Thomas Haigh and Mark Priestley Digital Dialogue

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Feb 092016

Books and shows about the history of information technology have usually focused on great inventors and technical breakthroughs, from Charles Babbage and Alan Turing to Steve Jobs and the World Wide Web. Computer operations work has been written out of the story, but without it no computer would be useful. Information historians Thomas Haigh and Mark Priestley are writing it back in. This talk focused on ENIAC, the first general purpose electronic computer, based on research for their book ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer, published by MIT Press in January, 2016. They will explain that the women now celebrated as the “first computer programmers” were actually hired as computer operators and worked hands-on with the machine around the clock. Then they will look at business data processing work from the 1950s onward, exploring the grown of operations and facilities work during the mainframe era. Concluding comments will relate this historical material to the human work and physical infrastructure today vanishing from public view into the “cloud.”

The State of Information Visualization, 2016

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Feb 092016

Oh hello, new year! I almost didn’t see you there! Lots of interesting things happened last year: Dear Data, deceptive visualization, storytelling research, new tools and ideas, etc. And this year is already shaping up to be quite strong, too.

Dear Data

Perhaps the most exciting project of 2015 was Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. They are both designers, and they decided to collect data and send each other postcards with hand-drawn visualizations based on that every week. The topic is also a different one every week, and they’re often very personal. It’s a unique and very different project, with a lot of creativity in the ways data is displayed.

Somewhat related, there was a great paper at EuroVis last year on data sketching, drawing data by hand. Tools are clearly helpful when dealing with data, but they also tend to shape the things people do with them – they make some things easier than others, and obviously always have limitations. Sketching allows for more thinking outside the box and more creativity.

Peeking Outside Academic Vis

Academic visualization research can be trapped inside a bubble and not deal with issues people actually encounter out in the world. That is why I really liked the work on deceptive visualizations. It put some science behind issues that some people are aware of, but that so far have mostly been based on assumptions and hearsay. Do cropped bars mislead? Does inverting an axis make a difference? Is aspect ratio important?

The point was not so much that the results were surprising (for the most part, they weren’t), but that these things were actually tested rather than just stated as fact. It still amazes me how many things we simply take for granted in visualization without questioning them – and when we finally do, we find that they’re not based on actual research.

Along similar lines, Drew Skau and I looked at bar chart embellishments common in infographics and found that some of them aren’t that problematic – though some clearly are. Again, the point here being actual science rather than just assumptions.

The Birth and Death of Tools

One of the big issues in data visualization is cleaning data and wrangling it into a shape that can then be used in a visualization tool. Trifacta Wrangler is a great tool for that, and it’s free to use (with some size limitations, though they’re quite generous).

I recently heard somebody describe his work as “Living in the Hadleyverse” – a reference to Hadley Wickham and his untiring efforts to create better tools for both data analysis and visualization in R. Between ggplot, dplyr, and the up-and-coming ggvis, R is getting very powerful support to deal with large datasets, talk directly to databases, and create interactive visualizations for the web.

Sadly, last year also saw the death of Many Eyes. While not exactly a surprise after years of neglect, it did mean the end of the first really successful and widely used web-based visualization platforms. Many Eyes was not just a collection of tools, they were also ambitious about doing research and pushing the envelope on things like text visualization and figuring out user preferences. Alas, IBM did not seem to see the value and finally folded the project into Watson Analytics late last year.

In the process, they did release Brunel, a language for creating visualizations on the web based on the Grammar of Graphics. This had originally been developed as the new technology to power Many Eyes, under the name RAVE. I’m not sure if Brunel has any chance of catching on, given the popularity of D3. But it appears to be an interesting piece of technology.

Storytelling Research

I’m actually writing this while attending a seminar on Data-Driven Storytelling at Schloss Dagstuhl. There are 40 people here, with a good number of journalists and designers mixed into the usual group of academics. That such a seminar can happen is a sign that storytelling in visualization is here to stay.

This isn’t quite reflected in the papers at IEEE VIS and EuroVis yet, but I expect that to change this year. Oddly, the conference that had an entire session on storytelling last year was CHI – even though that is not a core visualization conference. The entire visualization track there was pretty strong.

I was one of the authors of the paper on ISOTYPE at CHI, and also the almost-published one on the connected scatterplot. I also wrote about presentation-oriented visualization techniques.

The Year Ahead

On the academic side, I expect to see a lot more work storytelling at the conferences, hopefully enough to finally get entire sessions. There is a lot of energy here at Dagstuhl right now, and many topics and issues to tackle. My hope is also that we can involve practitioners in this work more than we usually do.

A big driver of data visualization in the news will be the elections in the U.S. in November. There will be polls, predictions, lots of data-centric news stories, and just generally a fever pitch of data presentation. Exciting times!

Galaxy of cover songs

 Data Art, music  Comments Off on Galaxy of cover songs
Feb 082016

Galaxy of Covers

A fun one from Interactive Things that shows cover songs with a galaxy metaphor:

The panorama view shows the 50 top songs as individual planetary systems with the original work as the sun. Each planet represents a version of the song and it’s appearance indicates characteristics including genre, popularity, tempo, valence, energy, and speechiness. The radius of its orbit around the sun shows the years between the publication dates. This view allows you to compare the structure and density of the constellation of different songs from a high-level perspective.

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Medieval Library Rules

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Feb 062016
Today is National Libraries Day. Here's a guide to proper behaviour in the library. Rule No. 1: No Pets Please do not bring your pets to the library. That includes pet rabbits and tame doves. St Gregory the Great in his study. Hours of Bona Sforza, Milan, c. 1490–4. Add...

Data Mining Proquest Content — Feb 29th, 1-3pm

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Feb 062016
February 29, 2016
1:00 pmto3:00 pm

Please find attached a notice of an upcoming event hosted by Proquest representatives, “Data Mining Proquest Content.” This session will be held on Monday February 29th from 1-3pm in Clearihue D130. We hope to see you there!


CFP Archives and Archaeology (Vilnius, Aug/Sep 2016)

 Archaeology, archives, Call for Papers  Comments Off on CFP Archives and Archaeology (Vilnius, Aug/Sep 2016)
Feb 062016

Call for Papers: Archives and Archaeology – sources from the past, tools for the future
Deadline: 15th of February 2016

European Association of Archaeologists Annual Congress, Vilnius, 31st August–4th September 2016.

Topic: Theoretical and methodological perspectives in archaeology

Keywords: archives, collections, history of archaeology

In this session we are exploring theoretical and methodological approaches to archive-based studies as well as the conceptualization and use(s) of archives. The importance of archives for archaeological research and field practice is undisputed in present-day archaeology. Nevertheless archival sources are often neglected and/or underused. Archives are essential for historians of archaeology, but at the same time they are also invaluable for the everyday practice of archaeologists. The process of archiving is one of the most important features of archaeology and it has had a great influence on the professionalization of the discipline. However, various archival aspects are often overlooked. For example, it has been common practice to separate documents and artifact collections when archiving when they should in fact be included in the archives together as equally important archaeological data. This greatly impacts anyone who studies the past of a particular site, biography of an archaeologist or the history of archaeology in general. In addition, the archive can work as a resource connecting the past, present and future of our discipline. Archives can also provide a starting point for research projects. The starting point for this session is the broad definition of an archive: archaeological records including documents, finds and museum collections. We welcome papers from scholars working with historic as well as contemporary archival sources and we also encourage broad-based humanistic views and interdisciplinary perspectives on archives. By exploring the archive as a concept and by combining various types of archival materials, we can redefine the archive as a resource and gain a new perspective on archive-based research studies.

Author – Gustavsson, Anna, Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Mihajlović, Vladimir, Institute for Balkan Studies of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade, Serbia
Co-author(s) – de Tomasi, Francesca, Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, Naples, Italy
Topic – Theoretical and methodological perspectives in archaeology

Link to the the session “Archives and Archaeology – sources from the past, tools for the future”:

Link to the general theme: Theoretical and methodological perspectives in archaeology:

Webinar: Online Approaches to Editing Greek Literature. The Philosophical Papyri

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Feb 052016

Rodney Ast (University of Heidelberg) and Holger Essler (University of Würzburg), in cooperation with Heidelberg’s Center for Cultural Heritage, are offering in Summer Semester 2016 an online seminar on Greek literary papyri. Special emphasis will be placed on philosophical texts. Out of a total of 550 texts published so far, 45% were found at a single site, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, the remainder coming from various places in Egypt. Comparison of the two groups suggests itself and it will be greatly facilitated by the Digital Corpus of Literary Papyri (DCLP) (a bilateral project led by the University of Heidelberg and NYU, with the involvement of the University of Leuven, Duke University, and the University of Würzburg); it already contains 95% of the philosophical texts from Herculaneum. The seminar will focus on philosophical texts from Egypt preserved on papyrus only (for an example click here). Participants will use the DCLP for instruction and to create digital editions, but other databases and approaches will be discussed as well. In particular, we will explore questions of editorial decision-making and technique, transmission, paleography, and the socio-cultural context in which the texts were copied.

The course is free of charge and will take place Thursdays, 16:15–17:45, Central European Time. The first meeting will be the 14th of April and the last the 7th of July. The language of instruction is English, and good knowledge of Greek is required. Participants should already have a Skype account set up by the first session. Certificates will be issued upon successful completion of the class.

Those interested in taking part should send a statement of interest and CV to Michaela Böttner,, by March 4th. Questions about the course can be directed to Rodney Ast ( and/or Holger Essler (

The number of participants will be kept to a maximum of 12.

Announcing the Spring 2016 Digital Dialogues Lineup, plus Digital Dialogues is Storified!

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Feb 052016

MITH’s Spring 2016 Digital Dialogues season is about to get underway! Starting next week with Elissa Frankle from the US Holocaust Museum, we have six amazing speakers covering a wide range of research specialties:

Tuesday February 9, 2016: Elissa Frankle, Digital Projects Coordinator of Digital Learning and New Media, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Making History with the Masses Revisited: History Unfolded and the Realities of Citizen History

Thursday February 18, 2016: Thomas Haigh, Associate Professor of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin Madison Mark Priestley, Independent Researcher
Working on ENIAC: The Lost Labors of the Information Age
This is a co-presentation with the Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL), and will occur at HCIL.

Tuesday February 23, 2016: Kim Gallon, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University
Black Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Praxis

Tuesday March 1, 2016: Maxim Romanov, Research Fellow , University of Leipzig
Of graphs, maps, and 30,000 Muslims: Digital Humanities & The Premodern Islamic World

Tuesday March 8, 2016: Henry Lovejoy, Lecturer and Visiting Assistant Professor, McMaster University and Michigan State University
West Africa Historical GIS and the Liberated Africans Project

Monday April 11, 2016: Matthew Kirschenbaum, Associate Professor of English and Associate Director of MITH, University of Maryland, College Park
Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing Book Launch
This is a co-presentation with the English Department, and will occur at Tawes Hall.

ALSO – Save the Date for a special additional Digital Dialogues talk on Tuesday April 26, 2016 with renowned Brown University Technology and Computer Science professor Andy van Dam! More details on this event to follow. Watch the MITH blog, Twitter feed, or Digital Dialogues page for updates.

Digital Dialogues is Now Storified!

As many of you noticed last semester, MITH is now creating Storify pages for all of our Digital Dialogue talks where we post links to resources, people and projects that speakers reference during their talks, Trisha Campbell Storifyalong with recaps and tweets posted during the events. Click here to look back at the talks from Fall 2015. Links to the Storify are posted on each talk’s page.

Taxi ride volume during Super Bowl key moments

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Feb 052016

Taxi Super Bowl

A high percentage of Americans are glued to the television or party sample platter during the Super Bowl each year, which is especially obvious if you go anywhere without a television during this time. Todd Schneider for the Upshot looks at this phenomenon through the lens of New York taxi rides per minute.

Taxi activity’s lowest level in New York coincided with the climactic moment of the game, just as Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson at 9:59 p.m. to secure the 28-24 victory for the Patriots. New England called a timeout after Butler’s interception, but many Super Bowl party guests apparently didn’t wait around to watch Tom Brady take a knee before they hailed cabs.

Fun. Although nothing beats the Canadian toilet flushing symphony during the Olympic gold medal hockey game of 2010. [Thanks, Todd]

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Feb 052016

I have managed to place all the photos I took during my travels in 2015 on Flickr. At this early stage, they are simply categorised in order of the countries that I visited. Over coming months, I will add descriptions and ‘meta-data’. If you are curious about something, please do ask and I will respond.



2015-03-21 20.17.11

The Flower Market near Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India


2015-03-21 20.18.34

The Flower Market near Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India