, and compared the total number of words in each, to the approximate percent of those words that I felt were actually valuable in some way.

 

Visit the live visualization (requires flash).