“Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent”*…
Did you ever notice that almost every Mad Men episode ends with Don Draper staring blankly?
On the occasion of tomorrow’s series finale, the exquisite Tumbler, “Don Draper Staring Blankly.”
* Don Draper
As we get in touch with our motivations, we might recall that it was on this date in 1988, 24 years after the first Surgeon General’s report enumerating the dangers of smoking, that then-SG C. Everett Koop, delivered the second installment: a report that declared nicotine to be addictive in ways similar to heroin and cocaine.
* Jonathan Lethem
As we shed pump up the PoMo, we might recall that it was on this date in 1928 that Mickey Mouse made his debut. Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks tested their new character in a silent black-and-white animated short called “Plane Crazy,” loosely based on Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight and the furor it occasioned. On that day, the cartoon was screened for distributors… all of whom passed. Later that year, Disney released Mickey’s first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie– which was, of course, an enormous success. Following two more Mickey vehicles (The Gallopin’ Gaucho, and The Barn Dance), Plane Crazy was tracked and released as a sound cartoon on March 17, 1929.
Just because you CAN design your own book cover doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
* Charles Dickens
As remind ourselves of Groucho Marx’s insight: “outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog it’s too dark to read,” we might recall that this is a big date in the annals of English letters… It was on this date in 1842, that Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published Poems. While the future Poet Laureate had been writing for a decade, it was this two-volume release (which included “Ulysses” and Morte d’Arthur”) that made his name.
And on this date in 1925, Virginia Woolf published the story of a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway– one of Time‘s “100 Best Novels since 1923″ (2005).
In 2012, 437,000 people were killed worldwide, yielding a global average murder rate of 6.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. A third of those homicides occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, home to just 8% of the world’s population. But data on violent death can be difficult to obtain, since governments are often reluctant to share their homicide statistics. What data is available is sometimes inconsistent and inconclusive.
To make this data clear and to better address the problem of global homicide, a new open-source visualization tool, the Homicide Monitor, tracks the total number of murders and murder rates per country, broken down by gender, age and, where the data is available, the type of weapon used, including firearms, sharp weapons, blunt weapons, poisoning, and others. For the most violent region in the world, the 40 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, you can also see statistics by state and city. That geographic specificity helps to underscore an important point about murders, says Robert Muggah, the research director and program coordinator for Citizen Security at the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarapé Institute, in the above-lined story: “In most cities, the vast majority of violence takes place on just a few street corners, at certain times of the day, and among specific people.”
* William Shakespeare, Macbeth
As we reach for the kevlar, we might recall that it was on this date in 1637 (or nearabouts, as closely as scholars can say) that Cardinal Richelieu introduced the first table knives (knives with rounded edges)–reputedly to cure dinner guests of the unsavory habit of picking their teeth with the knife-points of the daggers that were, until then, used to cut meat at the table. Years later, in 1669, King Louis XIV followed suit, forbidding pointed knives at his table; indeed, he extended the prohibition, banning pointed knives in the street in an attempt to reduce violence.
Cartographer Daniel Huffman has created a series of maps in which American river systems are visualized as subway maps (specifically, in the manner of Harry Beck’s 1930s London Tube maps), with nodes representing connections between streams and tributaries.
Huffman strikes a particular chord in the map-lover’s heart. On an Internet brimming with sleek, sharp geo-visualizations, Huffman’s maps offer a sweetly idiosyncratic view of the world. The signatures of historic figures turn into street vectors. Oregon’s wine country gets the ‘90s computer-game treatment. A simple bike path becomes a work of calligraphy.
“What it really probably comes down to is a desire to do things differently than others,” he says in an email. “I crave variety, and so it often leads me to thinking of weird ideas and saying, ‘I wonder if I can do X[.]’”
Lately, a trend has emerged out of Huffman’s impulses towards novelty—an idea he calls “Modern Naturalism,” in which his maps present natural features in the type of “highly-abstracted, geometrically precise visual language that we often apply to the constructed world on maps,” according to his website…
More on Huffman and his marvelous maps at “When Rivers Look Like Subway Systems.”
* Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
As we hop onto our rafts, we might send healing birthday greetings to Florence Nightingale, born on this date in 1820. Famed for her work as a nurse in the Crimean War, she went on to found training facilities and nursing homes– pioneering both medical training for women and what is now known as Social Entrepreneuring. Less well-known are Nightingale’s contributions to epidemiology, statistics, and the visual communication of data in the field of public health. Always good at math, she pioneered the use of the polar area chart (the equivalent to a modern circular histogram or rose diagram) and popularized the pie chart (which had been developed in 1801 by William Playfair). Nightingale was elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society, and later became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.
The “banana equivalent dose” (BED) is a measure of radiation used to illustrate levels of emissions. Bananas contain lots of potassium, which contains 0.01% potassium-40– which is radioactive. The radiation exposure from eating a banana is deemed “1 BED,” roughly equivalent to 0.01 millirem (mrem). (Happily, one would never be able to eat enough bananas to be dangerous, as our bodies excrete the potassium we’re consuming before it can do exposure damage.)
The existence of a clearly-understandable unit of this sort allows for easily-understood apples-to-apples (or, bananas-to-bananas) comparisons…
As we peel, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Richard Philips Feynman; he was born on this date in 1918. A theoretical physicist, Feynman was probably the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in his field in the post-WW II era.
Richard Feynman was a once-in-a-generation intellectual. He had no shortage of brains. (In 1965, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum electrodynamics.) He had charisma. (Witness this outtake [below] from his 1964 Cornell physics lectures [available in full here].) He knew how to make science and academic thought available, even entertaining, to a broader public. (We’ve highlighted two public TV programs hosted by Feynman here and here.) And he knew how to have fun. The clip above brings it all together.
This map plots the science fiction literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. Rather than a narrative emerging out of the data, here the narrative structure precedes and organizes the data: the movement of years is from left to right across the grid that represents time, distorted and reconfigured into the form of a bug-eyed monster whose tentacles are like trace roots to pre-historical sources and whose body is the corpus of sci-fi literature. Science fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source not only of sci-fi, but also of crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors, and which includes film and television as well…
* Frederik Pohl
As we reach for our ray guns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that the first U.S. Transcontinental Railway was ceremonially completed with the driving of the “Golden Spike.” Known as the “Pacific Railroad” when it opened, it served as a vital channel for trade, commerce, and travel– for the first time, shipping and commerce could thrive away from navigable waterways– and it opened vast regions of the North American heartland for settlement.
(In fact, while not “transcontinental” in the same sense, the first railroad to connect two oceans directly, the Panama Rail Road, opened in 1855, when a locomotive made the first trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific.)