The Circular Timeline, My Data Visualization Nemesis

In a few recent presentations/trainings that I’ve given through my work at Resource Media on the topic of data visualization, I’ve pointed to one particular circular timeline visualization that drives me crazy. It’s the “sleep habits of geniuses” visualization that came out in the summer of 2014, and made the rounds on blogs and news sites.  I hate this visualization for the following reasons: It looks pretty but is not user friendly There is no significance to the color The viewer cannot easily determine the total number of hours of sleep for any one of the “geniuses” The area (and length) of each arc does not relate to the total number of hours, giving the visual impression that the people on the inner most part of the graphic have less sleep than the those on the outside of the graphic, even if they have the same amount of sleep. The visual analogy is of a clock face, but rather than showing only 12 hours, it shows 24 The white/black background is split 12 to 12 rather than 6 to 6 which would be more aligned with day/night. When I raised these critiques at the Seattle Tech4Good Meetup, one of my co-presenters, Ben Jones from Tableau pointed me at this Tableau Viz, which turns the data into more of a bar chart and adds some significance to the colors. I went a little less artsy and more utilitarian with my version of the genius data visualization. I was happy to find a specialist in data visualization and design, Alberto Cairo, voice some of the same concerns about another circular...

Thinking about Data Visualization

I’ve been getting deeper into data visualization, and will probably work on sharing more about it here on the site. But for starters, I wanted to share this quote I found in an article/book review about infographics (the author, Steven Heller, is no relation). This is the paragraph that I thought was best, and the emphasis is mine: Data visualization has been used as a visual shorthand in newspapers, magazines, and textbooks since the 19th century, if not earlier, Heller writes. But in the Internet age, infographics are more useful than ever. “Their popularity now has to do with the fact that we’re being bombarded by media and data, and there are so many different ways of addressing, analyzing, and serving that data,” Heller says. So often, this excessive information is conveyed sloppily, thoughtlessly, without enough attention to the reader’s experience. That’s what makes it so important to understand how deliberate infographic designers are about their process: many graphics look deceptively simple, but great visualizations aren’t whipped up in an instant; they’re planned impeccably, as these sketchbooks...

Share Vs. Rent

I am constantly surprised  (and a little dismayed) when an article that is ostensibly about sharing, and the sharing economy talks about renting. This quote,”You could start to equalize standards of living if you allow people who have a lot of stuff to comfortably rent out things to people who don’t,” from  Arun Sundararajan, and NYU researcher, is even more alarming. The article I lifted the quote from is on FastCoExist, “How The Sharing Economy Could Help the Poorest Among Us” How does it help the poorest among us for those who have stuff to charge the poor to use it. That sounds pretty much like the world we live in now. The paradigm shift (and I hope the quote was taken out of context) is when those who have stuff will lend it to those who don’t have stuff, ideally NOT for money. IE Share the stuff with people, not rent the stuff to people. Originally Posted on...

Share Vs Rent

I am constantly surprised  (and a little dismayed) when an article that is ostensibly about sharing, and the sharing economy talks about renting. This quote,“You could start to equalize standards of living if you allow people who have a lot of stuff to comfortably rent out things to people who don’t,” from  Arun Sundararajan, and NYU researcher, is even more alarming. The article I lifted the quote from is on FastCoExist, “How The Sharing Economy Could Help the Poorest Among Us” How does it help the poorest among us for those who have stuff to charge the poor to use it. That sounds pretty much like the world we live in now. The paradigm shift (and I hope the quote was taken out of context) is when those who have stuff will lend it to those who don’t have stuff, ideally NOT for money. IE Share the stuff with people, not rent the stuff to...

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing Fiction

I love these, and I don’t even write fiction, but I think they can apply to nonfiction too. Especially 1, 2, 7, and 8: Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing Fiction Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action. Start as close to the end as possible. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. – Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10. Kurt Vonnegut: How to Write with...

Planning a panel that pops

Originally posted on the Resource Media blog: Picture this: You are at a conference and sitting in a panel session and get that sinking feeling that you chose the wrong session. Your first signal is the lengthy introductions given by the moderator for each panelist, each taken verbatim from the bios in your conference packet. Then each panel member talks for several minutes, leaving little time for questions. The remaining minutes are taken up by the moderator, who asks a few disjointed questions before time’s up, no time for audience questions. Let’s face it: Panels are hard. Harder than solo presentations where the presenter is in near complete control of the session. But with the right preparation and design, panels can be truly enlightening and informative sessions. Here are some tips to help you plan a panel that pops! Pick the right people. We all know that some people are just better at presenting in front of an audience than others.  When you have two or three people up in front of a room, the contrast between great presenter and mediocre presenter is even more stark. Try to pick people that have good presentation styles, and can present with similar levels of enthusiasm, otherwise you risk having one panel member completely dominate the others, or make the others look “bad.” Prepare, yourself. Set aside the necessary time to prepare for the panel yourself. This may involve reading books or articles, or watching videos by your panelists. It can also include soliciting input from your intended audience. You may want to invite people to submit their own ideas for questions...

Hey, FastCoExist, Paying for it, it’s not being shared

This kind of stuff pisses me off: It’s Time For The Sharing Economy To Become The Sharing Society Hey FastCoExist: when you pay for a good or service, it’s not sharing, its buying.  You throw around the term “sharing economy” to denote anything that is not clearly the historic, formal economy we have known for decades or centuries. AirBnB: Paying to sleep in someone’s apartment? not sharing. Uber, Sidecar, Lyft: Paying someone to give you a ride? not sharing. Fiverr, 99Designs, eLance, oDesk: Paying someone to redesign your business cards? not sharing. TaskRabbit: Paying someone to build your Ikea shelf? not sharing. What this may be a sign of is the rise of the informal economy, the disintermediation of service delivery, or the harnessing of excess supply or even cognitive surplus as Clay Shirky would refer to it in the case of the creative freelancers. If you want to talk about the sharing economy, talk about couchsurfing, freecycle, craigslistfree and other trends that don’t involve the exchange of money. You debase the notion of sharing...

Leveraging art and artists for social change

I wrote this article, Leveraging art and artists for social change for the Resource Media blog, but I am copying it here for you, dear reader. In October I traveled to Austin, Texas for SXSWEco expecting to learn about plenty of green and clean technology, policies and activist campaigns to advance sustainability in the face of climate change.  The most important idea I came away with was quite unexpected: Art and artists have an important role to play in the environmental movement, and other movements. The topic came up more than once: Ron Finley, the urban gardener from Los Angeles who rose to internet fame after giving a TED talk earlier this year opened the conference touching upon the beauty of the edible gardens he plants in South Central LA. The Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus urged the audience toharness culture to save the planet by deeply engaging with artists, not simply inviting one to sing a song at a rally. He urged the planners of SXSWEco to engage artists to create original works to be presented alongside other programming. And in the most direct example of art — specifically visual art — and the role it can play in activism, Shepard Fairey gave a keynote address in the form of a slideshow of his work over the years that had either been commissioned or offered free to organizations and movements. While Fairey is perhaps most well known for the Obama Hope portrait of 2008, and the Obey Giant apparel, he has a long history of working with environmental organizations going back to his days in...