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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Programming pearls: graphic output

In previous columns we've studied the innards of programs. In this column we'll take a broader view of the programmer's task and consider the kind of output a program should produce. We'll focus on a single problem: once a system has produced detailed output, how can it summarize the trends in the mountain of data? The answer to that question depends heavily on both the data and the taste of the reader; paragraphs of text and tables of numbers often provide fine summaries. This column, however, will concetrate on graphical representations of data, which allow the powerful human vision system to understand data. A decade ago programmers could offer the excuse that they were limited to crude line printer graphics, but technology has changed that. Many large installations now have laser printers, and graphics printers for home computers sell for a few hundred dollars. This column is about ways that programmers can use the technology to deliver more useful (and more graphic) output.

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