Thursday, May 22, 2008

Last night at the Southeast Michigan .Net User Group (http://www.migang.org/), I saw a great presentation on Microsoft Silverlight.  Jason Beres of Infragistics was the presenter. 

In the past six months, I've probably seen half a dozen presentations on the topic.  What set this one apart from the others was the amount of code that was shown.  While other presentations featured on showing off the eye candy (such as streaming video and rotating objects) that Silverlight supports, Jason stepped through the code in each of his demos. 

It made the process of writing Silverlight applications seem less intimidating and now I am resolved to explore this technology shortly.

Thursday, May 22, 2008 11:43:18 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
 Sunday, May 11, 2008

WM Day of .Net May 10, 2008 - I'll be there!

Yesterday I drove to Grand Rapids for the West Michigan Day of .Net.

I enjoyed the event, despite suffering from heartburn most of the day,

Here is a brief summary of the best sessions I saw

How to Architect Rich Internet Applications

Microsoft architect Josh Holmes gave an overview of what makes up a good rich internet application and when you should attempt to build one.

Getting Started with the ASP.Net MVC Framework
Tim Wingfield of Quick Solutions discussed the MVC framework.  This one had a lot of code samples.

A trip around the block with Rhino.Mocks
This session (led by Quick's Steve Hartman) was more like a roundtable discussion than a presentation.   Steve went through some definitions; stepped through a code sample; then started a discussion with the attendees about different Mock frameworks.

Reliable Messaging in WCF
James Bender of Quick Solutions gave this demo which also contained some good code samples.

A similar event is scheduled next Saturday in Cleveland.   I doubt I'll make that one, but I plan to attend the recently-announced Lansing Day of .Net scheduled June 21.

Lansing Day of .Net, 21 June 2008 - I'll be there!
Sunday, May 11, 2008 2:42:02 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
 Thursday, May 08, 2008

Edward Tufte has spent a lifetime turning data into pictures and studying the best way to do so.

In his first (self-published) book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, he describes what makes an excellent graph or map. 

Not all data sets are good candidates for charts.  For small data sets with exact values, Tufte recommends using tables.  However to compare values or present many pieces of data simultaneously, a graph is far superior.  Graphs, Tufte asserts, are most useful when showing complex data and displaying trends or observations that are not immediately obvious when the data is displayed in tabular form.  An excellent graph is one that is clear, precise and efficient - that is it "gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space."

Tufte provides some advice to accomplish this graphical excellence.  He introduces the concept of "Data-Ink" ratio.  This is the amount of information conveyed by a chart, relative to the amount of ink required to print that chart.  Generally, a graph can be improved by increasing its Data-Ink Ratio.  This can be accomplished by erasing non-data ink, such as unnecessary gridlines and labels; by erasing redundant data; and by labeling data directly, rather than forcing users to look up information in a legend.

Related to the Data-Ink ratio is his push for high data density - graphics that have maximum data per page, maximum data per square inch, and maximum data per amount of ink used.  As long as a graphic does not appear confusing, cluttered or overwhelming, you should pack as much information as you can into it.

Tufte warns against "chartjunk", his term for irrelevant text, lines, pictures or other decorations that contain no actual information.  This is ink that can be erased from a chart without reducing the amount of information in the chart.  Many graphs contain pictures, 3D effects and colors that don’t relate to the data.  Rather than enhancing the user’s understanding of the data, this “junk” distracts the user’s attention from the data, making the graph harder to understand.  Erasing chartjunk increases the Data-Ink ratio, which should be the goal of every designer of data graphics.

I appreciate that the book provides numerous examples of both the right way and the wrong way to represent data visually and that most of these examples came from real-world publication.  Tufte pulls no punches in his criticism of those who do things the wrong way.  In describing one graph published in American Education magazine - a confusing 3D graph that shows only 5 pieces of data and uses 5 different colors that in no way relate to that data - he writes "This may well be the worst graphic ever to find its way into print."

This is an excellent book for anyone who needs to present data to an audience.  Business analysts, managers and software developers can all increase their effectiveness by implementing Tufte’s ideas.

Links:
EdwardTufte.com
This book on Amazon

Thursday, May 08, 2008 5:21:44 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
 Friday, May 02, 2008

Those of us living in the Detroit area got a real treat last night.

The Tigers 8-4 victory completed a 3-game sweep of the Yankees - their first sweep in The Bronx since 1956.

The Red Wings dominated an injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche 8-2 to sweep the second round of the NHL playoffs.  Johan "Mule" Franzen notched a hat trick (3 goals in one game) and is playing as well as anyone in the playoffs.

Meanwhile the Pistons advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs with a 100-77 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Just a few days ago, Detroit trailed 2-1 in the series following a one-sided Philadelphia victory.

All three victories completed a victorious series and each occurred on the road. 

Detroit sports fans have had much to cheer about over the years, but I don't recall a day like Thursday, when all 3 of the major professional sports teams had such big victories simultaneously.  (I understand that Detroit once boasted a professional football team but I can't find anyone here who remembers them.)

Friday, May 02, 2008 6:33:41 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)