Archive for the ‘Math Graphic Art’ Category

David McCandless: Data Detective


I just finished watching the TED Talk by David McCandless called “The Beauty of Data Visualization” and it is stunningly awesome! In the talk, he discusses the importance of understanding the relativeness of data when it is reported in the news.  ”Visualizing information is a form of knowledge compression” where we squeeze enormous amount of information and understanding into a small space.  McCandless was not trained in graphic design, but “”being exposed to all this media over the years had instilled a kind of dormant design literacy in me.”  He says he is something of a “data detective” (see his graph “Mountains out of Molehills” in the talk for an example).

Edward Tufte also discusses the importance of data visualization, but he is something of a technology Luddite.  David’s interactive digital data visualization “Snake Oil” is simply awesome and demonstrates a path that “information supergraphics” could take if Tufte were to embrace technology instead of just bashing it (I went to one of Tufte’s workshops last year and I can tell you that the only “good technology” was his iPhone).

If there was ever a video to show a math or statistics class at the beginning of the semester, this might be it.  Of course, then you’ll actually have to DO some data visualization during the semester, but hey – it will keep you honest!

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My Vector Graphics Art Project


For many years I’ve tried to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator, with not much luck. This semester I took a 1-credit class at my college to learn, once and for all, how those damned layers work. It turned out to be really interesting – and the curve-drawing (Bezier curves) is all based on concavity, changes in concavity, tangent lines, and slopes. So, it turns out that there’s a lot of mathematics in the back-end of Adobe Illustrator.

What you see here is just a low-quality image. Since the image is vector based, it is infinitely-scalable. You can see a larger image here. But to really see why this is so cool, you need to see what happens when you zoom in and out on the image. So here’s a silent movie of that.
So, if you’ve heard the terms Illustrator and Photoshop batted around, the primary difference is the ability to do raster graphics or vector graphics.
Maybe you’re thinking, hey, I still don’t understand what the difference is !! The idea of vector graphics is that the images are redrawn according to the boundaries and fill properties that you specify. No matter how large or small you scale, it redraws the lines and fills so that the images are always crisp. The vector file saves directions to rebuild the image.
In a raster graphic, the file saves a bunch of pixel color designations to create the image (thus the term megapixels for digital cameras). I’m no expert here, so if I’ve botched that explanation, please correct me.

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Redecorate your Office?


If I had some time, money, and wall space in my office, I could seriously redecorate using only these fractal images.
These thumbnails really do not do the artwork justice – the full-size images are gorgeous. All images are copyrighted by David Makin. Visit his Showcase Gallery to see all the images and view the full-size images (and to buy prints).


Since I don’t have wall space in my office – I wonder if he’d consider making a screen-saver with all of these beautiful images? I’d be the first in line to buy that!

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Creating 3D Geometry with PowerPoint


I find this to be a handy trick in PowerPoint. Although there is certainly better software for graphic design (for example, Adobe Illustrator), most instructors have a copy of Microsoft Office on their computers and so it makes a convenient graphics and layout program.

You may need 3-D graphics for Calculus, geometry, or math for elementary teachers and you can create those graphics pretty easily in PowerPoint. Here’s my 2-page tutorial.

If you’re going to label these figures, I recommend using the equation editor (or MathType) and then grouping the figure with the labels to create a single object. Copy and paste the graphics into a Word document using “Paste Special” and “Enhanced Metafile.” It doesn’t always look crystal clear on the computer screen, but it will print beautifully.

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Creating Inequality Graphs


One of my assistants requested advice about creating an inequality graph (with grey shading) using PowerPoint, so I thought I might as well share it here too.

The trick is to use a Freeform drawing object, and then send the shading to the back of the diagram using the “order” feature.You can see it (a short Jing) here.

There’s an older post (and longer video) about creating a very detailed graph with a break on one of the axes using PowerPoint. This is, of course, not the intended use of PowerPoint, but it is software that “talks to Word” nicely and can create truly lovely printable graphs.

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How to Make Pretty Graphs in PowerPoint


Excel graphs are easy to make, but don’t always suit the purpose on tests and handouts. In this case, we wanted to make a graph where students could easily read the points and draw a best-fit line and it needed to be publication quality. Here’s the original Excel graph.

I have included some tips on just modifying this graph in under two minutes to be possibly good enough to suit most purposes.

The video takes you all the way to making a “pretty” graph for publication, like this one:


Here’s the link to the video (it’s a fairly big video, so it may take a minute or two to start playing).

I should mention that I normally do not go through this much work every time I need a nice graphic. Start a file called “Nice Graphs” and keep adding to the file. It is much easier to edit an existing graph than start a new one. Often, you just need to change the scale and headings or change the line on the graph and it’s good to go. Very rarely do I have to start from scratch.

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