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December 05 2013

Four short links: 5 December 2013

  1. DeducerAn R Graphical User Interface (GUI) for Everyone.
  2. Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap (PDF, FAA) — first pass at regulatory framework for drones. (via Anil Dash)
  3. Bitcoin Stats — $21MM traded, $15MM of electricity spent mining. Goodness. (via Steve Klabnik)
  4. iOS vs Android Numbers (Luke Wroblewski) — roundup comparing Android to iOS in recent commerce writeups. More Android handsets, but less revenue per download/impression/etc.

August 29 2013

Four short links: 29 August 2013

  1. textfsmPython module which implements a template based state machine for parsing semi-formatted text. Originally developed to allow programmatic access to information returned from the command line interface (CLI) of networking devices. TextFSM was developed internally at Google and released under the Apache 2.0 licence for the benefit of the wider community.
  2. The Money is in the Bitcoin Protocol (Vikram Kumar) — some of the basics in this post as well as how people are thinking about using the Bitcoin protocol to do some very innovative things. MUST. READ.
  3. Parsing C++ is Literally Undecidable — any system with enough moving parts will generate eddies of chaotic behaviour, where the interactions between the components are unpredictable. (via Pete Warden)
  4. Kickstarter Raises 6x Indiegogo Money (Medium) — a reminder of the importance of network effects. Crowdfunding is the online auction side of the 2010s.
Sponsored post

June 28 2013

Four short links: 28 June 2013

  1. Huxley vs Orwellbuy Amusing Ourselves to Death if this rings true. The future is here, it’s just not evenly surveilled. (via rone)
  2. KeyMe — keys in the cloud. (Digital designs as backups for physical objects)
  3. Motorola Advanced Technology and Products GroupThe philosophy behind Motorola ATAP is to create an organization with the same level of appetite for technology advancement as DARPA, but with a consumer focus. It is a pretty interesting place to be. And they hired the excellent Johnny Chung Lee.
  4. Internet Credit Union — Internet Archive starts a Credit Union. Can’t wait to see memes on debit cards.

May 21 2013

Four short links: 21 May 2013

  1. Hyperinflation in Diablo 3 — interesting discussion about how video games regulate currency availability, and how Diablo 3 appears to have messed up. several weeks after the game’s debut a source claimed that there were at least 1,000 bots active 24/7 in the Diablo 3 game world, allegedly “harvesting” (producing) 4 million virtual gold per hour. Most of the gold generated by the ruthlessly productive, rapidly adapting bots found its way to third party vendors in a black market which undercut the prices in the sanctioned, in-game auction houses.
  2. Dell Project Ophelia (PC World) — $100 USB-stick-sized Android computer.
  3. Call Me Maybe (Kyle Kingsbury) — a series on network partitions. We’re going to learn about distributed consensus, discuss the CAP theorem’s implications, and demonstrate how different databases behave under partition.
  4. OpenWorm (The Atlantic) — simulating the c. elegans nematode worm in software. OpenWorm isn’t like these other initiatives; it’s a scrappy, open-source project that began with a tweet and that’s coordinated on Google Hangouts by scientists spread from San Diego to Russia. If it succeeds, it will have created a first in executable biology: a simulated animal using the principles of life to exist on a computer.

December 07 2012

Four short links: 7 December 2012

  1. AR Drone That Infects Other Drones With Virus Wins DroneGames (IEEE) — how awesome is a contest where a group who taught a drone to behave itself on the end of a leash, constantly taking pictures and performing facial recognition, posting the resulting images to Twitter in real-time didn’t win.
  2. BitCoin-Central Becomes Legit BankAfter all this patient work and lobbying we’re finally happy and proud to announce that becomes today the first Bitcoin exchange operating within the framework of European regulations. Covered by FDIC-equivalent, can have debit or credit cards connected to the BitCoin account, can even get your salary auto-deposited into your BitCoin account.
  3. The Antifragility of the Web (Kevin Marks) — By shielding people from the complexities of the web, by removing the fragility of links, we’re actually making things worse. We’re creating a fragility debt. Suddenly, something changes – money runs out, a pivot is declared, an aquihire happens, and the pent-up fragility is resolved in a Black Swan moment.
  4. xcharts (GitHub) — sweet charts in Javascript.

December 04 2012

Four short links: 4 December 2012

  1. James Burke at dConstruct — transcription of his talk. EPIC. I love this man and could listen to him all day long. (via Keith Bolland)
  2. Mechanism Design on Trust Networks (CiteSeerX) — academic paper behind the Ripple Bitcoin-esque open source peer-payment digital currency.
  3. What If Money Was No Object (YouTube) — about finding your way to stuff that matters, and worth it just for the last lines. (via Rowan Simpson)
  4. photobooth-js (GitHub) — BSD-licensed html5 widget that allows users to take their avatar pictures on your site.

August 21 2012

Four short links: 21 August 2012

  1. Recording Revenues for the Typical Artist (Digital Music News) — more than 82 percent of their revenue from paid downloads, with CDs accounting for more than 11 percent. That leaves streaming revenues – including Spotify – with a scant 6.5 percent contribution. (via Simon Grigg)
  2. Chinese SMS Payment Malwarethe virus — which lurks in wallpaper apps and ‘activates’ post-download – quietly gains access to users’ SMS functionality before exploiting a vulnerability within China Mobile’s SMS payment gateway to carry out transactions and access data.
  3. Wall Street’s Robots Are Not Out To Get You (Renee DiResta) — injecting some reality into the robotrading “IMMINENT DEATH OF MONEY PREDICTED” hypetastrophe.
  4. Blocker Flash Cards (Gamasutra) — a collection of common ways game developers try to stall progress on something they don’t like. Not common to the games industry, though: I think I’ve encountered every single one of the tactics in various guises. In other news, many human beings are passive-aggressive meatsacks waiting to be composted for the good of the planet.

August 20 2012

Four short links: 20 August 2012

  1. Uncertain Rainbow — Chris McDowall’s artistic Twitter experiment. Just how important are people to your social software? Described in this blog post.
  2. 8 Weeks Until BitCoin Debit/Credit Card — with an option to hold the value in BitCoins until it’s used. (Is this the same as denominated in BitCoins?)
  3. LittleBlackBox (Google Code) — a collection of thousands of private SSL and SSH keys extracted from various embedded devices. These private keys are stored in a database where they are correlated with their public certificates as well as the hardware/firmware that are known to use those private keys. (via Pedram Amini)
  4. Internet Safety Talking Points — pro-Internet, pro-safety, pro-teaching, anti-isolationism. Very nice.

July 18 2012

Four short links: 18 July 2012

  1. A Brief History of Money (IEEE) — money is fragmenting, moving from a shared delusion to a just-in-time collusion. Understand its past to understand its future. The Lydian system’s breakthrough was the standardized metal coin. Made of a gold-silver alloy called electrum, one coin was exactly like another—unlike, say, cattle. Also unlike cattle, the coins didn’t age or die or otherwise change over time. And they were much easier to carry around. Other kingdoms followed Lydia’s example, and coins became ubiquitous throughout the Mediterranean, with kingdoms stamping their insignia on the coins they minted. This had a dual effect: It facilitated the flow of trade, and it established the authority of the state.
 Money and power are intertwined. With Anonymous popup-tent power structures and uncertainty over the meaning of “state” in the age of the Internet, we’re waiting for the money flip. Paypal was step 1. Bitcoin was step 2. What next?
  2. 7-Way Venn Diagram (Information is Beautiful) — yes, this is made of awesome.
  3. Senate Are Dicks to Open Source (Wired) — In a bill recently introduced on Capitol Hill, the committee questions whether Accumulo runs afoul of a government policy that prevents federal agencies from building their own software when they have access to commercial alternatives. The bill could ban the Department of Defense from using the NSA’s database — and it could force the NSA to meld the project’s security tools with other open source projects that mimic Google’s BigTable. Because software development is best governed by politicians. FFS.
  4. Open Source at NetFlixwe’ve observed that the peer pressure from “Social Coding” has driven engineers to make sure code is clean and well structured, documentation is useful and up to date. What we’ve learned is that a component may be “Good enough for running in production, but not good enough for Github”. This quote is gold. (via Matt Asay)

March 24 2012

Vincent van Gogh's house in London for sale - video

Jonathan Jones visits the house in south London where artist Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873. The property is on the market for the first time in 65 years

March 23 2012

Vincent van Gogh's London home up for auction

The Brixton house where the artist lived as a young man is all the better for being in need of modernisation

"I'm getting on well here", Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in January 1874. "I've got a lovely home ..."

On Tuesday that very home – in Brixton, London SW9 – will go under the hammer, having been put on the market for the first time in 65 years. The Guardian went to view the property at 87 Hackford Road on a crisply sunny spring day that would have delighted Van Gogh himself.

In the letter, he advised Theo: "Do go on doing a lot of walking and keep up your love of nature, for that is the right way to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love her ..."

Amazing that Van Gogh probably wrote those words in this suburban house where dry unkempt plants – like something from one of his tangled paintings of the asylum garden that would later become his only patch of nature – contrast with the flaking white paint of the house front, and the ceramic blue of its proud plaque declaring that Vincent van Gogh, painter, lived here 1873–1874.

Inside the Grade II listed building, yellowing sheets from ancient editions of the Salvation Army's newspaper, the War Cry, float on battered floorboards. Cobweb-covered plastic fruits hang in the kitchen. Ceilings on the upper floors hang down, ruptured, revealing slipped roof timbers. But everywhere you look amid the decay, traces of Vincent van Gogh impose themselves

The house, as Savills auctioneers put it in their catalogue, is "in need of modernisation". Yet the fact it has never been converted into a plush modern home means that raw Victorian archaeology survives just beneath the rotting linoleum and decrepit wallpaper.

The shape of the interior from the Victorian days when Van Gogh lived here is clear in its layout of front and back bedrooms, each with its own cast-iron fireplace. Van Gogh must have warmed himself before these fires after his winter walks.

Presumably he also made his way to the outside toilet, which survives in all its glory. There are some (modern) gardening tools propped up next to the vintage porcelain receptacle, ready to make some inroads on the overgrown, matted garden of nettles, shrubs and a few little blue flowers.

Again, the colours of a Van Gogh painting come to mind – and in fact, in one of his letters home from Hackford Road, he describes planting flowers and shrubs in this very garden. Could a couple of these plants be descended from his seedlings?

Van Gogh came to work in London for the art dealer Goupil & Cie in 1873. He was 20, with his mature life as an artist years in the future. The dealers' premises were in Covent Garden, and he walked home from work every evening, for he was a lifelong lover of romantic pedestrianism.

But the idyllic life he seems to have enjoyed for a time in this house was not to last. Its black iron fireplaces and large sash windows witnessed his first great heartbreaking experience of love.

The intense and romantic Dutch lodger was deeply attracted to Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlady. His love spills over into his letters as he transcribes Keats's poem of love and desire, The Eve of St Agnes, and an even more heated Romantic work by Michelet on the Mystery That Is Woman.

But his interest was totally unrequited and became deeply embarrassing. Van Gogh's sister Anna moved in with him, but soon both Van Goghs were forced to leave for new lodgings in Kennington.

It's a shame a film company can't rent the house before it is sold to make a drama here, for the exact layout of the Victorian house in which the 21-year-old Van Gogh suffered the agonies of unrequited love is preserved.

Entering a front bedroom with its austere fireplace and timeworn sunlit floorboards, you can easily picture the redheaded lodger standing in the doorway, asking Miss Eugénie if she has read Keats's poetry, and if she would care for a walk in the afternoon sun. On the stairs, a view through the window of newly budding March trees against a pale blue cloud-ruffled sky is just like a painting – one Van Gogh must have seen every day when he lived here.

Van Gogh always dreamed of a happy home. When he moved into the Yellow House in Arles years later, he would fill it with simple furniture – a wooden chair, a wooden bed – and decorate it with paintings of sunflowers. His lodgings in London, just like the Yellow House where he was to rage at his guest Gauguin, brought him both joy and suffering.

Imagine restoring this house and giving it the yellow walls and wooden furniture that he makes so magical in his paintings in Arles. You could have your very own Vincent's Room. It's expected to fetch more than £400,000 at auction on Tuesday evening. It would be amazing to bid. Instead, on the way out, I pluck a flower in his memory. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 19 2011

Wedgwood Museum faces selloff to pay £134m pension debt after court ruling

Museum collection can now be sold to meet deficit of Wedgwood Potteries, even though the two separated half a century ago

Britain is set to lose a world-renowned museum following a high court ruling which could force it to sell its collection to pay off a £134m pension deficit.

The Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent faces being forced to sell its historic collection of china, masterpieces by Stubbs, Romney and Reynolds, and an archive linked to the nation's social and industrial history.

Judges in Birmingham ruled that the pottery collection owned by the museum was an asset of Waterford Wedgwood Potteries, which went bust in 2009. The collection can now be sold to pay off creditors, the largest of which is the Pension Protection Fund.

The decision has shocked the art world because it could prove to be a test case for other public collections.

Treasures likely to spark feverish bidding include two rare Portland vases, each valued at about £1m, and the archive of Josiah Wedgwood, the company's 18th-century founder.

The ruling has come as an unintended consequence of safeguards introduced to protect employee pensions after the Robert Maxwell scandal in the early 1990s. The legislation means any company linked to a pension scheme – in this case the museum – can be held responsible for pension shortfalls.

Though the museum had not been connected to the company for almost 50 years, five of their employees were part of the Pottery Group Pension Plan's 7,000-smember scheme. Because those five became employees of the Wedgwood Museum seven years ago, the court has ruled that the administrators of the museum are now liable for the £134m black hole in the pension fund.

Simon Wedgwood, one of Josiah's descendents, was dismayed by the ruling. He said: "The Wedgwood Museum … was specifically set up by a family well known for its altruism, and as they realised the cultural and artistic value of the heritage.

"It is shocking that a change in law and method of paying the museum staff in recent years should have such appalling and unintended results for a publicly available collection of national, if not international importance."

Gillian Wolfe of the Dulwich Picture Gallery condemned the judgment as "deeply saddening".

A spokesman for the administrators of the Wedgwood Museum Trust Limited said that it was "regrettable" that the museum did not take "appropriate action to separate the collection itself from the museum's liabilities to the pension plan".

He added: "This deficit became the museum's responsibility following the earlier insolvencies of the other Wedgwood group companies, leaving the pension trustees with no option but to claim this amount from the museum as required by legislation." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 17 2011

Acceptance in Lieu scheme brings a dozen new gifts to the nation

A Rubens drawing, 30 artworks by Walter Sickert and a note from Gandhi are among those helping settle tax bills

A stupendous drawing of Venus rising by Rubens, 30 artworks by Walter Sickert and a poignant note written by Gandhi that was his tacit approval for Indian partition are among a dozen artworks and archives now in the possession of the nation because of the 101-year-old Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

Hundreds of outstanding collections and artefacts have been given over the decades as a way of settling tax bills and the 12 newly revealed gifts represent a particularly good year for the scheme, said its senior adviser Gerry McQuillan.

"We're normally allowed to clear up to £20m tax in one year and this year we're bumping right up to it," he said. "It has been a good year."

The scheme was created in Lloyd George's people's budget of 1910 and is now administered by Arts Council England, dispersing gifts to galleries across the UK from Aberdeen to Cardiff to Southampton.

The jewel in the crown this year is a Rubens drawing that settles £4.4m in tax and will go on display at the National Gallery from Saturday before institutions are invited to apply for it. "I'm sure we'll be inundated with applications," said McQuillan. "It is exciting. It is a stunning drawing, the depth of it and the sophistication. It is one of the best Rubens drawings I've seen."

The illustration of the Roman goddess Venus rising from the sea is actually a design for an ivory salt cellar, albeit a spectacularly grand one that still exists and is in the Swedish royal collection.

Another highlight this year is the Mountbatten archive, which includes particularly important papers relating to Lord Mountbatten's time as the last British viceroy of India.

It includes letters, diaries, and photographs as well as a handwritten note from Gandhi. McQuillan said Mountbatten knew that partition could not happen unless Gandhi agreed but an answer was needed on a day that the Indian leader was not speaking – so he wrote a note that was interpreted as a yes.

"It is an incredibly poignant little bit of paper," said McQuillan. "It was taken as Gandhi's tacit approval and that gave the people there the courage to go forward."

The Mountbatten archive is vast by any standards, taking up 130 metres of shelf space at Southampton University where it has been on deposit. The plan is for it to remain there permanently.

Another archive, containing portraits, scientific instruments and star charts is being gifted to Greenwich Observatory, and relates to a man few have heard of but who was of huge importance in British shipping and naval history.

Nevil Maskelyne, the fifth astronomer royal between 1765 and 1811, was responsible for coming up with and publishing star charts that proved vital for navigators to establish their position, helping to make the British Royal and mercantile navy the envy of the world.

"Although he is not well known, what he achieved was absolutely crucial in making Britain the most important trading nation in the world," said McQuillan.

The gifts of art works also include: a collection of 30 Walter Sickert paintings, drawings and etchings put together by his patron Morton Sands, which will go to the Ashmolean in Oxford; a JMW Turner landscape painted on his first visit to Rome in 1920, which will go to the National Galleries of Scotland; and an early 16th century nativity scene by the Ferrara painter Il Garofalo, which is going to the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge.

The newest piece is a late Barbara Hepworth sculpture from 1973 called Meditation which will go to Aberdeen Art Gallery, while the oldest by some distance is a piece of iron age metalwork – a large and beautifully preserved firedog from about 50BC-50AD which has been at the National Museum of Wales since the 1930s.

As well as art there is a Rococo sofa designed for the Palm room of Spencer House at the end of the 18th century, which will first go on display at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire before a permanent home is chosen; nine items of mostly 18th century glass all made in Newcastle going to the city's Laing art gallery; and an archive of the Wyndham family going to museums in Wiltshire and Somerset.

Farnham museum will receive a portrait of one the town's most famous sons, the 19th century radical journalist and agitator William Cobbett, settling £1,400 of tax. "That's the strength of this scheme," said McQuillan. "It is not just about the £4m masterpieces, it is also about works like this, which will give Farnham something that will bring to life a man closely associated with the town."

The arts minister Ed Vaizey said he had sat in on some of theAcceptance in Lieu scheme's panel sessions and been impressed. "It has been a successful year, there have been some great items that we've accepted but I think pretty much every year is good."

This year's announcement comes on the back of a long-campaigned for announcement by the Treasury earlier this month, when it announced it is to extend the scheme, allowing individuals to make donations and get tax relief during their lifetime. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 25 2011

Self-build: it's time to go Dutch

With the government claiming self-build is the answer to Britain's housing crisis, we look at how they do it in the Netherlands – and whether it would work here

Half an hour by train from Amsterdam is a vision of a new Britain. On polder land reclaimed from the Zuiderzee lies Europe's biggest experiment in affordable self-build homes. Enthusiasts call it a model of sustainable development, a Grand Designs for the average man. Critics call it an ersatz city, a soulless architectural Legoland. But this week housing minister Grant Shapps declared Almere a "genuinely workable model" as he made self-build a major plank in the government's strategy for solving Britain's housing crisis.

Last year only one in 10 new homes in Britain was self-built. Plots are difficult to find, and finance and mortgage products restricted, while regulations and planning permissions are onerous. Faced with bureaucratic hurdles and frustrations, many potential self-builders abandon projects, sometimes after months of planning.

But outside the UK, self-build is flourishing. In Belgium, which like the UK is densely populated and heavily urbanised, more than six in 10 homes are self-built. In the Netherlands the figure is three in 10.

This week the government set out a vision in which an extra 100,000 self-build homes – it uses the phrase "custom-build" housing – will go up over the next decade in England alone. It wants to "kickstart a revolution" in which local authorities will for the first time be required to take self-build seriously, release publicly owned land to self-builders, and give government support to those taking the first step in building their own futures. For now, it is making £30m available as short-term project finance, and in March next year will unveil a formal action plan to turn the vision into reality.

The Homeruskwartier district in Almere, a city with a population of 180,000, is the first self-build project attempted on a truly large scale. Since 2006, self-builders have erected 800 homes, and thousands more are on the way. The local authority draws up the street plan, then makes the plots available at standard commercial cost. Local people, freed from any further planning restrictions, can then design and build whatever takes their fancy.

Jacqueline Tellinga, one of the driving forces behind the project, describes it as a return to the past. "Take a look at the buildings along the canals of Amsterdam. They did the same as we are trying to do. The plots were parcelled out, the buyers were given a few guidelines over things such as height, but after that it was left to the individual."

Building costs in Almere vary depending on how much the buyers do themselves, but she says they average from €800 per sq m to €1,800. That's around £72,000-£160,000 for someone wanting the same sort of floorspace as the typical British three-bed semi (around 105 sq m).

Keeping homes affordable is key to the Homeruskwartier project, which means creating plots for self-build flats as well as houses. Tellinga cites one group of 25 individuals who built a block of flats. Including the plot and building, the cost of each flat was just £69,000, without any subsidy. Cutting out the developer's profit – and those expensive marketing suites – saves a small fortune.

But self-build is not just about money. "What I like most is the way people develop their curiosity and skills – they bring ideas and test construction techniques more than any developer would. We don't insist on sustainability requirements, but it's amazing how much people just do it themselves," says Tellinga.

In Britain, the hurdles to a self-build revolution remain high. More than 80,000 people are registered on Buildstore's website looking for UK plots. There are virtually no ready-assembled sites such as Almere. Self-build lending is seen as more risky than conventional mortgages (several banks pulled out last year), and lending against larger community schemes is non-existent.

Building standards and codes are complex and expensive. "The number of planning conditions placed on domestic building work has grown inexorably over the years, and there is often very little difference between conditions placed on a single house and those placed on an estate of 100 homes," said a report from Nasba, the National Self Build Association, in July.

Deon Lombard, an architect from Twickenham, is sceptical that the Dutch approach will work in Britain because of the "stranglehold, inherent conservatism and lack of vision in the British planning system".

His own repeated attempts at self-build have fallen foul of Richmond upon Thames planners and the Planning Inspectorate, leaving his plot of land, purchased in 2001 in the hope of building a family home, lying fallow.

"The planning system in Britain is reactionary, incredibly tortuous and open to a wide range of interpretation. My experience of submitting planning applications, both for myself and clients, is that it comes down to the subjective views and prejudices of individual planning officers and inspectors, who can turn down applications using vague criteria such as 'unneighbourly development' or 'impact on amenity'."

Yet there are examples of successful self-build in Britain, even within large towns and cities. In Ashley Vale in Bristol, an action group succeeded against the odds (although this was in 2001) to self-build 26 detached and semi-detached homes, at a typical cost (including plot purchase) of £110,000. Six further flats were completed last year, which won a CABE Building for Life Award.

Jackson Moulding, who helped set up Ashley Vale, is a passionate supporter of self-build, but acknowledges the challenges. "The price of land has been bid up by developers who hold it in land banks. They are building for buy-to-let landlords who are charging tenants huge amounts. People are being left stuck with high rents and no control." Still, he is hopeful the new strategy will begin to unblock council attitudes, and encourages anyone interested in building their own home as part of a group or community to visit

But the major construction companies are less enthusiastic. A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation said "everyone likes the idea of self-build", but it probably won't make a big contribution to supply in the next few years.

Grand Designs, which regularly draws four million viewers, may be part of the problem. "It can sometimes present a rather skewed impression of the industry," says Nasba. "In reality, most self-build homes are very modest and look just like every other house."

Above all, self-builders save money: the average self-build house in the UK costs only 59% of its final value, as self-builders cut out the developer's profit. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Visualization of the Week: The big chart of money

Randall Monroe of xkcd has created an infographic titled "Money: A Chart of Almost All of It, Where It Is and What It Can Do." It's an incredible visualization representing trillions of dollars — what money is spent on (everything from iPads to charity to federal expenditures), and how money is earned (for individuals, corporations, charities, governments, etc.).

xkcd's Money visualization
A small portion of "Money: A Chart of Almost All of It, Where It Is and What It Can Do." Click to see the entire visualization.

Much like the radiation chart that Monroe drew earlier this year, this money visualization attempts to put dollar figures into perspective. It provides a translation, of sorts, between the different values — between, for example, the thousands and millions of dollars spent and received.

Even though the graphic uses the same sized blocks to depict all of this, it's still hard to fathom the differences between the cost of a 20-week vacation in Hawaii, the cost of an F-22 Raptor, and the cost of a velociraptor in a "Jurassic Park" movie (all depicted in the graphic) — but that's partly the point.

Monroe also lists his sources.

Found a great visualization? Tell us about it

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring visualizations. We're always looking for leads, so please drop a line if there's a visualization you think we should know about.

Strata 2012 — The 2012 Strata Conference, being held Feb. 28-March 1 in Santa Clara, Calif., will offer three full days of hands-on data training and information-rich sessions. Strata brings together the people, tools, and technologies you need to make data work.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

More Visualizations:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

October 14 2011

A working life: the art gallery curator

Sonia Solicari swapped one of the world's great art collections for a smaller gallery that excites her more. She talks about her decision

It speaks volumes for the art on the walls of Sonia Solicari's gallery that both the photographer and I can be distracted by a background painting while she stands for the camera, with immaculate grace and poise, as though having just stepped out of one of the Guildhall's many portraits. Yet, inexorably, it seems, we are drawn to the looming presence behind her of John Kemble, in Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of the actor as Coriolanus; first by Kemble's enormous foot, then his splendidly realised nose.

Far from taking offence, Solicari looks quietly pleased. "It's a painting designed to be hung very high up, at an angle," she explains, instinctively drifting to one side to avoid spoiling our appreciation of the near 3m-tall canvas. "It would have been hung the same height again, then tilted downwards."

For good measure, she throws in a brief overview of the Royal Academy's influence over the 19th century art world, explaining how, to impress the committees that decided what would hang where, artists would paint according to the perspective of the viewer below.

The photographer waves Solicari back into shot, telling her to hold an expression that apparently conveys the perfect mix of knowledge and scepticism. "That's something I've been trying to master for my whole career," she says, grinning.

Solicari leads me across a wide landing to the centrepiece of the City of London's Guildhall Art Gallery, where she is principal curator. From a balcony we gaze out at John Singleton Copley's Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, a colossal 42 sq-metre depiction of the 1782 siege of Gibraltar by the Spanish fleet.

"This is the one most people come to see," she says, outlining the painting's stark, heaven-and-hell metaphor. "It was quite a terrible commission for Copley in the end, I think it took him about eight years to complete."

Commissioned by the Corporation of London to honour its various dignitaries who took part in the battle, the painting's completion was endlessly delayed by arguments about "who was at the forefront, who was in the background, and so on. Copley constantly had to redo it."

Despite such renowned works, the Guildhall is a relative backwater compared with her previous employer, the V&A Museum – "a big juggernaut of a place" – where she worked for eight years.

Her role there encompassed a spell curating paintings and, more recently, four years developing the new ceramics gallery. Even so, it can't have been easy to leave behind one of the world's great collections? "The City wants to show off more of its culture and heritage. That seems like a very exciting challenge to me," she reasons.

A large part of that challenge is bringing her knowledge of contemporary exhibition planning into the elegant, if rather old-world, rooms of the Guildhall, meaning a much greater emphasis on marketing, websites, social media and the like. Another aspect is the gallery's first ever late view next Friday, themed around its current exhibition of moonlit paintings by the Victorian artist Atkinson Grimshaw. "At the end of the day, museums are about enjoyment and leisure, as well as learning and knowledge," she points out.

In a small gallery like the Guildhall, Solicari's day-to-day duties can vary from planning exhibitions and meeting artists one minute, to writing captions beside artworks the next. Is there pressure that comes with determining how historical objects are presented? "You do feel a weight of responsibility," she admits. "Curators are encouraged to think about every word they write and the implications that might have, the nuances."

The trick, in curatorial terms, she stresses, is to avoid making value judgments and saying whether something is good or bad art, entirely unlike the Victorian principle which she, none the less, admits to a fondness for.

In this regard, she cites Henry Cole's gallery of Decorations on False Principles, a precursor to the V&A which became known as the "chamber of horrors" because it basically consisted of Cole's ideas of what constituted good and bad design.

"I just think it's something nobody had dared to do," she says, smiling. "One day, when I can afford to offend the entire art world, I'm going to do that exhibition."

Perhaps the Guildhall gallery's most notable curiosity is the partial underground remains of ancient London's Roman amphitheatre, discovered by chance during rebuilding works in the 1980s, and preserved in a beautifully presented subterranean chamber.

Intriguingly, Solicari says plans are afoot to reopen it as an entertainment venue: "We're going to start off modestly, with spoken word or comedy, and work our way up," she says. "It would be wonderful to have people laughing and clapping in the space again."

But a slightly bizarre consequence of preserving the Roman ruins is that most of the gallery's administrative rooms are located deep below the amphitheatre. Solicari leads me through a side door marked "Private", past an enormous pile of black dustbin bags and into a rattling goods elevator leading down to the basement where her team of two curators and five "conservators" – who painstakingly maintain the gallery's works – reside.

Between them all, they put on about two major exhibitions a year. "That's about as much as we can manage," she shouts above the clatter of the descending lift. The trick is, she says, to rotate expensive touring shows with ones showcasing some of the gallery's 4,000 or so paintings, many of which are stored in its underground vault.

Most relate to the capital's key historical moments, such as the great fire and the city's rapid 19th-century expansion. "Our criteria is basically some connection to London," she yells as the lift grinds to a shuddering halt, "but then that's not hard."

Deep underground, I quickly lose all bearings as we pass through a series of artificially lit rooms. First is one in which two conservators are painstakingly renovating an ancient-looking picture frame. Next door, an enormous canvas sits on a table, awaiting its next stage of restoration in readiness for a forthcoming exhibition.

Overhead, a tangle of tubes and pipes hang down, all part of the obsessive climate control required to preserve the artworks. "There's all kinds of equipment in here, most of which I probably won't be able to tell you what it does," she admits.

Interestingly, Solicari's path into curating bypassed the more traditional art history route, her career having been nurtured instead through a combined love of literature and all things Victorian. "The 19th century is sort of my period," she admits, pointing out the value of cross-disciplins to a curator. "It's an important aspect of the job, trying to think about how things fit in with everything else."

Growing up in Enfield, north London, and inspired by Asa Briggs' book Victorian Things, she always knew she wanted to work as a curator. "All my life I've been coming down to the galleries," she says, citing the nearby Museum of London as her childhood favourite: "I'm really thrilled to be working just around the corner from it now."

After studying English literature at Royal Holloway, she took further degrees in 19th-century studies and museum studies at Kings College London and University College London respectively. "And then I got a job," she says, laughing nervously, as if it were that simple.

Her breakthrough acceptance on to the V&A's development programme for assistant curators, she points out, was due, not just to her qualifications but also from numerous unpaid art internships, which she describes as "a bit of everything, an element of doing the photocopying but also an element of a curator showing me around and talking to me about amazing objects."

She stresses the positive mentoring she gained, but also seems acutely conscious of the imperfection of a system inevitably favouring those from wealthier backgrounds, living close to London, able to subsidise periods of unpaid work. "I don't know what I feel about unpaid internships," she admits, "I know people should be paid for doing jobs, but I also know I wouldn't have got in if I hadn't done them."

We finally reach Solicari's office and I'm intrigued to see what treasures might lie in the inner sanctum.

To my slight disappointment, it is a bit of a mess. At the far end her desk is piled high with papers and books, while a handbag sits forlornly on a small Formica conference table.

Most striking are the walls; tall, white – and completely bare. We ponder them for a moment. "I was thinking of getting something to hang," she says, "but then I found myself quite liking the blankness.

I stare at the blank walls and have some of my best ideas sometimes." A blank canvas, then? "Exactly." She laughs, quickly adding: "Metaphorically speaking, of course." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 29 2011

Four short links: 29 September 2011

  1. Princeton Open Access Report (PDF) -- academics will need written permission to assign copyright of a paper to a journal. Of course, the faculty already had exclusive rights in the scholarly articles they write; the main effect of this new policy is to prevent them from giving away all their rights when they publish in a journal. (via CC Huang)
  2. Good Faith Collaboration -- a book on Wikipedia's culture, from MIT Press. Distributed, appropriately, under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike license.
  3. The Local-Global Flip -- an EDGE conversation (or monologue) by Jaron Lanier that contains more thought-provocation per column-inch than anything else you'll read this week. [I]ncreasing efficiency by itself doesn't employ people. There is a difference between saving and making money when you're unemployed. Once you're already rich, saving money and making money is the same thing, but for people who are on the bottom or even in the middle classes, saving money doesn't help you if you don't have the money to save in the first place. and The beauty of money is it creates a system of people leaving each other alone by mutual agreement. It's the only invention that does that that I'm aware of. In a world of finite limits where you don't have an infinite West you can expand into, money is the thing that gives you a little bit of peace and quiet, where you can say, "It's my money, I'm spending it". and I'm astonished at how readily a great many people I know, young people, have accepted a reduced economic prospect and limited freedoms in any substantial sense, and basically traded them for being able to screw around online. There are just a lot of people who feel that being able to get their video or their tweet seen by somebody once in a while gets them enough ego gratification that it's okay with them to still be living with their parents in their 30s, and that's such a strange tradeoff. And if you project that forward, obviously it does become a problem. are things I'm still chewing on, many days after first reading.
  4. Trolled by Gerry Sussman (Bryan O'Sullivan) -- Bryan gave a tutorial on Haskell to a conference on leading-edge programming languages and distributed systems. At one point, Gerry had a pretty amusing epigram to offer. "Haskell is the best of the obsolete programming languages!" he pronounced, with a mischievous look. Now, I know when I’m being trolled, so I said nothing and waited a moment, whereupon he continued, "but don’t take it the wrong way—I think they’re all obsolete!"

September 22 2011

When Europe's single currency worked – the 1480s

A new exhibition in Florence explores money, sin and the birth of capitalism in a city where status and religion battled to prevail

Money – there just isn't any left. But in medieval Europe an abundance of cash appeared as if from nowhere, in new currencies cast in gold. One of these new currencies, the Florin, became the most desired and respected medium of exchange in the Europe that made the Renaissance – the dollar of its day. In Money and Beauty, an exhibition that has just opened at the Strozzi Palace in Florence, yellow Florins twinkle in glass cases, exhibited both as historical evidence and works of monetary art.

The Florin was the currency of one city, Florence, yet it succeeded where the Euro seems to be failing: it gave Europe a "single" currency accepted on all markets. Inventing a pure gold currency of universally accepted value was just one of the ingenuities of the Florentine economic Renaissance. Through contracts and letters, leather money bags and model merchant ships, Money and Beauty tells the dramatic story of the bankers and merchants of Florence and their invention of many basic features of modern capitalism. As the system shudders, it is wondrous to contemplate its fairytale origins in the Medici bank, which devised ways to provide international credit and play the foreign exchanges without falling foul of medieval usury laws. Well, not too far foul.

The sin of usury is richly shown in the exhibition: fragments of a medieval fresco show usurers – those who loan at interest and so make, according to Christian ethics 600 years ago, an immoral profit – in hell. Yet the heroes here are the money men who defied tradition and created modern commerce – heroes such as Francesco di Marco Datini, the Merchant of Prato, who gets a room of his own illuminating his wealth and his attempts to reconcile it with faith. We see him on pilgrimage, as well as in his counting house.

This exhibition – co-curated by British writer Tim Parks and heavily spiced with ebullient interpretative texts in Italian and English – has an ambitious argument to unfold. The plutocrats of Renaissance Florence, claims this exhibition, were tortured by guilt and emotional ambivalence. They craved luxury – even their money chests are works of rare art – but tried at the same time to buy off hell, by lavishing their wealth on religious art.

Cosimo de' Medici, the richest Florentine of all, was the most dedicated in his holy works. The funds he put into building the monastery of San Marco and its library helped to sustain the humanist revival of learning, not to mention the art of Fra Angelico. As it turned out, this Medici monastery also harboured the seeds of nemesis. By the late 15th century, the voice of San Marco was a visionary friar named Savonarola who denounced wealth and luxury. In 1494, he became the charismatic guru of a revolution that cast out the Medici.

That tale is told here through portraits and other relics of Savonarola, and above all by the works of Sandro Botticelli. This one artist embodies both extremes of Renaissance Florence – the rich culture of the Medici plutocrats, and the violent reaction against it. In the 1480s, Botticelli painted his celebrated classical works in the Uffizi Gallery, for the circle of the Medici. But in the 1490s and 1500s, he was a Savonarolan zealot, who saw the opulence and even the style of Renaissance art as a sin.

The exhibition includes one of his most compelling works, the Calumny. This eerie image, based on classical descriptions of a lost work, suggests a nightmare version of Florence itself. Statues in niches, like the ones that decorate the heart of this city, seem to come to life and listen as an innocent man is dragged by the hair before rich, stupid plutocratic King Midas.

Here is a problem with the exhibition. Midas in Greek myth was, it is true, an image of greed – he is the man who asked the god Dionysius to turn everything he touched to gold. So the curators link him to the wealth of the Medici. But this is a different story of Midas. It is a bit strained, and in fact, the curators struggle to find killer visual links between art and commerce. Everything here is fascinating, but where are the Florentine paintings that manifestly explore the imagery and anxieties of wealth?

Still, it is a provocative, stimulating introduction to Florence that will add a bit of historical muscle to any visitor's encounter with the city this autumn. Money and Beauty is a welcome attempt to shake up staid views of the Renaissance. Everyone knows that Florence is a city of staggering artistic beauty. This exhibition reminds us it is also the birthplace of the modern world. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 05 2011

Four short links: 5 September 2011

  1. Dan Kaminsky on Bitcoin (Slideshare) -- short version: banks are an emergent property as it scales.
  2. Unethical Ventures (All Things D) -- astonishing slam on the new venture fund that Michael Arrington (founder of TechCrunch) will be running while still writing for TechCrunch. This could have been a lot cleaner, of course, by Arrington simply resigning from TechCrunch, becoming a VC and perhaps starting a new blog where his agenda is much clearer, from which he could huff and puff away as he does with much entertaining gusto at real and (mostly) imagined slights. There is certainly precedent for VCs blogging, including Fred Wilson, Brad Feld and Ben Horowitz. And, despite my criticisms about ethics, it is clear that Arrington is a talented writer whose unique voice would be even stronger if it was truly seen as separate from what has become a news organization. But because of his obvious need to be the center of attention — requiring the ermine kingmaker mantle and foisting his patented I’m-here-to-tell-it-like-it-is attitude on us all — that appears to be impossible.
  3. An iOS Developer Takes on Android -- a very easy to follow comparison of the two platforms from a developer who worked on both and who is carefully not partisan. I hadn't realized before what an advantage OpenGL confers to the iOS devices. It's not just for 3D games any more (he says, catching up with 2008).
  4. Clever Algorithms -- book of 45 nature-inspired algorithms, code in Ruby.

August 11 2011

The freelancers: artists and designers – in pictures

Photographers Sam Peach and Tora Davidson spent two years travelling across Britain interviewing and photographing people who work for themselves

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