Category Archives: Graphics

Data Visualization for US Politics

With the end of the primary season coming up this summer, I expect a resurgence of the talk about “red and blue states” that dominated the 2004 election as we approach the direct engagement of the Republican and Democratic parties. This morning, I stumbled on a great site by Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman from the University of Michigan that uses very nice cartographic representations of the last election results to better visualize the electorate.

Popular publications such as USA today published many maps of this sort showing the winner’s party by county.

But this graphical representation fails to take into account either the population density, electoral votes by county, or how close the vote was. If you process the map topology and scale each county to represent electoral votes, and color the vote results as a continuous scale from red to blue with even results represented as a mixed color of purple, the result is much more interesting.

Rather than the stark red/blue divide of the trivial map above, a more representative view of our nation deemphasizes sparsely-populated geographies with little economic impact and highlights those regions driving tomorrow’s economy. We also look like a much more homogeneous purple nation in this view.

Interestingly enough, in the economic-political view, the most politically homogeneous regions are the blue counties where economic development is the strongest.

Check out the whole site here.

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Filed under Graphics, Math, Politics

Live 3D Graphics With Excel

Every time I get a chance to watch one of our finance folks over at MobiTV wield a spreadsheet, I learn some new tricks. Those financial analysis folks steeped in the arcane features of Excel seem to be able to make the software package produce ever more astounding and useful models of increasingly complex systems.

But this one takes the cake. Check out this really cool implementation of a 3D graphics rendering engine. IN EXCEL! Peter Rakos over at Gamasutra outdid himself.

This image and video pair shows the rendering system using a simple display that colors the native Excel spreadsheet cells as the calculations are being performed.

This image and video pair shows the same program using the Microsoft Office Graphics Abstraction Layer to do the rendering instead of using writes to the spreadsheet cell.

Even better, some of the spatial layout and cell computation models of spreadsheets turn out to be very useful in designing and presenting very compact and elegant representations of the rendering pipeline. This design and layout in the 2-D spreadsheet grid is massively easier to see and understand than all the simple linear text files that I coded up in my college graphics course. It also makes the interrelationships and cell/function dependencies immediately obvious, and debugging is trivial with live previews of the calculations while the program is running. High cool.

“The yellow color marks the user-defined parameters and green color indicates the engine-calculated values. Numbered areas contain the following data:

  1. Parameters of the perspective projection
  2. 3D coordinates of the objects’ points (relative to their center)
  3. Shift and rotation matrix (further details can be found e.g. at
  4. Parameters of the rotation
  5. 3D absolute coordinates of the points after the shift and rotation
  6. 2D coordinates of the points after the perspective projection
  7. Screen coordinates of the points
  8. End points of the objects’ edges
  9. Formula of an element in the shift and rotation matrix. Simplicity and compactness are clearly visible.”

    Now I don’t think anyone currently expects this to evolve into a real 3D simulation system, but it does point to some very interesting 2D layout programming paradigms that might very well turn out to be VERY useful in developing more complex software. It wouldn’t surprise me if the professional code development environments evolve towards this sort of thing within the next few years. And of course, 3D environments are just a step away.

    And I have a whole new animation tool for my next presentation!

    Check out the whole post here.

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    Filed under Computer Science, Graphics

    Our Conflicted Government

    Sometimes the right picture is worth more than a thousand words. There’s a fine art to representing data to clearly illuminate an issue, and this one takes my nomination for the graph of the year. This graphic comparing our government’s nutritional recommendations to its actual spending tells the story of money (from lobbyists) over morals.

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    Filed under Economics, Graphics, Health

    Fine Art Photoshop Contest

    Yes, my favorites are all irreverent, but I just can’t resist. Check out the growing collection at the Fine Art Photoshop Contest posted here, where you can also see the un-retouched originals.

    Following frame

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    Filed under Graphics, Humor

    A Nice Visual Illusion

    No, this one is not animated. All the motion is happening in your head. If you don’t believe me, try covering most of the image with your hand or a piece of paper and only looking at a small part. You will see that no individual part of the image moves at all. It is only when you try to see the whole image that you notice motion.

    So can any of you tell me how this works?

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    Filed under Graphics, Optics

    Photoshop at Work

    Apparently, all you need to really look your hottest is Photoshop. Check out this post from Jezebel.


    And don’t miss the annotated step-by-step by-the-numbers summary of all the retouching that was necessary to make Faith hot.

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    Filed under Graphics

    Nature and Nanotechnology

    Understanding Nanotechnology has a nice chart that compares the scale and complexity of natural structures as compared to artificial ones we can fabricate.

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    Filed under Graphics, Technology

    Ever Wonder Where Your Tax Dollars Are Going?

    Check out the Death and Taxes Poster in this zoomable Flash applet. It’s not the easiest interpretation to decipher, but it is packed with visually interesting information, and does attempt to show relative budgets by the circle sizes. (Also note that this just covers the discretionary budget that is voted on, and approved every year, and does not include service on ongoing programs like Social Security).

    Here are a couple excerpts related to some of our recent foreign endeavors:

    //” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

    And on the domestic front:

    If all that doesn’t already depress you, just note that the circle for the national debt of over $9.3 trillion is larger than the entire chart in its expanded form. Wasn’t fiscal discipline supposed to be a fundamental plank of the Republican party? What happened?

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    Filed under Economics, Graphics

    A Photographic Periodic Table

    I was talking to a friend from MIT a few years back, when she told me about this guy she used to date and what an incredible geek he was. Given her own tenure at MIT and her resultant accrual of a rather high level of nerd pride, it was indeed noteworthy to hear her cast such aspersions.

    She went on to say “…he had even spent years collecting samples of most of the elements in the periodic table, and built a display case to hold them in the same layout.” Though I didn’t share it at the time, my first thought was “geeky or not, I would love to see it…maybe even build one of my own…” So I guess I’m a geek too.

    What partly set off my imagination at the time, though, was the fact that the elements seemed very abstract to me when we first learned about them in high school chemistry. It wasn’t until decades later in my technical career when I had been exposed to all the uses and applications of the different elements that there was any physical grounding for the abstract table. A little extra time studying the applications of the elements, and a physical sample of each one seem like a capital idea!

    I never did manage the meeting or the initiative to build my own collection, but now I can get pretty close with a lot less effort. Check out this photographic table of the elements.

    27x53 Poster
    (click on the image for an enlarged version)

    I particularly like the titanium turbine blade, the hydrogen in the nebula, and the neon bulbs for the noble gases. I’d still like to see more examples per element, including things like integrated circuits for silicon and aluminum and so on. But at least it’s a start.

    You can get all the posters and place mats you want here. Every chemistry classroom should have one!


    Filed under chemistry, Graphics, Science

    A Snowflake Closeup

    I first found this image on Chet Ramo’s Science Musings blog, and just stopped to look at it for a while. (click on the image to view a high resolution version.)

    At first glance, it doesn’t really look like a snowflake. In actuality, it is an image of several snowflakes of differing conformation (I counted about eight different varieties) that have been sputter coated with platinum at a very low temperature (in order to make them conductive) and then imaged with a Scanning Electron Microscope equipped with a low temperature stage. The resulting gray-scale image formed by the electron beam was then digitally colored just as the old black and white movies have been “colorized” to result in the above “false color” image. Here’s a picture of the specific unit that was used to take this image.

    Hitachi S-4100 field emission Scanning Electron Microscope

    Check out more details on the equipment here, and the original source of the snowflake crystals images here, and here.


    Filed under Computer Science, Graphics, Technology