On the radar?

I missed the Twitter exchange about radar plots yesterday.

I caught up with some of the exchanges through a Ted Knutson post about Revisiting Radars.

Ted noted “The fact that lots of people have reactions to this type of work is a good thing, not a bad one”.

I have been using radar plots in my work for some time. I am mindful of the issues that Luke and Sam (@stat-sam) raise.

Some time ago (2008), I was fascinated by the title of a Purna Duggirala (Chandoo) post You are NOT spider man, so why do you use radar charts? I enjoyed Graham Odd’s (2011) critique of radar charts too.

Primed with Graham’s observation:

… the overall shape presented for a series on a radar chart does not leverage any of the pre-attentive attributes we perceive quantitatively. In essence, this means we are unable to attribute much genuine meaning to the shape of a series. The only patterns our visual perception can really discern in a data set presented as a radar chart are similarity and extreme outliers.

I tried to use my radar charts as a stimulus for conversation. Like, Ted, over the years I have found radar charts a good way to hook attention and trigger conversation. I had similar experiences to Ted in a variety of sport contexts:

In situations like this, visuals go a long way toward opening the conversation. If you show a table of numbers to a coach who isn’t already on board, you’re dead. Bar charts? Only mostly dead. Radars? Interesting… Tell me more.

My use of the charts acknowledged the limitations of the visualisation. Once the coaches had started to discuss the issues raised by a fallible (flawed) visualisation, we inevitably started to discuss how performance might be re-presented (represented) which led in many cases to some fascinating second-order conversations about observation and the narratives we build around performance … and other forms of visualisation.

My willingness to use radar charts dates back to William Anderson’s (1971) discussion of descriptive-analytic research in physical education. He notes:

Their principal concern is to collect accurate descriptive records of events in actual classrooms and to analyze these records in a way that enables a better understanding of the events. (1971:2)

He adds:

The descriptive records of teaching which emerge are in many ways like the descriptive record of a basketball game contained in a basketball shooting chart. The shooting chart is a diagram of a basketball court on which is recorded the number of each player who took a shot, the place on the court from which the shot was taken, and whether the shot was made. The shooting chart is a record of a critical dimension of “real world events” (the game). A careful examination of the chart can lead to understandings and insights which were not possible during the game itself. In much the same way, descriptive records of teaching provide a picture of real world events (classroom interaction) which lead to a deeper understanding of the teaching process. (1971:3)

Ted makes the point “As I designed them, radars exist to help you open the door with statistical novices, and from that perspective they have been wildly successful”.

This happened in conversations about pedagogy too in William Anderson’s work.

Like Ted, I am acutely aware of the flaws in radar charts. We have unprecedented expertise in sport now. The stories we can produce have immense visualisation resources to share performances. The key for me will be how we work with a variety of audiences in sport, and particularly in decision support for coaches, to achieve the level of engagement Ted reports:

Radars start a conversation. They get a reaction. And for whatever reason, football people are often more comfortable talking about and digesting them than almost any other vis type I have encountered. (Original emphasis.)

These issues are why I have included Audiences and Messages in my open, online discussion of sport informatics and analytics. We have great opportunities for conversation in our community of practice about diverse practices.

Photo Credit

Crystal web (Wendy, CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

On the ball … in 1935

Simon Gleave and Jurryt van der Vooren have been tracking down the earliest example of football statistics.

There have been some Twitter exchanges

In response to:

This encouraged me to write a blog post about the game.

Today Jurryt came up with two new leads, one from a Holland v Belgium game in 1935:

and this from De gronwet on 15 January 1936

This second source refers to some French journalists at the Jour newspaper. My brief enquiries suggest this might be a newspaper published in 1933.

I do need to follow up on these leads but I am immensely grateful that Simon and Jurryt are sharing their treasure hunt.

Robert Taylor

The ABC has shared news of Robert Taylor’s death.

Much of what we take for granted on the Internet today is connected with Robert and his colleagues’ work.

A citation for a Computer History Museum fellowship in 2013 notes:

Robert William Taylor discovered computing while a graduate student in 1957 when he paid his first visit to The University of Texas computer center to process his thesis data. Taylor was dismayed to find that computers of the day were focused on arithmetic and business data processing. They were not interactive; they were clumsy to use, and were severely limited in their application. He soon chose to dedicate his career to re-defining computing with a focus on interactive communication, networking, and search technology.

On his journey to that redefinition, Robert met and worked with, amongst others, Douglas Engelbart and JCR Licklider.

There is an excellent biographical article about Robert in his local newspaper. This was written in 2000, by Marion Softky.

I have compiled a Google Slide presentation to synthesise some of his life story.

I have spent some of the day reading the paper he published with Joseph Licklider in 1968, The Computer as a Communication Device.

The first paragraph of the paper is:

In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face. That is a rather startling thing to say, but it is our conclusion. As if in confirmation of it, we participated a few weeks ago in a technical meeting held through a computer. In two days, the group accomplished with the aid of a computer what normally might have taken a week. (1968:27)

I was fascinated by their discussion of on-line interactive communities:

In most fields they will consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest. In each field, the overall community of interest will be large enough to support a comprehensive system of field-oriented programs and data. (1968:37ff) (Original emphasis)

They add:

You will not send a letter or a telegram; you will simply identify the people whose files should be linked to yours and the parts to which they should be linked-and perhaps specify a coefficient of urgency. You will seldom make a telephone call; you will ask the network to link your consoles together. (1968:38)

Their conclusion to the paper anticipated a digital divide debate that occupies us now:

For the society, the impact will be good or bad, depending mainly on the question: Will “to be on line” be a privilege or a right? If only a favored segment of the population gets a chance to enjoy the advantage of “intelligence amplification,” the network may exaggerate the discontinuity in the spectrum of intellectual opportunity. On the other hand, if the network idea should prove to do for education what a few have envisioned in hope, if not in concrete detailed plan, and if all minds should prove to be responsive, surely the boon to humankind would be beyond measure. (1968:40)

It would have been fascinating to be part of Robert, Douglas and Joseph’s conversations in the 1960s. Robert was the longest surviving of the three friends. He was 85 when he died on 13 April. Joseph died in 1990 and Douglas in 2013.

Vale Robert.

Photo Credit

Robert Taylor (Computer History Museum)