Stannie Holt

Stannie Holt
Stannie Holt is a Marketing Content Writer at OpenText. She has over 20 years' experience as a journalist, market research analyst, and content marketing expert in the fields of enterprise business software, machine learning, e-discovery, and analytics.

Data Driven Digest for December 22: The Passage of Time in Sun, Stone, and Stars

Photo from RTE News, Ireland

Data visualization has been with us since the first cave-dweller documented the lunar month as a loop of symbols carved onto a piece of bone that hunters could carry with them to track the passage of the seasons. Obviously, technology has moved on in the past 34,000 years – have we told you lately about our iHub dashboards and embedded analytics? – but since the winter solstice (for the Northern Hemisphere) occurs Tuesday, Dec. 22, we thought this would be a good time to review some of the earliest efforts to create live, continuously updated reports of astronomical data, out of stone structures and the landscapes around them.   The fact that many of these calendars still exist after thousands of years, and still work, shows that our prehistoric ancestors must have considered visually recording the time of the year mission-critical, to predict hunting and harvest times, plus other seasonal events such as spring thaws, droughts, and monsoons.  (Whether accurately predicting and planning for those events was part of their yearly job performance review, we leave to the archaeologists…) So step outside and, if the weather permits, take a look at the sunrise or sunset and notice exactly where it hits the horizon, something our ancestors have done for thousands of generations.  Then come back into your nice warm room and check out these links.  Enjoy, and happy holidays! Sun Daggers The winter solstice is the time of year when the days are shortest and nights are longest.  As such, it was an anxious time for primitive people, who wondered when their world would stop getting darker and colder.  That’s why early astronomer-priests (the Chief Data Officers of their time) designed calendars that made clear exactly when the day reached its minimum and the sun was at the lowest point on the horizon – and would then start returning. One of the most impressive solar calendars is at Maeshowe, a 5,000-year-old “chambered cairn” in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland.  It’s a long passage built of stone slabs dug into an artificial mound.  The passage is oriented so that for a few days around the winter solstice every year, the rays of the setting sun reach all the way down to light up the door at the end.  Two markers pinpoint the sun’s path on the exact date of the solstice: a monolith about half a mile away, called the Barnhouse Stone, and another standing stone at the entrance to Maeshowe (now missing, though its socket remains).         Even more impressive is Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old monument near Dublin, Ireland.  Newgrange was built as a 76-meter-wide circular mound of stones and earth covering an underground passage, possibly used as a tomb. A hollow box above the passage lets in the rising sun’s light for about 20 minutes at dawn around the winter solstice.  The beam starts on the passage’s floor, then gradually reaches down the whole 19-meter length of the passage, flooding it with light.  It’s an impressive spectacle, one that attracts thousands of people to the Newgrange site for the six days each December that the sunbeam is visible.   Nor were early Europeans the only ones taking note of the sun’s travels across the landscape.  At Fajada Butte, New Mexico, three stone slabs were positioned so that “dagger”-shaped beams of sunlight passing between the parallel slabs travel across carved spirals on the cliff face beneath at the summer and winter solstices and spring and fall equinoxes.   Fajada Butte is part of the Chaco Canyon complex, inhabited between the 10th and 13th centuries by the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans.  They built impressively engineered cliff dwellings, some as high and densely populated as big-city apartment buildings, laid out 10-meter-wide roads that spanned modern-day New Mexico, and harvested snowmelt and rainwater for irrigation through a sophisticated system of channels and dams.  The Anasazi religion was apparently based on bringing the order seen in the heavens down to earth, so many of their sites were oriented north-south or towards complex alignments of sun, moon, and stars – which may explain why Fajada Butte was just one of many solar observatories they built.   Researchers at the Exploratorium in San Francisco have designed an interactive simulator of how the Sun Daggers worked:   Looping Through Time From the passage of time documented in stone and earth thousands of years ago to the wanderings of a Time Lord:  Just in time for the annual “Dr. Who” Christmas special (and the beloved sci-fi show’s 50th anniversary), our friends at the BBC have created a clever interactive map of the travels through time of all 11 incarnations of Dr. Who. This looping diagram ingeniously displays all the journeys by actor, episode, and whether the trip was into or out of the past and future, as well as the actual year.  It’s not a linear chronology, but the course of a Time Lord’s adventures, like true love, never did run smooth. Light on Embedded Analytics Meanwhile, we’re hoping to shed some light on a topic dear to our heart – analytics.  On Jan. 12, 2016, we’re hosting a Webinar featuring TDWI Research Director Fern Halper, who will talk about Operationalizing and Embedding Analytics for Action. Halper points out that analytics need to be embedded into your systems so they can provide answers right where and when they’re needed.  Uses include support for logistics, asset management, customer call centers, and recommendation engines—to name just a few.  Dial in – we promise you’ll learn something! We share our favorite data-driven observations and visualizations every week here.  What topics would you like to read about?  Please leave suggestions and questions in the comment area below. Recent Data Driven Digests: December 18: The Data Awakens December 11: Holiday Lights December 4: Winners of the Kantar Information Is Beautiful Awards

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Data Driven Digest for December 11: Holiday Lights

A holiday light show illuminates Canada's

Christmas and the New Year are approaching, so this week we’re sharing some data visualizations with connections to holiday celebrations.  Pour yourself some eggnog (or glögg or other favorite holiday beverage), put on some seasonal music, and settle in for some great watching.  Enjoy! Shed Some Light on the Issue December 13 is celebrated as St. Lucia Day in several countries, from Sweden to Italy and even the St. Lucia Islands.  As fits a (possibly legendary) Catholic saint whose name derives from the Latin word for light, lux / lucis, this is a celebration of light at a time when the winter solstice is approaching and the days are at their shortest. Speaking of light, when we’re surrounded by inexpensive electric light around the clock, it’s hard to imagine how dependent productivity is on reliable light sources. Professor Max Roser at Our World in Data, one of our favorite resources, demonstrates how the Industrial Revolution both drove the demand for more light and filled it. His interactive graph, based on the work of economists Roger Fouquet and P.J.G. Pearson, shows how the price of lighting dropped sharply starting about 1750.  That’s when new energy sources became available, starting with whale oil and kerosene (for lamps) and cheap beef tallow (for candles).  The mid-19th century added arc lights and gas lamps.  Then, once electricity became common around 1900, the price of illumination dropped to nearly nothing, relative to what it had been in the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, as lighting became cheaper, cleaner, and more convenient, everyone took advantage of it.  Cities began putting up lamps to make streets safer.  Factory owners added night shifts.  Students, housewives, shoppers, entertainment-seekers – everyone felt liberated by the electric bulb. This Little Light of Mine… And of course, that leads us to Christmas lights.  In many countries, they’re a source of neighborhood, city, or even national pride (as shown by the Wonders of Winter show every year in our headquarters of Waterloo, Canada, and the sound-and-light shows on Parliament Hill in Ottawa). Despite the huge cost advantage of electricity over earlier light sources, incandescent bulbs are not very energy-efficient.  So Christmas lights can still cause a sizable bump in many household budgets (about $20-50 extra, depending on the price of a kilowatt-hour in your area and how intensely you decorate). But in recent years, innovations in bulbs, especially small LEDs, have dropped their energy demands considerably.  The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) reported in 2010 that a string of LED C7 bulbs (the thumb-sized ones used mostly outdoors) would cost only 23 cents to run during the entire holiday season, compared to $7.03 for conventional incandescent bulbs.  (Miniature bulbs are cheaper than C7s, even if you don’t switch to LEDs.  The State of California estimates that a string of indoor lights, running a total of 300 hours a month, would cost $1.38 to operate if it’s made up of miniature bulbs, vs. $4.31 for C7 bulbs — a 3-fold price difference.) We’re Burning Daylight Want to take the best photos of your holiday light display?  Professional photographer Jay P. Morgan has great tips on his blog, The Slanted Lens. For a pleasant, soft glow, shoot your photos just as the sun is going down.  That way, there’s still some light in the sky to help illuminate your house, yard, and so forth, Morgan explains.  If you wait until full darkness, the contrast between the lights and the rest of the image is too stark; details on the house won’t “pop” and it won’t show up well against the sky. The data-visualization angle?  His handy chart showing how the ideal moment for Christmas-card photography comes when the fading daylight drops to the same brightness level as your lights.  (He also illustrates how the color temperature drops with the light level.)   When the Lights Go Down on the City While we’re on the topic of light, let’s consider how much can be gleaned from high-altitude pictures of the Earth after dark.  Images taken by NASA satellites show interesting correlations to human activities. The NASA scientists who compiled the satellite images into this impressive display and shared it through the Visible Earth project note: The brightest areas of the Earth are the most urbanized, but not necessarily the most populated. (Compare Western Europe with China and India.) Cities tend to grow along coastlines and transportation networks. … The United States interstate highway system appears as a lattice connecting the brighter dots of city centers. In Russia, the Trans-Siberian railroad is a thin line stretching from Moscow through the center of Asia to Vladivostok. … Even more than 100 years after the invention of the electric light, some regions remain thinly populated and unlit. The interior jungles of Africa and South America are mostly dark, but lights are beginning to appear there. Deserts in Africa, Arabia, Australia, Mongolia, and the United States are poorly lit as well (except along the coast), along with the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, and the great mountains of the Himalaya. And Roser, doing his own analysis of the Visible Earth images, points out that the level of lighting often marks a sharp political and economic divide, such as between North and South Korea.  Prosperous South Korea glows after dark, especially around the capital, Seoul.  But its northern counterpart, kept poor by decades of Communist dictatorship, is nearly invisible after dark.   Meanwhile, we’re hoping to shed some light on a topic dear to our heart – analytics.  On Jan. 12, 2016, we’re hosting a Webinar featuring TDWI Research Director Fern Halper, who will talk about Operationalizing and Embedding Analytics for Action. As Halper points out, what good is having analytic capacity in your business processes if nobody uses it?  Analytics needs to be embedded into your systems so they can provide answers right where and when they’re needed.  Uses include support for logistics, asset management, customer call centers, and recommendation engines—to name just a few.

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Data Driven Digest for December 4: Data Is Beautiful

The end of the year is approaching, which means that for many of us, it’s time to take stock: “Biggest News Stories of 2015,” “10 Beloved Celebrities We Lost This Year,” and the like. In our line of work—analytics—it’s a good opportunity to survey some of the best data visualization examples of the past 12 months. So this week we’re sharing with you some of the 2015 winners of the Kantar Information Is Beautiful Awards, an annual contest organized by independent data journalist David McCandless (@infobeautiful), author of “Knowledge Is Beautiful” and “Information is Beautiful.” Winners were selected by a public vote from among an impressive long list of candidates. Their topics ranged from weather to politics to the growth of an unborn baby during pregnancy. Find yourself a comfortable seat and settle in for browsing—you’ll find a lot of great things to look at. Enjoy! Red vs Blue: If you live in the United States and feel, judging by the tone of political coverage, that politics has gotten more ruthlessly partisan in recent years, you’re not wrong.  When political scientists crunched the numbers on the voting behavior of U.S. Representatives since the end of World War II, they found that across-the-aisle cooperation between members of different parties has dropped steadily in the last 40 years. The reasons for this increasing polarization are complex—Congressional districts designed to favor one party or the other, an increasingly mobile population more likely to elect candidates by party rather than their stance on purely local issues, big money, politicians flying home on weekends to be with constituents rather than staying in Washington, D.C. to build relationships, and more. The authors of the underlying paper documented their findings in a table of statistics. That’s fine, but what really sells this story is the visualization drawn up by Mauro Martino, an Italian designer who leads the Cognitive Visualization Lab for IBM’s Watson group. His network diagrams show how, year by year, the blue dots representing Democrats and the red ones for Republicans pull further apart. The images are hauntingly beautiful – they could be galaxies colliding or cells dividing. Yet they are telling a story of increasing division, bitterness, and gridlock. Hello world/ Bonjour, le monde! / Nǐ hǎo, shìjiè! Silver medalist in the Information is Beautiful Awards’ data visualization category is “A World of Languages” by Alberto Lucas López (@aLucasLopez), graphics director at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. López’s diagram ingeniously carves up a circle representing the Earth into sectors for each of the major languages, and within them the countries where each language is spoken. He supplements his eye-catching image with smaller charts showing language distributions by country (curiously, Papua New Guinea is far ahead of the rest, with 839 separate languages spoken) and the most popular languages to learn. (No surprise to anybody that English far outstrips the rest, with 1.5 billion people learning it – nor that Chinese and two former colonial languages still spoken in many countries, French and Spanish, are next.  But it says something about cultural influence, from Goethe to manga, that German, Italian, and Japanese are the runners-up.) Working for a Living: Job recruiters and economists are keenly aware of rises and falls in national unemployment rates and which industries or sectors are growing, but most businesses can derive value of this information too. The Wall Street Journal team of graphics editor Renee Lightner (@lightnerrenee) and data journalist Andrew Van Dam (@andrewvandam) created an interactive dashboard of unemployment and job gain/loss statistics in the U.S. that conveys an amazing amount of data from the past 10 years (and going back to 1950 in some views). This job data tracker only tied for a bronze medal in the category of Interactive Data Visualization – which says something about the level of competition in this field. Because of the tracker’s thoughtful design, it can answer a wide range of questions.  How about: What sectors of the economy have shown the most sustained growth? Health care and social services, followed by professional services and then restaurants—probably a sign that the economic recovery means people have more to spend on a dinner out. Most sustained losses? Manufacturing, government, and construction—even though construction also shows up on the dot-matrix chart as having frequent peaks as well. (Construction jobs went up .83% in Feb. 2006—something we now recognize as a symptom of the housing bubble.) Meanwhile, “Unemployment rate, overall” vividly charts the recessions of the past 60 years in a colorful mosaic that could easily be featured in an upscale décor magazine. This is just a small sampling of the ingenious ways some of our best thinkers and designers have come up with to analyze and display data patterns. We share our favorites every Friday here. If you have a favorite you’d like to share, please comment below. Recent Data Driven Digests: November 27: Mapping music in color November 20: Popular diets, parole risk assessment, hot startup universities November 13: Working parents, NBA team chemistry, scoring different colleges

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Data Driven Digest for November 27: Data Mapping Music

Étude Chromatique

One of the biggest motivations behind creating graphs, charts, dashboards, and other visualizations is that they make patterns in data easier to perceive. We humans are visually oriented creatures who can intuitively note patterns and rhythms, or spot a detail out of place, through imagery long before we can detect them in written reports or spreadsheets. Or sheet music, for that matter. For this week, we present some examples of how to display music visually, which may get you thinking of other creative ways to visualize data and bring patterns to the surface. Enjoy! If you’ve had any experience reading music, you may be able to tell some things about a piece by looking at its written score. For example, you could probably tell that this piece (an excerpt from Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel Im Spiegel”) is of a gentler, less agitated nature than this one (the introduction to “Why Do the Nations So Furiously Rage,” from Handel’s “Messiah,” which you might be hearing this holiday season). In fact, Handel and his contemporaries expected listeners to be reading along to the music in the printed score and appreciate the “word-painting” with which they illustrated the text or mood of the music. The practice of word-painting has become less common as fewer and fewer people in modern generations learn to read sheet music. But some composers have found other ways to illustrate their music. The avant-garde composer Ivan Wyschnegradsky created “chromatic” music in both senses of the word. He used not only every note in the 12-note tuning system of classical Western music (where adjoining notes on a piano keyboard are a half-step apart, like A, B-flat, and B natural – what is called a chromatic scale), but notes “between the cracks.” These “ultra-chromatic” pieces required special keyboards that could play two or three different notes between the keys of a regular piano. It’s hard for people who don’t have perfect pitch to hear the difference between these so-called “quarter-tones,” but they lend a subtle eeriness to his music. Then Wyschnegradsky turned to a familiar data-visualization technique: Color. He started representing his music in rainbow-hued wheels, like this (picture via the Association Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Paris). Ever since childhood, he had been fascinated by rainbows. As an adult, he noted the parallels between the 12 colors of the chromatic spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, plus the intermediate hues of red-orange, orange-yellow, and so forth) and the 12 chromatic notes in classical music. And just as colors can shade into one another subtly (is this lipstick reddish-orange, or an orangey-red?), so can musical notes (like a slide whistle or trombone). The parallels were too good to pass up. So Wyschnegradsky assigned a color on the spectrum to each of the dozens of quarter-tones in his musical system, then plotted his melodies in circles like a spiderweb or radar chart. As Slate Magazine blogger Greta Weber wrote: Each cell on these drawings corresponds to a different semitone in his complex musical sequences. If you look closely enough, you can follow the spirals as if it were a melody and “listen” to the scores they represent. Wyschnegradsky’s color-wheel scheme never caught on. But the patterns it brings to light have parallels in popular visualization systems, from traffic delays to weather. It’s clear that color helps illuminate. Like what you see? Every Friday we share great data visualizations and embedded analytics.

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