Lane Harrison – ScribbleLive http://www.scribblelive.com ScribbleLive is the leading end-to-end platform for content marketing engagement. Thu, 04 Aug 2016 20:24:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://s3.amazonaws.com/scribblelive-com-prod/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/favicon-91x80.png Lane Harrison – ScribbleLive http://www.scribblelive.com 32 32 Exoplanets: Turning a Static Visualization Into an Interactive http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2012/06/25/exoplanets-interactive/ Tue, 26 Jun 2012 01:15:28 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2012/06/25/exoplanets-interactive/ Static infographics can be great for telling a story. They show the important information all laid out for a viewer to see at a glance. But sometimes, an interactive infographic can do an even better job: interactives can get the main point across at one glance, and augment the main Read more...

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Static infographics can be great for telling a story. They show the important information all laid out for a viewer to see at a glance. But sometimes, an interactive infographic can do an even better job: interactives can get the main point across at one glance, and augment the main plot with additional data that can help strengthen the story. Last Week, Randall Munroe of the ever-popular xkcd, posted a new comic showing all 786 known planets drawn to scale as circles of varying size and color. The visualization is simple and effective, making the point that many planets are quite similar to planets found in our own solar system, and that advances in astronomy technology will likely lead to many more discoveries, like finding what types of environments these planets have.
Browse more data visualizations.

  Exoplanets are planets that have been discovered outside our solar system. The comic includes 786 planets: all 778 exoplanets, plus our 8 (sorry, Pluto). Munroe arranges these in a bubble chart that has each planet drawn to scale and a simple discrete color map also representing size. The use of both color and circle size to represent planet size is a good design choice, since viewers can get a better sense of the distribution of sizes through the color scale. If the circles were all the same color, it would be difficult to pick out the several largest circles. But the comic, which has the largest circles in red, makes judging the quantity of a size category simple. Adding Interactivity Why remake something that is already made? Put simply, an interactive visualization lets a viewer more deeply explore the story the xkcd comic tells. Also, given its simplicity, the comic design — a bubble chart and simple color scale — was straightforward to replicate.

Exoplanets: an interactive version of XKCD 1071
by codementum. Browse more data visualizations.

  The Data Access to the data remained a stumbling block until someone posted a link to The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia (EPE). The EPE maintains an interactive exoplanet data table, complete with CSV export. After a round of Data Wrangler, the data was in JSON format and ready to visualize. The Functionality In addition to coloring planets by scale, viewers can color planets by their distance to the nearest star. In this view, few planets are blue, which means most planets are actually fairly similar to Earth in terms of their distance to a “sun”. The default view is similar to the xkcd comic (colored by size), with the difference that viewers can now mouse over each planet to get a few more details, such as the planet’s size relative to Earth. Visually, one distinct advantage to Munroe’s hand-drawn approach is that he has more control over the positioning of the elements. Our solar system is easily placed in the center of the drawing, to better fit the story. On the other hand, the interactive version is (mostly) at the mercy of the built-in layouts. Fortunately d3.js has many different layout options, including force directed methods. The interactive is intended to serve as a supplement to Munroe’s comic, which conveys a thoughtful message and has sparked discussions on planet discovery in several corners of the Internet. Storytelling and interactive visualization can lead to interesting and memorable discoveries when combined (as they should be).   Lane Harrison is a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC. In his free time he creates visualization side projects at codementum.org.

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The Links That Bind Us: Network Visualizations http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2012/01/30/network-visualizations/ Mon, 30 Jan 2012 22:36:32 +0000 http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2012/01/30/network-visualizations/ Network data is everywhere. From roads and supply chains to biological pathways and the internet, any items that share a common relationship can form a network. And node-link diagrams are an intuitive and commonly-used visual representation of networks. Node-link diagrams were created long before bar, line, or pie charts, with Read more...

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Network data is everywhere.

From roads and supply chains to biological pathways and the internet, any items that share a common relationship can form a network. And node-link diagrams are an intuitive and commonly-used visual representation of networks. Node-link diagrams were created long before bar, line, or pie charts, with simple examples dating back to the early 14th century. However, only recently have node-link diagrams been used not only for illustration, but also as an effective tool for exploring the underlying dynamics of complex networks. An example of using visualization for modern network analysis comes from the psychosociologist Jacob L. Moreno. Moreno used node-link diagrams to analyze and illustrate various social structures. He published a node-link diagram in a 1933 New York Times article, depicting the web of friendships in an elementary school. Using this information, Moreno was able to identify the students who linked groups together, and the ones who didn’t really fit into any social group.

Today, node-link diagrams are routinely used to visualize relationships in many areas, such as mathematics, biology, investigative analysis, and business. In fact, given the dramatic rise of social networking platforms in the past several years, people are better equipped for understanding network dynamics in a visual manner. So what are some of the design possibilities for node-link diagrams?

The visuals

Just what is network data? A graph is the technical name for the underlying structure of a network. Graphs are composed of nodes (vertices) and the links between them (edges). Optionally, each edge can have a weight, which is a distinct value describing the extent of the relationship between nodes. Furthermore, each edge can be directed or undirected, meaning that the relationship is either one-way or mutual. Given this structure, there are several visual elements that can be tweaked when constructing node-link diagrams. Node shape. Though typically represented as circles, nodes can be images or any other shape, including pie charts. (As a general rule, consider using color for known classes and shape for any further divisions.) Node color. The color of a node usually represents some known classification. For instance, a network of voting records would use blue for Democrats and red for Republicans. Node size. Size can also be used to represent quantitative relationships between nodes. However, be sure to avoid quadratic scaling and ensure that your nodes do not become so large as to hide edges or other nodes. Edge direction. A common way of representing direction in node-link diagrams is with an arrow. Alternatively, tapered edges can actually produce better results, since the direction can be seen at any point on the edge rather than just at the ends. Edge color. Edge color usually represents the type of relationship. Occasionally, a diverging color scale can be used to represent edge weights directly. Edge size. Edge size is also commonly used to represent edge weights. Keep in mind that tapered edges will also affect the size of an edge.

Layouts

Once the visual elements for the nodes and links are determined, the network must be arranged in some way. Methods for arranging networks in a given space are called network layouts. Network layouts are typically constructed with the help of a layout algorithm. However, sometimes manual layouts can produce fantastic results that automatic methods simply cannot achieve. Network layout algorithms usually try to optimize based on criteria like “minimize edge crossings” and “minimize the distance between similar nodes”. There are several ways to define node similarity, but in layout algorithms node similarity is usually based on the number of edges shared between nodes. One of the most common and widely-available layouts is the force-directed layout. There are many variations of force-directed layouts, but the essential idea is that edges act as springs, nodes act as attractors, and a sort of physics simulation is run to allow the nodes to adjust their positions based on the forces acting on them. For example, see this figure of a wiki using force-directed layout:

A number of underlying hierarchies, clusters, and isolated nodes are clearly shown. Other popular layouts include radial, balloon, and hierarchical methods. As an example, consider this comparison of balloon (left) and radial (right) layouts (via IBM): Many layout algorithms can be found in the several free and open-source tools that exist for network visualization.

How to cure network hairballs

Node-link diagrams are very susceptible to clutter as the number of links and nodes increase. Consider this figure of protein interactions (via Wikipedia): These are called network “hairballs” for obvious reasons. Cluttered diagrams make it difficult or impossible to make discoveries in the data. Fortunately, there are several ways of addressing network clutter. One option is to tweak the visual attributes mentioned above. Are the nodes or edges too large? Could the nodes or edges be made semi-transparent to make overlaps less obstructive? Another option is changing the layout algorithm. Try the different layout options in the tool you’re using. Coders may even consider modifying a layout algorithm to suit their needs. One last technique worth mentioning is edge bundling, which is a layout algorithm for the edges themselves. Put simply, edge bundling algorithms pull similar edges together, kind of like merging roads into a highway. Consider the edge bundling in this network of U.S. air travel paths (via Danny Holten): The results of edge bundling are impressive. Unfortunately, many edge bundling algorithms have not yet made their way from research papers into readily-available toolkits. But you can rest assured that researchers are continually working not only to improve existing techniques for network layouts, but also to fundamentally rethink how we visualize and analyze the networks that surround us. Lane Harrison is a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC.

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