Monday, February 25, 2008

Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte

Beautiful Evidence
by Edward Tufte

Hardcover, 214 pages
Graphics Press, 2006
Order directly from the publisher:

Essay by
Michael Pastore

George Orwell, famous for the (sadly) prophetic dystopian novel 1984, has written other works worthy of careful reading. His essay Politics and the English Language exposes techniques used by propagandists (governments and advertisers) to intentionally distort reality and truth. In Orwell’s autobiographical novel Down and Out in Paris and London, the book’s hero mingles with the poor and homeless in those great cities. After months of talking with these forgotten men — men who could not answer the question “Who lived first, Jesus or Napoleon?” — Orwell concluded with this memorable remark: “Their ignorance was limitless and appalling.”

This week, two works were announced, either one of which should make us wonder not if, but when that colossal ignorance has shifted continents. Susan Jacoby’s book The Age of American Unreason, surveys our culture of childishness and our lack of intellectual depth. A new film, Two Million Minutes compares three pairs of typical high school students — in America, China and India. The difference? Instead of partying and watching television, students in China and India do something revolutionary with their high-school years: they work diligently and they learn.

What can save America from this nosedive into absolute stupidity? … We need intelligent leadership — meaning, a president and Congress who are educated, and value knowledge and art. We need a revolution in education, and in teacher training, from the kindergarten to the university. We need a better media, committed not only to truth, but to something that was once called ‘wisdom’. And we need a core of intelligentsia — authors, artists, and practical-minded intellectuals — who can advise us throughout this enormous change.

One of these authors is Neil Postman. His book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999) examines the Enlightenment thinkers, and shows how their timeless ideas might be used to renew our floundering schools. Postman died in 2003, yet the torch still burns in the hands of another author of integrity and genius, who, like Postman, is well-versed in both history and technology, and unafraid to question the technologies that oversimplify our lives and make things worse. Edward Tufte is this author, and his latest book, Beautiful Evidence, is a stunning masterpiece of content and design.

What is Beautiful Evidence about? … Tufte is the world’s leading authority on analytic design (more commonly called “information design”). In an interview, he explained:

“The point of analytic design is to assist thinking.”

Tufte has developed an ingenious set of principles that allow scientists, researchers and scholars to use all the available data (evidence) — numbers, text and images — in the best possible way, to discover and convey a truth.

The book itself is gorgeous. Filled with large and unique images, each page contains another visual and intellectual surprise. You see, for example, a “simple” still life painting by Cezanne or an innocent line drawing by Matisse. After a few pages of Tufte’s analysis of the work of art, it is no longer simple. Our seeing becomes intensified, and thus more dimensions of the work are immediately revealed. Here is the first reason why, to me, Tufte’s work seems so essential: he bridges the terrible gap between art and science — and between artists and scientists. Art without precision and knowledge is often sloppy and superficial. Science without art — without feeling and imagination — can be false, misapplied, and dangerous.

We are drowning under seas of information. Tufte states that the number of PowerPoint slides produced each year is between 100 million and 1 billion. We have oceans of information, yet all this data does nothing but befuddle us — unless we are trained to distinguish the significant from the meaningless. And here is the second reason why every thinking person should study Tufte’s works: he shows us reliable techniques for debunking falsehoods and discovering truths.

“Making a presentation is a moral act, as well as an intellectual activity.”
—Edward Tufte

Beautiful Evidence — written primarily for academics and scientists who explain things with numbers and charts — can nevertheless be enjoyed by any intelligent reader. For consumers of information (meaning: the entire world), awareness of Tufte’s ideas enlightens us about the doublespeak of disfunctional politics, and the doubletalk of fatuous advertising campaigns. For everyone who teaches or explains, Tufte’s chapter about the failure of PowerPoint (with a reference to Peter Norvig’s parody of a powerpointed Gettysburg Address) can improve your presentations. “Improve your presentations” does not mean making better PowerPoints, like the popular video (now circulating YouTube) that advocates the “10—20—30 rule”: have no more than 10 slides; make the presentation no longer than 20 minutes; and set the font size at a minimum of 30 points. Tufte’s solution is radical and right on target: he suggests giving up our sacred PowerPoint, and replacing it with a well-written scientific report, a 4-page illustrated handout, and a presentation format that includes a discussion between the presenter and the audience.

In ancient Greece, the art of rhetoric split into two antagonistic paths. There were the Sophists, who, for one lepta, would persuade you that A equals B — and then for a drachma would be happy to convince you that what they just taught you was false. Rhetoric had deteriorated into a psychological battle known as the art of persuasion: how to get people to think and do whatever you want them to do and think. Socrates invented a better idea. The Socratic method uses questions to debunk false claims and to reveal true ideas. The technique is summarized in these words of Socrates: “Let us go forth together in search of truth. And if we disagree, and you can show me that you are right, then I will be the first to give way.”

This noble and beautiful Socratic spirit lives on — in all the words, images and works of the artist-scientist Edwarde Tufte.

== End of Review ==

Related Links to Review of Beautiful Evidence

Edward Tufte (and Graphics Press) website:

George Orwell: Text of Novel Nineteen Eighty-Four:

George Orwell: Film of 1984:

George Orwell: Down and Out in Paris and London:

George Orwell: Politics and the English Langauge:

Susan Jacoby book: The Age of American Unreason (article in NY Times)

2 Million Minutes (film)

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as a PowerPoint Presentation (by Peter Norvig):

Neil Postman - Article in WikiPedia:

Science + Government = Bad Science:


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Monday, February 18, 2008

Google Analytics — Get the free ebook

Google Analytics is a free service that allows you to discover (non-personal) information about the visitors to your website. G. A. is best-known for its connection with Google's adwords, and marketing Gurus use it to analyze websites to make bigger bucks. Yet this free tool can be used by anyone -- individuals and non-profit organizations -- who wants to increase the popularity of their websites.

Epublishers Weekly has produced a free ebook:

Google Analytics: A Quick Guide to the Basics.

You can read the full-sized version of this ebook (thanks to Scribd and their new iPaper) by clicking this link:

This 70-page ebook is written for the new user. Mainly designed for individuals and non-profits, it can be read profitably by business-website owners, and anyone who needs a basic understanding of what G.A. is all about. Illustrated with screen shots, the ebook concludes with a page of resources for learning more about Google Analytics.

The ebook is free with no strings attached: except a one-page advertisement by the sponsor, on the very last page of the ebook.

Here is a miniature preview of the ebook. To turn the pages, just scroll the scroll bar. To read the full-sized version, just click on the square in the upper right-hand corner of the miniature preview. Or, click this link:

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Friday, February 08, 2008

The Zorba Anthology of Love Stories

Many Greek philosophers looked forward to old age, because &mdash they haplessly argued &mdash old age freed them from the slavery of love.

Euripides disagreed. More than 2,000 years ago he explained the great secret:

"When love is temperate it is the sweetest thing,
but save me from the other kind."

Happy Valentine's Day from EPW and Zorba Press.

And take a look at the Zorba Anthology of Love Stories.

Here, dear Reader, you will find a treasure of 31 stories (and passages from novels) all about the wild joys, the heartbreaking sorrows, the wonderful comedy, and the delightful mysteries of Love. Romantic love is the main theme of these tales, but other varieties of Love are explored: erotic love, motherly love, brotherly love, spiritual love, and friendship.

This book contains 28 selections by great storytellers from many lands, including Chekhov, Mansfield, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, Mary Shelley, Tolstoy, Hesse, Yezierska, E. M. Forster, Selma Lagerlöf, Marguerite Audoux, Maupassant, Hawthorne, Melville, Casanova, and many more. Also included are an Introduction by the editor, and 3 original pieces by Charles Elliott, Michael Pastore, and the novelist O. Thoreau.

But why read about love, when you watch a film? ... One of the great comic love films of all time is Smiles Of A Summer Night, by Ingmar Bergman. A comedy, yes, but a drama as well, and filled with pointed insights about human relationships. This is one of the last films that Bergman made before his work -- still good, but very different -- plunged through a glass darkly, filled with shrieking women, weak-hearted men, and sexistential angst.

Thanks to the website Filmschatten, you can now see Bergman's film free: a broadband internet connection (cable or DSL) is needed.
Filmschatten website:

Smiles of a Summer Night (part 1 of 7)

And did we mention, for the perfect gift for Valentine's Day, the Zorba Anthology of Love Stories

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Reading Is Still Alive: An Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs and 1984 commercial

Dear Steve,

First: Happy Birthday, today, and thank you for your work in improving the world’s technology. I think that your single greatest contribution to humanity is not the fact that you’ve filled the Earth with cool gadgets. What you’ve done is to make technology simpler, friendlier, easier to use. Nowadays, the average computer-user can do things that might have seemed like wonders to his father and miracles to his grandmother -- all with a minimum of effort and a reasonable expense. And yet ...

The road to hell is paved with good inventions. Our passionate focus on technology -- yours, mine, and virtually everyone’s -- has perhaps distracted us from other essential things. In 1976, Apple Corporation’s logo showed Isaac Newton, sitting under an apple tree, reading a book. In 1984, the company seemed remarkably aware of the dangers of Orwellian governments; and your famous superbowl commercial that year concluded with the words: “And you'll see why 1984 [the year] will not be like [the novel] 1984.”

That novel warned us about government propaganda, where “WAR IS PEACE ... FREEDOM IS SLAVERY ... IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH,” and “... the world is in a state of constant war, no one is free, and everyone is ignorant.” In the pathetic society depicted in Orwell’s novel, conformity has conquered individuality; and reading worthy books is not only impossible, but the value of reading is lost in the sauce of a ceaseless patter of propaganda.

At this point I must freely admit to being an anachronism: I love books, I revere genuine authors, I believe, perhaps naively so, that reading matters, and that reading is still alive. Your recent comments about reading succeeded in getting my attention. (The ‘product’ mentioned is Amazon’s ebook reader, called ‘Kindle’.).

"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."

Last week, my favorite local bookstore went out of business.
bookstore closed in Ithaca
And nobody can deny the facts that libraries are struggling for financial survival, the entire publishing industry is floundering, and American adults and children are reading less. When you see this kind of problem -- be it the decline of reading, the onslaught of global warming, or the needless growth of world poverty -- do you shut your eyes and say “That’s the way it’s going, that’s the way it must be?” ... Or do you raise your voice and work to make a change? If you know Mr. Dickens, and his story == A Christmas Carol ==, then you can never forget the desperate words of Scrooge, pleading for one chance to transform his selfish world. After he is shown London’s future, and -- most terrifying of all -- his own, the miser shouts:

“Spirit ! Are these the shadows of things that MUST be, or the shadows of things that MAY be, only ? Tell me, Spirit!”

If reading matters to you, then you might “think different” about your response to fact of reading’s decline. Between your dazzling presentations about the world’s thinnest notebooks, and the latest improvements to Leopard and the iPod touch, you might toss in a few words -- enhanced by the Keynote software -- about how and why reading makes a difference. How reading helps to create educated and thinking persons, individuals are immune to fanaticism and prejudice, people who love creativity, and people, and peace.

Still not convinced? ... I'd like to send you a copy of my essay, "The Monster Reads!" (in the anthology, The Ithaca Manual of Style). If I don't hear from you, I'll post the essay on the Web, and upload a free audio version to iTunes.

Steve, I wish you the very best with your important work. And I hope you will enthusiastically join the campaign to dust off the great books, read them with your whole heart and mind, and then bring these books into every school and every home.

Michael Pastore
10 February 2008
Ithaca, New York

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Giants Beat Patriots in Superbowl XLII, 17 to 14

Eli manning led the New York Giants to a surprising victory in Superbowl XLII. Superb defense — including a consistent pass rush against the Patriots' quarterback — allowed the Giants to do what no team has done all season: to beat one of the best teams in the history of American football.
Some facts and triva:

  • Final Score: Giants 17, Patriots 14

  • Number of times Patriots QB was sacked over the entire 18-game season: 24 (average: sacked 1.33 times per game)

  • Number of times Patriots quarterback was sacked during this superbowl game: 5

  • Game MVP: Eli Manning

  • Cost of a 30-second ad during the television broadcast: 2.7 million dollars (U.S.)

  • Number of television viewers: approximately 100 milllion

  • The last time that the Giants won the Superbowl: In 1991. That was against the Buffalo Bills, with a final score of 20 to 19 — the closest Superbowl ever played. There were no turnovers in that entire game. The game was decided in the final 8 seconds, when the Buffalo kicker missed a field goal from 47 yards.

  • Number of news stories linked from Google, on the morning after the superbowl: 4,635

The play of the game, with under one minute remaining, was Eli Manning's Houdini-like escape from the Patriots' defense, to throw a key pass that kept the drive alive.

About this play, Manning said:

"A lot of people were grabbing at me, but I knew I wasn't getting pulled down. You have to try to get small sometimes and sneak your way out of something. I found a hole, got loose and made a throw."

After Manning escaped that pass rush, he looked upfield and then threw the ball to his wide receiver David Tyree, who caught the ball miraculously by trapping it one-handed against his helmet.

Superbowl 2008 showed us two great teams playing an exciting game, right down to the finish. The small but all-important difference? Perhaps the Patriots won too many games too easily. The underdog Giants, who struggled in every game, learned the great secret of Zorba and sages: "I live each moment as if it were my last."

Here's the catch-of-the-century by David Tyree:

To watch the video highlights, at, click here.

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