The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Hey, so I’m going to make something for Longshot Magazine tonight, and I would like to call upon your collective brainpower for just a moment to help get me started.

The theme is COMEBACK; it’s articulated powerfully and persuasively on Longshot’s site. I participated last time, and it was a blast, so I’m doing it again. But rather than write a traditional piece (with, you know… words) I want to do some sort of data visualization. I’ll find some data, filter and process it, then make it pretty with Processing.

But I have no idea what subject or data I’m going to explore. And I’m at work right now and can’t really think about it very hard until after 6 p.m. or so. So I thought I’d throw the question out to the assembled might of the Snarkmatrix.

When you think COMEBACK and read Longshot’s pitch, what springs to mind?

What might be a good question or hypothesis to start with?

What’s a data set that people might not traditionally consider a data set?

This might require some constellational thinking.

Update: okay, I figured something out. Woo!


Suggestion from Patrick: Bill Murray’s box-office take.

(I dig that.)

Matt P says…

“Comeback” makes me think about a problem that lots of cities face, namely how to re-integrate people released from prison back into normal society. It’s made more difficult by the invisibility and stigma attached to returned inmates, and the frequency with which the comeback peters out, the former inmate slips back into crime, and thus returns to prison.

I’m not sure where you would find the data for this project, but I’m imagining a visualization that tracks a population (say, the state of California) spread out in a plane, plotted above the horizontal axis when out of prison, below when in prison. Distance above / below the axis indicates duration of time free or incarcerated, on a log scale. Each person is a pixel, perhaps with color indicating race or ethnicity. The visualization shows most people appearing as dots at the axis at birth and rising, hovering up into a cloud of law-abiding citizens, while others rise for a moment but then fall, dropping below into incarceration, then rising again upon release – perhaps to work up towards the cloud, perhaps to fall again, ever struggling to make a comeback.

Matt P says…

On reflection, this is probably too big a project for 24 hours.

Tim Carmody says…

I’m already writing on one of the craziest constellations I can think of — the common theme is homesickness, homecoming, and also war and marriage and the DIY ethic and Germany — so I might not be the best one to throw things out.

One thing I’ve thought a lot about is aging artists trying something new, or making a return to form. Think about Miyazaki returning to hand-drawn animation with Ponyo.

Or, here’s another spin on comeback — jokes. Particularly, like, witty dialogue, which is deeply embedded into adolescence, old newspaper movies, dealing with comic hecklers.

Or (good futurist that you are) what’s gone away that SHOULD come back? Like: short sprinty bike races. Monocles. Keeping chickens or goats in city backyards. (People do this, but it’s usually illegal.) That kind of thing.

Celia says…

Going with the Bill Murray hits, you could merge that with other pop culture icons. Frank Sinatra, Jennifer Lopez, The Muppets, Anthony Michael Hall. I’m hard pressed to find a common metric, but box office revenue, Netflix popularity, tweets, YouTube hits, and Google Trends data might all be valid.

Also: remakes of old media. Only a sliver of modern movies are based on original stories. One of my favorites is 1995’s “Clueless”, based on Jane Austen’s “Emma”. See for more.

Mike Duncan says…

What about the ebb and flow of baby names as people bestow their child with the name of a grandparent? I know a ton of baby Sophie/Sophias, which is also the name of the oldest Golden Girl. Helen and Ruth also seem to be performing strongly recently.

All the data you would ever need about American baby names is available from the Social Security Administration. You could also talk about the higher prevalence of ‘perennial’ names like Michael, James, or Matthew for boys than for girls. See

That’s a super good idea!

It’s a bit of a stretch, but my first thought is one of longing and regret of letting someone go. “Please, come back! I have something to tell you…”

I wonder if there’s some data you can get from the Innocence Project about prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence. Tim or Alexis’s link earlier this week to last statements by death row inmates made me think about this. What better come back from death is there than a death row inmate being freed by DNA evidence? Or even if someone’s not on death row, being freed after 20 years is a big deal too. Perhaps some sort of visualization of how long each person had wrongly been in prison before released? Or exonerations by state?

Or going back to just the Texas death row data, executions by place where the person is tried? The eye for an eye aspect of the death penalty has a bit of a come back / give back element to it.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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