Talk With Your Hands

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In the last few years TED conferences have come to represent the top rung for "intellectual rock stars." What began as a small annual talk series in the early 1990's, has ballooned into an international sensation since they began providing videos online in 2006. It's a remarkable powerhouse that has made data experts like Hans Rosling a household name. TED now comes with legions of fans, people willing to pay several thousand dollars for the privilege of sitting in the audience, a fellowship program (a shining example), and even a "play along in your hometown" version called TEDx.

TED is not without critics, as with all successful endeavors. The founder of TED is no longer involved, and is trying to "reinvent conferences again". Here's an interesting review of the growing  "intellectual populism" that TED is contributing to; not necessarily a bad thing, but it's interesting.

One thing that I have taken away from watching a fair number of TED talks since 2006, as well as watching the late Steve Jobs speak, is the value in being a seriously good public speaker. There's a lot involved in making a great talk, from slide design and composition (a recent post I wrote on the importance of contrast in slides for Visually), to speaking tone, pace, inflection, and body language.

Recently I noticed something about the thumbnails shown for TED videos: the frame chosen from the talk seemed to usually feature people gesturing with both hands.

Gesturing with your hands is very normal when you talk, especially when you're giving a lecture or speech. Funny or unusual hand motions when talking can become iconic (I've always loved Dana Carvey's George Bush Sr. impression for this). Good hand motions can even help you convey your authority or confidence when talking, which is absolutely an asset.

I wondered, looking at a few dozen of these thumbnails, how many hands do people typically gesture with in TED talk thumbnails?

So, consumate scientist that I am, I gathered some data!

Plots that Changed the World - III

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Today I'm very happy to publish the next installment of my continuing series of posts on visualizations that changed the world. (Part IPart II) The title is, of course, a double entendre as I'm both reviewing the plots (graphs/maps/diagrams) that are themselves historic or represent key points in history, as well as the "plots" of the story behind them.

Magellan - Traveling the World

As a child, you should come across some variant of this map once or twice. If your childhood was anything like mine, it was sandwiched between boring spelling lessons and unimaginative math quizzes.  But, dear reader, ponder for a moment the absolute magnanimity of what these people accomplished. They sailed around the %&@$ planet!!!

Voyage of Ferdinand Magellan
The voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, from Wikipedia

The Chart that Wasn't There

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Hop on over to the Visually blog today to see my guest post:

The Chart that Wasn't There: Avoiding Disappearing Plots in Presentations

You can see my Visually page here, where I post versions of some of the figures that have been featured here on If We Assume.

Thanks to Drew Skau and the great folks at Visually for inviting me to write a piece!

Kepler Binary Clock

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Here's a fun animation I created, artistically visualizing over 1,300 eclipsing binary stars from Kepler.

Binary Clock from James Davenport (or see it on Visually)

Each "hand" represents a binary pair, and each concentric ring groups the binaries by their orbital period. In the center are hundreds of binary systems with orbits shorter than a day (the shortest is just 6 hours!) At the speed of the video, these orbits are a blur. The outer-most hand tracks a binary star system with an orbital period of about 120 days. This is considered quite a long period binary, even though it's 3 times shorter than an Earth year!

Here are some extra details:
  • Period data from v1.96 of the Kepler Binary Catalog.
  • Animation is 1500 postscript frames, 
  • converted to png with ImageMagick, 
  • animation made with ffmpeg.
  • Music: As Colorful As Ever by Broke For Free

The Best Data Visualization Sources

If you're like me, you spend way too much time surfing for cool visualizations. Here's the list of blogs/websites/etc I read to keep up to date on the growing field of big data and data visualization.

Reddit (where better to sink your time?)




  • astroplotlib a collection of astronomy plots. I think this has lots of promise, but I'd like to see it more fully realized. Mostly only useful for astronomers...

Where else do you get your viz from? Put some links in the comments
(shameless self promotion welcomed... within reason)

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[ Related Posts ]

Plots as Art
Colors in Visualizations 
Evil Color Schemes

Washing Pants, by the Numbers

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Be sure to subscribe for updates to If We Assume! 

Last week I asked a simple 3 question survey about washing frequency of pants... specifically: in your opinion how long can pants be worn before needing washing? This is a question I thought up a while back when reading about a kid who wore his jeans for 15 months (crazy!). So finally I did the responsible thing and gathered data! You know, for science...

I wanted to keep the survey short and sweet, and submitted it to about a half dozen subreddits, my facebook, and my twitter feeds. I'm sure there's all manner of other variables that would have been interested to study this against (e.g. jeans versus slacks, as many pointed out), but I felt keeping it short would provide an easier survey and yield a higher response rate.  Here is a screen shot of the survey:

Colors in Visualizations, a Rainbow of References


“...I wondered if it was blasphemous to tell God that rainbows are kitsch.”
              --Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

Color is one of the most fundamental, and sometimes most challenging, aspects of data visualization. Many times you may not know why a given color scheme looks bad (or good), but your eye can quickly pick it out. There are many schools of thought about color families, color meanings, complimentary colors, and which you should use in figures/plots. The rainbow color table, a default in many programs/languages, frequently produces horrible results. You can do better! Your research deserves better. If people have to squint and struggle to decrypt your colors, then your result isn't being communicated.

Below is a list of links/articles/references I've found useful when thinking about colors in visualization, with some rough organization. Favorites of mine in each section are in bold. The list was compiled with help from my friend Ryan, and I hope it will be of use to you!