Tatoo’d Butterflies

“Will you ever get a tattoo?”, she asked me, as James Blunt crooned ‘Goodbye My Lover’ through the desktop speakers. The chill night air blew through the open French windows of the 12th floor flat and..

“Will you ever get a tattoo?”, she asked me, as James Blunt crooned ‘Goodbye My Lover’ through the desktop speakers. The chill night air blew through the open French windows of the 12th floor flat and I felt it touch my soul. “Yes”, I replied, hesitating. “I had a plan once but… “

I took a sip as nostalgia came flooding back into my mind. Memories always seem to be have a habit of hiding in the corner ready to jump on you at the right moment, I thought to myself. I wondered what she was doing right now as Coldplay’s Fix You started to play.

“What was the plan?”, she asked again as we sat in the dark.

“It’s obvious”, I said, not wanting to answer. I leaned back on the mattress and drifted back into those memories.

“What’s so obvious?”, She asked again.

Sensing that I was lost in reverie, She took a sip of her drink.

“I don’t like those butterflies”, She said after a while, snapping me out from my daydreams. She was looking at the paintings leaning on the left side corner of the room against an almirah. They had been painted just a few days back and had not been put up yet.

Thankful to the change of topic, I found myself at the inquiring end. “Why don’t you?”, I asked her.

“I don’t know.. Its wing is broken. Butterflies are such delicate creatures, no?”, she replied after a pause.

Butterflies aren’t the only fragile ones, I said to myself as I poured another drink.

“Why did it have to break? Why should something so beautiful meet such a sad and pitiful end?”, she continued.

“What do we know of its life? And of its death? ”, I interjected.

She pondered over it for a moment and said, “Something so beautiful could not have lived an evil life. Why can’t we be more like it?”

“You know, it was a cocoon, once upon a time”, I said. “and only by breaking its bonds was it able to achieve this beauty. Come to think of it, isn’t most of our life lived safe within a cocoon? It’s only past 25 or so that we actually get to break it and emerge out into the world.”

“Hmm…”, she said, “I still wish we could fly though.”

I left my drink, got up and walked out into the balcony as Gilmour’s Comfortably Numb wafted into the night air.

This was written as a classroom assignment where we had to write a short story in 500 words inspired from a real life event of our life.

Ignorance isn’t always bliss

He cursed, for the umpteenth time, under his breath as he trudged along the rocky surface of the black mountain. The Garden had been elusive to locate but finally he seemed to have found it. His trial was nearing its end with every step he took towards the summit, every step brought him closer to the item of his quest;

He cursed, for the umpteenth time, under his breath as he trudged along the rocky surface of the black mountain. The Garden had been elusive to locate but finally he seemed to have found it. His trial was nearing its end with every step he took towards the summit, every step brought him closer to the item of his quest; the fabled ‘Pink Mango of the Garden of Elysium’. He could see the tree in the distance, getting bigger with every stride. Soon the Gates loomed large in front of him. There was a cloaked figure sitting crouched in front of the golden bars.

“Stop!”, the figure said, “Who goes there?”

“It is I, Vikrama, I have come to take some fruit from the fabled Tree”

“Read the sign. No one passes these Gates”

“But I need to do so that my curse may be lifted. I’ve heard that eating the fruit gives you the boon of immortality”

“Well if you still want to enter you will have to fight me first. I beg you to heed the advice on the sign”

“I am ready to fight you!”, said Vikrama, drawing out his sword. He knew there was no going back now. “It would have better to have read the notice than fight me”, the figure said. The figure dropped his cloak and there stood in front of Vikrama, a strange animal. It seemed to be a mixture of all the feared carnivores; a chimera of legend. And with one fell swoop of its hand, Vikrama was killed. The Chimera spoke, “These guys are too foolhardy. Why don’t they ever read the sign board?” as he gulped down the last of Vikrama.

The signboard read – “Bob’s fruit shop: 1 Pink Mango – 100 gold coins.”

This was the result of a classroom story writing assignment given to us by Arshia Sattar. The brief was to use the words Curse, Boon, Well, Animal and Mango with a 20 line limit.

Design School : Year One

After last semester, I wrote what I had learned. At the end of this semester I was confused what really happened in that one semester. So I thought I could use this post to talk about other things that I experienced this year.

After last semester, I wrote what I had learned. At the end of this semester I was confused what really happened in that one semester. So I thought I could use this post to talk about other things that I experienced this year.

Being a Quizzer, you end up having an ego because you have all that information in your head, ready to spout out at the slightest notice. I really believe that that knowledge repo originating from a well read childhood is one of my strengths. Still I was humbled in Girish Dalvi’s typography workshop when I couldn’t answer any question that he threw at us. I mentioned last semester that reading is crucial. But this semester was when I realized that the reading stack is hundreds of books high. Actually, its infinite.

Open Elective although a major disappointment (atleast I got to meet some awesome people) had a good theme this year – Old age. Our world is increasingly getting older but most companies out there are busy trying to solve endemic problems. In one year, I might end up in the same industry and that actually made me wonder if I should try to end up someplace else where I can really make a difference.

Good research is important. Last semester made me realize that. I also realized that surveys, interviews mostly masquerade as research methods. I have lost faith in both of them while at the same time learning that custom research methods(like this one) make for better insights. I have begun to believe more in end user testing.

Talking about things make them better. I learned that getting people to critique your idea or talk to them about it is the best way to get out of that creative rut that you find yourself in. When you are working on it all by yourself you will not see be able to see what it is that is not working with your design.

I learned and built my first grid based presentation which was well received by the Jury. Except for my Cognitive Ergonomics work, the rest of what I presented seemed to have been appreciated. This is a big improvement from last semester where I was mostly clueless about the work I was presenting.

I’ve realized that the design process you follow is really important. I still have a long way to go before I learn to use it well. Working on MSR’s Design Expo this year made me realize the value of a good process. When working on Meteorites, I somehow formed a process unknowingly and it did help me to produce the end result. It’ll help you where your skills wont.

And you can learn anything given that you want to. At the end of last semester, I only knew Photoshop which I had largely picked up while at TCS. Now, I am comfortable with Illustrator and I even made a short film on Adobe Premiere Pro. A desire to create things in crunch time really helps me learn faster. Hence deadlines are good.

Hard deadlines are even better. Work only gets done if they are enforced. Most of last semester’s projects did not turn out so well because I kept procrastinating. Maybe because…

I fear big projects especially due to the lack of experience. We have not done anything big academically and I wonder how equipped I will be to deal with full projects all alone. Hope I can confront that fear this semester. Geronimo!

One of my favourite moments of last year was lying on @nid_b’s roof and looking for shooting stars. The cold, the company and the squeals when you spot a golden trail all made that night magical. Also worth noting are the Paldi campfires. This time next year, I shall be lamenting the end of 2 years and I shall miss ‘this’ life dearly.

You can read Rasagy thoughts on ‘Year One’ here.

Building ‘Meteorites: Earth Impact’

It all started with this tweet. Time was scarce indeed and I had not created an interactive visualization till now. I was supposed to have been doing some d3 this holidays but I never got round to it.

The dataset provided for the contest has 45k+ rows and that was slightly intimidating for a beginner like me.

So I initially decided to take a small set of the data and use it. Like the top 10 found and fell meteorites size wise. Using Tilemill to geotag these was simple anyway.MeteoritesAs you can clearly see above, the size of the red and yellow dots represent the found and fallen meteorites respectively. The relative size of theirs is because of their actual size varies that much with the biggest weighing in at 60 tons. Problem with this graphic was that the size was too big for you to pinpoint the targeted coordinate. Certain impact points hid/overlapped with others. No additional information about the meteorites could be presented.

This led me to the second iteration. Importing a slightly better map into Illustrator(via Export as PDF from Tilemill, SVG didn’t work for me), I played around with labelling the meteorites and this resulted with the map below.

Meteorites-vizThings seemed a little clearer in the above version, but there were still some problems. The scale was skewed a lot if I considered only these values. The yellow dots were nearly invisible and the red ones overshadowed everything. About that time I came across this visualization. That prompted me to play with the impact sizes a bit more. Iterations were made to get the size right. It was a slow process because most of the dots overlapped and made sections obscure. Finally I came up with this before I slept just past midnight.

reddotsPlaying with the opacity above gave me an idea about the denser areas. At around this time, when I was discussing these visualizations with @Rasagy, @Hashnuke asked if I wanted the reverse geotagged locations so that I could perhaps map the Countries in a sort of choropleth. He said he would write a script and run it using a reverse geotag service like Google. So we set Sunday as the day to do this.

I continued to work on Tilemill and decided to export the map and host it on Mapbox. Decided to learn Wax so that I could build an interactive visualization. At that moment, most of the visualization that you see at the end was forming in my head. With 2 days left to go for the submissions at Visualizing.org. I decided to give it a go.

Playing around with Wax led me to a bug when the map was fullscreen and led me to file my first issue at Github. After that I got stuck while trying to figure out pivot tables in MS Excel. @Sevenaces helped me realise my stupid mistake and I got the data I need to plot the Column charts.

Choosing a charting library was the next thing. I wanted something simple that did not need too much work, offered interactivity out of the box, etc. I went through my bookmarks to check dviz. I had been meaning to use this sometime soon and decided to for this project. The other option I had was dviz but the simplest examples looked like a lot of work. That tipped the scales in dviz’s favour. dviz is the simplest charting solution for people who don’t know javascript and wont be bothered to learn javascript. So the column charts worked wonderfully. Stacked column charts were my first option but that showed me the fact the the fallen meteorites were much lesser and were easily hidden by the found meteorite data. Hence I decided to separate the two charts and show the data separately. Poking around Google’s Visualization api, I figured how to customize the dviz charts some more. I used Flatuicolors for the colours. That done, I turned to Foundation 3 to build something simple.

Next, Akash walked me through setting up a github account, hosting a .io repo there. I installed Github for Windows and everything was simple and intuitive. Git incidentally was something I was meaning to learn from a long time, this project gave me and opportunity to do that. The prototype visualization was up and online on Saturday night but it was quite a long way from finishing.

There were obviously problems with the data set. The section at 0,0 seemed to be awfully dense for a point in the middle of the ocean. This led me to review the dataset. I found that more than 10k rows didnt have coordinate data and some of them had 0,0 instead. I decided to clean these rows out of the geotagging. They were bad locations and did not contribute of anything. The dataset was now slightly above 32k rows. More Tilemill followed. Tilemill kept hanging every now and then and I had to close it every few minutes. Frustrating indeed. The huge dataset could be a possible reason. Figuring out the legend and tooltip design took me some more time. Finally the map was done. More hangups followed and I was finally able to export and host the final map on Mapbox.

The next problem came due to the 32k row .csv file. The big file was throwing errors. We then split the dataset into 3 sections and Akash ran the script on Geonames via nitrous.io. He should really write a post on how he did all that. Here’s the scripts and the processed data. There were about 40 bad locations in the dataset which were removed.

The output of the reverse geocoding was the country code. I wanted the country names. This is how I learnt about vlookup in MS Excel. I also learnt how to fill all the blanks in a table and how to divide a column by a number. These are not as straightforward as you think. Excel hung up on me as well. Lot of times. Remember making everything a table helps a lot when doing Excel operations. I used the country name list from here(It’s missing SS=South Sudan). Finally everything seemed ready. Now all I needed was a good scatterplot example to borrow 😉

A quick search of mbostock’s d3 gallery and I located a scatterplot that I could use. It was simple to understand. I promptly hacked the example to meet my demands. I learnt a bit of d3 along the way.
With the final changes all done, I was done with ‘Meteorites: Earth Impact’. In 3 days I learnt such a lot. It was indeed a wicked journey.

Without anymore delay, Ladies and Gentlemen I present to you ‘Meteorites: Earth Impact’.

Update: The visualization got ‘Staff Picked’ on Visually. #proud