Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Data Visualization

One of the original hallmarks of HP was its "measurement capability". To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To HP, everything looked measureable. So, whether it was atomic physics, chemical analysis, ink composition, or inventory items, HP engineers (and recall that virtually all salespeople were engineers at the time) thought in terms of measuring quantities of things, sizes of things, rates of change, productivity measures, and so forth. This still prevails, as any deep discussion with Ann Livermore's Services teams will quickly reveal (even the EDS acquisition folk are sometimes heard to talk this way).

Enter "data Visualization". You've all seen, perhaps played, the Flight Simulator software packages, and I'm sure that you're aware that all jet pilots in training now learn in simulators (even the hijackers, training in Miami). No one would send a would-be pilot up in the sky to "shoot touch-and-go" with a new Dreamliner, or even a 747. And, thankfully, no one would demand of an erstwhile pilot that he or she solve the calculus equations of landing safely.

And some pretty cool math packages now exist, for PCs and Macs, and even graphing software for HP and TI handheld calculators. By the way, did you know that the HP-12C functions can be bought for the I-Phone now, for a cool $1?

But, we don't teach "mapping" or "data visualization" or any of these "intuitive" tools until or unless you're a math major, well down the road of arcane statistical analysis. Why not? Why shouldn't these be the tools of junior high school kids, alongside algebra and geometry, etc. These tools will be far more useful for citizenry in the 21st century than trig or calculus. Try that idea on your local school board!


papwalker said...

DV is a big problem in some areas. The genomics and bioinformatics guys are casting around for a breakthrough.
I believe Larry Smarr is working in Data Visualization at Calit2. (between growing orchids).

One of Larry's quips was that we have all this computing horsepower and yet we are still using a hundred yead old typewriter keyboard.

I think some guys at Google are working hard on DV & M as well.

If I haven't missed the point, we may need a new notation. Some of the great leaps were made after changing or inventing a new calculus or notation.

*The switch to Arabic numerals.
*Newton and Leibniz.
*And, in my view, the big one, Edwin Boole and boolean calculus and Claude Shannon's application of it that put us here today.

Maybe Charles Petzold is one guy that could write a 'Junior High' text that may scoop up a few kids. (If you can forgive him has tattoo)

peter walker

papwalker said...

In addition, Ed Lazowska has some stuff to say about current education.

...and I am reminded of the joke about the evolution from the Intel shovel to the Intel bulldozer. The Intel bulldozer was useless, users couldn't even lift it let alone drive it into the dirt with their foot...

chuck said...

Lazowska's comment re the Intel shovel and bulldozer is priceless!
Ed spent a year at Smarr's lab on his last sabbatical. Excited enough to "come home" and build a Data Visualization videowall, both at U of Washington and at Pacific Northwest Labs (part of Argonne).
He reported to me a few weeks ago though that all of the images portrayed on all of the HyperWall installations are essentially static, which may well talk to the thoughts about "waiting for a breakthrough in notation"
The recent Wallenberg Summer Institute though featured Jeffrey Heer's work and that of Katy Borner, and I came away thinking these tools have made some dramatic progress.

chuck said...

Tableau Software http://www.tableausoftware.com/ is one such tool. I modeled a dataset of fifty US cities for their growth rates over 15 decades, shown as relative circle areas, and was able to revise the dataset and the graph in minutes.

I tried this same set 25 years ago at HP Labs, and it brought a 9836 workstation to its knees at the time. And I tried a rough simulation with Powerpoint slides for an Intel group meeting about four years ago, to demonstrate HP Halo capability to an unbelieving group -- it reminds me of the Intel bulldozer approach....