Making Sense of Data

The introduction of computers and the Internet combined with an explosion in information have led to an overabundance and in many cases confusion. Determining what is facts, false information, opinions are becoming increasingly more difficult.

Finding ways to use thinking to overcome problems with abundance and faulty information is vital. So is inventing tools to make sense of data.

Designing a system that makes sense of data in a way that is novel and specific enough so that insights can be gained without human involvement has proved to be a difficult task. The last decades has seen major breakthroughs in the collection and storage of data but few advances has been made in sensemaking systems.

Jeff Jones suggests that it is fundamental that the system recognises when multiple references to the same item are being made. The data may come from different sources and it is crucial to distinguish between one person making one bank transaction an two people doing one transaction. But is it not enough to count things, actions and people, sensemaking systems must also make statements and use these to determine what or whom to notify is the new evidence is important.

Imagine that you cannot use your eyes to catch a Frisbee. What would you use instead?

The flight of the disc is predicted when someone throws a Frisbee and we use our previous experiences mixed with the velocity and the direction to predict where the Frisbee will end up. Usually your eyes and brain collects and make sense of these observations. But imagine that a slow motion Frisbee is thrown towards you and friends using Twitter, photos , stories, heat maps to tell you where it takes place,  the velocity and direction of the Frisbee.

Would you catch it?

We try to make sense of even more complex situations than the motion of a Frisbee. For example, emergency service may receive five calls from people reporting that a child is being abused. There could be one child that they could hear screaming or it could be five different children being abused.

Below is an example of using numbers to make sense of complex movements. maybe this will inspire some great thoughts about other ways of making sense of information, data or the world in general.

business man with glass bubbles

Quantum Juggling

The world of numbers is often described as serious and linking it to brightly coloured balls and a person clowning around may sound strange. Yet juggling and numbers have more in common than the first impression may suggest.

Colin Wright is a mathematician who was frustrated that there was no way to write down juggling moves so he helped develop a notation system for juggling.

A juggling move called Mills Mess required two and a half sides of A4 to write down and Colin thought that there must be a simpler way of writing down the juggling moves. The system devise that was developed is called Siteswap.

The system encodes the number of beats of each throw, which is related to their height and the hand to which the throw is made. Throwing a three means the ball spends two beats in the air and one beat in the hand before it is thrown again, while a four means the ball spends three beats in the air then one beat in the hand before it gets thrown again. The height of the throw is taken into account and the bigger the number the higher the throw. Even numbers are used to represent balls being thrown straight up and caught with the same hand, while odd numbers represent balls being caught with the opposite hand.

The sequence 333 means that the three 3 ball are used – each ball is caught with the opposite hand and there are three beats between the throws. The Siteswap system means that jugglers can share tricks without having to meet in person or filming themselves. Sharing tricks involving five balls or different height is rather tricky and saying the numbers 51515252 52 52 is easier to understand. The coding system has also lead to development of new exciting tricks – the notation means that pattern emerges and this can be broken.

T29 – Day 11


Day 11 – Info

Focus on the information.

Police sources have reported that unidentified individuals planted a bomb in front of a Mormon Church in Talcahuano District. The bomb, which exploded and caused property damage worth 50,000 pesos, was placed at a chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints located at No 3856 Gomez Carreno Street. (Source)

  • What information is given?
  • What information is not given, but implicit in the given information?
  • What information is missing or left out
  • What information is most relevant, but not available (So called Cassandra information)

It is helpful to underline the words that convey bits of information, or hinting at not yet available information

Blog post

Cassandra information


Thinkibility Day 11




T29 – Day 10


Day 10 – Info

Make an uncertainty map and describe areas of uncertainty.

Select a topic that you know something about. Draw a map of areas where the knowledge and understanding is uncertain. Choose weather or climate change if you find it difficult to select a topic.

Explore the following topics:

  • Possible factors that influence the uncertainty
  • The scale of the uncertainty
  • Ways to deal with the uncertainty
  • What does the uncertainty mean for a decision? Do we need to make another decision?
  • Are there some other pieces of information that has different uncertainty?

Blog post



Thinkibility Day 10t29

Storytelling, Information and Wisdom – Thinkibility Nibble

feather on a white background. Macro

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, talks about the importance of interpretation and context in a world where there is an abundance of information.

“A great storyteller is the kindly captain who sails her ship with tremendous wisdom and boundless courage; who points its nose in the direction of horizons and worlds chosen with unflinching idealism and integrity; who brings us somewhat closer to the answer, to our particular answer, to that grand question: Why are we here?”

She wrote this animated essay as part of 2014 Future of Storytelling.


Uncertainty – Thinkibility Nibble


Often when we search for information we want to be certain that the results are true or we assume that the results are true and certain. But scientific uncertainty is part of scientific research. Since we do not know everything, research continues and it is constantly changing. New ideas and pieces of information is added.

  • Researchers have to decide “how much of the picture is known and how confident we can all be that their findings tell us what’s happening or what’s going to happen. This is uncertainty.“ (Making Sense of Uncertainty)

When a scientist describes the uncertain part of the research, we should be pleased rather than discourage an open discussion about the uncertainty. Climate science, disease modelling, and weather forecasting all have a degree of uncertainty. This is not a deficiency and it certainly does not mean that anything can be true. We may expect scientific research to be true and certain and it is this expectation that is the problem. Yet we still need to make decisions based upon the uncertain results and by explaining and estimating the uncertainty, we have a higher degree of confidence regarding what is known and unknown.

Ignoring results simply on the basis that they are uncertain prevents us from making decisions and taking actions. If we expect certain results, we will never make changes to prevent climate changes or develop new drugs. Complex systems, such as ecological systems or the human body, are not easy to understand and we may never have certain knowledge about what will happen. Identifying area of uncertainty should be part of any research map.

Scientists are developing research maps to help them deal with data deluge. Organising discoveries is vital to prevent duplicating experiments and to ensure that key discoveries are noted. A map makes it easy to see what areas that have been covered and the impact of the results to future studies. Neuroscientists have developed maps that show findings in molecular and cellular cognition and an app has been developed to help researchers to expand and interact with the map. The maps work more or less as an online query, where you can see as much of the maps as you like to. The map can be used to explore what information that is missing and it highlights areas that may be interesting to study.

Uncertainty is often used to dismiss results and undermine the evidence. We need to explore in what ways  our actions  is or is not affected by the uncertainty. When we make decisions for checking for fake passports at the airport, we need a higher level of certainty that it will work as compared to when we discuss policies to reduce the number of road accidents.

While uncertainty is not a barrier to taking action, there are  situations where we should not focus on the uncertainty of the research. In some cases, the aim is to test and see how well an observation can explain a certain theory that we have about the world. There is also uncertainty in the data that is collected and this is different from an uncertainty in the conclusions that is drawn. Different scientists can reach different conclusions when they examine the same set of data.

Uncertainty maps:

  • Identify areas of uncertainty
  • Possible factors that influence the uncertainty
  • The scale of the uncertainty
  • Ways to deal with the uncertainty
  • What does the uncertainty mean for a decision? Do we need to  make another decision?
  • Are there some other pieces of information that has different uncertainty?

Above all –  be suspicious when someone says that something is certain!

Photo:”Book Of Knowledge” by digitalart

Crowd Research

There are some fascinating developments which call for some “What If Thinking”.

Four technological developments

Nowadays more or less everyone is connected to someone via the Internet. It is assumed that any person can connect to another person via a friend of a friend, all it takes is six or fewer steps for anyone to be introduced to someone – it is a small world.

Stanley Milgram  explored the relationship in the Small World Experiment in 1967 and although the experiment have several weakness it is still a popular research topic. By the introduction of the Internet only Six Degrees of Separation are between you and  everyone on your mobile phone. Recent studies even suggest that the world has shrinked as a result of Social Networking such as Facebook and there may only be Three Degrees of Separation. We are and feel more connected to each other.


Soon all conceivable devices will also be connected. This means that a thousand physical quantities built-in (like length, or torque, or tensile strength, or clicks per impression), as well as nearly 10,000 units of measure (like inches, or meters per second or katals or micropascals per square root hertz) will be connected to the Internet.Those devices could be linked to a person  (a smart watch for instance), to a product or a process or linked to a GPS-position. If a standard exchange protocol, as proposed by the Wolfgang Connected Devices Project,  will be developed, a seamless integration of as many kinds of devices may be possible.

A third development is that we assume that the production costs of devices will be decreased by the use of nanotechnology and the trend of individuation of products will continue.  As a result of a reduction of production costs, several devices such equipments such as heart rate monitors, fitness equipment and  books,  are becoming more affordable for individual use. These items  were previously only available for organisations and groups, such as a hospital, gym or library,

A fourth development that will function as a kind of multiplier that will dramatically increase the mentioned developments. Manufacturers of devices will no longer offer a device plus its processor plus an infrastructure linked to that device. They will make use of the facilities the buyer already have. That is, a computer or a mobile phone, with all their data processing qualities and connections built-in. We will see that producers will adopt strategies that are derived from the biological concept of  symbiosis.

Crowd Research

Crowd research offers a great opportunity to explore possibilities and opportunities. Already we can see examples how those four developments or trends will interact and reinforce each other, especially what we call, by lack of better, Crowd Research

  •  SETI, a distributed computingproject in which volunteers donate idle computer power to analyze radio signals for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.
  • In the Open-Source Bee Project a global set of sensors could give scientists new insight into the possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  A cheap sensor could turn backyard beekeepers into an army of citizen-scientists
  • Zooniverse is a citizen science web portal owned and operated by the Citizen Science Alliance. The organization grew from the original Galaxy Zoo project and now hosts dozens of projects which allow volunteers to participate in scientific research. Zooniverse projects require the active participation of human volunteers to complete research tasks. Projects have been drawn from disciplines including astronomy, ecology, cell biology, humanities, and climate science. The Zooniverse community consisted of more than 1 million registered volunteers. The data collected from the various projects has led to the publication of more than 50 scientific papers.
  • eBird is an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance.  eBird has been described as an ambitious example of enlisting amateurs to gather data on biodiversity for use in science. eBird is an example of treating citizens as scientists, allowing the public to access and use their own data and the collective data generated by others.
  • Tomnod took images gathered by their satellites and offered them to the public for viewing and identification in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. 2.3 million people used the site to look for signs of wreckage, oil spills and other objects of interest. During the 2010 Haiti earthquake, OpenStreetMap and Crisis Commons volunteers used available satellite imagery to map the roads, buildings and refugee camps of Port-au-Prince in just two days, building “the most complete digital map of Haiti’s roads”

Emerging Crowd Research

We may speculate that the availability of cheap devices linked to mobile phones will increase crowd research exponentially in nearly every area of human activity.

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousalblood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEGECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing. Quantified self is self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology. Quantified self advancement have allowed individuals to quantify bio-metrics that they never knew existed, as well as make data collection cheaper and more convenient. One can track insulin and Coriolis levels, sequence DNA, and see what microbial cells inhabit his or her body.

If the collected data are shared, imaging what hidden cause-effect relations will emerge foe example, between life style, geographical area, and food consumption. Architects could use the data to design better buildings, routes and cities. The data can be used to design office layouts that stimulates physical exercise. The data could be used to monitor healthy persons, which could lead to changes in medical science which is per definition based on ill people. It can be used to map the spreading of viruses. People could compare their work pace with others in the branch and in other branches. Scientific disciplines as psychology and sociology would be freed from unreliable research methods like interviews and questionnaires.

 What if dreams are massively recorded on a world scale? Do poor people dream about other things than rich people? Are Japanese dreams different from dreams in Africa? Shadow: Community of Dreamers, crowd financed with $82,500, wakes people up with an alarm, prompts them to anonymously describe their dreams, and beams those reports into a massive online set, where they can be searched and analyzed. Dreams are coded for age, sex, location, and time.  

What if there are cheap devices that measures the quality of tap water or swim water? What if people near Fukushima are no longer dependent on radiation levels from the government or TESCO because there is a cheap device that in combination with a mobile phone share information about radio activity? If many, many people have their own weather station and are plugged in a network, would it not enhance farming at a huge scale? What if anybody with a mobile phone could recognize a sought or missing person?

What if cars have an on-line device that measures the air quality, but also will display that level of air pollution at their rooftops ? Would it lead to “air pollution traffic control”? Wouldn’t it be confronting and provoke to action by citizens?

air quality

All cars have an indicator on their roof that shows the level of pollution: low, medium, too high

Ultimately, we may see an enormous democratising of information that till now has been  monopolised by institutions  and governments and, as history shows,  often a lot of data and information has been denied or hidden from civilians.

Press Patterns

patternsIt is generally believed that the media are rather objective yet lightly coloured by their economic or religious values.  Media differ on a same topic in the words used in the headings, the wording, or the framing. However, there are indications that media are not so different at all. This phenomena is called MSM – Main Stream Media. Mainstream media (MSM) are those media disseminated via the largest distribution channels, which therefore represent what the majority of media consumers are likely to encounter. The term also denotes those media generally reflective of the prevailing currents of thought, influence, or activity. Therefore, operating in a logic bubble or thinking pattern.

Standard thinking, no challenge of current beliefs

Many media are largely state-owned or sponsored and therefore they are able to directly or indirectly control jobs and financing. By doing so, media is able to exert soft power to filter, frame or discredit displeasing news. Other media are private owned and they are often worse. Profits have to be made of more than 20%, yet the subscriptions go down by competition of free on-line news and as a consequence incomes by ads drop down. Consequently, there will  automatically be no time and money to carry out  investigative journalism or watchdog journalism. Nowadays most media are copying from news agencies without adding any value or suggestions.

A deadly embrace with those in power

Moreover, often there is a silent coalition between politicians and media reporters. In exchange of providing news, a scoop or granting an interview, a journalist will write “friendly” (non-critical) about the politician. Journalists are in competition with each other for access to news sources, reputation, firsts and jobs.

At the same time politicians are dependent on journalists to get heard by their voters. They are in competition for media attention, mainly with their party colleagues.

Journalists and politicians hold each other in a deadly embrace in a mechanism earlier described in our blog post How Thinking Patters Are Created. In some countries politicians have more power over the press. In other countries the press or press conglomerates control the politicians.


The same mechanism is working in a tacit coalition between a royal family or a presidents coterie and the media and politicians, especially when corruption or sexual misbehavior is involved. We must assume that all mainstream media are covered by intelligence services who are able to mute or downplay any compromising news. Usually one or more editors are already approached for cooperation with the secret services from the beginning of their career and from that time kept dormant until required for what is euphemistically put, “important interests” of the state.

The embrace of the media with politician doesn’t only produce a standard thinking pattern amongst them, but exports that via the media to the general public. The concept is called politico-media complex.

Algorithms determines what information a user would see

Newspaper websites are starting to make stories more prominent to you if your friends have liked them on Facebook. More and more we are bound by filter bubble. The term was coined by internet activist Eli Pariser in his book by the same name; according to Pariser, users get less exposure to conflicting viewpoints and are isolated intellectually in their own informational bubble. Pariser related an example in which one user searched Google for “BP” and got investment news about British Petroleum while another searcher got information about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and that the two search results pages were “strikingly different.

How to escape Press Patterns

Non-mainstream Media refers to any other media outlet that doesn’t fall under the 90 plus percent owned by the global media conglomerates. Unlike corporate media, the non-mainstream is driven by a desire for the truth – not profits.

For headlines you don’t see on TV, see for example here or here.

Recently we came across nsnbc international which claims that there exists a global demand for a high quality, international newspaper, which is truly independent from political parties and organizations, corporate funding and state sponsorship.

Another is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity founded in 2009 that aims to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government. It provides professional training; research, editorial, multimedia and technical support; and assistance with marketing and promoting the work of a nationwide network of nonprofit reporters.

The mission of the Center of Public Integrity is to enhance democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism.

These American examples deserve imitation, especially in Western Europe where the general public is believing that the media are independent, which is not.

Non-mainstream Media

Non-mainstream media are also referred to as Alternative Media: newspapers, radio, television, magazines, movies, websites, blogs and twitters which provide alternative information to the MSM in a given context, whether the mainstream media are commercial, publicly supported, or government owned. There are also alternative news agencies.