Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

23 DECEMBER, 2011

An Illustrated Visualization of What Happens on Earth in a Single Second

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What a whale’s song has to do with the Helios II satellite and the beat of the pigmy shrew’s heart.

We’ve previously explored time and the scale of the universe, but what about the scale of time? Do we fully understand the 2.5 billion seconds most of us will experience in an average lifetime? That’s precisely what prolific science author and illustrator Steve Jenkins playfully probes in Just a Second (public library | IndieBound), a lovely and refreshing book for kids, doubling as a curious and enjoyable trivia compendium for grown-ups, and a fine addition to the year’s best children’s books. From the 5,085-foot water journey of a whale’s song to the 50 beats of a hummingbird’s wings to the 300-foot plunge of a peregrine falcon, the charmingly illustrated pages weave a kind of alternative metric system for telling time through the surprising things that happen in a single second — a measure that, as Jenkins points out, is a human invention.

The second doesn’t relate to any cycle in nature — it’s a human invention, and the shortest interval of time most of us use in our daily lives. The Babylonians came up with the idea of the second about 4,000 years ago, but they had no way to measure such a short interval of time.”

As with Jenkins’ other children’s books, there is a palpable environmental undercurrent propelled by profound awe for Earth’s creatures.

By the time you finished this book, Steve Jenkins had lived through 21,439 sunrises. If he’d been counting, he would have tallied more than two billion heartbeats.”

Charming and perspective-shifting, Just a Second is a worthy investment of a few hundred seconds in illumination that will last your entire 2.5 billion.

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19 DECEMBER, 2011

Occupy Scales of Wealth: Income Inequality Visualized as NYC Map

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From Red Hook to Prince Edward Island by way of the 99 percent.

Since 2004, literary and cultural magazine n+1 has been a flare of hope for intelligent print media. This fall, they embarked upon an effort to capture the dimensionality of the Occupy movement with equal parts awe and analysis (with a dash of healthy skepticism) in an Occupy!, an “OWS-inspired” print gazette, the third and final issue of which dropped last week. Gracing its cover is a wildly intelligent graphic by my wildly talented friend Kelli Anderson, visualizing wealth inequality in America through an unexpected, revealing lens that examines OWS as a physical occupation that unfolded in physical space.

The graphic is inspired by the familiar scales of the universe maps, plotting the relative distances between planetary bodies onto a local map that encourages an embodied understanding of celestial distances by walking local routes. Kelli transposed income inequalities using Wall Street Journal data onto the geography of New York City itself. Zuccotti Park, the center of the map, represents the income of the average wage-earner. Other percentiles’ average incomes — of the top 1%, the top 10%, the top 50% — appear longitudinally from there, with the bottom-earners (the bottom 0.01%) falling somewhere around Red Hook Battlefields and the highest earners (the top 0.01%) bleeding off the map, almost into the Arctic Circle, in Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Walking from Zuccotti park, or the average person’s income, to the bottom of the income scale will cost you a couple of hours, and trekking to the very top of the scale would take more than 18 days of continuous walking — a powerful manifestation of just how imbalanced and skewed our wealth scale is.

Kelli observes in an email:

The scale of the solar system (which is reigned-in by the gravity of the sun) is far less dispersed than the the scales of wealth in the US—which illuminates the propensity for wealth to skew wildly to the top when the financial system is not effectively regulated. Note that almost everyone in the top 1% works in banking or finance.

Also note that the income discrepancy within the levels of the top 1% are vastly greater than the gap between the top 1% and the bottom 1% of income earners. The proportions of wealth in the upper echelons of income are of a scale to which we have no comparable metaphors— the proportions are far beyond what we can see in the physical reality of our solar system.”

All three parts of the Occupy! gazette are available as free PDF downloads. Also highly recommended: n+1’s Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America — a fantastic collection of essays, featuring Astra Taylor, Slavoj Žižek, Angela Davis, Rebecca Solnit, and other cerebral acrobats well worth your time and dime.

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07 DECEMBER, 2011

What is Generative Art? A 7-Minute PBS Micro-Documentary

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The rhetoric of data, or how to reconcile human and algorithm in the age of collective intelligence.

After their fantastic 7-minute documentary on typography, the fine folks at PBS Off Book are back with another micro-documentary, this time spotlighting generative art and featuring creators like generative composer Luke Dubois, game designer Will Wright, and software artist Scott Draves, who discuss everything from new narratives in visual storytelling to negotiating the relationship between humans and algorithms to the rhetoric of data.

This century is the century of data, that’s the defining thing. Last century was the century of electricity.” ~ Luke Dubois

For more on this ever-fascinating and increasingly relevant subject, don’t miss this omnibus of 7 essential books on data visualization and generative art.

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