We just returned from the EuroVis 2009 [zib.de] conference in Berlin, and we would like to share some of the experience with the infosthetics community. We joined about 200 international visualization researchers for a conference program mixing information visualization, scientific visualization, visual analytics, and plenty of Berliner Weisse. New this year were poster presentations, child care(!), as well as a workshop and a tutorial before the conference. The conference has been growing over the past years in attendance and paper submissions resulting in a number of interesting talks. The historic Harnack Haus (once a home to academic heavyweights such as Einstein, Planck, and Heisenberg), set amongst the trees of the Free University Berlin, was an invigorating place to meet.
Please read on below for the short summaries of some of the interesting papers.
Keynote EuroVis 2009 started out with a very interesting keynote by Stanford Professor Pat Hanrahan, who talked (presentation slides, PDF) about the role of visualization as a system of thought. Our favourite quote from his talk (paraphrased): "the only people who question the value of visualizations are the type of people in this room." Indeed, as visualization researchers we often struggle with finding the best visualizations for a task, data, and context while people in biology, physics, digital humanities, and beyond just move forward with visualization design because it is just obvious to them that any visualization is probably better than none. Hanrahan presented a nice list of key questions to consider when approaching a visualization problem and summarized what we already see as "good" research practice.
This year the conference gave out three best paper awards, which you can also find on the conference website. Rather than choose these, we are going to highlight some of our personal favourites instead.
Visualization of Animal Movement
In this project Edward Grundy et al. visualized data from accelerometers attached to wild animals in order to help researchers group, identify, and analyze patterns of the animals' behaviour. The visualizations used a convincing combination of multiple views and representations to show different information about the movement. Their techniques include: spherical scatterplots, spherical histograms, clustering methods, and feature-based state diagrams. Plus, penguins are cute and this paper was awarded the the best paper award! There is more information in the form of the paper and videos.
Collaborative Brushing and Linking for Co-located Visual Analytics of Document Collections
Cambiera (project website), a collaborative tool based on a digital tabletop display, was built by Petra Isenberg(author of this post) and Danyel Fisher to support multiple people collaboratively searching through text document collections. The main features support both people keeping an awareness of what the other person has been reading and searching for, something that may be critical for information analysis on shared workspaces. This project also received the (3rd) best paper award.
Preconceptions and Individual Differences in Understanding Visual Metaphors
Even presentations that make one want to argue with the authors can be worth mentioning when their approach is novel, and their ideas interesting. The paper by Caroline Ziemkiewicz and Robert Kosara, the second in a series of investigations of how we think about different visual forms, is one such case. Their premise is that we naturally apply metaphors when viewing a visualization. For example, they assume we naturally see treemaps as a sort of enclosure, while we may view a node-link tree as a hierarchy. For the former, words such as 'inside' and 'contained' would be the compatible linguistic metaphors; for the latter, we may say 'above' and 'below'. By changing the representation of the data, the way we think about it changes, the authors propose. They test this by showing a visualization and asking questions using the compatible and incompatible language. They then try to detect a difference in response accuracy. Their paper (PDF) was a topic of conversation for much of the conference.
A Visualization Based Approach for Digital Signature Authentication
Songhua Xu presented an interesting idea for measuring pen angle and pressure to present beautiful flower-like visual versions of a handwritten signature. You could argue that signatures are already a visual form, nicely identifiable and universal. However, with the added data about pen pressure and angle, the authors were able to create visual signatures that offer potentiall greater security, assuming you can learn to read them.
Lifted Domain Coloring
The psychedelic nature of the signature visualizations was mirrored in Poelke and Polthier's presentation of Lifted Domain Coloring (PDF). This work is challenging to understand for people without mathematical knowledge on complex planes, branched Riemann surfaces, Gauss maps, etc. but, hey, the pictures are really trippy and for people who work with complex functions this may actually be helpful.
The Chinese Room: Visualization and Interaction to Understand and Correct Ambiguous Machine Translation
Liz Marai told us about a project in collaboration with Joshua Albrecht and Rebecca Hwa, cleverly called the Chinese Room after Searle's famous thought experiment. They created a visualization interface that, while less aesthetically pleasing than much of what we saw this week, was exciting in that they clearly demonstrated its usefulness. The Chinese Room is an interface to assist people who are not bilingual to interpret and even correct machine translations. Dr. Marai gave some hilarious examples of automatic Chinese-English translations, making clear the need for tools to leverage human expertise alongside computer technologies.
As our background is pretty much exclusively in information visualization and visual analytics you have seen a strong bias in our paper selection for these types of papers. For those of you interested in Scientific Visualization we asked the experts for suggestions and one of the well-liked projects was Hierarchical Vortex Regions in Swirling Flow, a paper that talks about ways to understand vortex regions, for example, in the air or in liquids. The technique allows to more easily identify and classify types of vortices. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much information online on the project so you have to talk to Christoph Petz if you want to learn more.
Previously Seen on Infosthetics
There were also a couple of notable extensions to visualizations previously presented on Infosthetics, including DocuBurst and Edge Bundles.
It is interesting to note that while many of the visualizations presented on infosthetics have something to do with the web, there were no papers of this nature at EuroVis. There is still a lot of opportunity to conduct publishable academic research that is deployed on, or uses, the web as a resource.
Overall, the EuroVis event was quite a success. We hope more Infosthetics fans will join us for a glass of wine next year at Eurovis 2010 in Bordeaux, France.
This guest entry was written by Petra Isenberg, PhD student at the University of Calgary and Christopher Collins, PhD student at the Universtity of Toronto. Both currently work at the Innovations in Visualization Laboratory at the University of Calgary. Petra's PhD work is on collaborative visualization while Chris works on combining visualization and linguistics research.