2014 Digital Analytics Association Talk on October 30th

I’m excited to be giving a talk on Data Expression at this year’s Digital Analytics Symposium in Philadelphia.

Some information about the event:

Thursday, October 30, 2014
12:30pm – 6:30pm
University of Pennsylvania Houston Hall
3417 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6306

Digital Analytics – Art, Science or Both?

Stitching together the infrastructure, systems, methods and processes to find and gather vast amounts of digital data from disparate sources can require skills not unlike those of a scientist.

Transforming that data into compelling, actionable storylines, replete with elegant data visualizations that can motivate organizations to act, can require skills not unlike those of an artist.

Introducing Kids Morning Adventure!

So excited for this! After a year of work, I’m finally releasing my gamfication system for getting kids ready for school, called Kids Morning Adventure. It ended up being very similar to my RPG for kids, Kids Dungeon Adventure, but refined for the busy morning schedule.

Kids Morning Adventure
Kids Morning Adventure

Ingenious Review

In America there is no shortage of digital inventors, tinkerers, hackers, and dreamers. Companies form around the most ridiculous ideas, test them in the marketplace, often with unpredictable and surprising results. It’s an exciting time for innovators in the information age.

Go back one hundred years and you’ll find a similar state in the automobile industry. Look at this surprisingly long list of defunct automobile manufacturers!

Seven by Illuminati Motor Works, one of the teams competing for the Automotive X Prize
Seven by Illuminati Motor Works, one of the teams competing for the Automotive X Prize

Is there a peculiar combination of cleverness, determination, and blind optimism that compelling Americans to push the boundaries of convention and create great things? Or has America lost its ability to hack on cars forever?

Edison2's Very Light Car
Edison2’s Very Light Car

Jason Fagone’s book Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America follows several teams competing to win the Automotive X Prize, a $10 Million cash award to someone who can demonstrate a production ready vehicle capable of traveling 100 miles at 100 MPGe or better. The contestants are not skunkwork projects at GM or R&D teams from Ford. They’re people building cars from scratch in their garage. They’re small racing teams using their expertise to increase MPG instead of MPH. There’s even a team of high school kids from West Philly.

Working in manufacturing for most of my career, I was not surprised to find there are still many car hackers out there. Without spoiling anything, the most frustrating part of Ingenious is how well the teams were able to do and how little anyone seemed to care about what they were doing. Government and industry pays lip service to the prize and the ingeniousness of the teams, but fuel economy growth in vehicles is still flat. I don’t think anyone believes industry will be held to the proposed standard of 54.5 MPGe by 2025.

But industry put at least $1 Million into an app that lets you send only the message, “Yo” to your friends.

I enjoyed Ingenious. It pairs very well with My Life and Work by Henry Ford, which captures the spirit of the early 20th century automobile industry (Note: Ford’s autobiography is a manufacturing masterpiece, but skip the anti-Semitic chapters that start around #12)

VizWar @ Philly Tech Week 2014

Fellow RJMetrician Austin Lopez and I competed in a data visualization contest/hackathon called VizWars at WHYY last night. It was hosted by Acumen Analytics and Tableau.

NCAA 2014 Dendrogram
NCAA 2014 Dendrogram

The goal was to come up with the best visualization from either NCAA Basketball tournament statistics or Earthquake data they provided. This is what we came up with.

The D3 animation shows the progression of each round in a clustered dendrogram. Each team is colored to make it easier to follow their path through the tournament. We won Best Pro Team, although we would have loved another 20 minutes to get more things working. Our goal was to set the line thickness to various game metrics like point differential, # of fouls, turnovers, etc.

Out of 5 teams, we took the title of Best Pro Team (of which I think there were only two).

Announcing Lineage: A Family Tree Data Expression Engine

Lineage screen shot

Last week at the Philly JS Dev meetup, I demoed a new project I’ve been working on called Lineage.

It all started as a way to try and visualize all the research my Aunt Peggy has done over the last 50 years. Using D3, I was able to build a way to search, filter and analyze thousands of family relationships in a network graph. It even lets you start at a given year and watch the family grow and connect as the years tick by.

Links:
See a live demo of Lineage here.
I’ve open sourced it on github.
My slides from the Philly JS Dev Meetup

I wanted the project to be useful, but also stand alone as art, so I kept the user interface as minimal as possible and included an option for music during play mode. If you like the music you can download it on Soundcloud. I’m happy with how it turned out. An enormous amount of gratitude goes out to Peggy Haley for doing this research over the last 50 years.

Note for anyone who is actually in the tree, I have done very little in the way of making sure this data is accurate. If you find anything incorrect, email me and I’ll try and get it fixed in the future.

Best Things This Year (2013)

Anecdotally, it seems like a lot of people shook up their lives in 2013. I certainly did. Here are the best things that happened to me in 2013.

1. RJMetrics – In March I started working at RJMetrics, an e-commerce data analytics firm in center city Philadelphia. Leaving Garvey Corp was a difficult decision, but being a developer at of the best SaaS data visualization companies in the world has been amazing.

RJMetrics
RJMetrics

2. The Bulldog Budget – I worked with Philadelphia City Controller candidate Brett Mandel to implement his vision for the city’s open data future. We built a visualization tool using D3 and MySQL that gives both a high level view of the General Fund budget, but still allows you to drill down to individual transactions. A lot of people got excited about it and I think it made an impact in Philadelphia. It also influenced similar projects in Italy and Oakland, California.

Treemap of the Philadelphia General Budget
Treemap of the Philadelphia General Budget

3. Coffeescript – I was skeptical at first whether Coffeescript was a worthwhile abstraction from Javascript. After 9 months of using it at RJMetrics, I’m a fan. Here’s why:

  • Cleaner syntax: No parenthesis, braces, or semi colons. The time I save writing console.log instead of console.log(); has been worth the switch.
  • Improved workflow: Continuously running the Coffeescript to Javascript compiler alerts me of stupid mistakes (ie. ones that won’t even compile) faster than finding them after I’ve loaded the browser.
  • Existential operator: I can’t count the number of bugs I’ve fixed with one character are due to Coffeescript’s great ? operator, which checks to see if it’s null or undefined before proceeding. For example, if in javascript you previously did this:

    if (player != null) {
    player.levelUp();
    }

    In Coffeescript you just write:

    player?.levelUp()

  • Comprehensions: The Coffescript.org docs say you almost never have to write a multiline for loop and they can be replaced by comprehensions. For example:

    for (player in players) {
    if (player.health < 0) { player.kill(); } }

    In Coffeescript you can write:

    player.kill() for player in players when player.health < 0
  • I'm looking forward to getting better at Coffeescript in 2014.

4. AngularJS - I don't want to develop another interactive UI without AngularJS.

5. Bought this swingset from craigslist - With the help of my friend Mike and my father in law, we disassembled, packed it up and a U Haul, and reassembled it in my back yard. I'm amazed it went back together so well.

swingset
swingset

6. Read 13 Books - My morning commute afforded me more reading time. Here's what I did with it.

  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nassar
  • Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin
  • Game of Thones (books 1-3) by George RR Martin
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

7. Public Speaking - I got way out of my comfort zone this year and did some public speaking at Ignite Philly and Technically Philly's Civic Hacking Demo Night.

8. Built the Gonginator

9. Spark Program - Some coworkers and I participated in an apprenticeship program for Philadelphia school kids where we spent 2 hours a week with 8th graders interested in programming and computers. Together we built a game!

That's as much as I could remember from 2013. Check out my lists from 2012 and 2011.