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The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

by Juan C. D√ľrsteler [message nļ 169]

The 9th International Conference on Information Visualisation (IV05) has taken place between the 6th and 8th of July, 2005, in the maritime campus of the University of Greenwich. InfoVis.net was there.
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University of Greenwich. Seen from the river Thames at sunset. You can appreciate four of the emblematic buildings: Queen Anne and King Charles in the foreground; Queen Mary and King William (with domes) behind.
Source: Photography made by the author during the social event of the conference.
Click on the image to enlarge it. 

In order to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Infovis.net I've decided that the best way to do it would be to attend the ninth International Conference on Information Visualisation (IV'05), held in the premises of the Unversity of Greenwich, at 0¬ļ of Eastern longitude.

And here I am writing the message of this week with the paper's presentation sessions still fresh in my mind.

IV05 is actually a conglomerate of symposia covering different aspects of visualisation. They cover from theory and practice of it up to design and aesthetics , passing through data mining visualisation and knowledge and argument visualisation. 

For this reason the sessions are divided in several (up to 4) parallel sub-sessions that take place at the same time in different rooms. In fact this is probably the only way to make the presentation of 150 papers in only three days.

Before talking about the contents I would like to summarise the conclusions that I took away from my stay in this conference.

  1. More than half of the presentations I have attended had slides that abused PowerPoint in its more inefficient and less visual way: lots of bullet points almost literally read by the presenter. It's clear that while you read the slides you barely pay attention to what the speaker is saying, and if you listen to the speaker, reading is out of the question (what is then the need for a slide?) This is a mortal sin in a conference like this, where we have seen certainly other excellent presentations centered on the visual contents of what the speaker was saying.

  2. An important point that appears repeatedly. The systems that have tried to reach the market have had a scarce commercial success. Many presentations failed to positively answer the question "have you tested for usability or efficient use of the potential users?". Maybe this is part of the answer? It appears to be that the commercialisation of Information Visualisation systems progresses very slowly. Companies like Aduna (formerly Aidministrator) that have been surviving in the market for more than 7 years constitute a message of hope for this sector. One that proceeds at a slow pace.

  3. Possible corollary of the previous two points: Visual illiteracy affects a vast number of the population that include those of us that supposedly are visually literate and are trying to lliterate the others. We have spoken before from this newsletter, we learn to read and write, but nobody teaches us to think using visualisation or to visually depict our thoughts.

  4. Beyond its presentations most of the work showed great creativity, and many of them represent the most promising trends in this field. They have a huge potential but there's still a long way to go regarding the study of how to make visualisations that users can use efficiently to get the most out of them. Probably this should include divulgating visualisation and its achievements

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Professor M. Jern of the University of Linköping,  Sweden, presenting the first keynote lecture
: Digital photography made by the author during the conference.
Click on the image to enlarge it.

From the many presentations I have attended, I would like to comment on some of the ones that most impressed me, just as a minute sample of the vast possibilities of this conference. I have selected the sessions closer to the core of visualisation, and the ones that have a more direct application to the public in general. 

Inaugural key note lecture

The first keynote lecture was given by Mikael Jern of the University of Linköping in Sweden. Professor Jern is one of the pioneers of inkjet impression, creating one of the first systems in its class. Later on he co-founded UNIRAS, that was eventually acquired by Advanced Visual Systems (AVS). 

His lecture talked about the evolution of Geovisualisation or geographically based visualisation. The ubiquity of the Web along with its functions as main disseminator of information, including geospatial information and cartographic maps, convert it into a focal point of this discipline. 

One of the fundamental challenges today in this field come from the limitations in the interactivity of the web based visualisations, its low dynamic contents and the difficulties they present to work collaboratively. 

The exposition was characterised by the visual richness of the applications, its high contents of interactive examples with multiple screens scalable at will, enabled with dynamic change capabilities. It's very difficult to reproduce here in a textual form the brilliant presentation given by professor Jern . 

Seeing Sound (Seeing sound: Real time Sound Visualisation in visual feedback loops used for training musicians).

An interesting presentation not only for its scientific contents, as many others did, but also because of its practical side. The speech showed a system thought out to act as bio-feedback in the learning of a musical instrument. Usually it's the teacher with his or her verbal comments about the interpretation who provides this feedback, but they occur necessarily at the end of (or when interrupting) the performance, i.e. not in real time. Moreover it's difficult for the student to correlate them with actual volume or with effects like tremolo, vibrato, etc. 

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Seeing sound: Two photographs of the demonstration performed by Andrew van de Moere about the possibilities of their system for visualising musical sounds. 
Source: Digital photographs made by the author during the conference.
Click on the images to enlarge them.

The system, produces a visual representation of the sound that is being captured by a microphone in such a way that the volume of the same is depicted by a red line that goes up and down through the scale accordingly, a "fountain" of particles sources from the vertex of an image of a circle sector so that the less noisy the sound the more concentrated it is along the mid-line of the sector. Conversely the "dirtier" the sound the sparser the flux of the particles look. 

Finally 4 spheres represent the 4 first harmonics of the sound that is being emitted. Its radius is proportional to the intensity of the same, so that the student can visually control the harmonic content, the volume, the cleanness of the sound. Moreover the performer can also see visually how a good vibrato appears in terms of said variables.

Andrew van de Moere, from the University of Sydney, offered us a demo of the system by playing his clarinet, what resulted in a very lively example of information visualisation. 

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Fogscreen: Projection of a flower onto the fogscreen.
: Image as can be seen at the Fogscreen.inc website. 
Click on the image to enlarge it.

Fogscreen (Laser Scanning for Interactive Walk-through FogScreen)

Fogscreen is a product patented by the founders of FogScreen. Inc. It consists of a thin layer of fog that flows continuously from a series of sprinklers located in its upper part, protected between two sheets of air in laminar flux that acts as an immaterial screen. The screen is 2 meters wide and the sensation it produces is the same as a conventional one, with some additional surprising effects. 

Obviously you can project onto it using conventional methods, but you can cross it and use the fingers as a mouse (with the help of a laser scanner) from either side of it.

The fog created between the two "walls" of air flows continuously creating a slight effect of a water curtain. Nevertheless crossing it doesn't produce a sensation of humidity.

Sven Fleck, from the University of T√ľbingen, explained the developments obtained with the laser scanner to provide interactive functionality to the screen and its possibilities as an immersive element in virtual and augmented reality.

Financial Marketing (Interactive Visualization of High Dimensional Marketing Data in the Financial Industry)

Ruud Smeulders head of R+D of Rabobank presented the marketing data visualisation that covers 30 of the 100 variables and 25,000 out of their half a million customers in their database. The data is treated anonymously,in aggregated form, in order to discover trends and marketing opportunities. 

One of the applications is a three dimensional correlation matrix among the N variables used in the study. This allows the analysts to find patterns in the variables and places of the visualisation where the correlation coefficients are high, which enables them to select visually the most promising variables, studying them more in depth in order to consider the creation of new financial products.

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Correlation Matrix of the variables used in the study. 
: Digital photography made by the author during the conference.
Click on the image to enlarge it
3D representation of the space of products and customers. 
: Digital photography made by the author during the conference.
Click on the image to enlarge it

Another of the representations allows you to group similar customers into spheres whose radii are determined by the number of them that have similar values in the three variables in study, "age", "number of investment products" and "relationship time".

This way you can see that the most popular products are given among clients with a medium risk profile and a long relationship with the bank, while risky customers use many products but they don't have a long lasting relationship. The most faithful ones opt to use less risky and less popular products.


With so many and such interesting papers it's very difficult to select a few. My interest has been no other than provide some snippets of what this interesting conference has been about. Unfortunately it was tainted by the sadness of the despicable bomb attacks that London suffered the last 7th of July. These lines serve as a homage to the victims of this irrational and brutal action and to the people of London that, the day after, made it possible for the city to get back to normal once again. 

NOTE: I couldn't attend the interesting closing keynote lectures since given the transport problems subsequent to the bomb attacks I had to finish my stay in the conference earlier than expected. They were entitled

  • "Designing the future Process Visualisation (ProVis) in companies, intenational organisations and society" by J√ľrgen W. Frank
  • "Tying Beauty¬† to Truth: Visual Mnemonics add Meaning to Perceived Patterns" by W. Bradford Paley

Links of this issue:

http://www.infovis.net/printRec.php?rec=eventos&lang=2#IV05   IV05 event entry at InfoVis.net
http://www.fogscreen.com   FogScreen website
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