Tag Archives: interactive

Venn Diagrams

Venn Diagrams

The private library Blog had a post with some word play relating to sound, spelling and meaning of words in the English language. From their post on Homographic Homophones:

English is one of the most difficult languages in the world for a non-native speaker to learn.  One of the reasons why this is so is that English has a large number of words that are pronounced the same as other words (i.e., they are homophones) even though they have quite different meanings.  Homophones such as parepair and pear, for example, have the same pronunciation but are spelled differently and have different meanings (heterographic homophones).  Other homophones — tender (locomotive),tender (feeling) and tender (resignation), for instance — are spelled the same and pronounced the same (homographic homophones) but have different meanings (i.e., they are homonyms).

Got all that?  Wikipedia has a nice Venn diagram that may help you sort it out:

Venn Diagram displaying meaning, spelling, and pronunciation of words (Source: Wikipedia)

Of course, you could also list the above combinations in a table. If you’re interested, Carol Moore has done just that on her Buzzy Bee riddle page.

A beautifully symmetric 5 set Venn diagram drawn from ellipses has been proposed by Branko Grünbaum and drawn by Wikipedia contributor Cmglee:

Symmetrical_5-set_Venn_diagram (Source: Wikipedia)

Such set-based diagrams invite a more mathematical notation. Cmglee annotates his image with this snippet:

Labels have been simplified for greater readability; for example, A denotes A ∩ Bc ∩ Cc ∩ Dc ∩ Ec (or A ∩ ~B ∩ ~C ∩ ~D ∩ ~E), while BCE denotes Ac ∩ B ∩ C ∩ Dc ∩ E (or ~A ∩ B ∩ C ∩ ~D ∩ E).

If you search the Wolfram Demonstration Project for ‘Venn Diagram’, you get several interactive diagrams.

Venn Diagram Demonstration Projects (Source: Wolfram Demonstration Project)

These diagrams are interactive. For example, they allow you to click on any subset and then have that set highlighted and the corresponding mathematical set notation displayed accordingly. Interesting and fun to learn.

Speaking of fun: Venn diagrams are also effectively used in many different areas, two of which I’d like to leave you with here:

Data Science Venn Diagram (Source:

And last but not least, Stephen Wildish’s Pancake Venn Diagram:

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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Linguistic, Scientific


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Khan Academy and Interactive Content in Digital Education

Khan Academy and Interactive Content in Digital Education

Online education has received a lot of attention lately. Many factors have contributed to the rise in online educational content, including higher bandwidth, free video hosting (YouTube), mobile devices, growing and global audiences, improved customization mechanisms (scoring, similarity recommendations), gamification (earning badges, friendly competitions, etc.) and others. Interactivity is an important ingredient for any form of learning.

“I tell you and you forget. I show you and you remember. I involve you and you understand.” [Confucius, 500 BC]

During learning a student forms a mental model of the concepts. Understanding a concept means to have a model detailed enough to be able to answer questions, solve problems, predict a system’s behavior. The power of interactive graphics and models comes from the ability of the student to “ask questions” by modifying parameters and receive specific answers to help refine or correct the evolving mental model.

Digital solutions are bringing innovations to many of these areas. One of the most innovative approaches is the Khan Academy. What started as an experiment just a few years ago by way of recording short, narrated video lessons and sharing them via YouTube with family and friends has grown into a broad-based approach to revolutionize learning. Over the years, founder Sal Khan has developed a large collection of more than 3000 such videos. Backed by prominent endorsers such as Bill Gates the not-for-profit Khan Academy has developed a web-based infrastructure which can handle a large number of users and collect and display valuable statistics for students and teachers. The Khan Academy has received lots of media attention as well, with coverage on CBS 60 minutes, a TED talk and more. The videos have by now been seen more than 130 million times!

Another high profile experiment has been launched in the fall of 2011 at Stanford University, where three Computer Science courses have been made available online for free, including the Introductory Course to Artificial Intelligence by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. In a physical classroom a professor can teach several dozens to a few hundred students at most. In a virtual classroom these limits are obviously far higher. Exceeding all expectations, some 160.000 students in 190 countries had signed up for this first course!

The basic pillar of online learning continues to be the recorded video of a course unit. The student can watch the video whenever, wherever to learn at his own pace and schedule. One can pause, rewind, replay however often as needed to better understand the content. Of course, if that was the only way to interact, it would be fairly rudimentary. Unlike in a real classroom or with a personal tutor, one can’t ask the teacher in the video a question and receive an answer. One can’t try out variations of a model and see its impact.

Sample Khan Academy Profile Graph

That’s where the tests come in. Testing a concept’s understanding usually involves a series of sample questions or problems which can only be solved repeatedly and reliably with such an understanding. Both Khan Academy and the Stanford AI course have test examples, exams and grading mechanisms to determine whether a student has likely understood a concept. In the Khan Academy, testable concepts revolve around mathematics, where an unlimited number of specific instances can be generated for test purposes. The answers to test questions are recorded and can be plotted.

Khan Academy Knowledge Map of testable concepts

The latter form of interactivity may be among the most useful. The system records how often you take tests, how long it takes you to answer, how often you get the answers right, etc. All this can then be plotted in some sort of dashboard. Both for yourself as individual student, or for an entire class if you are a coach. This shows at a glance where you or your students are struggling and how far along they have progressed.

Concepts are related to one another in a taxonomy so that one gets guidance as to which concepts to master first before building higher level concepts on top of the simpler ones. Statistical models can suggest the most plausible hints of what to try next based on prior observations.

Founder Sal Khan deserves a lot of respect for having almost single-handedly having recorded some 3000+ video lessons and changing the world of online education so much for the better with his not-for-profit organization. From an interactive content perspective, imagine if at the end of some Khan video lessons you could download an underlying model, play with the parameters and maybe even extend the model definition? I know this may not be feasible in all taught domains, but it seems as if there are many areas ripe for such additional interactivity. We’ll look at one in the next post.

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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Education


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Interactive Documents – Roambi Flow

Interactive Documents – Roambi Flow

One year ago I purchased my own iPad 2. When using it in meetings, it quickly became apparent how much potential there is to make presented information much more interactive. I posted last June about Interactive and Visual Information. In the meantime, more and more software is aiming at making documents more interactive, especially on the iPad to leverage mobility and touch.

In this post we will look at Roambi Flow, a product that lets you compose documents with interactive elements. Roambi is a set of business intelligence products by San Diego based company MeLLmo which has been designed from the ground up to take advantage of iOS features such as rich graphics and touch interface. On Roambi’s product website you will find detailed descriptions of each of these products.

Roambi Analytics Views

Roambi Analytics introduced a series of so called Views. Each of these views is interesting in its own and warrants a more in-depth coverage; I’ll just enumerate them briefly.

Blink gives you cube analytics displaying various measures in selected dimensions, swiping and scrolling through a data set.

Cardex is a visual metaphor for organizing sets of elementary reports and visually comparing them side-by-side like a mini comparison dashboard.

CataList lets you browse top-level lists and drill into a detailed view with sliders to see data points over time and display highlighted information.

Elements allows you to compose dashboards of connected, basic chart elements to explore multi-dimensional data.

Layers specializes on the display and navigation of hierarchically grouped data sets – such as continent, country, city – through the use of scroll, pinch and zoom gestures.

PieView is a variation of the Piechart theme. It’s main innovation is to allow the rotation of the entire piechart similar to the original Apple iPod click wheel. (It doesn’t eliminate the shortcomings of piecharts per se, but it makes them a little easier to live with and a lot more fun to explore.)

Squares is using the heat map concept in a very intuitive and easy to use way to display data organized along two main axes – such as the global sales performance of various products in various countries. Dragging along rows or columns highlights them one at a time, tapping on a row or column “explodes” its content to a matrix with more detail – in which one can again navigate, sort, etc.. Tap & Hold on the heat map generates a Fish-Eye view with more detail of the tapped element maximized. Moving while holding will move the fish-eye to areas of interest. (see image below)

SuperList is a generic view for lists with numeric information that allows to sort, filter, toggle between bars and numbers etc. Think of it as a starting point for tabular data display on the iPad.

Fish-Eye view in Squares, one of the Roambi Analytics views

Each view has a Help-style description with a short 1 min video overview in it. This goes to show that seeing these views in narrated action is much more intuitive and easier to understand than just reading about them. It’s literally leveraging some “show & tell”. The best way to explore these views is to download the free Roambi Viewer apps on the iPad and play with them. They come with stored sample data sets so you can visually explore the views even while you are offline. Roambi also features brief videos and tutorials on their website.

But back to Roambi Flow: You want your data to tell stories. This is best done through a combination of text explaining the context, perhaps some multimedia demonstrating the highlights and some interactive elements allowing the reader to visually explore on her own. This is where Roambi Flow comes in. It’s a publishing container that allows you to embed the above views (and other multi-media content) into regular text documents. The reader navigates the content at the top-level like a traditional book, either by clicking on the table of contents or by literally flipping through the pages. The app will even simulate the page turning like we are used to from Apple’s iBooks.

Page transition in Roambi Flow; Note the embedded, interactive element on the next page.

The individual elements can be double-tapped, which expands them to full-screen and then support their full visual exploration capabilities. The views can be linked to backend data sources to automatically stay in sync with up-to-date information. View displays can be bookmarked and shared with others. But the main point really is the fact that the reader does not only see a static image, but can interact and manipulate the views to obtain a richer understanding of the underlying data sets.

Roambi Flow page with two interactive view elements.

Given the rapid adoption of iPads in corporate environments it is straightforward to see such interactive documents spreading both within a company as well as in its external communications. Imagine reading the annual report, the sales pitch or the research paper when you can interact with the financials, the offered product or the proposed scientific model! With interactive content, reading will never be the same.

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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Industrial


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Interactive Visualization of Flight Information with Kayak is a powerful online search aggregator for travel planning, including flights, hotels, cars and more.

The corresponding Kayak HD app on the iPad has an interesting feature called “Explore”. In this mode you specify an airport and then qualify various flight attributes such as duration, price, number of stops etc. You can then see search hits on a world map. As you move the sliders for the search parameters, the result set gets updated automatically on the map. Here is an example animated image which displays the increased number of resulting flights from JFK airport in NYC when varying the flight duration in hours:

Animation Sequence of Flight Results from JFK by flight duration

It is such dynamic display during in-context manipulation which makes interactive visualization a powerful tool to explore data and create insight.

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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Industrial


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Interactive and Visual Information

The way we create and consume documents to present and understand information is changing.

Online information has started this trend around 1995. Web page content has rapidly evolved from static content in the 1990’s to much more dynamic and somewhat interactive content. Most web sites today are continuously updated with streams of new information and allow the user to query for specific information, say about the weather in a particular region or the stock price of a particular company. Users can query databases to retrieve wanted information. Users can search the web and follow links to pages likely relevant to the search. Users can type in questions and receive answers, in some cases calculated from available models and data. I have written about the evolutionary impact of this on the presentation of information during meetings. (Technology also moves towards other forms of interaction without typing or touching, such as voice-recognition a la Google Voice or motion-detection a la Microsoft Kinect. But the focus here is not on the nature of the interaction format as much as on its impact on the information transfer.)

The composition of online information has also drastically changed. This goes far beyond hyperlinking documents for easy navigation. Instead of one area of text per site (as is the standard model in a book) we now routinely have multiple areas on the page showing different, often related pieces of information. Input fields and other controls allow for interaction, such as entering a stock ticker symbol and then hovering over the generated historical chart for analysis. Multiple widgets or components make up modern web sites, often highly customizable and aggregating information from various sources or feeds. With the advent of digital music, photo and video this turned into multimedia information. The latter offers the potential to re-shape the way information is produced and consumed in electronic books. The combination of new form factors (such as the iPad), nearly ubiquitous wireless Internet connectivity, tremendous processing power, increased battery life, rising popularity and adoption of eBook readers and constantly improving authoring tools ushers in a new era of content. An example of the sophisticated use of multimedia and touch interface on the iPad is the book (in custom app format) “Our Choice” from Al Gore, released by Push-Print-Press.

Map of solar power density across the U.S. Note interactive popup with location-specific detail (data both lookup and calculated).

No longer tethered to power outlets and network cables, we now have greater mobility of information than ever before. This leads to additional possibilities such as location-based services, as the presentation of information can be customized to the location of the reader. (“Where are some nearby restaurants or gas stations?”) Conversely, the location of the reader can be tracked over time and thus new location-based information and services are created.

Of particular interest is interactive information based on executable models which can simulate or calculate outcomes based on parameters interactively set by the reader. Conceptually, the document now acts as a container not just for text and images, but for models which can carry out computations. A simple example might be a mortgage calculator: Type in a loan amount, drag a slider to reflect interest rates and repayment time, and out comes the monthly payments and other details. Embedding such a calculator in a document transforms the passive reading experience into an interacting exploration.

Or think of a business model with parameters such as production volumes, storage, pricing and customer order rates. Now one can interact and explore ranges of model behavior as well as boundaries (profit/loss, break-even, etc.) Here are two examples of such business models of increasing complexity:

Just like Adobe coined the term PDF (Portable Document Format) trying to establish a standard for portability, Wolfram Research has coined the term CDF (Computable Document Format) trying to establish a standard for computability. The two above and many other examples can be found on Wolfram Research’s CDF demonstrations page. The best way to understand such models is to interact with them. (For CDF you will have to install a free browser plug-in.) A good article on the potential of CDF for presenting information in a business context is here.

Another very interesting example of the presentation of a dynamic nonlinear system is provided by Bret Victor below. It focuses on two fundamental concepts: Ubiquitous visualization and in-context manipulation. The ability to interact with the model and to see rich visuals while doing so is key to understanding its behavior. As this model does not seem to be publicly available yet the next best thing is to watch someone interact with it:

Interactive Exploration of a Dynamical System from Bret Victor on Vimeo.

As a final example, consider the Mandelbrot Set, an abstract mathematical object discovered around 1980. While it’s easy to specify in mathematical formal terms, its amazing complexity can so much better be experienced when you have the ability to explore this object, zoom in/out and discover the infinitely rich detail of its fractal boundary. With the computing power, rich color graphics and intuitive touch interface of the iPad 2 and a good app (like the $1.99 Fractile Plus) make this perhaps the most advanced case of model-based, interactive visualization to date.

Screenshot of Fractile Plus app on iPad. The experience of zooming and moving around via touch interface and fast visual feedback is amazing.

No amount of pictures displayed here can replace the interactive experience of such apps to explore and understand the beauty of this object. If you didn’t do so yet, get your own iPad and explore – you won’t regret it!


Posted by on June 8, 2011 in Industrial, Scientific, Socioeconomic



Evolution of Visual Presentations in Meetings

A few weeks ago I participated in a lunch-&-learn meeting sponsored by an investment firm. The focus was on a well-establish fund targeting high net-worth individuals and the underlying investment approach / philosophy. As sophisticated and successful as their investment strategy was, I was somewhat disappointed by the presentation. If ever there was a “death-by-PowerPoint”, this was it. Slides upon slides with numbers upon numbers… Yet as painful as it was to sit through, it struck me how the ability to use information during meetings has evolved to create insight.

Step 1: Printed Document – Color, Convenience

We used to work at meetings or conferences primarily with printed documents – books, brochures, white-papers – occasionally armed with a pocket calculator to check some facts or do some quick calculations. For the most part, we accepted the printed document as the most convenient, if static representation of the meeting subject. Here, everyone in the audience received some nice color handouts with the main information about the fund. There were some good charts in there, primarily the cumulative returns of the fund with its three different portfolios based on risk tolerance.

Step 2: Static Webpage – Access, Anytime

Then we got used to replacing static information on paper with web-sites online. As long as you are connected, you can bring it up in your browser. While not necessarily very good for reading, its consumption during meetings for quick lookup certainly adds flexibility. I was the only person in the audience with a computing device so I could go online and browse the fund’s website and double-check some background, facts and figures.

The fact that I used my new iPad 2 and its convenient form factor and touch-screen ease-of-use caused some ohhs and ahhs in my immediate vicinity, with several of the finance professionals mumbling that it’s time for them to get their own iPad. I agree, but I digress.

Using a computer also allows to create content during the meeting (for example draft meeting minutes or brainstorming topics) and present it to the audience. This works well during a workshop-type meeting with relatively few participants, and/or during a web-meeting with remote participants.

Step 3: Dynamic Content – Interactivity, Insight

The purpose of this meeting was to convey information, to build trust and to convince attendees of the value in investing with this particular company. For all these intents I posit that the attendee is best served with dynamic, more interactive media. You need to be able to browse, search, calculate, compare. When you can start asking your own questions and get specific answers, customized to your scenario, then you are most likely to remember the information and to get new insight.

Most meetings leverage printed documents. Some bring static online content into the mix. Few are starting to leverage interactive content during meetings. Like with eBooks, technology brings new capabilities to this space, for example the new Computable Document Format (CDF), which we will look at in another post.

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Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Financial


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