Today I came across a slideshow about fifteen products that Google has killed. This is interesting to me. We often focus on successes or downfalls, but rarely on those day-to-day ideas that didn't make it all the way. I've heard over and over that success in any area is a matter of trying enough things until something sticks. Super success is continuing to try things once you've already succeeded.
I was a regular user of iGoogle, which they are now shutting down. (I'm playing with protopage now, if you are looking for alternatives.) Most of the technologies are mentioned are things that I heard of but never really did anything with them, which is probably why they are no more. I find this sort of thing inspirational in a strange way. When big companies struggle with moving things forward, just like I do, it reminds me that the way is never paved.
Last night I was inspired from another strange place. I watched a documentary called "6 days to air" about the creative force behind the animated program South Park, and how they regularly crank out an episode in six days. I know that many of you may not be fans of the long-running series which has a well-earned reputation for equal opportunity offending, but it really is amazing to see these people who have "made it" continue to work with the same enthusiasm as a startup to get things done. One of the ideas that they discussed was that the need to meet their deadline always drove them to complete rather than to polish to perfection. One comment was that they always felt like they needed another day or two, but even if they had it, it would really only result as a 5% improvement in quality.
That's a really interesting perspective. I'm not saying that quality doesn't matter, but sometimes I wonder if creators aren't the best judge of quality. Perhaps there is a point when we need to let our creations go and let the audience decide. Of course, when we're talking about things like technology, especially software, the feedback from an audience gets fed back into the creation and adds polish from real use, rather than anticipated use. Of course, this has always been the spirit of open source. Get things out and then let them grow.
[As an aside, the conference room the kids are using to write their school TV show in S8E11-Quest for Ratings, looks very much like the conference room the South Park team uses for their weekly creation process.]
I've continued working with Blender to do some headers for the developerWorks community. (You may have noticed that my header graphic here has changed.) I'm increasingly impressed with what this software can do. The other day I was talking to someone about how easily one could transform a slide presentation into a more exciting experience by with Blender. One could simply use it to create more popping charts, by adapting in Blender. (What if you took a boring bar chart and made each column a real column, lit to highlight the item you were discussing?) Or, you could take elements of a presentation and add some pizazz by flying from one chart to another, or including other elements. It had just never occurred to me before.
Obviously you won't be able to do this with just any presentation, unless you develop some specific skills to do it quickly, or have support staff to help. But Blender has game engine elements. That means that once you have some items created you can apply physics and external control to them. Perhaps that could be harnessed to take information from other sources and then automatically work with them.
Say! I wonder if anyone has thought of that? Sure enough, a quick search for "using blender for data visualization" finds articles like "Blender for Data Visualization", which shows you how to use a python script to convert a .csv file into a 3-D bar chart. There's another article "Fish Population Data Visualisation, Internships at Great Northern Way Campus, Vancouver", which includes an overview and a complete explanation of what they did.
"I've done scientific visualizations in Blender before. I created a 3D globe a few months back that was UV-mapped so it would show up in game blender. I then used the python ODBC module (http://www.python.org/windows/win32/odbc.html) to access an ODBC-enabled database like MySQL to vertex-paint the globe according to the temperature at that spot. "My current project is to use a DEM (Digital elevation map) of the coast of Oregon, USA, and show the weather in realtime using the game engine. So far I've been having trouble importing the DEM into blender. I've found programs that could convert the DEM into a DXF, but it costs money (http://www.globalmapper.com/)."
May I say "Wow!"? How can you get started with something like this? Just go start! You'll probably need to deal with Python to talk to Blender. You will probably also need to deal with some sort of data conversion, coming from SQL or CSV. If you can get the channel made, though, you may have a new and interesting way to look at your data. If you make use of the game engine technology you could also embed it as part of your application's functionality. I don't know what I'm going to do with this, but I'm going to do something!