• Join Eco-Viz Challenges to Raise Environmental Awareness

    Posted to Site News

    Eco-viz Challenge LogoEyebeam, 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.

    [via EcoViz]

  • Watch the Money Clock to See What You’ve Earned

    Posted to Ugly Charts

    Despite being surrounded with ads, this money clock was kind of, um, interesting. Put in how much you earn hourly, monthly, or annually, and it displays a running clock of dollars and cents for how much you've earned while watching the clock. It was amusing at first, and then kind of depressing after a few seconds.

    P.S. Happy Halloween!

  • Use Flare Visualization Toolkit to Build Interactive Viz for the Web

    Posted to Software

    Flare Logo Tom from Stamen Design and Hadley from the GGobi group kindly pointed me to the recently ported Flare visualization toolkit. Developed by Berkeley's Jeffrey Heer, Flare looks extremely useful for anyone who is interested in developing interactive visualizations (e.g. time series, stacked bar, pie charts, graph) for the Web that run in the Adobe Flash player.

    There's a pretty good tutorial that I, as a beginner, found straightforward. I ran into some problems when I was trying to "import a library into another project," but per Jeffrey's suggestion, I upgraded to Adobe Flex 3 beta (currently a free download). That cured my problems. Adobe Flex is apparently still a little rough around the edges. Oh right, and the tutorial provides instructions on how to develop with Flare in the Flex Builder environment.

    I'm currently going through the demos to gain a better understanding of both Flare and Actionscript, and it looks very promising. I'm pretty excited about what I can do once I've improved my Actionscript programming skills.

    Check out some screenshots from the Flare demo reel after the jump.

     Continue Reading 

  • All Linkin Park Songs Look the Same? Maybe Not.

    Posted to Mistaken Data

    Linkin Park Songs on Last.fm

    On Last.fm, someone took snapshots of some Linkin Park songs, compared them, and concluded that all Linkin Park songs look are the same. I guess at a glance, the songs might appear the same because of the dark chunk towards middle left, but it kind of stops there. Sure, there's some loud to soft and soft to loud alternation, but who likes songs who are loud (or soft) throughout?

    The beginning of the post:

    Each image above shows the audio level in (roughly) the first 90 seconds of a Linkin Park song. The tempo has been adjusted for a few tracks for better visual alignment.

    Wait a minute. The tempo was adjusted for better visual alignment? If you're adjusting the tempo, then really, all songs can be made to look the same. On top of that, we don't know the x-axis or y-axis units. Finally, there's a lot more to a song other than dynamics -- such as key, tempo, rhythm, and lyrics.

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  • Competitive Edge Explorer to Display Demographics

    Posted to Mapping

    The Competitive Edge Explorer is a mapping project from the MIT Laboratory for Mobile Learning. It's not just some hodge podge Google Maps mashup. The Explorer was written in Processing and has an intuitive and responsive user interface. As the user switches through datasets or zooms in and out, the map changes instantly. A total of eight datasets, including education, income levels, and housing costs, are available and can be selected at the same time to compare different areas according to different variables. The Explorer is yet another example for how maps offer the user a familiar visualization (just like timelines) for data.

    It would be especially cool if the Explorer was not just for Boston, but for the entire U.S. or even better, the world. Of course, finding that much data seems impossible now, but hey, it doesn't hurt to hope.

  • Create, Share, and Embed Custom Timelines with circaVie

    Posted to Online Applications  |  Tags:

    Part of the AIM network, it's another online application to create and share timelines. As I've said before, timelines are very intuitive in displaying both data and information, so it's not surprising that these applications are springing up. The circaVie user interface feels a bit easier than xtimeline, and I like circaVie's style and design a lot more too. In particular I like the timeline scrolling; it feels a lot like the iPhone interface. Try it out for yourself using your AIM screenname.

  • Access Restrictions on the Release of Gun Sales Data

    Posted to Data Sharing

    I just found this in my draft folder from a while back. It's kind of old news, but I think it's still worth mentioning.

    Gun control advocates failed to gain local government and law enforcement agencies' access to gun sales data.

    The House Appropriations Committee defeated two attempts by gun control advocates to strip four-year-old restrictions on the use of information from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tracing gun sales. The votes were a victory for the National Rifle Association and came despite the Democratic takeover of Congress in January.

    One side argues that gun sales data will help law enforcement agencies track gun dealers who sell guns illegally. The other side argues that there's privacy at stake, and there's a chance that police officers' identities could be inferred. A big victory for gun rights advocates, or so the the article might suggest.

    My opinion -- even if gun sales data were given to law enforcement, how could anyone guarantee data integrity? I think it's fair to say that dealers selling guns illegally aren't going to provide accurate reports. Sell a gun under the table with cash, don't report it, and the data doesn't reveal much. Am I missing something here?

  • World Visualization Day (Really)

    Posted to Site News

    World Visualization Day LogoI 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.

  • Bars as an Alternative to Bubble Charts

    Posted to Design

    Are bubble charts effective? This seems to be a recurring question. Some say people suck at comparing areas in the form of bubbles, or rather, people are horrible with areas, period. Others argue that it just takes some getting used to; the eye has to be trained, and once that's done, the bubbles are good to go.

    In any case, here is an alternative to the bubbles -- bars. The beer data from a previous post are charted (2006 shipments on the left, and 2005 shipments on the right). The advantage of bars over bubbles is that users only have to compare heights; however, numbers are going to clutter quickly as more observations are added.

    People should just train their eyes. Bubbles are so much more fun. They're bubbly.

  • What is the Best Way to Learn Flash & Actionscript for Visualization?

    Posted to Software  |  Tags: , ,

    Maybe someone can help me with this. I'm shifting focus from static graphics (with Adobe Illustrator) and moving onto dynamic data visualization with Flash and Actionscript. Does anyone have any book or site suggestions that you've found particularly helpful in data visualization?

    I have three books sitting in front of me right now:

    1. Hands-on Training for Macromedia Flash Professional 8 from Lynda
    2. Essential Actionscript 2.0 from O'Reilly
    3. Macromedia Flash 8 @work from Sams

    I started going through Essential, and I've clearly forgotten what a chore it is to learn a new programming language in the early beginnings. To read books about code is particularly boring to me. Although I suppose it's necessary. I've also read a lot of the Hands-on book, which wasn't exactly my cup of tea either. Going through the tutorials reminded me a lot of the ArcGIS crash course I took earlier this year. "Click this to do that, and click that to do this. Click this and that to do that and this. After you're done, voila. You get this...and that."

    For an idea of what I can do already: I mainly have R, PHP, and some Processing behind me, and then there's the computer science courses I took in undergrad at Berkeley, which I guess has been about four years ago now.

    So if anyone has any ideas or suggestions on what books to read, online resources to check out, or aspects of Actionscript and/or Flash I should focus on, please, I am all ears.

  • A Magazine Dedicated Entirely to Visualizing Something Useful

    GOOD Magazine is "media for people who give a damn."

    While so much of today's media is taking up our space, dumbing us down, and impeding our productivity, GOOD exists to add value. Through a print magazine, feature and documentary films, original multimedia content and local events, GOOD is providing a platform for the ideas, people, and businesses that are driving change in the world.

    My favorite part of the magazine is the transparency section, which is a series of graphics displaying data in one way or another. The graphic (or video, I guess) above shows what companies are paying to advertise in New York City. The Walmart graphic I talked about earlier is in the most recent GOOD.

    What if...

    What if instead of just a section, there was an entire magazine that was a transparency section? Now that would be awesome. It could be a mix of the media & design in GOOD with some real statistical graphics. It would be a complete visual experience with of course a short blurb on each, but the magazine would focus on the graphics to inspire change and improve awareness. (Picture good. Words.... baaaad.)

    Each issue would hover around a specific theme like the environment or economics; or even better, each issue could be more specific covering U.S. pollution or the decline of toy sales. I wonder how hard it would be to start something like that. Online first, print second? Is there a magazine already like this? If there isn't, there needs to be.

  • How Do You Visualize Time in a Drawing?

    Posted to Data Art

    Icastic has a fun (and growing) collection of (currently) 247 hand-drawings from contributors who have shown how they see time. Some are very detailed works of art while others are concise sketches. From words, objects, to people, the collection is a nice spectrum of imagination.

  • Lisa Jevbratt on the Sublime in Data Visualization

    Posted to Quotes

    We look up at the starry sky and we sense a fear of not comprehending and being engulfed, a fear of the unknown, and simultaneously we experience a longing for the inaccessible, impenetrable darkness.

    Lisa Jevbratt. The Prospect of the Sublime in Data Visualization. 2004.
  • Cover Manhattan and Then Some With All the World’s Walmarts

    Posted to Economics

    American store square footage

    Speaking of Walmart, if we took all of the Walmarts in the world and clumped them all together, they'd cover Manhattan (with some stores sinking in the water). Walmart is the bottom bubbles; McDonald's is represented by the second from the bottom set.

    I'm slightly surprised that McDonald's doesn't cover more. Although, I guess Walmart stores are pretty big compared to McDonald's restaurants. I'm not really surprised that Walmart area is greater than Manhattan area though. In fact, I thought it would have been more with all the Walmarts in the world. Hmmm...

    Into the Artistic Section

    As for this graphic, well, if it were supposed to be statistical, I'd say I didn't I like it. It's not meant to be statistical though. The goal is to show that Walmart is humungo. I get the graphic's main point, which is... the point. To that end, I couldn't care less about proper scales, utility, and what not. Take it for what it is and enjoy.

    This Walmart graphic goes in the artistic section of viz, opposed to the pragmatic side (as Robert explains). There are three other graphics similar in feel to this one that cover sugar consumption, student debt, and solar power.

  • New Journal: Technology Innovations in Statistics Education

    Posted to Statistics

    TISE Journal LogoTechnology Innovations in Statistics Education (TISE) is a new e-journal that was just announced yesterday. The use of technology (e.g. data visualization) has become extremely important in teaching statistical concepts to newbies, and so this new journal will be really useful; computers have allowed students to explore and experiment in ways students couldn't do with just paper and pencil. TISE explores these alternatives.

    Technology Innovations in Statistics Education (TISE) publishes scholarhip on the intersection between technology and statistics education. The current issue includes papers by George Cobb (who challenges the introductory statistics curriculum to radically innovate to adapt to new technology), Beth Chance et. al, (who provide an overview of the use of technology to improve student learning), Wlliam Finzer, et.al, (who describe software innovations for improving student access to data), Dani Ben-Zvi, (preliminary research results on using Wiki in statistics teaching), Daniel Kaplan (on the role of computation in introductory statistics), and Andee Rubin (an historical overview of technology in statistics education.)

    These papers can be read at http://tise.stat.ucla.edu. Please click on the "subscribe button" to join the mailing list to be informed of future released.

    TISE is seeking scholarly papers for Volume 2 that address any of these themes:

    • Designing technology to improve statistics education
    • Using technology to develop conceptual understanding
    • Teaching the use of technology to gain insight into and access to data

    The first issue is already online. Take a look. I've had the opportunity to work with some of the knowledgeable and active members of the editorial board, so TISE looks to be very promising.

  • Education Statistics Free, Available, and Waiting for You

    Posted to Data Sources

    Raw, fine-grain data is still a bit hard to come by. Summary statistics (i.e. data that came from some analysis), on the other hand, are often easy to find. A lot of the time the data is already online or just a simple phone call away.

    The National Center for Education Statistics, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, offers a bunch of data including, but not at all limited to, poverty and math achievement, average science scores overall and by grade level, and quantitative literacy.
     Continue Reading 

  • Social Data Analysis Workshop

    Posted to Site News

    Social Data Analysis

    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 Viégas 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.

  • Presidential Nomination Polls With Smoothers

    Pollster Poll Results

    It almost feels like I see a new poll every day for who's leading in the presidential race. There's usually a good amount of fluctuation within a single poll with sampling margin of error and then of course the numbers vary across multiple polls. This can be confusing at times, so Pollster put all the results in one scatter plot. Then they stuck a smoother through all the points (for each candidate), and just like that, the viewer gets a general sense of how each candidate has been doing.

    Keep in mind that the amount of noise (or bumps in the curve) is going to vary depending on the type of estimation you use, so I wouldn't place the smaller curves under too much scrutiny. I'm not sure what method Pollster is using, but it's interesting to see the overall trends. Could we be looking at a double New Yorker election?

    Pollster also offers the raw poll data, so in case you want to have some of your own fun, there's data waiting for you.

    [via Mike Love]

  • Walmart Spreads Like a Virus

    Posted to Economics

    Watch Walmart quickly expand like a deadly virus from the movie Outbreak. It's particularly interesting to see Walmart "infect" an entire small region with multiple new stores opening at the same time in one area. There looks to be somewhere around 30 stores opening per year (rough guess) across the country, so I wonder what the map looks like now. It's probably all blue except in those deserted Midwest regions. I wonder what the world map looks like.

    Random quote:

    When I lived in Maine, there wasn't much to do, so when we were bored on a Friday night, we'd go hang out at Walmart.

    That's kind of sad, but uh, if that's your thing, well, no, still sad.

  • Sifting Through My Mobile Phone Logs

    Posted to Self-surveillance

    When I was in NYC and my wife was in Buffalo, New York we talked on the phone almost every day, usually around ten in the evening. I was at my friend's place one night, and at 10:05pm, my wife called.

    The first thing she said was, "Where are you?"

    I told her I was at my friend's.

    My wife quickly replied, "Ha! I knew it!"

    Confused, I asked, "How did you know?"

    "Because otherwise, you would have called me at exactly 9:58."

    Am I really that predictable? First it was the Chinese food, and now I had been accused of call time predictability. Of course there was only one way to put this dispute to rest -- look at the data.
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