Announcing Lineage: A Family Tree Data Expression Engine

Lineage screen shot

Last week at the Philly JS Dev meetup, I demoed a new project I’ve been working on called Lineage.

It all started as a way to try and visualize all the research my Aunt Peggy has done over the last 50 years. Using D3, I was able to build a way to search, filter and analyze thousands of family relationships in a network graph. It even lets you start at a given year and watch the family grow and connect as the years tick by.

Links:
See a live demo of Lineage here.
I’ve open sourced it on github.
My slides from the Philly JS Dev Meetup

I wanted the project to be useful, but also stand alone as art, so I kept the user interface as minimal as possible and included an option for music during play mode. If you like the music you can download it on Soundcloud. I’m happy with how it turned out. An enormous amount of gratitude goes out to Peggy Haley for doing this research over the last 50 years.

Note for anyone who is actually in the tree, I have done very little in the way of making sure this data is accurate. If you find anything incorrect, email me and I’ll try and get it fixed in the future.

Best Things this Year (2011)

Here are some best things I’ve come across this year. Not all are new, or even new to me, but they kicked ass in 2011

1. Kids Dungeon Adventure – A floortop RPG for pre-school age kids and their geeky parent(s). What started out as a little game with my daughter grew into a full fledged eproduct and side business. This project was life changing for me.

2. Notepadd++ – I used the same text editor for Windows for at least 11 years, Editpad. I finally decided to try Notepadd++ and was blown away by how much more I liked it. Color coding for almost any language and built in FTP are enough right there. Love it. Side note: Editpad was introduced to me by a college friend, Jonathan Meyer, who passed away soon after college. I often think about how much he’d love what is going on with the Internet over the last 10 years.

3. HTML5 – Have you seen how fast modern browsers can draw on an HTML5 canvas? Mobile browsers still need work, though.

4. Garageband for the iPad – I love the iLife Garageband, but the iPad version is amazing and portable. Check out the theme song I recorded for Rock the Animals with Sasha. At this point the song is a bigger hit than the game.

5. Thingiverse – I built a Makerbot Thing-o-Matic at work and have been obsessed with finding a use for it other than making crappy bottle openers.

6. Sword and Sworcery – Best iOS game of the year. It’s King’s Quest meets Punch Out while having coffee with David Lynch. Jim Guthrie’s music on it is amazing (listen).

7. Honoro Vera Garnacha – Best new wine I tried all year. It’s Spanish and only $8.99.

Honoro Vera Garnacha - Best new wine I tried this year
Honoro Vera Garnacha - Best new wine I tried this year

8. Movies – I don’t think I saw any new releases in 2011, but here are all the movies I liked that I saw this year in no particular order: The Kids are Alright, Blue Valentine, The Social Network, Kung Fu Panda, Catfish, Toy Story 3, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Scot Pilgrim vs. the World, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Shutter Island.

My low cost e-commerce stack

Dungeon Adventure
Dungeon Adventure

Since I launched Dungeon Adventure, an RPG for kids, a few weeks ago a lot of people have asked me how exactly I’m selling it. It’s for sale as a digital download and print out board game, or “floor top RPG” as Phil Nelson called it. Here’s how it works:

I have a hosting account with iPower that I have had for about 9 years. It hosts this site, Dungeon Adventure, and almost any other domain I’ve ever had like markgarvey.net. My cost is $99/year, but I don’t count that against Dungeon Adventure because I’d be paying that anyway to host bengarvey.com.

I registered the domain name through iPower: $12.95/year

I looked for a while at different e-commerce / checkout software sites like scribd, PayLoadz, DigitalGoodsDelivery.com, and e-junkie. I decided on e-junkie for the following reasons:
1. Seemed reputable based on reviews and testamonials.
2. Ultra low cost. $5/month flat fee for 50MB storage and no transaction fees.

So far I have been extremely happy with my choice and in hindsight I am so glad I chose a service with no transaction fees. Spread over the cost of all my sales, that $5 is just a few pennies in transaction fees. E-junkie allows people to download the file with a unique link up to 5 times, provides email alerts to me, sends customizable confirmation emails to customers, and allow me to email customers (for a small additional fee). I was setup in about 10 minutes and it has worked flawlessly since day 1.

For payment I use paypal. I’ve used it for a long time and never had any issues with them. I’ve heard the horror stories of account freezes and such, but everything has been great. Paypal’s cut is 3% + $0.30, so on my $5.99 game the cost is $0.48. e-junkie integrated with paypal very easily and it had all the setup info I needed to accept payments through them.

Cost breakdown:
Hosting account: $8.25/month (I was already paying for this, but I’ll include it anyway)
Domain name: $1.08/month (if you’re buying hosting, you’ll get this included with the $8.25)
Checkout software: $5/month
Transaction fees: $0.48 per transaction
Total: $13.25 per month ($6.08 if you already have hosting and just need a domain)
Throughput per transaction is $5.51, so I need to sell 2.4 games per month (or 1.1) to break even.

With a cost structure this low I’ve already covered them for years.

I love the Internet.

Increasing Data Density in Web Design

I changed the layout on this site in response to what I took away from my session with Ed Tufte. Here’s an applicable quote from Tufte:

Whatever reasonably serves the content, avoids non-content pixels (including navigation and designer pixels) as much as possible, favors user scanning over substantial amounts of material rather than premature linking, reduces impediments to learning, and never requires the phrase “skip intro” on its frontpage. All this usually implies that there should be between 100 and 400 content links on the frontpage, just like a good news site.

Nearly all users come to a website for a content experience, not a designer experience.

So my new layout tries to increase the data density. I shrunk my header (the eyes will probably change) and added links to my previous 200 posts. The titles of these posts say more about me than any “About me” text and provide an easy way for people to peruse my content.

Net Neutrality and the Railroad Business

Here’s a perfect explanation of why Net Neutrality matters, why it should be enforced by the FCC, and how it’s been done in the past. I wish I could link directly to the comment, but Wired offered no way to do that. A comment on Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey:

posted by: kibbles | 08/10/10 | 5:35 pm |
@bill_the_kat ? let me paste you a little story on the net neutrality ?scheme?.
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Think about Netflix. It has unlimited streaming movies now. Comcast has streaming movies too, at $4 per movie. What if Comcast tells Netflix ?unless you pay us the equivalent of $20/user per month we are going to put you in the slow lane and your users won?t be able to stream.? NetFlix?s streaming business will be crushed. Comcast, Verizon and AT&T want Congress to allow them to do exactly that, and this is why net neutrality legislation is so important.
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This isn?t a result of a fertile imagination. This actually happened 100 years ago. Imagine the year is 1900. I run a steel company and you run a railroad. I sell steel for $50 per ton and you ship it for $3 per ton. I have two major competitors. I come to you and offer you $10 per ton for shipping if you agree not to carry steel for the other two. That number will give you far more profit for far less effort so you say yes. You?re happy. My two competitors cannot move steel from Pittsburgh to Kansas any other way (what, by horse and wagon?) so they go out of business, or a least their business is limited to local purchasers.
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Then I raise my steel price from $50 per ton to $75. The steel buyers have to pay because they have no other choice. The competition is gone. I make huge profits. I?m happy. You make huge profits. You?re happy. The consumers and my competitors aren?t happy, but who gives a flying f*** about them?
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This is the history of the railroad business in the late 1800s. This scenario played out again in the 1920s in trucking. Both times Congress mandated that any shipping company must charge identical amounts for all customers, based only on size, weight, and transit time.
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We have 100 years of success with ?net neutrality.? It?s working pretty well.
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?make sense? now explain why thats a bad thing.

Why You Should Try Twitter

Twitter isn’t for everyone. A lot has been written about it’s slowing growth, but part of that is because the stats don’t include 3rd party apps. Still, I think Twitter has limited appeal depending on what you want to get out of your time online. For most people, facebook does everything they’d want a social networking site to do. I love Twitter, and if you’re looking for the following you might love it to.

Have you tried Twitter?

Twitter is great for:

  • Interacting with people you don’t already know

  • Finding people who share common interests and ideas
  • Meeting people who live near you
  • Meeting people who live where you’re traveling to
  • Crowdsourcing questions that are difficult to answer with google
  • Participating in online discussions that don’t destroy part of your soul (I’m glad we found something better than message boards).
  • Interacting directly with brands, celebrities, and people you look up to
  • Finding links to interesting stories
  • Hearing about news the instant it happens

Twitter does all these well and most are either impossible or difficult on facebook. Facebook is great for checking out pics of your friends and family, for remembering their birthdays, and for reconnecting with old friends after losing their email address. Twitter is better at expanding that network of friends.