google sheets

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In the past month, I’ve worked a lot with Google Sheets. It helps me to organise my categories and tags easily.

Due to the scale of the project and the personal, arbitrary nature of journal entries, it can be tedious and tricky to build the database of tags and categories. Here’s how I tagged my entries.

– Tags: subject matter, activity, event, names

After a review of my Sheets, I am on the fence about using Categories as part of the database narrative. Categories are more general than tags, which can be very specific, and as a rule, I categorised my entries based on the general tone/subject matter of the entry, which can be quite tricky because as I’ve said, entries can be arbitrary. I thought about how my dataset could work for me and I find that tags may offer a better solution. A combination of say, tags + time, will project quite interesting visualisations, and definitely more effective as well. Categories would become an extra set of variable, and because they can look rather similar to tags, it would be really confusing too.

Here’s an overview of my Sheets. This is from January 2005 – 2015. There’s a lot of cleanup to be done, for sure.

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Sorting of Categories.

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All the tags, before they are sorted. Tags in the colour columns belong to a bigger category, while those on the left side are more specific.Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.47.39 pmScreen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.47.41 pmFor my Facts & Fictions final, I narrowed down the categories and tags and worked with these.Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.47.43 pmScreen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.47.48 pm

Sketches of my visualisation, using Google Sheets.


writing a wordpress theme

Spent the last few days working on making a WordPress theme. Progress could be better if I am not interrupted periodically… but I am quite pleased with where I’ve gotten so far. The screenshots don’t really show much, but I am getting better at understanding how a theme comes together. Also, doing this is a real refresher course on working with PHP again.

I used the WordPress Codex for help on theme development. Having imported a good percentage of my blog posts for my Facts & Fiction project (the january project) gives me a good base to work with, in terms of theme development. It is definitely useful to have some posts there rather than working on an empty blog. This December, I’ll be working a couple of things: developing the dataset for my blog, create a skeleton theme for the final, and think of a meaningful way to make the data visualisation. The dataset is created by tagging and categorising all my blog entries and forming the database narrative. More on this part on my next entry — I am also excited to show the progress of that part of my project as well as my outcome for Facts & Fictions. All of this will come in the next few days. So many things to do, and I’m eager to share along the way.

In this screenshot, you can see the very basic skeleton of a theme. At this point, I felt a sense of achievement. Getting the posts and categories to show up. I also added the tag cloud (didn’t have a screenshot), and I could see something developing there, with just January’s worth of entries. I’ve mentioned before that it’s not my intention to share the blog posts, but to use meta data to tell the story. By developing my own theme, I can get down to the specifics, and decide what part of the blog I want to show on the front page. I am able to hide the posts, and work with just the tag and categories.

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Here are a couple of screenshots from my Google Sheets, which I’ve used for my final project in my data vis course. More on that for the next post. These are the information that I get from important my entries into WordPress. Using WordPress and Google Sheets in tandem is really useful for my process. With this in mind, I am also considering how I would like my physical outcome to look like as well. I’ll think about it as I go along.

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Having built a skeleton theme, I made a copy and installed another blog on my server. As I am also working to revamp my own personal website, I am taking the opportunity to learn more about what I can do with WordPress themes. All of this is good practice for my virtual outcome, and I am trying my best to do as much as I can over this break, while not letting anything I do go to waste. This screenshot shows a WordPress blog with no posts, just pages. What I am doing with this WordPress theme is to put all my content in WordPress pages, which would be a breeze for updating. The php function allows the pages to be displayed as they are on the wp-admin, which is a fantastic option – you can see the various things nested under the parent page of ‘works’ It’s been useful to work on these two sites for now as I explore what I can do with both posts and pages and consider how I can best incorporate their key functions together in my final theme development.

“january” progress

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I’m finished with tagging entries up till 2010, although only entries up to 2009 have been uploaded on the site so far. The rest are on the Textedit file on my computer. I’ve been working with really unstable network connection and it’s driving me up the wall. I think this is one of the drawbacks of moving your work around and doing it on the go.

Also, I am quite frustrated with the amount of spam comments that are generated by my blog, even more so with the fact that Akismet offers the service for a ‘minimal fee’. I went with the free option anyway, but it does not make sense to pay to get rid of spam comments.

On the website, you will see a grid image. It’s meant to be a filler image at the moment. I will be writing a WordPress theme for this website, something close to a sketch I made a while ago. The entries are available for viewing (under the read more tag). I am still interested to have the metadata as the narrative. You can see that my tag cloud is quite specific.

The next step for my project is to plot in the number of entries per category/tag into Google sheets and creating a skeleton for a visualisation using the charts.

I am also paying attention to how I feel as a result on embarking on this project. It didn’t make me feel good to look at my own writing and experience in such close detail. I have the same feelings when I worked on the ‘dictionary’ project last semester. At that point of time, I felt mortified at some of the entries. I become more aware of myself, and that some of my flaws have been apparent for a long time, and I may not have looked into them or addressed them at all. But this are more personal reflections of my project that I think I’m not ready to share right now, without going through a long story about the roots of my angst, etc. I’ve been writing down some of these reflections as I do my work, and I hope to put them together as part of the conclusion for the project. All of this is a work in a progress, my personal self, the project… at the end of the day, I would like to be able to look at this project and know that I have made something good out of what I’m not proud of.


visualising january: part one



This week we begin preparing for our final project for Facts & Fictions. I’m taking this opportunity to apply my newfound skills to my current project by visualising the entries from January over the period of 2005 to 2015 (January x 10). The amount of data over this period is a good size to work with for the final project (which will culminate in a group show in another 14 days), and I think it is a perfect chance for me to try visualising a part of my FYP.

These are some of my process shots:blogtagging01

Filtering entries from January 2005: there are 17 items, of which I am going to individually tag and categorise them. In 2005, I was still on Blogger, and the blogging platform is very simple, and I don’t remember tags or categories existing on Blogger then. So it was quite a good thing that my entries are left un-tagged/categorised, now I can be very specific about how I want to label the entries for the sake of this project.


I am also doing tagcrowding again, with the help of Miriam Quick, who does research for information design. With her guidance, I learned how to use Tagcrowd in a more resourceful manner. She also taught me how I can use Google Sheets to my advantage, by showing me lots of cool stuff that can be done with Sheets. After running through my text in Tagcrowd, I went on to omit common words, and made a list of frequent words I use. This is different from individually tagging my entries, which I feel is something I would have to do manually if I really wanted to be specific about the topics that I wrote about, and I think there’s no shortcut to this part. Tagcrowding would be useful for highlighting linguistic details like: lingo, swearing, emotive words, and even names. This could be an interesting area to visualise on its own, so at the same time, I am also creating an additional dataset for that aspect.

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I’ve installed WordPress on my own site again, for this January project. Currently, there’s nothing fancy there yet, but I think the taxonomy is taking shape and I am very excited about it. I’ve just finished importing entries from January 2005. You can take a look at it as I update it with more January entries, although I must warn you that some of the entries are very juvenile. Please bear with my 13 year old self. Haha.

Overall, this whole process of creating the metadata is far less agonising that I expected it to be. Before embarking on the January project, I read through all the January entries in the ten years, which left me in a very sombre and nostalgic mood, but all of that is gone when I go all technical about the work. That really gave me an idea to write a reflection piece after I have completed making these datasets for my archive. It would be interesting to include in my process book.

I’ll share more when I finish making the datasets for each year, and also my process on how I will visualise everything.


week one reflections

It’s been a really packed and intensive week! I have so much to share, and it’s amazing how much I’ve learned about data visualisation in just these few days alone. Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve learned over the week.

First, we have Stefanie Posavec, who was with us Monday to Thursday. On Monday, we gathered a dataset that represents the spirit of Berlin. I went to a local supermarket to collect some information on the products sold there. We learned how to make a physical visualisation out of the data we collected.

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I made this pie chart out of salami, to represent the different kinds of wursts that can be found in a typical German supermarket.

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I also collected another data set on the number of times I checked in with my family and friends over the week. I was having a cold this week, and the tissues were used as a form of visualisation.

Stefanie’s approach to data visualisation is very hands on: she does not do programming. Instead, she draws everything by hand. Her process is very well documented, and her slides contain many photos of her sketches from her notebook. She encourages us to try this approach on our last day with her, where she gave us a set of data on the weather patterns in a month.


This is my outcome.

Key things we learned with Stefanie: find a pattern in your data, select your focus, and always remember than form follows function. Set up rules. Create hierarchy within your focus helps to make your visualisation even clearer. Always create a scaffolding before inputting your graphical elements.  Think sequentially, incrementally.



On Thursday evening, we had an artist talk by Maral Pourkazemi. Maral is a very passionate designer. She has Iranian roots, which shapes most of her design work. She calls herself a design activist, where she uses her data vis skills to create powerful works to highlight the issues faced by Iran. This is one of the most interesting talks I’ve ever heard, as she shares the potential threats that surround her as a designer, because her work involves politics. Like Stefanie, her master thesis was the work that propel her to the world of data vis, and offered her many opportunities and led her to where she is today. For her masters, she made a work about censorship of Iranian internet.

We ended the week with Nicholas Felton, who shared with us the programming side of data visualisation. I was very interested to hear how he made all his Annual Reports, and everyone was curious about this whole effort of collecting data actively, consciously, for ten years and putting them together in his report. Each year, he challenges himself to make a better report than the last. His last few reports were made with the help of applications, a few that he developed by himself.

This weekend, Nicholas walked us through the program Processing. I’ve gone through a beginner’s tutorial the week before I came, so thankfully I was no stranger to this. Having just a bit of introduction and some background in coding helped me a lot in picking up Processing as I go along.

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The possibilities of what you can do with Processing is limitless. Learning the programming script is akin to learning another foreign language. One of the key things I’ve learn with Nicholas Felton on Processing is actually how to input data into the program. We made spreadsheets on Google Sheets, converted them into a .csv (comma separated values) file, which is readable on Processing, and then using coding, we are able to create visualisations out of it. The above screenshot with the lines is an exercise I am working on right now. The number of lines is generated by the values from my spreadsheet. This is all very sketchy at the moment, and I’m working on adding the graphical elements later on. This is another really important thing I’ve learned this week, and something I probably will not be able to figure out on my own.

So, week one in summary is learning how to create visualisations with the help of coding, or by hand, and I am really glad to be able to learn from Stefanie and Nicholas, who are very, very good at their work.

Something else I’ve picked up this week from them is actually how to present your work. Watching these designers speak about their work is so, so inspiring. They are very confident and clear about what they are trying to say, and this helps a lot particular at this point, when I am simultaneously working on my FYP prep. Everyday I have something new to add to my presentation.

This week is particularly intense, but I hope I will polish up my presentation and be good to go by Tuesday.


project hyperessay: technical realisation

I think that my project has developed quite a bit since I came up with my concept. Having to reorganise my schedule and work in short notice and rather close to our project deadline also makes me reconsider what I can do for the final broadcast. I’ll first begin by sharing some materials that I currently have with me:


  • Screen recordings, which are made over the course of the semester.
  • Periscope recordings of my workshop here.
  • Video recordings of my thoughts.
  • Video recordings of my workshop.

For my final broadcast, I propose to have a prerecorded video instead. This video will be a montage of the various footage I filmed with the different methods. In addition, I will include a “live” footage of my workshop on Thursday. Class ends at 1pm (8pm Singapore time), and perhaps my “live” stream can come into the class broadcast a little later depending on how I can share the video.

I would definitely include the prerecorded video as I feel that some of the footage I’ve collected over the semester gives a clearer picture of how I work, and I don’t want the footage to go to waste. What I would like the video to communicate as well is also how my work process transits when I leave Singapore on short notice, and I feel this is particularly a key thing about my concept that I would like to highlight: about private vs public, about how documenting the process is, for me, a meditative journey that allows me to collect my thoughts and achieve some inner stability. Having to make sudden adjustments to my own schedule, reorganising the way I work, while trying to settle into a new place are all contributing factors that will affect my process. I feel that experiencing this at this point of the project also helps to express my concept better than ever, in a more genuine way.

Here’s a test video I made of my first day at the workshop.


learning with stefanie posavec: day 2

thumb_IMG_8649_1024Today we learn how to visualise data. Some basic techniques are introduced, as well as some general rules of thumb as a guideline.thumb_IMG_8652_1024  thumb_IMG_8651_1024

Using statistical knowledge to work with design. Looking for an overarching conclusion may help make your work more meaningful. Patterns and rhythms in data can be translated visually – using various methods like analog, coding, etc.

Have a spreadsheet! Use Google sheets. It helps you to identify patterns.

Take notes on what you find: rate of change, hierarchal relationships, and so on. Get to know your data.

Select your focus. Form your message, find the highlight.

Assign visual variables to data (shape, tonal values, texture, orientation of a line, etc)

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Stefanie highlights the elements that makes for a strong data visualisation:

  • Good architecture + arrangement
  • Annotate appropriately: labels, legend, titles, axis, units, sources, attributes.
  • Don’ts: improper scaling, truncated axes, differences in perspectives (particularly in 3D visuals)
  • 3 to 8 groups or categories is good enough to communicate


This form of visualisation is the basis for her style of visualisation: the node link tree diagram. It’s good to research on data visualisation styles to give you a headstart.



Do a sketch first: how it works, then add graphical elements, and then annotations.

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Critiquing bad data visualisations: it should not be too confusing.

Lastly: some methods to organise data:

  • grouping information according to location (geo-spatial data)
  • alphabetical order
  • time
  • category (comparing categorical values)
  • hierarchy (relationship between entities)

Jacques Bertin’s visual variables

Gestalt laws of grouping.

That’s all for today! We are to work on an individual project for this program as well. I won’t be using my FYP for this due to the time constraint of the program. I’ll share more as I go along.


learning with stefanie posavec: day one

Photo 2-11-15, 11 55 21 AMThe first week of the program is kicked off with a series of lectures and workshops by Stefanie Posavec. What a wonderful way of begin the program, because it was her work that really pointed me in the direction of my FYP.

An interesting note: she’s my flatmate too. We share the apartment of our host Rachel, and on the first day we went to school together. It was a really ~wow~ moment, and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t ask too much of her work and things like that because I didn’t want to sound too eager and fangirly… I told her a bit about what I am doing, that’s all. Also, the stuff I wanted to ask her was all covered in her presentation in the morning.

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Talking about Dear Data: this project is about quantifying everything around and visualising it in analog form. The result is 52 weeks of 2 different visualisations. This is currently in the midst of being printed into a book so yay… we will get to see this in its full printed glory. Stefanie says it was challenging to do this, it took around 8 hours of her week, and making a conscious effort to take down notes about each week’s theme.

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Stefanie sharing her work Writing Without Words.IMG_8533

Even though this is the first week of the program, I am pretty certain this is quite the highlight already, being able to hear Stefanie share her working process, the ideas that go behind the works that she’s known for. Most artist/designer’s portfolio websites are often pretty straightforward, telling the work like it is, so it’s a real opportunity to hear her own thoughts about the work. She mentions that Writing Without Words was a project that she made almost ten years ago, which really directed her to her current career path as a data illustrator. It got really big on the Internet, and people were really receptive and curious about that work. This is really inspiring to hear, because you might never know that you’re on to something that people would be incredibly supportive of, and might open doors to much more exciting opportunities.Photo 2-11-15, 11 56 54 AM

The first part of her presentation addresses her identity as a designer – Stefanie calls herself a data illustrator, and uses data as a material to create a graphic and to tell a story. She shares her data visualising skills and process from a designer point of view, and she often collaborates with someone who’s trained to do research and statistical analysis, like Miriam Quick, (who will be us next week to share with us how to work with datasets – the technical stuff) and they work in tandem to create a data story using graphics.

Some key takeaways from her presentation about using data as part of art and design:

  • data visualising aims to communicate beyond the data – it is therefore important to make sure the visualisation is effective.
  • as a designer, you can look for patterns within the data and translating them into visual language. Data as an aesthetic output.
  • data gathering can be used as a personal documentary: data is everywhere in the physical world, and it’s not impossible to visualise them.
  • a good dataset is interesting, rigorously researched by you, or from a reliable source. Honesty and integrity is key.
  • dataset can be a souvenir (referring to her work Dear Data with Giogia Lupi)
  • the process of collecting data can be performative, an endurance test, a self-portrait.
  • data can inspire feelings. It’s not all dry facts!
  • data is a scientific and cultural material.
  • data visualisation explains, explore, exhibit.

Next post will be about the visualisation techniques.

project hyperessay update

The title of my project is

Through this project, I want to rethink the concept of the webcam in our everyday lives. In Steve Dixon’s essay, the Subversion of Surveillance, the webcam is described as “a camera that takes pictures at set intervals, that can range from 15 times per second to once per hour, then instantly transmits the images to a web server.” The concept embodied by this definition has changed over the years, shaped by our relationship with social networks and the camera on our mobile phone. Any images that we capture can be shared with an audience and establish an immediate response.

Our relationship with social media is also a source of recent debate as well. These platforms give us a chance to form a more desirable and presentable persona, the one we want others to associate us with, through careful curation: selective topics to share on Facebook, types of photo filters used, and so on. Having someone like our post is a kind of validation: that the persona that is being portrayed is likeable/desirable. Such a persona is also referred to as our public self: an online avatar that we create that only a very small percentage of our private, true self can ever embody. That said, this project is an exploration on how both identities can be straddled, using a combination of self-broadcasting techniques.

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Here’s a screenshot of my personal Instagram account. I use Instagram to share my artworks with people and over time, I meet other Instagram users who follow my account as they enjoy my works. Because of this, I become conscious of ensuring that my feed consists primarily of my works. I am also conscious of presenting myself as an artist on any online platform, and I would like to be known as that.

Through this project, I would like to open up the process of my art making, in an intricate manner. For me, the process of making art is personal and meditative: very few people have seen me drawing or writing, and often the presence of having someone else in the room breaks my concentration as i often feel compelled to talk to them, and i will become distracted. Art making is way for me to savour my solitude and also allow myself to have a quiet space to create something. By broadcasting my process “live”, I hope to redefine the usage of the modern-day webcam, and allow for an engaging and introspective discussion with the virtual community.

As an artist, I find that documenting the process is just as important as making the work. I am a firm believer in the saying that it’s the journey that’s important, and not the destination. Documenting my process at each step of the way is akin to making sketches in a notebook: it allows me to go back and see what I have done, what works and what didn’t.

The concept of private vs public is rarely explored in the realm of art, particularly the relationship between the artist and the viewer. Through my work, I also want to highlight that making mistakes is part of the process. A lot of times, most creatives tend to keep this part of the art-making process hidden and not shown to the public. There are also other habits that creatives keep hidden because they feel embarrassed about it. Through my work, I offer an uninhibited view into the process of making a piece of work.

My broadcast will combine two kinds of filming and recording to document my artistic process: using the mobile application Periscope and Quicktime player’s screen recording function. The two filming methods is a contrast against each other, inspired by the concept of private vs public. Periscope works by using your mobile camera to film live footage of your surrounding and sharing it with an international audience, whoever happens to be online and tuning into your channel. It also includes a live commentary function, where you can see viewers responding to your broadcast and giving “hearts” in appreciation. Quicktime’s screen recording is an in-built function that records your actions on the screen. The screen recording records all the actions that take place on the screen. I use it as a form of broadcast as it offers a private and genuine way of documenting the art process, as it records all the subtle actions I do on-screen as part of the work: whether it’s a pause during typing, backspacing, deleting — these are all little details that offer a glimpse of the thought process, and how everything comes together to form a final piece of work.

The project is also influenced by the reading ‘Webcams: The subversion of Surveillance’ by Steve Dixon. The article explores the use of webcam as an electronic eye to our personal lives, and potential exploitation of privacy and intimacy. The reading also uses an example of a group of artists who use the webcam to document their processes, turning their studio into a Web installation. The webcam is also described as a camera which produces “low-resolution, grainy” footage and it’s static effect also lends it a stern, surveillance quality.

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Jennicam (1997)

Jennifer Ringley’s work Jennicam is an inspiration for my project. She lives her life out in front of the camera, and it records her activities from the mundane to the intimate. My takeaway from the work is that her documentation of her life is genuine, there are no filters that help to dictate any sense of aesthetic in her work. It is an unintentional form of autobiography. Her setup of her cameras also provide insights to her life through various perspectives, by setting up cameras in every room and from all angles. Even though some of these details are mundane and ordinary (snapshots of her eating, playing with her hair, etc), they are all part of a very natural narrative that we can get from her life, which I find quite a contrast to what we can do with the tools that we have with us today.

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Hasan Elahi, “Tracking Transcience”

I am also using Hasan Elahi’s work as a reference for mine as his work address the tension between the public and private self. Tracking Transcience is a collection of screencaps and footage of his daily activities. He deliberately puts himself under surveillance, which itself also critiques the concept of surveillance: with all these complex methods of tracking down a person’s activities, does it really give away any clues on the identity of the person being tracked? I find this particularly relevant to my concept of how we use the modern day webcam and tools to document selective parts of our lives. In this ‘selfie’ era, this idea continues to appear in recent debates on how we trivialise our lives as a result of being too involved in our social media tools: by sharing everything in our lives but ourselves.

Through my project, I hope to use these tools to document my art process in a more constructive way, by expressing my identity as an artist, and to encourage an open discussion and sharing of other people’s processes as well.


big questions

I did a trial run of my presentation and as I read aloud my thoughts, I find that there are some big questions that might need to be answered about my concept.

  • I need to talk more about the concept. Presentation should consist of 90% concept. 10% on outcome as I’m sure this is subjected to change.
  • I am going to do a “10 things in 10 minutes”, where I will address key concepts in a suitably paced manner.
  • Place more emphasis on the idea of “private vs public” in the context of social media. Blogging is a very early form of social media and I’ve used it as a very public display of my private self. It would be helpful to expand on this thought.
  • Be clear in approaching my project from a critical point of view so that I don’t fall trap to sounding self-indulgent. I’m also trying to do more readings about this to substantiate my work: books by Sherry Turkle.
  • Allow my work to set a stage for a meaningful discussion on our relationship with social media, about reclaiming conversation with ourselves in the digital age, about using it in a meditative, enriching manner to come to terms with our personal struggles.