Seeing Brexit clearly

Even as we approach the end of the beginning of Brexit, it’s still hard to pin down what it is. On one hand, it’s simple — it’s a mistake. On the other, the complicated tangle of frameworks it’s operating within is hard to grasp.

Here’s a very helpful visual explainer from David McCandless.

Brexit explained
Everything you need to understand about Brexit in one graphic. Written, designed and narrated by David McCandless

Sometimes, an outside view can best illuminate the absurdities we’re too close to. Here’s an article from the Washington Post.

The collective madness behind Britain’s latest Brexit plan
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that her party reject her own Brexit plan so she could go back to negotiations with the European Union and dismantle an agreement that her government reached with the continent, on an impossibly fast timeline, during talks that have already been ruled out. On every level, it is an insane way to behave. The British government is actively sabotaging the work it has spent the past two years completing and then doing a victory dance.

Bringing back postcards

Postcards are such simple things, really – just small rectangular pieces of thin card. No technology required. Perhaps that’s why they don’t seem as popular these days? But thanks to the Postcrossing project, I’ve been sending and receiving more and more — and from all over the world.

Postcrossing history
The Postcrossing project was created in 2005 by Paulo Magalhães as a side project when he was a student in Portugal. Paulo loves to receive mail and postcards in particular; from friends, family — or from anyone in the world. Finding a postcard in the mailbox always makes his day!

He knew more people shared the same interest, but there was no good way yet to connect everyone. And that’s how he got the initial idea of creating the online platform for this which he called Postcrossing. Its goal: to connect people across the world through postcards, independently of their country, age, gender, race or beliefs.

Here are some more postcard-related links.

Wish you were here? Postcards from the art world
“It’s possible to form a significant collection of extremely good and important works of art without being wealthy,” he says. “Anyone could decide to form a collection very close to mine with most of the same things – and I like that. It’s anti-exclusive.”

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A postcard writing Rube Goldberg machine in a suitcase
As the sun regrettably sets on the art of letter writing, the inventive folks at design studio HEYHEYHEY have pieced together a clever contraption that promises to keep the art of travel postcards a thing of the present. Kind of. Melvin the Traveling Mini Machine is an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that fits in a pair of suitcases that executes the simple task of “writing” and stamping a postcard of your choice, that is, if the absurdly elaborate sequence of steps goes off without a hitch.

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Two women leading parallel lives are getting to know each other through data
Giorgia Lupi, who lives in New York, and Stefanie Posavec, who lives in London, are engaged in a long-distance, postcard-based data exchange in order to get to know each other better: “Dear Data.” They’ve only met in person twice, and they’re both interested in data, so they’re sending each other postcard drawings of data about their day-to-day lives.

Four Corners Books announces its next publication
Four Corners Books has just announced the next book in its Irregulars series titled, Leeds Postcards, a celebration of the independent postcard press. For the past four decades, independent postcard press Leeds Postcards has been making oppositional, inspiring images; activism by design. The cards are not of Leeds; the name represents a defiant rejection of the hegemony of London. The images cover a fascinating range of domestic and international politics, causes and campaigns, creating, in their own unique and graphically inventive way a record of the struggles as well as the progressive political triumphs from 1979 to the present day.

Size matters

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.

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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!)

Charting Van Gogh’s shifting colours

Taking a break from their AI coverage, Artnome take us on an interesting journey through Van Gogh’s shifting colour schemes, busting a couple of myths as they go.

New data shows why Van Gogh changed his color palette
We were not convinced by the medical reasoning behind the shift in Van Gogh’s color palette and we could not think of any French Impressionists that painted with colors nearly as bold as Van Gogh, so we decided to take a look at some other possibilities.

Van Gogh was a restless soul and moved around quite a bit. He also spent a lot of time painting outdoors, especially in his later years. As someone who famously struggled with mood swings, we thought location, and more importantly, weather patterns may have impacted his use of color.

To test this, we created composite images averaging every painting Van Gogh created from each of the major locations he worked from and compared them to weather patterns from those regions. We think the results are quite remarkable.

Using data and technology like this is a fascinating way to learn more about works of art and the hidden narratives behind them.

The best data visualisation work of 2018

Another end of year roundup, this time looking at data visualisation design.

Information is Beautiful Awards 2018: The Winners
Let’s raise a glass to dataviz that pushes boundaries, illuminates truth, and celebrates beauty. Thank you to everyone who joined us on the Information is Beautiful Awards journey this year – now see which entries took home trophies at tonight’s spectacular ceremony.

There is so much to pour over, here. Two that stood out particularly for me was this visual representation of a Beethoven string quartet and this unusual view of our lively planet.

Dynamic Planet Interactive Scientific Poster
The Interactive Scientific Poster „Dynamic Planet” was designed and developed for the exhibition „Focus Earth” of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam. One of the main advantages of a digital poster is that it can display dynamic content. This is at the same time the essential statement of the scientific poster “Dynamic Planet”: our earth never stands still, is permanently shaken by earthquakes. These tensions are measured by three measuring points of the GFZ and their data is visualized in real-time in an interactive poster in the exhibition context. The viewer is given a direct impression, he can be a “witness” to current measurement and research.

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This video demonstrates how people can interact with the poster, to navigate the large amount of data presented in an intuitive, visual manner.

Dynamic Planet – Scientific Poster
The challenge for the interface design was to ensure a clear overview, despite of the massively many events. The solution consists in an interactive graphical representation of the events by filtering the earthquakes by eg. magnitude and depth. A special visual feature of the scientific poster “Dynamic Planet” is the representation of the earthquakes depth in a transparent, rotating globe.

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.​