Book Review: The Visual Miscellaneum

24 01 2010

So I did get the books on my holiday wishlist and have had a great time going through all the amazing thinking on data visualization.  The first one I have completely finished is The Visual Miscellaneum by David McCandless.

This book is a great sources of inspiration and entertainment.  David McCandles shows off that he is able to take any data set and make it into a beautiful infographic or data visualization.  His layouts and color selections make the information really pop.

The Visual Miscellaneum - Rising Sea Levels

Topics cover many areas including science, pop culture, history, music, the internet, food and more.  The variation helps to make the topic of visualization stand out.  By seeing the techniques and visuals applied to different data sets in different areas, it helps the reader realize that data visualization has value in everything from dealing with climate change (page 74) to ordering the right cup of coffee (page 156).The Visual Miscellaneum - Simple Part I

On the down side is that some of the beauty is only skin deep.  I found certain illustrations would have been served better by a simple table or alternative visualization.  There were also a few cases where a typo existed or it seemed a legend must have been left out.

I would still say this book great addition to a coffee table or library.  If you are a data geek you will love to study the visualizations.  If you are not a data geek you will enjoy the interesting facts and comparisons represented by beautiful images.

Pros:

  • Beautiful book with great graphic design, color schemes, etc.
  • A lot of variety in how data can be presented… some are the same old standards and others are really creative new approaches.

Cons:

  • The illustrations are not always an improvement in understanding the data.

I will keep this book close at hand for best practices in making data look awesome and as a source of inspiration when stuck for a way to represent information. Click here to get it from Amazon.

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Blldzr: What are they Building?

16 01 2010

I have written before about the power of applying mash-up and web 2.0 technologies to government data.  For me there was a bit of put up or shut-up to the whole effort as well.  What could I do to make my community better using my development, analytical and visualization knowledge.  I wanted to find something that I had an interest around and was relevant to my community (Tucson, AZ).

Blldzr

What I came up with was Blldzr.com (pronounced Bull-Dozer).  Blldzr is a wiki that allows members of a community to enter information about development and construction projects in their area.  In a addition to the factual information there are also comments to express opinions about the developments.

Blldzr:  Answering the Question... What are they building?

After being added each development has a page that can be updated and subscribed to.

Blldzr:  A page for each development

Being informed and having conversations about what is being built in your neighborhood is one way to create community.  My hope is that Blldzr can foster more of that.

There is still much to do.  The site needs content, activity, moderators and to be promoted.  If you are interested in any or all of this feel free to pitch in (e.g. add some entries for you city).  If you would just like to be kept up to date on progress feel free to follow Blldzr on Twitter.

I will post more in the future on progress and the technology that was used in building the site.

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Interactive Resume using Simile Exhibit

11 01 2010

Simile Exhibit is a JavaScript framework that enable a data sets to be visualize, sliced and embedded into any web page.  It is fun and easy to quickly see your data brought to life with all of Exhibit’s features.  Some of the included views are a basic table, timeline, map, gallery and more.  It is a great solution for data with less that 1,000 rows.  The data can be integrated in a number of ways, including Google Spreadsheets, JSon files, etc.

In addition to plugging the same data set into multiple visualizations, Exhibit provides Facet filters.  These automatically provide multiple choice filter list that dynamically modify the visualizations.

With all of these features and easy data integration I plugged it into my resume which I set up in a Google Spreadsheet.  First I came up with a basic table view (I applied a little extra CSS):

Garys Resume in an Exhibit Table

Then I added the map view to see all of the locations that I have worked at:

Garys Resume as Exhibit Map

And lastly I added a timeline view:

Garys Resume in an Exhibit TimelineAs you will notice on each of the pages there are a list of filterable facet list on the left and right side (this is configurable as well).

For more examples check out this Exhibit Examples 1Exhibit Examples 2, and Exhibit Examples 3.

So far I have only identified 3 real downsides to the software.

  1. First since the content is published through Javascript you cannot tell what the page is about by looking at its source code.  This will impact some spiders and search engines, when crawling, who cannot call the Javascirpt.  There are work-arounds as the content can be output as html, xml, tab delimited, json, etc, but the dynamic data and filtering is lost.
  2. One of the reasons the software is so easy to deploy is that the server side of Simile is hosted at MIT.  So there is no need to host the library on your site.  This can be limiting since you become dependent on MIT’s uptime and it may not be possible to deploy on an intranet, or with sensitive internal data.  The good news is that is a way to set up your own server, so it can be done, but looks to be a bit of work.
  3. Exhibit is not for large data sets.  It works well for small list that can be managed in a text file or Google Spreadsheet, but it is not something you would want to plug into a data warehouse.

Overall, Exhibit is a great way to interact and visualize data and allows you to be up and running quickly.  Check out my resume, some examples and go build your own.

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Panoramic Pictures with Windows Live and Image Composite Editor

1 01 2010

The kids and I went Geocaching yesterday.  We had a blast.  We found the location and coordinates at GeoCaching.com.

The cache was at the top of a pretty steep hill near Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest (Southern Arizona).  It was a small metal tea can in a buried steel pipe.

I started taking pictures as Isabelle and Jasper were removing the cache.  I circled them from a number of angles to get enough pictures to stitch together for a panorama.  Usually you stay in one spot and spin, but I wanted multiple images of the explorers, so I actually circled them (look at the shadows to get a sense of the different angles).

I was planning on using the image stitching that came with my Canon Camera, but after googling for the software (and getting frustrated with Canon’s website) I came to a recommendation of Windows Live Photo Gallery and it’s panorama feature (see below).

Then I also found a link to a more advance version (same software engine) from Microsoft Research called Image Composition Editor(ICE).  The results were pretty much the same, but the ICE program offered a little more flexibility in determining the perspective of the panoramic(see below).

What a great way to end the year.

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