Visualization Quest

by Justin

I’ve recently become enamored with data visualization.

I did a poster presentation of my spring research on the 2008 financial crisis, and one thing I tried to do differently from last year is present more information in visual format, instead of just impervious blocks of text.

I made that mistake the spring before. I had three people look at my research last year. This year was much better. I had at least two dozen visitors before I had to leave the research presentation.

But while I was working with data visualization concepts, I began looking at websites like and for creative ways to present information.

Then a few weeks ago, that viral story about the Afghanistan PowerPoint slide came out and made a buffoon out of some poor intelligence analyst (I pray that it was an Air Force analyst…) because it was so complicated. The one where General McChrystal said: “when we understand that slide, we will have won the war.”

It only drove me to learn more about data visualization, because I didn’t want to be that guy, when it’s my turn to brief the top Afghanistan Commander on “the situation.”

So I’ve been playing with data visualization techniques and tools. I grabbed some data from Goldman Sachs stock prices and indicated the big drops where they got sued by the SEC (ed. note: Sack Goldman!). I might post it later. It’s a little too strait-forward to be really interesting.

I wanted to share this chart, which is what I made tonight, while trying to avoid completing my feminism paper.

Typical semester coursework load relative to cookie, tea, and cookie consumption.

I plotted (with contrived data) the changes in my coffee, tea, and cookie consumption relative to the coursework load of a typical semester. Enough of my classes are the same, and my habits similar enough to have developed a pattern of activity.

So the yellow line is the baseline, and shows the coursework load. The big humps at ‘A’ and ‘C’ are my mid-term exams and finals, respectively.

The red line is coffee consumption. It ramps up sharply until about mid-terms at ‘A’, which is where it is often most needed to complete reading/prepare anticipated responses/etc. It crashes after mid-terms; I’ve usually overdone it. I do get a little bounce right around final exams though.

The trend in the blue line (tea) is interesting. It ramps up only after mid-terms, and gets really heavy at the end of the semester. I only noticed this recently, but I think tea is my concentration technique, similar to “pacing the hallway,” and I use it to think out my end-of-term papers that I’m accustomed to turning in at the end of each semester.

Another interesting thing is the trend of the green line (cookies). It is constant, except for a little dip (‘B’) when coffee and tea consumption are both in a relative low point. I attribute this to cookies being complementary to my two homework beverages of choice.

Let me know what you think. Pretty strait-forward?