Mental Maps on the David Letterman Show


5 More Interview Notes

  1. “I think about food a lot, don’t I?” It’s interesting how many people feel somewhat embarrassed that the important places in their neighborhoods are all restaurants and bars.
  2. AT&T Park was often mentioned by people, even those that don’t particularly care about baseball. A couple of these people had trouble placing it on the maps they sketched because they left out Mission Creek. Without the inlet, it’s hard to find a spot where the park could possibly be located that would allow for the gorgeous waterfront views that people are so fond of.
  3. Another landmark, St. Mary’s Cathedral was brought up by a few people, but nobody seemed to know its actual name. Instead, it’s identified by its resemblance to a washing machine. Myself, I only know its name for more boobish reasons.
  4. Dolores Park, a place where many people said they used to spend a lot of time hanging out, although not so much any more, for unspecified reasons. Incidentally, it’s built over what used to be a Jewish cemetery.
  5. La Lengua, actual neighborhood or not?

Interview Notes

1. San Francisco has a strangely dinosaur-like shape.  Once you have seen it as a dinosaur, you can never go back.

2. People have magnetic compasses in their noses?  Really?  YES, REALLY. (Maybe.)

3. How do those of us with insufficiently magnetized noses figure out where we’re going?  Hard to say.  But GPS devices for us are like glasses for the extremely nearsighted.

4. The Wiggle is a treasure.

5. Bayview, Marina, the Mission.  Three views of San Francisco that are almost mutually exclusive?

6. Islais Creek runs beneath the Glen Park BART station.

7. Running is a different mode of transit from walking (at least for people who can actually run fast).

8. Fog can be an aid to orienting oneself within the city.

9. Situationists had the derive (PDF),* where you just kind of drifted around being French.  An interesting version of this encountered “in the field” is taking a cab out to a bar far away from where you live in the city, and then finding your way back home one bar at a time.  The ultimate walking/stumbling tour.

10. Like in  many major urban areas in the US, residential segregation (PDF) in San Francisco is especially (PDF) marked between Black and White people.

*Can see some similarities between Debord and Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City reflected in the ‘derive’ article.

Hello Now From Everywhere*

Walking past Dog-Eared Books on Valencia and 20th in SF’s Mission district a couple weeks ago, a drawing of a beautiful child’s face in the bookstore window caught my eye.

It has a timeless quality, no?

Stepping back, I saw more context.

Wow. So that was Oscar Grant’s daughter.

The drawing is part of a larger collection of memorial drawings by Veronica de Jesus displayed in the bookstore window.

Standing there thinking about Oscar Grant and his daughter reminded me of these two murals that sprang up around 17th and Telegraph in my Oakland neighborhood during protests over the shooting.

Now when I walk by 17th and Telegraph, I think of the window memorial in the Mission, and vice versa.  Two street corners, one in Oakland, and one in San Francisco, that overlap in my mind, maybe because of that shared reference, maybe for other reasons too.

Actually here’s a weird thing: Each location is served by two BART stations. You can walk to 17th and Telegraph from the 12th St. stop, or from the 19th St. stop in Oakland. And you can walk to Valencia and 20th from the 16th & Mission stop, or from the 24th & Mission stop in SF.

Not that common with BART, which sometimes feels like it doesn’t stop anywhere, much less in nine block increments.

Getting to Dog-Eared Books from my neighborhood, which involves crossing the Bay, is easier, and sometimes it’s even faster via BART than getting to South Hall on the Berkeley campus — only about five miles away — which involves either (a) the bus or (b) trudging uphill from Shattuck Ave (in the morning, when hills are at their highest).

I picture my Oakland neighborhood and the Mission layered on top of each other, or pivoting away from each other in space while remaining connected by a (street) corner.  Like playing cards fanning out.

Two videos:

  • A turf dance in memory of Oscar Grant, by TURF FEINZ.
  • On a much lighter note, a dream which involves Dances with Playing Cards.

*Post title is from a collection of Veronica de Jesus’ drawings.


Invisible bike, real lolcat aficionado

One man’s waymarker is another man’s reason for a pilgrimage.

Ethno-mining is a Reese’s peanut butter cup, not an Oreo*

Two great tastes that taste great together (Photo by Denis Giles)

Via 7.5th Floor, an interesting and very readable paper (pdf) on the use of information visualizations in “ethnomining,” which

combines the semi-automated collection and analysis of behavioral data with the collection and analysis of qualitative data in an open and iterative analytical framework, relying heavily on shared artifacts.

I like the title of the paper, “Numbers have qualities too”.  Survey data can be useful not only for number crunching, but also because, yeah, the stuff that typically gets put in the “quantitative” basket has qualities too.

The paper’s researchers combined quantitative and qualitative by using information visualizations in an unusual way.  They tracked participants’  computer interactions using various automated tools, and constructed information visualizations from the resulting data, attempting to

leave the content in the visualizations in their rawest and most complete state—avoiding even simple transformations like taking averages or only displaying subsets of data.

The visualizations were then used to elicit qualitative insights from study participants.

An audiorecording, videorecording, the use of tracking devices to record someone’s actions — all of those can be thought of as “shared artifacts” constructed from (semi-automated) observation.

Regarding observation, the authors note:

Observation carries with it notions of transparency of meaning and the capturing of facts. Observational data is a key part of what makes [ethnographic] research trustworthy in corporate settings.

(Could be key to securing private and public funding too).

Conceived of in this way, ethnography carries symbolic ties to the natural sciences with the obsession around observing and counting as facts, rather than the interpretations, co-creation and social production of insights.

“Obsession” seems a contentious choice of words, but maybe it’s the right word, I dunno.

Both the “obsession” and the “co-creation” appeal to me — but especially the co-creation part, since it captures one of the most engaging and useful aspects of qualitative research. It’s not you going in as the expert, but you going in to learn from people who are the experts on their own experiences, and hopefully creating something together.

*Blog post title is the title of a section in the paper.  Don’t you want to read it (pdf) now?

Cat and mouse

One way of finding a way back from an exploratory trip might be by retracing a path using landmarks, whether they’re famous landmarks that symbolize a space to outsiders or more localized or personal landmarks like a brightly colored sign or a bookstore with a favorite book in the window. Things that stand out; things that are interesting.

But what is interestingness, and how shared or individualized are people’s senses of what is interesting?

I was poking around a bit — it’s not exactly like the wood mice leaving behind a trail of twigs thing, but more like if the mice went around noticing interesting twigs already on the ground, and then went online to catalog all the interesting twigs.

The whole site could be secretly run by a wood mouse.

(by Rasbak)

In any case, recent category activity on suggests that in the last hour or so waymarkers have found the following things memorable, noteworthy — maybe interesting:

Great Lines of Earth
Outside Wooden Display Carvings
Population Signs
Pet Stores
Artistically Painted Utility Boxes
Coca Cola Memorabilia

In the San Francisco area, waymarkers have noted 19,401 waymarks so far, including Duboce Park, the Castro Theater, Philz Coffee, a Par-T-Pack Beverages ghost sign, City Hall, “two circular bike tenders in front of City Hall”,   and speaking of hypothetical bikes, “graffiti of a cat”:

(by Daniel Quinlan)

Let’s get lost

There are a lot of weird animal studies out there when it comes to investigating spatial perception and navigation, like this one:

Way-marking behaviour: an aid to spatial navigation in the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Basically, wood mice leave a trail of little bits behind them in order to find their way back when they go out exploring, kind of like Hansel and Gretel, except the mice are smarter and mark their way with leaves and twigs instead of with crumbs, which will obviously be eaten by critters such as wood mice.

I believe this is what people in academia call reflexivity.

People who don’t live in fairy tales don’t usually go around leaving trails of twigs or crumbs behind them, at least not for navigational purposes, but we do need to find our way around somehow.

How do you find your way back when you go out exploring?

Do you always want to know the way back?  Aimless meandering can be one of a city’s great pleasures, sometimes especially when you don’t really know where you are.

If we get the chance, it would be interesting to do a walking tour with some of the people we’ve been talking to about their perceptions of space in SF — not only to learn about the areas and pathways that people are most familiar with, but also to go exploring a bit.

Maybe we’ll even get lost.

About us

People’s experiences and perceptions of the city they live in are highly personal, which isn’t reflected in the geography of a street map. Your mental map may be filled with gaps about the larger world, but is instead filled with localized knowledge, such as different levels of detail, scale, emphasis, boundaries and biases. The goal of our project is to develop a series of visualizations depicting various aspects of San Francisco that tap into people’s mental maps. More specifically, we plan on focusing on the idea of neighborhoods, which seems intuitive to grasp but can be difficult to define. The project is composed of two parts: the first involves qualitative research, by interviewing San Franciscans and having them complete various mapping exercises. The second will be the development of the visualizations, with the choice of data and its presentation informed by the qualitative research.