The most extreme example of unlikely software being pressed into service is Brendan Halpin of the Micro-Social Change centre's use of the EMACS text editor! A calendar data set is created consisting of a series of lines, one for each person, each containing a sequences of letter codes indicating the person's status at each point in time, EMACS is used to globally append escape codes changing the background colour depending on the letter that appears. The result is a coloured lifeline diagram similar to those in this essay and so long as you know the escape codes, EMACS is much faster than Excel.
So far, this essay has been concerned with visualisation but not with computer graphics. The remainder of the essay explores the pros and cons of generating lifeline diagrams through software, using the Steam Engine Makers' database as the central example but also drawing on discussion with researchers working with two large scale modern longitudinal datasets:
Essay a Forest lifeline - Motion Display India
Like the work of time geographers, the examples used in this essay are all essentially manually drawn, and this requires some defence in an initiative concerned with computer graphics. In a strict sense, most of the graphics here are computer-generated, in that they were drawn using Adobe Illustrator but often starting from a scan of an original drawn with pen and ink. However, again as far as we can discover, no software exists to create a final lifeline diagram from raw data, and the partial solutions discussed below create poor quality output. Given that the central end-product was to be a conventional essay, where the software used would be invisible; given that one of the two other non-GIS case studies within the initiative was concerned with the creation of Lexis pencils, a form of lifeline diagram; and given that the time available meant that even if we had spent all our time developing software its functionality would have been very limited, it was decided to concentrate on exploring ideas rather than developing software.