Tenday Notes: 2-11 March 2020

Tenday Notes: 2-11 March 2020

Every ten days I share a quick digest of what I've been working on. Here's the latest. You can find more in the series here.

My work on the Drawdown project has been published! The Drawdown Review 2020 is now out, and contains comprehensive, quantitative information on more than a hundred solutions to climate change. Not only that, but it’s a hopeful document, with plenty of arguments against the notion that we’re fighting a hopeless cause and lack agency to cut emissions. Yes, most of the power is in the hands of big companies and governments. But we can influence them, on multiple scales.

My work was mostly in the data visualization for the report, and I’ve written up a blog post that summarises the process and the challenges that I faced along the way. It also has a bunch of in-progress sketches that you might be interested to see.

There's a hill near where I live. It's called Ramberget ("Raven Mountain") and it's both low enough to summit relatively easily but high enough to have a great view. Whenever it's sunny, I try to walk up to the summit to see across the city. To the north, you can see up to the suburbs of Biskopsgården. To the south, you see the Göta älv river and the centre of town. To the east, you see see the suburbs out towards Angered and to the west you see the port and the archipelago.

One interesting story about the hill is that at the beginning of the 19th century. there wasn't a single tree on the entire hill. The people living in early Gothenburg cut them all down, and it was covered in heather instead. In the mid-19th century, though, a few people suggested replanting trees there. They started a beech forest, as well as larch, pines and oak. Today, it's a mostly-wooded area. Replanting trees works.

I went diving for the first time in my life. It was a one-off “test dive”, for total beginners, run by Oygene Diving here in Gothenburg. It was a three hour affair - about 30 mins of instruction at the beginning, and then two hours or so in a three metre deep pool.

I loved it. I’ve always been curious about diving, part of my curiosity about all underwater things. But I feared that it would be cumbersome with all the equipment and cold. It was not cumbersome at all, it was surprisingly freeing - being able to travel in three dimensions by simply adjusting the amount of air in my lungs. Breathe in and you go up. Breathe out and you go down.

The pool was small and kinda crowded, but I got enough of a taste that I’d love to do it again. So now I’m actively recruiting friends to take an open water course with me - the certification you need to go on diving excursions around the world. It takes three weeks, two days a week, with a final weekend of diving out in the actual open water. I’m planning on doing it in May, and I’m already excited.

I've spent a lot of time lately working on my generative art. I'm still at that point where I'm bursting with ideas but don't quite have the technical skills yet to execute on them, so that's frustrating. I could probably develop the skills relatively quickly, but I'm deliberately pacing myself - partly so I don't get too deep and burn out and partly so I can learn alongside my partner (who has a regular job, and so can't dedicate the same amount of time). I don't want to get too far ahead, or that won't be so fun for her.

Anyway, I published a series of five sketches based on generating concentric polygons of different sizes and shapes. You can see them on my Instagram account dedicated to generative art.

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dance 1-5

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I also made a series of sketches loosely inspired by seeing tiles in a pool through rippled water. These are my favourites so far.

Finally developed a generator for Lexis Diagrams - a new visual form that I've discovered and which I like very much - it shows human lives in the context of a longer time span. I'd like to use it in a graphic of some sort soon, so I'm looking for a suitable dataset. Maybe country leaders or something? We'll see...

I came up against a tricky problem the other day. A client asked for an unusual type of chart - one which isn’t part of the libraries of most online chart generators. It was pretty complex and detailed, so I didn’t want to plot it out by hand on graphics software - especially as I needed to make six of them.

In situations like this I’ll normally reach for D3 or similar. But this one stumped me a bit. I thought about using Processing, but you can’t easily get an SVG out of it. In the end, I reached for Scripter - a Figma plug-in that lets you write code to generate design assets. By modifying some sample code, I was quickly able to get the result I wanted.

I’ll write up a tutorial and share my code because it’s non-trivial. But I was quite pleased that I was able to get my code to work quickly and simply, with only a few difficulties around colour.

I've signed up for a rapid-turnaround infographic competition, in collaboration with Katarina from Märka Design. The subject is the International Space Station, and the 20 years of continuous occupation that it'll be celebrating in October. The prize money isn't very high. But it's a nice excuse to get something out the door on a fast timescale.

For now, I've built a clean database of visits to the International Space Station, and I'm planning on using Scripter (again) to draw a Lexis Diagram of all the trips, so that people can see how they overlap. Then Katarina and I will work on the design. Watch this space (pun very much intended).

Finally, my favourite thing I read this week was this article about building a digital garden by Tom Critchlow where you can stash interesting stuff, and... if you'll excuse the strained metaphor... plant thoughts and give them space to grow. It's based on this post, which defines streams, campfires and gardens. Both are well worth a look. Here's a good bit from the first:

Creative research is all about collecting the dots. It’s more common to think of “connecting the dots” but the truth is that you can’t connect the dots you can’t see. And we can only hold a tiny number of things in  our brains at once. So a space for collecting (and organizing) the dots is a crucial foundation for thinking, creativity and more.

My "garden" is currently my notes app - Simplenote. But it'd be cool if it was more public. Have you got a "garden" where you plant your thoughts? I'd love to hear how you care for it. Email me.