Not stopping me

Day 4 of the 30 day workshop. Read an article entitled “Finding Freedom in Discomfort: A Life-Changing Practice”

Essentially this is a call to challenge yourself. Myself.

This is, I think (as I may have said before), has been my problem. Not that I’m scared to do something with my life. But that I was too comfortable in what I was doing.

Sure I have done things out of my comfort zone, but generally in my personal life. Not my professional life. I think finding a place that I’m comfortable at and doing work I’m comfortable with is hard enough. Indeed another article from today’s tasks (which I had previously read) was about not doing the work you hate. And that’s why I left my previous job. I didn’t hate the work, but the environment was becoming toxic.

So, professionally,  I need to do things outside my comfort zone.

This article had many ideas. Many of which I already do. But one that I haven’t tried, and I should is: “Call a celebrity or famous mentor of yours and ask them 3 questions. Make them meaningful.”

So first I need to think of three meaningful questions. Not that I’m putting them off, but I think I need to have defined what it is I’m looking for better. And I am taking steps towards that (more, no doubt, on this blog another time). Then I need to call someone like Hans Rosling or David McCandless.

What’s stopping me?

This blog is supposed to be about my journey, and not just nice data visualisations.

I started doing the Live Your Legend’s “30 days to Finding Your Passion & Starting to Do Work You Love” workshop (that just rolls off the tongue). And every day I’m supposed to update what I’ve done on this blog. I don’t think I will update this blog in that manner every day, but I will keep posting about it.

So I’m on day 3 (Or 2 days after workshop, as they call it). Day 1 I did weeks ago, because as with a lot of the resources that are available on Live Your Legend there is a lot of crossover. Day 1 was to watch a couple of videos, which I already did. In fact I think the TEDx talk by Scott Dinsmore is what got me interested in the Live Your Legend course in the first place.

Day 2 is sort of asking me “what’s stopping you?”, or more specifically “what are you scared of”. This doesn’t resonate with me. I’m not scared of taking the leap. I just don’t what the leap should be. That is why I’m doing this course. Not to overcome any sort of fear, but more to find direction.

The question should be why I haven’t done this before. The answer is laziness. I’ve always got by OK, and wasn’t bothered do that much more. And I had no fear that I would be stuck somewhere, because I have no problem with walking away from a bad situation and starting all over again if need be. Hence, my recent change in job.

Another question is why I must find the work I absolutely love. Again, due to my laziness, I’m not sure that there has been a must. I mean, I must do work that I don’t hate. I would love to do work that I love. But I must do work that I love. Again I have to find that motivation.

I always thought the motivation would just come along. I have had a job I was passionate about previously. In my early 20s I started my own business, a magazine, and I was passionate about it. I always thought that something like that would happen again. And I’m still hopeful. But I think instead of just waiting for it to come along I need to very consciously work at what that it. Hence this course.

Ultimately what would happen if I kept doing boring work. I’d probably go crazy. Or I’d leave and I’d be poor. Neither of these outcomes are optimal.

Day 3… I’m feeling that by reflecting what I write from the workshop into this blog, I’m just writing the same things twice. So “what does change mean to me?”

I’m not sure it would be a full career change, but a new direction is probably. I’ve been doing essentially site theme changes on the same job for over 20 years. I think that I should be aiming my efforts in a different directions, both specific and general. Specific in that I should chase more infovis stuff, but general as I’m capable of more than just corporate artwork, which has been my mainstay for so long. Do I want to start a business? Not necessarily. But that doesn’t mean no. If my niche doesn’t exist then maybe I need to create it.

Then there were some more videos to watch. Half of which I had seen before. They’re from TED, and I like TED, so I sought them out on my own.

But of the new one I watch today, things that I learnt…

“Fake it until you become it”. If you are nervous about being revealed  (what you think of) as a fraud, then fake it. As long as you can convince those around you know what you’re doing, you’ll learn the real skills later. I think I picked this up from my father. “Always have a good line in BS”.

• “Be whole hearted. Be vunerable” In other words, commit yourself to whatever situation. Be there. And the only way to do that, to be whole hearted is (unfortunately) to be vunerable. To have a win (in any situation) you have to set yourself up for a fail.

• Your body language affects you, not just those around you. So adopt positive body language for your own sake.

• A genius (according to the ancient Romans) was a spirit that visited people, and not the person. Genius doesn’t come from you, it is loaned to you. So if you are trying to create and are not feeling particularly genius at the moment, or if you have a flash of genius in the wrong situation, don’t fret. Genius will come again.

Interestingly, this is also what I have just seen in a book that I am reading, “The Man Who Knew Infinity: Life of the Genius Ramanujan” by Robert Kanigel. It is about the Indian who bought the mathematical understanding of infinity to modern mathematics. But he thought that his genius came from the local Hindu god of his birthplace, the goddess Namagiri.

• The best kind of motivation, the one that has been consistently proved to work in the 21st Century, is Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. The old school thought of carrot and stick, bonuses and benchmarking, is counterproductive. This has been proved hundreds of times, and yet carrot and stick is still used.

More InfoVis

This blog is supposed to be about me (I think), but it’s a good place to put all the interesting InfoVis stuff I find.

Last night I discovered that Reddit has an InfoVis thread… . Here are some the things I discovered.

Roads to Rome is a project which maps all the roads in Europe that lead to Rome. It has then done similar treatments for places called Rome in the US, and then US state capitals and European national capitals. There is a section on the internal workings of cities, and surprisingly it shows that inner London has a fairly efficient road system to find a fairly direct (if not rapid) route.

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Viktor Bohush has put some interesting animated graphs on YouTube about various computer platform usage over the years. The example below is a screen shot from desktop browser market share.

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An analysis of the scores on the quiz show QI, and the contestants who have appeared 3 or more times. The graph shows that Sue Perkins is the worst scoring contestant and Vic Reeves is the best.


An infographic called “A world of languages” which graphs all the mother tongues in the world and the countries in which they are spoken. I’ve seen this graphic before and I really like it. But it’s not perfect, as the comments before point out, if you look at the area of German, where is Austria etc. Below is just a preview, click the link see the whole thing.

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A Time Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945 by Isao Hashimoto is an animated map. Below is a screenshot. Click on the link to see the whole thing.

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pictoline is a Mexican twitter page (in Spanish) which has some excellent infographics, both static and animated gifs.



Yesterday I went to TEDxEastEndSalon. The “Salon” bit means that it’s a smaller event. It was just in the evening with only 4 talks (with 5 speakers, one talk had 2 speakers). The whole talking bit took only an hour, but with the preamble and the Q&A and the after bit it was about 3 hours long.

The speakers and what I took away from them…

Dirk Slater – being aware of how technologies can actually reduce our freedoms and increase inequality, and then using technologies to counteract this. I like his line that “through date we have become the product”. He also said, reluctantly, the way forward to achieve his aims was capitalism. If market forces demand it then freedom and equality will happen.

Sarah Jones – was advocating 3D immersive experiences with virtual reality headsets. In two ways. First as a way of presenting the news. Second as a way of teaching school kids. I like this second point as it chimes with me that if you make education entertaining then it will be more effective. Also, lessons learned through an immersive experience are more likely to be retained.

Lydia Nichols – explained how biology is a messy science and does not yield clean, easy results. Unlike physics and chemistry where the exact same result can be produced over and over, biology does not play ball like this. Then, once you have the messy data, it is quite difficult to interpret, sometimes with disastrous results. Biology is not easy, not even with new data.

Heidi Lindvall & Guy Gunaratne – are the founders of Storygami (, which is a interactive video platform. They started from London (Guy is from London) and told their story about how they made the move to Silicon Valley. It seems that this is still where it’s at. It is so much easier to get a start up off the ground, even compared to London.

In the Q&A, in response to a question about how to get a project/idea/business started, Guy gave a good answer. He said to set up a ‘validation website’. Basically, it’s a website which explains your idea, with a button that says ‘sign me up’. You don’t have to have actually done the work, just expressed the idea, on this website. The sign-me-up button is just a way of validating your experience. See how many people out there want what you may have to offer.

Out of the three TEDx’s that I have been to, I thought this one was the best organised. The AV had very few technical issues, unlike the other two. It was very slick.


Big Bang Data

Yesterday I went to an exhibition in Somerset House (London) called Big Bang Data. Highlighting the ways, technically and especially artistic, that the volumes of data that are collected can be represented. Here are a few highlights, and lots of text panels, which I have transcribed.


Today we live in the Digital Age and the amount of data we produce grows exponentially. The increasing proliferation of sensors and smart devices, as well as our everyday online activity, has lead to a massive explosion – a ‘Big Bang’ – of data. This radical shift in volume, variety and speed of data being produced, combined with new techniques for storage, access and analysis, is what defines Big Data. It is radically reshaping our world and is set to revolutionise everything we do.

Big Data can mean new ways of doing things, from scientific research to business strategy, politics to social interaction. We are witnessing a fundamental transition to a new data-driven society that has the potential to be more fair, stable, and efficient. But it can also be wielded as a means of unprecedented mass surveillance and as a tool of commodification. Data access and usage rights, along with the value they comprise, are at the heart of many concerns.


The year 2002 represented a turning point in data. For the first time, we had more information stored in digital forms than analogue. By 2007, 94% of the total global information was digitally coded information.

Every day we create some 2.5 trillion bytes of data. This data is generated everywhere, such as messages, photographs and videos on social networks, records of shopping transactions and the GPS signal of our mobile phones.

This accumulation of data in unprecedented volumes opened the Big Data era.


Data Universe – Immersed in the Tsunami
The term ‘information explosion’ has been in use since the 1960s, so the idea that we are living in the wake of a major data surge is not new. Even so, the quantity of data we are capable of producing, transmitting and storing has accelerated exponentially and is now comminly referred to as a ‘tsunami’. An incredible 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone. This data is coming from an endless list of sources as the world functions more and more through digital means. Climate sensors, social media sites, online banks and mobile phone signals were just the start of the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data we produced every day in 2012.

Having access to this extensive amount of digital information presents an unprecedented opportunity to do things differently. An abundance of valuable knowledge lies within the information produced by Big Data. This can be used to great effect if we know how to retain, process, and understand it. It can improve efficiency, resolve problems and reveal the world in a completely new light.

I took photos of some of the exhibits as well (not just text panels). This is various sets of data represented on globes.


This is a graphic representing the various groups of people that were killed in the Iraq conflict. The square on the right has deaths ordered chronologically, the one on the left by type. It shows how data can be obscured/revealed by different representations.


This is the famous pie charts, showing deaths in the Crimea, drawn by Florence Nightingale and presented to a parliamentary committee that I talked about in a previous post.



Data for the common good – Towards a critical and participatory culture
Data can be a force for good – for us and our society; we can use it as a tool for positive social, environmental and political change. Through the creative communication of data, designers, journalists and activists can raise awareness of controversial issues and events in impactful and immediate ways. The emergence of data-driven collaborative platforms has also facilitated the sharing of knowledge, making new forms of scientific research and design possible. In a movement to give more power to the citizen, pressure has been put on government bodies to open up data sets and increase transparency, while new tools have been developed to enable direct citizen engagement in the democratic process. Some designers are also asking how we might change the conversation around data, taking control of the information we produce and sharing it for ourselves.

How Complex Are Corporate Structures uses data to visualise linkages between multinational companies.
Using this screen as an example, it shows Goldman Sachs has way more dealings in the Cayman Islands than the United States. Obviously something dodgy going on there.

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Fix My Street is a map-based fault-reporting website. It was set up on an iPad at the exhibition so I entered details for a problem on my high street. I immediately got the response that my local council won’t heed problems reported by this website. Not the website’s problem I suspect, but my local council’s desire to do nothing.


Black Shoals; Dark Matter was a real-time representation of the financial markets as projected as a field of stars on a planetarium style screen above the viewer. This is a video I took. It was very pretty.


What data cannot tell – The tyranny of data-centrism
Using data as a tool to understand and interpret the world opens up many possibilities, but also involves a number of risks. The so-called ‘data-centrism’ encourage the idea that whatever the problem, the answer lies in data. But numbers do not always reveal the whole truth and they can be manipulated and skewed to tell a particular story. By concentrating on data alone, we also ignore the fact that our society can thrive on more disordered mechanisms such as negotiation and debate. Although data can help us understand the world in important new ways, it must always leave room for subjectivity and ambiguity.

And then there was the shop at the end. Here you could buy a home DNA testing kit. I took this photo because I liked the logo.


Also available was a very small, wearable camera. To document your every move.


All in all, a very good exhibition.

The difficult second week

So now that the blog challenge is over, the issue is to keep up posting to the blog regularly. This is supposed to be about me and my direction in my career. Still looking for the clear direction, although I’m tending toward InfoVis.

What’s happened recently. I went to Amsterdam for 5 days. This is like my annual retreat. Amsterdam is a great city to do nothing. Sit, read, drink coffee. It’s a very relaxed place. Also, I realise this time, I think I relate to it for another couple of reasons. Amsterdammers are quite quirky, hence their almost fairytale city. But also Amsterdammers are quite geeky. And I think I identify with that.

One thing that always happens while I’m there is that I end up having deep thoughts. And this time my thoughts turned to this ‘voyage of discovery’ (I hate that term) that I’m doing. So what would be the best steps? What’s stopping me? I think my connection with people needs to be worked on. So very soon I will be doing the “How to Connect with Anybody” course on LYL.

In other news, after meeting up with David from Mars Spiders, and then giving him some pointers on his website design, he might be sending me a little work my way.

Also I have started a new limited company. I previously owned one and then dissolved it as I had full time work for 4 years and it wasn’t cost effective. But now with more work looming imminently, I have formed a new company. The last one had a very boring name, so this time I went to the other extreme. My new company is called: Graphic Terraforming Ltd

Day 7 – What Revolution Will I Lead?

Today’s topic: What Revolution Will You Lead?

If I knew this then I wouldn’t be doing the Live Your Legend course. I need to find my passion before I can follow it.

But the things I’m interested in? I think what my path will involve is information, visualisation and education. I think that education is the key to so many problems and issues. I think that a lot of people have been educated my new technology and don’t even know it. A great example I know of is that in rural places in the Middle East, where knowing how to read was never considered a necessity, has become a necessity, because how would you text your family and friend otherwise. Technology has made people want to become educated, and it can educated people.

Also people can be educated by information, and there is more information today than there has ever been. But this is the problem. There is too much information. It is too difficult to process. I think that if large amounts of data can be condensed into a visualisation, that is easy to understand and desirable to look at, then people will want to know.

A historical example is the birth of the pie chart. Florence Nightingale was presenting data on deaths in the Crimea to a parliamentary committee. Previously trends in this data were obscured by the fact it was just a sheet of numbers. But Nightingale invented the pie chart to display this data to the parliamentarians. It was understood and she got her point across.

I think there are modern day solutions waiting to be discovered, in design and delivery, to get data to the masses. Yes there are already lots of way this is being done. But I think there are certainly more Eureka moments to be had.

I hope to be part of this revolution.

Mars Spiders

Another break from the 7 day challenge.

Yesterday I visited a start-up company called Mars Spiders, which is run by an ex-class mate of mine from London Met, David Olsan.

He has a small team creating apps for phones. There don’t have a permanent space, per se, but divide their time between space at Geovation in Farringdon and the Google Campus in King’s Cross. As well as that he has lots of off site talent that he able to draw on, as and when, such as copy writers, animators etc.

It really opened my eyes about how mobile a business truly can be, while still having the opportunity to have a face-to-face team.

David also gave me a whole lot of tips of interesting things to investigate, such as tools for app creation, business finance, SEO and online fonts. As well as tips on WordPress* (which I started using for this site) and Google Campus events.

In return I offered my thoughts on his website and proofreading.

All in all a very productive visit.

Just like Earth, only more so…