If you have not come across XKCD yet, I envy and pity you. Pity, because you have been missing out, and envy, because you will get to see it all for the very first time. XKCD is in the Spirit of the Pulitzer prize winning book Godel, Escher, Bach, but more of a stick man version thereof. The author of XKCD, Randall Monroe, is releasing a book, “What If” that takes his format into the realm of stupid questions – the best kind – to find some surprising answers. Curiosity is not smart, curiosity is curiosity. It kills cats, it causes nuclear cold-wars and internets, and helps you pop bubble wrap with rolly chairs in the office. What If doesn’t even exist yet, but what if it did? (i.e. it’s on preorder) I hope they can print enough DRM’s e-book editions.
Science in mainstream culture is benefiting from the fragmentation of broadcast and upstarts looking for new content. The low production overhead of blogging will be moving up-budget, though the format has not been announced.
The unabashed enthusiasm for curiosity and the love shown for the curious people behind it are what makes IFLS stand out. I hope they can have some associated interactive content to go along with the production budget.
NPR’s Radiolab is much CBC’s DNTO in that it addresses topics connected by a theme. The themes are seemingly broad and at first, and the stories in each cast are connected are connected laterally. Is it science, society, psychology? It’s all these things and most of all it starts with a question – the more simple, the more innocent, the sharper and deeper they seem to cut into the subject. Having multiple hosts and heavily edited interviews makes for a stream of consciousness production style, quick to turn, tricky to predict or take for granted; it is an ear perking experience.
What makes it realtable is not just the subject, but that it is a result of curiosity followed-through, something we too often ignore for lack of time.
"Black Box" – what goes on in the places where you can’t look
"What’s Left When You’re Right" – Is being right the wrong thing?
"Inheritance" – What part of you is predetermined?
When I was a kid, we got those great little flip books with a record or tape included. The tape had all the narration and sound effects of, say Return of the Jedi, and the book had the accompanying snapshots from the movie. You knew it was time to turn to the next page in the book when the audio tape made a ‘beep’ or if the production team was clever, a lightsabre noise.
This is well and good when quickly mapping a 2 hour movie into a 20 page kids book with a cassette tape inside the front cover, but not so good when working in the reverse and using source material like, an galaxy-spanning drama that asks Big Questions about meaning of dominance and empathy through a bullied child-genius bred to save humanity.
Great podcast – Ira, the host of SciFri, asks some poignant questions, trying to get around the usual, ‘I am sure you’ve been asked every question’ and puts Chris. Hadfield onto a few great lines of thinking. Well worth the listen.
The highlight for me was the discussion about the concept of being right at “the edge of the possible” and how that is a universal motivator that so many innovators see embodied in space exploration.
This is physically the largest book I own, and I managed to get it home from LA in my carry on baggage somehow. Probably the most thoughtful part of this book is the initial mini book that is slightly inset in the first 96 pages; It is a historical view of information graphics, from their origin through the 20th century.
The book is an example of its subject, being information and graphics. It is inspirational, in that it can be opened randomly for a new hint into visualizing numbers and making meaningful emphasis out of large data sets. But it can also be used systematically to identify the type of data that must be presented and solutions for its presentation: the sections are divided into graphics which best show data based on Location, Time, Hierarchy, and Category.
Of course, this is a book, and so animated, or interactive infographics can’t be easily shown, however I’ve found that if you can’t get your meaning across in a static infographic, at least as a storyboard or infographic, you are not going to benefit a user by making them play with your interactive interface.
There is a reason that the pioneer and voyager space probes have infographics written on them, as their first means of communication with any alien intelligence that may find them, and this is certainly a universal language which it is worth being literate in. As with any language, it is harder to create simplicity that it first seems, and this book is a great support to lean up against in the first few minutes of planning your next bar chart or 9 dimensional genetic map of Canadian immigration patterns. Continue reading
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