How This Chart Was Created

To view the Apiary Timeline, click here.

Data is useless. We can gather all kinds of data about bees but until it is understood, it is useless. Some people are very good at interpreting rows of numbers but most of us are not. If those numbers can be represented visually, we are able to perceive changes in direction, changes in rates of change, and atypical events. When we observe these changes and events, we ask why. And that is how understanding starts to happen.

Beehacker.com has several projects that either generate data now or will in the future. I wanted a simple way to visualize weekly or daily changes in the hive that could be edited easily and evolve over time.  And it should be multimedia.  And free.

Approach

We begin with hive weight data, empirical observations, and photographs and seek to combine them into a unified timeline of events occurring in the BeeHacker apiary. After reviewing several open source or free charting programs, I settled on TimePlot from MIT’s Simile Project. Open Flash Chart was a close second but I chose TimePlot because it allows me to combine multiple charts with events with pop-up notes, graphics, and links.

The hive weight data looks like this:

# "Date" "Hive #1" "Hive #2" "Hive #3"
2010-09-19 125 69 84
2010-10-02 116 74 80
2010-10-10 118 71 80
2010-10-17 122 78 80
2010-10-31 114 83 91
2010-11-07 114 85 89
2010-11-14 121 86 91
2010-11-21 122 90 93
2010-11-27 121 89 92
...

It consists of 4 columns: date, hive1 weight, hive2 weight, and hive3 weight. If I get a 4th hive, I can simply add another row of numbers. Rows beginning with ‘#’ are comments. This data goes into a file named weight.txt.

Event data looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<data>
  <event start="Oct 10 2010 00:00:00 GMT" title="Golden Rod in bloom" image="http://localhost/apiary/goldenrod.jpg" link="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldenrod"/>
  <event start="Oct 31 2010 00:00:00 GMT" title="Eleagnus in bloom" image="http://localhost/apiary/eleagnusThumb.png" link="eleagnus.jpg">
    Click on the link above to see a larger image of my Eleagnus blooming in October!
  </event>>
  <event start="Jan 09 2011 00:00:00 GMT" end="Jan 14 2011 00:00:00 GMT" title="Snow storm" link="jan9_2010Snow.jpg" image="jan9_2010SnowThumb.png">
    Great snow storm by Atlanta standards. Roads are under 2 inches of ice. Snow remains on the ground for several days.
  </event>
  ...
</data>

It is in a tagged format called XML and stored in a file called events.xml. Extensible Markup Language or XML is a set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form. You don’t need to be an expert of XML if you want to duplicate this effort – but you need to be precise. XML is either well formed or not – it either works or it doesn’t.

So that’s the data. To see our source code for our TimeLine, go to the page and right click. You will see a dialog box. Select ” View Page Source”. You will also need the TimePlot javascript and style sheet files (get these from http://www.simile-widgets.org/timeplot) and you are good to go