Category Archives: Misc.

Not dead yet….

I just thought I should mention that I’m not dead but, rather, I’ve had to devote nearly all of my time to my academic/statistical/startup projects for the last year (and for the foreseeable future). I’d love to get back to creative work but my hair is on fire and I must tend to other things. (Sigh…) I did, however, produce a lovely little graphic for an event I have coming up next week, the Utah Data Dive. (And here’s the explanation for the assertion “Data is all about love.”)

Utah Data Dive 2015 - Love Logo (600 x 600)

[And, despite the fact that I spent a fair amount of time learning Illustrator and Photoshop while I was on sabbatical a few years ago, this graphic was created in Tagxedo, Microsoft Word, Preview, and Keynote. (Although the t-shirt did convert it to a proper, Illustrator vector graphic, but this is my original.) Hack, hack, hack….]

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For when progress feels elusive…

Dance && Code

jake_the_dog_by_spacepirate04-d52y6jn

Sometimes it feels like I spend hours and hours and hours programming, usually trying to do something that seems like it should take two minutes, only to have it all blow up in my face. At least now that I realize my blow-ups are at a more advanced stage. I take great comfort in these words from Jake the Dog on Adventure Time:

Words to live by. Thank you, Jake.

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A thing of beauty: Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero - 2014-02-01 02-13

I know this has nothing to do with art but I thought it might never happen in my lifetime: I have reached Inbox Zero. My email inbox – and every other email folder – is COMPLETELY EMPTY. Holy Moses.

Of course, my Evernote account is another thing entirely. It now has 375 items in “Active,” 1357 in “Inbox,” with another 6244 in other folders that need to be reviewed. Oh, well….

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Dusting off My Saxophone

Zoot the Muppet

When I was in junior high school, my parents bought me a lovely alto saxophone and I started playing in the junior high and then high school bands. Mostly it was a lot of honking and such, but I had fun. I tried playing a little more in college but quickly gave up on that. I essentially put my horn away more than 20 years ago.

Then, for Christmas last year, Jacque (you know, my wife) took my horn to a repair person. Over the decades it had become torqued (a natural thing for saxophones to do, what with all the holes on one side) and essentially unplayable. It got completely disassembled, straightened out, tightened up, and made fabulous all over again!

A few months after that, I decided that I needed to take lessons again. And so, on 29 May 2013, at 2:00 PM, I met with David Hall – the same man who resurrected my horn – and recommenced my musical training.

The good news is that I could actually play a little. I could even get a reasonable tone out of it. Woo hoo! And now, I could say much more, but I have to go practice.

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I'm kind of a big deal (in the UVU paper)

I was recently interviewed for my school’s student paper, the UVU Review. I even got my face on the front page, so I can see myself looking semi-professorial from the newspaper racks as I walk across campus. Whoopie! (Of course, I’m not actually a statistics professor or a choreographer, but who’s to argue…) And still nothing on my office walls since the sabbatical. We’ll have to fix that.

(And this post also represents my first experiment in seeing how annoying GIFs can get. Let me know if it’s problematic.)

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Impending Dyschronia

That is, time is – once again – about to get very disjointed. What that means is that I have been keeping a list of all the artsy things I’ve done and events I’ve attended and people I’ve discovered but I haven’t been posting that information. I’m going to start putting all that information up but it will dated by when it occurred, not by when I wrote it. So stuff will pop up from last October, etc. Should be interesting. But I really want this blog to serve as a comprehensive chronicle of my creative life, so I think it needs to be done.

Here we go….

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Real Social Influence: Machinima and tiltfactor

http://www.tiltfactor.org/machinima-innovations-at-dartmouth

So I’m learning all sorts of things these days. The world, it turns out, is a much bigger and amazing place than I though. (Now, some of you might say “You live in Utah; duh.” I’d like to remind you that I spent over half of my life living in cities of several million: Los Angeles, Paris, and New York. So don’t gimme no flack.)

Anyhow, I’ve learned about (a) Machinima, or movies created with video game software, which allows for real-time animation; and (b) tiltfactor.org, a research/game lab at Dartmouth University (and formerly at Hunter College in NYC, where I taught). And then I learned that the two intersect, as seen above.

This led me to a conclusion recently about social influence. I’ve spent the last 22 years of my life in Psychology (Social Psychology, in particular), where social influence is a big topic of interest and where many people hope to influence people to do good things. (See, for example, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues – better known as SPSSI or “spissy” – which is all about psychological approaches to activism.) My conclusion is this: Psychology – and academic work in general – is probably not a very effective way of influencing people. Almost nobody reads our papers; I remember seeing an unverified factoid on Twitter (here’s the link) claiming that the average number of readers per academic article is five, leading one writer to refer to academic research as “write-only articles.” (A nice play on “read-only memory,” you know.)

No, I think the places where messages get out and possibly make a difference are in the popular media: movies, television, music, and video games. I don’t have any data to back this up at the moment, but I’m willing to bet on it. So, what this means, my dear academic colleagues, is that if we want to actually have an influence on what people think, feel, and do, then we probably would do well to follow tiltfactor’s example and get started on making movies and video games. Better yet, making movies with video games.

As my son, Quinn, would say: “I’m just sayin’….”

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Bart Discovers Machinima

[Above: Still from From “Dear Fairy” by Tom Jantol aka Madame Zhora. In this short film, Pinocchio wants to be a wooden toy again. See it on YouTube.]

Oh, my, it turns out that there’s yet another Brave New World out there. I just found out about “machinima” (a concatenation of “Machine” and “Cinema,” as you might have guessed), which is basically movies made with video game software. It’s a way to get 3D animation without actually having to be able to animate. Fascinating. While machinima apparently has its roots in first-person shooter games like Doom, where gamers would record the action to show how quickly they could get through a level, people soon found they could write their own scripts and action. The comic series “Red vs. Blue,” which uses characters from Halo, is a good example of such adaptation.

On the other hand, as far as I can tell, there are a couple of video games that seem almost created for machinima, the most familiar of which is Second Life. It looks like there are entire (online) film festivals dedicated to Second Life machinima, such as the Ma Machinima International Festival. Also, a quick Google search for “Second Life” Machinima reveals a number of tutorials and videos on how to get started.

But it’s even easier in the simulation game The Movies, which really was created for making movies. I even got a (miniscule) book on how to do this called Machinima: How you can use The Movies to produce your own animated films by David Mark. I’ve installed the game on both of our MacBooks so my son Quinn can hack-and-slash at it on one while I go through my overly-methodical, start-at-the-beginning approach on the other.

Anyhow, it’s a fascinating discovery for me. I can’t wait to see what I can do with it. I’ll let you know.

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Film School Advice for Data Analysts

 

I just finished reading Neil Landau and Matthew Frederick’s delightful little book, 101 Things I Learned in Film School. (It’s part of an entire series of books that started with Frederick’s own 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, of which more will be said at a later date. The other titles address fashion school, culinary school, and business school. I will address these, too, at later dates.) What’s most interesting about this book is not that plan on going to film school or working with film as such but that I can see at least some connection between many of the ideas in the book and my own goal of data analysis (believe it or not). The idea is this: when you analyze data, you are telling a story, and stories can be told in ways that are more or less interesting, informative, or effective. Inasmuch as cinema also tells stories, some of the principle carry over. For example:

  • 10: Make Psychology Visual. That is, by changing camera angles and distance, different meanings can be ascribed to a scene. The same is true for designing visualizations (I imagine).
  • 14: Beginning, Middle, End. That is, there is a comfortable narrative structure to a film, and that structure can be repeated at smaller scales. Although visualizations are typically presented as static images, they can still present a form of narrative. This is especially true for those gigantic, long infographics you’ll see. And it is certainly true for any video-based visualization (and maybe there should be more of those).
  • 22: Plot is physical events; story is emotional events. Data analysis is more than just presenting bits of information (i.e., the physical events). It is an exercise in meaning-making through the interpretation and application of insights derived from analysis (akin to the “emotional” component of the story).
  • 64: Dig Deeper. “Do fewer things, but do them better.” In analysis, rather than presenting as many factoids as possible, it is better to understand the distinctive characteristics of the nature, such as why there are outliers on a particular variable, why a scatterplot is curved instead of straight, and why the wording of two similar questions gives different answers.
  • 93: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It’s very easy and very tempting to add more charts, more variables, more tables, more stuff to an analysis. But people have a limited attention span and the analysis is often understood in a heuristic fashion anyhow, so it’s much better to limit oneself to the minimum amount of analysis that will give a valid and useful conclusion.

So, it may be a bit of a stretch, but that’s actually what I had in mind when I was reading this fine book and the other ones in the series. Inspiration is everywhere.

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Getting It All on Video

I’m planning on creating a whole bunch of things on my computer that can’t be adequately represented with screenshots. (I will, however, still include those as often as possible.) As such, I thought it would be nice to upload some small videos so my professors could see what I’m up to. I already have a YouTube channel at youtube.com/bartonpoulson but that functions primarily for my statistics tutorials (which are doing very nicely, thank you) and I didn’t want to mix these up with those.

At first I thought I’d try posting my artsy videos on the extra artsy Vimeo service. But then everything got very, very complicated. Vimeo wanted money, they wanted me to wait 30 minutes to see my 30 second clip, and so on. Then I thought I would try WordPress’ own service, VideoPress. But that, too, looked like it would be expensive and cumbersome.

Then I found out that I could simply embed the URLs from YouTube. Quick, easy, and free. As Yul Brenner, as Pharoah, was wont to say: “So let it be written, so let it be done.”

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