Weekly Data Viz #9

Each Tuesday,  Eurry Kim, a student in our class, picks one example of data visualization to share with us.  Eurry writes:

This past Thursday and Friday, I was able to volunteer at the Visualized Conference where I met and heard some interesting perspectives on data visualization. From Shan Carter (http://nyti.ms/XvM9BX) to the WNYC Data News Team (http://wny.cc/W28uBW), the conference included an intense breadth of creativity and showcased the rigorous work behind the communication of data. Imagine Mark Hansen’s lecture over the course of two days… amazing and overwhelming.

I had been unfamiliar with one speaker, Santiago Ortiz, who was invited as a “People’s Choice” speaker (tweets = votes). If you look at his portfolio, you can see why he is so popular. Here, I want to present his visualization of the stars in the sky:


Set at “apparent magnitude,” you see the constellation of stars enclosed within a sphere (as they would appear from Earth). They all kind of look the same, but some are bigger than others. Now click on “absolute magnitude.” Watch. In actuality, stars are scattered all across space and our perception of them is made more real in this view. Now scroll into the cluster of stars. It feels like you’re flying through the clusters of stars in a spaceship.

I thought this visualization was breathtaking. I think I gasped when he led the audience through the constellation. It reminded me of Galileo’s drawings  in Sidereus Nuncius, which Edward Tufte discusses in Beautiful Evidence (2006). “Symbolizing the cosmic vastness, printed stars flow into the margins and then off the pages into an unbounded void, breaking out of the book’s typographic grid (for Nature is nowhere rectangular) and breaking the limits of past knowledge” (p.100). The stars in Ortiz’s visualization similarly “fly off” the window.

In my less graceful words, Tufte is advising us to not let our medium dictate our visualizations. From digging into Santiago’s other visualization, “personal Knowledge database,” I would guess that his primary tools are java, javascript, and processing.

You’re welcome. 🙂



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