playswithfire

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Envisioning Information

I recently had a chance to hear Edward Tufte speak about (primarily) information presentation and his techniques and critiques of the same. He’s a wonderfully dynamic speaker with a wide range of interests and all of his interests clearly influence everything he brings his eye and mind to. I’m really glad I went, as it’s given me many many things to think about in my own work.

Perhaps most interesting to me right now (and perhaps to him, since it seems to be what he’s updating the most lately) is the idea of sparklines; a method of displaying a data series in a small, word-size chunk inline with the text. Given a combination of the Cocoa text system and some other stuff I don’t think it would be terribly hard to integrate these into a computer program. A quick Google search yields some implementations in various languages.

The thing about the implementations that intrigues me is that very few of them incorporate any kind of interactivity in them - they’re all static. There are all sorts of interesting things to be done with the sparkline area including the overlay of sets outlined in the article that I’m surprised people haven’t brought that in yet. I think I can add some value to the sparkline concept by including this kind of additional visualization.

I picked up another set of copies of his books which is good as I can’t seem to find the copies I already own (I’ll have to dig them out of the boxes at some point). It’s dense, challenging reading but they’re beautifully printed and I even had one of the copies autographed.

He also slipped in a couple of comments about getting a Macintosh and leaving your G4 PowerBook during the break - I’m not sure if he’s a Macintosh user, but one can always hope…