Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

18 NOVEMBER, 2010

Visualizing Enlightenment-Era Social Networks

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Why Mark Zuckerberg has nothing on Voltaire.

Social networking isn’t really a modern phenomenon. Long before there was Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, there was the Republic of Letters — a vast and intricate network of intellectuals, linking the finest “philosophes” of the Enlightenment across national borders and language barriers. This self-defined community of writers, scholars, philosophers and other thinkers included greats like Voltaire, Leibniz, Rousseau, Linnaeus, Franklin, Newton, Diderot and many others we’ve come to see as linchpins of cultural history.

Mapping the Republic of Letters is a fascinating project by a team of students and professors at Stanford, visualizing the famous intellectual correspondence of the Enlightenment, how they traveled, and how the network evolved over time — an inspired cross-pollination of humanitarian scholarship and computer science. (An important larger trend thoughtfully examined in this New York Times article.)

The project pulls data from the Electronic Enlightenment database, an archive of more than 55,000 letters and documents exchanged between 6,400 correspondents, and maps the geographic origin and destination of the correspondence — something we’ve come to take for granted in the age of real-time GPS tracking, but an incredibly ambitious task for 300-year-old letters.

They were able to create and to foster public opinion, critical thinking, something that was going on in one city or country would soon be known and discussed elsewhere. So there was a sort of freedom of information that was created thanks to these networks.” ~ Dan Edelstein

For more on the Republic of Letters, its cultural legacy and the networking model it provided, we highly recommend Dena Goodman’s The Republic of Letters : A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment — a book controversial for its feminist undertones but nonetheless fascinating in its bold reframing of the Enlightenment not as a set of ideas that gave rise to “masculine self-governance” but as a rhetoric that borrowed heavily from female thought.

via MetaFilter

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09 NOVEMBER, 2010

The Music Animation Machine

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In the 1970s, composer, inventor and software engineer Stephen Malinowski had a hallucination. He envisioned an easier, more visual way of reading music scores. A friend of his suggested he animate the bar-graph scroll and another proposed doing it with a… gasp… computer. In 1985, Malinowski created the first version of the Music Animation Machine and, a quarter century later, it remains a treasure trove of mesmerizing music visualizations. From Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairync to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, the project brings an intuitive, visceral, almost synesthetic understanding to some of the most musically complex masterpieces in history.

Music moves, and can be understood just by listening. But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves — and can be understood just by watching.” ~ Stephen Malinowski

Malinowski has made the MIDI player available as freeware (sadly, Windows-only) so you can download it and create your own visualizations.

You can support the project by buying a DVD of the visualizations, but Malinowski has kindly offered the DVDs free of charge to any public schools, libraries, music schools and educators of music theory, appreciation, or history. Many of the animations are also available on the Music Animation Machine YouTube channel.

As a hidden treat, the site also features a free visual harmonizer for iPad — a wonderful educational tool exploring the relationship between pitches.

via Quipsologies

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26 OCTOBER, 2010

Everything Explained Through Flowcharts

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Flowcharts have risen to pop culture notoriety with their delightful intersection of geekery, design and humor. Today, a pinnacle of the flowchart cult makes its debut: Everything Explained Through Flowcharts by standup comedian and book designer Doogie Horner goes by the tagline “All of Life’s Mysteries Unraveled” and flowcharts the way to everything from world domination to getting laid to the religion that offers the best afterlife.

You may have recently sampled some of Horner’s work in the somewhat viral flowchart guide to Facebook portraits:

From a taxonomy of heavy metal band names to an illustrated matrix of WWF finishing moves, this gem of a book contains over 200 illustrations, 40 gargantuan flowcharts and various supporting materials — essays, graphs, annotations — bound to fill your semi-secret inner geek with glee.

We were particularly impressed with the clever review pitch, which also came in — you guessed it — a flowchart:

And because things this good are made to be shared, it’s worth noting that Everything Explained Through Flowcharts makes an ace holiday gift for the geek culture connoisseur in your life.

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