That was pretty neat. At first I was wondering what practical use DynaVis had, but then I realised that it's exactly what I need: whenever I watch different types of charts, I'm always spending a lot of time figuring out how it relates to the other type
of chart I just saw. This helps a great deal.
What I'm wondering about is what all that hammering early on in the video is. Especially after all those error-message sounds started sounding. It made me switch to the desktop from full-screen view twice to see what had failed in the background, before
I realised the sounds came from the video.
I was talking to Chris Sells
a couple years ago about data visualizations. He speaks beautifully, and paces himself well, but it was still a little tough to understand him that day...
He was talking about WPF and DirectX. Having been the de-facto Windows Forms guru, he had spent a lot of time with the APIs. Nice as they are, they
for the most part a v1.0 design for a managed abstraction of Win32 calls.
I'm not sure if he was more frustrated with Windows Forms or more excited about WPF and DirectX, but the net of the conversation was that he saw the potential in both technologies for cool new ways to perform data visualization.
Honestly, I'm not the kind of dev who gets excited about stuff like that, so I had a hard time sharing his enthusiasm. Through my life as a contractor, I avoided doing reporting work. I got hit with it occasionally, but on those occasions, I kept myself busy
and had some fun by writing my own charting stuff instead of using some other baked product (Crystal, etc.). For me, reporting was an obstacle I had to get past so that I could do the coding I
to do, and the only way to tolerate it was to make it fun for myself.
With the stuff I saw while conducting this interview, I finally started to see what Chris was so excited about.
I think I hated reporting because I didn't find it very useful. I don't have a lot of patience (if that isn't already obvious with my reactions to criticism as of late), and I get frustrated as numbers about things I don't really care about sail past my face.
Chris was absolutely right about needed improvements in the area. This DynaVis stuff is nicely representative of that.
It reminds me of the first time I saw a relevance aware tag cloud. I thought it was hideously ugly, but what it lacked in appearances it made up for in functionality. Being able to see what the most talked about subjects were for the site (I forget where I
first saw one) without even having to read the tags was pretty cool.
I get frustrated easily by having to sift through large quantities of information. We need new tools and new ways of displaying data or else the me's of the world are going to go nuts...
What I liked so much about DynaVis was that it was such a tasteful application of technology to an old problem. It wasn't flashy. A lot of devs have problems with either going overboard (let's port this chart to the Unreal engine!) or doing next to nothing
(here's your text file dump of the database contents - feel free to sort through the 800,000 records manually).
DynaVis was right in the middle. It's clear (to me at least) that a lot of care went into making it. It can be hard to code something cool without indulging oneself and adding all the fireworks available, but it can also be hard to come up with the motivation
to do the thing in the first place. It strikes me as the product of a real
coder. Someone who derives pleasure from elegance.
I wish more of this stuff bubbled up to the top and made its way into the world. My understanding is that Microsoft Research is all about testing and planning for the future. My experience is that the future's already been pretty well constructed. It'd be nice
if it all made its way into the wild.
But that's another subject entirely, and one I'm going to write about soon.
I'll just end this comment by saying that getting to meet all these MSR people was a real eye-opener. I'm still collecting my thoughts and making sense of how MSR fits into the big picture.
It's all so bloody cool...