Personal Data Flow Diagram

With my Palm Centro, I’ve been playing with methods of keeping all my contacts and calendars up to date. I’ll admit it’s more of a geeky labour of love rather than a legitimate need for a solution. As the complexity of the links involved became clear, and after I had some problems with timezone shifting of my calendar events due to duplicated synchronization (always a bummer), I had started to draw it out as a simple data flow diagram.

Then I saw this beautiful Disney Organisation Chart from 1943, and I decided to create the flow chart in this style. The only tool I had immediate access to was Microsoft Visio at work, so one lunchtime I had a first crack at it.

One of the nice stylish features of the Disney diagram was the text wrapped inside the circles, fitted to the curves. Microsoft Visio doesn’t allow you to fit text to a curve, unlike pretty much all other drawing and paint software (even the “business graphics” packages do). The solution to this requirement according to the helpful souls up in Redmond is to create a Word-Art object in Word and paste that in. This would be fine except that it a) looks shit, b) can’t be edited in Visio, and c) doesn’t actually work anyway.

A quick Google found The Visio Guy and the Circular Text Generator Version 2, which is brilliant. Thanks, Visio Guy!

> wait
Time passes...

Since then, I decided I didn’t want to be trapped in Visio, so I transferred it over to Inkscape, the open-source vector graphics editing package. Inkscape is a work in progress, but so far it’s very powerful, and getting friendlier by the update. It’s default file format is SVG, so at a stretch you could edit the file in a text editor (if you were feeling crazy).

Inkscape is not yet at 1.0, so some features are a bit clunky, and many would be far easier to do in a mature commercial package, but I like to support these efforts. Particularly useful were the “Flow text into shape” feature, which is a basic tool in most other drawing software, even MS Office. The key feature for me was the Connectors feature, which is again the most obvious tool in Visio, because it allows you to connect shapes together with lines which stay connected when you move the shapes, and which can avoid overlapping other shapes if you want. Ideal for data flow diagrams.

Anyway, here is the current version of the graphic, as of today’s date.

personal data flowchart 2009 06

There is a bit of a gap in the lower left, where JPilot should really sync to Thunderbird, which would be sensible, instead of having all my C.E.N.T (Contacts, Events, Notes, Tasks) info go around the houses via Google Calendar and web. There are other weird things going on, and stuff missing, but it’s a start.

There was a box called Schedule World, which was a free service for syncing info over the web, but now the developer is charging, so bye bye. I’d bought a SyncML client for the Centro as well, which is now redundant. Guess I should remove it from the diagram.

Also, this is a PNG file exported from Inkscape. I could add links to the SVG and post that up here, but SVG support is not ubiquitous yet, so I won’t. Don’t want to deny the IE crowd.