tales from urban dilettantia


Ancora Imparo

Oh, today is one of those days when I can’t write a coherent paragraph, and yet that will not stop me from filling the internet with things. (To be entirely honest, I am a little touchy about this, as I once decided to have hurt feelings upon being told that keeping a blog was narcissistic. For someone who says ‘fuck you’ so often, it’s surprising how easily I decide to have hurt feelings.)

Playing with Google Analytics, and I see that most people who find this blog through a search engine are specifically Googlestalking me, or want to know about demand resistance. Although one person wanted to know about ‘awesome Zazzlers’, which was flattering.  (Hi there, flattering person.  Apologies, people who were looking for information about demand resistance.)

The great medical experiment rolls onward. I was pulled off fluoxetine last week, because I appear to be one of the minority of the population who are hypersensitive to it – it makes me vomit, shake and become incredibly anxious. Sunday, coming off it, was pretty much the worst ever. I don’t have the energy or even the desire to write about it, with all the broken communication, misery and generally implosive overreactions that it entailed, not to mention the numb, dizzying, drooling 50km bike ride, from which I’d been too much of a stubborn jerk to withdraw. However, new week, new experiment: I’m trying a very gradual build up to taking sertraline, going from a quarter of a tablet to a full one over a fortnight. So far, two relatively stable days, no vomit. Perceived improvement. Trying to fix the things I’ve broken and let slide in the interim. Drinking a lot of water. Hibernating. If I say ‘shhh’ to you, it’s not you, it’s me.

Slowly negotiating the possibility of working in overseas next year. Envious of everyone around me travelling for non-work, in the wake of a realisation I haven’t taken more than a handful of days’ leave at a time since I was in Europe in 2008, nor down even been down to Margaret River since last Christmas, largely due to the year of study-separation-housemoving being a major money and time limiter. Want to roam, to not think, to sleep and to read and to play.

Cooked omelettes on the weekend as Boomer and Six have started laying (‘bok bok bok ba-gawk!’ goes the Egg Song each morning) and Sarah (who is new and lovely and very good at telling stories that make me laugh) helped eat them. The possibility of bunnies with earth moving machinery was raised, and so, tiny art was of course required:

Feeling inarticulate.  I think that is all.

Art plus bunnies less cognitive function equals what?

Jellyfish Dreams

Jewel Deer

New tiny art – Jellyfish Dreams and Jewel Deer are on Flickr and are of course being pimped out on my Redbubble and Zazzle shops. (For the massive $2 I make when someone buys one!)

Additionally – and not for sale – here are Walter Cronkite and Reinette hanging out on the couch. The new phone actually takes a surprisingly decent photo:

Walter and Reinette Disapprove

Bubbling Creativity

You might well put it down to me trying to do something to keep the mind off drug withdrawal (and you’d be right) but I’ve undoubtedly been in a flurry of creativity recently.  Given how abysmal my so-called-left-brain performance has been recently, it’s rather nice to have something filling in the gaps.  I’m full of things I want to write about – giving things away at the Really Really Free Market, foraging for street fruit, making grappa & loquat butter, leaving Facebook and experimenting with giving up eating (to broadly but inaccurately summarise) farmed meat among them – but for now, the visual.

Last night I posted some new random sketches to Flickr as well as to my Redbubble and Zazzle shops.  It’s very motivating, having tiny shops, and making tiny sketches into t-shirts and mugs!

The Kitty Pile is available as a stupidly expensive tie, because if one ever sells I’ll laugh my arse off.  Metaphorically speaking.

I’ve also promised Rashas to attempt to find an affordable way to make The Map of WIN into a quilt cover, which may or may not involve me sewing.

When I was feeling spendthrifty – that is, after a few drinks on my birthday – I picked up a (relatively) cheap Nikon D5000 camera body which is destined to become an off-hand body (and possibly lighter body for birding) when I inherit velvetbutter‘s old D300.  It’s no good for my prime lenses (which have expanded to include a 35mm, a 50mm and an 85mm ) because it won’t autofocus them, but it’s a lovely lightweight body for my beloved 70-300mm birding lens, annihilating my old D70 when it comes to noise, metering, focus and indeed just about everything.  (Incidentally, the D70 body will shortly become a dedicated IR camera, because unlike the newer cameras it actually allows enough light at the IR end of the spectrum through.)

Ahem. Enough geeking it up; there are a lot of new photos on my Flickr from the last few weeks:

And finally, I learned to solder and made a light dalek from a cup and some fairy light bulbs I found at Target. When I press the button, it creates a diffuse soft glow which will in theory provide a gentle, non-directional light sources for the times when I’m photographing people in the dark at parties.   It may or may not be pretty crap at this – I’m yet to have an opportunity to try it out – but it sure was fun to make!

Tiny Shop is Tiny

Entertainingly, I woke up this morning to an email saying ‘you have made a sale!’ even though I haven’t yet mentioned there is something to sell.

A number of people have poked me to say ‘hey, you know all those little sketches and happiness maps and ligers and octopodes and things you make – put them somewhere people can buy them!’ (Many thanks to Ju and Amy who have been stubbornly supportive and mentioned this repeatedly, in the face of my procrastination.)

And so I have.

There are t-shirts and matted & laminated prints (including the requested Map of WIN) for sale on RedBubble.

And there are magnets and mugs at Zazzle.

I’ve done some research as to quality and so forth, but the reality is that I have no idea how these will turn out. One day, I feel I should buy some to see for myself. But for now, there they are, roaming free on the internet!

A Thousand Words

Being an approximation of what I’m up to at the moment.

Strange Attraction

Happy Friday! I am declaring today to be particularly good, even as Happy Fridays go, since (1) I went for a run this morning, (2) the cubefarm has exploded into the amusing chaos of Yet Another Desk Reshuffle and (3) the first person I saw as I walked towards my building this morning was oliverm, smiling and waving at me. Good things.

There will be a Day 2 of Happiness Posting – in fact I will post it tonight, because tonight I miraculously have a night to myself which I intend to use for blogging and painting and the like. (I’ll also take this moment to point out that I never used the words ‘consecutive days’. And in the words of Nick Hornby, yes, that is a sneaky lawyer’s trick.)

In the meantime, have a little of my pontification on one of the Many Shiny Things I am excited about. This particular shiny thing is data. And datasets. Datamining. Visualisation. Information. I accept that this is a field that is dead sexy only to a very specific sub-set of people. However – trust me on this, unbelievers – for those of us wired in that particular way, it can be an intricate, exquisite, fascinating thing.

The web is beginning to engage with data in increasingly interesting ways. For one thing, free datasets are becoming more and more accessible and people are using them in ways that are sometimes artistic, sometimes functional, and very often both. While the plague of inaccessible data, siloed in institutions and organisations, still represents an incredible waste of potential, the situation is certainly improving. And, from an entirely different direction, Web2.0 technology has delivered the tools to easily collect one’s own raw data.

On the latter point, I’ve been running a small personal data collection project recently. Applications such as MapMyRide, FourSquare, Last.fm, LibraryThing, Sleep Cycles for iPhone and Delicious track a whole lot of stats already in a fairly passive, low-effort manner. In addition to those, I’ve adopted Your Flowing Data (YFD) to aggregate information on a number of other variables. There’s a YFD iPhone app, and a spiffy hack for Latitude users. (The very pretty Daytum tool also provides similar functionality.)

Obsessed, any?
Obsessed, any?

In a move that most consider an odd choice, I’ve made most of my staggeringly banal YFD data public, on a page called Banalytics (yes, I’m proud of that one). The reasons I’ve decided to open it up are various, but I’m particularly interested in the way it massively reduces my tendency to tell small, pointless lies, and feels like a gesture to towards understanding that people will choose to like me or not like me just as I am. (And of course there are the cynical days when I wonder whether maintaining privacy for the sake of privacy is a drain on my resources, and no more than a shared delusion.)

On a less personal and more academic level, I’m utterly fascinated by people who create large scale projects of this kind. Nicholas Felton is one of the best-known examples, and his personal Annual Reports have received plenty of coverage. (He also posts some really lovely stuff over at Tumblr!) His passion for design, information, for the appreciation of the very small – these things resonate with me and I can lose myself for great lengths of time in the existential detail of his work.

I struggle to find the right words to explain why I find this field so enchanting; it is a discipline of numbers and forms, not well suited to words. The attraction for me has much to do with shapes and patterns and relationships. Both the analysis and the visualisation are acts of beauty; acts of untangling immense webs, and of deft slicing and assembly. They are acts of perceiving the interconnectedness of things, and acts of holding that up and saying ‘see what I have found; see that it has meaning’. And they are the great heart – each heartbeat counted and illustrated – of the the intersection between the analytical and the designed.

For anyone interested in reading further, see below for a rambling assortment of the data blogs, tools, resources and datasets currently available on the web.

Data & Visualisation Blogs:
Data Wrangling
Flowing Data
DataBlog (The Guardian)
Information is Beautiful

Australian Bureau of Statistics
Data.gov (US)
UK Data Archive
UN Data
WHO Data and Statistics
OECD.Stat Extracts
UCI Machine Learning Repository
Time Series Data Library

Meta-lists of Datasets:
DataWrangling List
Datasets for Data Mining

Statistical Data Mining Tutorials

If You’re Into It

I’ve been interested in many new things / people / places / concepts / ideas / projects at the moment and haven’t written about any of them in detail. Or indeed at all.

So, in lieu of detail, here’s a picture:

Further, I have a table full of oranges from my mother’s house.  They will become something, but as of yet, I’m not sure what.

Random Scribbles

I’ve been carrying this notebook around recently, because so many of my work files and receipts and lists and bus timetables are covered in scribbles and pictures, and I though it might be nice to capture some of the randomness in digital form.

Sketches from Meetings & Bus Stops #1

Sketches from Meetings & Bus Stops #2

Sketches from Meetings & Bus Stops #3

Uploaded by flyingblogspot on 5 Aug 09.

I don’t really know where this stuff comes from, or what it’s about.


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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.