I know you see me

I’m almost done with day 2 of 5 at EYEO 2014 and it’s clear that this conference is all about visualization. Not just data visualization, although that seems to be a major theme, but a congregation of people who are intensely focus on making things visible. I want to share a few takeaways I’ve gotten before they get drowned out by continuously filling pages in my notebook.

Frieder Nake gave an entertaining and historically enlightening keynote. He made computer graphics before computers had screens. He ended with a quote that hit me at a harmonic frequency: “its so frustrating not to see what you’re doing.”

Mike Bostock visualized algorithms to compare them, as well as to understand how they work.

Feltron painstakingly collected his personal communications for analysis. Learned about the alchemy api. Basically NSA’d himself.

Adam Harvey spoke about his work developing tools for counter-surveillance, while he is making artistic statements with expensive proof-of-concepts, he shared some terrifying implications of the pace and (lack of) cost of camera technology. Cameras can see the entire electro-magnetic spectrum, not just visible light, and they are constantly getting cheaper and more ubiquitous. It’s clear that in the next few years you wont be able to physically hide due to drones with thermal + IR + high resolution cameras.

CODE+ED unconference

The unconference was a whirlwind of engaging discussions on topics like “Teaching data science to youngsters,” “building a creative coding community,” “creating and curating examples,” and “teaching code without computers.” I took some personal notes and got to share in some fun discussions, but I’ll just share some quick takeaways I got:

  • One teacher puts their classroom and contact information in the user-agent of their scraper (program that downloads data from websites without their permission). It’s such a friendly move and has actually resulted in services giving the class the data in nicer formats.
  • “who will teach the teachers” – When talking about data science, we heard from someone implementing curriculums in L.A. It turns out its not the students who have trouble learning this new technology, its the teachers.
  • When discussing how to teach “big data” it was brought up that big data is just data that is too big for your laptop. I pointed out that thanks to Moore’s law data gets a lot smaller every year. Instead of focusing on teaching younger kids to work at large scales, perhaps working on a cell phone and using a laptop to verify would be a better way to teach “big data.”

In the community building sessions a couple interesting things stuck out to me:

  • People representing various groups, big and small, professional and for fun all agreed that having some barrier to entry into the community is a consistent way to define the community. This can be done by restricting membership to word-of-mouth or explicitly like we did with d3.unconf by requiring people to demonstrate their involvement by doing something any member of the community should be able to do.
  • Diversity was also brought up, tech (making stuff with computers) is a white male dominated field. We had a few ladies at the table and discussed how important it is to get diverse people on stage if you want diverse participation. Someone mentioned a great quote: “if i cant see it i cant be it.”

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