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XML Hacks by Michael Fitzgerald

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Dither Scatterplots with XSLT and SVG

Use XSLT and SVG to offset points in X-Y scatterplots so they do not plot on top of each other.

If you need to create an X-Y scatterplot from XML data, XSLT and SVG make a winning combination. But sometimes several points have the same X,Y coordinates and fall on top of each other. You can’t tell that there is more than one. This is most likely to happen with so-called categorical data, in which the categories get translated to integer values, as in this example:

Unsatisfied          = 0
Slightly satisfied   = 1 
Moderately satisfied = 2
Satisfied            = 3

A time-honored way for handling this problem is to dither the points by adding small random offsets to their X and Y positions. But XSLT 1.0 does not provide a random function, so how can you get the random values to add to the points?

Dimitre Novatchev has created an elegant method for generating random sequences based on his functional programming templates for XSLT. (See his work at http://fxsl.sourceforge.net/articles/Random/Casting%20the%20Dice%20with%20FXSL-htm.htm.) Dimitre’s approach is elegant but complex. There is a simpler way, a real hack in the best sense of the word.

In the XSLT stylesheet that will turn your source data into SVG, insert two random strings of digits, one for the X-axis offset and one for the Y-axis. This fragment of an XSLT stylesheet shows what they might look like:

<!--= = = = = = Random digits for the X- and Y- axes = = = = = = =--> <xsl:variable name='ditherx' select='3702854522015844305808889564635884085342'/> ...

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