Tag Archives: data visualisation

Introducing children to data visualisation

The economist and dataviz blogger Jonathan Schwabish took on an unusual challenge, to introduce his son’s primary school classmates to data visualisation.

I wouldn’t know where to start — I’m still not sure of the difference between a histogram and a bar chart — but cleverly, Jonathan begins with examples of diagrams everyone is familiar with. Maps.

Teaching data visualization to kids
I then introduced the term “choropleth” and showed them this map of graveyards in the US and this map of McDonald’s (a couple of kids actually tied the two together!). I also showed them a clip of Aron Koblins’ Flight Patterns project (my son loves this one)—the simple and intuitive animation, and black and white color scheme make it easy to follow. I also showed them a video of Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas’ Wind Map, again, something I think they could all relate to.

He then asks the children to draw their own maps, of their homes rather than the whole world, and to add in any data they liked.

I then passed out tracing paper and, bringing up the graphs I showed them earlier in which color, dots, lines, and bubbles were placed on top of the map, I asked them to plot any data they liked. … Could they add differently-sized bubbles to their favorite rooms? Could they draw lines showing their paths through the house? What about smiley faces for the most fun room?

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What a fantastic idea. I hope others are similarly encouraged to spread the word in this way. As he says in his conclusion, helping children to understand graphs is a good thing for many reasons.

I’d love to see a way to make data visualization education a broader part of the curriculum, both on its own and linked with their math and other classes. Imagine adding different shapes to maps in their Social Studies classes to encode data or using waterfall charts in their math classes to visually demonstrate a simple mathematical equation or developing simple network diagrams in science class. The combination of the scientific approach to data visualization and the creativity it sparks could serve as a great way to help students learn.

(Via FlowingData.)

Looking up

There’s a bloody lunar eclipse this evening, although the thunderclouds that are accompanying our unusually warm summer may get in the way. But whilst we’re on the subject:

Figures in the stars: How cultures across the world have seen their myths and legends in the stars
Let’s compare 28 different “sky cultures” to see differences and similarities in the shapes they’ve seen in the night sky. Ranging from the so-called “Modern” or Western constellations, to Chinese, Maori and even a few shapes from historical cultures such as the Aztecs.

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And as we can see here, attempts to map and explain our place in the universe go back a long way.

Cosmography manuscript (12th Century)
This wonderful series of medieval cosmographic diagrams and schemas are sourced from a late 12th-century manuscript created in England. Coming to only nine folios, the manuscript is essentially a scientific textbook for monks, bringing together cosmographical knowledge from a range of early Christian writers such as Bede and Isodere, who themselves based their ideas on such classical sources as Pliny the Elder, though adapting them for their new Christian context.

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Weeks, years, aeons

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.

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History is much closer than you think.

Drawing data

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.

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Your favourite passwords

As well as the obvious “12345678”, “password” and “qwerty” (I can’t believe people really use those?), it seems people’s names beginning with J are especially common.

Top 500 most common passwords visualized
Most common passwords. Is yours here? Also, after some deep analysis, we’ve discovered that passwords fit into 11 categories. See what they are.

If any of your passwords feature on that chart, please read this and change them. Right now.

The usability of passwords
Using more than one simple word as your password increases you security substantially (from 3 minutes to 2 months). But, by simply using 3 words instead of two, you suddenly got an extremely secure password. It is 10 times more secure to use “this is fun” as your password, than “J4fS<2”.

How to see 4000 years at once

A timeline of global power, from 2000BC to the 1900s.

The entire history of the world—really, all of it—distilled into a single gorgeous chart
The 5-foot-long Histomap was sold for $1 and folded into a green cover, which featured endorsements from historians and reviewers. The chart was advertised as “clear, vivid, and shorn of elaboration,” while at the same time capable of “holding you enthralled” by presenting: “the actual picture of the march of civilization, from the mud huts of the ancients thru the monarchistic glamour of the middle ages to the living panorama of life in present day America.”

It’s from the 1930s, so the terms it’s using are rather dated. And I can’t find Africa anywhere, Eygpt notwithstanding. Has there really been no history there, these last four millennia?

I’d love see this expanded another couple of inches, to chart where we are today. That should be simple enough, surely?

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Visualising data; the good, the bad and the quirky

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.

Visualising Wikipedia

See also – a collection of our favorite visualizations built on Wikipedia data
This is a collection of our favorite visualizations, infographics, and other projects built on open data from Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, curated by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi.

I don’t know a great deal about the Wikipedia open data projects, but there are some great data visualisation examples here. One of them even mentions Borges, what more do you want?

So, what did you have for tea last night?

Felton Annual Report – a eulogy​
Nicholas Felton is able to sell 3,000 of his reports that show his favorite beer and quirks for $30.00 a piece. We couldn’t give away an education report–one of the most important topics–for free to the public. Clearly, we needed a new approach.

Yep, I’ve bought some of those $30 reports and regularly refer back to them. A shame there won’t be any more, but who’s to say what’s next for him.

Here’s another article on his reports, and the changes that have taken place over the 10 years he’s been doing them.

10 years in the making, Nicholas Felton files his final Feltron Report
Over this span, Felton’s commitment to his own data collection resembled an exercise in self-torture. He’s worn noisy pedometers that clicked every time he took a step, built his own iPhone app to bug him through the day to ask what he was up to, spent a year documenting every single conversation he had, and even, at one point, found himself weighing a three-year-old’s birthday cake to track his eating habits.​

If only

PowerPoint should be banned. This PowerPoint presentation explains why.
It is estimated that more than 30 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day. But as PowerPoint conquered the world, critics have piled on. And justifiably so. Its slides are oversimplified, and bullet points omit the complexities of nearly any issue.​

A great PowerPoint about PowerPoint, with examples that really hit the mark. “Make these slides the last ones you ever read”? If only. It’s far too ingrained and we’re far too lazy. And don’t think Prezi’s any better, unless you’re a fan of motion sickness.

But wait, here’s a different view.

Tools are not to blame, blame laziness
PowerPoint and Excel aren’t the enemy, though a lot of people to seem to think they are. Frequently, I hear others say “don’t use PowerPoint” or snicker when someone mentions conducting analysis with Excel. This is wrong. There is nothing wrong with Excel or PowerPoint; I am a fan and user of both programs. The problem is the creativity and capability of those using those programs and it’s time to realize that.

And here’s a great piece on PowerPoint from Russell Davies.

29 Bullets
9. Lingua franca PowerPoint is how organisations communicate. Email someone a PowerPoint file and there’s a high chance that they’ll be able to open it. Most organisational knowledge is probably stored in PowerPoint files. (Though it feels like I should be writing that as ‘knowledge’ and ‘stored’) Microsoft understand this power, of course, and they work very hard to make PowerPoint backwardly compatible. You can open a PowerPoint 3.0 file from 1992 in today’s version on an iPad Pro and all the animations will run as intended.

More data visualisation inspiration

10 best data visualization projects of 2015
Fine visualization work was alive and well in 2015, and I’m sure we’re in for good stuff next year too. Projects sprouted up across many topics and applications, but if I had to choose one theme for the year, it’d have to be teaching, whether it be through explaining, simulations, or depth. At times it felt like visualization creators dared readers to understand data and statistics beyond what they were used to. I liked it. These are my picks for the best of 2015.​

Nicholas Felton's new app, Reporter

reporter

Nicholas Felton, the man behind the Feltron Reports and Daytum, has a new app out, Reporter. He says on his blog

“Reporter’s random prompts to answer a survey had made tracking the year a breeze and helped me to investigate questions that would have been impossible to answer using other methods. I was interested in who I spent time with, but to track this in an ongoing basis is a full-time job. I added questions for what I was wearing, eating or drinking and if I was working or not… and we streamlined the process to ensure that a report only took seconds to answer. We also added in background sampling to get information from the phone on the weather, my location and the ambient noise level.”

I loved Daytum and at one point was using it quite extensively. I wanted to use it to track which of my ties are my favourites, but couldn’t find a way of neatly naming them (the blue-ish purple-ish TM Lewin one, the more regimented gold-ish Van Buck one). I can’t see this new app helping with that question especially, but it’ll be fun to do the quantified self thing again for a while.

Still quantifying ourselves?

daytumapp

Didn’t realise I’d been away from Daytum for so long.

For those that don’t know, and why should you, bloody hell, Daytum was part of a trend on the web some time back for personal data tracking, the ‘quantified self’. Here’s a post from Wired about it, from 2009:

Numbers are making their way into the smallest crevices of our lives. We have pedometers in the soles of our shoes and phones that can post our location as we move around town. We can tweet what we eat into a database and subscribe to Web services that track our finances. There are sites and programs for monitoring mood, pain, blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, cognitive alacrity, menstruation, and prayers. […] All this might once have seemed like a nightmare […] But two years ago, my fellow Wired writer Kevin Kelly and I noticed that many of our acquaintances were beginning to do this terrible thing to themselves, finding clever ways to extract streams of numbers from ordinary human activities.

– Gary Wolf, Know Thyself: Tracking Every Facet of Life, from Sleep to Mood to Pain, 24/7/365 (wired.com)

Daytum, developed by Nicholas Feltron (of the well known Feltron reports) and Ryan Case, Daytum allows you to easily capture and categorise small bits of information, and then present these in quite interesting, visual ways with the aim of providing a little insight into how we live our lives. For a while, all the way back in 2009, I was tracking how much coffee I got through, what I was reading, which were my favourite ties, that kind of thing.

I don’t know what made me think of Daytum again, but I thought I’d catch up with it again.

Its blog, however, ends with this post from April 11, Moving West:

We’re thrilled to announce today that we just started a new phase of our careers: we’ve moved to California to join the product design team at Facebook […]

and the last tweet from the @daytum Twitter account is:

Doesn’t bode well, but then, just the other week coincidentally, this one from founder Nicholas Feltron:

So perhaps there might be some life left in it yet?

And I’ve forgotten all about your.flowingdata.com too. But that, like Daytum and much of the quantifying self scene, seems to have gone a little quiet.