VIS 2015 – Friday

The final day of the conference was much shorter, only one full session and then the closing with the capstone. Here is a report on a few more papers, the capstone, a panel left over from Thursday, and a few random tidbits.

Running Wrap-Up

The running “club” started out well with five runners on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the rain Tuesday night seemed to have convinced a lot of people that Wednesday morning would be bad for running. It wasn’t. There was a very light drizzle, but it was really pleasant weather to run in otherwise. Only one other person showed up, unfortunately. Same on Thursday, which was a bit colder (and the morning after the West Coast Party), but also a spectacular sunrise.

I realize that it was early (6:30am), but I had hoped for a few more people. If anybody has an idea how to get more people to run, I’m all ears.

The Velo Club de VIS seems to have done well, despite the rain on Saturday.

Education Panel

This actually took place on Thursday, but that posting was already kind of long. I was invited to play the moderator on the panel Vis, The Next Generation: Teaching Across the Researcher-Practitioner Gap together with Marti A. Hearst (organizer), Eytan Adar (organizer), Tamara Munzner, Jon Schwabisch, and Ben Shneiderman (who unfortunately couldn’t make it). This was unusual because I wasn’t even one of the organizers, and I am an odd choice given that I’ve been out of academia for four years.

I still have opinions though, and it was an opportunity to have some fun moderating. I had plenty of that, and we discussed some interesting topics, like the different approaches people take, the projects they assign, how much work they do in class, etc.

One topic that came up was the question of how to disseminate knowledge about teaching. This is clearly an issue in visualization right now, with many new people starting to teach but few places to get information about teaching visualization from, share materials, etc. I really hope that there will be some sort of tutorial or other platform next year to remedy this.

The panel ended up being very popular (the room was packed), and we had to cut off the discussion as the session was ending (there were about five people in line at the microphone at that point).

Several of the presenters’ slides are available online: Marti Hearst’sTamara Munzner’s, and Eytan Adar’s.


Time Curves: Folding Time to Visualize Patterns of Temporal Evolution in Data by Benjamin Bach, Conglei Shi, Nicolas Heulot, Tara Madhayastha, Tom Grabowski, Pierre Dragicevic uses multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) to arrange items by similarity, and then connects them with lines. The effect is that it can show things like small and large differences between adjacent time steps, as well as circular changes like in Wikipedia edit wars.

Not only is their system quite nice (and has a beautiful and interactive website), it also happens to be based on a technique called the connected scatterplot. Steve Haroz, Steven Franconeri, and I just got a paper about that technique accepted at TVCG that should be published soon. In it, we look at how well the technique works for journalism and understanding, and how well people can read the different patterns when comparing time series.

ThemeDelta: Dynamic Segmentations over Temporal Topic Models by Samah Gad, Waqas Javed, Sohaib Ghani, Niklas Elmqvist, Tom Ewing, Keith N. Hampton, and Naren Ramakrishnan is an extension of the ThemeRiver idea for showing topics in text corpora over time. Their technique looks a bit more like parallel coordinates and seems to be more scalable and easier to add interaction to than the original.


The capstone talk this year was given by Molly Wright Steenson, a professor of design and architecture. She gave a very interesting talk on some of the history of computing and how it relates to architecture, and vice versa. I knew some of the examples she showed, but had not made the connections she was making for us. While there was no clear takeaway or common idea, I found it very inspiring to think about the way technology works and how it differs from architecture (technology tends to be much more short-lived, architecture is much more steady and – at least more recently – has become quite adaptable to very different uses).

She did of course mention Christopher Alexander and his Pattern Language, but she also had some criticism of his methods and it was interesting to see her perspective on him.

Christopher Alexander is adored by software engineers and designers, and he is hated by architects

– Molly Wright Steenson

The capstone meshed really well with the keynote, as several people observed in the Q&A afterwards. Both talked about the history of computing from an art/design/architecture point of view. And they were both really interesting talks, too.

The Next Years

Besides the obvious announcement of next year’s conference, there was also some unexpected news in the closing session: VIS is coming back to Europe in 2018; it will take place in Berlin. Last year’s conference in Paris apparently made a big enough impression on the executive committee to take that step.

Next year’s conference will take place in Baltimore, from October 23–28. Among the changes from this year is that BioVis will be coming back after being attached to a bioinformatics conference for the last few years, and there will be another BELIV workshop.