Posts Tagged ‘Images

Geographic Information System (GIS)

How can Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help writers and content creators visualize data? Do you use information visualization in your publications and documents? (Click image for credit and source)

Data visualization is becoming the new frontier in content, writing, and communication. In this post, I want to share with you a remarkable type of map.

There are your standard, average sorts of maps, and then there are your WOW! amazing, captivating maps.

In The World in Tweets and Photos and Infographic of the Day: Using Twitter and Flickr Geotags to Map the World, Eric Fischer has created a marvelous series of geographic maps of the WOW! kind showing overlays of geotagged photos posted to Flickr and tweets to Twitter.

This fascinating project visualizes the intersection of geography and vast quantities of user-generated data.

When you look at Fischer’s images, you will see clusters of multi-colored dots that represent where people are when they send photos and tweets. Red dots correspond to Flickr photos; blue dots signify tweets; and white dots indicate locations from which both have been sent.

From New York and Washington to the entire United States to Europe to the entire world, you can see images that instantly communicate how many people are using those two social media, and where they are when using them.

In an earlier post, Information Visualization: How Can It Improve Your Publications?, I wrote about the value of using visualization to extract meaningful information from a sea of data, and gave you some guidelines for successfully doing just that.

I think Eric Fischer’s maps beautifully illustrate the best reason for visualizing large and complex data sets: visualization is a technique that allows us to explore visually and perhaps arrive at some understanding of patterns and groupings that might otherwise remain invisible.

That type of large-scale analysis gives writers and other communications professionals a powerful tool to connect with their audiences and convey a story in moving and unforgettable ways.

Enjoy Fischer’s glorious maps. I hope they inspire you to come up with even better visualizations for your own publications and documents.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of Fischer’s maps? Do you use information visualization in your own work? What software tools do you use to take large sets of data and convert them to visual form? Please share your tips, techniques and experiences – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


Information visualization provides a way of helping people make sense of large, complex data sets, such as the following:

  • Topology data
  • Epidemiology data
  • Sets of time series
  • Medical data
  • Geographic maps
  • Network connections
  • Financial data
  • U.S. Government Budget
  • Billions of customer transactions
  • Radiation doses and their impact over time

Improving large-scale analysis of these and many other massive data sets presents an ongoing challenge for businesses, academia and government. Using information visualization techniques, however, allows us to explore visually and perhaps arrive at some understanding of patterns and groupings that might otherwise remain invisible.

Essentially, information visualization allows you to extract meaningful information from a sea of data.

And those data do not have to correspond only to the physical and concrete. They can be abstract, drawn from the domains of the symbolic, the textual, the logical, the tabular, the networked, and the hierarchical, among others.


Example: Accessing the Geosocial Universe via Mobile Devices

How popular are the various geosocial networks with mobile users? This infographic is a good example of “compare and contrast.”

Geosocial Universe

This infographic illustrates and compares the popularity of different geosocial networking services. (Click to see credits and source.)


Example: Ranking Themes in Documents

If you’re curious about the relationships among documents, this visualization shows clusters of themes and their strengths in health- and medical-related literature.

IN-SPIRE Software: ThemeView Landscape

This ThemeView Landscape figure shows relationships among documents. High peaks represent prominent themes. Peaks close together represent clusters of similar documents. (Click to see credits and source.)


Example: Ordering  News Topics by “Interestingness”

Ever want to find out what are the hottest news topics within a given time period? In this visualization, the most reported (hottest) topics are in the center column. Less-reported topics appear in the side columns.

Automated, Intelligent Broadcast Video Content Analysis

News visualization topics are arranged according to “interestingness” for a given time period. Hottest topics (those most reported) appear in the central column. Side columns are used for topics of lesser impact by the interestingness measure. (Click for credits and source.)


Using Information Visualization to Improve Your Publications

For your visualization to be effective, it must be useful to your audience as well as aesthetically appealing. This requires thoughtful analysis, attention to detail, imagination, and no small amount of perseverance. This YouTube video provides some examples and techniques. You may also find inspiration in Edward Tufte’s website.

The idea is that you do the heavy lifting, so your audience doesn’t have to.

To guide your work, ask the following questions:

Does your visualization have a purpose?  That is, what is the story you are trying to tell with this visualization? What information are you trying to tease out of the data and put into visual form?

Is your visualization the best one to convey the story?  That is, when your audience sees the visualization, will they immediately grasp the “big picture” of your analysis of the data? Will they easily grasp the meaningful patterns in the subject? If details are also important, does your visualization scale to that level in a way that makes sense for the subject and the audience?

Is your visualization interactive? Interactive views allow you to guide the story and are especially helpful when there is too much detail to show all at once. Although interactivity works best online, it can be approximated in print by breaking out information into related visualizations.

Is your visualization beautiful? Beauty influences comprehension. How you present something can determine its usefulness. Visual attributes such as fonts, colors, sizing, orientation of view, scaling of graphic elements and placement of graphic elements have a large impact on the user experience. For an example of WOW! beautiful maps, check out Maps: Visualizing Twitter and Flickr Data.

Tell me, do you think information visualization is the new frontier?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think? Do you use information visualization in your work? Do you generate your designs by software or have a graphic artist create them? I’d really like for you to keep the conversation going by leaving comments. Thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

PDF with embedded video: H1N1 Awareness

This is a screenshot of an informational H1N1 Awareness PDF with an embedded video segment: imported video, hand-illustrated characters, Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat. The subject is the H1N1 virus.

Who says a PDF has to be just an e-version of the static printed page? Now you can offer your readers a rich, multimedia experience by including video in your PDF documents. Although many documents could be made more useful and engaging by adding short video segments, customers and users may find such a feature especially helpful in reference guides, how-to tutorials, and training procedures.

Many writers create documents using content-authoring software like Adobe FrameMaker, Microsoft Word, MadCap Flare, or the OpenOffice word processor. As far as I know, all of these companies have a document-to-PDF guide on their website. If you are working with FrameMaker, for example, you’ll find the conversion guide under Resources.

Are you among those who already use video-capture software to create video segments? Then no doubt you are probably familiar with names like SMRecorder, HyperCam, Camtasia Studio, Adobe Captivate, and CamStudio, among others. If you’re new to these (and similar) packages and want to get a feel for what they can offer, take a look at CNET Download.com for reviews of Camtasia Studio as well as links to reviews of the others.

Once you’ve got your document and video files ready to roll, how to munch and crunch everything into one fabulous PDF?

Use Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro (and Extended Pro) or Acrobat X to embed video directly in the PDFs you create. (By the way, if you have ever wondered about embedding a flash file (*.flv or *.swf format) in a PDF, yes, your users will need a flash player to view the file. Fortunately, about 99 percent of internet users already have flash player installed.)

When you create a PDF, Acrobat will allow you to embed the video directly in the PDF file, or embed a link to a remotely hosted video.

Here is an Acrobat X Pro step-by-step guide to inserting rich media into PDF documents.

And here are some links to video tutorials that show the embedding process:

These resources can help you easily learn how to embed videos in PDF files.

At long last, you can turn those ho-hum, static PDFs into media-rich productions that will boost your users up the learning curve.

Now it’s your turn: If you embed videos in PDF files, which packages do you prefer, and why? Have you discovered any pitfalls to avoid? Can you recommend any helpful tips and tricks? Please leave comments to share your thoughts – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Timeline: Universe to Humans

What does this timeline show us?

This timeline caught my eye. It encapsulates the concepts of emergence, process, change and transformation so well; it’s colorful, witty; and I just liked the delightful style.

You could say this graphic offers us one view of human evolution. But on a larger scale, the drawing also conveys the overarching concept of transformation: things change, don’t they? They can adapt, mutate, flourish and take off in one or more directions. They can also stultify, remain static, wither and perish. A single, accidental mutation in one organism—or even the organism’s extinction—can give rise to a profusion of new, dissimilar life forms.

One thing for sure, though: Nothing stands still in time, at least not for very long. Time inexorably modifies, erases, transfigures, changes, enhances, diminishes, grows, dies, creates and destroys everything. Time is motion. We all obey time, and this charming timeline about us and everything else gets that point across beautifully.

And how about this clock?

This clock image expresses the concept of transformation in time

As space-time processes, we live in a continual dialogue with time. This clock image shows how the use of graphical elements like repetition and shadings of color can communicate ideas about change, transformation and adaptation.

The clock shows how the use of graphical elements like repetition and shadings of color can communicate change, transformation and adaptation.

Depending on the context, the clock graphic could represent the literal passage of time, nothing more. But drop the image into the history of an individual or a company, or a description of a manufacturing process, or an account of the evolution of an idea, for example, and the image takes on new meanings.

Beyond that, a skilled artist could re-work this or any other timeline graphic in all sorts of ways. The artist, who lives in a time stream, as we all do, is also one of time’s agents and, as such, behaves as a sort of time proxy and serves as an entity who has the power to alter things—in this case, a graphic image. In his drawings, M. C. Escher joyfully plays with just such self-referential notions.

The next timeline is a tongue-in-cheek image that purports to show how humans evolved from a more primitive life form—from ape to human in this example. As any biologist knows, however, such a representation is technically incorrect. Rather, it seems that humans and apes share a common ancestor, which means we are not the descendants of apes, but more like their kissin’ kin.

Human Evolution: From Simpler Life Forms to More Complex Life Forms

This timeline shows the emergence of more complex life forms from simpler ones

The previous image is like the first two images in that on a larger scale it says something about the essence of life, which includes concepts of emergence, adaptation and transformation. On a smaller, more specific scale the image says: If you are here reading this, then you can thank a very long line of ancestors (a line so long that it stretches, unbroken, beyond an ape-like ancestor, all the way back to single-celled bacteria so primitive they didn’t even have a nucleus).

You may have seen an adaptation of the previous image, one in which the final figure was a pair of high heels, representing woman. I don’t recall the context in which that image appeared, but the high heels completely changed the meaning by implying that the most advanced form of life was the human female. Or maybe the sort of female who wears heels.

The next and final timeline in this post shows another view of the transformation of human life, from extinct ancestral hominin forms to related hominids to … us–Homo sapiens, at the top of the left branch. Although incomplete, the evolutionary tree in the graphic shows a distinct bifurcation, with a right branch leading to the genus Pan (chimpanzees), our closest primate relatives.

This image is much more detailed than the previous one, and more scientifically accurate as well. It includes a timeline (on the left side) that shows a scale of millions of years. The image makes clear that as life flows along in time, it changes in myriad and unpredictable ways, and it is only after the fact that we can map out the transformations on a timeline and assign values to them.

Human Evolution: Tree of Life and Knowledge

The Tree of Life and Knowledge is a timeline with many branches

Together, these four images show just a few of the many ways you can use timelines to get across concepts about emergence, change, adaptation and transformation. Whether you are looking at life in general, or some aspect of it, timelines are useful tools to communicate your ideas.

For more about timelines, you might like to read the following posts in my blog:

Chronological Order: Show Me the Timeline!

Benefits of Chronological Order

How to Establish Chronological Order in a Paragraph

How to “Tell Time” in a Letter

How to Describe Chronological Order

How to Show Chronological Order

If you would like to learn more about the timelines of your own personal ancestry, visit The Genographic Project.

Now it’s your turn: Do you use timelines in your work? What is your subject matter? Do you think timelines are useful in communicating with your audience? Please share your thoughts about timelines.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

3-D Laser Scanning: A New Documentation Tool?

3-D Laser Scanning: A New Documentation Tool?

Could 3-D laser scanners become the next breakthrough tool in business and technical communication?

According to Wikipedia, a 3-D laser scanner is a “device that analyzes a real-world object or environment to collect data on its shape” as well as its surface textures and colors. This produces a high-definition map, a sort of “point cloud” of collected data, which can “then be used to construct digital, three dimensional models useful for a wide variety of applications.”

One such application currently underway is to “back up history,” a process by which preservationists use portable 3-D laser scanners to make digital records of at-risk landmarks around the world. The non-profit group CyArk calls these high-resolution scans “reality capture.”

The U.S. National Center for Preservation Technology and Training also intends to launch projects in the preservation field in order to “use the 3-D images to show changes in the structure and color” of objects.

And Popsci reports on “the coolest backpack ever: a wearable collection of cameras and lasers that maps the interiors of buildings as it goes, instantly generating photo-real 3-D maps of structures.”

In addition to documenting cultural artifacts and building interiors, such scanners can be used in industrial design, prosthetics design, prototyping, engineering and quality control, among many other potential applications.

Does your company use 3-D laser scanners to document products? Do you think this technology is feasible and realistic for most companies?

Would you, as a business or technical communicator, like to use this technology in your work?

Please leave comments to share your ideas on using 3-D laser scanning as part of product and process documentation.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

The "At" Symbol

The "At" Symbol

How many times a day do you see or use the @ symbol? Think of all the emails you send and receive each day. If you are on social websites such as Twitter, how often do you use an @ symbol to link to or refer to another user?

Each day, millions of people directly or indirectly use the @ symbol on the Internet and in emails. The @ symbol has become one of the icons of our age.

How did this symbol achieve such importance?

Just as all words have a past, symbols do too. Their origins may be murky or fully verifiable. Their path from the past to our time may be a pure, clean arc of a single meaning or usage or, instead, perhaps a meandering, sketchy tale of multiple meanings and dodgy stopovers in many countries, fields and professions. Rare is the word or symbol that arrives on our doorstep without baggage.

And so it is with the @ symbol. Where exactly did it originate? And why?  It seems to be of deliciously obscure provenance. Although no one has entirely solved the “whodunit” or offered proof beyond all doubt, there are several contenders. Here are two.

It Was the Scribes, They Claim

In one camp, there are those linguists who argue that it all started with Latin scribes around the 6th or 7th centuries CE. It seems those scribes might have intended to create a shortcut for the Latin word ad, which means at or to, in order to decrease their number of pen strokes.

Combining the two letters in such an elegant way, with the upstroke of the “d” curving gracefully up to the left and then all the way around the plump little apple-shaped body of the “a,” satisfied the scribes’ requirements in one pen stroke and in a visually appealing manner.

Now, it might seem odd to us today to shorten such a small word, but in fact the Latin word ad was very frequently used in manuscripts, just as its English counterpart is widely used today in various media. So while ad is a short word, its rate of usage apparently made it a candidate for compression (nor, by the way, was it the only word shortened into a symbol).

And note the words scribe and manuscript. The few people who were literate and could write at that time used quill pens, or something similar, which they had to dip often into a well of ink. Write, dip, drip, fix. Try repeating that eight or more hours a day.

Since the printing press would not be invented for many centuries yet, the scribes had to painstakingly hand-write every letter of every word in every document, which would have given new meaning to the concept of “production” when someone wanted to publish a book: “You want how many copies!??”

If you had been one of those scribes, laboriously copying out manuscripts, wouldn’t you also have wanted to find a way to reduce the number of pen strokes per word? Especially for common, frequently used words?

No, No, It Was All About Commerce

Another top theory of origin among linguists is that traders, merchants and others involved in commerce in the 18th century CE developed the @ symbol to denote price per unit.

For example, if you saw a sign that read Apples @ 10¢, it meant the apples were 10¢ each. So if you bought eight apples, the total bill would be 80¢.

But not so fast. In 2000, a professor of the history of science at La Sapienza University (Italy), named Giorgio Stabile, apparently discovered 14th-century documents that used the @ symbol to denote a measure of quantity, the amphora, a word of Greek origin meaning jar. Merchants of the day used the amphora, a standard-size container, to carry wine and grain. According to professor Stabile, the form of the symbol derived from the uppercase “A” embellished with the florid Florentine script, and the meaning of “at the price of” stemmed from its association with the amphora. In this scenario, the @ nicely conflates the “a” at the beginning of amphora and the idea of the price of a standard measure.

Other theories about commercial origins abound, some placing the invention of @ in the Italian Renaissance, or giving credit to the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Arabs, the Greeks, or the Norman French.

Naturally, there are those who say that this commercial usage of the symbol is all well and good, whenever it actually began, but that business was just borrowing, updating and recycling what the Latin scribes had created.

In any case, the symbol’s place in commerce and business was solidified when it appeared as a standard key on typewriters of the 1880s.

The Rise to Email Phenomenon

When Ray Tomlinson developed the first electronic mail system in 1972, he needed a way to separate the user’s name from the machine and domain names. Because the character could not appear in any name, he could not select a letter or a number. And if the character could also indicate the user’s location, wouldn’t that be optimal?

Legend has it that Mr. Tomlinson perused his keyboard, a Model 33 Teletype. In a stroke of insight and perhaps genius, he decided to go with the @ symbol, which duly appeared in the first electronic mail message he sent.

In that first, single message address, the idea of “user name at location name,” encoded by Mr. Tomlinson as “username@locationname,” became established as the standard for electronic mail.

As email and Internet systems developed, the fortunes of the @ symbol rose along with them. Today, although the symbol is known by many names around the world, it stands as the most recognized emblem of email systems and social media, worldwide.

Want More Information about the @ Symbol?

If you are intrigued by the history of the @ symbol and would like to know more, be sure to check out these sites: Webopedia, Wikipedia and AtSymbol.

To listen to a fascinating podcast about the @ symbol, originally broadcast by Studio 360 on August 13, 2010, on National Public Radio, go to Studio 360 episodes for August 13 and scroll down the page to the title Design for the Real World: @Elizabeth Lexleigh   LexPower  The Write Ideas


Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle

Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle


Enmeshed as we are in time, it’s no wonder that timelines are among the most-used graphical devices.

But what to do when you need some ideas about all the ways you might represent a timeline?

As I was thinking about how to show eye-catching and mind-grabbing examples of timelines in this post, it occurred to me that nothing I could quickly devise would be a match for what is already in use on the web.

So I went hunting for timelines. And was pleasantly surprised. In addition to the well-known and beloved static graphs, charts and tables, I discovered some wonderfully unusual as well as interactive methods of showing time, which I share with you on the rest of this page.

Put on your hiking boots, rev up your curiosity and check out the following sites, where you will find plenty of useful ideas for creating readily understandable timelines that will dazzle your audiences. The examples can serve as models to help you communicate your information in vivid and delightful ways.

General. This MIT site contains some excellent timeline examples that will inspire you to think and get more creative. Within each timeline, take a tour of all the clickable, interactive features.

And of course there is Google Images, which presents a dizzying variety of inventive timelines. Click on an image to access the website of origin, where you can also enlarge the image.

Geologic Time Periods. This ingenious clock representation of the geologic time scale makes the length of each period relative to all the others readily apparent to even the casual reader. A “zoom” button in the caption area lets you enlarge the illustration. Compare that model with the accompanying standard, linear timeline that conveys the relative lengths of the supereons, eons, eras and periods in the earth’s history. In both examples, note the excellent use of high-contrast colors.

Global Financial Crisis. On the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s website, click on the word “Timeline” in each paragraph to display a PDF that clearly and beautifully illustrates the domestic and international timelines of policy responses to the global financial crisis.

Evolution. How do you show the major events in the development of life on earth? This is a fairly tall order, as the timeline of evolution stretches over billions of years, but the graphical and tabular models you will find at this site present a comprehensive picture.

Big Bang. The Big Bang was so huge and complex that one graphical timeline alone could not do it justice, which is perhaps why it is accompanied by a physical-cosmology table that contains many links to other related timelines. This example shows how sets of interrelated contextual information can be communicated to readers in a very approachable way.

World War I. This timeline of World War I uses tables to list key dates and event descriptions. The various war theaters are color-coded.

Immigration History. If you have questions about the history of immigration, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation timelines can help you. Each time period you select is accompanied by overview descriptions and relevant images.

History – Examples. Here are some typical ways to show a history timeline. Although this site is geared to teaching students about timelines, the examples are good and could be used as general models by anyone.

World History. The TimeMaps Atlas of World History uses maps with date tabs to allow you to step your way through key events in world history. These highly interactive timelines impart a full sense of the sweeping context of time for each event, its time period and its geographic location.

Emerging Diseases. The Global Health Council website shows several useful ways of representing emerging-disease timelines. Examples include pathogens identified since 1972, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and avian influenza.


For more about timelines, you might like the following post in my blog: Timelines about Life

Do you have any timeline examples to share with the readers of this blog? We’d all love to hear from you, so leave a comment, including the link to one of your personal favorites.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

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