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The (logarithmic) calendar I want (abstractfactory.blogspot.com)
173 points by pankratiev on Oct 31, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

"Logarithmic". That's the word I needed. I've been trying to visualize a calendar that captures everything from seconds to years (akin to the marvelous but abandoned "once around the sun" work some years back), and at last pondering was wondering how to scale a spiral-of-spirals-of... which would capture the cyclic nature of our model of time; problem was scaling. Some application of logarithmic scaling may work...

Since I can remember, I've visualised time as a set of continuous spirals - years are the largest, with Christmas at the top and early summer at the bottom. The years lie on top of one another and fade off into the distance, like a slinky viewed end-on. I see days, weeks and months separately, but in continuous spirals of their own. I don't know how common this is, but I vaguely recall reading that it is a form of synaesthesia.

I've always found this pretty useful. I can see the positions between events and intuitively judge their distance. I can see how recurring events are 'pinned' through multiple years. I see time periods - like months, or vacation times, as segments of the coil that are somehow 'different' (like being a different colour, except not). If I'm trying to remember when something happened, or is going to happen, I mentally flip through the slinky layers.

Does anyone else think this way? How do people regularly visualise time? I've always thought it'd be a pretty fantastic digital calendar UI, since it seems so intuitive to me - how does it sound to others?

Edit: Here's an article I just found. There are some people with similar visualizations to mine, and someone who perceives a year as a giant numeral '7'! Interestingly, the article talks about this perception underlying unusually good memory - but my memory of the past is actually pretty atrocious.


While "meditating" one night, I had nearly the opposite perception. I realized that time is just one long stretch, and our convention of splitting it up into weeks, months, and years is just a way to allow us to repeat the same existence over and over again. The day is the only unit that we biologically require, since we have to sleep once per day. We spend five days working, looking forward to those two that we can do what we want, before spending another five working again. We enjoy a given holiday, so we spend a dozen or two days anticipating it, hoping that this year's installment is just as enjoyable.

At the time I had the "insight", it was incredibly sad to me. I felt like we have a beautiful stretch of time laying out in front of us, and instead of enjoying every unique moment, we entangle it with spirals and walk through similar lives, week after week, month after month, year after year.

But the cycles (years) correspond to the seasons... so they are a natural way for us to divide a timeline. Because spring always follows winter, and summer follows spring, etc... we experience time as a cycle.

I view time in a similar way. Whenever I remember something from awhile back, I quite literally visualize "rotating" the year in question like a dial until I'm on the correct day/month.

I also view numbers in general in a similar fashion. For example, I see 0-10 as points on a line that is about a 45 degree angle. 11-100 are the same but they are at a 135 degree angle. 101-1000 goes back to 45 degrees. This keeps going in a sort of logarithmic fashion... each turn between 45 and 135 is smaller/"zoomed out" as the numbers get larger. When I think of a number, it's almost like pointing to it (except all in my mind). Kind of hard to describe, but maybe this makeshift diagram will help.

















That's amazing - I had never considered the way I think about numbers, but I picture them visually too. Mine go off in a straight bar, away from me (and slightly to the right). Every 10 numbers, the height of the bar increases slightly.

I wonder how many other things vary between people but never get noticed because we consider them so fundamental?

This is quite amazing. I have a hard time visualizing time, Im often arriving late, or surprised that the month was over so soon, and have a hard time visualizing the progress of a project over time. To cope with this, I spend quite some energy programming/drawing visualizations of my past/future, and these have often given me critical insights. It's amazing to me that some people have an ability to naturally visualize time as a space they move within.

Talking about what it's like to be in our brains and not assume that we should all function the same way can lead us to so much insight about ourselves, about our limitations, about how we can improve our lives. Thanks for sharing your experience and the article.

This exactly how I view time. Freaky. If I zoom into one small period of time however the view often feels more like standing on a small ring-world planet. I can see waaay off into the distance, but only big things are visible.

This is how I visualize time and I've thought about why I perceive it the way I do, and it was due to how my kindergarten teacher taught us the concepts of time.

It's rather amazing how many life-long concepts come out of kindergarten.

This is why it is tragic that we only start teaching programming after childhood's neuroplasticity is almost over :(

Just want to say that that is extremely cool and I wish I could see the world through your brain.

It probably sounds more exciting than it is, but I don't know! It's just as interesting for me to know what it's like for others. How do you internally visualise time? If you had to think about planning a trip to see family at Christmas, how would you hold this concept mentally?

Just 'fisheye' seems more natural.

See http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1248496 and especially http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1248922 for another discussion of the same idea.

The 43 folders system bears some resemblance to this idea. If you haven't already heard about it a hundred times, it's about having 31 "day of month" folders - the shorter time frame, plus 12 "month" folders - the longer time frame. The shuffling of tasks is pretty obvious: the tasks from upcoming month get reshuffled into their respective day folders. You could extend it with one or two more levels (year? decade?) and get something similar to what the author describes.

Would love this for a paper calendar.

I remember being stumped by the same problem of wanting a better overview over periods of time, and so came up with a scrollable-zoomable-timeline visualization called LineTime (http://www.linetimeapp.com). Smooth pinch-to-zoom and it displays days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries.

At this point, LineTime isn't a productivity app but a history timeline. But actually I like this idea almost better for a productivity tool, since it enables you to "compartmentalize" a bit better than with a flowing timeline like LineTime.

"Would love this for a paper calendar."

This one would be tricky - it looks like this needs continuous re-scaling. This would probably need a system of movable paper parts - labels, post-its or whatever. There's a serious danger you'd spend more energy tweaking those than thinking about the actual tasks :)

A magnetic / whiteboard planning calendar might work though.

You'd have current month large, then scale down through future 3 months, remainder of year, future years. Post-its / whiteboard marker / magnetic markers for various events.

The advantage of software is of course that you can have scaled views but infinite (or at least very large) storage capacity.

Well, the other advantage of software is that you wouldn't have to re-draw your paper version of a calendar when the months change. Imagine having to move important events from the smaller "future" boxes to the now much bigger "soon" boxes.

This is a great idea, and fits nicely with the observation that humans seem to perceive many things, including time, logarithmically:


One thing I've always wondered about is the dials or sliders for temperature settings in the car. Many of them (especially the linear sliders) seem to be set up in a logarithmic way rather than a direct linear scale. Although I'm not sure whether I'm basing that on the scale of the tick marks next to the slider or on my actual perception of the temperature -- probably the former...

Yes. Though there are some interesting aversions. For example people seem to discount future income by 1/t rather than by log t.

I posted a submission to the JavaScript 10K apart competition last year which was an HTML5 calendar utilizing localStorage. It essentially gave you a view of all twelve upcoming months in a snapshot. Perhaps even something as simple as this would help with the visual aspect. As far as the "bindings" are concerned, I think you could use tabs along the top and do some redesigning for the different timeframes.


I actually created a logarithmic calendar app for a class a few years ago... Maybe I'll dig it out, update it and post since other people seem to like the idea...

Just do it and post it. Don't post a comment with "Maybe..."

Pay for my time and I will. Don't post a comment with "Just do it..." when you have no idea what other stuff I have going on or how much effort it would be to get it to any sort of presentable state.

Lighten up man.

Do or do not, there is no 'try' -- Yoda

One 'getting things done' tip I've adopted is to catch myself writing "I will" in an email and change it to "I have", then go and do it. It works pretty well.

I think saying 'Maybe I'll...' is a perfectly good way to poll if there's enough interest to make the effort worthwhile.

Getting upvotes and supportive comments like "Please do, I'd like to see that" would make the follow-through posting more likely. Critical complaints like yours make the follow-through posting less likely.

Spot on. I feel quite sure people do think in something like this way. I've thought about it in the past as well and have been working on some similar ideas for mapping: http://danieljmaxwell.tumblr.com/post/12074739965/a-better-k...

Combining this long-range view with a short-range view like SpiraClock ( http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2605709 ) might be an interesting app.

Dave Allen's Getting Things Done suggests having multiple levels of task/tactical/strategic/life tracking and review, roughly like you are describing, although doesn't suggest a special view for it.


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