Other posts related to analytic-design

 | August 17, 2010 4:10 am

Evolution of Abstract ArtOne of my all time favorite charts is entitled “Cubism and Abstract Art.”  It was a lithograph created by Alfred Barr (then director of the Museum of Modern Art) as the catalog cover image for a 1932 exhibit of the same name.

I love the image for three reasons reasons:

  1. It’s simply awesome.  Barr’s chart manages to take 45 years of tumultuous history and condense it down to 13 categories, 80 words and 51 arrows.
  2. The graphic is simultaneously informative, provocative, controversial and insulting.  It stressed the evolution of art at the expense of the people responsible, a significant blow to monumental egos.  Only six artists are even listed by name!
  3. The chart beautifully accomplishes an ambitious goal.  Alfred Barr attempted to map the evolution of artistic ideas and cultural movements, both of which are notoriously difficult to chronicle.  Yet, he manages to provide information about how the trends are related to one another, how they evolved through time, and which influences were internal to the art world (depicted in black) and those which were external (red).

It’s a fantastic example of a concept map, network diagram, and process chart all rolled into one.  (Edward Tufte has a great write up about the chart on page 64 of Beautiful Evidence.)

I was reminded just how fantastic again this morning.

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 | July 28, 2010 6:28 pm

daVinci-NervousSince “Hannibal, Napoleon and Joseph Charles Minard” was posted in February, it has consistently been one of the most popular posts on this website.  Along with “Eragon Shadelayer: Sociopath” and the project pages for Time Drive and LyX-Outline, it accounts for about 60% of my overall traffic; which is pretty impressive since there are nearly 150 other posts, an image gallery and several content pages vying for people’s attention.

The popularity of Time Drive and LyX-Outline is self-explanatory.  Other than the book, they are my two largest projects.  Moreover, they are the only projects that I promote outside of this website with any regularity.

(Time Drive was even featured by Lifehacker, which was just awesome.  Seeing one of my projects in a big-time website/media outlet was one of ten Life Goals I set in High School.  Now I just need to do something cool and world changing, so I can be invited to present at TED.  That would knock out two more.)

I also understand why “Eragon Shadeslayer: Sociopath” is popular.  There is a thriving community of people who utterly detest the work of Christopher Paolini.  They’re a far more cohesive community than even Paolini’s fans.  They have support clubs, websites and everything.  It’s really quite impressive.

Earlier this week, I finally figured out why “Hannibal, Napoleon and Joseph Charles Minard” is so popular.  While I would like to think that it’s my brilliant commentary or witty prose, that would be wrong.  It’s because I included pretty pictures.   But unfortunately, the popularity of the post isn’t because of my skill as an artist, either.  It’s due to the subject matter of the images.  Because, they’re more than just pretty pictures.  The images included with the Minard post are high quality and (somewhat faithful) translations of Minard’s original maps; and to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only place on the Internet where you can get PDF (vector) copies of the artwork.

I created my copies of the illustrations for the book project, but I liked them so much, that I also wanted to post them on this site.  But since I drew heavily on the work of others (including Edward Tufte and the wonderful Revisions of Minard website), I thought it best to release them under a Creative Commons License.

Over the past six months since they’ve been available, I’ve been contacted by many people who have wanted to use the images for various purposes.  Of these requests, the most common is a desire to print out very large copies and hang them on the wall.  (Edward Tufte offers a copy of the Minard poster for purchase and it is wonderful and beautiful.  Unfortunately, it is also very small.)

It wasn’t until earlier this week, after some back and forth with a nice man named Kevin, that a light bulb in my head went off.  I thought, “Since people want big copies of the images, why don’t you offer them as posters?  You used to run a production office and know something about this whole printing thing … and it probably wouldn’t be that hard.”

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 | February 14, 2010 2:10 pm

There are three tools that a professional, scientific or technical writer needs to make use of: words, numbers and images.  In many cases, such as an effective illustration or chart, all three will be used.

The following books introduce principles and examples of how to use these tools to their fullest extent.  Some of the titles are historical and others are academic.  In every case, though, they highlight strategies that can be used to more effectively communicate ideas.  Additionally, each one is also an interesting and fantastic read.

Math and the Mona Lisa Math and the Mona Lisa by Bulent Atalay. For more than 500 years, the name of Leonardo Da Vinci has been synonymous with brilliance.  His careful observation of nature, collection and analysis of evidence, and use of mathematics to explain his observations represented a radical shift that foreshadowed the modern scientific method.In this book, Bulent Atalay explains why Leonardo was a remarkable artist, engineer and scientist.  He looks at the hidden patterns, geometric concepts and impeccable perspective in order to probe the mind that dreamt of helicopters, unsinkable ships and underwater exploration.
Leonardo's Notebooks Leonardo’s Notebooks, edited by H. Anna Suh.  To understand a man, you must read him in his own words.  This volume provides an opportunity to sample Da Vinci’s writings on anatomy, botany, architecture, sculpture and the physical sciences.  The key illustrations from his notebooks have also been reproduced.
Galielo at Work: His Scientific Biography by Stillman Drake.  Like Leonardo, Galileo was a scientific titan.  As Stephen Hawking aptly summarized, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”But why?  What was it about his innovative combination of experiment and mathematics that was so important.  How did he analyze data?  How did he present it to others?This book attempts to answer those questions.  It lays aside the philosophical implications of Galileo’s rift with the Catholic church and instead looks at how Galileo focused his mind on physical quantities and the mathematical relationships between them.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte.  Communicating complex ideas is difficult.  One of the most important tools in that struggle are charts, graphs and illustrations.  Unfortunately, however, these important figures often receive less attention than other aspects of a manuscript.In this book, Tufte provides inspiring examples of graphics that are beautiful to behold and illuminating to ponder.  He also includes shockingly bad examples and explains why they are so dangerous.
Visual Explanations by Edward Tufte Visual Explanations by Edward Tufte.  In his earlier work, Tufte showed how important it is for numbers to be communicated clearly and without distracting  ornamentation.  In this volume, he turns his attention to a slightly different series of questions: What is the best way to show cause and effect?  Or to demonstrate evolutionary change?But the most important question he asks is far more universal: How can an information display be be used to reveal the truth?  To answer this, he analyzes a cholera epidemic in 19th century London and explains how poor communication contributed to the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.
Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte.  Like in his previous books, Tufte again tackles the question of how to best reveal truth through the graphical display of information.  But where earlier books focused on principles, Beautiful Evidence is about how seeing turns into showing.  To explore that theme, this book is filled with hundreds of spectacular examples and thoughtful commentary on what makes them unique.
Now You See It by Stephen Few Now You See It by Stephen Few.  The human mind is amazingly adept at seeing and understanding patterns.  An informed eye can distinguish between authentic and forgery and arrive at startlingly accurate calculations with minimal effort.  But even though we are capable of recognizing the hidden influences in the world around us, we can also be mislead and exploited far too easily.  We become awash in a sea of data of our own making.This book attempts to explain how the mind interprets and sees information.  As the author explains in the introduction, “[This book] provides tools to dive into the ocean of information, net the best of it, bring it back to shore and sort it out.”  In essence, it’s a book about seeing and distinguishing patterns on a conscious level.
Visual Thinking Visual Thinking by Rudolf Arnheim.  It’s long been known that “seeing is believing.”  This book explains why seeing is also synonymous with thinking.
Maps and Civilization Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society by Norman J.W. Thrower.  The history of exploration and discovery is also the history of cartography.  As mankind sailed out of sight of shore, he needed to learn techniques for representing his position and understanding the natural forces that he might encounter.  This book tells the history of mapmaking and how advances in cartography impacted civilization.
The Elements of Graphing Data The Elements of Graphing Data by William S. Cleveland.  In this book by William Cleveland, he presents the nuts and bolts (the how-to) of graphing data.  Then he goes on to explore the science in which his principles are based..
Visualizing Data Visualizing Data by William S. Cleveland.  Whereas The Elements of Graphing Data is primarily  focused on the principles of quality display and exploration of many types of common statistical charts, Visualizing Data takes the next logical step.  It introduces a number of new chart types and techniques for creating insightful and clear graphics.
Fiasco: American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005 by Thomas E. Ricks.  Serious endeavors require careful forethought and nuanced planning; and few enterprises are more serious than the business of war.  This controversial book looks at the missteps and mistakes of the American military as it justified, planned and executed the 2003 Iraq War.It contains haunting examples of how information can be distorted and obfuscated by both well-meaning individuals and those with insidious hidden agendas.  It also explains how the adoption of American corporate culture and leadership by PowerPoint lead to serious miscommunication and early failure.
Challenger Launch Decision The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA by Diane Vaughan.  The Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986 changed the course of manned space flight forever.  But how did it happen?  What factors lead to it?  Might it have been prevented?In The Challenger Launch Decision, Diane Vaughan attempts to answer those questions.  In the process, she reveals that the Challenger explosion wasn’t the result of intentional wrongdoing but rather a slow-creeping definition of “normal” and comfort with the status quo.

 | January 28, 2010 5:22 pm

daVinci-SkullIn the past few weeks, I’ve had several observant readers ask about one of my “secret” projects.  They’ve wondered what I’m up to and why it’s detracting from other endeavors.  After answering another query this morning, I decided that it’s probably time to speak openly about it.  So, here’s my public confession: I’m writing a book.

It’s about scientific and professional writing and open source.  Moreover, it will be interesting, intriguing and revolutionary.  (Yes, I have an inflated sense of ego.)

Before really diving into the details, I’d like to give a bit of personal background.  This might help you understand why I’m passionate about the subject.


Ten years ago, had someone told me that I would end up a scientist and engineer, I would have laughed at them.  At the time, I had just started at University and I was fully set on a career in either illustration, design or architecture.  I was much too “visual” and “right-brained” to surround myself by geeks, freaks and nerds.  It didn’t help that I spent a huge amount of time grooming myself to be an “artist”.

During high school, I had been cursed with moderate talent and highly indulgent instructors.  They praised my artwork.  They called it interesting and innovative.  They encouraged me to refine my technique and to major in visual arts.  So, I did.

But as time went on, I realized that I wasn’t very happy.  I realized that I had other interests.  I enjoyed art, I did well in it; but art classes weren’t my favorites.  That honor, as it turned out, was reserved for mathematics and science.

There was also another problem, I found that I lacked the discipline required to systematically create an individual style and build a portfolio.  I wanted create art for myself, not for other people; and that is a fatal flaw in an illustrator (the type of work that most interested me). Illustration, by definition, is work that has been requested for a particular use.  I was more interested in my own whims than those of potential clients.  Thus, not long after recognizing my problem, I decided to go a different direction and changed my major to engineering.

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