I’ve been working on ways to visualize the current world economic situation along with the bailouts, the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and so on, but South Park beat me to it.
New work! Sometime collaborator and savior of this site Eugene Kuo and I have developed a piece for the PARSE show opening tomorrow (Friday, March 27) at the Axiom Art Gallery in Boston. From the announcement:
Curated by AXIOM Founding Director, Heidi Kayser, PARSE, includes the work of five artists who use data to present new perspectives on the underlying information that makes us human. Overlooked patterns of data surround us daily. The artists in PARSE sort, separate and amalgamate physical, mental and social information to create intricate visualizations in print, interactive media, animation and sculpture. These pieces track and reflect our brainwaves during REM sleep, our genetic code, our social icons, and even our carnal desires.
The opening is from 6-9pm. The gallery location is amazing — it’s a nook to the side of the Green Street subway station (on the Orange Line in Boston) — it makes me think of what it might be like to have a show at the lair of Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack. I love that it’s been reserved as a gallery space.
Martin & Fernanda are showing their Fleshmap project, along with a pair of amalgamations by Jason Salavon, and two sculptures from Jen Hall (hrm, can’t find a link for those). Our project is described here, and uses comparisons of the DNA between many species that have been the focus of my curiosity recently to make compositions like the one seen to the right.
I happened across On the Marionette Theatre by Heinrich von Kleist while reading the Wikipedia entry on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. Pullman had cited it as one of three influences, and it being the shortest of the three, I gave it a shot (naturally, due to my apparent “young adult” reading level that found me reading his trilogy in the first place).
The story begins with the writer having a chance meeting with a friend, and inquiring about his apparent interest in puppet theater. As the story moves on:
“And what is the advantage your puppets would have over living dancers?”
“The advantage? First of all a negative one, my friend: it would never be guilty of affectation. For affectation is seen, as you know, when the soul, or moving force, appears at some point other than the centre of gravity of the movement. Because the operator controls with his wire or thread only this centre, the attached limbs are just what they should be.… lifeless, pure pendulums, governed only by the law of gravity. This is an excellent quality. You’ll look for it in vain in most of our dancers.”
The remainder is a wonderful parable of vanity and grace.
An essay by Bruce Schneier on BBC.com:
Welcome to the future, where everything about you is saved. A future where your actions are recorded, your movements are tracked, and your conversations are no longer ephemeral. A future brought to you not by some 1984-like dystopia, but by the natural tendencies of computers to produce data.
Data is the pollution of the information age. It’s a natural by-product of every computer-mediated interaction. It stays around forever, unless it’s disposed of. It is valuable when reused, but it must be done carefully. Otherwise, its after-effects are toxic.
The essay goes on to cite specific examples, though they sound more high-tech than the actual problem. Later it returns to the important part:
Cardinal Richelieu famously said: “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” When all your words and actions can be saved for later examination, different rules have to apply.
Society works precisely because conversation is ephemeral; because people forget, and because people don’t have to justify every word they utter.
Conversation is not the same thing as correspondence. Words uttered in haste over morning coffee, whether spoken in a coffee shop or thumbed on a BlackBerry, are not official correspondence.
And an earlier paragraph that highlights why I talk about privacy on this site:
And just as 100 years ago people ignored pollution in our rush to build the Industrial Age, today we’re ignoring data in our rush to build the Information Age.
What a brilliant woman:
Liskov, the first U.S. woman to earn a PhD in computer science, was recognized for helping make software more reliable, consistent and resistant to errors and hacking. She is only the second woman to receive the honor, which carries a $250,000 purse and is often described as the “Nobel Prize in computing.”
I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t more familiar with her work prior to reading about it in Tuesday’s Globe, but wow:
Liskov’s early innovations in software design have been the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java and C#.
Liskov’s most significant impact stems from her influential contributions to the use of data abstraction, a valuable method for organizing complex programs. She was a leader in demonstrating how data abstraction could be used to make software easier to construct, modify and maintain…
In another contribution, Liskov designed CLU, an object-oriented programming language incorporating clusters to provide coherent, systematic handling of abstract data types. She and her colleagues at MIT subsequently developed efficient CLU compiler implementations on several different machines, an important step in demonstrating the practicality of her ideas. Data abstraction is now a generally accepted fundamental method of software engineering that focuses on data rather than processes.
This has nothing to do with gender, of course, but I find it exciting apropos of this earlier post regarding women in computer science.
Update: As of January 1st, 2010, I’m no longer at Seed. Read more here.
Some eighteen months as visualization vagabond (roving writer, effusive explainer, help me out here…) came to a close in December when I signed up with Seed Media Group to direct a new visualization studio here in Cambridge. We now have a name—the Phyllotaxis Lab—and as of last week, we’ve made it official with a press release:
NEW YORK and CAMBRIDGE, MA (March 5, 2009) – Building on Seed Media Group’s strong design culture, Adam Bly, founder and CEO, announced today the appointment of Ben Fry as the company’s first Design Director. Seed Media Group also announced the launch of a new unit focused on data and information visualization to be based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and headed by Ben Fry.
Seed Visualization will help companies and governments find solutions to clearly communicate complex data sets and information to various stakeholders. The unit’s research arm, the Phyllotaxis Lab, will work to advance the field of data visualization and will undertake research and experimental design work. The Lab will partner with academic institutions around the world and will provide education on the field of data visualization.
And about that name:
Phyllotaxis is a form commonly found in nature that is derived from the Fibonacci sequence. It is the inspiration for Seed Media Group’s logo, designed in 2005 by Stefan Sagmeister and recently included in the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit at MoMA. “Much like a phyllotaxis, visualization is about both numbers and information as well as structure and form,” said Ben Fry. “It’s a reminder that beauty is derived from the intelligence of the solution.”
This is gonna be great.
These hopes were later dashed (or perhaps only fed further) when the apparition was denied in a post on the Official Google Blog crafted by two of the gentlemen involved in the data collection for Google Ocean. The post is fascinating as it describes much of the process that they use to get readings of the ocean floor. They explain how echosounding (soundwaves bounced into the depths) is used to determine distance, and when that’s not possible, they actually use the sea level itself:
Above large underwater mountains (seamounts), the surface of the ocean is actually higher than in surrounding areas. These seamounts actually increase gravity in the area, which attracts more water and causes sea level to be slightly higher. The changes in water height are measurable using radar on satellites. This allows us to make a best guess as to what the rest of the sea floor looks like, but still at relatively low resolutions (the model predicts the ocean depth about once every 4000 meters). What you see in Google Earth is a combination of both this satellite-based model and real ship tracks from many research cruises (we first published this technique back in 1997).
How great is that? The water actually reveals shapes beneath because of gravity’s rearrangement of the ocean surface.
A more accurate map of the entire ocean would require a bit more effort:
…we could map the whole ocean using ships. A published U.S. Navy study found that it would take about 200 ship-years, meaning we’d need one ship for 200 years, or 10 ships for 20 years, or 100 ships for two years. It costs about $25,000 per day to operate a ship with the right mapping capability, so 200 ship-years would cost nearly two billion dollars.
Holy crap, two billion dollars? That’s real money!
That may seem like a lot of money…
Yeah, no kidding — that’s what I just said!
…but it’s not that far off from the price tag of, say, a new sports stadium.
You mean this would teach us more than New Yorkers will learn from the Meadowlands Stadium debacle, beyond “the Jets still stink” and “Eli Manning is still a weenie”? (Excellent Bob Herbert op-ed on a similar topic — the education part, not the Manning part.)
So in the end, this “Atlantis” is the result of the rounding error in the patchwork of data produced by the various measurement and tiling methods. Not as exciting as a waterlogged and trident-wielding civilization, but the remainder of the article is a great read if you’re curious about how the ocean images are collected assembled.
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.
- Processing 2.0 alpha 3 released
- Processing 0195 now posted
- And speaking of height...
- The importance of showing numbers in context
- Come work with us in Boston
- Minnesota, meet Physics
- Two day visualization course at Harvard
- The growth of the Processing project
- Processing + Eclipse
- When you spend your life doing news graphics...
- November 2011
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- Always makes me giggle to see the phrase “aesthetic appeal” used scientific papers (proxy for “we thought it was pretty” or “looked cool”) 2012-09-17
- @andybak They don't have an answer. If bzfileids.dat gets larger than 1GB, you'll have to uninstall, reinstall, & restart from scratch. 2012-09-10
- @L05_ @codeanticode this is not an appropriate place for bug reports. 2012-09-08
- @vhgalvao @processing_org @REAS documentation is in revisions.txt in the meantime. 2012-09-05
- @arctic_sunrise @alignedleft @REAS just a server config issue I need to fix with the new beta update. 2012-09-05
- After a promising start, very disappointed with @backblaze... Too many files corrupts backup w/o warning; now patronizing customer support. 2012-09-04
- @novalsi I think they're all backwards-compatible, but several can be simplified based on additions to the language. 2012-09-04
- Processing 2.0 beta 1 has arrived! http://t.co/jtgijsJ3 and the damage here: http://t.co/jGRH5ZSN 2012-09-04
- @cheesedeath nah, oddly enough it worked without any changes 2012-08-30
- (...bonus points if you misread "think C" as a reference "Lightspeed C"...) 2012-08-30
- More updates...