Thursday, September 15, 2011

No posts? What's happening?

To recap... 
Last week I wrote a pretty good Wednesday Search Challenge.  (See the previous post.)  Basically, it was: 

     Find some software / some tool that would let you create a simple animation 
     to visualize the kayak word use frequency data between the US and New Zealand. 

How hard could that be?  

Turns out that it's fairly tricky.  Yes, I can write the code to generate the animation (I did this in Javascript using the Google Charting API), but that wasn't quite what I wanted.  I was hoping for something like MS Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or maybe a special purpose animation package that would make it easy to create such a thing.  Something like this: 

But if there is, I wasn't able to find it. 

And that's really interesting... 

Why is it so hard?  (Or at least it's hard for me to find.   It's completely possible that such a package exists and I just can't figure out how to find it.  If you know an answer, please tell me!) 

Here's a speculation about why it's so hard:  We don't really have great ways to describe (and therefore search-for) applications.  When an app is well-known (or the category of app is well-known) like "text editor" or "drawing package" or "CAD modeling software," then it's reasonably straight-forward.  You can find endless text editors without much trouble.  

But how do you describe the thing I'm looking for?  It's an animation tool, with numeric inputs, to create an information visualization or an animated infographic or... well, something like that.  

Ideally, there would be some kind of canonical language one might use, some kind of common phrases and terms that we could use to search.  But if there is, I'm not sure what it might be.  

Remember my post from a couple of weeks ago about What's hard to search for?, well, let me nominate a new category of thing that's difficult to find--a tool whose name you do not know and can only vaguely describe

Normally for things like this I'd suggest using Google Suggest and Instant search to explore the space of possibilities, to grope around in the search arena in an intelligent way.  

And that's how I found Tableau, the info-viz software.  (Briefly, I was doing searches, but letting Instant complete my searches, then I'd type in an addition term and see where it went next.  I write about this process in detail soon.)  

But it didn't quite work out.  I could create  map that varied, but there was no simple way to create an animation.  I could make a slider and manually drag the slider to see the visualization update, but the frame rate didn't work out correctly and you couldn't really see the reciprocal relationship... which was sort of the point.  

So I took a bit more time and kept hunting.  No joy yet.  

That's when the review season started.  As a part of my work I get to write reviews.  LOTS of reviews--of conference papers, journal articles, book submissions, grant proposals, personnel reviews... everything!  At the moment I'm responsible for something like 102 proposals of varying kinds.  So writing in the blog is a bit slower than normal.  

I hope you'll understand.  It'll take me a bit longer than normal to get to the next installment, but so it goes.  

In the meantime, IF YOU SOLVE the mystery -- please let us know!  

Search on! 

1 comment:

  1. I suppose another way to search would be to look for animations that probably involved your target process. Not sure if any of these relate (from a quick look, I don't think they do what you want...) but they sure are pretty

    I've had a similar 'searching for software/plugins,etc. you're not sure exist' issue this week looking for 'collaborative annotation' - social media style commenting both below the line and on elements of the text (