Somewhere between the “most important” and “only useful” thing about the wide availability map data, GPS systems, and the sort of mash-up type things that are all the rage is the ability to actually annotate map information in a useful way by combining these features.
An unfortunately titled article from the Technology Review describes a system being used in Iraq to help soldiers with their counterinsurgency efforts.
The new technology … is a map-centric application that … officers … can study before going on patrol and add to upon returning. By clicking on icons and lists, they can see the locations of key buildings, like mosques, schools, and hospitals, and retrieve information such as location data on past attacks, geotagged photos of houses and other buildings (taken with [GPS-equipped] cameras), and photos of suspected insurgents and neighborhood leaders. They can even listen to civilian interviews and watch videos of past maneuvers. It is just the kind of information that soldiers need to learn about Iraq and its perils.
It’s a wonder that such systems aren’t the norm, and the software described seems quite straightforward. But a step further, I found this quote intriguing:
“It is a bit revolutionary from a military perspective when you think about it, using peer-based information to drive the next move … Normally we are used to our higher headquarters telling the patrol leader what he needs to think.”
Not so much the cliché of technology being an enabler or democratizer (that can’t be a word, can it?) Rather, there’s something interesting about how the strength of a military structure (in discipline and rote effectiveness) is derived in part from top-down control, but that lies in direct contradiction to how information—of any kind, really—needs to move around this organization for it to be effective. What does it mean an approach like this one works in such contrast to tradition?
Blake Tregre found a typo on page 55 of Visualizing Data in one of the comments:
// Set the value of m arbitrarily high, so the first value
// found will be set as the maximum.
float m = MIN_FLOAT;
That should instead read something like:
// Set the value of m to the lowest possible value,
// so that the first value found will automatically be larger.
float m = MIN_FLOAT;
This also reminds me that the Table class used in chapter 4, makes use of Float.MAX_VALUE and -Float.MAX_VALUE, which are inherited from Java. Processing has constants named MAX_FLOAT and MIN_FLOAT that do the same thing. We added the constants because -Float.MAX_VALUE seems like especially awkward syntax when you’re just trying to get the smallest possible float. The Table class was written sometime before the constants were added to the Processing syntax, so they use the Java approach.
There is a Float.MIN_VALUE in Java, however the spec does a very unfortunate thing, because MIN_VALUE is defined as “A constant holding the smallest positive nonzero value of type float”, which sounds promising until you realize that it just means a very tiny positive number, not the minimum possible value for float. It’s not clear why they thought this would be a more useful constant (or useful at all).
And to make things even more confusing, Integer.MAX_VALUE and Integer.MIN_VALUE behave more like the way you might expect, where the MIN_VALUE is in fact that the lowest (most negative) value for an int. Had they used the same definition as Float.MIN_VALUE, then Integer.MIN_VALUE would equal 1. Which illustrates just how silly it is to do that for the Float class.
I missed seeing it live, but was told about it by a baffled friend who muttered about watching CNN and that the anchors were having a little too much fun with a new touch-screen toy while they covered returns for the primaries. The Washington Post provides more details.
Standing in front of an oversize monitor, King began poking, touching and waving at the screen like an over-caffeinated traffic cop. Each movement set in motion a series of zooming maps and flying pie charts, which King was then able to position around the screen at will.
The story also references Tim Russert’s much-talked-about (and I’d-forgotten-about) whiteboard scribbling for the 2000 election, which has me wondering about which presentation was actually more informative for viewers.
Thankfully, The Daily Show provides some insight:
Visualization works because our eyes are the highest bandwidth channel for getting information into our brains. Researchers working to restore sight have found that the second best place may be the the tongue, due to the high density of nerve endings. An amazing testament to the adaptability of the brain to begin perceiving visual/spatial information from sensors of another organ.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are developing this tongue-stimulating system, which translates images detected by a camera into a pattern of electric pulses that trigger touch receptors. The scientists say that volunteers testing the prototype soon lose awareness of on-the-tongue sensations. They then perceive the stimulation as shapes and features in space. Their tongue becomes a surrogate eye.
Earlier research had used the skin as a route for images to reach the nervous system. That people can decode nerve pulses as visual information when they come from sources other than the eyes shows how adaptable, or plastic, the brain is, says Wisconsin neuroscientist and physician Paul Bach-y-Rita, one of the device’s inventors.
Via mailing list post from Daniel Brown.
An example of how cartoonists embed sophisticated ideas inside their drawings, videos from the Washington Post of caricaturist John Kascht describing his process. I especially liked the idea of Obama not smiling (in spite of the positive persona the campaign has been selling), and the description of McCain’s head as a “clenched fist” couldn’t be more apt. These are impressions that will stick with me next time I see all these candidates.
On Obama: “There’s a messianic aura about him. … That air of destiny really registers all across his face and in his body language as well. He shines. Light literally bounces off the guy from everywhere … And yet for all of the surface appeal of him, I’m drawn to the unsmiling images of him, where he has his head tipped back with an almost aristocratic bearing. Seems very telling somehow. As a work in progress he’s completely fascinating to watch and to draw.”
On Hillary: “It seems to fit that Clinton’s cheeks are her most prominent features. Cheeks aren’t exactly the windows to the soul, but Hillary Clinton’s not exactly a ‘peek inside my soul’ kind of person, anyway. … Her round facial features seem to balance on top of one another, and along the same lines her head seems to balance on top of her narrow shoulders like a boulder on a pyramid. I find it really interesting that this graphic profile that she cuts—of all of these elements in precarious alignment—is such a perfect metaphor for her political balancing act.”
On McCain: “His jaw gives him away…it’s an anger barometer. During debates when he’s being challenged by an opponent, he bites down , and you know what he really wants to do is go to the podium next door and smack somebody. … He’s got a head like a clenched fist, and it expands with every passing year. … His small, dark eyes are watchful and wary. Whether he’s smiling or talking he bares his teeth; they’re choppers really, and they flash with metal. They look like weapons. His skin isn’t skin so much as hide.”
On Mitt: “Mitt Romney is both the easiest and the hardest of the candidates to caricature. … He seems less like an individual person than a ‘type’ of person. He’s what central casting might come up with for the game show host type or the Ward Cleaverish 50’s dad type. … Because of the heavy ridge of his brow and his deep-set eyes, it’s tough to even see his eyes, much less find a twinkle in them. But his hair sparkles. That’s what we end up making eye contact with. It’s off-putting rather than inviting.”
Link and summaries stolen from Daily Kos.
Wonderfully simple explanation of how to draw an eye. Karl used to be the graphics editor at Newsweek, and now teaches in the journalism school at Sparty.
I thought I’d share a short video I just made on how to draw an eye. I think it’s fun… Skip to the end if you’re in a hurry, though it’s only a couple of minutes long. Please pass it along to any budding artists! I plan to do a series of drawing instruction videos over time and this is the first.
Karl put together a fun conference last year. Conference might not be the right word (the attendees were the speakers, and the speakers the only attendees); really it was a handful of info geeks hanging out in Newport discussing each other’s work, but we certainly had a good time.
Information visualization is the process of converting abstract information, like raw numbers, into form. Visualization is about representing phenomena, like weather, that already have a physical manifestation. Then there’s open your damn eyes, where you just stare at the thing you’re studying. Researchers at Children’s Hospital in Boston have created a see-through Zebrafish, allowing them to watch cancer growth in the fish’s body.
Visualizing 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.
Source code for the book examples for the folks who have kindly purchased the book (lining my pockets, $1.50 at a time).
Chapter 3 (the US map example).
Chapter 4 (time series with milk, tea, coffee consumption)
Chapter 5 (connections & correlations – salary vs. performance)
Chapter 6 (scatterplot maps – zipdecode)
Chapter 7 (hierarchies, recursion, word treemap, disk space treemap)
Chapter 8 (graph layout adaptation)
These links should cover the bulk of the code. More can be found at the URLs printed in the book, or copy & pasted from Safari online. As I understand it, those who have purchased the book should have access to the online version (see the back cover).
All examples have been tested but if you find errors of any kind (typos, unused variables, profanities in the comments, the usual), please drop me an email and I’ll be happy to fix the code.