Thursday, February 16, 2017

Practicing information presentation design

All skills need practice, and designing ways to present information is a skill.

Since I can't show work-related materials for legal reasons, and also I don't make as many presentations as I used to when it was, well basically my job, I keep my information-design skills in top shape by applying them to more entertaining matters.

(Click the images to magnify.)

Augmenting quotes: South Australia power woes.

In this case the quote is a tweet, but it works with longer quotes too.

I admit that there are elements of chartjunk in my design: the background of wind turbines and the Australian flag in an Australia outline. But those serve as additional cues to what really happened (and where): reliance on non-dispatchable capacity has made the South Australia grid a joke among electrical engineers.

South Australia has been featured on this blog before, for a worse case of the same problem.

A larger version of augmenting a quote: Popular Science shills for WaterSeer

In this case, it's an augmentation to critique, not to support. Thunderf00t has a science-accurate, still very snarky video about the WaterSeer:

(Added on Feb 19, 2017.)

Why, some ask, be so harsh on those promoting the WaterSeer, when equally stupid products like the Fontus Water Bottle and Solar Roadways, not to mention out-and-out con jobs like the Triton Artificial Gills exist?

The answer is that those products take money from people who are both relatively well-off and ignorant. The WaterSeer diverts money that would help the poorest of the poorest, and they have no say in the matter.

The Fontus Water Bottle takes money from people who buy multi-thousand-dollar bicycles and hundred-dollar socks; Solar Roadways fleeces taxpayers a little bit for a product that is stupid on its statement (put solar panels in the shade of moving vehicles).

The WaterSeer, by diverting money from solutions that could actually work, leads to more poor people dying. Clear enough?

Annotated photos: Oroville Dam repairs.

Engineering, that neverending fight between Nature and Man! In the case of the Oroville Dam, Nature's side got a lot of help from Man, or maybe one should say from politics, incompetence, bad design, and bad luck.

There were two points I wanted to make: the scale of the problem (which is nicely contextualized by the size of those dump trucks) and the misclassification of soft soil as a spillway. This one photo from the California Department of Water Resources, with minimal annotation, makes the case quite clearly. All that was needed was to make the points more salient for less attentive audiences.

Contrasting visual narratives with data: The California Drought

While photos (and videos) are great tools to support a narrative, much more so than text and massively preferable to data, sometimes contrasting the narrative (the two photos) with the actual data (the graphs from the California Department of Water Resources) can illustrate how the prevailing narrative is actually stretching the truth.

(Added 2/22/2017.)

Property maps: Science-adjacent television shows.

Recently I found myself binge-watching Numb3rs (from the DVDs, since Netflix has dropped them); it's one of the few fiction shows that actually included teaching vignettes. Charles Eppes would explain real mathematical concepts with simple illustrations and computer graphics.

Pondering that, I realized that The Big Bang Theory also does a little bit of that, much less of course, but there's one major difference: Charles Eppes is cool and well-accepted by the non-mathematicians on the show (and dating Navi Rawat, a/k/a Amita), while the scientists in TBBT are portrayed as total nerds.

The other TV show that portrayed a science-y person as cool was MacGyver (the original, the new one might as well be called McBourne); but in that show the science was terrible. But MacGyver was cool and more importantly, his approach to solving problems was "use your brain, not your fists."

Having been exposed to MacGyver early on, I started carrying around a Swiss Army knife, duct tape, and a lighter (I don't smoke, but MacGyver carried around strike-anywhere matches which were difficult to find in Portugal). I currently own eleven SAKs, from a small keychain model to one of the largest ones that's still practical to use. I don't own the ludicrously fat one.

So, there are two dimensions, goodness of science and coolness of scientists, which my MBA training says necessitates a two-by-two matrix:

But I'm a quant too, so I can do numbers and graphs. Using multi-dimensional scaling on similarity ratings (my own, so there's a clear researcher effect) on a number of television shows, we find more granularity:

House MD and Bones have better science than MacGyver and the vast majority of TV science fiction, but they don't discuss the science much. There are some times when Brennan introduces some real science in the discussion or House points out something accurate, so they aren't "teching the tech," but unlike TBBT or Numb3rs, there's never elaboration.

The scientists are portrayed as less nerdy than those in TBBT (and the general portrayal of people with technical skills in other shows); both Brennan and House have social foibles, but they are highly functioning and comfortable with themselves. They don't make science "cool" per se, but they make scientists central to society (curing people, solving crimes), rather than ivory tower researchers with no connection to the real world.

Numb3rs had a lot of support in the math community; a few links:

Side-by-side comparisons: EEVblog versus Thunderf00t.

Most data only becomes information when adequate context and knowledge are applied. In many cases, a contrast table (a side-by-side comparison) along appropriate variables can make the relevant points more salient. Behold:

This table was inspired by the coincidence that both EEVblog and Thunderf00t made debunking videos recently, one a good video with technical demonstrations and a clear analysis of what was shown, the other a snark-filled collection of fallacies, namely guilt-by-association (with Solar Roadways) and distraction (the video keeps talking about PET as if that was the plastic to be used).

(Yes, I know Thunderf00t's real name is known, but since he was doxxed, I don't use his real name.)

Note: someone asked what's suspicious about Thunderf00t's recent increase in the rate of video releases and the change in topic mix. When a male of the species increases money-making activities and starts avoiding topics like feminism, that's a strong indication that his mind has gone under the control of a female woman of the opposite sex, or what Millennials call "hooking up." Should the hypothesis be correct, we should see indications of more direct female oppression soon, like button-down shirts and a haircut.

(The obvious suspiciousness of an alleged Australian who's that pale is unquestioned.)