Weekly Updates: Edward Tufte, College Football, and Books on Writing

Weekly Updates: Edward Tufte, College Football, and Books on Writing


Life: Edward Tufte Seminar

Edward Tufte Data Visualization Books
Selection of Books on Data Visualization by Edward Tufte

I attended a one-day seminar on Data Presentation taught by Edward Tufte. Tufte is the grandfather of the field of Data Visualization. Although the lecture focused on presenting, it talked a lot about data discovery as well.

All attendees received four of his books, “Beautiful Evidence”, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”, “Visual Explanations”, and Envisioning Information.”

It’s better to be approximately right, than perfectly wrong -Edward Tufte

I had read The Visual Display of Quantitative Information earlier this year and loved it. Since the read, I’ve become a huge advocate for not using pie charts to represent any data. I even began using bar charts for my monthly spending analysis and find it is much easier for quick comprehension.

Tufte’s principles for data are very similar to Jakob Nielsen‘s thoughts on web; essentially KISS (keep it simple stupid). I’ve always been a proponent of clean interfaces, white space, and function over form. Jakob Nielsen was my first forray into the land of web usability and it was wonderful reading that my design practices weren’t as “out there” as I thought.

This was my experience with Edward Tufte as well. I am a big paper user. Always printing out my spreadsheets to review them with a pencil and always bringing hand-outs to meetings. In an office where “going green” is priority, my tendency to print has been pointed out at times. I just like being able to see and touch the data I’m trying to analyze or document I’m trying to read.

At the seminar, Tufte’s lecture on improving presentations focused around his hatred of power point. Instead of using 250 slides and boring your audience, he suggested bringing a one-sheet paper hand-out for everyone at the meeting. Distribute this at the beginning of the meeting as an overview or agenda of what you’ll be presenting. Then start presenting your content. He highlighted this step: start with content not chit-chat.

Boredom is a content problem -Edward Tufte

Showing an overview of your talk immediately (and not taking a million slides to do it) will help speed up your presentation, keep the focus on content instead of design, and help reduce questions that will be answered later.

One of his arguments against PowerPoint is what happens a lot in web design. As website owners, there is a tendency to focus on our design and layout. We might spend an hour on a post but half of that is finding images or changing text colors. It’s difficult to find the balance between adjusting your layout to highlight content and forgetting about your content altogether because you just want it to be shiny.

Correct information will always be better than shiny information.

I still frequently use Craigslist and there certainly is nothing shiny about that website. But it works well. It functions and presents its information clearly. There is also something to say for consistency.

There was a lot more in the seminar but that was some of the highlights. If data presentation is important to you, I recommend checking out his books. All of them should be available at your local library.

Attempt to change your audience instead of pandering to them -Edward Tufte

Life: Sports Sports Sports

MSU Spartans Football Stadium
Michigan State Spartans – Go Green!

Weekends are fabulous! Saturday is college football. Sunday is NFL. And it’s the World Series! I hardly watch television programming but I love watching sports. Even though I don’t have cable, I am able to get a decent selection of games over network channels especially on the weekends.

As a Spartan (go green!) I get extra excited when a MSU game is on network tv. Sometimes I’ll go to a bar to watch a game, sometimes I just neurotically check the score at home. Away from home I have ESPN text alerts to my flip phone so I know the score at the end of every quarter.

I don’t care much about professional sports, I am not a hard-core fan of any pro team. But the games are still fun to watch. Sports is interesting in NYC. We have multiple teams per every sport so it’s easy to find local fans. There are also a lot of bars that cater to certain schools/regions/teams. It’s nice to know that even on the east coast, you can easily find a bar to watch a 49ers game with other SF fans.

This is especially useful for some of the college games that are only on special local channels. Some MSU games are only on the Big Ten Network that many bars don’t have. Or no one else will be interested in watching your particular game at a bar so they won’t put it on the tv. But there are bars for practically every school! For MSU alone, there are two bars in the city that will always play a MSU game. This means I can watch a game, even if it’s on a weird channel, with other MSU fans and alumni’s! Pretty great way to meet people or just spend an afternoon watching the game.

I really enjoy the camaraderie that comes from watching sports, especially at a bar or with friends for the evening. Even if I don’t care about the teams (like in this year’s World Series), I still enjoy watching the game.

My biggest gripe about television/movies (especially comedies) is how predictable they are. Sporting events has much less predictability. That alone is why I love March Madness so much!

What are your favorite sport teams? Are you or anyone you know a die-hard fan of anyone?

Life Upcoming: Tennessee

Smoky Mountain National Park Beautiful Fall
Smoky Mountain National Park

In a week and a half, I’ll be visiting my friend Katie in Knoxville, TN! I haven’t been to tennessee since I was eight years old so I am really looking forward to this.

Our itinerary is to talk for hours, eat bb1, check out the Smoky Mountains, eat bbq, visit her family, eat biscuits & gravy, go to the World’s Only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, eat bbq, walk around gatlinburg, walk around knoxville, eat bbq, fly home.

Don’t worry, I’ve already bought a seat belt extender for the flight home. Clearly, I’m really excited for the BBQ!

This trip will also be interesting because I have been to Tennessee before though I hardly remember much of it. I’m curious to see how things there today are the same as my memories. My Aunt lived there for most her life so dad and I drove down twice to visit her. Once when I was three, which I don’t remember at all, and again when I was maybe ten years old. I still don’t remember too much.

Funny how that works. I know we went to Dollywood but I don’t have actual memories from that. What I do remember is my Aunt’s house way in the deep woods down this long crazy dirt road. She had a garden in the back and I remember picking peas & green beans with her. I also remember her drinking wine a lot.

I’m excited for this trip as it will likely bring back some memories of my dad and I taking road trips when I was younger. I know I complain about him but there were still some good things there.

Also excited about BBQ! And Katie!

Books: Several Short Sentences About Writing

Verlyn Klinkenborg Several Short Sentences About Writing
Quote from Several Short Sentences About Writing

This book is amazing for writers! It talks about writing in a perspective I have yet to hear in a reference book. And I’ve read a lot of “writers on writing” books. Klinkenborg doesn’t swear by the quantity > quality method that I’ve heard preached a lot.

For example, in Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott focuses on “the shitty first draft.” She suggests writing everything down all the time. Write everything you can and don’t expect it to be good, because it won’t be. But getting it out of your head gives you the chance to make it better.

Klinkenborg’s approach is different as it focuses a lot on grammar and sentence structure. Something I haven’t seen discussed in most of the other books on this topic. It is more of a writing dissection than a casual “let’s talk about writing”. I really enjoyed the change of pace.

I haven’t consciously thought about the parts of a sentence in years. It took me by surprise how little I understand the english language. And I’ve always felt I had a pretty good command of it!

One of his recommendations that was the same as most other author’s was to read everything. Read all formats, study all media, and learn. Learn how others manipulate language. Expand your vocabulary. Learn from other’s mistakes.

The last 30 pages were especially helpful because they included sentence examples and critiques. Parts of other artists’s work is picked apart showing you what was good and what was bad. Sentences from early works of author’s are shown as examples of poor language, awkward rhythm, and other language errors.

I highly recommend this if you have any interest in writing. Even if you’ve read other books on writing. His simple way of writing makes the components of rhythm + grammar very easy to understand. Instead of focusing on a piece, he focuses on sentences. Much like Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, you just need to take your writing one sentence at a time.

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Victorian Houses in Flatbush Brooklyn
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