Writing

Flu headed to the dustbin of disease history?

And is disease history stored in a dustbin, for that matter?

Researchers at Dana-Farber may have found influenza’s weak spot, which could lead to a vaccine:

Yearly vaccination is currently needed because different strains of the virus circulate around the world regularly, owing to the germs’ rapidly changing genetic makeup. But the researchers reported yesterday that they had found one pocket of the virus that appears to remain static in multiple strains, making it an attractive target for a vaccine, as well as drugs.

And instead of fighting the primary part virus head on, you figure out a way to attack a portion that does not mutate in the weaker part and neutralize it:

Most vaccines work by revving up the body’s disease-fighting cells, helping them to recognize and rapidly neutralize invading germs. The researchers realized that the disease fighters generated by existing flu vaccines – which contain killed or weakened whole viruses – head straight toward the biggest target, the globular head. It is, in effect, a Trojan horse that prevents the body’s immune system from directing more of its firepower toward the stalk of the [virus], where the scientists found the pocket that was so static. That site contains machinery that lets the virus penetrate human cells.

A vaccine is a way off, but they say it should be possible to make a drug that helps the body create antibodies to fight off the flu sooner than that. Incredible work.

Monday, February 23, 2009 | genetics  
Book

Visualizing Data Book CoverVisualizing Data is my book about computational information design. It covers the path from raw data to how we understand it, detailing how to begin with a set of numbers and produce images or software that lets you view and interact with information. Unlike nearly all books in this field, it is a hands-on guide intended for people who want to learn how to actually build a data visualization.

The text was published by O’Reilly in December 2007 and can be found at Amazon and elsewhere. Amazon also has an edition for the Kindle, for people who aren’t into the dead tree thing. (Proceeds from Amazon links found on this page are used to pay my web hosting bill.)

Examples for the book can be found here.

The book covers ideas found in my Ph.D. dissertation, which is basis for Chapter 1. The next chapter is an extremely brief introduction to Processing, which is used for the examples. Next is (chapter 3) is a simple mapping project to place data points on a map of the United States. Of course, the idea is not that lots of people want to visualize data for each of 50 states. Instead, it’s a jumping off point for learning how to lay out data spatially.

The chapters that follow cover six more projects, such as salary vs. performance (Chapter 5), zipdecode (Chapter 6), followed by more advanced topics dealing with trees, treemaps, hierarchies, and recursion (Chapter 7), plus graphs and networks (Chapter 8).

This site is used for follow-up code and writing about related topics.

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