Visualizing recurring jokes with the Bluths

May 15th, 2013  |  Tags: ,  |  1 Comment

Recurring Developments is an interactive visualization of running jokes throughout the first three seasons of Arrested Development. Click on a joke to see arcs to episodes in which it occurred, or click on an episode to see arcs to the jokes that appear in it. Of related interest, see also this Will Leitch piece about Arrested Development’s popularity, changes in television viewing patterns, and the increasingly long tail of mass media. (The thing that resonates most with me about Leitch’s piece is that the first time I saw Arrested Development — the first episode of the second season, when it aired — I didn’t know that many of the running jokes were running jokes, but I was able to recognize the intricacy of the narrative, and that this was a show that rewarded viewers for paying attention.)

Infographic horror

July 27th, 2012  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

I don’t mean to pick on the Des Moines Register (certainly, they are not alone in offending this way), but this is one of the worst infographics I’ve ever encountered:

Terrible, content-free infographic

My inescapable first impression is of the amateurish presentation. Although I applaud continuing Myriad creep, the “centered sentence fragments” look is only appropriate if one seeks to evoke the menu for that restaurant that opened up a couple of months ago and then went out of business before you had a chance to check it out. (Indeed, one almost expects a fourth figure on this illustration: “$8 sashimi.”) Furthermore, I note that the TextEdit app that ships with Mac OS X does a better job of automatically kerning the word “BULL’S-EYE” than the Register’s illustrator did.

We’re above harping solely on presentation, though. Unfortunately, this image utterly fails on the content level. It asks a question and then presents three figures. The final figure is essentially irrelevant to the question (although, to be fair, it is unlikely that either candidate would blitz Iowa with ad buys were he running unopposed), and the first figure serves only to supply a sense of scale for the second. So we’re left with one figure that actually addresses the question. However, the explanation for the second figure actively argues against the assumption behind the question!

If we want to argue in simple, front-page chart form why Iowa is worth aggressive attention from presidential candidates, a much better place to start would be the data in this chart, which I found on after searching for Iowa’s historical presidential general election results:

Iowa history

The above illustration is not particularly information-dense, but it gives us two numbers that are actually useful: Iowa’s results are evenly split among the last ten elections between the Democratic and Republican candidate (so, unlike many states, it is not unrealistic for either candidate to win in any given year), and it has gone with the winner of the electoral vote count seven out of the last ten times (so it is a reasonable proxy for the national contest). Of course, we can’t draw a causal link from winning a bellwether state like Iowa to winning the electoral college, but perhaps campaigns believe that they can evaluate tactics in Iowa for use in similar swing states. (Or, less charitably, perhaps campaigns subscribe to the same cargo-cult notions of causality as elected politicians.)

Financial crisis timeline

June 25th, 2009  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

When I was a kid, my dad made me a timeline on the plastic roller shades in my room. It seemed unbelievably broad to me, and covered among other things Biblical figures and events; major works of literature; the prominence of various kingdoms, dynasties, and tribes; the lifetimes of composers, authors, scientists, and theologians; and so on all the way through to the discovery of the double helix and the race to space. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by timelines: a good timeline can make sense of a vast amount of data and present a forceful argument. So I was delighted to see a timeline covering the recent global financial collapse, courtesy of the New York Fed (pdf link); here’s a small taste:


Each page covers Fed policy actions, market events, and other policy actions in a quarter; each event is hyperlinked to an explanation; and the timeline is updated every month.

(via the Atlantic‘s business blog)