ODSC: Analyzing Complex Networks Using Open Source Software

I’ll be presenting at the 2016 ODSC East event in Boston May 20-22. ODSC stands for Open Data Science Conference, where the focus is on using open data or open source tools to do clever things in the information space. The topic of my presentation is Analyzing Complex Networks Using Open Source Software, where I’ll talk through several example networks built using Gephi and Sigma.js.

While the slides are not all prepared at this stage, I’ll share a few bits that will wind up in the talk. My goal is to convey to the audience how networks can be used to statistically and visually understand complex information. After providing an overview of network analysis (at a very high level), I’ll be sharing slides from three very different networks – a Miles Davis album network (created in 2014 and rebuilt in 2016), a Boston Red Sox player network (also built in 2014), and a brand new example using data from the amazing GDELT Project.

Here’s a glimpse into what I’ll be sharing, starting with the Red Sox examples, where we examine the networks of three well known players from the last 100 years. First, Ted Williams network:


Followed by Carl Yastrzemski:


Now Jason Varitek, longtime catcher and captain for two World Series championship teams:


In talking through each of these networks, I will attempt to highlight some differences in their respective structures based on the era in which each player spent time with the Red Sox. For example, there are many more connections in the Varitek network compared to Williams and Yaz, despite a shorter duration with the team. Why would this be the case? Perhaps spending time in the era of higher salaries, larger pitching staffs, and the evolution of free agency might go a long way towards explaining why Jason Varitek crossed paths with far more players than did his earlier predecessors.

Stay tuned for additional posts featuring the Miles Davis and GDELT networks.

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Baseball Grafika Book: Excel Dashboards

Baseball stats are ideally suited for display using a wide variety of charts, network graphs, and other visualization approaches. This is true whether we are using spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice Calc, data mining tools like Orange, RapidMiner or R, network analysis software such as Gephi and Cytoscape, or web-based visualization tools like D3 or Tableau Public. The sheer scope and variety of available baseball statistics can be brought to life using any one of these or countless other tools.

This is why I felt the need to create a book merging the rich statistical and historical data in the baseball archive with the advanced analytic and visual capabilities of the aforementioned tools. With a bit of good luck and perseverance, the book will be published in late April, coinciding with the early stages of the 2016 baseball season, under the title Baseball Grafika. This series of articles will share a few pieces from the book, which is still undergoing additions and revisions at this stage. I hope these will help provide some insight into how I view the possibilities for visualization, and perhaps generate your interest for how other datasets could benefit from a similar approach.

One of the chapters of the book deals with the creation of dashboards in Excel that allow us to distill large datasets into a single page summarizing information. Here’s an example of a single pennant race, and how it’s unique story can be told using an array of charts, tables, and graphics.


Now that we’ve seen an entire dashboard, we’ll look at the component pieces and how they were built. As a reminder, this is all created in Excel, which is often maligned as a visualization tool. Used well, Excel can produce highly effective visualizations, although deploying them to the web is not practical. In the book, I walk through how to create this dashboard using Excel, taking readers through all the steps needed to create formulas, charts, text summaries, and more.

Creating flexible, powerful data displays in Excel frequently involves the use of pivot tables and slicers (filters) that allow for data manipulation. Building charts on top of these tools permits maximum flexibility. Done effectively, this means we can create a template that can be used over and over, with only the source data changing according to our slicer selections. Here’s an example pivot table with slicer options:


The slicer selections allow us to choose the data elements from our base dataset that are to be displayed in a pivot table. From there, name ranges and formulas can be used to select the data programatically, and feed it into charts that are not dependent on any additional manual intervention. One chart, used over and over, makes it simple to display new data with a single click of a slicer button.

Name ranges can be used extensively to automate the dashboard to a high degree, using native Excel functionality. Here’s a screenshot showing a name being defined in Excel:


A virtually unlimited number of name ranges can be created, and then used as references in Excel cell formulas, making it easy to populate cells, tables, or charts with updated information.

Each of the following sections of the final dashboard are populated using one or more name ranges based on pivot table data in most cases. All that is required in the dashboard is a simple formula to grab the right data based on the slicer selection.

First, we create a basic text summary recapping each season, which is then pulled into the top section of the dashboard:


This is then followed by the pennant race section of the dashboard, including both the pennant race charts as well as a table of season-ending standings information. One pivot table and its references populate the chart, while a second pivot is used to provide the table data, with cell-level formulas performing calculations.


Our third section makes use of the wonderful Sparklines for Excel add-in. Our dashboard benefits from the use of horizon and variance charts, as well as box plots. In between, we’re able to add some additional Excel cell calculations to display metric values.


The final section of the dashboard takes advantage of some cell formulas to create dotplots displaying relative values within a category. This allows readers to see who was higher or lower in a specific measure, maximizing space along the way, which is often critical when building dashboards.


The book will provide much more, including tutorials on creating this type of dashboard, in addition to other visual displays of baseball information. Ultimately, the goal is to share some of my approaches and hope that they drive others to create their own unique approaches, all in the interest of advancing the discipline of baseball data visualization.

Future posts will examine other ways we can explore our baseball data. Text mining, statistical distributions, interactive charts, historical maps, and network graphs will be among our future topics. See you soon.

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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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