The Feynman-Tufte Principle

bloggslogo The Feynman Tufte Principle

The Feynman-Tufte Principle
A visual display of data should be simple enough to fit on the side of a van
By Michael Shermer

I had long wanted to meet Edward R. Tufte–the man the New York Times called “the da Vinci of data” because of his concisely written and artfully illustrated books on the visual display of data–and invite him to speak at the Skeptics Society science lecture series that I host at the California Institute of Technology. Tufte is one of the world’s leading experts on a core tool of skepticism: how to see through information obfuscation.
But how could we afford someone of his stature? “My honorarium,” he told me, “is to see Feynman’s van.”

Richard Feynman, the late Caltech physicist, is famous for working on the atomic bomb, winning a Nobel Prize in Physics, cracking safes, playing drums and driving a 1975 Dodge Maxivan adorned with squiggly lines on the side panels. Most people who saw it gazed in puzzlement, but once in a while someone would ask the driver why he had Feynman diagrams all over his van, only to be told, “Because I’m Richard Feynman!”
Feynman diagrams are simplified visual representations of the very complex world of quantum electrodynamics (QED), in which particles of light called photons are depicted by wavy lines, negatively charged electrons are depicted by straight or curved nonwavy lines, and line junctions show electrons emitting or absorbing a photon. In the diagram on the back door of the van, time flows from bottom to top. The pair of electrons (the straight lines) are moving toward each other. When the left-hand electron emits a photon (wavy-line junction), that negatively charged particle is deflected outward left; the right-hand electron reabsorbs the photon, causing it to deflect outward right.

Feynman diagrams are the embodiment of what Tufte teaches about analytical design: “Good displays of data help to reveal knowledge relevant to understanding mechanism, process and dynamics, cause and effect.” We see the unthinkable and think the unseeable. “Visual representations of evidence should be governed by principles of reasoning about quantitative evidence. Clear and precise seeing becomes as one with clear and precise thinking.”

EDWARD R. TUFTE, master of design analysis, poses next to a Feynman diagram on Feynman’s van depicting the interaction of photons and electrons.
The master of clear and precise thinking meets the master of clear and precise seeing in what I call the Feynman-Tufte Principle: a visual display of data should be simple enough to fit on the side of a van.
As Tufte poignantly demonstrated in his analysis of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, despite the 13 charts prepared for NASA by Thiokol (the makers of the solid-rocket booster that blew up), they failed to communicate the link between cool temperature and O-ring damage on earlier flights. The loss of the Columbia, Tufte believes, was directly related to “a PowerPoint festival of bureaucratic hyperrationalism” in which a single slide contained six different levels of hierarchy (chapters and subheads), thereby obfuscating the conclusion that damage to the left wing might have been significant. In his 1970 classic work The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Feynman covered all of physics–from celestial mechanics to quantum electrodynamics–with only two levels of hierarchy.

Tufte codified the design process into six principles: “(1) documenting the sources and characteristics of the data, (2) insistently enforcing appropriate comparisons, (3) demonstrating mechanisms of cause and effect, (4) expressing those mechanisms quantitatively, (5) recognizing the inherently multivariate nature of analytic problems, (6) inspecting and evaluating alternative explanations.” In brief, “information displays should be documentary, comparative, causal and explanatory, quantified, multivariate, exploratory, skeptical.”

Skeptical. How fitting for this column, opus 50 for me, because when I asked Tufte to summarize the goal of his work, he said, “Simple design, intense content.” Because we all need a mark at which to aim (one meaning of “skeptic”), “simple design, intense content” is a sound objective for this series.

Figure what the always is. Then do something else.

bloggslogo Figure what the always is. Then do something else.
Seth Godin says:

Figure what the always is. Then do something else.

Toothpaste always comes in a squeezable tube.
Business travelers always use a travel agent.
Politicians always have their staff screen their calls.

Figure out what the always is, then do exactly the opposite. Do the never.

Were they Checked for Steriods?

bloggslogo Were they Checked for Steriods?
Crowds Drawn to Pig Olympics in China

SHANGHAI, China – These pigs run, jump, and swim — almost anything but fly. Thousands of Shanghai residents have turned out to a city park to watch a herd of pigs compete in what organizers are calling the “Pig Olympics,” the Shanghai Daily newspaper reported Tuesday.

They run over hurdles, jump through hoops, dive, and swim in shows twice a day, it said. The pigs, a midget species from Thailand, begin training soon after birth and can begin performing professionally from about 1 year of age, Yang Ying, a manager with promoters Bluesea Broadway Co. Ltd. was quoted as saying.

“These lovely pigs are of a special species that is good at sports by nature,” Yang said.
Pig races are common in many places, but heavily urban Shanghai offered few opportunities to see farm animals in action.
The report quoted primary students who visited the show a saying they were reconsidering their preconceptions of pigs as lazy and dull.

“It’s incredible,” said 8-year-old, Tan Yizhou, who had the honor of presenting a gold medal to one of the winning pigs. “I never thought that a pig could be so clever, dexterous and versatile.”


bloggslogo Remembering

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

- Mark Twain

Brainstorming sessions

bloggslogo Brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming in a group can be risky for individuals. Valuable but strange suggestions may appear stupid at first sight. Because of such, you need to chair sessions tightly so that uncreative people do not crush these ideas and leave group members feeling humiliated.

To run a group brainstorming session effectively, do the following:

Define the problem you want solved clearly, and lay out any criteria to be met.
Keep the session focused on the problem
Ensure that no one criticizes or evaluates ideas during the session. Criticism introduces an element of risk for group members when putting forward an idea. This stifles creativity and cripples the free running nature of a good brainstorming session.
Encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among members of the group. Try to get everyone to contribute and develop ideas, including the quietest members of the group
Let people have fun brainstorming. Encourage them to come up with as many ideas as possible, from solidly practical ones to wildly impractical ones. Welcome creativity.
Ensure that no train of thought is followed for too long
Encourage people to develop other people’s ideas, or to use other ideas to create new ones
Appoint one person to note down ideas that come out of the session. A good way of doing this is to use a flip chart. This should be studied and evaluated after the session.
Where possible, participants in the brainstorming process should come from as wide a range of disciplines as possible. This brings a broad range of experience to the session and helps to make it more creative.

Brainstorming is a way of generating radical ideas. During the brainstorming process there is no criticism of ideas, as free rein is given to people’s creativity. Criticism and judgment cramp creativity.

Individual brainstorming is best for generating many ideas, but tends to be less effective at developing them. Group brainstorming tends to develop fewer ideas, but takes each idea further. Group brainstorming needs formal rules for it to work smoothly.

Production hours

bloggslogo Production hours

As I sit here in my office waiting for the rain to stop to take the dogs for a morning walk, I can see my Yahoo messenger with the names of folks who are online. Many of them are at an event in Vancouver for Cisco. It is a giant event and the folks I know working there are working major amounts of hours to make this meeting a success. There names have been on all day and last night when I came in to shut down my computer. Our business the meeting/event production is an exciting one but it runs havoc on our bodies. I felt fortunate that I was home but still felt that envious feeling of those folks working so hard to make it all work for their client.

I had a similar experience this week in San Francisco where I did some extra work for the TV Pilot “Evidence” It stars Orlando Jones the 7up guy who has been in lots of movies. The set was a buzz for the actors and staging folk because since Nash Bridges the city has just had movies come through. They looked forward to having more work again. The scene I was in took place in a sex club and Orlando and his partner were cops checking the place out. My job was to lift a large gate up as first a hooker walked by then Orlando and the other actor his partner. Most of the crew was exhausted because this was like day 7 of a 10 day shoot and they looked it.

th 4 Production hours
Production is production in movies, meetings and events. I felt the same electricity from these folks that I do when we are putting on a large production for Siemens Medical Solutions, or MySQL.

One of the lights went out on my yahoo messenger for the producer of this Cisco show just now. I wonder if he is finally going to get some good sleep after a great show. Knowing how hard he works I bet he is.

Cool Space Saver Projector

bloggslogo Cool Space Saver Projector

NEC projector squeezes throw distance to less than 3 inches
The NEC WT610 can produce a 40-inch projected image from only 2.5 inches away from the screen, according to a company press release. As a “mirrored reflection” projector, the WT610 uses NEC’s patented lens-less mirror design to attain the extremely short throw distance. At just 26 inches from the screen, the company claims, the projector can create a 100-inch image. The DLP-based, 2,000-ANSI-lumen projector has native XGA resolution (1,024 x 768 pixels) and can produce a full-field contrast ratio of 3,500-to-1. Wireless and networking features are included with this 13-pound projector.

More info

Unleash Creativity

bloggslogo Unleash Creativity

“Having fun unleashes creativity. It is one of the seeds you plant to get ideas.” -Jack Foster

Grass Shack Recertification!

bloggslogo Grass Shack Recertification!

Grass Shack was renewed a certified women owned business with Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. It has been a great move for our team to success!
For more info go to: WBENC

Protect your banana

bloggslogo Protect your banana

Ok there has to be like nine thousand jokes to be inserted here but take a look at this company. Might be a good idea. Just don’t get caught in the airport security with it. I can see it now. “Really it protects my banana!”

bananguard Protect your banana
Banana Guard

More daylight savings stuff from Seth Godin

I really enjoyed reading your post on daylight saving. I live in Queensland Australia, and about 15 years ago, we decided by referendum here not to have Daylight Savings. The big problem is that the other two states of Australia on the east coast, NSW and Victoria, both have daylight savings. [Ed. note: There's no "s" in saving. Really. I'll leave it in because, hey, it sounds better.]

At the time the arguments against trolled out were amazing. Bear in mind that QLD is a mostly rural state, but 75% of the population live in the Metropolitan areas of Brisbane and Surfers Paradise. Anyway, here are some of the brilliant ideas that were put forward to stop Daylight Saving.

“It would confuse the cows, they wouldn’t know what time to get milked as cows aren’t very smart” (please don’t laugh at the irony of this.)
“It will fade the curtains. The Queensland sun is very harsh, and an extra hour could really do some damage”
“It would be uncomfortable having dinner at 8 pm and it still being daylight”