Tag Archives: data visualization

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! 

What Happened to May?

31 May

It’s not a good sign for my summer that I lost an entire month of the spring. Ah well… it was a different sort of month, filled with some work events and an unexpected life event that kept me away from my computer for more than a week. But before the entire month passes, let me share some things from my “To Share” folder and keep my streak of active blogging months alive. I’ve been blogging here for going on 4 years and have never had a month without a single post. It’s not happening now!

A couple of interesting projects that I tackled for the month involved (1) creating a social network map using Tableau and (2) designing a lengthy evaluation survey in REDCap. For those interested in details regarding either or both of those tasks, I’ll write up some notes and share them in a future post. For now, let’s empty the folder:

Science

If you work in the biomedical research world – or heck, if you simply follow any news about biomedical research – you’ve surely heard the acronym, CRISPR in the past year or two. The discovery and use of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR, for editing genes has been an enormous breakthrough in science. It’s also, per this article in Nature, a new and important key for understanding how genomes work. Curious about how it can be applied? Here’s a fun quiz from the folks at Wired magazine, Can You Tell These Real CRISPR Projects from the Fake Ones?

Wonder what it might be like to enjoy the rat race? Researchers do an awful lot of things to our rodent friends for the sake of science, but did you know that they actually enjoy some of them? The rodents, that is, not the scientists. Here’s a fun piece from the blogger, GrrlScientist,  Wild Mice Actually Enjoy Running on Exercise Wheels.

One day, cephalopods will rule the world? Do you doubt me? Here’s proof.

Data and Data Visualization

I may have shared this in a previous post, but even if so, it’s worth sharing again – Flowing Data’s 10 Best Data Visualization Projects of 2015. You can be both wowed and inspired by reviewing them.

It goes without saying that librarians are hardly the only professional group retooling to adapt to a data-driven, data-overflowing world. Journalism has also become a profession that looks very different from what it did just a few short years ago. Journalist Geoff McGhee’s video report, Journalism in the Age of Data, is a great piece that chronicles and explores how news rooms are changing and adapting to be able to effectively use data to tell stories.

Making data available to users in every conceivable (and even inconceivable) means is key, argues Mac Bryla in his piece for Tableau’s blog, Data Diaries: Culture of Innovation Starts with Self-Reliant People. Here’s a snippet:

What True Self-Reliance Looks Like

Self-reliance is built in part on people’s ability to answer their own questions, which is closely related to the concept of self-service analytic, especially in today’s data-driven age.

For many, the idea of self-service business intelligence, where IT opens up a small menu of capabilities for employees, has not yet produced its promised benefits despite having been around for a few years. It is clearly an improvement on the traditional, IT-run report factory, but it is still too limiting to satisfy people’s ever-growing appetite for information.

So far, self-service BI is more like IKEA’s approach to DIY furniture-making. While it allows us to build our own furniture, it’s limited by factory-manufactured building blocks. As a result, we all end up with the same results despite the process being self-service.

This is not enough when it comes to fostering self-reliance, autonomy, and innovation.

An alternative approach is to give curiosity-driven users a new generation of tools, which will enable them to explore their data and answer their own questions on their own schedules.

I loved the Do-It-Yourself IKEA-approach metaphor.

I’ve been reading Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s book, Storytelling with Data: A data visualization guide for business professionals. It’s succinct and straightforward style is terrific. It’s also filled with many excellent examples and step-by-step exercises, all using Excel. Her blog of the same name is also worth checking out. You might note that she’s on a bit of a hiatus after welcoming a new baby to her family, but there’s plenty of archived info worth perusing.

Along the same lines, you may also want to read Scott Berinato’s article in the June edition of Harvard Business Review entitled, Visualizations that Really Work.

For a fantastic, easy-reading article that uses a bunch of data to explain really well how and why complex problems like affordable housing are so complex, read Michael Anderson’s, A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices. It’s well-worth remembering in this time of inflated promises by political campaigns of all stripes. (My biased, editorial comment there.)

Track the pulse of the US presidential race via Twitter. Just for fun.

Good Reads

One of the best articles I read this month was an inaugural essay for the brand new Journal of Design and Science (JoDS) out of MIT. I admit that I had to read it a few times through and consult a few outside resources to fully understand it, but once I got it,  I got it! Age of Entanglement, by Neri Oxman, proposes a very interesting theory to explain how the dissolution of clear boundaries between disciplines and specialties breeds (and thus, needs) new means of understanding how people work, think, and create both individually and together. And the Krebs Cycle of Creativity is brilliant!

03.25.16-Oxman-Krebs

Source: Oxman, N. (2016) Krebs Cycle of Creativity (KCC). In: Ito, J. Design and Science.

If you’re ever looking for good, online writing related to science, ScienceBlogs is a nice, one-stop site for finding blogs pertaining to all types of disciplines, including Information Science

A future read will be the Journal of New Librarianship a brand new, open source journal to promote innovative practices in librarianship. They’re seeking submissions, editors, and reviewers. I know I’m planning on contributing in the future. How about you?

Cool Tools

Benchmarking with SciVal in Scholarly Communication and Research Services is a great article by my friend and colleague, Rebecca Reznik-Zellen, Lamar Soutter Library, UMass Medical School. Bibliographic metrics have long been used to measure academic reach and impact, and many tools are coming online to improve and expand this method. SciVal, from Elsevier, is but one of them. Whether you have access to it or not, Rebecca’s piece gives a nice overview of how offering research impact, i.e. the measurement of it, as a scholarly communications and/or research service is right in line with the mission of any academic research library.

Do you wonder how people make those short animated GIFs that appear all over social media today? GifSoup is one way. Here’s a quick tutorial.

Here’s a quick and easy way to clear up some memory in your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. And learn from my mistake – choose a single movie, NOT a bundle. I did the latter and am now stuck with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Ugh! I’ll never watch them.

I missed attending MLA in Toronto this month, but followed along with all of the tweeters using the #mlanet2016 hashtag. Thank you so much to those who kept us stray folk in the know. One of the best sessions I followed was an early morning one devoted to new text mining tools. So far, I’ve had the chance to play with Voyant Tools. It’s simple to use, easy to understand, and is a wonderful addition to the toolkit.

Virtual Knick Knacks

Finally, a few things just for fun:

  • Good Night, Sweet Prince – Another musical and artistic genius left us recently. This isn’t necessarily a “fun” piece, but it’s a beautiful article by Dave Ziren for The Nation. For those of us my age, Prince was our David Bowie. His music lives on, though his fans will miss him forever.
  • Last month, the Smithsonian online magazine published some hidden gems by the reclusive, Harper Lee. Great stuff!
  • Mother Goose Seeks Out Police to Rescue Baby. Who doesn’t love these stories in spring? And do note how it was the female police officer who took direct action. The male officer was too scared. Maternal instincts taking over? I think so.
  • Hilda Bastian is a scientist and editor at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the National Institutes of Health. She also draws cartoons about science. The National Library of Medicine produced a nice interview with her here.
  • If you happen to be a person who recalls with fondness those Saturday evenings watching slide shows and home movies, you might really enjoy the Home Movie Registry. Yes. It exists. Thank you interwebs.

That’s all for today and, sadly, all I shared for the month of May. I’m sorry I didn’t write more. I’ll try and do better in June.