The Day After and the Biblia Pauperum, some light reading

One of the most interesting infographics to make would be to show how many new data visualizations have been created over the last few months. In the run-up to the American as well the Dutch elections these last months I saw how images on the complex data that comes with these elections have appeared more often, and more frequently. Is this a good sign? Yes I believe so!

In Medieval times we had the Biblia Pauperum, a blockbook, explaining the holy book like in a cartoon. There are some really beautiful early examples of these “designed bibles” in Italy, sometimes in the form of a drapery that would hang over the edge of the pulpit, showing in clear (and big) images what was told from that same pulpit. Later on, mainly in 15th and 16th centuries we find some beautiful woodcuts in the Low-Countries, probably closer to the newspapers that now publish the infographics. In the last months I had to think of this quite often when being confronted with the schematics on electoral votes, swing states, and statistical discussions on prognosis.

While going through my bookmarks of the last week (in order to label them and get them into the right folder) I have collected a number of political and non-political links that would apply to the label Biblia Pauperum, plus some other things I found worth reading.

Data, Information, Knowledge … and Wisdom

Last week the MOOC on Infographics and Data Visualization at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas started, and I am one of the 2000 lucky students. About 8 years ago my former employer dropped a book on my desk. Mouth watering and in one go I finished it. The book had to do with data processing and information visualization in a way that as a computer scientist and art historian I could understand so well. The book by Edward Tufte has been a source of inspiration for many lectures and thoughts while working with, in my case, the presentation of geographical data.

One of the main reasons for me to start with the course is that I see the importance of data visualization. I am neither a journalist, nor a professional designer yet I want to visualize my data analysis. For example the data about assets in a geo information system, and in a way like Stephen Few describes it: Meaningful decoded data where the nature of the data as well as the relationships between the different objects is clear.  I want to be able to present this data in a way that it is understandable for non geo informatics people.

Data information knowledge model

Last week Alberto Cairo introduced us to the concepts of the data information knowledge model and on how to analyze the ongoing stream of infographics that are produced in his first lecture on information visualization.  One of the references he makes is to a chapter on data visualization from Stephen Few. Few writes: “The goal is to translate abstract information into visual representations that can be easily, efficiently, accurately, and meaningfully decoded.” In the information processing for Geographical Information Systems we often meet the same goals.

One of the future directions that Few mentions in his text is: “The integration of geo-spatial and network displays (such as node and link diagrams) with other forms of display for seamless interaction and simultaneous use.” And that is exactly why 10 years ago that book landed on my desk. I believe that the integration as mentioned above is a very obvious one,  but we should be careful. Geo data looks very “sexy”, and we see that many designers of infographics tend to use maps as  a background, or when a location is given, map the data to that location. That brings me to one of the questions of Stephen Few: “Is it obvious how people should use the information”.

In the discussion last week on a map given by Alberto Cairo, the instructor of the course, mentioned the map as a background played an important role in many people’s responses. Information on Internet use for several countries had to be presented. Some of the responses tended towards the fact that everyone knows where specific countries are on the map, so why try to map a chart to a location. On the level of countries or continents I can understand that argument, but in many cases we work with data on a smaller scale. When it comes to statistics on your assets the map is an excellent carrier of information.

Location data

Probably more then 90% of the data in a geo-database has nothing to do with the map in a direct way. It does not contain X, Y, or Z coördinates by itself, but the data is linked to other data tables that do have the location connection. For example we can have a postal code that will link customer data to a specific area. In this way we can enrich the data. The last few years there have been a number of companies that showed us wonderful examples of how to do. The result is that much of the data that is available in information systems now can be linked in one way or the other to a specific location.

If you have a shopping card from the local supermarket, data is collected on the products you buy. Different queries can be run on this raw data, for example on price ranges or on the type of products. All this data has no location component, it’s products, prices, and quantities. And we can, based on this data, run wonderful statistics. We can add extra value to this data set when we combine these statistics to the postal code of the consumer. Suddenly we start to see patterns, for example when it comes to age categories in a certain area of town.

The next step, and here I refer back to the future direction, is to change the information that we get from the different queries into knowledge. Visualizations based on the above example may have added value. But this added value can only be achieved when the data is easily and efficiently available, plus easy to read and interpret.

This is exactly where we can learn from the designers that work in the newspaper offices. This is, besides the fun, a reason for me to take the course on infographics and data visualization.

Gadgets and the mattarello

Very recently the “mattarello” was brought to my attention in a blog. Such a fantastic Italian word, and such a great instrument when making your own pasta. I admire people that can handle that stick properly, and when I see it being used I always stay to watch it a while. This youtube video shows one of these magicians.

The automatic rolling pin

I should admit that although I have tried a couple of times to roll and cut my own pasta using a rolling pin I have gone for the machine. A couple of years ago I treated myself to a pasta machine from Trebs. Since then I even more regularly make my own pasta using this machine. The advertisement says you can make pasta within 15 minutes, and that it has only to cook for 4 minutes. With me it always take a bit longer to make it, but I save this extra time by eating it more “al dente”.

Trebs pasta machine

The recipe that I always use is very simple:

  • 100 gr unbleached flour or semolina flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • a little salt

For the taste semolina flour is better, but since it has a coarser grain it is more difficult to work. To have just a taste of the semolina in your pasta you can mix the two types of flour. In that case use 1 part of semolina on 4 parts of unbleached flour.

Tonight I made tagliatelle with a special pesto. But that recipe I save for next time.

Tweet #100

The last two and half months I have not only started blogging, but have also been sending out tweets. Today, with the announcement of my new blog post on focaccia I was at tweet number 99, a good moment to tweet something special for the next one.

Wordle

What I did is I collected all the 99 tweets and cleaned up the data by removing name-tags (if it was me) and common words that come with twitter. After that cleaning I ran the text document through Wordle in order to create a word cloud diagram. I thought that if it was going to be right this Wordle cloud would say something about me and my interests (like the subtitle of my blog already says: bits and bobs on a wide interest). You can see the result below.

A wordle from the 99 tweets that I did August 15 - October 30

And yes, this Wordle definitely tells something about me and my interests. Maps, mapping, GIS, and Infographics stand out in the diagram. Reading, coffee, culture, and food (pizza) are certainly a second subcategory. Words like blog, post, via, hashtag, and rt clearly come from the social media. You see a number of people that I mentioned, or re-tweeted in my tweets too (for those that do not recognize it, they start with an @).

All in all, Wordle gives a great insight in texts, and by this diagram also in my interests.

And my 100th tweet? That tweet will be announcing this new blog post.

Bread, salt, and olives

Since the  pizza oven is going to heat up slowly and it is still early in the day, I decided to bake some focaccia.  It’s an excellent snack for the late afternoon, or like we did for lunch. Although it is not really needed, but since it is so delicious, I have made some olive tapenade with it. Both of these recipes have some things in common, but the thing I want to talk about here is the salt.

Salt, when and how

In the book “How to Cook” there is a separate part on the use of salt in the bread making process. Bread needs salt, firstly for the taste, but secondly, and also important is for the reaction of the yeast. Here we find an unstable equilibrium, too much salt will kill the activity of the yeast, and we end up with a flat bread that has not risen. On the other hand if we only add the yeast (and the sugar, which acts as the catalyst of the process)  it will act very rapidly, but will also die out quickly. So we need to find a way to start the process slowly, and keep it going as long as possible. For this reason it is good to experiment a little with the quantities. Of course the water temperature and the outside temperature matter. All in all it’s a precision job.

The second thing is something I have read once, remembered and never found back. So maybe you as my readers can help me out. I remember that when you want to keep the sparkling green color of the basil in your recipe you should first mix the garlic and the salt in your mortar and get it very fine, then mix the other ingredients. The salt will prevent the basil to oxidate to quickly (as will the lemon juice). A second trick is to cook and cool it quickly before using (some seconds in boiling water, then cool in ice water). In any case you should not get the basil too warm, and remember the friction from the mortar will get it warm too, as well as (of course) adding warm pasta.

The focaccia

In order to make the focaccia I make the dough with
  • 500 gr flour
  • 10 gr salt
  • 10 gr sugar
  • 10 gr dry yeast
  • 300 cc hand-warm water (37 degrees Celsius, I use a bath thermometer for this)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Fresh rosemary needles
  • Olive oil

Mix the yeast and the water

Mix the flour and the sugar on a clean counter, make a little volcano with a crater

Put the salt to the side of the flour

Pour the water into the middle of the flour and quickly mix it, preferably with one hand.

Keep kneading, the longer the better.

Let the mix rise for 30 minutes at room temperature.

This time I always use to make the garlic oil, and the olive paste

For the garlic oil, crush the garlic, add it to the oil, together with the rosemary needles. Let it rest.

After 30 min knead the dough again and form it quickly into the form you want. It should be about 3 cm thick. Make some holes in it with your fingertips and spread the oil (with garlic and herbs) over it. Put away to rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, and bake the loaf for 15 to 18 minutes. In the pizza oven I just do not put any new wood on for a while, and close the door to keep the temperature.

The olive paste

  • 150 gr black olives
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 30 gr capers
  • 30 gr pine nuts (roasted, and cooled down)
  • 1 basil leave
  • Lemon juice, salt and pepper to the taste

Crush the garlic and the salt, then add the other ingredients and mix till you get a nice paste.

Looking forward to the comments on the bright green basil… You will probably have some ideas on that.

A quiet week

Due to the holidays in Holland it is a quiet week, and when I look around on my desk I see some remains of the busier weeks before. A pile of books that I would like to read, some professional magazines. A number of things that I tore out of magazines and newspapers, among which some recipes that I had planned to make, just mainly to try them. My head full of ideas on what to write, what to blog about.

And in the end…

Tomorrow will be Friday, and I got nothing done from that list in my head, and I do not mind. I had a wonderful week.

Some of the bookmarks I collected this week I will list here:

So there is a lot to do still…

The Weather Forecast: Pizza

Already at the start of this week it was mentioned in the newspaper, “Do not get your outdoor furniture in yet, the weekend will be warmer”. It was cold and windy this week. But I longed for the weekend, and I knew what I was going to do! Fire up the oven for one of the last times this season, and bake pizza!

The Fornino Oven

A few years ago I bought a pizza oven. It comes as a construction kit, and needed some work with insulation material, wire netting, bricks and mortar, and patience. The last thing especially was troublesome. Once the oven has been built you want to fire it as quickly as possible to try it, but you have to wait. It should dry properly, and you have to dry heat it in several stages.

From a colleague that also has an oven, I got the book by Peter Reinhart, “The Perfect Pie”. This is very nice reading, starting off with a lot of background material before he actually gets to the recipes for the dough and the toppings. Although you can find a lot of nice recipes on the Internet, browsing through the cookbooks always has something special. So in the weeks waiting I finished Reinhart, and read the chapter on the search for the perfect pizza by Heston Blumenthal in his book “the search for perfection” (the episode is available on-line). And I must admit that although I liked the Blumenthal approach, I have chosen the Reinhart way of making pizza for the convenience.

So this Sunday afternoon I started to fire the oven, slowly to get the autumn cold out,  using some trunks from a tree that we fell last year. And in the meantime preparing the tomato sauce for the children and a special topping.

Caramelized onion

The Caramelized Onion topping is one of the wonderful recipes from the book of Reinhart. Although I have seen many recipes for this, I keep coming back to this recipe for a pizza with onions and some Gorgonzola cheese. It has so many wonderful flavors, and the mix is just delicious! One of the best moments is when you make a little hole in the middle of the onion sugar mix, and blend the balsamic vinegar in: the different flavors that moment…

So as the afternoon progressed, it smelled more and more of smoke from the wood fire in the oven, and sweet and sour on the gas stove. At the same moment balls of dough were being kneaded and set to rise. It is not summer anymore so it was dark already when I started with my first pizza. The high temperatures and the air circulation under the dome of the oven make it hard working for some minutes.

Spreading the dough, quickly turning and moving with my hands, trying to get it as round as possible without pressing to much of the air out of the dough. Spreading the topping over the pizza. Then, in a little more than a minute, the pizza is baked. It tasted so good.

I already look forward to the weather forecast for next weekend!