• Do You Hate Statistics as Much as Everyone Else?

    Posted to Statistics

    Photo by Darwin Bell

    It happened again. I told someone I study statistics. He told me that he hated statistics in college. It doesn't annoy me like it used to - I've come to expect it - but why do so many people have this beef with stat? Is it really that boring? Confusing? What is it about statistics that turns people off? So I reach out to all of you:

    What is it that makes statistics so uninteresting?

    I'm going to assume that the icky factor is less for FlowingData readers (obviously), but still, I implore you - tell me why statistics sucks. I must know.

  • Scientists Can Now Map Your Dreams to an Image

    Posted to Statistics

    I thought this was a joke when I first read it, but scientists from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed software that can map brain activity to an image. Subjects were shown letters from the word neuron and images were reconstructed and displayed on a computer screen.

    A spokesman at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories said: "It was the first time in the world that it was possible to visualise what people see directly from the brain activity.

    "By applying this technology, it may become possible to record and replay subjective images that people perceive like dreams." The scientists, lead by chief researcher Yukiyaso Kamitani, focused on the image recognition procedures in the retina of the human eye.

    It is while looking at an object that the eye's retina is able to recognise an image, which is subsequently converted into electrical signals sent into the brain's visual cortex.

    The research investigated how electrical signals are captured and reconstructed into images, according to the study, which will be published in the US journal Neuron.

    I'm not sure how much brain activity from the retina has to do with activity during dreams, but it's interesting nevertheless (although I am sure - like all interesting science - it is slightly hyped by the media).

    [via Telegraph & Pink Tentacle & Chunici]

  • Magically Reformat Data to Get it How You Need it

    One of the more painful parts of analysis or visualization is that you have to get the data in a proper format. Real data almost never comes how you want it. Magic/Replace from DabbleDB lets you reformat data via their spreadsheet interface and a few sprinkles of magic. The solution is really quite elegant.

    You copy and paste CSV or TSV from a spreadsheet and submit. You then see a column editor and a preview window. This is where the magic happens. In the column editor, you can edit a column so that it fits a certain format and Magic/Replace will show you a preview of what the others will look like. For example, say you have a column of phone numbers and they're in the (555) 555-5555 format, but what you really want is 555-555-5555. Change a single row, and voila, Magic/Replace does the rest. It really is "data cleanup for everyone" - not that the data were dirty to begin with.

    [Thanks, Jose]

  • Winner of Tufte Books and Many Other Good Entries

    I ran a contest last week to improve a graph from Swivel that showed immigration to the United States. FlowingData readers sent in lots of different approaches (that took me forever to get organized for this post), and I still stand by my statement that there's always more than one way to skin a dataset.
     Continue Reading 

  • What Jobs Are There in Data Visualization?

    Posted to Visualization

    I got an email from Harald asking, "How does the job market for DV developers work?" I find this question, or some variation of it, in my inbox every now and then, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I am after all a graduate student who will graduate eventually, so let's take a look at some of the options. I'd like to expand on the question though, and not just focus on developers. What's the job market like for anyone who wants to do data visualization for a living?

    In the News

    Infographics in the news have been commonplace for a while now. Maps, charts, graphs, plots, etc. are in the newspaper every day, and as news on the Web continues to expand, so do the types of interactive visualizations. In fact The New York Times has its own graphics department as well as a group dedicated to online interactives. It's only a matter of time before the other big news organizations follow suit (unless they go bankrupt first).

    Examples: The New York Times / MSNBC / Washington Post

    Design Studios

    There are a lot of data visualization specialists who masquerade as graphic designers. As a result, there are lots of design studios that do data visualization (although they don't focus on just that alone) that do work for the Web or a slew of other things like company branding, physical installations, or simply art pieces. I can only think of a handful of design groups that are specifically known for data visualization. Either way though, most stuff that the studios push out are more on the artistic end of things, naturally.

    Examples: Stamen Design / Bestiario

    Analytics Groups

    Analytics is on the opposite site of the spectrum. It's all about decision-making. Businesses are starting to rack up terabytes of data per day, but aren't sure what to do with it. Basic Microsoft Excel skills will only take you so far. You'll also hear about dashboards pretty often. Think lots of graphs and lots of charts and lots of data which takes a certain statistical expertise to manage effectively.

    Example: Juice Analytics / Axis Maps

    Research Labs

    While the analytics groups tend to be more about application of existing visualization techniques, there are research labs that primarily think of ways to improve the existing or new representations of data. They design, experiment, analyze, and then write papers. It's like getting paid to be a graduate student, I imagine. Visualization software companies not dissimilar to FlowingData sponsors might also be bundled into this group.

    I visited AT&T research labs a few months ago, and there was a small group focused on the best way to show network graphs. The IBM Visual Communications Lab does a lot with social data analysis.

    Examples: AT&T Labs / IBM Visual Communications Lab

    Academics

    This one is sort of obvious I guess. Academics is similar to working in a research lab, and really, a lot of academic groups call themselves a research lab anyways. Often you'll see collaboration between the two. The only difference is, uh, professors have to put up with graduate students like me. Tough nookies.

    Examples: Berkeley Visualization Lab / MIT Media Lab

    Freelancing

    A lot of businesses aren't looking for a full-time visualization person. They just need some help with things here and there. There are also a lot of online developments that can benefit from having some visualization. Some have already got developers, but want some aesthetics, while others might have a specific data set that they want realized - might be just for show or actually something quantitative. There's certainly a wide variety out there.

    Examples: Daniel McLaren / Moritz Stefaner / Jon Peltier

    What About You?

    That covers a good bit, but I'm almost certain that I've missed something. If your expertise is data visualization, what do you do for money? I, among many others, would be interested to know in the comments.

  • Navigate Articles, Photos, and Video from Around the Globe

    Posted to Mapping

    The Washington Post recently put up TimeSpace: World, which is an interactive map that shows articles, video, photos, and commentary as they happen around the world (through the Washington Post's eyes). Similar to Trulia Snapshot, by Stamen Design, news items are arranged with a force-directed graph and can be filtered by time with a timeline at the bottom. Adjust time range to find news stories from a given time of day. You get a breakdown of number of images, articles, etc. Photos seem to dominate. Here is the embedded version (which seems a little buggy):

    One thing that I really liked about Trulia Snapshot, which isn't included as a part of TimeSpace: World is a play button. It'd be like watching the news unfold over time - or even better, make TimeSpace self-updating. Maybe in the next iteration.

    [Thanks, Steven]

  • Keep Your Fingers Crossed

    Posted to Site News

    FlowingData will be transferred to a bigger and better server tonight between 10pm and 2am, during which the site will be down for about 30 minutes. Hopefully everything goes as planned, but in case you don't hear from me tomorrow, you'll know why. Keep your fingers crossed.

  • Explore and Analyze Geographic Data with UUorld

    Posted to Mapping

    UUorld (pronounced "world") is a 4-dimensional mapping tool that lets you explore geographic data - the fourth dimension being time. The interface will remind you a bit of Google Earth with the map, pan, zoom, etc, however, UUorld isn't trying to replace Google Earth. In fact, it'll probably be better if you use it with Google Earth. Think of it as another tool to add to your box of mapping toys.

    UUorld's focus is on finding trends over space and time. Load your own data or import data from UUorld's data portal, and then play it out over time. Spatial boundaries undulate up and down as land masses look a bit like skyscrapers. Color and boundary lines are customizable. When you're satisfied with the results, record it as video or export as KML, and then import into Google Earth or whatever else you want.

    How effective is this method of visualization though? There's the usual argument of area perception, but does color-coding and vertical dimension make up for that? Discuss amongst yourselves.

  • Amazon Gets In On the Public Data Arena

    Posted to Data Sources

    It was really only a matter of time, but Amazon now hosts public data sets. Not small data sets though - more like the ones in between 1 gigabyte and 1 terabyte:

    Public Data Sets on AWS provides a centralized repository of public data sets that can be seamlessly integrated into AWS cloud-based applications. AWS is hosting the public data sets at no charge for the community, and like all AWS services, users pay only for the compute and storage they use for their own applications. An initial list of data sets is already available, and more will be added soon.

    Previously, large data sets such as the mapping of the Human Genome and the US Census data required hours or days to locate, download, customize, and analyze. Now, anyone can access these data sets from their Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and start computing on the data within minutes. Users can also leverage the entire AWS ecosystem and easily collaborate with other AWS users. For example, users can produce or use prebuilt server images with tools and applications to analyze the data sets. By hosting this important and useful data with cost-efficient services such as Amazon EC2, AWS hopes to provide researchers across a variety of disciplines and industries with tools to enable more innovation, more quickly.

    There's the human genome data set, US Census data from the past 3 decades, labor statistics, and some others. Still waiting on Google to follow through with their data hosting plans.

    [via TechCrunch | Thanks, David]

  • Guess What State Searches for ‘Poo’ the Most – StateStats

    Posted to Mapping, Statistics

    StateStats is like Google Insights but on a state level. Type in a search term and get Google search levels with correlations to certain "metrics" like obesity or support for Obama. Any Web application that uses correlation tends to make me feel a bit iffy, but it's just for fun, so I guess it's okay.

    Being the immature man-child that I am, the first thing I type in the search field is poo. I thought it was hilarious interesting that Louisiana's relative search rate was so much higher than all the other states. Apparently, obesity correlates moderately.

    I'm sure all of you will search for more sophisticated terms.

    [Thanks, @Chimp711]

  • Last Chance to Win 2 Free Tufte Books

    Posted to Contests

    Just a quick reminder that the deadline to submit your entries to our graph contest is comin' up. Get your entries in by Friday, December 5, 8:00pm EST for a chance to win two free Edward Tufte Books - The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Visual Explanations. There have been some really good entries so far, and I'm looking forward to what else you all have in store (and to showing what FlowingData readers have come up with).

  • Typographic Illustration for Jay-Z’s ‘Brooklyn Go Hard’

    Posted to Data Art

    Evan Roth from the Graffiti Research Lab, uses typographic illustration in Jay-Z's music video for Brooklyn Go Hard. As the song plays out, we see sketches of Jay-Z drawn using Brooklyn (sort of what we saw from Jeff at Neoformix). It's quite the work of art:

    You can download the source code for the video from Evan's site, which is pretty cool too.

    [via Animal | Thanks, Max]

  • Understand Your Behaviors with Twitter – Testers Needed

    I started tracking what I eat and my weight using Twitter in an effort to shed 10 pounds and consume less. It's already been (a really fast) two months since I started this experiment — I've lost 7 pounds so far. While there are a number of factors that can contribute to weight loss (and gain), I think the simple act of tweeting raised my awareness just enough to make me feel guilty for eating that bag of chips in the middle of the afternoon.
     Continue Reading 

  • Visualization Projects from Database City – Visualizar’08

    Posted to Data Art, Mapping

    This is a guest post by Greg J. Smith, a Toronto-based designer and researcher. Greg writes about design, visualization and digital culture on his personal blog Serial Consign.

    A few weeks ago the second edition of the Visualizar workshop wrapped up at Medialab-Prado in Madrid. In curating the event this year, organizer José Luis de Vicente selected urban informatics as the focus of research and visualization development. Partially inspired by Cascade on Wheels (a project created at the workshop last year), the Visualizar mandate was in line with contemporary thinking about the city where the street is viewed as a platform and urban space is considered a DIY enterprise. Visualizar'08 brought together a range of programmers, designers, architects, illustrators and scholars to participate in a seminar on contemporary thinking about the city and then bunker down to "rapid prototype" seven visualization projects over a two-week period.
     Continue Reading 

  • Thank You, FlowingData Sponsors

    Posted to Sponsors

    FlowingData has hit a critical point in its life where regular hosting isn't enough, and the next step up is a big one — especially with what I have planned in a couple of weeks. FlowingData sponsors help me take this step and make sure everything keeps going smoothly. Thank you, FlowingData sponsors.

    I hope you'll join me in thanking them by checking them out. They all have something worthwhile to offer:

    Tableau Software — Data exploration and visual analytics in an easy-to-use analysis tool.

    Eye-Sys — Comprehensive real-time 3D visualization.

    SiSense — Easy-to-use reporting and analysis. No code required.

    If you'd like to sponsor FlowingData, please feel free to email me, and I'll get back to you with the details.

  • Contest: Win TWO Edward Tufte Books – Enter Now

    Posted to Contests

    It's December 1. 'Tis the season for giving, so guess what - it's time for a FlowingData contest! Jodi has kindly offered two free Edward Tufte books for one lucky FlowingData reader. She's getting ready to move and simply wants to find these books a good home. The two books up for grabs:

    Both books are used, but I don't think that matters. They still have the same pretty content as they did when they were new. You know - like a fine wine. There's nothing better than a bottle of aged Tufte.

    How to Win

    Below is a graph that shows immigration to the United States by country of origin. Can you make a better graph using the same data source?

    Immigration by country of origin

    To the person who submits the best remake of the above immigration graph will win both Tufte books. Email me your entries to nathan [at] flowingdata DOT com with "Graph Contest" in the subject line by Friday, December 5, 8:00pm EST. Jodi and I will judge based on informativeness (is that even a word?), aesthetics, and creativity. I will announce the winner later next week as well as post everyone's work like I've done in the past. The books can only be shipped to those with a U.S. mailing address, so any international entries will have to be for pride.

    Good luck. We're looking forward to seeing what you all come up with.

    P.S. Don't forget to thank Jodi for her generous donation!

    UPDATE: I should've mentioned this. You can submit up to two entries, and I will greatly appreciate it if your entries are in image format e.g. JPG, GIF or in PDF format rather than an Excel spreadsheet. Although it's not a requirement. Lastly, as you design your improved graphs, you might want to take a look at some of the data design tips I've posted.

  • Neighborhood Boundaries with Flickr Shapefiles

    Posted to Data Sources, Mapping

    Neighborhood Boundaries by Tom Taylor uses Flickr Shapefiles and Yahoo! Geoplanet "to show you where the world thinks its neighbors are." Yahoo! provides access to the Where on Earth (WOE) database, which attempts to describe locations as a hierarchy. For example - a town belongs to a city, a city to a county, a county to a state. The Flickr API stores shape files identified by the WOE ID. Here's the punchline. The shapefiles are built using only the latitude and longitude from geotagged photos on Flickr. There's no GIS involved here.

    Why this matters, I can't really say. I think it's mostly to show how much data is stored in geotagged Flickr photos. I'm no GIS expert though. Anyone care to comment on the significance?

    [Thanks, @couch]

  • Happy Thanksgiving

    Posted to Site News

    Happy Thanksgiving! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 45 million turkeys will be consumed today. I hope you're contributing to the count. Dibs on wing.

  • Giveaway: Win a Free Subscription to GOOD Magazine

    Posted to Contests

    I subscribed to GOOD Magazine a while back. They describe themselves as the magazine for people who "give a damn." I initially subscribed because of their transparency section - a series of fun infographics on some topic - in each issue, but it turned out the articles were interesting too. GOOD also gives 100% of their subscription fees to the non-profit of your choice.

    Drawing for Free Subscription

    Anyways, I never got around to renewing my subscription, so I got a 3-for-1 email offer the other day. I get 2 free subscriptions to GOOD with my renewal, so I thought, "Hey maybe a couple of FlowingData readers might enjoy a free subscription." Anyone? I'll make this easy on you all. If you'd like to win a free subscription, just leave a comment on this post that promises you'll tell one person about FlowingData. One entry per person, please.

    I'll choose two winners at random Friday afternoon. If you win, you'll hear from me then. If not, I'd encourage you to subscribe anyways. It's only $20, and it all goes to charity. Make sure you leave a valid email address so that I'll be able to contact you.

    P.S. FlowingData's got a contest involving two free Tufte books on the way. Keep an eye out.

    UPDATE: Congratulations to our two winners drawn at random - Griffin and Brett! Thanks all for participating and helping our community grow.

  • Explore Your Feeds in a Cloud of Posts – RSS Voyage

    Posted to Data Art

    I'm not exactly sure what I'm seeing here, but Voyage, by Andy Biggs, is an abstract RSS reader that places posts in a 3D cloud. As you click on items, you can drill down further to later posts. You can also use the up and down keys on the keyboard or the scroll wheel on your mouse. (The latter isn't working for me right now.) For example, press up and you'll see earlier posts from your subscribed feeds. The horizontal placement doesn't seem to have any significance.

    It's probably best to take Voyager for what it is. After all it was just meant to be an experiment in 3D Flash. It's pretty to look at and fun to play with, but not so much about practicality.

    [via can't remember]