The field in snowy Foxborough, Massachusetts after a running play in Sunday’s football game:
(Click the image for the original version, taken from the broadcast.)
Look at all the footprints in the snow: The previous play began to the right of the white line, where you can see most of the snow was cleared by the players lining up. Just to the left of that is another cleared area, where a group of players began to tackle Sammy Morris. But it’s not until almost ten yards — two more white lines, and the area below where the players are standing in that picture — that he’s finally taken to the ground. For a visual explanation, watch the play:
(Mute the audio and spare yourself the insipid commentary from the FOX booth. And then be thankful that at least it’s not Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.)
The path left behind in the snow explains exactly how the play developed, according to the players’ feet. (And as a running play, feet are important.) Absolutely beautiful.
One of the best things about December is watching football games played in the snow. For instance last year, there was a game between Cleveland and Buffalo last year that looked like it was being played inside a snow globe, with the globe being picked up and shaken during each commercial break.
Boston was a complete mess yesterday with a few inches of snow, sleet, and muck falling from the sky, which made a mess of the field where the New England Patriots were happily hosting the Arizona Cardinals, who are less accustomed to digging out their cars and leaving behind patio furniture.
Another image from later in the game, this one instead depicts the substitutions of players as they near the goal line. Note the lines in the snow that begin at the left, and lead to where the players are lined up:
Every book ever written about marketing will at some point dig up that old, familiar line: “I know half my advertising is wasted—I just don’t know which half.”
The article by Seth Stevenson goes on to discuss What Sticks, by Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart, a pair of marketing researchers who study the advertising industry. Mad Men notwithstanding, I find the topic fascinating as a trained designer (trained meaning someone who learned to make such things) who happily pays Comcast $12.95 a month for the privilege to never hear or see Levitra, Viagra, or Cialis advertisements.
But separately, and as someone who did a lecture last night, I really enjoyed this point about anecdotes:
Why is this anecdote-laden style so popular with business authors, and so successful (to the tune of best-selling books and huge speaking fees)? I think it comes down to two things: 1) Fascinating anecdotes can, just by themselves, make you feel like you’ve really learned something… 2) A skillful anecdote-wielder can trick us into thinking the anecdote is prescriptive. In fact, what’s being sold is success by association. It’s no coincidence that [one such book talks] about the iPod—a recent mega-hit we’re all familiar with—in at least three chapters. It’s tempting to believe that bite-sized anecdotes about how the iPod was conceived, or designed, or marketed will reveal the secret formula for kicking butt with our own projects. Of course, it’s never that simple. An anecdote is a single data point, …
I find the first point interesting in light of the way in which we digest information from the world around us. We’re continually consuming data and then trying to synthesize it to larger meanings. And perhaps anecdotes are a kind of shortcut for this process because they provide something that’s already been digested but still feels substantial because it affords a brief leap in our thinking (and one that seems significant at the time).
Of course, unless you’re a baby bird, you’re better off digesting on your own.
As a side note, I went looking for an image to illustrate this blob of text, and was amused to find that the results from a google image search for “anecdote” consisted almost entirely of cartoons. Which reminds me of a story…
Another language, Chef, illustrates different design decisions for structuring play. Chef facilities double-coding programs as recipes. Variables are declared in an ingredients list, with amounts indicating the initial value (e.g., 114 g of red salmon). The type of measurement determines whether an ingredient is wet or dry; wet ingredients are output as characters, dry ingredients are output as numbers. Two types of memory are provided, mixing bowls and baking dishes. Mixing bowls hold ingredients which are still being manipulated, while baking dishes hold collections of ingredients to output. What makes Chef particularly interesting is that all operations have a sensible interpretation as a step in a food recipe. Where Shakespeare programs parody Shakespearean plays, and often contain dialog that doesn’t work as dialog in a play (“you are as hard as the sum of yourself and a stone wall”), it is possible to write programs in Chef that might reasonably be carried out as a recipe. Chef recipes do have the unfortunate tendency to produce huge quantities of food, however, particularly because the sous-chef may be asked to produce sub-recipes, such as sauces, in a loop.
Wonderful. (And a nice break for someone who has been fretting about languages and syntax over the last couple weeks.)
The folks at the Boston Chapter of the IEEE Computer Society / Greater Boston Chapter of the ACM have kindly invited me to give a talk this Thursday, December 11.
The details can be found here, here, here, and here. They all contain identical information, but have different text layouts and varied sizes of my grinning mug. You can choose which one you like best (and sorry, none are available without my picture).
Producing visualization required the development of new tools capable of analyzing huge quantities of complex data, and interpreting it visually. In the forefront is Processing, a software system devised by the American designers, Ben Fry and Casey Reas, to enable computer programmers to create visual images, and designers to get to grips with programming. “Processing is a bridge between those fields,” said Reas. “Designers feel comfortable with it because it enables them to work visually, yet it also feels familiar to programmers.”
Paola Antonelli on visualization:
“Visualization is not simply an evolution of graphic design, but a complete and complex design form that requires spatial, narrative, synthetic and graphic sensitivity and expertise,” explained Antonelli. “That’s why we see so many practitioners – architects, product designers, filmmakers, statisticians and graphic designers – flocking to it.”
Take a scientific question like the genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees. Would you prefer to plough through an essay on the subject, or to glance at the visualization created by Fry in which the 75,000 letters of coding in the human genome form a photographic image of a chimp’s head? Virtually all of our genetic information is identical, and Fry highlights the discrepancies by depicting nine of the letters as red dots. No contest again.
The full article is here, and also includes a slide show of other works.
Saudi Aramco was originally an American company. It goes way back to the 1930s when two American geologists from Standard Oil of California discovered oil in the Saudi desert.
Standard Oil formed a consortium with Texaco, Exxon and Mobil, which became Aramco. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Saudi Arabia bought them out and nationalized the company. Today, Saudi Aramco is the custodian of the country’s sole source of wealth and power.
Over 16,000 people work at the company’s massive compound, which is like a little country with its own security force, schools, hospitals, and even its own airline.
According to Abdallah Jum’ah, Saudi Aramco’s president and CEO, Aramco is the world’s largest oil producing company.
And it’s the richest company in the world, worth, according to the latest estimate, $781 billion.
I was about to change the channel (perhaps as you were just about to stop reading this post), when they showed the big board:
Jum’ah gave 60 Minutes a tour of the company’s command center, where engineers scrutinize and analyze every aspect of the company’s operations on a 220-foot digital screen.
“Every facility in the kingdom, every drop of oil that comes from the ground is monitored in real time in this room,” Jum’ah explained. “And we have control of each and every facility, each and every pipeline, each and every valve on the pipeline. And therefore, we know exactly what is happening in the system from A to Z.”
A large map shows all the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, including Ghawar, the largest on-shore oil field in the world, and Safaniya, the largest off-shore oil field in the world; green squares on the map monitor supertankers on the high seas in real time.
Here’s a short part of the segment that shows the display:
Since the smaller video doesn’t do it justice, several still images follow, each linked to their Comcastic, artifact-ridden HD versions:
Did rooms like this first exist in the movies and compelled everyone to imitate?
New guys and interns have to sit in front of the wall of vibrating bright blues:
The display is ambient in the sense that nobody’s actually using the larger version to do real work (you can see relevant portions replicated on individuals’ monitors). It seems to serve as a means of knowing what everyone in the room is up to (or as a deterrent against firing up Solitaire — I’m looking at you Ahmad). But more importantly, it’s there for visitors, especially visitors with video cameras, and people who write about visualization and happened to catch a segment about their info palace since it immediately followed the Patriots-Seahawks game.
A detail of one of the displays bears this out — an overload of ALL CAPS SANS SERIF TYPE with the appropriately unattractive array reds and greens. This sort of thing always makes me curious about what such displays would look like if they were designed properly. Rather than blowing up low resolution monitors, what would it look like if it were designed for the actual space and viewing distance in which it’s used?
Having the book published in Japanese is incredibly gratifying. Two of my greatest mentors (Suguru Ishizaki at CMU, and later John Maeda at MIT) were Japanese Americans who trained at Tsukuba University, training that informed both their own work and their teaching style.
I first unveiled Processing during a two week workshop course at Musashino Art University in Japan in August 2001, working with a group of about 40 students. And in 2005, we won the Interactive Design Prize from the Tokyo Type Director’s Club.
At any rate, I can’t wait to see the book in person, this is just too cool.
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.)
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.