in Musings

On Food and Data

The summer before our senior year of college, a good friend of mine started a food blog as a remedy for her writer’s block. She shared a bit of wisdom with me:

My mother once told me: If ever you’re feeling lost – whatever you do – make progress. Keep moving and create something, anything.

Thus, whenwordsfail.com started with a simple enough premise: a photo of the dish prepared and a few lines of text about its creation. Before long, her simple recipes and writings blossomed into a living portrait of delectable dishes and deep friendships shared, a window into her life through the lens of food.

Abby made dumplings to celebrate my birthday.

My friend once made dumplings to celebrate my birthday. They were delicious!

Today, I draw inspiration from the many home-cooked meals we shared together during that time. However, instead of food and cooking, my medium will consist of data and (its) visualization!

In many ways, my passion for data stems from the appreciation for food and cooking I gained over the course of that year. Not unlike food, data in its raw form needs to be cleansed and prepared before it can be consumed. Similar to how one could contract food poisoning from contaminated food, one could “poison” our ability to make the right decision by using poorly prepped data.

The data equivalent of finding hair in your soup.

The data equivalent of finding hair in your soup.

Also, data “tastes” much better if it is presented in a thoughtful, elegant manner that elevates the raw ingredients. In other words, plating and presentation matter! See exhibits A and B below for a comparison:

Exhibit A: Pretty Data 

Beautiful chart from Tableau's Christian Chabot.

Beautifully crafted data viz from Tableau – complex, yet easy to read!

Exhibit B: Ugly Data (AKA Martha Stewart’s Ugly Food Tweets)

Ugly data - 3D charts are always bad news. Always.

Gross! I’ve lost my appetite for whatever information this chart was trying to convey.

In many ways, I am an aspiring chef in the data world, and this blog will serve as my “dining table” through which I can share my data  visualizations with friends and colleagues. My hope is to improve my technique by analyzing data that I find fascinating, to gain a deeper appreciation for each step the process, and to share my creations with you! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more delicious data visualizations coming your way soon.

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