Magazine

Beautiful knowledge: Complicated numbers made simple

  • 21 April 2015
  • From the section Magazine

When will men become extinct? Which times table sums do children find most difficult? What are the most common computer passwords?

We are bombarded daily with information, and it can be difficult for our brains to process facts and figures in bulk. But author, designer and data-journalist David McCandless has set out to make things a little easier to understand.

Take a look at some of the elegant and colourful infographics from his book Knowledge is Beautiful - and see how much you are able to absorb.

McCandless says his book was created over two years, with 15,832 hours of human labour.

While not an inconsiderable amount of time for a person in a lifetime, it is however just a tiny speck compared to the period covered in his Timeline of the Far Future.

With information sourced from institutions such as Nasa, the Potsdam Institute and the Geological Society, the colourful, curvy timeline travels deep into the future.

In 10,000 years, the book suggests, the Earth's axis will change - reversing summer and winter months.

But it will take another 10,000 years before Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear site will be totally safe, after the disaster there in 1986.

There might be a few thousand software updates to perform first, but watch out at 100,000 years - when titanium in present-day laptops will start to corrode.

At that point, you may decide it is time for an upgrade.

As hundreds of thousands of years turn into millions, humankind will have to cope with the strong possibility of a new Ice Age, or being hit by devastating asteroid strikes.

Some have proposed that the Y chromosome could die out in 5,000,000 years or so - but the research is disputed, with new studies casting doubt on whether or not that would happen.

And eventually, Earth's surviving population of women will have to find somewhere else to live.

Going to dinner at the home of a friend from a foreign country? Don't want to cause a faux pas?

McCandless's Etiquettrix is a guide to social dos and don'ts when visiting.

Green answers mean yes, go ahead. Brown ones are definite no nos. While grey ones are worth double-checking first, before putting your foot in it.

Feel free to burp in front of dinner hosts in China, but do not tap your chopsticks on the table.

And with Arab hosts, finger-licking is apparently fine - but do not make "yum-yum" noises in appreciation.

Using findings from various studies published in scientific and medical journals - with colour grading to signify the strength of the evidence - the next infographic could help you choose a path to Live Long...

The coloured bars spray out to the left and right of a central line.

The bars to the right suggest ways of prolonging life, and those to the left hint at how you could die younger.

Some studies have suggested that having sex and being religious could help you reach old age.

While, there is stronger evidence that suggests getting hitched - and not being short of cash - will also help.

The strongest evidence points, not surprisingly, to living a healthy lifestyle.

But... up a mountain?

McCandless concludes the perfect recipe for a long life is to be a "married happy go-lucky outdoors-loving sex-mad hippy party-girl in senior management with a cat".

What is 7 x 9? Or how about 4 x 8?

Some mathematical calculations in the one to 12 times tables are more difficult to learn than others.

The grid features the results of multiplication tests taken by a group of young primary school children.

Multiplying by 10 is easy. But by 6, 7, 8 and 9 is more tricky.

7 x 9 is 63.

4 x 8 is 32.

The next graphic uses coloured blocks to show how much it has cost Californian lawmakers to keep inmates on death row.

Using data from a university study, published by the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, it shows the average amount of money spent per death - just over £200m.

Your pet's name? Your favourite food? Or something totally random?

Have you unwittingly chosen one of the top 500 English language passwords?

This infographic, styled like a scatter graph, features words alphabetically left to right. The bigger the text size, it is claimed, the stronger the password.

The words are colour coded into categories. Animals blue - sporting terms red - and so on.

Words floating towards the top of the chart are the most popular - and therefore, arguably, less safe.

More colour coding here - this time, to categorise themes some of the best-known, and most-believed, urban myths.

The Great Wall of China - big and long though it is - is not, claims the book, visible from space.

And apparently goldfish do not have a three second memory - but something closer to three months.

Bronson, Eastwood and Van Damme.

Lundgren, Willis and Neeson.

The list could go on.

This final graphic assess the deadliness of Hollywood's action stars.

Between them all, they have notched up more than 11,000 kills.

In terms of big hitters, Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal are near the top of the list.

But Arnold Schwarzenegger - the star of Conan the Barbarian, Predator and the Terminator series - beats them all.

Above, we have shown specific cut sections of David McCandless's creations - but in reality many of his originals are much bigger and longer.

All images shown here are copyright David McCandless/Harper Collins.