I'm taking my last (required) engineering course as a student this semester. It's a course on visualization based taught by David Ebert and Abish Malik. Basically, I'll get credit for using my computer to make pretty pictures based on giant datasets. Shiny! It's also my first-ever engineering course with an interpreter (Laurie), and I'm sucking up new technical ASL vocabulary like a sponge; this semester is unexpectedly full of opportunities to practice my signing. Double-shiny.
I've got to start thinking of a term project, and so far I have a few main ideas -- but others are welcome, along with brainstorms on how to flesh them out. If I can get a firm idea before Sep 30, I can prototype an entry for the NSF visualization challenge. Project requirements are here, and my ideas so far are:
A dashboard for Hacker Schoolers which would track metrics of interest based on what people consider relevant to their "becoming a better programmer." Particularly interesting, I think, might be a visualization for Hacker School facilitators -- what ways can we use already public data to give them an overview of what many people are doing at once, with the ability to zoom in, compare, etc. as they want? However, I don't have a clear vision as to what this might look like, so feature ideas/requests are welcome.
Visual ways to navigate intertwined narrative text for my dissertation, which involves people telling stories in response to other people's stories (and then the original storytellers tell new stories in response to those responses... so they're intricately tangled up).
Complex symphonic music as experienced with hearing loss, hearing aids, and cochlear implants. My interest in this area is pretty obvious, but this now seems like the most boring project of the three -- I could be wrong, though!
Help me brainstorm, intarbrainz!
In other news: today's class was mainly adminstrivia and an overview of visualization, which is one of many ways to (literally) "make things visible" -- converting numerical, abstract data into a graphical representation. For visual learners (like myself), this is effectively translating into our native mental file format. For practically everyone, visualization frees up much of the cognition involved in processing massive amounts of numerical data, allowing us to use higher-level brain functions to ask and analyze interesting questions (I'd heard this before), and making us more confident in our decisions (I hadn't heard this before). Some fun viz examples include Chris Harrison's visualization of Biblical cross-references and a map of the US colored by distance to the nearest McDonald's.
And with that, I'm off to my next meeting. It's amazing how much more energetic and happy and just plain kind I am when I don't pretend I'm hearing -- telling people I'm deaf, having accessibility in my classes... even my brother noticed it ("You're less grumpy with your hearing aids," said Jason in the minivan last month).