N-dim Involvment LO7410

Michael Erickson (sysengr@atc.boeing.com)
Mon, 13 May 1996 07:57:50 -0700

I recently attended a workshop/seminar by Ed Tufte of Yale University who
has written a couple of books on the subject of graphical representation
of complex "stuff". His main put on the subject is that our world is a
"multi-variate" or n-dimmesional thing, and our analysis of the assorted
systems, problems (business, scientific-whatever) MUST be
multi-dimmensional also.

He told us that our "tradition" is one of the items that hold us back. We
traditionally put the pictures (or graphical representation) of what we
are working on into the appendix of our documents, we only show one or two
dimmensions of data in the typical spread sheet or chart, and we end up
mis-representing reality pretty consistently as a result.

He showed us what he called "classical examples" of multi-variate data
that were in some cases, up to 500 years old. His favorite picture was a
chart drawn in 1865 by a french cartagrapher-Charles Joseph Minard that
portrayed Napoleans march to moscow in 1812. It plotted 6 dimensions of
data, and showed in pretty heart rending terms why only one out of 42
individuals returned from the russian campaign.

I guess my point is that Tufte showed us that graphical presentation of
N-dimensional data is possible-but not probable because of how the typical
artist/scientist is trained. He presented an assortment of principles in
his books, (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning
Information) that point us art types in the right direction, but the
conceptual approach still depends on the individual artist to apply them
correctly. I personally am struggling with this because I am an artist
working in a technical environment faced on a daily basis with the
problems of "how do I make the story clear?"...

I have been successful on ocasion-in getting more than 4 dimensions of
information on a 2 dimensional piece of paper (or computer screen), but
theres still more "art" to doing that than finite technique.

Michael Erickson


sysengr@atc.boeing.com (Michael Erickson)

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