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7 Essential Books on Data Visualization & Computational Art

What 12 million human emotions have to do with civilian air traffic and the order of the universe.

I’ve spent the past week being consistently blown away at the EyeO Festival of data visualization and computational arts, organized by my friend Jer Thorp, New York Times data artist in residence, and Dave Schroeder of Flashbelt fame. While showcasing their mind-blowing, eye-blasting work, the festival’s all-star speakers have been recommending their favorite books on the subject matter, so I’ve compiled the top recommendations for your illuminating pleasure. Enjoy.

PROCESSING

Processing, the open-source programming language and integrated development environment invented by Casey Reas and Ben Fry in 2001, is easily the most fundamental framework underpinning the majority of today’s advanced data visualization projects. Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists, which Casey Reas called “the first substantial handbook on art in computer science,” is an elegant introduction to the Processing language, bridging the gap between programming and visual art. It’s an invaluable self-learning tool for the novice coder and a standby reference guide for the Processing practitioner.

Recommended by: Casey Reas

WE FEEL FINE

Since 2005, (a longtime Brain Pickings favorite) have been algorithmically scrobbling the social web to capture occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling” harvesting human sentiment around them by recording the full context in which the phrase occurs. The result was a database of millions of human feelings, logged in the We Feel Fine project and growing by about 20,000 per day. Because the blogosphere is lined with metadata, it was possible to extract rich information about the posts and their authors, from age and gender to geolocation and local weather conditions, adding a new layer of meaning to the feelings. The project’s API, with nearly 7 years’ worth of data, is the most comprehensive record of human emotion ever documented.

In 2009, Sep and Jonathan published highlights from the project in We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion — a remarkable visual exploration of the 12 million human emotions collected since the project’s dawn. Infographic magic and data visualization wizardry make this massive repository of found sentiment incredibly personal yet incredibly relatable. From despair to exhilaration, from the public to the intimate, it captures the passions and dreams of which human existence is woven through candid vignettes, intelligent infographics and scientific observations.

Reviewed in full here.

Recommended by: Jer Thorp

SYNC

In Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life, Cornell mathematician Steven H. Strogatz explores the intersection of math, physics, quantum science and biology to unravel the mystery of how spontaneous order occurs at every level of existence, from the cell nucleus to the cosmos. The same principles that Christiaan Huygens observed in 1665 as two pendulum clocks to swung in unison and pedestrians experienced in near-hoor at the 2000 opening of the Millennium footbridge in London are the same principles that fascinate and drive many of today’s data visualization artists as they seek to discover and make visible the patterns and orders underpinning our world.

Recommended by: Jer Thorp

INFORMATION VISUALIZATION

Information Visualization, Second Edition: Perception for Design explores the art and science of why we see objects the way we do through an exercise in visual literacy that makes the science of visualization accessible and illuminating to a non-specialist reader, without dumbing any of it down. From the cognitive science of perception to a review of empirical research on interface design, the book covers a remarkable spectrum of theory and practice fueling data visualization as a design discipline and a visual language.

Recommended by: Moritz Stefaner

ART FORMS IN NATURE

Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature), originally featured in his omnibus on biology-inspired art, is a remarkable book of lithographic and autotype prints by German artist and biologist Ernst Haeckel, originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904 and as a complete volume in 1904. It features of 100 prints of various organisms, many first described by Haeckel himself. (You may recall Proteus, the fascinating short documentary about Haeckel’s work and legacy, featured here earlier this year.) The shapes, color theory and aesthetic of Haeckel’s work are the inspiration behind much of today’s generative art.

The copyright on the book has now expired and all the images are in the public domain, available for free on Wikimedia Commons.

Recommended by: Wes Grubbs

BEAUTIFUL VISUALIZATION

Beautiful Visualization: Looking at Data through the Eyes of Experts examines what makes successful visualization through insights, perspectives and project case studies by 24 experts — artists, designers, design writers, scientists, statisticians, programmers and more. Above all, it explores the intricacies of visual storytelling through projects that tackle everything from civilian air traffic to the social graphs of Amazon book purchases, blending the practical with the poetic.

Contributors include Nick Bilton, Jessica Hagy, Aaron Koblin, Moritz Stefaner, Jer Thorp, Fernanda Viegas, Martin Wattenberg, and Michael Young.

Recommended by: Aaron Koblin (Previously: I II III IV V)

MATERIAL WORLD

The work of photojournalist Peter Menzel (of Hungry Planet and What I Eat fame) broadens the definition of “data visualization” though the lens of the humanities, offering compelling visual anthropology captures the striking span of humanity’s socioeconomic and cultural spectrum. His Material World: A Global Family Portrait is an engrossing visual portrait of the world’s possessions across 30 countries, captured by 16 of the world’s leading photographers. In each country, Menzel found a statistically average family and photographed them outside their home, with all of their belongings. The result is an incredible cross-cultural quilt of possessions, from the utilitarian to the sentimental, revealing the faceted and varied ways in which we use “stuff” to make sense of the world and our place in it.

China: The Wu Family
The nine members of this extended family live in a 3-bedroom, 600-sq-foot dwelling in rural Yunnan Province. They have no telephone and get news through two radios and the family’s most prized possession, a television. In the future, they hope to get one with a 30-inch screen as well as a VCR, a refrigerator, and drugs to combat diseases in the carp they raise in their ponds. Not included in the photo are their 100 mandarin trees, vegetable patch, and three pigs.
Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com
United States: The Skeen Family
Rick and Pattie Skeen’s 1,600-sq-foot house lies on a cul-de-sac in Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Rick, 36, now splices cables for a phone company. Pattie, 34, teaches at a Christian academy. Photographers hoisted the family up in a cherry picker to fit in all their possessions, but still had to leave out a refrigerator-freezer, camcorder, woodworking tools, computer, glass butterfly collection, trampoline, fishing equipment, and the rifles Rick uses for deer hunting, among other things. Despite their possessions, nothing is as important to the Skeens as their Bible — an interesting contrast between spiritual and material values.
Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com
Japan: The Ukita Family
43-year-old Sayo Ukita had children relatively late in life, like many Japanese women. Her youngest daughter is now in kindergarten, not yet burdened by the pressures of exams and Saturday ‘cram school’ that face her nine-year-old sister. Sayo is supremely well-organized, which helps her manage the busy schedules of her children and maintain order in their 1,421-sq-foot Tokyo home stuffed with clothes, appliances, and an abundance of toys for both her daughters and dog. Despite having all the conveniences of modern life, the family’s most cherished possessions are a ring and heirloom pottery. Their wish for the future: a larger house with more storage space.
Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com
Mali: The Natomo Family
It’s common for men in this West African country to have two wives, as 39-year-old Soumana Natomo does, which increases their progeny and in turn their chance to be supported in old age. Soumana now has eight children, and his wives, Pama Kondo (28) and Fatouma Niangani Toure (26), will likely have more. How many of these children will survive, though, is uncertain: Mali’s infant mortality rate ranks among the ten highest in the world. Possessions not included in this photo: Another mortar and pestle for pounding grain, two wooden mattress platforms, 30 mango trees, and old radio batteries that the children use as toys.
Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com

Reviewed in full, with more images, here.

Recommended by: Jake Barton

BP

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder, Day One

This week, we’re letting our brains explode so you don’t have to.

This week, we’re reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. Earlier, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers and a lovely urban revitalization art project by TED Fellow Candy Chang. Today, we’re back with highlights from Day One. Ingest, enjoy and ponder.

TED curator Chris Anderson, one of our big cultural heroes, opens the first session of Day One: Monumental. It certainly was.

In an exclusive TED reveal, Martin Scorsese revealed a new project using cutting-edge digital technologies to restore Luchino Visconti’s iconic 50-year-old film Il Gattopardo to its full glory. A partnership between Scorsese’s nonprofit, The Film Foundation, and Gucci, the effort will grow the collection by at least one film from a visionary filmmaker every year.

Astronomer and physicist Janna Levin asked some mind-bending questions about the nature of the universe and played some incredible black hole demonstrations by Andrew Hamilton.

Astronomer Janna Levin tickles the underbelly of the universe with the profound touch of human curiosity.
Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We have to ask, is it possible that our universe is just a plume off some greater history? Is it possible that we are just one patch in a multiverse? Are there others wondering who else is out there?” ~ Janna Levin

New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of our favorite magazine writers, probed into social psychology and the depths of consciousness.

The effectiveness of a group is not determined by the IQ of the group but by how well they communicate.” ~ David Brooks

David Brooks points out that the human mind takes in about a million pieces of information per minute, of which it’s onl consciously aware of about 40.
Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Emotions are not separate from reason, but they’re the foundation for it because they tell us what to value.” ~ David Brooks

Eric Whitacre told the story of his deeply inspirational virtual choir, which brought together nearly 200 talented singers from around the world in a spellbinding collaborative performance of “Lux Aurumque” via YouTube:

Whitacre finished with the premiere of the project’s sequel, “Sleep 2.0,” bringing together over 2,000 videos from 58 countries in an ambitious collaborative performance of Whitacre’s original 1999 song, “Sleep.” It was revealed to the world for the first time here at TED and debuting online in April.

Al Jazeera founder Wadah Khanfar offered timeless insight on human rights and democracy, wrapped in timely insights from the recent Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. He shared that Al Jazeera has been banned from Tunisia for years, but the people in the streets became the network’s “reporters,” filling Al Jazeera’s newsrooms with raw footage, tweets and constantly flowing real-time information.

Al Jazeera’s Wadah Khanfar delivers an impassioned defense for the monumental importance of journalism in today’s global politics.
Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The values of democracy and the freedom of choice sweeping the Middle East right now are the best opportunity for the world to see stability and tolerance and peace.” ~ Wadah Khanfar

The lovely Sunni Brown goes bold in defense of doodling as a way of making sense of the world and sparking the kind of thinking at the root of innovation. Her book, Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, is an absolute must-read.

Doodling has a profound impact on the way we process information and solve problems.” ~ Sunni Brown

The Handspring Puppet Company brings to life the Joey the War Horse.
Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company demonstrated their remarkably lifelike puppets that live at the intersection of design and engineering, with a delightful Steampunk feel. Here’s a little teaser from the Indaba design conference:

British architect and designer Thomas Heatherwick showcased some of his remarkable, thoughtful architecture projects, including the mind-blowingly brilliant Seed Cathedral UK pavilion from Shanghai 2010 and London’s astounding rolling bridge.

Seed Cathedral was the only project we ever built that when it was done, looked more like a rendering than the rendering.” ~ Thomas Heatherwick

Arctic photographer Paul Nicklen took us on a bittersweet journey to a frozen wonderland, showcasing the breathtaking beauty and vibrant character of its inhabitants and stressing that by losing polar ice, we risk losing this entire fascinating and rich ecosystem.

Polar photographer and conservation advocate Paul Nicklen made friends with a female leopard seal, who kept bringing him dead penguins as a token of her love. We all have our ways.
Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

See more of his breathtaking work in the most excellent Polar Obsession:

Looking towards an uncertain future, a huge male bear triggers a camera trap, taking his own picture. Leifdefjorden, Spitsbergen, Norway
A gentoo penguin chick peeks, checking for patrolling leopard seals before tempting fate. Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula
Mother bear and two-year-old cub drift on glacier ice. Hudson Strait, Nunavut, Canada

As longtime fans for Bobby McFerrin, whose insight on music and emotion is unmissable, we were overjoyed to see him take the stage and call on TED audience members to join him in some incredible improvisation.

The one and only Bobby McFerrin unleashing his improvisational magic.
Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Improvisation isn’t about music or talent. It’s about doing what you do and keeping on going.” ~ Bobby McFerrin

Carlo Ratti of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab made a compelling case for using digital tools to better understand and engage with cities. He spotlighted the brilliant Trash Track project, which we’ve raved about before.

Cities account for 2% of the land’s surface, 50% of its population, 75% of its energy production and 80% of its carbon emissions.” ~ Carlo Ratti

Ratti proceeded to demo MIT’s stunningly futuristic FlyFire swarm of bioluminescent robotic mini-helicopters. By the end of the year, Ratti expects to have a working cloud of these “flying pixels.”

We were thrilled to see our friend Aaron Koblin, wildly talented visual artist and data visualization mastermind, finally take the TED stage and showcase some of his brilliant projects, including The Sheep Market, an early creative project using crowdsourcing long before crowdsourcing was a buzzword, Bicycle Built for 2000, an audio-visual collage of 2,088 voice recordings stitched together to sing the iconic “Daisy Bell” HAL song, and The Johnny Cash Project, a mesmerizing global collaborative “resurrection” music video for the legendary artist’s final studio recording.

Data viz wunderkind Aaron Koblin, an authentic geek-rockstar.
Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The day wrapped up with the announcement of TEDED, an ambitious new effort focusing on global education, currently seeking educators, filmmakers and other creative professionals to contribute to the TEDED Brain Trust.

Keep an eye on our live Twitter coverage and come back here tomorrow evening for highlights from Day Two.

BP

The Future of Art: An Immediated Autodocumentary

Last week, we featured Aaron Koblin’s insightful thoughts on the digital renaissance. The interview, produced by futurism exploration outfit Emergence Collective, was actually part of a larger “immediated autodocumentary” — a full-length documentary short and edited in an extraordinarily short amount of time — on the future of art, released this week. The film features interviews with 13 leading digital artists and creative entrepreneurs, interviewed at the 2011 Transmediale Festival in Berlin, and explores everything from remix culture to the role of content curators to collaborative creativity.

That is the role that we [curators] play — making connections between things that might not otherwise be obvious connections.” ~ Heather Kelley

The idea of originality and proprietariness also contributes to the whole Great Man Theory, which is slowly disintegrating — the idea of the genius, the Freud, the Marx, the Leonardo, the Einstein… They’ve come up with an idea that’s completely related to the man that came up with it. Whereas, today, the ideas just get thrown out there and used, and it’s that use that in a way is the art, rather than the person who comes up with the idea.” ~ Ken Wahl

via Swiss Miss

BP

Invisible Cities: A Transmedia Mapping Project

What social media activity has to do with the literal lay of the land.

In December, the now-infamous map of Facebook friendships revealed an uncanny cartography of the world depicted purely through social relationships data. Now, a project by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia is taking the concept ambitiously further: Invisible Cities is a transmedia mapping project, displaying geocoded activity from social networks like Twitter and Flickr within the context of an actual urban map — a visceral, literal embodiment of something VURB‘s Ben Cerveny has called “the city as a platform,” the idea that cities are informational media and living computational systems for urban society.

By revealing the social networks present within the urban environment, Invisible Cities describes a new kind of city — a city of the mind.”

Individual nodes appear whenever real-time activity takes place and the underlying terrain represents aggregate activity. As data accumulates, the landscape morphs into peaks and valleys that represent highs and lows of data density and information activity — a data topography visualization not dissimilar in concept to Aaron Koblin’s Amsterdam SMS project, and also built with Processing.

The interplay between the aggregate and the real-time recreates the kind of dynamics present within the physical world, where the city is both a vessel for and a product of human activity. It is ultimately a parallel city of intersections, discovery, and memory, and a medium for experiencing the physical environment anew.”

Invisible Cities is available as a free download for Mac OS X and Windows — read the instructions and go play on your own.

via Creators Project

BP

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