Science + Art = A beautiful way to learn

Artists and Nerds (respectfully and fondly) united last week at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's “From Data to Discovery” conference on the Caltech campus in Pasadena. The one day event hosted by JPL, the Arts Center and Caltech focused on using visualizations to communicate complex topics. Such visualizations are a great way to engage the uninitiated!

The speaker list of big data divas included Jeff Heer, of Stanford, who showed off innovative data visualization platforms such as D3: Data-Driven Documents, which is a robust javascript tool kit for creating data visualizations, and Data Wrangler, which appears to be nothing short of a life saver for anyone who has to clean data sets. Dr. Heer also recommended that anyone interested in data visualization should look online for his class at Stanford called CS448b.

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Visualization of migration from California 1995-2000 by Stanford InfoViz

Jeff Thor, a self-described data artist and co-founder of The Office for Creative Research discussed his “Ooooo-Ahhhh” philosophy. He stressed that a successful visual not only draws audiences in with interesting visuals (Ooooo), but then makes you think with the data that it represents (Ahhhhh). He showed one of his early projects, a visualization called Just Landed, which represents tweets where people have written “just landed” and ties them to where they are from (according to their profiles). It’s a very cool effect.

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Still from Jeff Thor's Just Landed

Attending the conference is giving metro ideas on how they might share some of the robust data within the agency. New ways to explain complex transportation issues are always helpful. Any reader requests for data visualizations? We may not have the time or the skills to fill your requests, but you can help us brainstorm!

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Jacarandas in bloom around Beckman Auditorium

The conference was hosted at the Beckman Auditorium, a beautiful mid-century modern design, (1964 Edward Durrell Stone), currently surrounded by beautiful blooming jacaranda trees. I recommend a visit before the flowers wither. The campus is accessible from several bus lines, including the Pasadena ARTS 10 bus, Metro's 177 bus or the Gold Line Lake Avenue station to the 485 bus headed south. Exit at California Avenue and walk two blocks east to reach campus.