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Unpack the Stocking – 2016 edition

21 Dec

3-stockings

Well, well, well … what a year 2016 has been! It seems that we lost an inordinate amount of influential people, we certainly endured a surreal (Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Year”) election season, stories of violence and heartbreak around the world lead every news cycle, and no doubt, people have encountered their own personal joys and sorrows the past months that made the year memorable, if nothing else. But all this said, it is the time for a little bit of celebrating and reflection and unpacking a present or two. Thus, I give you my 2016 edition of “Unpack the Stocking.” This year, I thought I’d share some Top Fives (kinda sorta) across the board. Here goes:

My Top 5 Work-Related Books of 2016 

  • Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data, by Stephanie Evergreen This book has been an absolute go-to data viz bible for me over the past months. Combined with Stephanie’s blog, online tutorials, and data academy, I have learned a gazillion cool ways to present data in the most effective way. Terrific!
  • Data Visualisation: A Handbook for Data Driven Design, by Andy Kirk Another wonderful resource that sits handily by my side on my desk, right next to Stephanie’s book. Andy provides a thorough blend of theory and practice, making this book a must-have for anyone serious about doing data vis. (I say “vis” for Andy, cuz he’s British.)
  • The Best American Infographics, 2015 Yes, it’s the collection of greats from last year, but I got it early this year, so it counts. Like any art, one’s skills in visual communication are improved simply by looking at examples of exemplary work. Whenever I’m stuck for ideas about how to construct an infographic, I pull this book off my shelf and look thru the pages for a bit. I get inspired and then I get to work.
  • Dear Data: A Friendship in 52 Weeks of Postcards, by Georgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec Anyone and everyone working with data should read this book! For one thing, the story of the project between these two outstanding data artists is good fun, but more, it offers terrific insight into how good visuals begin with a lot of thought, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of pen and paper! Telling a story with data is about so much more than a programming language. These two women will remind – or perhaps teach – readers this lesson.
  • The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication, by Alberto Cairo This is Alberto’s latest beautiful contribution to the field. If you’ve yet to read his book, The Functional Art, grab that one, too. Alberto presents data communication from the perspective of a journalist. As this is how I often think of my own role, i.e. telling the success stories of the UMCCTS, I find his books so incredibly helpful.

My Top 5 Just-for-Fun Favorite Books that I Read in 2016 (not necessarily published this year)

  • The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks I absolutely loved this book! It’s a beautiful memoir, history lesson, social justice/environmental study of a world many likely believe doesn’t even exist anymore. But it does and James is a marvel at telling its story.
  • The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown This book had been on my “to read” list for awhile and when I found a copy at a used bookstore, I snatched it up. What a treat! It’s the best sports/history book that I have read besides Laura Hillebrand’s remarkable, Seabiscuit. These stories remind the reader of why the people of this time in America’s history were, very much, the “Greatest Generation.” 
  • X, by Sue Grafton I will put aside just about anything that I’m reading to read the latest Kinsey Milhone mystery by Sue Grafton. X found its way onto my shelf this year and I read it over a rainy weekend. I can’t bear the thought that we only have “Y” and “Z” left from in this wonderful series that I’ve been reading for 20-odd years. 
  • Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger “The 99%” is a phrase often used to describe the non-wealthy of the United States, but it could also be used to describe the the non-military-serving Americans. Yes, less than 1% of Americans actively serve in a branch of the Service right now and perhaps this explains a great deal about our society and its relationship and/or understanding of all that the men and women who do join up endure – both while serving and more, when they return to civilian life. Sebastian Junger has both written books and produced documentary films on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in this short book, closes a chapter on this work. It’s an important read.
  • Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson This book had been on my bookshelf, unread, for years and I honestly had no idea that such a remarkable treasure was just sitting there, waiting for me to notice it. An amazingly beautiful work of fiction. It now lives on my bedside table where I can simply pick it up any morning or evening and take in a passage that will stay with me for days. A beautiful, beautiful book.

My Top 5 Helpful Websites/Sources of 2016

  • Click on any link in “My Top 5 Work-Related Books of 2016” and you’ll get to a whole other layer of amazing resources. This is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of the interwebs, i.e. it allows for so much supplemental material for books, articles, etc. Each of the authors of the books that I mentioned has a website or blog or set of online tutorials that I’ve relied upon throughout the year.  

My Top 6 Binge-Watched Television Programs of 2016 (6, not 5)

  • Happy Valley (Netflix) “Our Catherine,” as the Brits say, Catherine Cawood  is a former detective, now sergeant, in West Yorkshire. And that’s just the beginning of her story. Two seasons to date. Oh please, let there be a third.
  • Scott & Bailey (Amazon) Like “Happy Valley,” this is an offering from the acclaimed British screenwriter, Sally Wainwright. Imagine Cagney & Lacey redone in a much more sophisticated and superior way and you’ve got this show. The abbreviated 5th and final season came out this year. I miss these characters already.
  • The Fall (Amazon) Gillian Anderson is an amazingly complex character in this dark, suspenseful, chase to catch a serial killer. Another great series that wrapped up in 2016. I loved it.
  • Janet King (Acorn) The Australian actress, Marta Dusseldorp, was my favorite new person to come across in 2016. It’s not a coincidence that she stars in not only Janet King, but in the two picks that follow this one, too. This well-written legal drama follows the lead character, Senior Crown Prosecuter Janet King, and her colleagues through their work fighting crime and corruption, while balancing all kinds of ethical dilemmas of their own. The third season is under production now.
  • Jack Irish (Acorn) Guy Pearce has been a favorite actor of mine ever since he starred in, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. His portrayal of character, Jack Irish, is no exception to his talent. Former attorney, now kind of down on his luck, he makes his way solving mysteries and getting himself into and out of all sorts of jams along the way. Great writing, terrific characters, and a good story to follow. Two mini-series and one full-length season are available.  
  • A Place to Call Home (Acorn) My third favorite find from Australian TV this year is this lovely melodrama that follows the wealthy Bligh family and surrounding characters, most notably nurse Sarah Adams (Dusseldorp) in the small town of Inverness, north of Sydney, in the years following WWII. It’s just one of those, “Sit back and watch” kind of shows. Pure entertainment. 

My Top Musical Moments of 2016

Music is such a big part of my life, of course I count musical moments as some of the things I rely upon most to help me get through any year. 

  • FreshGrass at Mass MoCA offered up 3 straight days of unmatched joy as I got to see favorites Rosanne Cash, Glen Hansard, Aoife O’Donovan, Old Crow Medicine Show, Alison Brown, Sierra Hull, Ruthie Foster and so many more … all in one venue. Holy smokes! It’s gotta be one of the best live music festivals for Americana music lovers going. And it’s at Mass MoCA. Can’t be beat!
  • Seeing Patty Griffin at the Lowell Music Festival this past summer was a dream come true. I’ve loved her music for a long time, but had never had the chance to see her perform live. She’s an amazing singer-songwriter and a fantastic performer. I was not disappointed.
  • I have a long, personal history with the singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter. Her summer concert, also part of the Lowell Music Festival series, was one more chapter in the story. Additionally, I discovered the wonderful, Rose Cousins, that evening, as she opened for MCC. I love her music now, too.
  • Last, but hardly least – in fact, this is more than likely my favorite favorite experience/event/everything of 2016 – in October, I attended a songwriting retreat in Georgetown, ME, hosted by an amazing singer-songwriter and even better person, Catie Curtis. “Catie at the Cove” found me camping under the stars (and rain), making some very special new friends, and most of all, helping me to tap into a source of creativity within me that I’ve long wanted to find. Catie and her co-lead, Jenna Lindbo, provided the perfect space for encouragement and growth and fun that I will long remember. And I can’t wait to go again! Something to look forward to in 2017.

And … I also enjoyed some wonderful weekends with old friends, reconnected with some very dear folks from my growing-up days, said goodbye to two very important people in my life, one being my dad, and felt a sense of unease and anxiety that I’ve not experienced in a long time (if ever – it’s a global thing, I think). I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary with my best friend, Lynn. I got a hug from my friend, Amy Dickinson, when she was on the panel of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! when it broadcast from Providence, RI. I co-wrote with my colleague, Lisa Palmer, was published in the book, Translating Expertise: The Librarians’ Role in Translational Research (I’m sure it’ll hit the bestseller list next year). I learned some new stuff, got better at a couple of things that I’ve been doing for awhile, and am actively looking for some new challenges for the coming year (volunteering? new art class? trampoline fitness?). So I look back and see that 2016 wasn’t the best nor the worst of times, but a balance for me. I hope yours was, too. 

Thanks for another year of following along with my blog. I wish everyone all the best for 2017! 

 

Occupy Leap Day

29 Feb

Here’s a post that I wrote for my personal blog 4 years ago – the last time we celebrated a Leap Day. I’m not able to occupy my Leap Day in such a way this year, but I hope some of you are. Here’s to doing something creative on your extra day!

Happy Leap Year!

 

blahg, blahg, blahg...

Every four years we’re given a present, an extra 24 hours that we bundle up into one day that we call “Leap Day”. Where does this time come from? Well, astronomically speaking, it takes the earth approximately 365 days and 6 hours to travel around the sun. Add up those 6 hours for 4 years and you’ve got 24 (thank you Ms. Summers for all of those multiplication flashcard drills in 4th grade). To keep our old calendars in line, we add that extra day in during that 4th year and call it “Leap Year”.

It dawned on me this morning that if there is one day that should really be given to people as a bonus day, a day to do whatever you wish, a holiday if you will, it is Leap Day. It only seems fitting as (1) we get by just fine without it 3 out…

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A Picture CAN Tell a Dozen Tables’ Worth of Data

10 Dec

[The following was originally written for the UMCCTS December Newsletter.]

When it comes to summarizing and sharing information with an audience, one important thing to remember is the audience itself. It’s a pretty simple concept, yet too often forgotten or dismissed when we’re preparing a talk, an article, a policy statement, patient education materials, and the myriad of other containers into which we fit our message.

Most recently, I’ve been working to pull together sections for the Final Progress Report for our initial Clinical and Translational Science Award. This is not my first time writing such a report and as has been the case in the past, we follow a template that goes something like:

Overall Objectives and Goals > Aims > Accomplishments Associated with Each Aim > Milestones Reached for the Same > Challenges Faced > Future Plans

These reports are lengthy and dry, filled with lots of bullet points and tables and numbers. I’m not privy to how these reports are read at NIH, but I imagine that the format fits how they are reviewed and makes it easier for funders to see a bigger picture across similar awards. Funders and reviewers are the audience, thus we present our information to them in the way they’re accustomed – the way that they understand.

Taking a break from all of the writing, I decided to turn one of the bigger tables of information I’ve received into something for a different audience. Sarah Rulnick, MPH, Project Manager for the Conquering Diseases Project, recently compiled some information regarding the work of the Biorepository and Volunteer Database. These are both integral pieces in the UMCCTS efforts to support clinical trials. I read through the narrative portions of Sarah’s summary and took in the full-page table giving yearly counts of things such as the number of patients consented for the biorepository, MiCARD searches performed, outreach events organized, and the like.

I started to think about a way that I could summarize this information for both people who have already enrolled in the Volunteer Database and those who might potentially do so, if they only understood a bit more about the importance of participation. It’s an audience that Sarah and her colleagues are charged to reach. I pulled out the data points that I thought best addressed this goal. I also brainstormed what came to my mind when I thought about conquering something. What I ultimately came up with is this:

Conquering Diseases

Coincidentally, right in the middle of writing this newsletter piece, I watched a 20-minute “Coffee Break” webinar from the American Evaluation Association. I hadn’t connected the webinar with this piece, but they certainly appear to be related. The webinar was entitled, “How to Develop Visual Summaries and Inforgraphics from Your Evaluation Findings,” and presented by Elissa Schloesser, a graphic designer and visual communicator based in Minneapolis. She, too, talked about knowing your audience and she offered an excellent example of how she prepared two very different materials for two groups; both from the same report. I felt I was on track with my message here.

Elissa has some other nice examples on her My Visual Voice. If you’re thinking of communicating some of your work visually, they might inspire you.

Map it Out

1 Dec

I’m taking Alberto Cairo‘s 6-week online course, Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization, taught through the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin. Just like every other MOOC that I’ve taken over the past few years, I can never keep up with the assignments and get in on the discussions as I wish, but I still appreciate all of the resources and lectures and insight that I get from them.

With info-doodling on my mind, I’ve been putting together a few new ones this week. (It’s a nice diversion from writing a lengthy, very dry final progress report for NIH.) Some are in draft form and I’m awaiting feedback from folks on their content, but here’s a quick and fun one that I put together during lunch. I was remembering all of the places that I’ve been over the past 10+ years related to my work as a medical librarian / informationist / evaluator. It’s been a good gig!

What do you think?

Travel Map

A Little of This, A Little of That

30 Oct

I’ve been out and about and busy juggling many things this month – library conferences, speaking engagements, and day-to-day work. All of it finds me neglecting my poor blog. Let’s see if I can’t remedy that a bit today. Continuing with the theme I began with my last post, here are some great finds that I’ve come across over the past weeks:

Rob Peterson of Dun and Bradstreet offered a nice blog post last month, highlighting 14 Data Visualization Tools to Tell Better Stories with Numbers. It provides a concise overview of which type of visualization is best for the job, along with links to online tools for each. Remember, if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Keep more than one tool in your toolbox.

I’ve printed off the instructions for How to Make a Timeline from a Google Spreadsheet. They’ve been sitting on my desk for weeks, but I know I’ll find the time(line) to give it a try. Timelines can be such a wonderful way to tell a story.

Print Friendly was recommended to me via some blog and/or list that I follow. I’ve discovered that I use it so very often since. It’s terrific for printing out webpages without all of the ads and photos and whatnot. If you must print, it offers a greener way of doing so.

Thanks to the great folks at both UMass Amherst and UConn, plus the Boston Library Consortium, I was finally able to attend a hands-on workshop on Tableau. I tried unsuccessfully to teach myself how to use it for awhile. (This is due more to my lack of time and focus than on any of Tableau’s tutorials and help guides.) I knew that I’d like it, if I got around to using it. And yesterday, I published my first test visualizations. Woot!!

The American Society of Cell Biology recently shared an article about NIH’s new tool to calculate Relative Citation Ratio. iCite allows users to compare citations, offering an alternative (read, better) to the standard journal impact factor. It’s nice to see NIH supporting the idea that the measure(s) of research impact are broader than we’ve long accepted.

I’m a big fan of Shaun Usher and his projects, “Lists of Note,” “Letters of Note,” and “LetterHeady.” While perusing his site recently, I came across the collection of videos called, “Letters Live.” The art of letter writing is sadly fading, but its beauty thankfully revisited through this wonderful collection of actors reading the correspondence of the famous and infamous. Enjoy!

One of the library conferences that I attended this month was the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries (NAHSL). I was on the planning committee for the conference and one thing that I decided, on a whim, to do was create NAHSL BINGO, a game that attendees could play throughout the meeting. It was filled with typical sightings and/or sayings one sees/hears during these events (knitters? cell phones going off? someone complaining about the room’s temperature?). To create the cards, I Googled “bingo card generator” and found a great one here. Bookmark it for fun and games emergencies.

At that same meeting, perhaps one of the biggest audience gasps came when the librarians from Yale University’s medical library unveiled their brand spanking new tool to help the poor soul tackling systematic reviews … the Yale MeSH Analyzer. Geeky librarian souls, rejoice in its awesomeness.

My Desk

Lastly, this week’s What’s On My Desk Right Now? Nathan Yau’s, Data Points; Charles Wheelan’s, Naked Statistics; Albert Cairo’s, The Functional Art; Dona Wong’s, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics; and the hot-off-the-press The Very Best American Infographics of 2015, edited by Gareth Cook. Oh, and a drawing of a bunny that I doodled while on a lengthy conference call a few weeks back. Sense a theme?

Until next time… doodle on!

Learn Something New Every Day

27 Aug

My spouse recently got a call from a couple of faculty members in the computer science department at the college where she teaches. Lynn teaches in the art department; graphic design, motion design, typography, and the like. The computer science guys wanted to explore the possibility of her teaching a course in data visualization. Knowing that I have both an interest in the topic, plus the need to fumble through learning it (and using the new-found skills) for my job as an evaluator, she asked me what I thought about the opportunity.

Lynn knows enough about data visualization to know there’s a computer programming aspect to it. The computer science guys know enough to know there’s a design element to it. They all know that there’s math involved, specifically statistical analysis. I also suggested that it involves writing and/or journalism. She was hesitant – and rightly so – to jump on board without thinking and talking it through, because what she is an expert in is only one area of a multi-disciplinary field.

“It’s team science,” my boss, Nate, said when I shared the story with him. Exactly. And in many ways it’s an example of how the ways we traditionally teach, research, and work need to be re-examined and re-worked.

Too often, I find, we search for collaborators within our own circles of expertise. Librarians collaborate with other librarians. They might be from different types of libraries or different library departments, but often we’re all librarians. Researchers collaborate with other researchers. Scientists with other scientists. In some ways, it can be argued, this is team science (or team-based work), but it falls short of the ideal.

At it’s best, team science brings together experts from across different disciplines to work on problems that simply cannot be tackled by any one group. Think about a health problem like obesity. It’s huge and as such, touches upon so many different aspects of life. Addressing it requires everyone from geneticists to behavioral psychologists to nutritionists to exercise physiologists to public policy makers to urban planners to educators to medical doctors to parents to science writers to … it’s probably easier to identify the experts not needed than those who are. The point being that some of the most successful efforts at addressing obesity are those that bring as many of these fields of expertise together, to work together towards a solution. (The UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center is an example, close to home for me.)

But back to data visualization, what I’ve found is that those who do it best are either freakingly gifted (there’s always an Edward Tufte in any area) or they’re smart enough – and talented enough – to assemble good teams for the work. As I’m seeking to discover the best resources to learn and practice the skills for this job, I’m continually reminded to look across lots of different disciplines. I look to evaluators (Stephanie Green and Chris Lysy), graphic designers (Nigel Holmes), business intelligence consultants (Stephen Few), journalists and journalism professors (David McCandless and Alberto Cairo, respectively), artists (Manuel Lima), statisticians (Nathan Yau), doctors (Hans Rosling), and the people in my very own Quantitative Health Sciences Department. I read things by people who are good presenters, experts in visual communication, and those skilled in improvisation. In other words, while I’m limited in resources to actually form a real team of experts to do data visualization for the UMCCTS, I’ve learned enough to seek them out from across lots of corners so that I can do a better job. (I’m also lucky enough to be working in an environment where people don’t mind me trying things out on them. It’s a benefit of being in academia.)

Thanks to Chris Lysy’s (DiY Data Design) weekly creative challenge, this week I practiced using design icon arrays to report on the findings of a course evaluation with a small (n=15) class size. We get so hung up on “big data” that it’s easy to forget the real challenges of working with and presenting the results from small data sets. I really enjoyed taking this challenge and putting it to use. Here are a couple of examples. For the sake of privacy, I’ve redacted the questions being reported.

Time

Sample Arrays

Now, here’s one lesson that I learned for the next time that I use this visualization device. I need to make them like this:

better copy

This example allows me to better show that each response is represented by a single box, thus 11 people answered “Yes” and 4 answered “Somewhat.” Live and learn. Every day.

Next Tuesday, I’m taking a workshop on creating podcasts. It’s something that I’ve wanted to try and I found a 2-hour, evening class in Boston. Stay tuned to see what that new learning might bring. 

Fancy Doodles

23 Jul

One of my favorite parts of my still relatively new job as an evaluator is being able to tell the stories of our programs not only in words, but also in pictures. Regular readers of my blog know how much I enjoy and value sketching, doodling, and drawing as part of my work process, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my sketchnotes over the past few years here on my blog, but my new role allows me to create infograms for each newsletter produced by the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science. I thought I’d share some here.

When I had to report on the current work of our funded clinical scholars, I decided to highlight how a small group of people (6) can lead to much larger groups and connections and ultimately, outputs such as subsequent funding and peer-reviewed papers. Turning those facts into pictures, I came up with this:

Slide1

For those curious, I used PowerPoint to draw this graphic. The dollar signs and presentation screens are clip art, but the rest I was able to draw by hand. You can draw pretty much anything with triangles and rectangles and circles. 🙂

Next, I had to report on the progress of another group of funded researchers – our Pilot Project Program Awardees. I took the information given to me via lengthy written reports and turned it into this graphic to show the importance and value of Team Science. For this one, I tested out the infographic site, Easel.ly. It allows you to do many things via their free version.

PPPSummaryUpdateSpring2015

Most recently, the Principal Investigator for our Center wanted to know about the funding of these Pilot Projects since we began doing so, back in 2007. What could we say about this program, since we initiated it? I decided one thing worth evaluating was our return on investment. Since 2007, the UMCCTS has awarded around $5 million to fund research that promotes collaboration between basic science and clinical researchers, provides seed funding for ideas to grow, and advances translational science. What’s been the return on that investment? Turning back to PowerPoint, I created this graphic:

PPP Investment

It’s a challenge to collect and analyze the data behind these images, but in many ways the bigger challenge is to figure out which story is the one to tell and how best to tell it. It’s a skill of an accomplished evaluator, something that I can’t really call myself only 8 months into the job, but I’m happy to report that it’s both interesting and rewarding to work towards such a goal.