The ocean’s visual complexity

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Ocean explorers are puzzling out Nature’s purpose behind an astonishing variety of tiny ocean creatures like microbes and zooplankton animals – each perhaps a ticket-holder in life’s lottery, awaiting conditions that will allow it to prosper and dominate.

The inventory and study of the hardest-to-see sea species — tiny microbes, zooplankton, larvae and burrowers in the sea bed, which together underpin almost all other life on Earth — is the focus of four of 14 field projects of the Census of Marine Life.

The results from the latest census revealed spectacular examples of hard-to-see underwater microbes, available in this stunning gallery of some of the smallest sea species.

You can also track the geographic locations of the Census of the Hard-to-See at:

The next big thing

Posted: April 18th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

flame dragon, by peter blaskovic (created in flame painter)

As I was organizing my RSS feeds in feedly, I stumbled upon Gert K. Nielsen’s piece on Visual Journalism, written in March 22, 2010.  The venturesome title of Nielsen’s post was “The next big thing in infographics - five criterias and a solution“. Intriguing and stimulating. I was immediately on board. That is until I started reading his five recommendations and final proposed solution. You should read it and take your own conclusions, but I found Nielsen’s piece absolutely bewildering.

  1. The first recommendation, on the need for computer generated infographics, reads more like a natural progression of the field rather than a recommendation, and is perhaps the most blunt of the list. The second and third criterias are on the other hand a bit more disconcerting.
  2. “It must be beautiful”, Nielsen says in the beginning of his second suggestion. Nothing wrong with that, but you would expect some reflection on the benefits of aesthetics to follow that statement. However, Nielsen appears to be infatuated with aesthetics solely for its popularity… As he explains, “right now the interest is on presentation much more than the content”.
  3. But the third criteria is even more baffling. “It has to be somewhat ambiguous”, states Nielsen. Yes, take a deep breath and read it again. And perhaps like me, you’ll wonder, what? But wait, Nielsen immediately comes to our rescue, fundamenting his view with a remarkable argument. “Describing things in black and white and sharp vector lines is too fanatic. Blends are much better suited to describe a complex situation”. Yes, let’s reconsider this fanaticism for objectivity, clarity and content. The future of infographics is ambiguousness!
  4. (I didn’t quite understand this point, so if someone does please explain.)
  5. Moving on to his fifth criteria, since I couldn’t grasp the fourth, Nielsen asserts “It needs to work in online presentations too”. This could be an interesting starting point to an analysis on the different contexts of use of infographics and the variety of platforms it could explore, but Nielsen falls short in his explanation, merely stating that infograthics could be integrated in online presentations “perhaps by moving or evolving over time”. A very light investigation, to say the least.

But perhaps the most disquieting part of the post was the solution proposed by Nielsen for the future of the field. As he explains: “The solution I came up with is particles in 3D-programs. Brilliant! According to Nielsen, there’s no particular downside to 3D particles (think about clarity and legibility), apart from its demanding learning curve, or in other words, the time it takes to learn these “really tough concepts”. In his pursuit for ambiguousness it’s not entirely surprising that Nielsen fails to consider any other drawback to his formula. His proposed solution becomes slightly more tangible, when he presents an example of this vision: Flame. As he explains “the ability to paint with ‘flames’ fits right into my expectation of seeing graphics with an appearance that fits the current times”.

I will not expand too much on how I find this view seriously distressing, since I’ve done it before and again. But this leads to the growing confusion that Robert Kosara alludes in his latest post, The Visualization Cargo Cult. Gert Nielsen’s post, as puzzling as it might seem, is a reflection of a seriously disturbing view, that sees objective infographics as a thing of the past, and appealing ambiguousness as a much better fit for the “current times”. I just hope it doesn’t become a contagious meme.

Two (fairly) recent treemaps

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

NYT - Obama’s 2011 Budget Proposal: How It’s Spent

Rectangles in the chart are sized according to the amount of spending for that category. Color shows the change in spending from 2010.

Biodiversity Tree

A zoomable treemap for the life records of the Natural Science Museum of Barcelona, by Bestiario.

Data Flow 2

Posted: April 12th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Most VC readers must already be familiar with Data Flow 2, the most recent number of the growing Data Flow family, published in February 2010. Featuring several interviews with New York Times Graphics Editor Steve Duenes, Art+Com Director Joachim Sauter, and one with Andrew Vande Moere and myself, the book is an inspirational compendium of hundreds of projects. The work presents itself as a portfolio book, featuring an array of innovative approaches (many featured in VC), which are incredibly provocative and inspiring. Due to its coffee-table nature, the title doesn’t aim at an in-depth analysis or theoretical reflection on the displayed projects and defined categories, but acts primarily as a stimulating showcase of ideas.

As Andrew Vande Moere eloquently states in his review, the foreword doesn’t quite align with the book’s content, since most of its assertions for insightfulness are not necessarily substantiated in the variety of executions showcased throughout the book. Nonetheless, Data Flow 2 is a great source of inspiration for anyone working in the domain of data visualization.

Low Frequency Entity

Posted: April 7th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

A very appealing spline based 3D form in Processing that represents the bass frequency and puts it into motion.As Christian Bannister explains:

What would the bass look like? What would it be like to touch it and manipulate it directly and visually in real-time? These are some of the things I am trying to get at in this sketch.

Synthetic Aesthetics

Posted: April 7th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Unfortunately the Call for Participants is now closed, but nonetheless this initiative should be interesting to follow. Synthetic Aesthetics aims to bring creative practitioners and those who are expert at studying, analyzing and designing the synthetic/natural interface together with the existing synthetic biology community to help with the work of designing, understanding and building the living world.

From this thought-provoking premise:

Biology has become a new material for engineering. From the design of biological circuits made from DNA to the design of entire systems, synthetic biology is very much interested in making biology something that can be designed.

The project asks:

Can collaborations between synthetic biology and design inform and shape the developing field of synthetic biology—the engineering of new and existing biological entities for useful means? What insights can design offer in designing microscopic entities for a human-scale world? Can design learn from synthetic biology?