Visualization of Big Data Sets Using Computer Graphics

Visualization of Big Data Sets Using Computer Graphics

Anna Ursyn (University of Northern Colorado, USA) and Edoardo L'Astorina (Blu Frame, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3142-5.ch020
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This chapter discusses some possible ways of how professionals, researchers and users representing various knowledge domains are collecting and visualizing big data sets. First it describes communication through senses as a basis for visualization techniques, computational solutions for enhancing senses and ways of enhancing senses by technology. The next part discusses ideas behind visualization of data sets and ponders what is and what not visualization is. Further discussion relates to data visualization through art as visual solutions of science and mathematics related problems, documentation objects and events, and a testimony to thoughts, knowledge and meaning. Learning and teaching through data visualization is the concluding theme of the chapter. Edoardo L'Astorina provides visual analysis of best practices in visualization: An overlay of Google Maps that showed all the arrival times - in real time - of all the buses in your area based on your location and visual representation of all the Tweets in the world about TfL (Transport for London) tube lines to predict disruptions.
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Data is often described by sets of numbers. However, exchange of data and information often goes through visual and other perceptual forms, which one can look upon as:

  • Two-Dimensional: Drawings, art works, graphs, infographics or typographic prints

  • Three-Dimensional Forms: Architectural or sculptural

  • Four-Dimensional Time-Based Media: Moving images

  • Interactive and Virtual Techniques

Visualization is a form of visual communication of information and knowledge. Communication may refer to the ancient (such as the quipu used in the Inca Empire, a system of knotted cords as a recording of numbers) (Ascher & Ascher, 1980, 1997) as well as contemporary (such as coding) ways of presenting data. Before the advent of computing communication have taken various forms with the use of senses. Codes used for communication often took visual forms. They may include nonverbal counting of numeral patterns (Gordon, 2004; Frank, Everett, Fedorenko, & Gibson, 2008). Actually, we often avoid using exact verbal number words when we say, some, less, a few, several, many, numerous, or a couple. A string of beads for keeping count in practicing devotion with a rosary, a calculating tool abacus, strings of worry beads komboloi used in Greece and other countries, and Hindu prayer beads can be seen as examples of numerical cognition processed without verbalizing.

Howard Gardner considered the perception of recurrent patterns, including numerical patterns to be the core of logical mathematical intelligence (Gardner, 1983/2011; 2006). For Rudolph Arnheim perceptual sensitivity to visual order of shapes seen as patterned forces may underlie our existence (Arnheim, 1969/2004, 1988, 1990). This notion may somehow correspond to the way computer scientists talk about the codes in terms of patterns. Programming languages such as HTML or Processing may also be seen as the information and communication tools, which draw from the numeral perception and serve for nonverbal communication between individuals and computers as well as for HCI. In contrast with the Arabic decimal system used today almost everywhere, the Mayans counted with fingers and toes creating a vigesimal system based on groups of twenty units (Maya Mathematical System, 2016). One may wonder whether the covering of toes with shoes might influence the developing of counting systems by limiting possibility to use this counting tool to ten. The same message can be conveyed and received in many ways: visually with the semaphore flags (signals made with hand-held flags, rods, disks, paddles or just hands), sonically (e.g., short versus long sounds), or through the international Morse code distress signal (· · · — — — · · ·).

Communication may be here seen as an exchange of sensory information in the form of different kinds of perception through the senses. Signals coming from the senses are often combined to convey a clear message. For example, we can receive information about numbers from various senses looking at patterns, listening to sounds, feeling vibrations or reading numbers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

TfL: Transport for London, the local government organization responsible for most aspects of London's transport system.

Infographics: Tools and techniques involved in graphical representation of data, mostly in journalism, art, and storytelling.

Symbol: It represents an abstract concept, not just a thing, and is comparable to an abstract word. Highly abstracted drawings that show no realistic graphic representation become symbols. Examples of symbols may include an electric diagram with abstract symbols for a light bulb, wire, connector, resistor, and switch; an apple for a teacher or a bitten apple for a Macintosh computer; a map; a ‘slippery when wet’ sign. Symbols don’t resemble things they represent but refer to something by convention. We must learn the relationship between symbols and what they represent, such as letters, numbers, words, codes, or traffic lights.

Metaphor: It describes content as being the same as something unrelated for the rhetorical effect, thus highlighting the similarities between them. Metaphors can be verbal or visual (thus offering semiotics and semantic comparisons).

Variable: A quantity capable of assuming any set of values or a symbol representing such a quantity. Variables represent characteristic traits, which take on different amounts or numbers under changing conditions.

Scientific Visualization: It presents real, abstract, or model-based objects in a digital way directly from the data. It may present the art-science cooperative learning projects and make knowledge comprehensible to a wide audience. Visualization as storytelling comprises narratives, interactive graphics, explanatory and animated graphics, and multimedia.

Semiotics: The study about the meaningful use of signs, symbols, codes, and conventions that allow communication. The name ‘semiotics’ is derived from the Greek word ‘semeion’ which means “sign”. Culture and art is a series of sign systems that are analyzed in various cultures. The semiotic content of visual design is important for non-verbal communication applied to practice, especially for visualizing knowledge.

Data: Data is factual information, especially organized for analysis, reasoning, or making decisions.

Haptic: It relates to the sense of touch; the senses of touch and proprioception enable the perception and manipulation of objects.

API: API is application programming interface, routines, protocols and tools for building software and applications. (Wikipedia)

Algorithm: It is a mathematical recipe, a sequence of instructions telling how to proceed computation to implement it as a program. Algorithms are actually mathematical equations used to create repetition. An algorithm is a procedure for solving a complicated problem by carrying out a fixed sequence of simpler, unambiguous steps. A recursive process means that an algorithm is applied multiple times to perform operations on its previous products. Such procedures are used in computer programs and in programmed learning.

Information: Knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction, a collection of facts or data.

Information Aesthetics: It forms a cross-disciplinary link between information visualization and visualization art.

Knowledge Visualization: It uses visual representations to transfer insights and create new knowledge in the process of communicating different visual formats.

Icon: It represents a thing or refers to something by resembling or imitating it; thus a picture, a photograph, a mathematical expression, or an old-style telephone may be regarded as iconic objects. Thus, an iconic object has some qualities common with things it represents, by looking, sounding, feeling, tasting, or smelling alike.

Data Visualization: It is information abstracted in a schematic form to provide visual insights into sets of data. Data visualization enables us to go from the abstract numbers in a computer program (ones and zeros) to visual interpretation of data. Text visualization means converting textual information into graphic representation, so we can see information without having to read the data, as tables, histograms, pie or bar charts, or Cartesian coordinates.

Graphic: An image represented by a graph or relating to graphics. Graphic display is often generated by a computer.

Information Visualization: It is often characterized as representation plus interaction, means the use of computer-supported, interactive visual representations of abstract data to amplify cognition and derive new insights.

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