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Lips that taste of tears, they say, are the best for kissing.Dorothy Parkerget crankymore quotes

science: fun

In Silico Flurries: Computing a world of snow. Scientific American. 23 December 2017

communication + science

Nature Methods: Points of View

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Points of View column in Nature Methods. (Points of View)

The first Points of View column was about color coding in the July 2010 issue of Nature Methods. In its 5 year history, the column has established a significant legacy— it is one of the most frequently accessed parts of Nature Methods. The community sees the value in clear and effective visual communication and acknowledges the need for a forum in which best practices in the field are presented practically and accessibly.


Bang Wong, in collaboration with visiting authors (Noam Shoresh, Nils Gehlenborg, Cydney Nielsen and Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard), has penned 29 columns in the period of August 2010 to December 2012, covering broad topics such as salience, Gestalt principles, color, typography, negative space, layout, and data integration.


The announcement of the return of the column, together with its history and a description of me, the new author, are available at the Nature Methods methagora blog. Humor is kept by repeated reference to my now-dead-but-once-famous pet rat.

When it was A.C. Greyling's turn to speak at a debate in which Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins already made their points, Greyling said

When one gets up to speak this late in a debate, one is a bit tempated to quote that Hungarian M.P. who after a long, long, long discussion in the parliament in Budapest stood up and said, "Everything has been said but not everybody said it yet." (watch on YouTube)

Indeed, this is quite how I feel after being offered to be the new author of Nature Methods Point of View column. Both Bang and Hitchens provide significant inspiration for me, so Greyling's words are particularly fitting.

To improve on the column is impossible. My challenge is to identify useful topics that have not yet been covered. I will be working closely with Nature Methods and Bang to ensure that the columns strike the right balance of topic, tone and timbre.

In 2013 the Points of View column spawned the Points of Significance column, which deals with statistics in biological science.

For the month of August 2013, the entire set of 35 columns is available for free.

2015 and beyond

The column continues to run, though no longer monthly.

A PDF eBook of the 38 Points of View articles published between August 2010 and February 2015 is now available at the Nature Shop for $7.99 under the title Visual strategies for biological data: the collected Points of View.


news + thoughts

Machine learning: supervised methods (SVM & kNN)

Thu 18-01-2018
Supervised learning algorithms extract general principles from observed examples guided by a specific prediction objective.

We examine two very common supervised machine learning methods: linear support vector machines (SVM) and k-nearest neighbors (kNN).

SVM is often less computationally demanding than kNN and is easier to interpret, but it can identify only a limited set of patterns. On the other hand, kNN can find very complex patterns, but its output is more challenging to interpret.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Machine learning: supervised methods (SVM & kNN). (read)

We illustrate SVM using a data set in which points fall into two categories, which are separated in SVM by a straight line "margin". SVM can be tuned using a parameter that influences the width and location of the margin, permitting points to fall within the margin or on the wrong side of the margin. We then show how kNN relaxes explicit boundary definitions, such as the straight line in SVM, and how kNN too can be tuned to create more robust classification.

Bzdok, D., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2018) Points of Significance: Machine learning: a primer. Nature Methods 15:5–6.

Background reading

Bzdok, D., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2017) Points of Significance: Machine learning: a primer. Nature Methods 14:1119–1120.

...more about the Points of Significance column

Human Versus Machine

Tue 16-01-2018
Balancing subjective design with objective optimization.

In a Nature graphics blog article, I present my process behind designing the stark black-and-white Nature 10 cover.

Nature 10, 18 December 2017

Machine learning: a primer

Thu 18-01-2018
Machine learning extracts patterns from data without explicit instructions.

In this primer, we focus on essential ML principles— a modeling strategy to let the data speak for themselves, to the extent possible.

The benefits of ML arise from its use of a large number of tuning parameters or weights, which control the algorithm’s complexity and are estimated from the data using numerical optimization. Often ML algorithms are motivated by heuristics such as models of interacting neurons or natural evolution—even if the underlying mechanism of the biological system being studied is substantially different. The utility of ML algorithms is typically assessed empirically by how well extracted patterns generalize to new observations.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Machine learning: a primer. (read)

We present a data scenario in which we fit to a model with 5 predictors using polynomials and show what to expect from ML when noise and sample size vary. We also demonstrate the consequences of excluding an important predictor or including a spurious one.

Bzdok, D., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2017) Points of Significance: Machine learning: a primer. Nature Methods 14:1119–1120.

...more about the Points of Significance column

Snowflake simulation

Tue 16-01-2018
Symmetric, beautiful and unique.

Just in time for the season, I've simulated a snow-pile of snowflakes based on the Gravner-Griffeath model.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
A few of the beautiful snowflakes generated by the Gravner-Griffeath model. (explore)

The work is described as a wintertime tale in In Silico Flurries: Computing a world of snow and co-authored with Jake Lever in the Scientific American SA Blog.

Gravner, J. & Griffeath, D. (2007) Modeling Snow Crystal Growth II: A mesoscopic lattice map with plausible dynamics.

Genes that make us sick

Wed 22-11-2017
Where disease hides in the genome.

My illustration of the location of genes in the human genome that are implicated in disease appears in The Objects that Power the Global Economy, a book by Quartz.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The location of genes implicated in disease in the human genome, shown here as a spiral. (more...)