Sunday, January 31, 2010

Edward Tufte's "Presenting Data and Information"

Edward Tufte, the "Leonardo da Vinci of data", came to Dallas on 25 Jan 2010 and educated, entertained, and enthused an almost overflow crowd of 500 with his Presenting Data and Information course. If your job involves documenting and presenting quantitative information and ET (as he tends to refer to himself) rolls into your town, I strongly urge you to attend this course to benefit from his expertise on the topic. (Courses in Philly, NYC, Pittsburgh, and Arlington, VA are next on his list.)

Let’s get one issue out in the open right away; ET is not a fan of Microsoft and especially not PowerPoint. Regarding the latter, he claims that it’s openly hostile and condescending to its users. OK, that’s his opinion. To me, PowerPoint is just a tool that can be used well or misused. But for god’s sake, don’t use the built-in presentation templates. For an example of how improper use of PowerPoint can strangle a presentation, see Peter Norvig’s hilarious Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation.

To put ET’s work in perspective, he calls both designing and consuming (viewing) information displays moral and ethical acts. In that context, consider his 6 Grand Principles of Information Design.
  1. Allow comparisons, contrasts, and differences of the data.
  2. Show causality, mechanism, and explanation.
  3. Include multivariate data.
  4. Integrate evidence.
  5. Document everything.
  6. Content counts most of all.
During the course he backs up these principles with examples from his four books (which you receive as part of the course), showing concrete examples of how these principles have been applied successfully (and sometimes how those authors could’ve gone one step further to improve the design). If you can’t attend ET’s course, his books are excellent resources. They are wonderfully printed, beautifully illustrated, and chock full of tips, tricks, and techniques for information design. If you have to choose one, I recommend The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

Speaking of books, the course is almost worth the price of admission to see two rare books ET cites and displays as fine examples of information design: a first edition Galileo and a 1570 English translation of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry.

Actually giving (performing) a presentation was only briefly mentioned toward the end of the course. ET advises as follows.
  1. Use PowerPoint as a projector operating system.
  2. Create full-screen images - get rid of the standard corporate background and logos.
  3. Prior to the presentation, create, print, and distribute a document formatted 2-sided 11x17 with text (full sentences) and graphics illustrating your point.
  4. Turn the presentation into a high-density data dump followed by a Q&A session.
Would I attend his course again? Yes. Do I recommend that you attend? Yes. Will I buy his upcoming fifth book on "seeing in 3D"? Yes. Will I read his mother’s book "Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style"? Yes. Do I practice everything he teaches? I have not chugged the Kool-Aid but take little sips (subject to time and understanding).

You can find ET online at

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The February sunshine...

Tired of greasy fingers after gobbling potato chips? The Potechi no Te is for you. "Please stop biting your plate" and other odd things parents never thought they'd say to their children from Mommy Lingo. Need a free audio/video player? Try VLC. If you need some audio to feed into VLC, check out the official web site of John Hackett, brother of ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett.

I will not mention anything about Apple's iPad.

Fortune's list of the 100 best companies to work for in 2010 in out. What caught my eye? Microsoft is #51 but Apple didn't make the list. Two aviation blogs from Aviation Week: Things With Wings for commercial aviation and Ares for defense-related aviation. Here's an article about how to keep your computer's hard drive healthy.

The odds an NFL pass will be intercepted are 1 in 35 and other oddities from Book of Odds. Check a web site's SEO statistics with Xenu. Like classic rock? Then read the Classic Rock Society's blog. Or if your musical tastes veer toward the progressive, check out the Progmeister.

10/GUI offers an interesting new concept for interacting with your computer. Imagine your keyboard is replaced with a similarly sized touch screen, but also be prepared for a change in how your desktop interacts. Next time you're in Big D (Lancaster, TX to be specific) check out the Cold War Air Museum including two Soviet-era Hind helicopters.

For fans of modern art, the blog of The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is worth (pun unintentional) checking out, especially a recent article about the work of Dan Flavin. Speaking of blogs, CFD Discussions is a blog about CFD. The TRIF3CTA blog is all about planning, building, and promoting web sites. And if you're really interested in web site stuff, here's a list of over 20 tricks for .htaccess.

CAE News:
Disney Animation announced the open-source release of their texture mapping library, Ptex. Aeronautics papers from NASA's 2009 students include one about hypersonics and CFD. Is Google's Chromium OS really just a browser? The book Blue Ocean Strategy claims to provide a systematic approach to making the competition irrelevant. What do an inflatable casino and the Roman Colosseum have in common? See where crime happens with Crime Mapping.

Someone recommended I get Google's Nexus One phone. The second edition of David Meerman Scott's The New Rules of Marketing and PR is now in bookstores. Pragmatic Marketing published the results of their annual product management survey. 51% report that social media is being considered but isn't currently a significant part of their marketing activities. Advice on how to create great content for your web site or blog. Social Media Examiner offers this list of the top 10 social media blogs.

Bizarre even by my standards: Selleck Waterfall Sandwich

...steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within. --William C. Bryant

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mathematics is like love...

Can anything bring back childhood memories like a crayon? Its feel in your hand, its smell as you color, its peeled back paper wrapper. This infographic from Flowing Data illustrates the explosion in colors from 1910 to 2010: 8 to 120.

In the tradition of "your clothes are now red", and "my pork is beef" comes "my can is now a bottle" - the Bottle Top. Got an idea for a Kindle app? Here's the Kindle Development Kit. Mashable presents advice on integrating social media with your e-mail marketing. And PR 20/20 offers advice on building your inbound marketing game plan.

Top 10
  • How could belly button lint and the face on Mars end up in the same top 10 list?
  • MediaTrust presents their top-10 list of marketing books of 2009. I have read exactly one, Inbound Marketing by Halliwell and Shah, which is a pretty good how-to for integrating social media into your marketing plan. However, the list includes two books by Malcom Gladwell that I have absolutely no intention of reading after wasting an airline flight with Blink.
  • IEEE presents the top 10 ways engineers waste time at work. (No, polishing your slide rule is not on the list and neither is reading blogs which makes me feel a little better.)
  • Given my ho-hum attitude toward travel, I like this top-10 list of places you can't go. (However, Disneyland's Club 33 is interesting.)
  • Elance provides these top 6 (6? really?) small business resources.
Your laser pointer shoots a beam in a straight line. Now if you apply a little fibered knot theory and a hologram, you could tie that laser beam into a light knot. Symscape asks whether it's time to reconsider the 3D interaction controls in our CAE software. An essay on realism in UI design (as I like to paraphrase Cooper, it doesn't have to be intuitive but it does have to be idiomatic).

Keep up with your NFL referees. And while you're at it, read the rule book so I don't have to endure any more of your unfounded complaints about what is and what isn't interference or holding. Follow the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on the Hog Blog. Speaking of blogs, here's a quick checklist for your blog. (This blog fails the checklist miserably, especially on the matter of "is there a succinct point?")

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an effort by 48 states (Texas not among them) for developing common standards for language arts and mathematics education in grades K-12. How engineers are using social media. Quiz time: What kind of military aircraft are you? Me? EA-6B Prowler.

When the date on the milk bottle is yesterday, do you pour it out? Worse yet, are you the one who has to smell it to check whether it's gone bad? StillTasty is the ultimate guide to shelf life. (Answer: you can keep milk refrigerated for 1 week after the sell-by date.) While we're on the subject of vittles, when it comes to pretzels Rold Gold is the best.

Shopping List:
Pull up a couch for a little small business psychology from Smart Bear. To paraphrase: if you ain't scared shitless, you ain't tryin'. By now everyone, including you and your mother-in-law, is following Bill Gates on Twitter. Here's his web site, Gates Notes.

The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering at Syracuse University is seeking a Department Chair/Professor.

Computer Aided Engineering News:
...a simple idea that can get very complicated.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I awoke this morning with...

Proof #702 that innovation is not dead: train your lads to stand up with the Peter Potty. Beer is many things to many people. And to some it's soap. Going clubbing tonight? Strap on the solo man bib to impress the ladies. Here's a list of 90 ways for your business to cut costs. Time for the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo - this thing is legendary.

If you've already lost the instructions for that toy you got at Xmas, you might be able to find it at Diplodocs, user manuals and instructions galore. And speaking of toys, this single bottle wine chiller looks awesome; I must have one. Tired of using public keyboards? Here's a design for a personal portable keyboard. The 60 second startup digest. Microsoft's Outlook blog.

If you think the periodic table is cool (as I do), you'll love this database of online periodic tables including some non-traditional versions (for example, the periodic table of Chicago dog condiments.) How fast are men evolving? The modern Y-chromosome is 30% different than that of chimps while the rest of the genome is only 2% different. Why's that you ask? One reason is that the Y is not paired with anything else meaning its evolutionary changes don't get diluted.

From the newsdesk...
  • Materialise released Mimics 13.1 for 3D image processing.
  • OpenCASCADE's CAD Exchanger public beta 2 was released.
  • blueCAPE released gbXML2STL for converting Green Building XML files into STL files.
  • Vero to present geometry validation and healing software at SolidWorks World.
  • Geomagic's Ping Fu participated in the White House Forum on Modernizing Government.
What marketing blogs do marketing execs read? How do you learn Rhino3D? What does the Cranky Product Manager blog about? Heading norte? Leave the chicharrones at home.

I challenge you to the cable connector quiz (my score: 90%). Although the ampersand can be traced back to Latin in the 1st century AD, the word itself didn't get into the dictionary until 1837. Read these facts & more in the history of the ampersand. 20 years of programming distilled into 20 programming lessons. Research and Markets offers their Global MCAD Software Market 2008-2012 in which they predict a rapid recovery of the CAD software market in 2010.

...devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Anticipate the difficult...

Seems that sounds ("dem fweaky soundz") are in the news this week. Google's Listen brings podcasts and other audio to your Android-powered device. Intel's Reader reads aloud text that you take a picture of. If you need an audience, try this page full of audience sounds. Experiment with this 2D audio mixer. Or just play drums online.

My vote for the worst use of technology goes to eCoinToss, a crappy graphical coin toss visualization used at this year's Liberty Bowl. The Innovative CFD blog asks why care about numerical methods. It's cold outside, so make your snow on the inside using flurrious. Acrobat clock. A summary of Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Like maths? Read Plus magazine or these free ebooks.

A blast of programming links: algorithms, sorting, skill sharpening puzzles, and ebooks. And a blast of web links: resources, online CSS tools, and a layout cookbook.

Immediately cease use of czar, tweet, and other words on 2010's banished word list. (They got my pet peeve, "staycation", last year.) The Danish OSFRI project is a consortium of 8 companies and 2 universities working toward development of open source CFD. LifeUpFront is a blog about using the SpaceClaim CAD software, written by a former CFD guy from CFDesign.

From the CAE newswire:
  • Delcam launched Solid Doctor for CAD data repair.
  • CFDesign released their winter update.
  • Autodesk released Algor Simulation CFD service pack 1.
  • Simerics released PumpLinx V2.5.
  • The Overset Symposium will be held 20-23 September 2010 at NASA Ames.
  • Ala Moradian won Tecplot's Best of Plot competition with a plasma torch.
  • STAR-CCM+ used to solve aero and thermal issues with Tesla S.
Is Foursquare right for your business? Think GPS-enabled, localized version of Twitter. Mashable reviews social media trends for 2009 and for 2010 (iPhone on another carrier, Blackberry declines). Is Goodlife Zen a gentle tailwind propelling you forward or just someone blowing hot air up your ass?

Bacon sighting: Bacon Pop (popcorn). Having trouble getting your way? Try these scientifically proven ways to be persuasive. JT Open is a community of users exchanging 3D CAD data using the JT technology. AVL-Fire, Sculptor, and modeFRONTIER were all used to optimize a car's external aerodynamics. The DFW Perl user group.

The Business Bulldog has a blog to help you give your business some bite. A new edition of the New Rules of Marketing & PR has been published. This Aviation Week article about a new bomber cites advances in CFD as enabling technology. Get a Chumby (not a euphemism) and add the internet to any room in your house. Have you lost an airplane? Maybe it's been found.

This is not news and falls into the "you get what you pay for category" but here are thoughts on poor customer service, the hidden cost of free software. OnStartups started an internet meme about startup advice in exactly 3 words. Research and Markets predicts a rapid recovery during the first half of 2010 for the engineering software market in China. For your daily marketing fix, read MarketingProfs' blog. managing the easy.
--Lao Tzu

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The difficulty of literature is not to write...

While this isn't necessarily what I alluded to last week, the Snuggie Sutra is a step in that direction. It's not too late to take the survey for the Project On Women Engineers' Retention to help find out why women leave the career at a rate more than twice that of men. What intrigues me most about stylish mustaches for girls is not the obvious. Rather, they are said to go great with almost any outfit. With what outfit would a girl not wear a mustache?

This is interesting. Using IRS data from 2007, Kiplinger compiled the following stats regarding the distribution of income in the U.S. population. It's summarized below. Keep in mind that the poverty threshold for a single person is $11,000.
  • If your income exceeds $410,000, you're in the top 1% of the population.
  • If your income exceeds $160,000, you're in the top 5% of the population.
  • If your income exceeds $113,000, you're in the top 10% of the population.
  • If your income exceeds $66,000, you're in the top 25% of the population.
  • If your income exceeds $32,000, you're in the top 50% of the population.
If you listen to only one mashup a year, it should be DJ Earworm's United State of Pop. If you think only sissies use a CAD system with a GUI, the command-line script-based OpenSCAD is for you. SEOmoz shares his 10 favorite sites. DesignWorld presents something like YouTube for engineers. The Aggregate offers this list of programming tricks. Viz Worth Watching is the official blog of EnSight.

This guide to what beer I should drink may come in handy (or at least save on phone calls to Joel). Not quite sure what to make of this CFD/FEA portal called Arthemia. Moon June Records presents this live recording of Blues for Tony featuring Allan Holdsworth. Power Presentations for communication skills coaching. Wordr is like Twitter but one word at a time.

Wanna start an argument? Play Cirkis. This historical timeline of computer graphics apparently missed recent advances in web page design. But then again, they may disagree with oft-quoted web design rules such as "thou shall not scroll." Check these out: the blueprints of Monsieur Eiffel. Cause and effect: feed turtles brussel sprouts, flatulence raises water level and triggers alarm. (Next week's menu includes sauerkraut and a 12-pack of Schlitz.)

DoubleCAD XT works like AutoCAD LT, but it's free. MeshMixer is an experimental bit of software for creating new 3D models from existing meshes. Watch the video: it's pretty cool. Aligned CAE is a Michigan-based CFD consultancy. The obligatory "top of the last decade" post: five best CAD-related innovations: 3d mice, web-based model libraries, direct modeling, rendering-modeling integration, 3D printing.

CAE News:
  • RBF Morph 1.2, the morphing and shape optimization software tailored for Fluent, was released.
  • Enter Flow Science's 30th Anniversary Simulation Contest (and maybe wiin a Wii).
  • Parallel CFD 2010 will be held 17-21 May in Taiwan.
The folks at Duct Tape Marketing show us how Facebook pages are more business friendly. Here's an interesting editorial about how engineers saved Xmas. Speaking of Xmas and over-eating, dig into the Cherpumple: a cake with a pie stuffed in each layer (CHERry, PUMPkin, and apPLE pie). If you got a netbook for Xmas, Web Worker Daily recommends that you install this software: Evernote, Chrome, Pidgin, Dropbox, and Jing. (They recommended Google's office suite but I went with OpenOffice.)

The interwebs is a big place (e.g. 5 million tweets per day) as evidenced by these social media counts. And if you're into numbers, Number Gossip is the place to find out everything about any number. For example, 42 is the smallest abundant odious number. (And, no, that number was not the first one I checked. It was the second. 42 was the third.)

Yummy = Topsy's Popcorn. HubSpot offers this "must read" list of inbound marketing predictions for 2010. How to setup a basic CSS template. The third edition of the web style guide. Google joins the URL shortening game with (but we can't use it yet). WebDev Mania's top 10 CSS snippets. Use MailChimp for email marketing.

Local DFW stuff: military history museum, Food and Fort Worth blog.

Award for outstanding use of technology: Weekly World News covers in Google Books. This guy is pretty proud of his marketing checklist. The official blog of self-help guru Stephen Covey. My Betta is too cold and other nuggets can be learned at Web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik has a blog, Occam's Razor, and a book, Web Analytics: An Hour a Day. 3D Builder is a powerful tool for automatically/interactively creating structured or unstructured 3D meshes.

Blah, blah, bacon: candles, mat, lip balm, and thank god someone did the work for me, Random Good Stuff's bacon mega post. Silly stuff: putty and walks.

...but to write what you mean. --Robert Louis Stevenson