Book Binge – January Edition

It’s time for another edition of book binge – a random category of blog posts devised (and now only on its second iteration) where I walk through the different books I’ve read and purchased this month.

First – a personal breakthrough!  I have always been an avid reader, but admittedly become lazy in recent years.  Instead of reading at least one book a month, I was going on small reading sprees of 2 or 3 books every four or five months.  After the success of my December reads, I figured I would keep things going and try to substitute books as entertainment whenever possible.

Here are a few books I read in January:

The Functional Art by Alberto Cairo

I picked this one up because it is quintessential to the world of data journalism and data visualization.  I also thought it would be great to get into the head of one of the instructors of a MOOC I’m taking.  Plus who can resist the draw of the slope chart on the cover?

I loved this one.  I like Alberto’s writing style.  It is rooted in logic and his use of text spacing and bold as emphasis is heavy on impact.  I appreciate that he says data visualization has to first be functional, but reminds us that it has to be seen to matter.  It’s also interesting to read the interviews/profiles in the end of the book of journalists.  This is an excellent way for me to shift my perspective and paradigm.  I come from the analysis/mathematical side of things – these folks are there to communicate stories of data.  A great read that is broken up in such a way that it is easy to digest.

Next book was The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte

Obviously a classic read for anyone in the data visualization world by the “father” of modern information graphics.  I must admit I picked up all 4 of Tufte’s books in December, and couldn’t get my brain wrapped around them.  I was flipping through the pages to get a sense for how the information was contained and felt a little intimidated.  That intimidation was all in my head.  Once I began reading – the flow of information made perfect sense.

I appreciate Tufte’s voice and axiom type approach to information graphics.  Yes – there are times when it is snarky and absurd, but it is also full of purpose.  He walks through information graphics history, spotlighting many of the greats and lamenting the lack of recent progression (or more of a recession) in the art.

I have two favorites in this one: how he communicates small multiples and sparklines.  The verbiage used to describe the impact (and amount of information) small multiples can convey is poetic (and I don’t really like poetry).  His work on developing and demonstrating sparklines is truly illuminating.  There were times where I had dreams of putting together some of the high “data-ink” low “chartjunk” visuals that he described.  And his epilogue makes me forgive all the snarkyness.  The first in a series that I am ecstatic to continue to read.

The last book I’ll highlight this month was a short read – a Christmas present from a friend.

Together is Better by Simon Sinek

I’m very familiar with Simon – mostly because of his famous TED talk on starting with why. I’ve read his book on the subject as well. So I was delighted to be handed this tiny gem.  Written in hybrid format of children’s book and inspirational quote book – this is a good one to flip through if you’re in need of a quiet moment.  Simon calls himself a self professed optimist at the end, and that’s definitely how I left the book feeling.

It aims at sparking the inner fire we all have – and the most powerful moment: Simon saying that you don’t have to invent a new idea and then follow it.  It is perfectly acceptable to commit to someone else’s vision and follow them.  It frees you completely from the world of “special,” new, and different that entrepreneurial and ambitious types (myself) get hung up on.  You don’t have to make up an original idea – just find something that resonates deeply with you and latch on.  That is just as powerful as being a visionary.

The other part of this book devotes a significant amount of snippet takes on leadership.  A friendly reminder of what leadership looks like.  Leadership is not management.

I’ve got more books on the way and will be back in a month with three new reads to share.

Makeover Monday 2017 – Week 3 Trump Tweets

**Update (1/20/17) : The original data set had a date formatting snafu resulting in 1307 tweets at the 12:00-12:59 PM (UTC time) hour to be displayed as 00:00-00:59 (aka 12 AM hour).  This affected 4.3% of the original data set visualization and has been corrected.  I have also added a footnote denoting the visualization is in EST.  This affects the shape of the data in both the 4 AM – 8 AM and 4 PM – 8 PM sections.

Rolling right along into week 3’s Makeover Monday.  The data set this week: Donald Trump’s tweets.  The original Buzzfeed viz and article accompanying this analyzed Trump’s retweet activity since his announcement of running for president.  The final viz ended up being what I would best describe as bubble charts of the top users he retweeted during this time:

What’s interesting is that the actual article goes into significant depth on how their team systematically reviewed the tweets.  It’a a bummer that the additional analysis done couldn’t be synthesized into visual form.

My take on the makeover this week was driven completely by the underlying data available.  The TDE provided had the following fields:

Two things stuck out to me with the data.  First: the username being retweeted wasn’t included; second: the entire tweet text was included.  Having full text available just screams for some sort of text analysis.  I got committed at that point to doing something with the text.

My initial idea was to do some sort of sentiment analysis.  Recently I had installed both R-Studio and Python on my PC to try integration with Tableau.  I’d had success with R-Studio (mind you after watching a brief YouTube video), but I hadn’t gotten Python to cooperate (my effort in assisting in this cooperation = 2 out of 10).  I figured since I had both available maybe I should make an attempt.  After marinating on the concept I didn’t feel comfortable adding more sentiment analysis to the fire of American politics.  (On a personal note: I have been politically checked out since the early primaries.)

So instead of doing sentiment analysis, I decided to turn the data more into text mining for mentions and hashtags.  I had done some fiddling with the time component and was digging how the cycle plot/horizon chart were playing out visually.  So it seemed natural to continue on a progression of getting more details out of the bars and times of day.

Note on the time: time is graciously parsed into correct format with the data.  In looking at the original time, I am under the impression it was represented in GMT (+0000).  To adjust for this, I added -5 hours to all of the parsed dates to put it in EST aka Trump time.

So back to text mining.  Post #data16 conference, a colleague of mine was recounting how to use regex to scrub through text.  I walked away from his talk thinking I need to use that next time I have the opportunity.  And what I love about it: NATIVE FUNCTION TO TABLEAU!!  So this was making me sing.  Now I don’t know a ton about regex (lots of notation I have yet to memorize), so I decided to quickly google my way to getting the user handles and hashtags.  These handy results really made this analysis zip along: regexr & regex+twitter.

Everything else came to life pretty quickly.  I knew I wanted to include at least one or two tweets to read through, but I wanted to keep it curated.  I think this was accomplished well and I spent a good deal of time trying out different time combinations just to see what would bubble to the surface.

A final note on aesthetics this week: I’m reading Alberto Cairo’s The Functional Art, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m also participating in his MOOC that starts tomorrow.  I am only 4 chapters in, but Alberto has me taking a few things to heart.  I don’t think it is by coincidence that I decided to push the beauty side of things.  I always strive for elegance, but I strive for it through white space and keeping that “data ink ratio” at a certain point.  But I’m not blind to the different visualizations out there that attract people.  So for once I used a non-white background (yay!).  And I also went for a font that’s well outside of the look of my usual vizzing font.

More than focusing on aesthetics, is of course the function of the viz.  I tried to spend more time thinking about the audience and what they were going to “get” out of it.  I hope that the final product is less of a “visual aid” to my analysis and more of an interactive tool to explore the tweets of the soon to be President.

Full viz available on my Tableau public page.