Tech Round Up: Tools for DataViz

As somebody schooled in the “Flash” era of web production, I pretty much took it for granted that if you wanted to present anything with animation or visual sophistication, much less with data visualizations such as charts and graphs, you needed to use Flash. So I’ve been astonished at the growing sophistication of what programmatic visualization tools that use things like CSS and JQuery can now do. They have left Flash (and many of its problems) far behind.

Here is a nice round up of six data visualization tools (aka dataviz) found via NTEN, the Non-Profit Technology Network, and originally written by Paul Chamberlain of the digital production house

Below is an example from one he lists, Highcharts. It’s a fee-based service, but impressive: in addition to a range of formats that rivals Excel’s charts and graphs engine, you can do dynamic data, and also let users change graphs in the displayed page (although I’m not sure if that user data can be saved). Nice design, although includes unnecessary options for “chart junk,” like meaningless gradients in backgrounds that drive Edward Tufte nuts.

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 8.10.58 AM

I should write a javascript to hide (or add) chart junk.

These tools would have changed the three years colleagues and I spent producing online professional development courses for math teachers, which entailed producing many flash animations of charts and graphs from scratch in Flash.

Beautiful Sentences: The TLS

If book reviews are a guilty pleasure of yours, as they are for me, The Times Literary Supplement is a high quality, high value supplier. Beautiful sentences, bracing opinions.

To wit a couple of nice bits from recent issues:

1) a (likely very just) takedown of Tom Wolfe’s latest doorstop:

Back to Blood is certainly vast, and full of generous description of social existence in the “Immigration City” of Miami. Yet it also is largely lacking in artistic merit, empathy and any vestige of beautiful writing.

In the beautiful writing category: check out this lead paragraph from a review of a new novel by Ronald Frame. It’s the reviewer, rather than the novelist, I want to hear more from…

Miss Havisham’s story is well known and briefly told: well known since briefly told by Herbert Pocket to the teenaged Pip in Chapter 22 of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Over their first meal together, between tactful hints to the low-born Pip not to put his knife in his mouth or to use his spoon “over-hand”, Herbert recounts Miss Havisham’s back-story. Resented by her wastrel stepbrother, betrayed and jilted by her con-artist lover before either Herbert or Pip were born, the proud heiress of a brewing empire stalks their imaginations as she does ours: the ageing recluse, shunning daylight, in her rotting wedding gown amid her rotting bridal feast. Miss Havisham has become a byword for trauma: the psychological wounding that compels its victims to tour painfully round and round the scene of the psychic crime, never able to move on, never coming to terms with what Derrida called the “unexperienced experience”. In Dickens, she is a vivid grotesque whose intensity and hypnotic power are in no small measure a function of her absolute pulsating stuckness in a single moment, a single sunless setting. The same is true of the innumerable versions and revisions of the Havisham story, from David Lean’s film Great Expectations (1946) and Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), to Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Havisham” (1998) and, most recently, screen performances by Gillian Anderson and Helena Bonham Carter. Few figures in literature or film are so singular, so completely identified with one location, one set of props and costumes, one palette of lighting, one repertoire of gestures, one vengeful desire (“Beggar him”, she tells her ward, Estella). She is a living, livid scar.

Brought to mind a theatrical presentation of GE I was in at my Montessori-lite middle school. All the kids in my year were boys, so a boy played an eye-rolling, somewhat campy, and yet  ever-so-creepy Miss Havisham.

Unreasonable Words: Job Ads

Russell Baker, the retired NYTimes columnist and droll memoirist once quipped:

The young cult of sociology, needing a language, invented one. There are many dead languages, but the sociologists’ is the only language that was dead at birth.

Fun, but not quite fair. A lot of academic prose seems, if not dead, at least deadly. Sociology can hardly be any worse than the 1980s vintage Lit Crit I slogged through.

But either Sociology or Lit Crit are paragons of Strunk and White clarity compared to most HR writing. A few excerpts that caught my eye as I trawled for some freelance gigs this morning:

From an education start-up’s site:

  • Experience with specific tools, such as Hadoop, Mahout, Hive, Drools and MapReduce, is a big plus.

Sounds like failed names for aliens in a B-movie. “Hadoop!, I told you never to spray Drools with MapReduce when we are outside the Hive. Foolish, man, what have you done?”  “But Mahout, I was just trying to …,” Sound of crashing asteroid cuts off dialogue. Blackout.

Even if I knew what any of these things were, I’m not sure how I’d mention it on a cover letter. “Good at Drools?”

And then there’s this gem from E-lance (a workplace version of

We are looking for an english native speaker for Article Marketing, and internet marketing which includes writing and SEO

Job description:

We need a regular writer for various writing needs like article writing, review writing, web content etc. Should have a knowledge about SEO writing. This would be a long term relationship if satisfied with your initial work. The payment is $1 per 100 words, and the articles would be varied from 300-500 words.

The payment would be done for each project initially, but can be changed to weekly or monthly as we learn how to work.


US Native Writers. This is very mandatory, and please don’t contact if you are not.

Please send your sample articles.

You should do 100% unique work based on internet research. Copyscape is considered as one of the MOS for uniqueness.

All orders should be delivered considerably fast, like should be available to deliver 10-15 articles in 1-2 days. But this doesn’t mean that there would be that much…

Native English speakers who do “100% original work based on internet research” …sounds like a big chunk of the undergraduate population of North America. And a penny a word, for delivering “considerably fast,” what a deal! In fairness, this isn’t HR start-up gobbledegook. At least I can understand what they want, and it doesn’t seem to involve Drools.

Reasonable Recipes: Thanksgiving Cake

Thanksgiving Day is mostly going to be unpacking for us, so, among other things, we’ll be thankful for a result of no more boxes. But I’m also a kind of puritan baker–no frills, no frosting, zen like simplicity–and I hope I can squeeze in some time for this ridiculously easy cake from Nigella Lawson. I’ve made it and the orange chocolate variation to rave reviews in the past.

Clementine Cake

13 oz (ounce) clementines
6 medium egg(s)
8 oz (ounce) white sugar
9 oz (ounce) Ground almonds
1 teaspoon(s) baking powder

Put the clementines in a pan with some cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 2 hours. Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the pips. Dump the clementines – skins, pith, fruit and all – and give a quick blitz in a food processor (or by hand, of course). Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190ºC. Butter and line a 21cm Springform tin.

You can then add all the other ingredients to the food processor and mix. Or, you can beat the eggs by hand adding the sugar, almonds and baking powder, mixing well, then finally adding the pulped oranges.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour, when a skewer will come out clean; you’ll probably have to cover with foil or greaseproof after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, on a rack, but in the tin. When the cake’s cold, you can take it out of the tin. I think this is better a day after it’s made, but I don’t complain about eating it at any time.

I’ve also made this with an equal weight of oranges, and with lemons, in which case I increase the sugar to 250g and slightly anglicise it, too, by adding a glaze made of icing sugar mixed to a paste with lemon juice and a little water.

No fears, I’m not going to make this blog into a recipe haunt. Food is already well represented on the web (a fave: food52). And like free software, cats, and naked people, recipes are not really in need of more effort. Happy Thanksgiving!

Poetic Words: Hey, I’m GOOD at boiling water!

Today’s Poetry Daily pick is a good one (they’ve been having a good run of late). Dean Young’s
“I Said Yes I Meant No”

My Day…ready for its sine wave close-up. Boiling water success at 3pi/4 this morning.

I Said Yes I Meant No”People are compelled to be together good and bad.
You’ve agreed to shrimp with the geology couple.
If you like one 85% and the other 35%,
that’s not so bad.
You need to like one at least 70%
and like the other not less than 25%
otherwise it’s agonizing and pointless
like being crucified without religious significance.
Averages are misleading:
I like that couple 110% could mean
each is appreciated 55% which will not kill you
but neither will sleeping in your own urine.
One should like oneself between 60 and 80%.
Under 45%, one becomes an undertaking,
prone to eating disorders, public weeping,
useless for gift wrapping and relay races.
Over 85% means you are a self-involved bore
I don’t care about your Nobel Prize in positrons
or your dogsled victories.
Of course there is great variance throughout the day.
You may feel 0% upon first waking
but that is because you do not yet know you exist
which is why baby studies have been a bust.
Then as you venture forth to boil water,
you may feel a sudden surge to 90%,
Hey, I’m GOOD at boiling water!
which may be promptly counteracted by turning on your e-mail.
It is important not to let variance become too extreme,
a range of 40% is allowable,
beyond that it is as great storms upon drought-stricken land;
i.e., mudslides.
Sugar, retirement plans, impending jail time
all are influential factors.
Generally, most data has been gathered
regarding raising percentages,
the modern world it is argued is plentiful
with opportunities of negative effect.
The tanker splits and the shore birds turn black and lose their ability to float.
Sometimes a good scrub is all that’s needed.
A fresh shirt.
Shock therapy has never been fully discounted
and people have felt significant surges
from backpacking in remote and elevated areas,
a call home.
Yet the very same may backfire,
Thwamp, thwamp, the helicopter lowers the rescue crew,
the phone slammed down.
Each case is profoundly nuanced
like the lock systems of Holland.
Some, frankly, are beyond help,
but if you are a tall woman, wear shoes that make you look taller!
Candy corn, what kind of person doesn’t like candy corn?
Tell that 70/35% rock couple you cannot come,
you forgot your fencing lesson,
your cat had a puppy,
your tongue is green,
you are in fact dying.

From Poetry Daily

Reasonable Word: Commonplace Book

Not much time to post given our move into the city. Knee deep in boxes of books and enigmatic kitchen gadgets that once seem compelling purchases for some reason.

But did encounter this, a preamble in CD Wright’s latest “One With Others,” while I was browsing at Politics and Prose, and thought it worth copying down.

“There are people in small rooms all over the world, in impersonal cubicles in large offices, in malls, in ghettos, and behind fenced mansions–who thrive on a little chaos, enjoy the occasional taste of 220 volts, live for the beauty of the flaw in the grain.”
–“It Came freon Memphis,” Robert Gordon

Poetic Words: Dannie Abse

Tipped by BBC Radio’s Words and Music on the legend of Orpheus, found this wonderful poem by
the Welsh poet Dannie Abse.

Three Street Musicians

Three street musicians in mourning overcoats
worn too long, shake money boxes this morning,
then, afterwards, play their suicide notes.

The violinist in chic, black spectacles, blind,
the stout tenor with a fake Napoleon stance,
and the looney flautist following behind,

they try to importune us, the busy living,
who hear melodic snatches of musichall
above unceasing waterfalls of traffic.

Yet if anything can summon back the dead
it is the old-time sound, old obstinate tunes,
such as they achingly render and suspend:

‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘Roses of Picardy’.
No wonder cemeteries are full of silences
and stones keep down the dead that they defend.

Stones too light! Airs unresistible!
Even a dog listens, one paw raised, while the stout,
loud man amazes with nostalgic notes – though half boozed

and half clapped out. And, as breadcrumbs thrown
on the ground charm sparrows down from nowhere,
now, suddenly, there are too many ghosts about.

— Dannie Abse

Shades of James Merrill’s wonderful “The Victor Dog” in the second to the last stanza.

Reasonable Words: Adam Kirsch on writing

Tipped by the the Poetry Foundation Web site, two bits from an essay of Kirsch’s entitled,

Rocket and Lightship
Meditations on life and letters.

The fireplace at Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Fenway Court. It would be a noble destination for deathless tomes.
Every writer needs a fireplace. On publication day, an author should burn a copy of his book, to acknowledge that what he accomplished is negligible compared to what he imagined and intended. Only this kind of burnt offering might be acceptable to the Muse he has let down.

Literature claims to be a record of human existence through time; it is the only way we have to understand what people used to be like. But this is a basic mistake, if not a fraud, since in fact it only reflects the experience of writers—and writers are innately unrepresentative, precisely because they see life through and for writing. Literature tells us nothing really about what most people’s lives are like or have ever been like. If it has a memorial purpose, it is more like that of an altar at which priests continue to light a fire, generation after generation, even though it gives no heat and very little light.

Granted, it’s a little arch, but the first one puts me in mind of Brecht, who wouldn’t seem to be one to be precious about his words (he makes fun of poets who memorize their own poems somewhere, but I can’t find the quote).

Funny Words: Joe My God

Joe. My. God, Joe Jervis’s web thingie (as he calls it, aka his blog about gay politics and the other stuff that interests him) is always a good read. His election week coverage has been exceptional, particularly his mug shots of the “Sadz,” unhappy hard right homophobes disappointed in the results on gay marriage. My favorite of the things he’s snagged, though, was this:



With the many links to “Drunk Nate Silver’s twitter feed” being a close second. Twitter is a kind of fugitive humor form…betting it won’t last too long, but a few giggles right now.

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