oncewasacreek: a words-eye view

Note – the pictures in this post contain two images, which flip back forth when you hover your mouse over them. On a mobile device these images will switch when you touch them, and then switch back when you scroll away … if you are lucky. For best results, please view this article on a desktop or laptop.

Time now for something completely different.

This site has reached a point where I am starting to look back, usually with some degree of bemusement, at all that I have written and done over the last two years. For a while now I’ve been meaning to overhaul the site’s structure to better serve the unexpected array of topics that I have ended up covering. But invariably, something more interesting captures my attention. This post is a case in point.

Recently I have been playing with network graphs as a way of visualising concepts and data. Networks are used as an analytical tool across many branches of science, because just about any phenomenon can be understood at some level as a system of discrete but inter-related entities (or nodes, in network-speak). Perhaps the most obvious examples are social groups and computer networks, but a myriad of other things, from gene sequences to ecosystems to economies, have been modelled and explored with the help of network theory. (Check out this page for a some examples of network visualisations.)

Networks are also useful for analysing text, because they can show relationships among words, such as which words occur together most frequently. And the best bit is that we can get computers to do all the counting. We still need to tell the computer which words to look out for, but thankfully there are dictionaries and word-recognition tools that do much of this work as well.

I wanted to have a go at analysing some text, so I found some software1 and fed it a collection of eleven of my own essays from this website.2 The result, shown below, is a kind of word-map of the topics covered by the eleven articles. In this case, the topics are limited to the names of people and locations, simply because these are much easier to identify than other kinds of topics. In the future, I hope to bring other topics (floods, maps, roads, etc.) into the mix.

The network of all people and places mentioned in the eleven articles. Node size reflects term frequency, and line thickness reflects the strength of co-occurrence. Hover over the image to see the network with the labels removed.

Continue reading


  1. There are various packages out there, some free and some commercial, but the one that I used is called KNIME. It has an intuitive graphical interface, which means you don’t need to know any code.
  2. The essays were: A history of Gregory Park, John Olxey and the chain of ponds, Milton: Brisbane’s western frontier, The waters of Milton, Bottles and cans (an adventure in suburban archaeology), The broken lands of Toowong, Topography shock: postcards from the south, The history of the Coronation Drive Office Park, and the three installments of Uncovering Langsville Creek.

Email problems

UPDATE (15th January) — The contact form is now working, so please feel free to use it. Please note, though, that I cannot retrieve any messages that were sent while it was not working.

If you have tried to email me recently via the contact page, the chances are that I have not received your email.

I have just discovered that the site’s email feature is not working. I’m not sure how long this has been the case: a week at the least, but probably longer — possibly several weeks.

I will update this post when I have managed to resolve the problem. Until then, please to NOT use the contact form to contact me. Instead, you can:

  • post a comment at the end of a post or article
  • post a comment in The Forum
  • email me directly at angusveitch-at-gmail-dot-com (replacing ‘-at-‘ with ‘@’ and ‘-dot-‘ with ‘.’).

I sincerely apologise if you have sent me something and received no reply. I have no way of retrieving the lost emails, so I’m afraid you will need to contact me again using one of the methods above.

Fingers crossed, normal service will resume shortly.

Page display problems

Just a quick note to acknowledge that there is evidently something wrong with how some pages on the site are displaying. No, I have not deliberately made some pages green and made random parts of the text small and unreadable.

The cause is a WordPress plugin that I use to generate footnotes, so you’ll notice the problem on pages with lots of footnotes. Unfortunately, If I disable the plugin, these pages will become unreadable for other reasons. If I can’t resolve the problem soon I will have to find another way to manage the many footnotes on the site, and this could take a lot of time.

Anyway, fingers crossed, things will be back to normal soon.

UPDATE 20/03/2013: In case anyone cares, I’ve sorted this out by switching to a different footnote plugin. The pages that were playing up seem to be working now, but it is possible that I’ve missed something, so do let me know if something looks awry.

Site performance issues

Over the 24 hours or so that the site has been live, I’ve found that on my PC it occasionally runs very slowly, sometimes to the point of pages timing out altogether. I’ve noticed some other occasional glitches too, like the picture at the top of the page not loading. Both have these problems have occurred while viewing the site with Mozilla Firefox, and both of them seem to get fixed if I clear the browser cache (‘Tools’>’Options’>’Advanced’>’Offline storage’ in the Firefox menu).

If anyone else experiences these or other problems, please let me know by contacting me or leaving a comment below. Let me know also if clearing the cache, or some other action, has helped to resolve them.

The site seems to run a bit quicker on Google Chrome, and without issue so far. I haven’t yet dared to view it in Microsoft Internet Explorer (so much for pre-release testing!).