Archive | March, 2010

28 March 2010 ~ 1 Comment

How to Live Longer

Took a crack at re-imagining an infographic from the Economist, from an article on life expectancy in America.

The study, published in PLoS Medicine, looked at four preventable risk factors: smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood-glucose levels and being overweight. It then examined how these risk factors reduced life expectancy in eight population groups. … (or, put another way, could expect to gain those years if they were to live healthier lives).

Here is the original graphic:

From the title of the chart, I was expecting lifetime measured in years.  Scanning the horizontal axis were numbers in the single digits, off by a factor of 10 however they were close enough that it could be part of a surprising conclusion – perhaps life expectancies for some segments of the population were far smaller than I had imagined?  At the bottom of the chart, this would mean some life expectancies in the 30s and 40s, which is clearly incorrect.

Now searching the chart for clarifying data, I read the subtitle which explained the bar chart values.  Although to truly understand the values one has to do the math – add the “at-birth” life expectancies (shown in the left-most column) to the potential years gained (“value” of the bars).

It also seemed the exception that the male/female difference was significant enough to warrant adding so much contrast to the chart (the blue/yellow per-gender breakdowns).

Having just finished Wong’s Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics, I challenged myself to simplify the chart and improve the understandability.

Lots of changes here:

  • The major difference between the two charts is that I’m using a stacked bar to represent the additional life expectancy gained by mitigating the preventable risk factors.  It allows the chart to be expressed at a scale one might expect when thinking of life expectancies in America (i.e. total years, somewhere above 70).  It also helps you understand the baseline life expectancy for the group combined with the relative potential improvement.
  • The national average is now presented with additional contrast, so it’s clear where each group stands relative to the baseline.
  • I chose not to label the horizontal axis from 0 – 60, assuming that readers  would understand that life expectancy is given in years.
  • The male/female discrepancies are averaged out, which caused one change in the sort order.
  • Potential gains are called out on the rightmost side of the chart, as I wanted it to be clear that the sort order was from the most potential gain to the least.

Room for improvement:

  • The most important area for improvement I see is that the title implies the “how” will be prominently featured, when it’s a footnote (literally).
  • There is no legend for the chart.  I’m relying on the implication that life expectancy is frequently communicated in years, and that the rightmost label is linked to the size of the darker-shaded stacked bar segment.  This appears to be the riskiest part of the overall change?

    Having spent a few hours on this, I have a new-found respect for those info-graphing as a day job!  Very fun, very challenging.

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    18 March 2010 ~ 0 Comments

    Garibaldi Lake, June 2005

    Four years ago, Pokin and I with a few friends hiked up to and around Garibaldi Lake, just north of Vancouver, BC. Calling these three pictures a “set” is being a bit generous I think ;)

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    14 March 2010 ~ 6 Comments

    Comcast, Why? When You Know So Much?

    Yesterday, our Comcast cable modem began resetting the Intenet connection almost continuously. Time to swap it out! From speaking with Comcast support, this is as easy as heading to your nearest service center and trading it in – no technician necessary.

    A quick Google search landed me here, at what appears to be a pretty standard “store locator” on Comcast’s site:

    Comcast's Service Center Locator

    (1)  I’m a Comcast subscriber, accessing the Internet from my Comcast Internet account. Comcast knows I’m physically inside of their network and it knows my modem is associated with my account (to activate your modem, you have to provide your account number). If Comcast knows who I am, and where I am, then why do I have to provide any information?

    (2) Is the apartment number query necessary? Do service centers split service down the middle of an apartment building?  I realize it’s marked as optional although I can’t see why providing it helps the person filling out the form.  Taking it one step further, only the zip code might really be necessary.

    (3) Whenever you see this option you have to wonder in what context the creators of this form imagine you to be using it. At a coffee shop? In school? When would it be appropriate to forget the information someone provided in a form, unless it was their username or password, neither of which are present here.

    (4) (not numbered) What purpose do the gigantic colon characters between form fields serve?

    Points (2) – (4) are not as important as (1) because they are improvements that assume prompting you for your address is necessary.

    Given what Comcast knows about me from (1), this is what I hope to see the next time I’m looking for a service center.

    Rob's take on the Comcast Service Center Locator

    Of note:

    • What you don’t see: No prompts for location.  Comcast should figure this out from the modem/account pairing.
    • What you didn’t know: The nearest location for each type of service center is shown.  Previously you only learned that there were different types of service centers once you started searching.
    • What you didn’t know: Your nearest service center might not service you.  Each service center only “serves” different accounts.
    • What you didn’t know: If you have a Comcast voice account (as I do), you cannot exchange your hardware.  In that case, this page would show a different message rather than your nearest service center – a UI to schedule an appointment for a technician to replace your modem.  I drove from Mountain View to Sunnyvale with my modem to find this out.
    • Thumbnail map view should be zoomed out enough such that you can make gross location decision making (“Oh I see Sunnyvale there, that’s 2 hours away.”)
    • If the guess is accurate, one-click access to directions (although I could see directions provided here too).  If the guess was inaccurate, one-click access to finding additional service centers.

    There’s certainly room for improvement here.  What are the service center hours?  Are they currently open?

    All of those improvements assume Comcast buys into the notion of not asking their customers for what they already know about them.

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    07 March 2010 ~ 0 Comments

    Vancouver 2010 Photos!

    Pokin and I visited Vancouver over the closing weekend of the Olympics.  Have a look in the Flickr gallery at such classics as “Terrified Man In A Pub Full of Canadians Quietly Hoping Team USA Doesn’t Get Shut Out”.

    Keeping it Under Wraps

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