Tufte and Anderson

October 19, 2007

Arguably, one of the problems of getting older is that there’s less new stuff to amaze and delight the mind. I’ve just added a new hero to my heroes page, in the person of Professor Edward Tufte, a man who talks an awful lot of sense about statistical displays, of all things.

I know what you’re thinking: what could be less interesting than statistical displays, right? Well give the man a chance, and have a look at his first book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. In particular, look at the astonishing graphic by Joseph Minard of Napoleon’s 1812 Russian Campaign, which Prof. Tufte holds up as probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn. It makes the blood run cold to look at it. He has several more examples of staggeringly clever displays too, and some horrors from the other end of the scale. Really thought-provoking stuff which has definitely affected the way I layout and think about information.

I mention Prof. Tufte as someone who, through his book found by chance in the library, introduced me to a world that I didn’t really know existed. And that quite recently, giving the lie to my opening statement. Whatever.

Harking back a little, hearing for the first time O Superman by Laurie Anderson was a similar eye-opening, mind-broadening experience. Back in 1981 I would have attained the tender age of seventeen, so I’d heard a fair bit of music, but this was from another planet! And it has endured. Big Science survived my CD collection purge of a few years back, and playing it again tonight whilst contemplating this post (they’re not just thrown together you know), I wondered if actually I should already change my Inheritance Track choice and pass O Superman on to the MiniBishes as a track that shook the mind of Bish in his formative years.

Vive la difference. I wonder what new, unimagined worlds of interest lie ahead?


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