Twitter vs. Blogging

Blogging in the House!

On Anil’s piece titled If You Didn’t Blog It, It Didn’t Happen, I left the following comment:

Twitter is like going to a restaurant. Blogging is like buying a house.

I thought I should expand on that… and what better place than right here, on my own blog, where I’m allowed to.

As I’ve said before (in fact, I said it just yesterday) there are things I don’t like about Twitter, but my not liking these things, or complaining about them probably isn’t going to change them. That’s OK… I don’t own Twitter, I don’t control Twitter, I just visit Twitter.

Twitter is like going to a restaurant. You can talk to people you know, and people you don’t know. They can talk to you. You can overhear conversations. You’re at the mercy of the management. They can kick you out.

Blogging is like buying a house. It requires maintenance and upkeep. You’re free to do what you want, you can redecorate, or hang some pictures, or ramble on as long as you want. It’s your home, you own it, and you make the rules.

Anyway, that’s how I see it. I’ve had this blog since 1997. I’ve been using Twitter since 2006. I can still get to every single blog post I’ve written here (and so can you) while Twitter only lets me see a portion of the content I’ve put into it. I’ve started archiving as much of it as I can over here… on my own site, because I don’t trust Twitter with my data the way I trust myself with my data.


Visualizing Data

We all know that management loves its charts & graphs but normal people like us? We love data visualizations!

Why, just take a look at sites such as information aesthetics, Information Is Beautiful, or FlowingData for some examples.

I’m proud to say I’ve been dabbling in data visualization myself recently, and I’d like to share a few things with you.

visualization showing how dark is it at midnight
This is a visualization showing how dark is it at midnight.

visualization showing how bright is it at noon
This is a visualization showing how bright is it at noon.

visualization showing what color genderists think girls like
This is a visualization showing what color genderists think girls like.

visualization showing what color genderists think boys like
This is a visualization showing what color genderists think boys like.

visualization showing how dirty dirt really is
This is a visualization showing how dirty dirt really is.

visualization of a successful stabbing attempt
This is a visualization of a successful stabbing attempt.

visualization showing the color of oranges
This is a visualization showing the color of oranges.

Whew, that’s a lot of data! Aren’t you glad you were able to visualize it with my help? So many others make visualizing data complex, but we work hard to make it simple.

Data Visualization is just one of the many services we offer here at RasterWeb! Contact us for your next Data Visualization project.


Charts & Graphs

I’m in need of graphing some data, and since I looked at the Google Chart Tools long ago but never did anything interesting with it, I figured I’d give it a spin.

Google’s API is pretty simple to use, you feed it a URL, and you get an image in return. Here’s an example expanded out a bit:

Each parameter controls some part of the image you get returned. (Want to see it? View the URL.)

You should get something that looks like this:


Wow… but not really. This is probably one of the simplest examples of a chart, but it serves my purpose.

Of course, since I’m not always content relying on others to host my data, I wanted a way to generate and store the image. You can do that too…

curl -o 20101130.png ',5,5,5&chco=ff0000&chxt=x,y&chxr=1,0,100,5|0,0,24,1&chd=t:3,3,3,3,3,3,3,65,38,46,60,59,56,58,36,21,13,62,2,3,3,3,3,2'

Just use curl to make the request and store the image in a file named 20101130.png (or whatever the date is, or file name you’d prefer.) Obviously you’ll need curl installed. If you need to generate a new chart everyday this is ripe for automating.

I also looked at jQuery Visualize as an option. It’s quite different than the Google Chart API as to how it functions.


With jQuery Visualize you don’t actually create a chart. Well, you do create a table of data, and jQuery Visualize does all the heavy lifting and creates the chart based entirely on your well-formed tabular data.

I sort of like this approach because there’s no external image files to generate, host, or worry about. You just make a table, and include a bit of Javascript. (Of course there are other concerns/issues, but simplicity is pretty high.)

I’m still evaluating what my final choice will be for my current project. If this were 10 years ago, I probably would have used Perl to generate the image files. If it were 5 years ago, I probably would have used Perl to generate some SVG files…

jQuery Visualize uses the HTML 5 Canvas element, so they get some points in the “innovation” column I guess… Also, jQuery Visualize requires less math, and in my world, the less math I have to do, the better!


Heard – a mirror

I love I love music, and I love data, so it makes sense., for you unhep cats out there, allows you to keep a log of what you listen to by “scrobbling” your music – that is – it submits the info about the songs you listen to the web site via various bits of software. There’s scrobbling clients that work with iTunes, and your iPod, and your iPhone, and other things that don’t start with ‘i’ or come from Apple. (Oh, I’m rasterweb at

It’s interesting to see what I listen to, and who my top artists are, and all that jazz that comes with logging data… charts, graphs, etc. Fun stuff!

But as you’ve seen, I’ve been on a kick lately to pull all that data back to my own site. (See Also: Scuttle rides again!, Tweet Nest: Archive Your Tweets, Data goes in, Data comes out., Reclaim What’s Yours… Take Back Your Data!) So I figured it was time to get the data I’ve been feeding into since 2006 back to me, and back to my own site…. thusly “Heard” was born.


Heard is a bit of PHP code I whipped up which uses the API to pull my scrobbled data back to my own site and stuff it into MySQL, and from there it simply displays the data. Once again, this is my insurance policy. If goes down, disappears, loses all it’s data, or something else happens, I’ve at least got an archive of all of my listening data. is a great service, and they’ve provided a great API that makes doing these sorts of things possible, and I thank them for that.

So Heard is really just some hacked together code right now… I don’t think I’ve spent more than a few hours on it, but it is functional, and syncs data once per hour. Once I implement all the ideas I have for ways to improve it, I’ll upgrade my version, and think about releasing some code if there is any interest in it. I’m a pretty poor PHP programmer, but I’m dangerous enough to build simple things. If someone else loves this idea and wants to run with it, let me know, and I’ll share whatever I can.

And yes, the design (or lack of design) of Heard is minimalist to say the least. In one part it pays homage to’s display of data, and in another part, I didn’t want to get too caught up in the look at this point, but I do have some plans for later.

(And one more thing: Thanks goes out to Pixis Creative for doing a bit of CSS debugging for me.)

Update: The code for Heard is on GitHub. I’d love if people smarter than myself found ways to make it better.


Fitbit Improvements

I have an idea for how Fitbit can improve their web site… and, well, their product. I think it will make some of their customers very happy.


Here we see the current Fitbit web site. See the part where it says “Sync Fitbit with your PC”? I know you think that means “Sync Fitbit’s data with my PC” but it doesn’t… what it means is “Use your PC to sync Fitbit’s data with Fitbit’s servers” and that isn’t quite the same thing.


Here is my improvement, where you can see that they have added the ability to sync your own data with your own PC. This hasn’t happened yet, and may not happen.

I heard about the Fitbit back in June, and it sounded really cool. I then did some research and found out that it sends the data to the Fitbit servers, but doesn’t save it on your own computer… but don’t worry, they have an API coming out Real Soon Now. (See RSN.)

Sure, you can hack away at a Perl or Ruby version created by other people who are still waiting, but that’s not really a good solution.

From the Fitbit FAQ:

How do I get data from the Fitbit to the website?

The Fitbit is wireless and ships with its own base station. In order for the wireless functionality to work you will need to install a tiny piece of syncing software. This software will run on Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7.

Do I have to use the website? Is there a way to dump data to my PC?

Yes, you must use the website. We do not provide any way to dump data to your PC, but the website will have an extensive XML and JSON API. You will be able to access most of your data through the API.

Now, that part that says “Yes, you must use the website.” worries me. It worries me because it makes me think these guys have You must use the website as part of the business plan. I know the Fitbit is a cheap device, so maybe they have something else planned to make money… Quickly, back to the FAQ!

Do I have to pay anything for the website?

No, the website is free. Once you buy the Fitbit Tracker, you will not have to pay anything additional in order to use the website.

Wow… OK, maybe not… I mean, the web site is free to use. It’s not like there is some Premium Membership… Oh wait, there is!

We’ve also launched a new premium membership with additional features to help analyze your activity, food and sleep to see results more quickly.

The Premium Membership is $49.99 per year. (Right now anyway…)

So how is that API coming? At least a few people have been waiting since late 2009.

I really do think the Fitbit is a neat device, and would consider getting one, but based on all the information I’ve gathered so far, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea based on the facts that:

  • I can’t get my own data directly from the device to my own computer
  • I can’t (easily) get my data from their servers to my own computer
  • It’s been at least 9 months and no API
  • They may have “upsell the user premium services” as part of their business model

I know the premium services cost money to develop and cost money to provide, and that’s fine… charge for it, but also keep in mind that having an API could open up the development of other applications and innovative new web services that could help you build some buzz, expand your brand, and ultimately sell more units.

And if there were a way to get the data directly on your own computer, you’d also open up the product for our friends who don’t use “Mac OS X or Windows XP/Vista/7” as well as other neat things. I know the new future is all about sharing, but maybe I don’t want my data sent out to the cloud, and right now, that’s not an option.

If you’re willing settle for the limitations of the Fitbit, and the nature of the device, then it definitely looks neat. If you’re concerned about how your data bypasses your own computer to go into the cloud where you may be able to access it (possibly for a fee) then, well… I’d think about it a bit more…

Update 2010-07-27: Here’s a nice post by someone who owns a Fibit.