Visual Phone Bills

matrix visualisation cutout
Usually, your phone bill is a vast amount of numbers that nobody ever reads actually (secret services left aside). It gives you some interesting details if you search for something particular but it’s hard to get an easy overview over what was happening the last month. Now, this has changed! After some weeks of tinkering with code (mySQL, PHP, HTML and some JavaScript) some visual tools have rolled out of my workshop.

simple visualisation for phone bill
The first simple step sums up all of your time spent calling someone on the phone. Different colours for working hours and leisure time (and for the month under focus) are added for further pattern recognition like collegue/friend identification. First evaluations revealed already that some patterns are really characteristic for particular events in the past. That way, the visual attractiveness of certain patterns leads us to remembering interesting stories attached to these dates (that sometimes have been forgotten already). As a nice Extra the whole plot seems to be somehow related to a powerlaw.

histogram of phonbill
A second graph is more oriented towards science and theory. One of the background-chapters in my Master-Thesis focuses on the (mathematical) structure underlying our social networks. Some (Barabási) say all networks of free choice are governed by powerlaws, others (Watts) think that our network of friends is described better by a bell-curve. Maybe I can deduce in reverse from the pictures I get what type of network is contained in a phone bill. It looks as if we talk a lot to non-friends, so far.

month-hour matrix from phonebill
A third (not yet fully matured) version will focus on temporal patterns and therefore plots the month of the year against the hour of the day to locate each call. With this method I want to look for “hot” times with a lot of traffic, usually calm zones and possible dissenters.

The work on this graphic as well as the others shows that rather simple data from a phone bill can generate some complexity when it comes to meaningful visualisation. In order to manage this abundance of information I want to add more options to select and filter the dataset. I also need some means to enlarge the “resolution” (i.e. less information per area) for those points in the graphic that are currently examined by the user.

. . .

All your data are belonging to us!

bundestag kameraueberwachung

A proposal for a new law faces a lot of controversy at the moment: The TKÜ (Law for the Surveillance of Telecommunication). Unfortunately, a lot of people are completely unaware and uninformed about the problems at hand — especially if they are not reading a lot of things online. I think, this is very problematic for two main reasons (a lot more can be found easily via the link in the corner of this site): the relation data stored is more sensitve than we might think and our believe that state authorities are good guys is not necessarily true.

Isn’t it all a minor problem as they are just storing the relational data (who with whom when and where) and don’t record e.g. the voice (they do but via another law)? Acutally, content is completely irrelevant: The whole field of Social Network Analysis strives to map entire social networks (you and your friends and their friends…) based on communication (one very good example is MIT’s Reality Mining Project). They can even estimate your general happiness: spending time with their friends usually makes people more content. As the analysis produces very concrete and specific patterns it is suited ideally for a pattern based search for criminals/terrorists. Especially “home grown terrorists” will have very sharp disruptions in their social life. All data sets should not only be stored but scanned carefully for suspicious behaviour if we want to take prevention seriously!

Still no problem because we don’t have to hide anything! We even stopped downloading files from dubious sources, so the copyright industry’s desires behind the law can’t harm us, either. But what if your friend becomes a suspect? Remember that you are linked with pretty much people with only six in between? I’m pretty sure you will find a true terrorist much closer in your “network”. And you can get a lock-in from prosecution authorities yourself, too! Visiting Afghanistan for whatever reason (relatives? NGO project?) is not a good idea, clearly, but probably not very likely for most of us, either. So Guantanamo is away far enough (you could get “extracted“, still) but serves as a first example why naively believing in the good state is a bad idea: While the U.S.A. can still be regareded a democracy and a constitutional state, all you know about that becomes irrelevant once you find yourself in “the camp”. No civil rights as you are outside the U.S. and of course Europe (if you consider yourself a civilian) and no rights from the Geneva Convention(if you consider yourself a soldier). No perspective to get heard by a lawyer, either.
For all Germans, there is a very recent example from at home: A sociologist working for Humboldt University, on cities in particular, got arrested for being part of a “terrorist community” (it’s all about communities…). It’s not that he really did something but that he was providing the “intellectual basis” for others — via his scientific research. Once you are suspected of terrorism you lose a lot of rights, e.g. talking to your attorney privately. It’s the attorney you need to get you out of prison, unfortunately.

While it is certainly necessary to provide security for the people, there are some limits that should be respected in order not to lose our freedom in tight situations.
On Nov, 6th, we can give our concerns a voice!

. . . .

me and my network


Basically, I will look at how Computers can help us with managing our ever growing networks of friends.
I will try to make use of models from mathematical-sociologic network theories and apply them to subject-related, private areas (my network and I). The thesis of social objects will be part of this effort as alternative or addition.
Special attention will be given to the process of operationalisation which converts interpersonal interactions into machine readable numbers. Which actions have to be considered and which parameters are used in this process? At the end of such an automated analysis a computer will have an image of our social relationships available. These considerations will be worked out as applications in the practical part of my Master’s project.
The use of new technologies to organise inter-personal relationships will change them inevitably: But do we transfer the responsibility for our social lives to algorithmic machines in the end? Possible consequences and alternatives have to be taken into account.

In-depth description (german only so far)

. . .

Social Button – my first paper on stage

The paper Larissa and me wrote a couple of months ago got finally accepted at the NGMAST conference in Wales this September! This is pretty exciting news, it’s my/our first step into the serious (official?) world of science.

The full title reads

Social Button – Mobile Technology Supporting Social Interaction.

Our project is about a small wearable display with a pin, that can be attached to your clothes. It gets your address book from your mobile phone and checks for matching entries on other SocialButtons that might be in the area. The Buttons indicate a match by displaying each participants personal symbol – a twist, that makes it much easier to find others and protect your privacy at the same time. Larissa’s animation explanes it far better:

So we went to the wonderful city of Cardiff (Wales, UK) some weeks ago to present our work. We got very encouraging feedback and some helpful critique there, and had some interesting face-to-face talks in the City Hall where conference took place. (Our slides come in at 8MB)

The city of Cardiff

NGMAST was the first conference on “Next Generation Mobile Applications, Services, and Technologies”, so it was rather tiny (compared to the very well known ones), but also quite personal, with a very warm chair, and easy to get in contact with the other participants.

With this event it became clear that our idea is promising yet only partially finished – so we are open for your comments!

(There is also a corresponding workspace at our University’s site for internal communication, incom)


open doors for friends

access scenario - part1

When moving aroud a lot it would be nice to sit down just anywhere, open the laptop and go online instantly. At least in the cities we find often a couple of access points in the neighbourhood but they are usually locked. For good reasons because how do you know what other people will do on the web via your connection?


Let’s do…

scenario: swim together small

Of what use is a well structured address book, as it will result from my master thesis research? We engage in a lot of our activities jointly with our friends; different cliques that form anew each time we start out for a new band to discover or quite stable teams for sports. Today, we have to collect all necessary addresses by hand or rely on static groups that we configured in advance before we can send a group email or SMS. A socially aware digital assistant (e.g. on our mobile phone) could keep track of our communication and would be able to make some good guesses about these groups and theire dynamic developments. For our activity planning we could use our address book group-oriented compared to individual-oriented.


communication unlimited?

Sensory Circus Backstage

In the context of my mini-exhibition of spam art at the FHP, I had a very inspiring conversation with Christopher and Martin (who study at the FHP as well). It started off from the exhibits themselves and that spam might be the Basis for the Pop-Art of our time as it is more typical than a Coke Bottle.

On the other hand, it is a radical interference with our communication needs and intentions, which should be one of the reasons for the strong emotions (fierce hatred?) towards it. That relation builds the link to my master thesis, which is focused on the organisation of our addressbook according to our communication behaviour.

At the moment, it seems as if we face a heavy communication overlaod: Twitter, Skype, ICQ, Blogs (with shoutboxes and comments), SMS-connectivity, Plazes, Facebook/StudiVZ, messages even via Is there a goal everything is converging to, one “integrated commuication application”? How intense and instantaneous do we want our communication to become? Sometimes it looks as if we try to connect our brains. Or at least, we make publicly listenable what we usually would mutter to ourselves at best. Is it all about being afraid of feeling “un-connected” and alone when anyone else is excited about the new possibilities for interpersonal conncections?


trade your personal data—yourself

loome project image

Today, Prof. Dan Smith who is engaged with the development of Service Design at the Glasgow School of Art visited Reto Wettach at the FH Potsdam. The topics of our talk made me have a closer look on Livework in London, a company focused on Service Design.

While this field of design can be considered emergent itself it deals a lot with new technologies and possibilities as well. In a kind of hands-on-research, Livework developed the loome (edit: original page vanished, but some info is left here) service that lets you sell your private data like bank transfer and grocery shopping histories to the highest paying company (one of the involved designers sold a personal record of 800 pages for 150 GBP on ebay as a proof of concept).


structure and questions

A hybrid version between an outline for my thesis and a collection of thoughts and questions in particular is now available as foldable structure (as it came out of FreeMind)


understanding your addressbook

automatic addressbook visualisation

While science did and still does struggle to explain some basic relations in our physical environment, several man-made layers were added on top from global economies over finely balanced political treaties to magic-like technologies.

From an everyday perspective, Quantum Mechanics and Magic are more or less equivalent.

as Terry Pratchett once put it (in an 2002 Interview by Die Zeit). The same holds true for our personal environment, where we clutter our harddisks with images, bookmarks, music — and addressbook entries.