Writing

1995? Bah!

Newsweek has posted a 1995 article by Clifford Stoll slamming “The Internet.”

Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

Well, maybe Negroponte was wrong that we’d be buying newspapers. Ahem.

But the thing I find most amazing about the article, however, is that the all the examples that he cites as futuristic B.S. are in fact the successful parts. Take shopping:

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

He could have at least picked some of the dumber ideas about “the future” that were being pushed at the time, but instead he’s a shockingly accurate anti-futurist.

I’ll happily point out that in 1995 I couldn’t imagine buying clothes online either. In fact I remember having a conversation with Frank Ludolph (former Xerox PARC researcher, part of the Lisa team and worked on the Mac Finder as well, at Sun at the time) about exactly that. He said you had to be able to touch the clothes and get the color and texture — I concurred. Then again, Frank was also cheerfully embarrassed to admit (that same Summer) that he was one of the people (at PARC or Apple, I don’t recall) who argued against the idea of overlapping windows in user interfaces because they would be too confusing for users. Instead he (and many others in that camp) advocated that the screen be divided into a grid of panels.

It’s tough to be a futurist, but Stoll seems to have the market cornered on being an exactly wrong, and very entertaining, anti-futurist.

Monday, March 1, 2010 | notafuturist  
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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