1. Trial by PowerPoint

    Posted January 1, 2015 in ephemera, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    John Naughton linked to this fascinating piece about the use of PowerPoint in American courtrooms.

    Just like Naughton, I didn’t know that American prosecutors were allowed to deliver rebuttals with accompanying PowerPoint decks. Nor did I know that they resort to such manipulative, tabloid-esque techniques in the slides they create – techniques that can, in some cases, result in mistrials.

    The prosecutor had dressed up her closing argument to the jury with a series of slides, complete with “sound effects and animation,” the appellate court wrote. On one slide, footprints materialized across the bottom of the screen. Other slides exhibited “concentric rings of a target,” with each ring corresponding to an item of evidence; the defendant’s name, Sergey Fedoruk, was in the bull’s-eye. The prosecution’s final slide, the pièce de résistance, opened with a header that said “Murder 2.” Then, under the header, a single word flashed, in all capital letters, in 96-point red type: GUILTY

    Defendants are not forced to attend court wearing prison garb, because this would create an association of guilt in the minds of the jury and taint the trial. Prosecutors often use PowerPoint to get around this by using mugshots and shifty-looking CCTV footage of defendants and then plastering the word “GUILTY”, in red text, all over their faces. Very subtle.

    Read the full piece over at the Marshall Project.

  2. The gap is growing between London house prices and what you might call reality

    Posted February 26, 2014 in London, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    During lunchtime, for a laugh, I downloaded this spreadsheet and made a chart from it.

    The data in the spreadsheet shows the house-price to earnings ratio for all London boroughs, from 1997 to 2013. This number tells us how affordable local property is for people who live and work in a particular area.

    In an ideal world you’d want it to be relatively stable—if property is expensive in one high-income area and cheap in another low-income area they might still have similar house-price/earnings ratios. And over time, you would want salaries and house prices to go up or down more or less together—if you wanted the affordability of property to remain constant, that is.

    Anyway, here’s the chart. You’ll need to click on it to see the full-size version.

    House price to earnings ratio in inner London boroughs

    House price to earnings ratio in inner London boroughs

    The biggest surprise for me upon making this was not so much that this ratio has grown over the years, or the fact that this growth has occurred in every borough. It’s more that the gap between boroughs has become so vast.

  3. France is bacon, and other nuggets of wisdom

    Posted January 2, 2014 in visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    Yahoo! has an autocomplete service much like Google’s. When you enter the name of a place such as “France”, the results it suggests give an indication of what the Yahoo! search system thinks about it. Almost all of them are either derogatory or surreal.

    Kier Clarke over on Google Maps Mania has produced a Google Map which displays these Yahoo! auto-suggestions over the associated regions. It’s a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous.

    Western Europe as seen by the Yahoo! autocomplete algorithm

    Western Europe as perceived by the Yahoo! autocomplete algorithm

    I especially like the ones where the algorithm gets confused over homophones and generates sentences that have nothing to do with the country at all, like “Greece is the word” in the screenshot above.

    But while those examples provide an insight into the rules and quirks of the Yahoo! system, most of the others reflect a disdain for the world as a whole – “Italy is racist”, “Wales is crap”, “Germany is being crushed” and so on.

    There’s something strange and uncanny about the effect the map creates, its jarring combination of bleakness, hostility, confusion and nonsense. This seems to be par for the course for objects created by the haphazard collision of software algorithms with the real world.

    (via Atlantic Cities)

  4. Using money to carve up the United States

    Posted May 8, 2013 in links, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    Fast Company has a piece about a research project which redraws the map of the United States based on the movement of paper currency.

    Dirk Brockmann, a theoretical physicist, is the person responsible for it. He thinks that state lines are arbitrary boundaries with no relation to how people actually live and move around, and that we should rethink our representations of how human societies arrange themselves across geographic space.

    In one such effort he’s taken data from a website called Where’s George which tracks the movements of dollar bills (even when you do the legal bill review), and used it to draw a new map of the US whose borders indicate the regions where money tends to circulate. The thicker a blue line, the less likely it is that paper currency will cross it.

    Brockmann's US map

    Dirk Brockmann’s US map based on the movements of dollar bills

    One thing that leaps out at me is the circular region with Chicago at its centre. This region’s boundary starts in the north-east and follows the Appalatians southwards for a bit, flattening out westwards when it meets the Kentucky-Tennessee border, then curving back up to the north as it crosses St Louis. If you used its borders to create a new state – let’s call it “Chicago State” it would eat up parts of nine existing states, including all of Michigan, all of Ohio, and the western half of Pennsylvania.

    I like this kind of analysis as it recognises the fluidity of human societies and takes advantage of information that would have been nigh on impossible to obtain a couple of decades ago. Projects like this help us learn more about the real ‘shapes’ of the countries and areas we live in.

  5. A snapshot of modern human life

    Posted April 26, 2013 in visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    I enjoyed reading Stephen Wolfram summarising his team’s analysis of Facebook data. The infographics aren’t just neat and easy on the eye, they offer up their insights without fuss or clutter. The writing is pitched well, informative without being intimidating or patronising. And among the graphs and the science you can detect something organic, something messy, something that can be faintly painful if you think about it too much.

    Relationship status by age, taken from Wolfram's analysis of Facebook data

    Relationship status by age, taken from Wolfram’s analysis of Facebook data

    For me, it comes out most strongly when I look at the greyish sliver that opens up towards the top-right of the above graph, which represents the proportion of people whose relationship status is “widowed”.

    This isn’t the most interesting or surprising piece of information on the page, nor is it the most novel or engaging graphic, but it’s the one that most brought home to me that beneath this sea of data, and beneath the sterile light-blue facade of Facebook, there’s something else going on: real, human, life.

  6. Man spends 7 years drawing a maze

    Posted February 1, 2013 in ephemera, mind mapping, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    Japanese Twitter user @Kya7y has shared a highly intricate maze that her dad spent 7 years drawing. To read about it in English head over to Spoon & Tamago:

    Some people have hobbies. Other people are obsessive… @Kya7y recently unearthed an incredibly detailed maze that her father created almost 30 years ago. When pressed for details, the father explained that he spent 7 years creating the map on A1 size paper, which is about 33 x 23 inches.

    Here’s just one picture of the maze – read the full article for more.

    Photo of maze, from Spoon & Tamago

    Photo of maze, from Spoon & Tamago

    From a distance it looks like the street plan of a city located on a comically overpopulated alien planet, but as you descend from its upper atmosphere and approach street level a different feel emerges: organic, messy, neural, brainlike, obviously human. A feel it wouldn’t have if it had been made on a computer. You can’t help but be impressed at the level of detail, the dedication and the craftsmanship that went into creating it.

    The sensation it leaves me with is a bit like looking into another person’s mind as they drift off to sleep and dream-thoughts start warping the linear flow of waking consciousness. So I’m left wondering. Is it best understood as a maze, or as a streetmap of its creator’s mind?

  7. Book-buying for the globally-minded voyeur

    Posted January 17, 2011 in ephemera, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    In looking for alternatives to Amazon, I’ve come across quite a few websites that are completely new to me. One of them is The Book Depository, a well-stocked online bookstore whose prices seem, so far, to be competitive with Amazon’s.

    The Book Depository has a nice feature called “Book Depository Live“, which allows you to see people buying books in (quasi) real time. Using Google Maps, the feature scrolls across the globe to show you the buyer’s location and the purchased book’s title.

    Someone in South Africa buys a book

    If I could make a suggestion to the people behind this feature, it would be that the links to books should open in new tabs. That way you could click on a book that looks intriguing without being taken away from the map view. As it is, you need to hold Shift (or Cmd if you’re on a Mac) while clicking if you want to stay on the map.

    Despite this minor quibble, though, I like this feature. It reminds me of when Twitter was still new and visualisations of tweets superimposed on top of world maps were doing the rounds. Those projects were hypnotic but ultimately empty, because Twitter content suffers when isolated from conversational context. But in The Book Depository Live you might come across an interesting-looking book that you end up buying, and maybe being affected by in some way. I guess that’s something a book has over a tweet.

  8. Recursion and online maps

    Posted November 15, 2010 in ephemera, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    I’ve been thinking a lot about online maps recently. This is probably because I spent most of October in France, depending mainly on Google Maps for finding my way around. They’ve certainly come a long way in the last ten years. Remember when Streetmap seemed fresh and exciting? It seems like such a dinosaur now, compared to the more advanced map services that have come along since then.

    There’s something appealingly recursive about online maps too. Before, there were no computers and we all lived in the real world, in physical space. Then the internet came along, and we had to learn how to navigate this new virtual world, an “information space”, represented by windows and menus and buttons and so on.

    After a while, the information space itself became rich enough to contain useful maps. In other words, we encountered the physical space represented within the virtual space, which we in turn encountered in the physical space. Maybe this graphic will help:

    Click to see full-size graphic

    OK, maybe not. But if you ever find yourself walking down a street while ignoring your surroundings and looking only at the blinking blue dot on your phone’s mapping application, you might know what I mean. And yes, I’ve done that.

  9. Another Twitter visualisation

    Posted February 3, 2009 in social media, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    I promise I’ll stop posting links to these one day. Anyway, this is from a series of Superbowl-related interactive visualisations produced by the New York Times:

    Screenshot of NYT Twitter visualisation

    Unlike the visualisation of #inauguration posts I linked to recently, this isn’t based on hash tags but instead uses moving tag clouds to illustrate the volume of Twitter posts on various subjects during the Super Bowl.

    Examples include “Cardinals vs Steelers” (I know the Steelers are from Pittsburgh but from this animation I’d guess the Cardinals are from… Las Vegas? San Diego?), “talking about ads” (it’s vaguely depressing to see how much conversation the ads inspire) and player names (a guy called Fitzgerald obviously does something notable in the fourth quarter).

    This is maybe the most effective use of Twitter data I’ve seen so far, as it is centred around a single event but tracks various subjects of conversation related to that event. A far simpler and less interesting animation would have simply flagged every post with the hash tag #superbowl.

  10. Presidential inauguration – Twitter visualisation

    Posted January 23, 2009 in social media, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    This animated map from FlowingData shows the global location of each Twitter post tagged as #inauguration between Monday and Wednesday this week.

    Twitter visualisation from FlowingData

    Although the world map isn’t shown, over time the US and the UK become almost perfectly defined by the density of Twitter post markers. You can also see outlines of south America and western Europe.


    The big flurry happens when the US wakes up on Tuesday morning…