Archive for March, 2011

Your favorite soda newsletter, Beverage Digest, has just released data for 2010. It contains the shocking statistics showing that Diet Coke is now the #2 drink, pushing Pepsi down to #3. This is troubling and demands some further serious investigation. Especially since Beverage Digest is one of the self-described authoritative publications covering non-alcoholic drinks. Let’s assume they deserve to be listened to.

But I’ll leave the investigating for someone else. Instead, I’ll look at the exciting subject of how to communicate through the effective presentation of data — with a focus on how to transform people who are innocently viewing data into people who think they are thirsty and need to buy a soft drink. Now.

To increase thirst levels, you should be clicking on links and pictures (for larger views) throughout this post.

Here is the data from the Beverage Digest (BD) study graphed in a variety of ways. The first two graphs show a rather dull way to present the data of which carbonated soft drink (that’s CSD to the BD people) sold the most in 2010. The graph on the right is slightly better because it has a mild 3D look and the bars may rather weakly invoke images of soft drink cans in the mind of the reader – albeit very tall and skinny cans in some cases. But the winners and losers don’t just immediately jump right out at you. We can do better.

The following graph is a big improvement. You don’t have to be a mathematician to instantly grasp where people are spending their soft drink money and which drinks contribute the most to tooth decay.

Pop Chart

Another possibility is just to stretch or shrink the size of the can to represent its sales numbers. The following chart does this, in a mildly deceptive way. While sales are relative to the can height, its width also grows (or shrinks) with the height, so that the apparent sales numbers are exaggerated for better or for worse. The little guys really drop off rapidly in this approach. This is a good example of data that’s not only accurate but at the same time intentionally distorted. That’s a trick some good marketing people strive for. The rest don’t bother with the accurate part.

No data presentation is really complete without a pie chart, even though it’s about liquids in this case. Here’s the relative market share of the top 10 soft drinks, where the slice size and owners are quickly identified.

Relative market share, top 10 soft drinks in 2010

Next up is a personal twist, my relative soft drink preference. I add in some Root Beer players even though they didn’t make the top 10 for Beverage Digest. Maybe their non-alcoholic market analysis got confused by the ‘Beer’ part. Vote for your favorite, on the off-hand chance it’s not Dr Pepper.

Finally, those interested in more on visual data presentation should check out the book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. It contains the famous (for the few who know of it) chart of Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812, created by one Charles Joseph Minard in 1869. It is probably safe to claim that this is the only chart you’ll ever see that combines army size, location, time, direction of army movement, and temperature while readily communicating the devastating losses Napoleon suffered on the campaign. The book also contains amusing examples of data distortion in graphs and charts, and even quantifies the amount of deception.

And speaking of devastating losses, let’s all go buy a Fanta to give it a boost in its battle against the mighty Coke products.


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Pi Day Rhyme Time

Click picture to get to the rapping pi video - a must-see/hear

It’s March 14, also known as 3-14 or more importantly, pi day. Which has inspired me to initiate the following challenge. Who can make the longest running story / dialog that only uses words that rhyme with pi?

The precise rules are:

1. Only single syllable words allowed.
2. All words must rhyme with ‘pi.’
3. The story must mostly make sense (as I define ‘sense’).
4. Some broken English is allowed. In particular, speakers may know English as a second language and be rather poor at conjugating verbs.
5. The amount of brokenness to the English will be judged by me, all rulings final. See my story for examples of good broken English.
6. The story title may use words that do not rhyme with pi.
7. The use of pi in the story is largely discouraged but not strictly against the precision rules.

My story features two people, Cy and Ty, in conversation. Its working title is, The surprisingly interesting pig pen surroundings and some other stuff.

Hi Cy.

Hi Ty. I cry — my eye wry.


I try fry rye pie. Dry. Sigh.


I lie.

Sly guy.

I buy my tie. I fly sky high. I die.


Why pry, shy Ty?

I ply lye by my sty.

My eye spy thy sty. I lie my thigh nigh thy sty.

I vie by my sty.





Good luck with your story. And do not try to use the word that is the Ghanan language, ‘Twi’, since it rhymes with “pee”, not “pi.” I intentionally left out the use of the word ‘wye’ to give others a chance to take this to a whole new level.

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One of my favorite authors is Terry Pratchett with his Discworld humorous-fantasy series. Several years ago, after seeing my oldest son’s interest in the series, I finally sat down and read the first book, The Color of Magic. Pratchett develops a wondrous array characters; this book featured the wizard Rincewind – a rather incompetent wizard specializing mostly in survival – and a critter known as The Luggage.

After I read the book, I remember thinking, with a full sense of satisfaction tinged with disappointment, that this was the book that I had always wanted to write. I’ve gone on to read several others books in the series, at a leisurely pace. My kids have each read the complete set of over 30 novels, typically reading most books multiple times. To my kids’ occasional frustration, there are still Discworld books I haven’t read. My reason was simple (and naïve as it turns out): I don’t want to read them too quickly; I like having new ones to explore now and then.

But I recently saw The Color of Magic lying around and decided to go for a refresher read-through. And it was quite an enjoyable read, almost like reading it for the first time. In a scary way. I remembered about 1% of the book from the first read, and that takes some effort with a Pratchett novel, since he paints many powerful scenes. I’m currently left to wonder: On the first pass, did I just read the first couple pages (I remember there had been a fire) and then skipped and read part of a page or two near the end? What about the memorable upside-down mountain of Wyrmberg? No memory of that. The cause of the fire? No. The funny hijacked airplane episode with several quintillion atoms jumping universes? Nothing. Mentions of four-sided triangles and double pointed circles? I strongly suspect all that was added after my first read. It’s hard to believe I would forget about four-sided triangles.

This has been an elaborate senior moment. A major memory neuron exodus occurred, but they forgot to leave me a note that they were leaving. Maybe the doctors did some interesting experiments when they were visiting that area of my anatomy a few years ago.

On the positive side, I don’t have to worry about getting tired of reading the Pratchett series too quickly or too often. It will be fresh every time.

For those who follow cosmology, it’s interesting that Pratchett makes mention of the multiverse decades ago (1983 for this book), before it became part of mainstream cosmological wild speculation. Like the name implies, the multiverse is a collection of lots and lots of universes.

There’s a curious thing about the multiverse that’s becoming apparent. If you’re inclined to believe there’s nothing beyond our universe, it’s becoming more and more imperative that you believe that there are an infinite number of universes beyond our universe. More on that later.

In the meantime, make a vote on your favorite Discworld novel. Mine is Going Postal, for reasons I can’t remember. If you haven’t read any yet, read this one so you can get busy forgetting it in time for the next read.

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