Pets may need shelter from this terrible chart
Knowledge in the chart and knowledge in the head

Update on Dataviz Workshop 2

The class practised doing critiques on the famous Wind Map by Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg.


Click here for a real-time version of the map.

I selected this particular project because it is a heartless person indeed who does not see the "beauty" in this thing.

Beauty is a word that is thrown around a lot in data visualization circles. What do we mean by beauty?


The discussion was very successful and the most interesting points of discussion were these:

  • Something that is beautiful should take us to some truth.
  • If we take this same map but corrupt all the data (e.g. reverse all wind directions), is the map still beautiful?
  • What is the "truth" in this map? What is its utility?
  • The emotional side of beauty is separate from the information side.
  • "Truth" comes before the emotional side of beauty.

Readers: would love to hear what you think.


PS. Click here for class syllabus. Click here for first update.


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Bretwood Higman

I keep a number of different weather data visualization sites open nearly all the time, and Cameron Beccario's evolution of this chart is among them.

Here's what I'm looking at now:,50.93,560

I think your question about "truth" is interesting. I love this visual for it's beauty, and it provides useful clues to reality in a number of places. However, if you want to know what the temperature will be tomorrow, or where the greatest uncertainty lies in forecasts, or numerous other factors, this isn't the best view. The one facet of weather that I've found this visual highlights better than any other I've seen is convergence and divergence of air. In particular, it vividly shows large convergences associated with lows. These convergences create the spiraling bands of clouds that dump precipitation: as air converges it has to move upward, and as it moves up adiabatic cooling leads to condensation. If you look very carefully, you can even see the corresponding divergence in higher layers of the atmosphere.

I prefer Cameron Beccario's map over the one you discussed in part because it includes Alaska where I live (an often overlooked part of "America"). Also the fact that you can overlay temperature data, and look at different elevations, is very useful.


Bretwood: Really cool to see the Cameron's global wind map. Do you know much about the underlying data? I wonder if there are "blind spots".
Now how do I overlay relief and temperature? One of the other topics we discussed was "knowledge in your head" (see today's post) Some people who have a sense of the relief map of the US took more out of the wind map than others who don't have such knowledge.

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