Strata Week: Videos and visualization

Data viz for journalism, student career paths, multi-dimensional data, and the future.

Many places across the U.S. are experiencing brisk fall weather this week. If you’re living in one of them like I am, then perhaps you too are feeling the urge to swap your walking shoes for a quilt and a remote control to watch some movies. No problem with that if you’re learning, though, right? Here, then, for your viewing pleasure and enlightenment, are some great data-related videos.

Data visualization for journalism

Geoffrey McGhee, an online journalist who has worked for outlets such as, and Le Monde Interactif, has produced a wonderful documentary called Journalism in the Age of Data. McGhee was one of 12 U.S. Knight Journalism Fellows studying at Stanford during the 2009-2010 academic year, and created this video report during that time.

The project’s description reads:

Journalists are coping with the rising information flood by borrowing data visualization techniques from computer scientists, researchers and artists. Some newsrooms are already beginning to retool their staffs and systems to prepare for a future in which data becomes a medium. But how do we communicate with data, how can traditional narratives be fused with sophisticated, interactive information displays?

To answer this question, McGhee interviewed many of the researchers and designers currently breaking ground in the field, including Martin Wattenberg, Fernanda Viégas, Ben Fry, Aaron Koblin, Jeffrey Heer, Matthew Ericson, Amanda Cox, Nigel Holmes, Nicholas Felton, Eric Rodenbeck, and many others.

Career planning for college students

Earlier this week, LinkedIn, in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), launched a new tool for current college students called Career Explorer. For now, the tool is in a limited roll-out to students in 60 universities across the U.S. that tend to feed talent to PwC, but a larger roll-out is on the way.

Career Explorer uses data from LinkedIn’s 80 million users to help students map out potential career paths based on paths commonly taken by others in their fields of interest. Students can create and save multiple maps, search available jobs, and look for connections within their own networks who may be able to help. Career Explorer also provides statistics about various fields and jobs.

This short video shows some of Career Explorer’s data-based features.

3D: Movies and data

At the Web2.0 Expo in New York last week, Julia Grace gave a keynote talk about the dimensionality of data. The movies, she said, are the ultimate dream-factory of data visualization and user interfaces because they allow us to design without the imperative to implement. Certain scenes from “futuristic” ’80s movies look oddly familiar today.

Julia showed us the seven-foot sphere she purchased for her research lab that allows her to show three-dimensional data on a three-dimensional display. “Jumps and reductions in dimensionality equal distortion and inaccuracy,” she said. If you have 3D data, you need a 3D display.

What will the future bring? Maybe it will look like the displays in “Avatar,” or maybe like something else. But it is coming, fast.

Watch the keynote for yourself.

Touchable Holograms

Speaking of bringing the future forward, researchers at Tokyo University are doing just that with “touchable holograms,” simple holographic images that can “feel” like physical objects. Two Nintendo Wiimotes track the user’s hand, and ultrasonic waves create a sensation of pressure on the hand of the user when it interacts with the image.

As its inventors told NTD Television, there are several practical uses for this technology. “For example, it’s been shown that in hospitals, there can be contamination between people due to objects that are touched communally. But if you can change the switches and such into a virtual switch, then you no longer have worry about touch contamination. This is one application that’s quite easy to see,” said Hiroyuki Shinoda, Professor at Tokyo University.

Another possibility is rapid-prototyping or implementation of UI design, since interfaces may be changed without the need to manufacture any physical parts.

So far, this technology has been used to create only simple objects. But it’s the first step toward something Picard may one day be proud of. I’ll see you in the future, Moriarty.

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