Visualisations (or visualizations if you’re American or absolutely love your Zs) transform whole sets of arbitrary data into beautiful, visual learning tools. From basic graphs and charts to complex animations, visualisations take an infographic-like approach to helping us understand the world around us.
Today’s Stuff to Watch features nothing but the most interesting visualisations I could find. As a species we’re suckers for statistics and numbers, but it’s amazing how little we can deduce from raw data without visual intervention.
From the size of the universe to birth and death rates, visualisations help us understand everything.
Fancy something to make you feel a little more mortal? Here’s a slightly unnerving realtime simulation of births and deaths in the US split by county. It’s important to remember that this is only a simulation, and so the frequency and locations of deaths and births are calculated from birth and death rates as well as random data.
This simulation is the work of Brad Lyon, who just wanted to “get a feel for the qualitative rhythm of births and deaths in the U.S”. You can mouse over each county to get more information or click it to perform a Google search of that location. This would make a great screensaver to remind your colleagues of the fragile nature of life and the (frequent) miracle of birth.
When it comes to cool-looking scientific things, NASA are on the whole are pretty good. In addition to a huge range of downloadable space apps and weeks worth of Stuff to Watch content, their Goddard Space Flight Centre are pretty good at visualising data, as seen in this Perpetual Ocean visualisation in 2011.
The short video presents a three-minute long look at the planet’s tidal patterns, in a stylised and rather beautiful manner. In addition to the YouTube embed above you can download the video in a variety of formats as well as some select huge screen grabs.
On a similar note to the NASA video above, two artists have created a stylised visual representation of wind patterns across the USA. Working under the joint name of Hint.FM, Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg created the tool to pull in fresh data every hour and display it on an interactive map.
You can view the realtime results or simply watch the video above, but the creators stress this is not an accurate scientific tool for flying planes, sailing boats or putting out fires. It’s quite pretty, though.
Visualizing.org is a site that specialises in showcasing visualisations, unsurprisingly. In addition to infographics full of graphs and charts, video visualisations offer a highly accessible window into science, such as this visualisation of Earth meteorite strikes.
Since 2500BC 34,513 meteorites have been recorded as hitting Earth, though only 1,042 were witnessed. This video provides a clear overview of that history.
How do you visualise the words and thought patterns of an individual on a chart, graph or via a map? When it came to the work of Stephen Hawking, all Jared Ficklin could see was stars and so he turned the great physicist’s voice recordings into a visual representation of the night sky.
A little outlandish, a little interpretive but incredibly fitting; Jared provides a nice dry explanation at the start of the video, so click play and enjoy.
A great use of WebGL if ever I saw one, 100,000 stars is Google’s attempt at visualising the universe through the wonders of in-browser 3D rendering. If ever you needed a reminder of how tiny and insignificant we all are, this is it.
No really, keep zooming. And zooming. Eventually you will find our Earth, a tiny speck in a sea of nothing. These are the 100,000 nearest stars to our tiny patch of space; for reference there are 200-400 billion in the Milky Way alone.
Hans Rosling’s Visualisations
Hans is a professor of global health at the Korolinska Institute in Sweden, and he’s got a certain way with words.
Watch Hans Rosling as he takes us through the history of the developing world, and the progress made since 1963. Hans shows us how child mortality rates fall dramatically, global education standards improve and just how recent some of these developments really are.
The above video is actually a TED talk from 2010, and involves Hans using Ikea props to visualise global population growth and trends. There’s a certain charm about the mannerisms, wit and method behind this video, making it a personal favorite TED talk of mine.
Finally there’s the above video, titled “200 Countries, 200 Years in 4 Minutes” which uses 120,000 data points to map the health of 200 nations in two centuries. This video was in fact an outtake from a BBC show called The Joy of Stats, which you might enjoy if this sort of thing appeals to you.
Before the Internet and “going viral”, the only way to measure fame involved sales and event attendance. The more records and artist sold and the more people who came to the shows, the more popular the artist was perceived to be.
Here we have 40 years worth of Bruce Springsteen performances on a map of the USA along with album launches and performance attendances. It’s an interesting look at the performer’s career using the only data available, and it’s much nicer than finishing on a visualisation about how we’re all doomed.
If you have any favorite visualisations either in video or infographic form be sure to share them in the comments below!