A Christmas list for data lovers
With fewer than 30 days to Christmas, it’s time to send that wishlist to Santa and start panic buying for your nearest and dearest.
To help you, we’ve put together a few gift ideas for the data, chart, and dashboard lover(s) in your life.
First up, a Galton board. Invented by a Victorian statistician, it has thousands of tiny balls that bounce off a series of pegs, fall to the bottom, and form the Normal Distribution — every time. It’s magical and will enthral approximately half of your colleagues (leaving the other half wondering how it’s possible to get so excited by tiny balls). As executive toys go, it trumps a Newton’s cradle every time.
If you’re a data lover then you ought to measure the weather accurately. As with watches, analogue is better. There are some gorgeous barometers, hygrometers and thermometers out there — ranging from good value to crazy money.
Fischer, a German brand, make especially nice ones, like this:
Even if you’re not someone who wants daily readouts of your living room’s humidity it’ll still look gorgeous on your wall.
DIY Raspberry Pi weather station
We lied. Digital is better in every way. So ditch the analog barometer we just recommended and buy everything you need to make your own internet enabled weather station.
All you need is a Raspberry Pi (it doesn’t matter which, just make sure it supports wireless), an SD card, a power cable, some sensors and potentially some wires to connect everything.
A basic level of programming knowledge will help — but we’re not talking anything crazy and there are some great tutorials out there. Depending on what you buy, some soldering may be involved too so you or the recipient may incur some peril! You’ll also need to make sure you / they have access to a soldering iron and some solder.
Pimoroni, Sparkfun and Adafruit all make and sell a variety of sensors as well as everything else you might need.
Here’s one potential setup:
- Raspberry Pi Zero W Starter kit: Pimoroni £35 (UK) | Adafruit $34.50
- BME680 Breakout Sensor: Pimoroni £18 (UK) | Adafruit $22.50
Moon Picnic My Weather Station Game
Before this list gets confused as a gift guide for meteorologists, we have one last weather related present. This isn’t intended for you or fellow data lovers, but to inspire the next generation.
Made of solid wood, it’s beautifully made, and your little one will be able to play meteorologist by moving the dials and pegging on the appropriate weather symbols.
Now for the the most random item on our list: miniature aeroplane cockpits.
Miniature things are inherently cool (fact) and we’ve found a company that sells historically accurate replica dashboards, intended for radio control planes.
Coming in kit form or pre-assembled, for a huge variety of planes, we think the finished article is an objet d’art in its own right. And the kit version should keep the recipient quiet for at least an hour or two.
Pie chart pin
Us data visualization experts can get a bit high and mighty when it comes to best practices. This beautiful, enamel badge of the data visualization travesty is the perfect way to troll any chart geek. We’re assuming they’ll choose to wear it ironically rather than retaliate by buying you socks next year, but that’s a risk you’ll have to calculate.
Present and Correct (UK) £11
With the advent of the smartphone it’s sometimes argued that no one needs a physical calculator any more. Well that’s plainly wrong, especially now Numworks have released a calculator fit for the space age. It can even run Python! I suspect some of the more elaborate features aren’t going to be that handy for someone sitting in front of a computer running R, but you can’t say it isn’t cool.
Cleverly, there’s an online emulator so you can take it for a spin first.
Chart Match it Game
Back on the novelty end of the present spectrum is this data visualisation card game. Similar to the hit game Dobble, each card has several pictures of charts on it. There are several ways of playing, but whichever two cards you’re looking at there’s always one, and only one, pair of matching charts. To win you have to spot and yell out the symbol that matches before your opponent.
What better way to profess your love for data visualization than to hang a beautiful chart on your wall!? One step down from going all out and putting a line chart on your wall, we really like these lunar calendars. When friends come over (and we’re assuming you’re pretty popular with these kind of interests) you can pretend you’re a werewolf rather than a data-freak.
Speaking of werewolves, another board game. This is the most tenuous item on our list but hear us out. One Night belongs to a whole genre of board games that have become popular in recent years where you’re subconsciously using Bayesian inference to work out who’s lying. It’s super fun, fast, quick to learn and can also be played with a large group from young to old. Brilliant for whiling away the cold dark nights!
Secret Hitler is a similar game — but because the lies go on for longer it could cause some unfestive familial tension!
Graph paper notebook
As far as we’re concerned, you can never go wrong giving a beautiful notebook. Just make sure it’s grid paper. No one who works with data ought to be seen writing on lines.
We like these:
These ones by Princeton Architectural Press are lovely too:
There are some great books in the data and visualization space. Tufte’s are classics. We’ve listed some other favourites here before too:
A new one that’s come out the last couple of months is Hannah Fry’s “Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine”.
It’s a really interesting conversation piece around Machine Learning and AI, exploring what’s actually going on beyond the press buzzwords, the principles behind it, and also some of the ethical dilemmas.
I’ve been tempted to buy it for a few relatives who believe machines and Google are going to bring about the end of days. But it’s good at the other end of the spectrum too. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows and there are some major ethical dilemmas ahead of us. Some of the things that are already going on are a bit shocking! You might think twice before installing certain browser extensions in the future.
Ada lovelace blanket (or mug)
Our list concludes with a blanket emblazoned with a portrait of Ada Lovelace: the patron saint of computing. What better way to keep yourself cosy at work than by swaddling yourself in her warm embrace?
Look Human $60
And for a bonus finale, we’ve got another gift for the little ones, this book on Ada:
Well that’s it! No excuse for buying socks this year. What are your recommendations?