Thursday, January 03, 2008

Data Visualization Review

O’Reilly recently sent me three books to review. They’re all slightly outside my normal Ruby and Linux range, but they’re also all intriguing enough that I had to pick them up and give them a read. I’m planning on reviewing all three over the next week or so since I’m enjoying all of them. (UPDATE I've reviewed the second, Programming Collective Intelligence, here.) The one that most caught my eye though was Visualizing Data by Ben Fry (developer of Processing, the data visualization tool used in the book.)

At first, I was a bit put off that the heavy emphasis on Processing wasn’t part of the title, but was ‘hidden’ in the sub-title and description. The more I read though, the less it seemed to matter. Ben gives good reasons for his use of Processing in the book, and does a good job of teaching the reader about Data Visualization first, and processing second.

The first chapter lays out ‘Seven Stages of Visualizing Data’ as a process that is then followed throughout the rest of the book. The next two chapters give a tutorial for Processing. Next are five chapters covering basic kinds of data and data visualization: “Time Series”; “Connections and Correlations”; “Scatterplot Maps”; “Trees, Hierarchies, and Recursion”; and “Networks and Graphs”. The book closes with three chapters that deal with tasks underlying the data visualization: “Aquiring Data”; “Parsing Data”; and “Integrating Processing with Java” (this last one is pretty Processing oriented).

If you’re working in a Java shop where Processing is either used or could be brought in without too much effort, buying this book is an easy choice. If Processing doesn’t look like a good choice for you, this book is still worth a look for the concepts it teaches.

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