Gadgets for Giving, the 2016 Version

22 Nov

For the past several years (I’ve lost track), I’ve given an annual talk at the Medical School in which I share a bunch of fun, cool, new gadgets and gizmos that folks might like to give and/or receive for the holidays. It’s always a lot of fun to put together and I invariably end up buying a few of the finds for family and friends and yes … me, too. Here’s this year’s version for your own enjoyment. You can find the handout that accompanied the presentation here – 2016-gadget-talk-handout. It offers information on sources for the items and pricing. 

slide01slide02slide03slide04slide05slide06slide07slide08slide09slide10slide11slide12slide13slide14slide15slide16

 

Rules of Travel

7 Nov
sally-and-janene_their-finest-hour

With my favorite Aussie, Janene Batten, medical librarian extraordinaire at Yale Medical School and Yale School of Nursing.

(This was originally posted on NAHSL Blog, the official blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries, Inc. It’s reposted here with my own permission. Heh!)

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Rosanne Cash, has a song titled, “Rules of Travel.” It’s completely unrelated to the content of this blog post, but it’s a great lead-in and/or title for it. I also realize that I’m not completely following the rules of NAHSL Professional Development Award blog posts, but please stick with me. It’ll make sense…

I have the great fortune to be on some short list for speakers for library conferences. I receive several invitations each year to travel to state or regional meetings, or library school classes, to talk about what I do for a living. I like to think that it’s because I do interesting things, that I’ve knitted together an interesting career path (not that I knit, but enough librarians do to get the metaphor). Enough folks have told me that they’ve read my blog for years and I know that this gets me invites. And I also like to think that I’m somewhat entertaining. At least to some people.

Anyhoooo… when I receive such invitations, I have some rules of travel that I try my best to apply. One of these is that if the content of the conference is of the slightest interest and/or relevance to my work – good odds, since these are library/information professional conferences – I ask that I receive free registration to attend the whole meeting. I don’t ask for much, if anything, to speak, so I figure it’s a good deal for both me and the group doing the inviting. I always learn things and I get to meet so many wonderful colleagues from all over the place.

The week before NAHSL’s annual meeting this year, I traveled to Detroit to give a keynote at the Michigan Health Sciences Library Association. The opening speaker for the meeting was Thomas Buchmueller, PhD, a health economist and professor at the University of Michigan. He teaches and does research within the School of Public Health there, focusing on “the economics of health insurance and related public policy issues.” (MHSLA program bio) In his talk, “Insured by Obamacare: Early Evidence of the Coverage Effects of the Affordable Care Act,” Dr. Buchmueller described the private coverage provisions of the ACA as a 3-legged stool. One leg represents underwriting reforms, an aspect the overwhelming majority of Americans support. The second is the individual mandate, the leg that has caused no end of trouble for the law, particularly given that the third leg, premium tax credits, haven’t kept up. The second and third legs are dependent upon one another for success.

For me, Dr. Buchmueller’s talk was a terrific lead-up to the first plenary speaker at NAHSL 2016, Jack Hughes, MD, from the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Hughes also took on the topic of health care / health insurance / the ACA in his talk. His description of the problem as “the iron triangle” fit so well with the 3-legged stool metaphor. The 3 sides of the Triangle – Cost, Access, and Quality – are all connected and addressing one aspect cannot and does not occur without effecting the others. The statistics presented in both of these talks are, in my opinion, both hopeful and shameful. Early evidence shows that the ACA has positively affected the numbers of Americans who are insured and who seek preventive health care both earlier and more often, thus reducing many expensive illnesses / procedures down the line. But at the same time, the issue of unbridled cost remains one that must be addressed before we will ever see and/or experience effective change in our health care system. Quality suffers, people suffer, and the American health system thus lags woefully behind those found in countries comparable to us in wealth and development.

I so appreciated hearing these two talks within a short period of time. I learned a great deal. I also really enjoyed following the back-channel, Twitter discussion on #NAHSL2016 that took place during Dr. Hughes’ talk. The questions of what defines American society, the beliefs the country was founded upon, the underlying sense of independence, our holding this up as the ideal of who we are as a nation/people… all of these came up in a GREAT discussion on how this ideal will or even can be reconciled with the ideas related to “health care for all.” I loved it! I love the passionate thoughts and knowledge-based opinions of my colleagues. It’s such a great characteristic of our profession. (As an aside, I also loved how Dr. Hughes’ tapped into this very thing with his polling exercises throughout his talk!)

I want to thank the NAHSL Professional Development Committee for awarding me a scholarship to help offset my expenses to travel to the conference this year. I also want to thank former NAHSL Chair, good friend, and tutor of all things Australian, Janene Batten, for letting me stay at her home during the meeting. Like so many of us, travel funds have been frozen at my institution, and the assistance of scholarships and the kindness of friends makes attending these wonderful events possible. This and a few rules of travel.

And lastly, thanks to the Program Committee for an outstanding meeting. Kudos on a job so very well done.

Show Me A Story

27 Oct

(The following is from a spotlight talk that I gave at the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries chapter of the Medical Library Association in New Haven, CT, October 25, 2016.)

nahsl_viz_01

nahsl_viz_02I was listening to economist and presentation expert, Jonathan Schwabish’s, PolicyViz Podcast last week. It was an episode from about a month ago; an interview with Andy Kirk, a data visualization specialist and the person behind the terrific website, Visualising Data. Andy is also the author of the new book, Visualizing Data: A Handbook for Data Driven Design, a must-have reference text for anyone seeking to produce effective visualizations. When asked why he wrote the book and the essence behind it, he replied,

Visualization is a game of decisions and to make good decisions you need to be aware of all of the options that you’ve got and then be aware of the influencing factors that shape what choices you can make. What skills have you got? How does that restrict or open up opportunities around chart types or interactivity? What are the formats that you happen to aspire towards and what does that impact in terms of the choices that you have to make for a given context?

I so appreciated this statement for a couple of reasons. First, looking at the act of creating visualizations as a decision-making process gets to the heart of why and how visuals either work or they don’t. In other words, good decision-making is key to good visuals, regardless of all the know-how one might have in terms of tools and/or design. You need to start and end with good decisions. Secondly, you need to have some skills and the more you develop your skills, the greater number of choices you’ll have available to you in the decision-making process. “Aspire.” It’s a grand word.

nahsl_viz_03My story of creating visuals started on a Friday afternoon when I was staring at a spreadsheet/report that I’m frequently asked for in my work. It’s a tracking form of our clinical research scholars, telling the number of grants they’ve applied for, the number and percentage of said applications are funded, the amount of money associated with each, the number of publications they’ve written, and other such metrics that tell the UMCCTS their return on investment, if you will, for these researchers. 

nahsl_viz_04As I was looking at it – and as it was a Friday afternoon and I was needing something fun to do to finish my work week – I wondered if I could draw a picture that told the same story that the numbers and information in this spreadsheet told. I like to draw, so I thought I’d give it a go. I wasn’t sure that my bosses would like it, but I figured it didn’t hurt to try.

So I did just that and ended up with this:nahsl_viz_05Surprisingly, my bosses loved it! And I was quickly asked to make some more, so I did. 

nahsl_viz_06I made one to show how all five UMass campuses are involved with the UMCCTS. I made one highlighting the team science and/or collaborative nature of our sponsored programs. I made one showing the outcomes of our pilot awards, one illustrating the work of the Center for Microbiome Research, and one highlighting the peaks achieved by our Conquering Diseases Program. I covered my office door with them, put them in our monthly newsletter, and eventually we made a page on our Center’s website so that they live online.

nahsl_viz_07Next, we had our annual research retreat and when it came time for me to produce and give a report on the evaluations from the day, I decided to expand my chart-making skills, and learned how to make stacked horizontal bar charts to present the information more clearly and concisely. (Thank you, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.)

nahsl_viz_08Of course, the more charts I made, the more folks came to me with requests to make more. Each was an opportunity to learn something new, to try something different, to make choices and decisions – some good, some bad, some better. I made slides for a presentation that our Quality Assurance leader was giving to a group of clinical research administrators. 

nahsl_viz_09I made a tree map for the director of our Institutional Review Board. When I showed it to her she asked, “Where’s the pie?” So I made her a pie and she said, “You know, I like the tree better.” Yay! So did I.

nahsl_viz_10I also made her a 100% stacked bar chart to show average IRB approval times and in doing so, also finally made a color template of our UMCCTS colors. (Thank you, Stephanie Evergreen.)

 

nahsl_viz_11And then, taking Andy’s words to heart (before I even knew them) I read and learned and practiced and expanded my skill set, learning dot plots, split bar graphs, lollipop graphs, embedding labels, and creating both heat maps and bar graphs in R. (Thank you, Nathan Yau.) It’s fun and it’s appreciated and it’s become a big part of my job now.

nahsl_viz_12And so when people continue to ask me why I’m no longer a librarian or what an evaluator does, I reply, that I AM a librarian. I’m a librarian who does evaluation and now that I’ve added the drawing pictures aspect to my toolkit, my wife calls me an INFORMATION ARTIST! It’s the best job title that I’ve ever had, by far. 

What I hope everyone takes away from this talk – or this post – is that when it comes to being an information professional, the sky is the limit for all that you can do. Find what you like, find what you do well, find what you want to do, learn what you want to learn, and grow with the profession. It makes for a great career.

Where the Boys Are

22 Sep
sally-and-rosanne

Rosanne Cash … always wonderful!

I attended the wonderful 3-day music festival, FreshGrass, last weekend. I saw a plethora of talent and a whole host of favorite musicians including Rosanne Cash, Glen Hansard, Aoife O’Donovan, Sierra Hull, Ruthie Foster, Alison Brown … but WAIT! By this account, one might think that the festival was dominated by women, but alas, it was far from a reconceived Lilith Fair. No, no. FreshGrass is a bluegrass / roots / Americana music festival and bluegrass / roots / Americana music is dominated by dudes. 

Rather than letting my feminist self get all riled up over the gender gap and put a damper on my fun (because when I get angry I tend to have less fun), I decided instead to make a little data collection and data visualization project out of the experience. That’s fun. 

You can see the total percentage of players, by instrument, in the first graphic. In the second one, each instrument represents one musician. I didn’t count all of the smaller groups on the courtyard stage and the pop-up performers (there were just too many to keep up with), but from casual observation, doing so wouldn’t have changed the results.

What’s all this to say? Probably plenty, but I’m simply going to take it as motivation to keep practicing so that I can do my part to close the gap.

where-the-boys-are_freshgrass-2016

boys-and-girls-clubs

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah…

16 Aug

… here I am at, Camp …  well … at Townshend State Park in Townshend, Vermont. Last week’s vacation spot. It was a wonderful week of camping, hiking, reading, drawing, cooking, and more. Just what a summer vacation is supposed to be. The only downside is that it was all of one week. Too short. Ah, well…

I read three good books while camping:

The latter two are books that appeared in my Little Free Library this summer and I decided after reading them last week that I’d add a “review” feature to my library. We’ll see how – or if – it takes off.

Three work-related books that were recommended and/or loaned to me lately include:

Not quite the page-turners as my vacation books, but worthwhile reading all the same. The first two give very practical advice, examples, and exercises to help one hone his/her data science and math skills, and Few’s book is like all of his others, i.e. chocked full of information and advice for effective data visualization.

And finally, a few interesting websites to peruse and enjoy:

A Snapshot of a 21st-Century Librarian (Adrienne Green, The Atlantic) is a terrific profile piece on Theresa Quill, a research librarian at the Herman B. Wells Library at Indiana University, Bloomington. If you, like me, struggle to explain your not-so-stereotypical librarian job to friends and family, point them to this article as a good example of how we’re pushing the boundaries and redefining our role(s).

Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine is a hilarious – and informative – podcast that I recently stumbled upon. Dr. Sydnee McElroy provides the medical expertise and her husband, Justin, the banter. Actually, they both banter quite a bit, making it an enjoyable program. I see that last week’s topic was cupping. If you noticed those round bruises on Michael Phelps body during the Olympics, you might want to listen to learn about how they got there (and if the science behind the practice is real).

Speaking of the Olympics, Dynamic Dialects is just a downright awesome site to explore how people around the world pronounce the same set of words. It’s great fun!

If you bookmark sites for free-to-use images, you’ll want to add the USDA’s Pomological Watercolor Collection to your list. One “Fast Fact” from the site – it contains 7, 584 watercolor paintings, lithographs, and line drawings of fruits and nuts, and almost 4,000 of those are apples. Imagine! It’s a beautiful resource.

The Open Notebook gives visitors a wealth of insight and knowledge about science writing, and also provides tools to help one become a better science writer. Interviews, Elements of the Craft, Profiles, and Science Blogging are some of its features. 

 Finally, someone once asked how I discover all of these sharable finds. Better put, I think she asked, “How do you find the time to discover them?” The answer is that I read a lot (stories from Twitter; magazines like The Atlantic, The Economist, and The New Yorker; a number of interesting blogs), I listen to the news via public radio and podcasts of interest, and I subscribe to several email newsletters including The Scout Report from Internet Scout at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Austin Kleon’s weekly post, Banana Data News, and Wait But Why. I like that with the exception of the last one (which arrives maybe once a month), these appear in my email on Friday mornings. They’re not overwhelming in length and never cease to offer up something that I find interesting and useful – kind of like how I hope you find my blog. 

Summer Sightseeing

20 Jul

I subscribe to #dataviz guru, Stephanie Evergreen’s blog and found this morning’s post about timelines really great.  I love timelines, both aesthetically and functionally. I particularly liked Stephanie’s idea to use a visual timeline to outline a day’s agenda:

Timeline

The next time I put together a presentation and am tempted to do that requisite “Here’s What We’re Going to Cover in this Talk” slide, I’m going to use this technique rather than some boring list of bullet points. For sure.

My friend and authorstrator, Suzy Becker, shared a wonderful article with me from the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine. The Surprising History of the Infographic will be required reading for the data visualization course that I’m putting together for next spring. And as I told Suzy, I’m changing my job title to “polymath.” I love it.

If you’re interested in joining me in this new old vocation, writer Nir Eyal’s post, Three Steps to Get Up to Speed on Any Subject Quickly may be of help. “Google once, take notes, then stop Googling and start sketching” was perhaps my favorite bit of advice.

And a few other good things I’ve come across and/or have been shared with me over the last couple of weeks:

15 Data Visualization Tools to Help You Present Ideas Effectively has a few listed that I’ve yet to try. I’m always up for trying new tools.

The Analog is a brilliant site for reviews of all things analog – you know, pens, paper, pencils and such. If you’re like me and read James Ward’s, The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius, and Stationery Obsession in one sitting, you’ll love this blog.

Design Observer is also a beautiful and enlightening blog that I came across through a tweet to its posts, 50 Books and 50 Covers. Books can be art, in more ways than one.

Finally, July is always a month of celebrations and anniversaries. This very day marks the 47th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon (Do you remember where you were?) and July 5th was the 20th birthday of perhaps the most famous sheep since Lamb Chop, Dolly. Yes, Dolly, “the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, was born July 5, 1996.” Scientific American’s story behind the story of Dolly is a fascinating summer read. Enjoy! 

‘Til next time…Sheep

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Pt.1)

12 Jul

Well, truth be told, I’ve not had a summer vacation just yet. Still, things do seem to slow down a little bit at work during the summer months and I’ve taken advantage of the time to learn a few new things that will hopefully make me better in my job. I thought I’d share some of them, along with resources in case you wish to add some arrows to your quiver, too.

One of the biggest challenges that I face as an evaluator is being able to quickly (and often on the fly) answer questions about the different programs and projects of the UMCCTS. I struggle with rarely getting the same question twice – or at least my ability, yet, to hear the same question twice – and too often find myself scrambling to gather data from different sources, analyze it, and present it back to a particular stakeholder “by the end of the day.” Granted, I was certainly used to giving quick answers to questions from patrons when I worked in the library, but I had a couple of advantages there; (1) I’d worked for a number of years as a medical librarian, so I was pretty up to speed on the library’s resources and (2) the library was a nice, neat, set container of resources as opposed to any number of individuals and project leads and program directors and data gatherers spread across the campus. Praise be the library! It’s difficult to overstate the value of organization. But I digress…

My challenge now is to make my own library, to build my own collection of resources, and to keep them current so that those stressful “by the end of the day” requests are less so. Enter spreadsheets, pivot tables, and dashboards. I was hardly a novice Excel user when I started this work, but enough reading in the literature and best practices of evaluation led me to believe that I needed to expand my know-how about Excel in order to make things easier for myself. After my last scramble to fulfill a “just in time” request, I decided to get to it. I read two excellent books on data visualization that base most of their material on examples from Excel; Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s, Storytelling with Data, and Stephanie Evergreen’s, Effective Data Visualization. These are both great, hands-on books to get you going. I also came across Excel Campus, with one of the best series of video tutorials I’ve ever viewed. The 3-part series on building pivot tables and dashboards was just what I needed.

With these new skills, I’m able to take lengthy, unwieldy (to me) spreadsheets and turn them into several separate sheets with associated pivot tables for analysis and interactive dashboards that let me quickly see the who, what, when, and where of our different programs. It’s a work in progress, but I can tell already that it will be helpful for me and – hopefully – when I develop more tables based upon the questions of the Center’s staff, it will be helpful for them, too.

Next up, I wanted to learn how to create both an overlapping bar chart and a heat map. I was inspired to learn the former from a blog post that I read, coupled with the task I had of writing a report summarizing the evaluation results of our annual research retreat. You know, when you create a survey to evaluate an event (a class, a retreat, a workshop, etc.), you’re often stuck with a whole bunch of questions producing a whole bunch of bar graphs showing how much people appreciated this, that, or the other thing about the event. My survey for the retreat was no different, but I knew that there had to be a better way to present the findings – “better,” meaning a one-page document. Overlapping bar charts seemed perfect. As you can see, I was able to use this type of chart to combine the results of several questions into one visual, making things a lot easier to read and a lot shorter in format.

Feedback

Five charts become one with an overlapping/stacked bar chart.

Now the heat map. Why? Oh, I don’t know. It was last Friday and a quiet day. And they’re kind of cool looking, so … back to tackling R for analysis and visualizations. (My goal here is to be able to be comfortable with these tasks in Excel, R, and Tableau, thus I switch off between them, to hone some skills.) I’ve mentioned here before that I find Nathan Yau’s books and website, Flowing Data, to be essential to understanding and doing data visualization. To learn (better said, “follow the instructions”) to make a heat map, I used the example that he offers in his book, Visualize This, but he also makes this particular exercise available in his collection of online tutorials, so you can have at it, too, if you wish. As you can see, I did indeed follow the instructions and made a nice little heat map of NBA players’ stats.

NBA HeatmapI also wanted to try making a heat map in Excel (easier said than done, though you can find resources online). I downloaded the data from my Jawbone fitness band that I’ve been wearing since December and made a nice map of my daily step count. Nothing fancy, but it worked just fine as a learning exercise.

Step Count Heat Map

I still plan to tackle making heat maps in Tableau, as well as other dashboards and charts that will be useful. The tool kit is never full and the summer isn’t even half over yet.

Enjoy!