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Data Viz News [33]

The top news, articles and resources that you can't miss

November 16, 2013

It’s always hard to write these posts in the midst of a tragedy such as the one that stroke the Philippines. As we search the Internet every week to bring you the latest data visualization, cartography and data journalism articles, we inevitably come across with the shocking reports and images of the catastrophe.

We’ve talked about Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda during the week, featured some of the interactive maps being used to help the victims and shared some of links to lists of organizations accepting donations. Slowly, help begins arriving to some parts of the Philippines, but there’s just so much to be done yet.

Another disturbing news – for completely different reasons – was the sentencing of Jeremy Hammond, a 28-year-old political activist. After pleading guilty to participating in the Anonymous hack into the computers of the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), Judge Loretta A. Preska sentenced the hacktivist to 10 years in prison. The reactions were immediate on Twitter (just check the #freehammond hashtag), and Wikileaks released over 500k new Stratfor files, adding them to The Global Intelligence Files web page.

Apart from the specific details of this case – including the fact that Hammond had perfect conscience of what he was doing, as you can read in his sentencing statement -, no doubt this decision marks the beginning of another chapter in the ongoing, much bigger, ‘battle over data’, involving companies, governments, and hacktivists.

Before we move on to our picks of the week, a reminder that you can check out the latest interactive visualizations and print infographics, and also the weekly trip to the past of visualization – all part of our regular publishing calendar. And speaking of calendar, we updated our Events page with some of main 2014 conferences. If you wish to include your event there, just send us message on Twitter.

Hope you enjoy today’s links:


Latest product launches and business announcements, career moves, data visualization competitions and general news.

Just after its successful IPO, Twitter announced a new interesting feature: custom timelines. This means that when the conversation around an event or topic takes off on Twitter, you have the opportunity to create a timeline that surfaces what you believe to be the most noteworthy, relevant Tweets. You can create, add to and share a custom timeline right from TweetDeck.

A much required set of updates on Google Maps, trying to address some of the criticisms that have been thrown its way. The updates are being rolled out for a few weeks such as the return of the Pegman, Preview Directions or the Google Earth Tours.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a new map based portal that allows users to view and download NOAA data from satellites and models: NOAA View. The datasets are organized into five categories: Ocean, Atmosphere, Land, Cryosphere and Climate, making this site a great resource for anyone looking for historical climate data, satellite-based observations, and long-term climate models.

This year, the Society For News Design hosted its first hackathon event in conjunction with the annual workshop mentioned in the introduction. Organized by Chris Courtney, a developer for the Chicago Tribune apps team, the event shipped five new products that were created in just over 24 hours.

The European Journalism Centre (EJC) announced the winners of the second round of its Innovation in Development Reporting (IDR) Grant Programme. The winning teams will employ multi-platform approaches, engage in cross-country media collaboration and make use of interactive applications, as well as investigative, data-driven and photo journalism.

UC Berkeley is establishing a new institute to enable university researchers to harness the full potential of the data-rich world that today characterizes all fields of science and discovery, the Berkeley Institute for Data Science.
The new 5-year, $37.8 million initiative was announced on November 12, 2013 at a meeting sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) focused on developing innovative partnerships to advance technologies that support advanced data management and data analytic techniques.

Intriguing, to say the least, this blog post by Stephen Wolfram. Without unveiling much, Stephen does leave a couple of hints for that “next big thing”: the use of the Wolfram Language as a crucial building block, the Wolfram Programming Cloud, that allows one to create Wolfram Language programs and then instantly deploy them in the cloud, and a couple of new Platforms, like the Wolfram Data Science Platform and Wolfram Publishing Platform.

Some of Asia’s leading news media companies, including Singapore Press Holdings, South China Morning Post, Kompas, and the Nation Group, were among the winners of the 4th annual Asian Digital Media Awards presented tonight (13 November) in a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The infographic on the Kowloon Walled City, by Adolfo Arranz for the South China Morning Post has received the gold medal – another award for one of the most impressive infographics of recent times. Period.

City of Anarchy, infographic by Adolfo Arranz | South China Morning Post
(image: Adolfo Arranz | South China Morning Post)



A selection of recent articles published by experts in data visualization, cartography, business analytics and visual journalism, among other topics.

This one is quite amazing, and was mentioned several times all over the internet. The inFORM system from Tangible Media Group at MIT facilitates the real-time movement of physical “pixels” on a table surface that move in accordance with data from a Kinect motion sensing input device.



An in-depth overview of academic conferences and events related to the field of data visualization, by Robert Kosara. Great tips, especially if you intend to submit papers to some of those events.

Bill Shander shares his thoughts on the several ways data visualization can help companies and organizations, but also alerts that this type of investments isn’t for everyone.

Companies selling complex solutions to complex problems should embrace the power of data visualization. Marketing and sales executives need to decide early whether their companies need it, because the learning curve is steep. And getting really good at it takes time, skill and money.


Alberto Cairo‘s short review of one of the most talked-about books of the season: Design for Information: An Introduction to the Histories, Theories, and Best Practices Behind Effective Information Visualizations, by Isabel Meirelles. Last week, we brought you Robert Kosara’s opinion of the book as well. Bottom line? Buy it.

And one to make us smile: Neuroscience students at the University of California, San Diego made a music video parody of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Thanks to Nathan Yau for sharing.



Ranging from ancient charts to modern digital cartography and GIS technology, here you’ll find the best links of the week:

Volunteers across the world are building the digital infrastructure for the Red Cross’s Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts, as reported by Robinson Meyer. It’s a highly detailed map of the areas affected by super typhoon Haiyan, and it mostly didn’t exist when the storm made landfall.

A selection of projects that use maps as a core piece of storytelling. Powerful and inspiring stories, but the comments indicate some controversy around one of the projects featured and how it was described in this piece signed by Cameron Bird and John Grimwade – yes, “that” John Grimwade.

Apple’s maps have turned out to be a hit with iPhone and iPad users in the US – despite the roasting that they were given when they first appeared in September 2012. Charles Arthur highlights this recent ComScore research showing that, while Apple suffered a PR disaster over maps, Google lost more than 210 million iPhone users in the US.

After doping some community-building in the Swiss geoindustry for their employer Ernst Basler + Partner, Ralph Straumman and Stephan Heuel came up with this list of blogs related to geoinformation and GIS written in Switzerland (in English or in German).

The folks at Map Box have designed a new streets and labels layer for satellite and aerial imagery. Ian Villeda walks us trough the new features, pairing it with a couple of examples. Users should be able to choose a unifying aesthetic when annotating satellite imagery: light roads and light labels or dark roads and dark labels, and then change the color of that layer based on their brand or site design.

Useful post by Keir Clarke, listing a few of the better known SVG mapping libraries. SVG maps tend to be simple (non-zoomable and non-panning) image maps but can contain interactive areas and can often be shaded to provide simple heat maps.

Closing this section, a brilliant set of etymology maps presented by Mona Chalabi, and originally posted by Reddit user Bezbojnicul.

The word for pineapple ion various European languages
The word for pineapple ion various European languages



The most recent articles with tips, insights and best practices around data journalism.

The principal coder behind PolitiFact, Matt Waite, shares his tale of how he overcame the “Bad at math” myth, and why every journalist should too.

Somewhere in middle school, I had convinced myself that I was bad at math. It was okay: My mom was bad at math too. So were lots of people I looked up to. “Bad at math” was a thing — probably even genetic — and it was okay.


Imelda Albaño, president of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists, explains how journalists are using SMS reporting to help the victims of the disaster. It includes a walk-though of FrontlineSMS, a free, open source software that turns a laptop and a mobile phone or modem into a central communications hub to facilitate structured communication between members of the network and the public.

One of the many interesting sessions at SNDLou was Matt Ericson‘s “Visualizing the News,” a session explaining how the New York Times graphics department approaches data visualization and information design. Ellie Price gathered nine key takeaways from his talk.

Again related to SNDLou, Corinne Winthrop talks about Alberto Cairo’s presentation “An Insightful Art: The Future of News Infographics,”, a session about the values all infographics should hold, now and in the future.

Kimberly Guimarin, senior editor for the Los Angeles News Group, shares some tips to get started in data journalism. This post is the eighth in a series of reports from five Digital First Media journalists who attended ONA13 through the Digital First Represents program.

School of Data is re-publishing Noah Veltman‘s Learning Lunches, a series of tutorials that demystify technical subjects relevant to the data journalism newsroom. This ‘Learning Lunch’ is about cleaning up data: what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.

Michael Keller, in this article, talks about Al Jazeera America’s project “Where would 7 million displaced Syrians fit?”, which aimed to reframe the Syrian humanitarian crisis for a U.S. audience. Keller shares new three libraries written in Node.js used to make this project, that we’ve previously feature here.

Partial screen capture of the interactive infographic Where would 7 million displaced Syrians fit
(image: Al Jazeera)



Recent articles related to the wide range of data visualization applications for business analytics, as well as content surrounding the “Big Data” buzz.

Matt Asay on the three phases of Big Data and why the real money-making opportunity lies with Big Data users, not vendors, in the third and final phase.

For Big Data to truly go mainstream, it needs to become less the province of data scientists and arcane queries, and more accessible to average users.

A technology company named Premise created a smartphone application that is now used by 700 people in 25 developing countries to do one thing: photograph food and goods in public markets. By analyzing the photos of prices and the placement of everyday items like piles of tomatoes and bottles of shampoo and matching that to other data, Premise is building a real-time inflation index to sell to companies and Wall Street traders, who are always hungry for insightful data. This post shows other examples of statups mining what they call “Hyperlocal Information” .

“Collecting a huge data set is ultimately meaningless if it can’t inspire action”, says Brooks Bell, the founder of Brooks Bell, Inc., in this article. The current struggle with talent shortage and the gut-driven approach to strategy that pervades the business world are also discussed.

The emphasis needs to shift to the use of more manageable data, more regularly, by more people. Then businesses will be poised to take actions based on data. Only then will the dream of Big Data become real


Rugby Union is becoming an unlikely benefactor of the so-called data revolution by using information about players’ health to predict injuries. This type of data analytics could have a significant impact in the sport by helping coaches put together the strongest possible team based on such factors as a player’s health or stress levels.

A Big Data presentation during the “Inspiration Day” by The Reference – Emakina



Insights from well-known names in the data visualization field, published during last week.

Last week, we mentioned Bryan Connor‘s post on The Why Axis about Raw – the new web-based tool developed by Density Design. Here you’ll find the complete answers to the questions Bryan asked to make that post.

This is the original English-language transcript of the interview Antonio Rossano conducted with Wolfgang Blau, Director of Digital Strategy of The Guardian, which was first published in the Italian weekly L’Espresso.

If someone would visualize the social relations of a regional newspaper to its readers, to local clubs and associations, to businesses, to political stakeholders, to cultural institutions, NGOs or to sport leagues, you would see a social node as dense with lines as no other organisation in town.



Ranging from tutorials and presentations, to lists of tools and practical guidelines for creating effective data visualizations.

PopTech is a Conference that brings innovators together from many different fields—science, technology, design, corporate and civic leadership, public health, social and ecological innovation, and the arts and humanities. They’ve just released the videos with the talks of the PopTech Camden 2013 , that took place last month.

PopTech 2013 videos
PopTech 2013 videos

A couple of talks by Kaiser Fung, now available online. The first is a 5-minute lightning talk at the LISA conference, and the second is a webinar on predictive modeling using social data.

A nice round-up of articles and other links published in October of particular interest to R users. It was pull together by David Smith.

Brian Pagels, Director of Data Services at Forum One, on how to better uncover and feature your data treasures in new and compelling ways.



An updated view at the Events Calendar we have available here on Visual Loop.

Data Viz Calendar


That’s it for another Data Viz News. Please, let us know if we missed some other interesting resource, and don’t forget to join us on our Facebook Group or, where we share many of the links mentioned above.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.


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