Home-based 3-D printing for under $500? We’re just about there.

Most of us have heard about 3-D printing, but I didn’t realize how accessible and how useful the technology actually is. There’s a thriving open source community innovating on this, and applications that really make a difference. Amazing.

Check out these links on the subject:

Printrbot, a kit to assemble your own 3-D printer – one capable of printing out a copy of itself (courtesy of Kickstarter)

There’s a growing community of hackers advancing the state of the art. Check out the wiki.

And finally, an example of inspired application: check out this video on 3D Printed Magic Arms.

Image courtesy of Core77.com

Resource for science & education websites

One of my favorite roles as a parent is to be the one who explains phenomena to my son – how stuff works, why things are the way they are. In support of this I’ve often looked for good online resources for science education. Here’s one of the best: the San Francisco Exploratorium’s list of Ten Cool Sites. Don’t be fooled by the tagline “Bringing you the coolest since 1995″, they have links to some really good content.

Examples of poor data graphics, with suggested improvements

Among the great resources at PerceptualEdge, consultant Stephen Few offers some very good discussions of individual data visualization problems, and proposes solutions for each of them. This isn’t a comprehensive treatise, but his commentary on individual cases is highly educational in itself.

Here’s a sample of a poorly done chart. Stephen rightly points out two major issues that make this misleading: a non-zero baseline, and discontinuous time frame on the X axis. I would probably add that the side-by-side column format makes aggregate comparisons of the two data series hard to digest.

Now here is Steve’s redesign of the chart. The problems identified have all been fixed in an elegant and highly functional chart. My only *small* nit with the reworked version is that the years only show up on the bottom-most chart of the three, forcing the viewer to scan down to the bottom of a long graphic in order to understand the time scale of data points at the top.

For numerous additional examples of Stephen’s great work and sound commentary, check out Stephen’s Examples page here.

Maps as tools for understanding, and as art

Since human beings relate to the world spatially, maps are a powerful tool for analysis and sense making.They can also be beautiful works of art in their own right.

Here’s a wonderful resource: Places and Spaces: Mapping Science, a 10-year effort to build a collection of maps to encourage a “cross-disciplinary discussion on how to best track and communicate human activity and scientific progress on a global scale.”  The maps are physical artifacts but the online gallery is deep and very well done.

The variety of representation modes in the collection is very broad, ranging from things we would recognize as maps, to Mignard’s “Napoleon’s March to Moscow” chart made famous by Tufte, to some visualizations whose beauty may outstrip their explanatory power such as this one by Ingo Günther.

For a good book on the subject of maps and science, check out Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know by Katy Borner (link goes to Amazon).


Geeks on a public service mission

Here are a couple of interesting resources for connecting technologists to matters of public interest:

  • Code for America – a group that puts developers in touch with cities to help accelerate change.
  • Sunlight Labs – an open source community dedicated to making government and public data available and accessible online

If you’re looking build a data-access capability, these folks can probably help.

Resource for data visualization

I just discovered a great blog for data geeks and fans of visual thinking: FlowingData, by Nathan Yau, the author of Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics (link to Amazon).

Among other things, Nathan has built a list of Data and Visualization Blogs Worth Following, which is a great resource in its own right.

While Nathan shares a wide variety of serious tools, there’s humor in there too. Check out this one reblogged from Doghouse Diaries:


Top collection of historical maps

A few months ago I was listening to another Seminars About Long Term Thinking podcast from the Long Now Foundation: “Mapping Time“, by David Rumsey.

In his written summary, Stewart Brand introduces Rumsey’s talk as follows:

“Once an artist, long a real estate success, now one of the world’s leading historic map collectors and THE leading online map innovator, David Rumsey gives an exceptionally deft graphic talk. Complex and elegant things kept happening with his images, always on cue with never a hesitation or false move. I’ve never seen a tighter weaving of ideas, words, and persuasive images.”

It’s a great lecture, and offers just a taste of the incredibly powerful resource Rumsey has built through years of passionate collecting, visionary sharing, and financial support. Check out Rumsey’s webste: http://www.davidrumsey.com/