Hi, Boing Boing readers. Welcome to FlowingData. For the new visitors, here's the rundown (and for the old visitors, welcome back). My name is Nathan, and I'm a statistics graduate student / computer science graduate obsessed with data and visualization. Here on FlowingData I cover how statisticians, computer scientists, designers, and other experts use data to help us better understand ourselves and our surroundings.
I started a FlowingData Facebook group a couple of weeks ago, and I guessed that about two people would join. I was slightly off, and we're up to 92 now (plus me), which makes me happy. Thank you for making me happy you 92 people :).
I do have one more favor to ask of you. If there's anything you find interesting - data sets, visualization, art pieces, analyses, posts from your own blogs - please do post to our group. My hope is that FlowingData will grow into more of a community than just me on my soap box. As much as I like hearing myself talk, I like listening to what others have to say a lot more.
If you haven't joined the FlowingData Facebook group yet, I highly encourage it. We're from all areas of the data world from statistics to design, computer science, to education, psychology, economics, and many others, which makes for very good conversation.
Everyone knows that The New York Times produces great graphics. I bet you're interested in how those graphics get made. What's the process of making a graphic? What makes a good visual journalist? What's a day in the life of a New York Times graphics editor? Now you can find out.
From February 25 (um, yesterday) until this Friday, you can talk to The New York Times graphics director, Steve Duenes. Go ahead. I know you want to.
Looking very dashing in that picture there, Steve.
Welcome, Boing Boing readers. If you're new to FlowingData, you might want to read the about page to find out what FlowingData is all about. Essentially, I like to cover how people from different fields -- statistics, computer science, design, etc -- are using data to explore ourselves and the environment around us, mainly with data visualization.
Oftentimes, data (or information) just gets overlooked or misinterpreted. We should work on changing that, and I think that data visualization is the way to make people see.
By now, if everything has gone to plan, I should have gone on my short 2-hour flight and be at Georgia Tech in Atlanta listening to the welcoming address at Journalism 3G: The Future of Technology in the Field. All 230 seats were sold out, so it should be pretty interesting. If you're not at the event and would like to listen in (and watch), lucky for you the talks will be webcast live (that is, if all the tech works, which we all know never seems to go exactly as planned).
UPDATE: Things did not go according to plan. Security took an abnormally long time, and I missed my flight by 5 minutes. My only option was to rebook for an extra $1,000 (thieves!). That flight would have gotten me into Atlanta around midnight, which just wasn't worth it. So I'm going to miss the symposium. So disappointed. At least I can still watch the webcast.
I just created a FlowingData Facebook group where (I hope) readers can discuss and post interesting goodies about data visualization and statistics. Honestly, I'm only half-expecting like two people to join, but hey, it's a start. I'm a Facebook addict, so I'll be checking it regularly whether anyone joins or not. Please do join though :). I'd like to know who's reading and what fun things you all are up to.
P.S. On a completely unrelated note, on Hadley's request, you can now subscribe to the FlowingData comment feed.
My grandma, Jane Yau, passed away a couple of weeks ago, and I attended her funeral this past weekend. It was tough at first seeing her laying there lifeless, because the last time I saw her was about 8 months ago, healthy and smiling. I had to walk away with eyes full of tears. I wondered how in the world I was going to deliver her eulogy.
I went up again though and just looked at her for a long time. She was peaceful, almost like she was sleeping, and I felt this calm cover over me. My heart beat slowed and the sadness left. That was the effect my grandma always had on me.
I'll miss you, grandma. I hope I can make you proud.
I'm headed to Journalism 3G: The Future of Technology in the Field February 22-23.
The spreadsheet, word processor, web browser, digital audio and video, blogsâ€“each an example of the vaunted killer software applicationâ€“have all become valuable, some would say essential, tools of journalism. Now Web 2.0 has forever altered the nature of software innovation, while at the very same time the news industry undergoes historic change. Those two points taken together mean one thing: Time lags which used to buffer innovations in computation from their inevitable impacts on newsrooms are poised to disappear. Whoâ€™s ready for this? We plan to see.
Some of the participating organizations include Digg, The New York Times, and Reuters with some really interesting-looking panels over the two days:
- Advances in News Gathering
- Improving Journalism Workflow: Automation & Productivity
- Social Computing and Journalism
- Ubiquitous Journalism
- Participant Journalism & Journalism Participation: Authoring and Interacting in New Media
- Sensemaking & Visualization
- Information Mashups: Aggregation, Syndication, and Web Services
- 21st Century Editor in Chief
Naturally, I'm most excited about Sensemaking & Visualization. Is anyone else planning on going?
You've probably already noticed (unless you're subscribed to the feed), but FlowingData now has a brand new look and feel. It started with a tweak, and then I just got carried away. I think it took a turn for the best though. Some of the changes include a new logo, featured articles, and more focus on visualization. Continue Reading
It's been a little over six months since I put up my first FlowingData post about creating effective visualization. Going through the archive, I'm amazed by how much this blog has developed and more importantly, by the people I've found who have many of the same academic interests that I do. For that, I'm extremely grateful.
I'm also pretty impressed with how consistent I've been with the posts, because to be honest, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep it up when I first started. Had I known about all of the interesting data visualization work and research going on, I wouldn't have had such sour thoughts. Now I know better, and I hope others are benefiting.
So here we are -- the top 10 most viewed posts for 2007:
- Three Designers, a Statistician, and Migration Inflows Data
- What is the Best Way to Learn Flash/Actionscript for Data Visualization?
- News Flowing Through Moveable Type at The New York Times Building
- Visualizar Showcase Officially Opened at Medialab
- Yahoo Charts Control Library Now Available
- Sharing Personal Data to Push Social Data Analysis
- Netflix Prize Dataset Visualization
- 100 Reasons You Should Be Interested in, Want to Share, and Get Excited About Data
- Bars as an Alternative to Bubble Charts
- Use Flare Visualization Toolkit to Build Interactive Viz for the Web
Happy new year! See you in 2008.
Merry Christmas Bedford Falls! Merry Christmas you old Savings and Loan! Merry Christmas Mr. Potter! Merry Christmas! Gosh, I love that movie. I watch it every year, and it never gets old. That scene where he comes home so happy to be alive, his children are hanging off of him, and he's embracing his wife... wonderful.
On that note, posts here on FlowingData will be sparse through January 1 as I buckle down and focus on relaxing and having fun. I can't wait to see what Santa brings me. I am going to make sure I leave him extra cookies and a big glass of milk. I suggest you do the same. Santa wasn't so nice last year. He gave me a pair of used socks, a half-eaten candy cane, and a note that asked, "Where are my cookies and milk?" I am sorry Santa. It will never happen again.
Merry Christmas and have a happy new year!
The Visualizar Showcase is officially open and ready for public viewing, so if you're in Madrid (and I'm about 80% sure you will be) from now until January 5, 2008 check out the projects spawned from two weeks of hard work. You can find a complete list of the projects at the Visualizar website, but here are a few of my favorites in no particular order.
Mail Garden, from Kjen Wilkens, explores emails under a garden metaphor with the implication that our email is in someway living (like all data). In the visualization, emails exist as plants and as you scroll over you can read each email. The best part of of Mail Garden though is probably when you're not using it. When the system is idle, you can watch your plants (your emails) gently sway back and forth in the wind.
As if Twitter weren't playful enough, TweetPad, by Elie Zananiri, is a visualization that lets you playfully explore the live Twitter feed. Elie's main interest was in word interaction, and you can see that clearly in the TweetPad. Move the cursor clockwise for synonyms, back and forth to shuffle words, and counter clockwise to revert back to the original tweet all the while the Twitter feed is coming at you live.
This visualization, as you might have guessed, explores one of the most popular canned meats in the world. No, just kidding. Spamology, by Irad Lee, explores email spam. The visualization is nice as you explore the small and giant buildings of spam, but it's the sound accompaniment that really makes it. Sound corresponds to the height of each spam building. Usually, pieces like this end up sounding like noise, but this was more like beautiful music.
Now before I cover every work, which I'm a little tempted to do, I'll stop here. If you happen to be in Madrid, Spain, go check it out. If you read this blog, you're more than likely to enjoy the projects on display at the Medialab... or you can watch it on the news. Visualizar was also featured on some news show in Madrid. Be patient. The segment on the workshop comes some time around ten and a half minutes.
I feel like it's been forever since my last post, so I just wanted to let everyone know that I am not dead.
It's the last few days here at Visualizar so I've got a couple of late nights ahead to make sure we get our project done, and on Wednesday, we set things up for the one-month exhibition. That should be fun. It'll be especially nice to see everyone else's work out on display.
The most interesting part about this workshop has probably been working and talking to designers about data visualization. I'm a statistician. Everyone else is a designer of some sort. With a statistics background and just coming off my New York Times internship, it felt really strange for the first week to go from the very literal and straightforward representation of data to the artsy, metaphorical data visualizations.
The defining moment -- when I saw a huge difference between designers and statisticians' views on visualization -- was what followed after a talk from someone from the GapMinder foundation.
I'll get into all of this stuff I've learned once I return to the lovely United States of America. In the meantime though, there was short blurb about the Visualizar workshop on We Make Money Not Art. There's a picture of my back. I'm famous.
Oh, and if you're really bored, the MediaLab has a Flickr stream. They've been taking tons of photos.
It's been a couple of days here in Madrid. It's about 6:00am in the morning and I really should get back to bed. I'm incredibly jet lagged though, so that's not really an option. The past couple of nights I've woken up at 4:30am and have had trouble falling back asleep. Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm very much a night person and always wake up late, so obviously, I've been feeling a little off the past couple of days.
Anyways, the past couple of days have been interesting. I flew in on Wednesday, and was extremely tired. I only slept maybe an hour on the plane. Once I came in, I got lost for several hours looking for the hostel and then the Medialab. That was fun.
I've joined this group of three graphic designers / media artists. We're dealing with a good bit of migration data in a project now known as Humanflows, and a good bit of data means a lot of Statistics fun.
OK, I'm finding myself in a bit of a daze at the moment, so I think I'll pause it here, and resume a coherent thought later...
Have a good weekend :)
On a completely unrelated note, I just had real hot chocolate for the first time. I mean, it was like melted chocolate with cream. Delicious.
When people I know can't decide whether or not go to graduate school, I always encourage them to do so, because cool stuff like this happens. First I get to intern at The New York Times and now I'm headed to Madrid, Spain for two weeks to attend the Visualizar workshop. As you might have guessed, it's a visualization workshop, and it's headed by Benjamin Fry, Bestiario and Adrian Holovaty. I'm not sure who Bestiario and Adrian (although I will soon), but Ben is most recently known, or I guess most widely known for his work on Processing with Casey Reas.
There are ten projects, of which one I think I will be collaborating on. I'm not really sure how it's going to work yet. Unfortunately I'm going to miss the conference part of Visualizar, because I couldn't get to Spain soon enough on such short notice. I'm headed back to Buffalo on Monday (I'm in Los Angeles for the week) and then my flight to Spain is on Tuesday.
Sorry in Advance
Sorry in advance as my posts on FlowingData become a little sporadic during these two weeks, but I'll be sure to write about the goings on in Spain while I'm there. I'm pretty sure it's going to be really interesting and extremely educational.
Eyebeam, an art and technology research center, has posted two eco-viz challenges to get artists and technologists thinking about data visualization and the role it plays in raising environmental awareness. The first challenge is to create an eco-icon that signals something about the environment. It might be displayed as a sign or on a cell phone. The second challenge is to create an eco-viz that focuses on a data set and displays the data in a novel way.
This is exactly why eco-viz has become so important. Consumers (myself included) don't know how they're wasting resources and the effect they're having on the environment. All consumers know is that the longer they leave the lights on or the higher they turn up the heat, the more money they have to pay at the end of the month. If consumers are consistently wasteful, then a high bill won't seem that unusual. A few more dollars per month isn't enough to get someone to turn the thermostat down a few degrees.
As Peter B. Crabb put it in Control of Energy-depleting Behavior (1992)
[P]eople do not use energy; they use devices and products. How devices and products are designed determines how we use them, which in turn determines rates of energy depletion.
The deadline for the eco-icon challenge is coming up soon -- November 5. There's more time until the eco-viz deadline -- December 8.
I thought Robert was just thinking out loud when he wrote his post on World Visualization Day, but I was apparently wrong. There's now a simple World Visualization Day site, a World Visualization Day Facebook group, and a first pass at a logo.
World Visualization Day aims to take visualization out of the ivory tower of academia and bring it to the people. On one day of the year (which still needs to be decided), there will be events throughout the world for the general public to become aware of the power and usefulness of visualization, and to learn how to use it.
I think this is an excellent idea. Nobody outside of the field seems to have a clue about what visualization is. It's always funny to talk to my mom about what I do. Despite all the nodding and mm hmm-ing, I know it's all completely over her head.
It gets even worse when I start talking to people about Statistics. The eyes glaze over, and I just know they're not even listening. Nobody seems to know what Statistics is outside of sports figures and standard deviation. "If I were doing what you were doing, I'd be a sports statistician." Sure that'd be cool, but you know, there's more to Statistics than the number of touchdowns Randy Moss has scored this season (It's 10 by the way. He's my top fantasy football player :).
What about a World Statistics Day?
I'm tempted to ask for a World Statistics Day, but what would that even involve? A bunch of results from analyses? Theory? Algorithms? It would probably end up looking a lot like a World Visualization Day. Statistics results always seem to be more compelling when accompanied by some sexy visualization.
Nevermind. I'm getting off-topic. So yeah, World Visualization Day, check it out. It'd be fun to see all of the world's top information and data visualists (?) putting together pieces to show everyone what visualization really is.
I stumbled across the Social Data Analysis workshop, happening as part of CHI 2008. It is being organized by none other than IBM Visual Communication Lab's Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda ViÃ©gas in addition to UC Berkeley's Jeffrey Heer and Maneesh Agrawala.
The goals of this workshop are to:
- Bring together, for the first time, the social data analysis community
- Examine the design of social data analysis sites today
- Discuss the role that visualizations play in social data analysis
- Explore how users are utilizing the various sites that allow them to exchange data-based insights
We seek researchers and practitioners whose work explores social data analysis and/or social uses of visualizations. We hope for a lively mix of people actively involved in building sites and academics who study the dynamics of social software.
The workshop happens during CHI, April 5-10, and you need to submit a 2-4 page position paper by October 31, 2007. Oh and by the way, it's in Florence, Italy. Not too shabby.
If you have a blog, I'm sure you've heard of the the ever so popular ProBlogger blog. To celebrate, Darren is giving away $54,000 worth of prizes! The current giveaway is for two 20-inch USB monitors, and all you have to do is post about the giveaway (hence this post :). They're going to have a random drawing some time Friday night. If you don't need the monitor, there's a whole lot of other cool stuff being given away in the next few days.
At the Times, I got used to using a super sexy Apple high resolution wide screen to create graphics, but back at home I've just been using my laptop and a not-so-hot 1280p 19-inch LCD screen. It's true what they say about productivity and screen real estate -- especially with visualization. I sure wouldn't mind having these two 20-inch monitors.
The StatGrad discussion board is now online -- a place where stat students can hang out.
One of the things I miss most about going to school is hanging out with my cohort. I work from home in Buffalo, and I get bored and restless pretty easily. When I was at school and feeling restless, I could just go down to the stat lounge, sit on the ridiculous-looking Ikea couch, and relax with some classmates. We never sat around and talked about probability theory or the law of large numbers (ok, maybe we did sometimes), but because we were all stat students, we all had this data-ish way of thinking. Know what I mean?
That's what I'm hoping for StatGrad. I'm not interested in finding help for specific stat problems or trying to answer R questions. There are plenty of books and online resources for that type of stuff. I'm just hoping that StatGrad can become a place where stat grad students can hang out when they're bored. Complain about undergrads, discuss anything interesting happening in our field, look for job opportunities, and stay up to date on calls for papers.
Join StatGrad now. I know you want to. Please? Come on, I'm bored.