Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Make your nerdy life nerdier!

I've long been fascinated by the ways in which information can be represented graphically. I love maps, charts, graphs, and the like, especially when it is presented in unusual, inventive, or elegant ways. I'm a fan of the work of Edward Tufte, and if his seminars weren't bloody $380 a piece, I might consider going to one (he highlights the chart shown here of Napoleon's army's size during the Russian campaign of 1812 as perhaps the best "probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn"). Likewise, I want to read all of these posters in detail.

It may come as no surprise, then, that I am a visual learner, and like to make use of visual arrangements of information when trying to learn it. And the act of putting said information together myself only helps cement the information. Hence my Jeopardy notebook. But I find myself from time to time doodling lists, tables, or graphs to wrap my brain around something. To explain my own oddities better, I thought I'd share a few with you.

First, a simple one. I found myself at lunch one day for some reason reading about the history of the NFL in Los Angeles. When I was growing up, there were two NFL teams in LA, but both left for greener pastures when I was in high school. I could never remember which teams were where, when (especially since the Raiders were originally in Oakland, then went to LA for a little over a decade, and then returned to Oakland). I decided to make a little timeline:

OK, next is something to keep track of current events, specifically the 2009 AL Central pennant race between the Twins and Tigers. At some point I picked up the habit, inherited from my father, of marking up a Twins pocket schedule with wins & losses. So this is hanging up in my cube:

I added the pre-All-Star-Break record as a midsummer stock-taking of the team. Anyway, with less than two weeks remaining in the season, I decided to start keeping track of not just what the Twins do, but also the Tigers. Last week I stuck this on my schedule:

Green means good and red means bad. The blue number is the Twins' position in the standings relative to the Tigers. From here on out, the Tigers have the "harder" schedule, but when you're in the AL Central, everything is relative.

And I do this all the time. On the practical side there are to-do lists and tables at work. On the self-interested side a calendar tracking Jeopardy contestants who qualify for the 2010 Tournament of Champions (Melissa and I are also keeping a spreadsheet on this one). And then there's the trivial. A hand-filled map of Minneapolis neighborhoods. Colored maps of the 2008 US Presidential primary and general elections. A spreadsheet of Brave New Workshop shows and casts since I started working there in 2001. Venn diagrams of classic rock band personnel. It is a disease.


Andrew said...

I persuaded my work to pay for me to go to a Tufte seminar a few years ago, and I believe that what I learned really helped me to do my job better. Plus it was fascinating. If you want to come over sometime and geek out I have the books and we can geekily pore over them.

kmkat said...

The History of Rock Music poster is especially interesting.

Graphing is the only way to understand numbers, imnsho. Back when Lotus 1-2-3 was the standard spreadsheet program and it first introduced graphing, the first three times I used the graphing function I found something important that had escaped everyone's attention until that moment.

[carlsonp] said...

Thank you for this post, Fred. Helps take my mind off the Twins... maybe you've found these already, but just in case you haven't:

This was just a quick check of my bookmarks. I'm sure I can find more.