A New Book Resolution for 2016

As we enter a new year, I find myself eager to create a new book that explores the world of baseball data using a wide array of data visualization approaches. This idea has been in my head for several years at least, and has found partial fulfillment in my previously published pennant races book. However, I wish to tackle something broader that will touch a number of baseball categories as well as multiple data visualization approaches.

The working title for the book is ‘Baseball Grafika’, grafika being the Czech and Polish word for graphics, a word which still conveys the intent of the book regardless of language. If all goes well, the book will be available early in the 2016 baseball season, and will cover the following topics:

  • Franchise player networks
  • Trade pattern networks
  • Hall of Fame connection network
  • Franchise location maps
  • Player birthplace maps
  • Pennant race charts
  • Standings charts
  • Career trajectory graphs
  • Baseball dashboards

Fortunately, much work has been done over the last several years on at least a few of these topics, so we’re not starting from scratch, but this will still be a considerable, yet rewarding, challenge. Updates to come.

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Warsaw Data+ Presentation

I have the good fortune to be the keynote speaker at this year’s Data+ conference in Warsaw, Poland on November 26th, so the traditional American Thanksgiving meal will not be in store for 2015. This is a very exciting opportunity, and comes on the heels of having presented in Boston at the Data Visualization Summit in September 2015, so it’s been a busy last few months getting presentations squared away.

My topic at the conference is Data Driven Storytelling, where I’ll walk the audience through some of my approach and philosophy about using data visualization to deliver information and insights about specific topics. In addition to the talk, I’ve created a story on my visualidity.com site that chronicles the last 21 seasons of play in the Ekstraklasa, the top level of play in Polish football.

Thus far it has been an absolute joy working with the folks at IDG/Computerworld, who are responsible for running the event. Patrycja Kuriata, Program Director for the conference, has been incredibly responsive and helpful with any questions or details, and has made the entire process a pleasurable one.

I’m putting the wraps on my content as October comes to an end, and look forward to visiting Poland in a few weeks, and reporting back on the conference as well as on the few days of sightseeing in my plans.

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Data Visualization Summit 2015

I’m in the process of pulling together a presentation for next month’s Data Visualization Summit in Boston, a conference organized by the Innovation Enterprise team. The event attracts 150-200 industry folks to see what can be done using data visualization approaches. I committed to share some insights on using network visualization to visually analyze customer behavior, and after a few weeks of tossing ideas around, have settled on a final approach. Now it’s time to actually put some data together and create some impressive visualizations for the presentation.

The end goal is to share how interactive network graphs can be used to tap into customer insights from several angles. There are three levels of analysis I’m hoping to share with the group, using some wholly fictitious data for a consumer products company. In order, the three stages are:

  1. Create a network that displays customer purchase patterns by product, providing a quick yet insightful visual overview showing who buys what, and how different products intersect with one another. For example, we might see a strong visual correlation where the shoppers who purchase Product A also buy Product D, but rarely purchase Product C. This in itself should provide some value, although other visualization methods could also perform this task, albeit in a less elegant fashion.
  2. Stage two is to focus on overall customer satisfaction levels (with the company rather than individual products), and potentially on an individual product basis, although this gets a bit more complex to execute. Through the effective use of color, we can scale satisfaction levels using the original purchase graph, thus providing a more powerful visual image. Decision makers can now easily view multiple attributes in a single visualization, something that is often difficult to achieve using conventional charts or tables.
  3. The third stage providers viewers with the ability to see actual customer comments, including summarized versions of said comments. This will enable analysts and decision makers to discover common themes that may be linked to low (or high) satisfaction levels. Again, this would be a challenging task using other visualization approaches, but can be handled effectively using well designed network graphs.

So how do we pack all this information into a single, easy to use visualization? For starters, we employ Gephi, the powerful network graph tool that allows us to convert purchase behavior data into nodes and edges that define our network graph. We can use Gephi to define the best layout for our dataset, create specific groups, make adjustments to sizes and colors, and so on. From there, we’ll be exporting the graph file using the Gexf-JS Web Viewer plugin, which will enable user interactivity through a browser. Finally, we can tweak some of the settings to deliver an attractive, intuitive, highly useful network graph visualization.

Before I forget, I must mention that the brilliant Aylien text analysis service will be used to analyze and categorize our customer comments. The results can then be included in our Gephi source files, adding another layer or two of rich insights to the data and ultimately the network graph. Integrating text analysis results with transactional customer information is an area that continues to evolve, and is a key component in understanding the present and predicting the future of customer behavior.

I hope to share the final deck at a future point, or at least the network graph that makes up the primary component of the presentation. Until then, happy visualizing!

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Eyeo Day 4 – Reality, Fantasy, and Being Human

Day 4 (the final day) at Eyeo is always a little bittersweet, knowing that the great energy one feeds off is about to come to an end. At the same time, there is still one more day of great talks, followed by a closing party that provides yet another opportunity to talk with creative types from a variety of places and backgrounds.

Leading off the day’s schedule was Nicky Case, heretofore unknown to me and perhaps many others in the room. That was about to change, as Case took us on a tour of his personal and professional life, delivered with great panache. Turns out he is a masterful storyteller, embodied by his interactive work on projects like the ‘Parable of Polygons’ and ‘Explorable Emotions’. Every year, there are at least a couple talks that go way beyond expectations, and this turned out to be one of them for this version of Eyeo.

Next up was Beatrice Lartigue, a French artist who walked through a few of her interesting projects, including some interactive installations. Of particular note was an active learning project based on Prokofiev’s classic ‘Peter and the Wolf’.

The afternoon began with ‘Mapping Police Violence’ presented by Deray McKesson and Sam Sinyangwe. McKesson has employed Twitter as a powerful platform for protest, while Sinyangwe has taken the route of documenting police violence by mapping incidents, thus allowing for a more factual approach to identifying police forces with chronic issues.

To cap the afternoon session, Nick Hardeman and Theo Watson of design i/o took the audience through a magical tour of their ‘Connected Worlds’ project, now installed at the New York Hall of Science. This highly interactive exhibit is full of engaging characters that will surely draw children in while simultaneously teaching lessons about interactions with nature.

On to dinner, once again navigating my way to the hot North Loop area, this time to Borough. Borough not only has some terrific food, but also offers a very intriguing wine list with seldom seen options from across the globe. A couple glasses of wine, a delightful halibut terrine, and a very good guinea hen dish later, it was time to head to Nicollet Island for the closing talks and party.

Eyeo veterans Jake Barton and Zach Lieberman closed this year’s festival, with Barton discoursing on memory and future, as seen through a compelling exhibition created for the 9/11 Museum. Lieberman delivered a heartfelt, emotional farewell to his recently departed father, who told him that ‘storytelling is not about technique, but being fully human.’

The final party provided an opportunity to chat with a few more festival friends, prior to becoming a bit melancholy when the realization sinks in that Eyeo is coming to a close for another year. I took one last look at the creative people talking, sharing, and enjoying the scene, before electing to walk back to the hotel. A long walk seemed to be the best way to process my thoughts, think about what I learned and who I met, and how it might inform and inspire my work over the coming months. So long, Eyeo.

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Eyeo Day 3 – Words, Maps, Code

Day 3 at Eyeo had another intriguing assortment of speakers and topics to learn from, as well as the final planned night at Nye’s prior to its August closing. Starting the day in the McGuire Theater was Allison Parrish, who delivered an intriguing talk on words and semantic tools. This is an area of interest for me, specifically in striving to visualize word connections and context, so there was much to like about the talk. Parrish has put together several interesting Twitterbots, including the Power Vocab Tweet, Library of Emoji, and Deep Question Bot, all of which I am adding to my following list. Often silly yet clever use of semantics in the Twitter space.

Next up was Ingrid Burrington, who posed some challenging questions about the scope and invasiveness of fiber optic paths and other high tech connectivity infrastructure.

The afternoon session began with one of my favorite presentations of the festival, delivered by Ben Vershbow and Mauricio Giraldo from the NYPL Labs team. NYPL stands for New York Public Library, filled with incredible resources that Vershbow and Giraldo shared. Funny, engaging, and informative, attendees were taken through some of the great work going on at the library, including the oldnyc.org project which maps historical photos, and the community sourcing of Building Inspector, with it’s classic motto – Kill Time. Make History. Great work, fantastic talk.

Next up, Harlo Holmes talked about a few of her projects and interests, with a focus on security tools that protect users from surveillance and intrusion.

To finish the day, Ramsey Nasser presented a splendid talk on coding that was so much more than that. He talked about the need to expand the world of coding to encompass more than the traditional English-only, left to right text that underpins virtually all coding frameworks and languages. Nasser was very entertaining while driving home an important message about the need to make revolutionary changes if we are to maximize the potential for coding.

Another great set of daytime talks, and now there was to be some downtime before heading to dinner and the evening gathering at Nye’s. At least that was the original plan, until the great folks at M|I|C/A (Maryland Institute College of Art) announced a happy hour at The Third Bird, just across Loring Park. Not wanting to disappoint a generous sponsor, I joined dozens of others for a couple beers before making the 1.5 mile walk back to the hotel in a steady rain. One must be able to make sacrifices!

Dinner was planned for Pizza Nea, a spot I visited during the 2012 Eyeo Festival, for one of their excellent thin crust pies. Expecting a slim crowd on a rainy Wednesday at 8:00, I was surprised to find a nearly full restaurant. Taking a seat at the bar adjacent to the pizza making area, I was informed that I just missed perhaps their busiest Wednesday in memory. Why? Unbeknownst to me, the Rolling Stones were playing at the nearby University of Minnesota football stadium that evening, which presumably filled all the restaurants in the neighborhood prior to the show.

Finally, I made the two block walk to Nye’s, joining dozens of other Eyeoans for beer, booze, and piano bar frivolity, with Jer Thorpe in particularly good voice for his annual rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. Where else but Eyeo!

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Day 2 at Eyeo – Context, Fiction, and Imagination

Where else but Eyeo could you hear in a single day presentations that covered journalistic truth, science fiction as inspiration, the interaction of reality and imagination, and the building of public-facing art projects? All of that was available on Day 2 at the 2015 Eyeo Festival, and much more. Let’s take it in rough chronological order, starting at 10:30 AM and finishing up nearly 12 hours later (with a nice dinner break in between).

Making a return visit to Eyeo was New York Times data visualizer extraordinaire Amanda Cox with a presentation titled ‘Truer Than True’ in which she made a persuasive case for the need to project reality while still working within the bounds of journalistic ethics. As per usual, she had some terrific examples produced by the NYT graphics crew, arguably the best in the world.

Next up was Jesse Kriss from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, discoursing on the use of science fiction as inspiration for reality. Kriss presented some amazingly perceptive examples from the likes of Jules Verne and Ray Bradbury that managed to project the future decades or even centuries in advance. Confidently navigating the path from fiction to design reality is critical in producing advanced technology products.

Chris Sugrue shared a few of her projects that blur the line between art and reality, such as light bugs that appear to jump out of their screen environment onto viewers arms.

This was my third time seeing Ben Fry at Eyeo. Given my focus in the data visualization space, I’m always interested to see what Ben and his compatriots at Fathom have to offer. In 2013, the subject was an impressive project for Reuters on the power structure in Chinese politics, and this year he shared recent work for the Clinton Foundation on the global status of women. While this work wouldn’t rank among the flashiest at Eyeo, it nonetheless has enormous reach while also being quietly innovative and highly professional.

A busy day was followed by dinner and wine at Toast, my adoptive Minneapolis wine bar. Toast features a creative wine list composed of small producers from around the globe who are largely focused on organic production methods. A limited but wonderful collection of dishes are available to accompany the wines, including thin crust pizzas, olives, cured meats, artisinal cheeses, and my personal favorite, the burratas. My personal burrata choice has roasted beets, greens (spinach in this instance), balsamic vinegar, and fresh mozzarella, accompanied by outstanding bread of the baguette variety. This has become one of my favorite light dinners on the planet, which I shall attempt to re-create at home this summer.

From Toast, it was a short walk to Aria to catch the evening festivities. Sarah Hendren led off with a compelling ‘backward’ presentation, presenting her works and life in reverse chronological order to great effect. Her talk was both compelling and inspiring, injected with the sort of humanity one comes to expect at Eyeo. I’m not sure there’s another event where more people are willing to let their guard down, share their frailties and uncertainties, and give of themselves. In short, Hendren’s talk was the sort that makes Eyeo the great event it is.

Meejin Yoon had the unenviable task of following Sarah Hendren, as she immediately acknowledged. Not to worry, though, as Yoon delivered a compelling presentation of her own, sharing a number of her public facing projects. Foremost among these was her tribute to slain MIT police officer Sean Collier, where Yoon provided a glimpse into the detail behind the work.

One of the constants I have found over four years at Eyeo is the challenge of getting to sleep after having my brain filled with innovative, exciting ideas for an entire day. To deal with this challenge, I elected to stop at Foreign Legion, a bit of an old school wine bar roughly half way between Aria and my hotel. A nice little by the glass list allowed me to try two red wines (a Morgon and a Shiraz) at once, thanks to the available 3 ounce offerings. This provided a nice little diversion before dropping into bed with a day’s worth of Eyeo info to digest.

Wow! Another day at Eyeo, another day of mental and physical exhaustion, yet I find myself always looking forward to the next day.

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Eyeo 2015 Day 1 – Dear Data

The Eyeo crew changed things up a bit this year, using the Guthrie Theater as the opening night venue after a few years at Aria, which was bumped to Tuesday night (Day 2) this time around. Moving festivities to the Guthrie gave attendees a glimpse at this major venue and it’s footprint on the Mississippi River, while also taking Eyeo to the Mill District, another of Minneapolis reborn neighborhoods. Personally, it provided an opportunity to stroll a few new streets and put even more mileage on my already tired legs and feet.

Part of the beauty of Eyeo is the ability to chat with other attendees from around the globe who descend on Minneapolis each June, eager to learn and share. After exchanging pleasantries with a few folks, I had the good fortune to engage in a long conversation with Roman Verostko, one of the pioneers of algorithmic art, and a presenter at Eyeo 2014. Roman is a couple generations older than the typical Eyeo attendee, but retains a curiosity that I find both admirable and enviable. After talking about his art, Minneapolis evolution, Detroit (my town), and a host of other topics, we descended into the theater to learn more about Dear Data, a collaborative project from Eyeo regulars Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec.

The premise behind Dear Data is fascinating – a weekly exchange of postcards on a single topic. Given that both Lupi and Posavec are exceptional illustrators, the postcards were visually engaging, informative, and often downright hilarious. The topics included ‘a week of physical contacts’, ‘a week of complaints’, ‘a week of drinks’, and so on. The desire to learn more about one another served as the fuel for the project; the pair first met at Eyeo 2013, but live on different continents, and wanted to find a way to learn more about each other through this project. The presentation was fun and engaging while offering a window into their respective quirks, habits, and drawing styles.

As mentioned in a prior post, I love to eat and drink when I come to Eyeo, and this year is proving to be no exception. After meeting a friend for lunch at Dan Kelly’s (very good chicken pot pie), I later visited Freehouse, a brewpub in the hot North Loop district to sample some of their wares. From there it was a short walk to Black Sheep Pizza to grab one of my favorite pies on the planet – the olive, sausage, salami, and onion version, with beautifully charred edges courtesy of the coal-fired oven. Then on to the Guthrie, a nice little 1.2 mile walk to burn off some of the recently acquired calories.

All this activity had me too tired to stay for the entertaining Ignite sessions which followed the Dear Data talk, so I’ve had to hear about those second-hand. Feedback has been positive, especially for the ‘mayonnaise’ talk. I’ll have to wait for the video to see what everyone’s talking about. Next post will recap Day 2 – see you soon.

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2015 Eyeo Itinerary

I’m back at the Eyeo Festival for the 4th consecutive year, hoping to absorb some of the creative energy that takes place every June in lovely Minneapolis. As usual, there are a handful of folks who will be sharing their insights in ways that can help me to perfect my craft, but I also look forward to a surprise or two that forces me to re-imagine possibilities. In addition to the great events taking place within the Eyeo sphere, I always look forward to a bit of dining and drinking while here, partaking of the increasingly exciting restaurant and brewery scenes in MSP, and will put in a few words about the establishments visited while here. Finally, each day I plan to add a post recapping the previous day’s events and my take on what it all means.

Among the folks I’m looking forward to hearing from:

  • Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec as opening night keynote speakers. Each of these talented ladies are Eyeo regulars who possess fantastic artistic abilities that trigger my imagination. While I could never hope to duplicate their respective artistry, their visual ideas inspire me to think about the many ways data can be displayed.
  • Ben Fry is back after a year’s absence, and will no doubt share some impressive work done at his Fathom studio
  • Amanda Cox of the New York Times visualization team is back, and will have some outstanding work to show

There are also a few newcomers I’m eager to see – Mario Klingemann, Shazna Nessa, and Ingrid Burrington among them.

Now for the food aspect. After arriving 3+ hours behind schedule, I still managed to make the 1.2 mile walk from the hotel to the trendy North Loop area for a bite or two at Spoon and Stable, one of the hottest venues in town. Fortunately, there is available bar seating with access to both the bar and full menus, so walk-ins can be accommodated, especially late on a Sunday evening. Created inside a former stable building, the restaurant has a great vibe, friendly staff, and a creative menu that includes items ranging from duck meatloaf sliders through Colorado lamb. I consulted with one of the bartenders and wound up having bison tartare followed by spaghetti nero (squid ink pasta with octopus, mussels, and prawns), accompanied by a bit of red wine (there is a nice selection of local beer available as well). Both dishes were flavorful, creative, and delicious, and the overall experience was very favorable.

Tonight is likely to see a return visit (I’ve been the previous 3 years) to Black Sheep Pizza for some of their outstanding coal-fired pie, before taking the walk down to the Guthrie Theater for opening night. More to come tomorrow.

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Political Contributions Network

Hi – I just launched another network project courtesy of Gephi and Sigma.js, my two favorite tools of the moment. You can find it here, or in a full web version here. This one, like its immediate predecessor, is founded in politics, and more specifically in tracking political contributions – who gives to whom. The paths in this network detail thousands of political candidates, and the many PACs, corporations, foundations, and trade associations that help fund their campaign efforts. Of course these connections also create a sort of influence network that could never be achieved by individual voters, and help explain why so many decisions are made that run counter to the will of the people.

While this one doesn’t focus on dollar amounts, it nonetheless paints a compelling picture for how political influence is meted out. Fringe candidates, frequently outside the embedded American two party system, are depicted near the perimeter of the graph, receiving little or no support from most major donors. Incumbent Democrats and Republicans, on the other hand, are situated at the center of the network, receiving contributions from dozens or even hundreds of PACs, unions, corporations, and trade associations.

Here are a few screenshots from the graph, which is fully interactive through the use of filters, scrolling, zooming, and panning, thanks to the wonders of javascript via Sigma.js. First up is a shot of the full network:


The multiple colors reflect the multitude of political parties (yes, beyond the dominant two-party monopoly) plus the hordes of contributors – corporations, unions, trade associations, and more.

One of the great features of interactive networks is the ability to dive into the details. For starters, lets take a look at the Nancy Pelosi neighbor network, which should provide a nice glimpse into the donor network for an entrenched, influential Democratic candidate:


What we see is a well-connected network populated by dozens of contributors. Now let’s go to the other side of the aisle and take a look at the donor network of John Boehner, an influential Republican incumbent:


The Boehner network is even more dense than the Pelosi network. We should note that many contributing organizations may be found in both the Pelosi and Boehner camps, although the overlap will be somewhat mitigated by the Democrat versus Republican differences. What they do have in common are a huge number of contributors determined to influence policy, often at the expense of the voting public.

Our final screenshot displays many of the PACs in the network – more than 2,600 in total. The attribute pane on the right of the display will show each and every one of these when you use the category filter to the left of the screen:


I hope you find some value in navigating and learning more about the scores of organizations involved in trying to influence policy through congressional gatekeepers. Bear in mind we haven’t even touched on the unelected portions of the government residing in the halls of the CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense. That will be the subject of a future network.

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New US House Voting Patterns Network

Anyone who knows me well is aware of my general lack of enthusiasm for politics and politicians, so my latest network graph may come as a bit of a surprise. While I can’t express a lot of support for how my tax dollars are spent by the folks in DC, I can still make use of some of the data patterns they generate. Using data provided by govtrack.us (a non-government site), my latest Gephi project looks at the US House of Representatives votes over the last 4 months of 2014, specifically the ‘aye’ (yes) votes for each house vote.

The resulting graph lets us take a look at some general patterns, such as many cases where there is strong bi-partisan support for a bill. We can also see votes that failed, primarily in cases where the Democratic minority was unable to generate enough Republican support to pass a measure. Here are a few screenshots from the Gephi project; after that I’ll send you over to the interactive web version where you can search, zoom, pan, and otherwise interact with the data to your heart’s content.

First up is an overall view of the network, created using the Force Atlas 2 layout:

Here we can see the stereotypical view of Congress, with the blue Democrats on the left and red Republicans on the right. In the center are some very large nodes that depict near unanimous votes (nodes are sized by the number of ‘aye’ votes) with bi-partisan support. Darker gray nodes represent failed votes; note how many of these are at the far left, indicating support from only the Democrats in most cases. To the far right are bills that passed with primarily Republican support, as noted by their smaller size.

Our next view used node sizing to show only those representatives who cast 45 or fewer aye votes (of the more than 80 votes cast in this period). These voters are shown as oversized nodes relative to their colleagues. While missed votes may contribute to this classification, we also note the predominance of Democrats in this view. Given the Republican majority, it is hardly surprising that more Democrats would be likely to refrain from casting aye votes that are likely to reflect the Republican influence.


Next we take a look at those who cast at least 60 aye votes and are unsurprised to see that this one swings toward the Republican side of the graph. This view was achieved using some Gephi filters to hide individuals not meeting the selected criteria. Clearly, the most enthusiastic ‘aye’ voters in this period are primarily Republican.


Our final view for now (we could do dozens more) focuses on national security – generally considered to be a bi-partisan subject where both parties want to appear patriotic, regardless of whether the legislation actually advances security. To focus quickly on this topic, I have used Gephi to recolor all security-related nodes to yellow. Notice how these votes are almost uniformly bi-partisan, with overwhelming support from both parties.


These are just a few examples for how Gephi can help dissect a reasonably complex network and provide quick visual insights. There are of course many other methods available in Gephi that would take this analysis much deeper.

Now that we’ve done a brief examination of this data, time to move on to the interactive example on the web, where you can do your own clicking, searching, zooming, and panning to uncover patterns in the data. This functionality all comes courtesy of Sigma.js, an oustanding Gephi plugin. You can find the network here: http://visual-baseball.com/gephi/us_house/network/index.html#.

At some point, I may attempt to link back to the actual voting data at govtrack.us, but for now I hope you find this to be a useful (and fun) way to examine voting patterns. Enjoy!

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