How long is the perfect book?
British novelist E.M. Forster once complained that long books “are usually overpraised” because “the reader wishes to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.” To test his theory we collected reader ratings for 737 books tagged as “classic literature” on Goodreads.com, a review aggregator with 80m members. The bias towards chunky tomes was substantial. Slim volumes of 100 to 200 pages scored only 3.87 out of 5, whereas those over 1,000 pages scored 4.19. Longer is better, say the readers.
The phenomenon that Forster describes, akin to literary “Stockholm syndrome”, is only one possible explanation, as the article goes on to explain.
I like that phrase, ‘literary Stockholm syndrome’. I wonder, though, if the age of the reader is relevant — I certainly feel less patient with these longer books as I grow older. (And less patient generally, if my family is to be believed!)
I have a birthday coming up in a few days and I was going back over this post that links to a Wait But Why article on how to see all the weeks in your life in one go.
Your life in weeks
Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. But this chart helps to emphasize that it’s most certainly finite. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got.
I’ve found it very useful to go back to my own version of this, to remind myself of where I’ve been and how fleeting situations are sometimes. But I hadn’t realised there was another article there that gives you a much broader — but still very relatable — perspective on time.
Putting time in perspective
Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. …
To try to grasp some perspective, I mapped out the history of time as a series of growing timelines—each timeline contains all the previous timelines.
You move quickly through the last day, week and year, through timelines of a 30 year old and a 90 year old, all the way back to when humans diverged from apes, and the ages of the Earth and Sun.
History is much closer than you think.
With perhaps the funniest headline I’ve seen in a while, the ever-reliable It’s Nice That website has this interview with the remarkable Mona Chalabi, as part of its International Women’s Day series:
“If it’s about farts, draw a butt for god’s sakes”: Mona Chalabi tells us how to illustrate data
By day, Mona is a data editor at the US version of the Guardian where she uses self-taught illustration methods to bring data to life. Covering everything from body hair removal to the popularity of nose jobs in the US to the number of decapitated animals found in New York parks, Mona’s tongue-in-cheek approach to information communication has won her column inches and an immovable place in our hearts.
There are many more of her illustrations on her website, as well as links to her journalism and videos.
What’s better than data and loads of graphs? Data and loads of graphs about food and drink, of course!
Britain’s diet in data
The British diet has undergone a transformation in the last half-century. Traditional staples such as eggs, potatoes and butter have gradually given way to more exotic or convenient foods such as aubergines, olive oil and stir-fry packs. Explore the changes across four decades and hundreds of food and drink categories in this interactive visualisation, featuring data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Whilst I’m not surprised to see the fall of lard and the rise of olive oil over the last 40 years, why is nobody buying marmalade anymore? Goodness me.
The data’s everywhere, but can we make sense of it? Here are some data visualisation approaches and examples – how to do it, and how definitely not to.
This article suggests the young folks are demanding better presentations of statistical data because of Google or Wikipedia or something. Sounds fishy. Surely us old folks appreciate good design too?
Data visualization drives the era of information activism
Having grown up with the web, millennials are used to having access to all the information they want with just a simple finger tap on a screen. As millennials enter the workforce, they are bringing these expectations into the office, behaving less as data consumers and much more as information activists.
But how far should we go in leading the horses to the water?
Narration and exploration in visualization
What should we emphasize when designing a visualization? Should we explain the data, perhaps through a narration, or should we let readers explore the data at will?
Here’s an example of how an interactive presentation not only helps with a story but can spur you into looking for your own.
What happens when a newspaper editor and a data-viz whiz team up to tell stories
With two wins behind them, Rob and Daniel are already discussing future collaborations—perhaps something with sports or crime data. The idea is to tell compelling data stories that have a longer shelf life. (“If you put time into creating something like this, you want people to see it over a certain scale of time,” says Daniel.)
I do like these images, though. Not sure how replicable this approach is, but it works well here.
These playful, funny 3D printed infographics can liven up any data
Instead of flicking hastily to the next page, your gaze can’t help but linger on the adventures of the miniature figures scaling, swinging from or exploring the plastic pieces.
But here are the real gems. Bar pies? Caramel latte football fields?
BestWorstViz contest result
As with last month’s graphiti contest, picking a winner was ever so hard with lots of wonderfully bad work heading my way. The submissions generally fell into two different camps: (1) the most blatant, inelegant in-your-face explosions of design awfulness, and (2) the more subtly deceptive “wolf in sheep’s clothing” designs. My judgments were based on the degree of violation against each of my three key principles: Trustworthy, accessible and elegant.
Another great Excel article from Mynda Treacy, this time about her views on radar charts. It’s safe to say she’s not a fan. Some great points here about data visualisation and how to get messages across. I’ve never used a radar chart, but that’s more because I’ve never really understood them.
Excel alternatives to radar charts
Radar charts display data in a circular fashion, which is the opposite of the straight line comparisons we’re able to subconsciously perform. This means we have to work hard to make any comparisons and as a result we’re likely to make mistakes in our assumptions.
She mentions this article by Stephen Few, who weighs in further but does recognise when these radar charts might have their uses.
Keep radar graphs below the radar – far below (pdf)
This one advantage motivates me to ease up just a bit on my repugnance toward radar graphs.
How to make comparative bubble charts in Excel
You never know, one if these days someone’s bound to ask me about these things.
This Communication 101 flowchart from Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton sums up the options quite nicely. Have to admit to being fond of the work-related>no>can-you-keep-a-straight-face>yes>im route.
Yes, I’m aware I’m linking to yet another brain pickings article, but I don’t care as I love this one. it’s Kurt Vonnegut drawing the shapes of stories, which leads him on to discussing the difficulties with distinguishing good news and bad news. And there’s a great video too.
Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories and Good News vs. Bad News
What would this chart look like for us university administrators…
Documenting the curious increase in claimed family deaths — especially of grandmothers — during tests season at college
This gem is from “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society” by Mike Adams (The Connecticut Review, 1990). Adams’ hilarious explanation for this phenomenon:
“Only one conclusion can be drawn from these data. Family members literally worry themselves to death over the outcome of their relatives’ performance on each exam. Naturally, the worse the student’s record is, and the more important the exam, the more the family worries; and it is the ensuing tension that presumably causes premature death.” — www.easternct.edu/~adams/Resources/Grannies.pdf
HINT.FM / Fernanda Viegas & Martin Wattenberg
“As technologists we ask, Can visualization help people think collectively? Can visualization move beyond numbers into the realm of words and images? As artists we seek the joy of revelation. Can visualization tell never-before-told stories? Can it uncover truths about color, memory, and sensuality?”