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The Joy (Division) of Visualization

Data visualization mixes with general culture in more ways than you might expect. Here's a classic -- in more ways than one -- from 1979.

The other day, I had one of those serendipity moments.

As I was waiting at the bus stop to take my daughter to school, I noticed one of the other pupils was wearing a t-shirt with the classic cover of Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" album.

joy division unknown pleasures

The record came out in 1979, when I was about the same age as the girl wearing the t-shirt, and I remember having a huge poster-sized version on my wall at University.

A quick Google search on my phone, and I quickly discovered that it wasn't the random scribbles of a graphic artist that I had always assumed.

In fact, it turns out that it's a reversed graphic from The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy by Harold D. Craft, Jr, as explained by Jen Christiansen in this Scientific American blog post:

"Successive pulses from the first pulsar discovered, CP 1919, are here superimposed vertically. The pulses occur every 1.337 seconds. They are caused by rapidly spinning neutron star."

Photo: Jen Christiansen

In other words, it's one of the earliest examples of data visualization that I ever fell in love with -- long before I ever realized that I'd be working in analytics.

Back when I was a penniless student, I decided that going out was more important than buying the album, but thanks to modern technology, I was listening to it (for the first time ever!) on Spotify seconds after I dropped my daughter off...

The type of visualization used isn't really considered best practice (potentially important information is too easily hidden between the curves in front), but it should be possible to recreate it using modern data discovery tools like SAP Lumira -- for example, by reusing this beautiful d3.js example with Lumira's data visualization extensions.

For more about beautiful visualization, see this post about David McCandless.

[This post first appeared on the Business Analytics Blog]