Information Technology Reference
In-Depth Information
only a small fraction of Napoleon's army survived. Information visualization is in
general a powerful and effective tool for conveying a complex idea. However, as
shown in the above examples, one may often need to use a number of complimentary
visualization methods in order to reveal various relationships.
Edward Tufte presented several in-depth case studies of the role of visual
explanation in making decisions (Tufte 1983 , 1990 , 1997 ). In particular, Tufte
demonstrated how visual evidence, if only presented differently, might have saved
the space shuttle Challenger and how John Snow's map put an end to the 1854
cholera epidemic in London (Tufte 1997 ). In the Challenger explosion case, the
explosion was due to the leak from a seal component called O-ring. Pre-launching
test data, however, was presented through an obscure visual representation and the
engineers failed to convince NASA officers that they should abort the launch. On
the hindsight, Tufte redesigned the presentation of the same data and the pattern
of O-ring failure became clear. In another example, Tufte illustrates the role of
visual patterns in resolving a cholera outbreak in London in 1854. John Snow
(1813-1858) is a legendary figure in the history of public health, epidemiology and
anesthesiology. He was able to identify convincing evidence from a spatial pattern
of deaths and narrowed down the cause of the deaths to a specific water pump (See
Fig. 1.9 ).
The Tower of Babel
Many of us are familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. 2 Ancient
Mesopotamians believed that the mountains were holy places and gods dwell on top
of mountains and such mountains were contact points between heaven and earth,
for example, Zeus on Mount Olympus, Baal on Mount Saphon, and Yahweh on
Mount Sinai. But there were no natural mountains on the Mesopotamian plain, so
people built ziggurats instead. The word ziggurat means a “tower with its top in the
heavens.” A ziggurat is a pyramid-shaped structure that typically had a temple at
the top. Remains of ziggurats have been found at the sites of ancient Mesopotamian
cities, including Ur and Babylon.
The story of the Tower of Babel is in the Bible, Genesis 11: 1-9. The name
Babylon literally means “gate of the gods.” It describes how the people used brick
and lime to construct a tower that would reach up to heaven. According to the story,
the whole earth used to have only one language and a few words. People migrated
from the east and settled on a plain. They said to each other, “Come, let us build
ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name
for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” They
baked bricks and used bitumen as mortar. When the Lord came down to see the city
and the tower, the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one
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