The Short Synopsis

Pop Culture Data Artist, Infographics, Network Design Art, Technical Writing...

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dave columbus
Greensburg, PA  15601


I am called "A Jack of All Trades but Master of none" but the quote ends, " usually better than a Master of One.” In all my years of working I have found I never stopped needing to learn new skills. That path continued as I acquired skills in data visualization, interactive coding, and content creation. My array of tools is not just a list of programs, it's also the ability to adapt to whatever situation arises and to solve problems using the tools on hand.


Image-editing: Photoshop, Illustrator—Layout: InDesign, QuarkXPress, Powerpoint—Data Visualization: d3.js, Gephi, ORA, Open Refine, AutoMap—Writing: Technical Writing, Acrobat, Microsoft Word—Video-Editing: Final Cut Pro, Motion—Database Design: Excel, Access—Other: HTML, XML, CSS—Problem-solving: New Solutions, Ignoring Limitations.

Comic Book

- Comic art has always intrigued me. With some time on my hands last year I decided to take a turn at creating my idea for a comic book. Using public domain characters from the 1940s I would create a comic book in the 1940s four-color press look but do it digitally in Illustrator.

Data Design

- I work with data to create explanatory graphics to tell a story. I've created Movie Narratives similar to Randall Monroe (aka xkcd) for interesting movies and TV shows. Through these narratives the entire story can be viewed while simultaneously focusing on individual portions.

- At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) the example scenarios I was given for the ORA User's Guides pertained to terrorist networks but the situations and unfamiliar sounding names confused people. Plus, these networks didn't always work for what I needed to write. To ease this confusion I developed network examples derived from pop culture (Issac Asimov’s The Foundation Trilogy, and the TV shows, “Stargate SG-1”, and “Doctor Who”) making it easier for non-technical people to understand.

- I concentrate my data collection and visualization in Pop Culture focusing on TV Shows (i.e., Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: TOS and Red Dwarf) and film (i.e., The Big Lebowski, The Terminator franchise, Movie Narratives.)

- Working with AutoMap (A text analysis tool) to mine scripts and synopses of pop culture material to find new and interesting datasets.

- Twenty years ago, someone asked me if you could celebrate New Year's once a month. At that time I couldn't come up with 12 and so began the search. The New Year's calendar Project is a large dataset currently being created to encompass content, visuals, and entertainment. The New Year's project requires an interactive Web presence and a world map system so I am investigating d3.js which works well for quick and constant updates when the project is launched.


- ORA (from CMU) and Gephi are a great network analysis programs, but the final appearance of their networks leaves something to be desired. The poster I created for the 2011 Summer Institute at Carnegie Mellon University took the Doctor Who network into Illustrator, a program allowing more flexibility in design. I could decide the style I wanted rather than be limited to what the tool could provide. The data could be molded to fit my original concept.

- The owner of AIM Marketing wanted to put the collected survey information onto a poster map to sell back to the industry. He had a sound idea, but wanted to do the project in MapPoint. To avoid a bland looking map, as well as any copyright issues, I drew a vector map of North America in Illustrator and located all the pertinent information on my map. This project has grown into the largest portion of his business.


As a technical writer at CMU I took complex subject matter of network analysis and converted it into simple, understandable explanations. This understanding of analysis helps for writing essays about the complexities of pop culture icons.

- Sitting at a coffee shop, I noticed an interesting graphic on another patron's computer screen. I inquiring as to what that represented. He was a technical writer at CMU and he was working with a network analysis program called ORA. He told me they were looking for another writer as he was moving onto a book-editing project. It pays to be curious at times.

- In order to write about network analysis, it was important to become competent with the subject of network analysis. I needed to learn the basic functionality of the network program in order to convey this information to new users. As I progressed more complex subject matter was tackled.

- Asked to write an analysis article about the 50-year history of the British TV show “Doctor Who” for the magazine Whotopia, I collaborated with a data scientist from CMU, Dr. Jürgen Pfeffer. Combining Dr. Pfeffer's understanding of network analysis and my knowledge of Doctor Who we have written three in-depth Doctor Who articles on various topics.

- Every typesetter at Echo International had their own methods for setting double-byte languages (Chinese, Japanese, & Korean) that caused problems if another typesetter needed to make corrections. I wrote a set of procedures for these languages to create a standard environment for all typesetters to use.

Problem Solving

This section pertains to all aspects of my work career as there are problems everywhere than needed corrected.

- I went to BCSI as a technical writer. My first assignment was to verify a spare parts list from the printed pages, a folder of Excel POs, and the PDFs of the drawings for the job. I knew this would take a lot more than just checking off items from a list with a red pen. I fired up Excel and began entering parts in a spreadsheet. Secondly I created a new sheet to create a list from my item codes. In time I use a skeleton of a spare parts list and verify parts on the POs and double check them the BoM (Bill of Material). Spare parts lists can now be developed in less than half a day.

- After taking on a large Arabic project at Technical Translation Services, I set out to learn the basics of Arabic typography to assure proper formatting of the language. This decreased not only the number of reviews by proofreaders but also the number of problems that could potentially occur.

- Creating a PDF of the User's Guides at CMU was a long and complicated process. Wrangling 1000+ pages in Word is not easy. The procedure handed down to me had problems that allowed layout errors to creep in. Researching how Word worked with HTML files, I found a faster and easier method that maintained 95% of the formatting. This cut time in half and virtually eliminated formatting errors.

- At AIM Marketing it became apparent there were problems with the procedure for updating the database. Every revision required sending it back to the coder for fixes but every revision took 2 or 3 days, and no data entry could be done. Learning Access allowed us to keep the work in-house, cut external expense, and reduced delays on projects.

- As a graphic designer at Blackbox I saw the problems when they upgraded from QuarkXPress 3.3 to 4.0 in the middle of a major catalog session. This is never a good idea as it causes problems. Mainly, this prevented messages in the margins being used as a message form. Quark 4 cut off everything outside the layout grid. The solution I suggested was to alter the file format while in production then reverting back to the original format when the file was ready for the printer.

- Translators were free to send their work in any program and format they wanted and this created problems in the conversion process. Working with the translators, I created a set of standards, including collecting all applicable fonts, to decrease formatting times on large projects for complex languages.

- When the Japanese typesetter at Technical Translation Services returned to his native Japan, I took over setting all the Japanese business cards. At that time, these needed to be done in the Japanese version of QuarkXPress as the English version, V.3.3-ENG, couldn’t set Japanese characters. It was fortunate I knew the English interface well enough as the entire GUI was in Japanese.

- Translations for many languages sent to Echo were prone to errors during the conversion process (Cyrillic, Polish, Czech, Turkish and Greek). Opening and saving files in particular text-editing programs properly remapped characters resulting in fewer 'lost' characters and decreased editing time.

- The Thai language uses no spaces between words and line breaks should only be placed between words. That made it difficult for a non-Thai speaker to work with. The solution I sent to the translator was to place a non-printing, 0-length space character between the words that allowed typesetters to create proper line breaks.

- Working nights at Alcoa's Accounts Payable while attending The Art Institute, I noticed time wasted as the temps (myself included) were told, put all problems aside. I convinced the team leader to give the temps basic instructions to process simple problems so fewer invoices would be passed to the account managers. The temps processed more invoices, total invoices processed increased, and the workload of the account managers decreased.

- After being hired at Wesco to assist the fleet supervisor, I determined it would help if I programmed macros into Lotus 123 to speed up my searches. After showing this to my supervisor and her boss, I was retained long enough to finish a functional interface for the fleet supervisor to use. In essence, I wrote myself out of a job.

Employment History

- Technical Writer, BCSI, McKeesport, PA

- Technical Writer, Philips/Respironics, Murrysville, PA

- Technical Writer, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

- Designer, Database Admin, AIM Marketing, Pittsburgh, PA

- Multi-Lingual Desktop Publisher, Echo International, Pittsburgh, PA

- Multi-Lingual Desktop Publisher, Technical Translation Services, Willoughby, OH

- Graphic Designer, Aquent Partners, Pittsburgh, PA

- Database Coder, Wesco, Warrendale, PA


- Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Illustration and Graphic Design

- Washington Institute of Technology, Digital and Analog Electronics, Washington, PA


- Carley, Kathleen M. & Reminga, Jeffrey & Storrick, Jon & Pfeffer, Jürgen & Columbus, Dave (2013). ORA User's Guide 2013. Technical Report, CMU-ISR-13-108, Carnegie Mellon University, School of Computer Science, Institute for Software Research. [Have produced the ORA and AutoMap guides since 2006].

- Columbus, Dave & Pfeffer, Jürgen (2013). essay writer for magazine Whotopia.

- Columbus, Dave (2013). essay writer for the web site WhatCulture!


See citations and links under Writing sidebar