Tufte Course Review and Notes

Yesterday I attended Ed Tufte’s one day course on Presenting Data and Information. His book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, completely changed the way I think about data. If you love his book, I highly recommend his course. He doesn’t cover a lot of new ground, but he puts emphasis on a few things I didn’t pick up on before.

Books by Ed Tufte
His 4 books came with the cost of the course

Key points:

  1. Show causality
  2. Don’t pre-specify the medium of the presentation. Use whatever it takes to show causality.
  3. Annotate linking lines.
  4. Be inspired by maps.
  5. Web design is too influenced by internal hierarchies and ends up being a turf war. Make the interface flat and filled with content.
  6. Your presentations should strive to be as data dense as the sports page.
  7. No zebra stripes in tables.
  8. Most interesting data is multivariate. Supergraphics like Minard’s Napoleon’s March show 6 or more variables.
  9. Progress in most fields is measured by information resolution and throughput. Why are our power point slides limited to 4 or 5 bullets?
  10. Put important analysis and comparison in a common eyespan (no flipping or scrolling)
  11. Be wary of focus groups. Good design is not a democracy.
  12. Start every software project with the interface.
  13. Make the data the interface.
  14. Instead of trickling in data during a presentation, dump a ton of data in their lap, have them read it, and have them cross examine you.

I got to talk to ET himself for a few minutes before the course started about his work on the stimulus bill. I mentioned some work I’ve been doing on making sparklines in HTML 5 and he said to make sure I paid attention to the length and width proportions. I got to meet a lot of interesting people and even convinced PMMI to send Jorge and Paula. So glad I went!

Running Mix for Tomorrow’s Race

Chuck Berry – Maybellene
The Blow – Eat Your Heart Up
Ween – It’s Gonna Be A Long Night
The National – Abel
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood
The Bloodhound Gang – Ralph Wiggum
Beck – Mattress
Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945
White Stripes – Blue Orchid
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Date With The Night
Pixies – Isla De Encanta

Net Neutrality and the Railroad Business

Here’s a perfect explanation of why Net Neutrality matters, why it should be enforced by the FCC, and how it’s been done in the past. I wish I could link directly to the comment, but Wired offered no way to do that. A comment on Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey:

posted by: kibbles | 08/10/10 | 5:35 pm |
@bill_the_kat ? let me paste you a little story on the net neutrality ?scheme?.
Think about Netflix. It has unlimited streaming movies now. Comcast has streaming movies too, at $4 per movie. What if Comcast tells Netflix ?unless you pay us the equivalent of $20/user per month we are going to put you in the slow lane and your users won?t be able to stream.? NetFlix?s streaming business will be crushed. Comcast, Verizon and AT&T want Congress to allow them to do exactly that, and this is why net neutrality legislation is so important.
This isn?t a result of a fertile imagination. This actually happened 100 years ago. Imagine the year is 1900. I run a steel company and you run a railroad. I sell steel for $50 per ton and you ship it for $3 per ton. I have two major competitors. I come to you and offer you $10 per ton for shipping if you agree not to carry steel for the other two. That number will give you far more profit for far less effort so you say yes. You?re happy. My two competitors cannot move steel from Pittsburgh to Kansas any other way (what, by horse and wagon?) so they go out of business, or a least their business is limited to local purchasers.
Then I raise my steel price from $50 per ton to $75. The steel buyers have to pay because they have no other choice. The competition is gone. I make huge profits. I?m happy. You make huge profits. You?re happy. The consumers and my competitors aren?t happy, but who gives a flying f*** about them?
This is the history of the railroad business in the late 1800s. This scenario played out again in the 1920s in trucking. Both times Congress mandated that any shipping company must charge identical amounts for all customers, based only on size, weight, and transit time.
We have 100 years of success with ?net neutrality.? It?s working pretty well.
?make sense? now explain why thats a bad thing.

Active vs Passive Interruptions

In all work environments people have to communicate. Sometimes they are across the hall and sometimes they are across the world, but in every case someone initiates the contact and the other must decide what to do. The Initiator must first choose the method, whether it’s a phone call, text message, email, etc.

Does your question really require an immediate response?

What makes these methods different is level of interruption of the person being contacted. If you take my call, I am not just asking a question. I’m also requesting that you remove yourself from the context of your current task and prepare an answer for me immediately. If an answer is not available, I at least want a response with an estimated time of when it can be answered. A question spoken out loud and in person is an even greater disruptor, since the receiver has almost no choice to ignore the question. These interruptions can be powerful detriments to productivity if it takes a certain amount of time for the receiver to reorient himself into his previous context. A recent study said these transactional costs can be up to “28 percent of a worker’s day.

A potential interrupter should ask themselves, “Does a quick answer to this problem justify a disruption in someone else’s time?” If not, use a more passive method of communication like email or text messaging to get the information you’re looking for. That way the receiver can answer them with the least disruption possible to their productive time. The interrupter should use the least disruptive communication method that results in getting an answer in the appropriate time.

In order of most interruptive to least:

  • Active: Asking a question out loud
  • Active: Phone calls
  • Active: Paging
  • Passive: Physical note left on desk
  • Passive: Text messages
  • Passive: Emails
  • Passive: Memo left in mailbox
  • Passive: Other passive electronic methods other than Email

It’s partly for this reason I have stopped taking voice mail on my land line at work. It used to be a dump for solicitors and rarely contained messages I needed. It took time to sort through and delete them and I also didn’t have access to it remotely like email. My greeting now says I don’t take voicemail and to please send me an email.

Best Season of Survivor Ever

Survivor’s 20th season was?undoubtedly?it’s best because it showed the game of Survivor is still misunderstood by most people who play it, giving people who do a huge advantage. ? This season also asked (and answered!) some great questions.

Sandra is a great Survivor player, but I wouldn't call her the greatest.

Did Sandra deserve to win?

I think Parvati should have won, but Sandra certainly deserved to win. ?I like players who continually operate in their own best interests and even though Sandra rarely takes the long approach, she was the first person to figure out a viable “one more day” strategy. ?Sure, she let stronger players take the heat when her alliance lost out, but she was able to manufacture a split between Russel and Coach that saved her and Courtney for another week. ?Russel seemed to think taking Sandra to the end was a good strategy, because the jury wouldn’t vote for a previous winner. ?Like the previous season, he showed a total lack of understanding and respect for the jury’s opinion.

Is Sandra the best player ever?

No. ?I was ready to crown Parvati the all time best player until she lost. ?She seemed set up perfectly to take credit for at least half the decent strategic moves she and Russel made while reminding people how much of jerk he was. ?Her problem was that she misread the hero-centric jury who actually believed in their BS heroic code and held the villains to this standard. ?Parvati should have played up her challenge wins, especially when Coach gave her the opportunity to do so (now that I think about it, I don’t think Coach let anyone talk other than himself).

I think Parvati deserved to win Heroes vs Villains

So why isn’t Sandra the best player ever after having won twice? ?My standard for great Survivor players is they always act in their own self interest (which she clearly does), ?could someone else do what they do, and how often do I think their strategy would work? ? Does she have unique talents or skills that make her strategy work better for her than anyone else. ? Probably. ?Here’s why she wins. ?Once she’s able to get herself past the first few votes, she’s simultaneously likable and unlikable. ?While everyone likes her, they assume others don’t because of her forward,?combative?personality. ?Her non-threatening physical ability allowed her to get to the final three in Pearl Islands, but it was the jerk factor in Johnny Fairly that caused Lil to take Sandra to the finals. ?Lil hated Fairplay so much she’d rather lose a million dollars just to make sure Fairplay didn’t have a chance at it. ?Sound familiar?

I thought Sandra flopped in front of the jury until I realized her lame attempts at expressing her strategy (“I tried to get rid of Russel every week!”) wasn’t her way of explaining the plan, it was a message to the jury that said, “It’s not too late to get rid of Russel.” ?But what happens if she doesn’t go up against a jerk? ?What if she went up against Yul, or JT, or Danni? Most of the other winners were likable people. ? Her strategy has no ability to pick her jury opponents. ?She’s been very lucky in her two seasons with Russel’s stink was all over Parvati and the jury didn’t perceive Lil’s return to the game as fair (Pearl Islands featured the only season where voted out Survivors were allowed back in via a special challenge). ?I don’t think it would work in most seasons.

Is Russel right that Survivor is fundametally flawed?

No/Yes. ?Jeff answered this perfectly by saying Survivor can’t be flawed because everyone is playing under the same rules, which include being judged by the jury from your own season. ?Past jury choices don’t mean anything and you need to figure out what your fellow survivors want to see and hear.

I think having a final 3 instead of a final 2 gave a ton more power to the jury and took a lot of strategic thinking out of the game. ?Now, when you get down to 6 you almost know who will win. ?In a final 2 no matter how?unlikely?you are to win, you only have to find one chump you can beat on the jury. This makes it interesting since more players have a chance to win.

Is JT really the dumbest Survivor ever?

No, Erik is still the dumbest. ?JT’s move at least had an upside.

The Micronesia girls alliance laughing at Erik, who gave up his immunity necklace for no reason before being voted out.

What was the best strategic play this season?

In a season of great moves, these were the best:
JT busting up the vote split to oust Cirie
Russel giving Parvati the idol and ousting Tyson by getting him to waste his vote
Parvati handing out idols to Sandra and Jerri and getting rid of JT
Sandra engineering a feud between Russel and Coach
Russel convincing Jerri to vote for Rob

Russel is a chronically flawed player, but made the greatest move in history this season. ?It wasn't enough to win, though!

I have to give this season’s (and probably ever) best move to the Jedi mind trick Russel threw at Tyson and Boston Rob. ?The situation was hopeless. ?Russel built an alliance with Parvati and Danielle but was greatly outnumbered by the alliance of Rob, Tyson, Sandra, Courtney, Jerri, and Coach. ?Rob’s alliance planned to split their votes in case the hidden immunity came into play, but this made a three way tie possible and Tyson was worried he might be included. ?Russel casually suggested to Tyson that he might want to consider switching his vote to ensure that he stayed in, but of course, Russel duped him and gave Parvati the idol, making the vote 3-2 (4 votes for Parvati were thrown away) and sending Tyson home. ?It was risky, but that move moved propelled Parvati and Russel to the finals.