Updating Player Networks – Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how to generate node and edge data for all players within a single franchise’s history. Part 2 examined how we could take that data and create a network using Gephi, adding graph statistical measures along the way. In this, the final part of the series, our focus is on moving the graph beyond Gephi and on to the web, where users can interact with the data and interrogate the player network using sigma.js software. So let’s pick up with the process of moving the network from Gephi  to sigma.js.

Recall our basic network structure in Gephi, which looks like this:

One of our goals when we export the graph to the web is to enable user interaction, so the above graph becomes a bit less intimidating. As a reminder, this is at most a moderate sized network; the need to provide interactive capabilities becomes even greater for large networks.

There are a few ways we can create files suitable for web deployment using Gephi. In this case, the choice is to use the simple sigma.js export plugin located at File > Export > Sigma.js template. Selecting this option will provide a set of options similar to this:

This template allows for a modest level of customization, including network descriptions, titles, author info, and other attributes relevant to the network. When all fields are filled to your satisfaction, click on the OK button to save the template. Your network will be saved to the location specified in the blank space at the top of the template window (grayed out in this case). A word of caution is in order here – if you make some custom entries to the template, and then make adjustments to your network, be sure to specify a new location to save the generated files. Otherwise, the initial set will be overwritten. This is especially critical if you have gone behind the scenes to customize colors, fonts, and other display attributes. More on that capability in a moment.

Once the template is complete and the OK button is clicked, a set of folders and files is generated that can then easily be copied to the web. Here’s a view of the created file structure:

These files and sub-folders are all housed within a single folder named ‘network’. If you wish to tinker with your graph in Gephi, rename the network folder to something else prior to exporting a second (or 3rd or 4th time). This will help keep you sane. 🙂

Without going into great detail here, let’s talk about the key files:

  • data.json stores all of your graph data, including positioning attributes, statistics created in Gephi, plus node and edge details
  • config.json contains many of the primary graph settings that can be easily edited for optimal web display. It’s quite easy to go through a trial and error process, since the file is so small. Simply make changes, then refresh your browser to see the result.
  • index.html has a few basic settings relevant to web display, most notably the title information that the browser will use

Within the css folder are .CSS files where you can make changes to many display attributes. This is typically where you will adjust fonts and font sizes, as well as some colors. The js folder has javascript files that can be edited to a certain degree, although caution is recommended if you’re not a javascript guru. Finally, the images folder contains any relevant image files to be used for web display, such as logos.

Alright, now that we have had a brief view of the technical details, let’s have a look at the network graph in the browser. Note that this is still a bit experimental at this stage; I’m attempting to customize each graph based on the official team colors or close variations in the color family.

To see some of the interactive functionality, let’s select a specific player. Simply type Ted Williams (the greatest Red Sox batter of all time) in the search box, and view the results:

Now we see only the direct connections (a 1st degree ego network) for Ted Williams (270 degrees in this case), as well as a wealth of statistical information previously calculated in Gephi, seen in the right panel. At the bottom of the panel are hyperlinks where any one of the 270 connections may be clicked, allowing us to view their network. As you can see, sigma.js quickly provides great interactivity for graph viewers.

Even better, we can scroll in to the network at any time:

Hovering on a node generates a pop-up title for that node, as seen for Ted Williams in this instance. We also begin to see the names of other prominent players at this zoom level. Additional zooming will reveal more player titles – a great way to embed information without making the original graph visually chaotic by displaying all titles at every level.

For the current web version of this graph, click here. I’ll try to keep this version active, even if I make improvements to the final network. Once again, thanks for reading!

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Updating Player Networks – Part 2

In our previous post, we looked at how to acquire and load our baseball player data into Gephi. In this second installment, the focus will be on creating a player network graph in Gephi, and customizing many settings to deliver a network graph we can export to the web. Player networks are used to detail the connections between all players who are connected to one another in some fashion. In this instance, it is based on players having played for the same team in one or more common seasons. So let’s begin with the process of creating the graph using our raw data from the first installment.

Importing .csv data into Gephi is quite simple – we create individual node and edge files (as we showed in the previous post), and use the Gephi import functions to pull the data in. I always start with the node file, since it will typically have additional information not included in the edges file. After importing the node data, I then import the edge data, which gives us the information to form our initial graph. If we were to start with the edge file, Gephi will create our node data automatically, and we will not have the detail needed for our graph. This approach may work for simple graphs, but not for our current case.

Once both data files have been imported, we can begin thinking about what we want form our graph. Here are several questions we might pose:

  • How will we use color?
  • What sort of layout will be best?
  • Which measures should we calculate?
  • How should we depict node sizes?

In many cases, the answers to these questions come about through trial and error. We may have some ideas going into the process, but invariably, there will be modifications along the way. So be patient, and be willing to experiment as you create network graphs. The graph you will see in this post went through many of these modifications, which I won’t take the time to detail. Instead, this post will detail my final choices, along with some explanations for why these choices were made. So let’s take a walk through the various facets of the visualization.

Layout

While a network will retain the same underlying structure from a statistical point of view (degrees, centrality, eccentricity, etc.) regardless of our layout choices, it is still important to select a layout that will visually represent the underlying patterns in the network. Otherwise, we could just as well deliver a spreadsheet with all of the network statistics. So layout selection is critical, and often involves an iterative process.

For the baseball network graphs I built in 2014, I eventually settled on the ARF layout algorithm, which ran quickly and created an attractive circular network graph display using the player connection data. Alas, there is no ARF algorithm available for Gephi 0.9.2, so I required a different approach for the updates. Ultimately, this led to a 2-step approach using a pair of layout algorithms – OpenOrd followed by Force Atlas 2. OpenOrd is especially effective at creating a quick layout from large datasets, although with far less precision than some other force-directed approaches. Still, it is a great tool for creating a general understanding of the structure of a network very quickly. Force Atlas 2, is the near opposite of OpenOrd – a very precise approach that can be tweaked easily using the various settings in Gephi. It is ideal for putting the finishing touches on what OpenOrd started.

Here are the settings I eventually settled on for Force Atlas 2, after much trial and error:

Force_Atlas_2

Some of the more important things to note here are the Scaling and Gravity settings. I reduced the scaling to 0.5 so the network would display appropriately in a single window without the need for scrolling. The Gravity setting was increased to 2.5 to force nodes slightly toward the center of the display. The LinLog mode and Prevent Overlap options are also selected in order to make this particular graph more visually effective. For other graphs, I have used the Dissuade Hubs option, forcing large nodes to the perimeter of the graph; in this case, that was not an ideal choice.

Color

The use of color is also important within a network graph display. Color can be used to highlight nuances in the data that distinguish one or more nodes relative to another group of nodes. Often we use color to visually represent clusters within the graph, as grouped using the modularity classes statistic or some similar input. In the case of this series of graphs (ultimately one graph per team), I made a decision to use the official team colors to differentiate each graph. Thus my initial graph for the Boston Red Sox would be based on the two primary hex colors for the current team (these colors do change over time for many teams).

Here are the Red Sox primary colors:

c8102e_Color_Hex_-_2018-06-10_09.15.48 0c2340_Color_Hex_-_2018-06-10_09.16.33

After capturing current team colors in a spreadsheet for easy reference, I used the color-hex.com site to select complementary colors for the Red Sox graph. Using complementary colors allows me to differentiate clusters in the graph while remaining true to the original concept of employing team colors for each graph. So instead of a wide range of colors one would normally see in a Gephi output, I was able to input the complementary colors for each group. Thus, one team color could be used for the graph background, while the other color (and it’s complements) could be used for the graph structure (nodes & edges). We’ll share the effect later in this post.

Statistics

Graph statistics are critical to the full understanding of the structure of a network. While we can view a graph and begin to understanding the general structure of a network, the various statistics will aid and reinforce our initial visual comprehension. Gephi provides a nice range of statistical measures to choose from:

  • Eccentricity (the number of steps needed to traverse the network)
  • Centrality – betweenness, eigenvector, closeness, harmonic closeness (various measures of importance of an individual node)
  • Clustering coefficient (to discern cliques in the network)
  • Number of triangles (a friends of friends measure)
  • Modularity Class (clusters)
  • Degrees (the number of connections)

Sizing

Node sizing is another key element of effective graph design. In this case, there were a few options I could pursue for node sizing – the number of seasons played (I used this in the 2014 graphs), one of the various centrality measures we calculated, or the number of degrees (connections) an individual player possesses. After computing each of these statistics, I eventually decided to use the number of degrees as a representation of influence in the graph. Visually, I want to show how many other players a single individual is related to, and using node size is an effective means of doing so.

Summary

Our final graph in Gephi is shown below; the eventual web-based version will differ slightly and include additional functionality, but that’s for another post.

red_sox_20180610

Next Post

My third and final post in this series will address exporting this graph to the web using the sigma.js plugin, and making some additional customization to the web version. Thanks for reading, and see you soon!

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A Network Graph of MLB All-Stars

With the Major League Baseball All-Star game this week, I was suddenly possessed by an urge to create a network graph of all the players who have been selected for the game from 1933-2015. The goal, as with most of my network graph efforts, was to see where the data took me, and what stories it might tell. Along for the ride was my trusty companion Gephi, version 0.9.1 in this instance. Data for this exercise comes, as it so often does, from the Lahman baseball database, which happens to have a nice table with all the necessary all-star information.

The challenge inherent in this data, as with many temporal datasets, is to create an interesting graph that isn’t entirely driven by the time element, in this case as baseball seasons. Some otherwise excellent layout algorithms tend to turn this sort of data into long, worm-like displays that are not visually appealing. I could just as easily use a timeline if that were the goal of the visualization. So in an effort to balance aesthetics with the underlying data, I finally settled on the radial axis layout in Gephi. With this layout, we have the ability to create multiple axes radiating from the center of the graph, grouped by something meaningful. In this case, that turns out to be the modularity class, a sort of clustering mechanism that groups nodes together based on common or similar characteristics.

After some trial and error, I wound up with 13 distinct classes, a nice manageable number for this type of display. The end result can be interpreted as some sort of exotic, colorful starfish, or perhaps as a multi-colored fireworks display. In any event, I believe it tells an interesting story in a visually appealing manner, and allows for understanding the common threads within each cluster of players. Here’s the complete graph layout:

allstar_graph_base

I’ll spend the rest of the post with some quick analyses of each group, and then point you to the entire graph in interactive form so you can discover your own patterns and learn more about the all-star connections of individual players. I’ll also provide a quick overview for how to read the sidebar output for the graph when you interact with the data.

Our 13 clusters (you can think of them as cohorts) tell us some interesting things about the history of all-star participants. Let’s walk through each of the 13 (numbered 0 through 12) to learn more. The clusters begin with 0 (in green) at the upper left and move counter-clockwise around the graph. Each is rank ordered from small to large radiating out from the center, so the member with the most years as an all-star will be at the tip of each group. That individual will serve as our focal point in each of the following screenshots, followed by a brief overview of other members of the cohort.

First up is our Cohort 0, headlined by Miguel Cabrera, with 10 selections through 2015. Obviously, this would appear to be a cohort of current or recent all-stars based on Cabrera’s appearance. We can easily navigate the graph to see if that’s the case. Who else is prominent in the group? Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and Robinson Cano, to name a few, all big name stars for most of their careers. How about at the low end of the spectrum, players with a single all-star selection? Here’s where we find the likes of Billy Butler, R.A. Dickey, and Melky Cabrera. All long-tenured, noteworthy players, but certainly not in the same category as the first group.

allstar_0

Cohort 1 takes us on some time travel, with Johnny Mize as the representative star, also with 10 all-star selections and Hall of Fame membership as well. Joining Mize in the group are Bobby Doerr, Vern Stephens, Joe Gordon, and Bob Feller, all Hall of Famers with the exception of Stephens. At the other end of the cohort, each with one appearance, are Oscar Grimes, Red Barrett, and Nick Etten, among others. Based on the career arcs of the stars in this group, we could characterize it as primarily a 1940s-based cohort, certainly with overlap into the surrounding decades.

allstar_1

Derek Jeter is our icon for Cohort 2, so it figures to be a group that immediately precedes the Cabrera-led Cohort 0. Perhaps the focus here will be on stars from the early 2000s, at the center point of Jeter’s long career. Mariano Rivera, Albert Pujols, and David Ortiz are among the top stars here, confirming the hypothesis that this group is largely post-2000 in nature. Among the lesser knowns with a single selection each are Gil Meche, Joe Crede, and Ryan Ludwick.

allstar_2

Cohort 3 is headed up by the legendary Stan Musial, whose career covered the entirety of the 40s and 50s. Given that Cohort 1 was largely concentrated on players from the 40s, we might anticipate more of a skew towards 1950 and beyond. We’ll see in a moment if that’s true. Next to Musial we have Ted Williams and Warren Spahn, two more whose careers spanned both decades, so perhaps we have players here with greater longevity compared to the Mize cohort. Let’s go a bit deeper, where we find Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, and Robin Roberts, all with career pinnacles primarily in the 50s. So while there will certainly be connections across the two groups, Cohort 3 does appear to span more of the 1950s compared to Cohort 1.

allstar_3

With Cohort 4 we see a very large group fronted by all-time hits leader Pete Rose. So we could be focused on the 1960s or 1970s here; Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, and Mike Schmidt, Hall of Famers all, are included, so the 1970s would seem to be the dominant theme. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the size of this group, as expansion in the 1960s afforded more players the opportunity to become an all-star. A few interesting figures can be found at the single game end of the radian – Bob Horner, Kent Hrbek, and Lonnie Smith, all with at least momentary brushes with greatness, but good enough to qualify for just one all-star nod apiece.

allstar_4

Joe DiMaggio is the lead for our next group, joined by the likes of Mel Ott, Bill Dickey, and Joe Medwick. The skew is toward the late 1930s and beyond; many members of this cohort would have had limited all-star game opportunities, as the game originated only in 1933. As proof of this, we find Hall of Famers Heinie Manush, Goose Goslin, and Kiki Cuyler at the low end of the radian, each with just a single all-star credit.

allstar_5

Hall of Famer Al Kaline heads up Cohort 6, so we know we’re in either the 50s or 60s, or more likely, a bit of both decades. Along with Kaline we have Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Ernie Banks, each of who had multiple appearances covering both decades. At the more modest end of the group we find Rocky Bridges, Bob Cerv, and perhaps surprisingly, the slugger Joe Adcock, each with just a single season as all-stars.

allstar_6

Cohort 7 is our one group that’s difficult to explain. Our graph modularity settings forced a small cohort of just nine players; Hank Aaron with 21 seasons, and eight others with a single season each. Consider this one a bit of a fluke.

allstar_7

The great Willie Mays leads the relatively small Cohort 8, joined by both Brooks and Frank Robinson, as well as Roberto Clemente. This would indicate a cohort of players who began in the 1950s and perhaps peaked in the 60s. Lower down the list this group features lesser known players like Tito Francona, Dick Howser, and Joey Jay, all one season all-stars.

allstar_8

Cohort 9 is a very large group led by Barry Bonds, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey. Here we have three stars with illustrious careers launched around 1990 and extending into the new millenium. At the other extreme we find one-timers such as Jay Buhner, Mark Grudzelianek, and Lance Johnson.

allstar_9

Cohort 10 is a mid-sized group headed up by Alex Rodriguez, and featuring Manny Ramirez, John Smoltz, and Scott Rolen. This would appear to be a very similar group (if a few years later) to the prior cohort, and we should expect to find a great number of crossover connections between the two, as they each cover players from similar time periods.

allstar_10

Down to the final two groups! Cohort 11 is led by Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, and Roger Clemens, all major impact players in both the 1980s and 90s. This is another group featuring players who were quite talented but dented the all-star ranks just a single time. Among these were outfielders Jesse Barfield and Kevin Bass, and pitcher Teddy Higuera.

allstar_11

With Cohort 12, we see a large group led by 18-time all-star Carl Yastrzemski, supported by Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, and Harmon Killebrew. These are all players who were at their productive peaks in the late 1960s through mid-1970s, an era where the National League was dominating the annual game. Chuck Hinton, Jerry Lumpe, and Joe Azcue are among those who can claim a single trip to the all-star game as a career highlight.

allstar_12

Quick note on the sidebar – you’ll see a few measures which I won’t go into too deeply here; there are 3 centrality measures (influence within the network), eccentricity (the number of steps to traverse the network, think six degrees of Kevin Bacon), and size, reflecting the number of seasons as an all-star. The key part of the sidebar lies in the listing of all connected players to the one currently selected, with numbers indicating the number of games as co-all-stars. Use these links to navigate through the network quickly. It’s fun!

So that’s it for our brief analysis. Now it’s time to explore for yourself by opening the MLB All-Star Network visualization. Be patient as the data loads; once it has cached the graph should be fairly fast at zooming, panning, and allowing you to explore to your heart’s content.

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Exploratory DataViz Part 2

Having discussed some of Exploratory’s cool features in a prior post, I thought it would be fun to continue the exploration using JSON data as a starting point. I happen to have a fair amount of JSON on hand, thanks to a series of network graphs produced using Gephi and sigma.js, so why not put it to use with Exploratory and start creating a new dataviz?

If you have previously worked with JSON, you’re no doubt aware that it can be a bit fickle – miss a bracket or brace in one place and the entire file fails to load a visualization. However, knowing that my JSON has been successful in producing network graphs (see here for examples), I figured it was worth a shot with Exploratory.

To begin, start with the local import option, selecting the json option, and pointing it to your local file. Give it a name, run the process and cross your fingers! After a few seconds, I’ve got my results, and Exploratory has done a good job categorizing the data:

exploratory_2.1

Since this is network data, we have nodes and edges, as well as any additional attributes, such as color or size. Exploratory has picked up those groupings, first the edges, and now the nodes.

exploratory_2.2

Finally, the attribute values:

exploratory_2.3

Since we’re satisfied with the import, we can move on to the summary data, which in this case doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. No matter, let’s see what can be done with some charts and analysis.

exploratory_2.4

To start with, we have x and y values associated with each node, which sounds like a perfect candidate for a scatter plot. We add the x value to the x-axis (how convenient was that!), the y value to the y-axis, node size as the Size attribute, and finally the Eccentricity attribute for color. FWIW, eccentricity is not a measure of flakiness, but rather the distance between the most remote points in a graph. This is where the six degrees of separation (or Kevin Bacon, take your pick) concept comes into play; an eccentricity value of 6 equates to 6 degrees of distance. Here’s our result:

exploratory_2.5

Not bad, eh? We can also hover over each node to see who it is (after adding Id to the Label field):

exploratory_2.6

We still have a lot of activity in a limited space, so now let’s use a simple filter (see the command line at top) to grab the top 50 values, and see the results:

exploratory_2.7

Now let’s create a new branch to explore further. I would like to sort my dataset using the Betweenness Centrality attribute, but there’s one problem – it’s a character value at the moment, so it doesn’t sort numerically. No matter, we can fix that easily using the Mutate command to convert the variable type. This can be seen in the right margin, where Exploratory conveniently stores all actions. Now we can sort our values in descending order to understand who is most influential in the network (at least by this measure). FYI – Betweenness Centrality tells us which nodes others must pass through most frequently to connect elsewhere within the network. Typically, but not always, it is someone centrally located within a network; sometimes it may be a less influential character (Pedro Borbon in this case) who connects more distant groups to one another.

exploratory_2.9

So there you have it, another quick walk-through with Exploratory. Before I sign off, here’s the live scatter plot you can play with via the Exploratory server. Be sure to use the simple zoom features to traverse the chart!

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Open Source Data Viz: Exploratory

It’s absolutely a great time to be alive and involved in data viz, courtesy of the wealth of exceptional open source projects. Several recent open source discoveries are currently on my radar, and worthy of further exploration. Over the next few weeks I’ll examine a few of these options, using baseball data (of course) to illustrate the possibilities within each application. Specifically, we’ll take a look at Trelliscope, bokeh, rbokeh, and Exploratory, and provide some insight and examples into how each of these projects function. This post will focus on Exploratory, an exciting new tool from Kan Nishida.

Exploratory is another R-based application that leverages a multitude of R capabilities while providing its own intuitive interface. While still in beta testing, Exploratory appears to have a very bright future as a powerful visualization tool that allows non-coders to tap into the enormous power of R. The ability to harness a considerable portion of the R language through Exploratory’s GUI is a powerful option for those (like me) with limited R experience and expertise.

Exploratory has a very clean, intuitive interface that may feel a little unusual to long-time R users accustomed to multiple panes and workspaces. Yet beneath the surface, it possesses considerable power, as we’ll see in this tutorial. To start our process, we’ll need a data frame, a familiar object for R users. Let’s begin by examining our data frame options.

First up, we can load a local source file in a variety of formats:
exploratory_local
Some of the usual suspects are here – text and Excel files, but we also have the ability to load json data as well as some of the more prominent statistical formats including SAS and SPSS data. Very cool. We’ll come back to this later.

Now let’s see the remote options:

exploratory_rscript

Great! Not only can we gain direct access to MySQL databases (a huge plus for me), Exploratory also provides access to a diverse range of option including Twitter search, MongoDB, and web scraping. We’re going to look at some specific examples later, but for now, here’s a glimpse of the MySQL data import window:

exploratory_mysql

As with the entire app, the design is clean and intuitive. In a bit, I’m going to load details into this window so we can test the MySQL functionality.

A third import option exists in the availability to access any existing R scripts you may have previously created:

exploratory_rscript

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here, due to the fact that I don’t have a lot (any?) of personal scripts. However, for seasoned R coders, this seems like a great feature.

Now let’s walk through some of Exploratory’s capabilities using a MySQL connection. The MySQL setup is really easy – just fill in your database connection parameters and you’re good to go. Here’s what it looks like for this example, with a few fields grayed out for security reasons.

MySQL connection

Once the connection is established, Exploratory will display the initial rows in the dataset. If we click the Run button, our data is pulled into a Summary view, where every variable in the data is summarized. This is a great way to see if our data looks as expected, and allows us to determine if the correct variable type (integer, date, etc.) is associated with each field.

exploratory_summary

If everything looks good, we can move on to the Table option, which will resemble the MySQL view we just saw. No surprises here:

exploratory_table

If we’re satisfied so far, then it’s time to move on to the fun aspects of Exploratory. For me, this starts with viewing data using the Charts selection. As of this writing, there are 10 chart options (two are actually mapping selections for geo data) including bars, scatter plots, box plots, heatmaps, and more. For me, this is a real strength of Exploratory; the ease with which we can see plots of our data is great! Here I’ve chosen a couple stat fields (at bats (AB) and runs (R)) to illustrate the scatter plot functionality.

exploratory_chart

The charts are clean and attractive, and provide some additional options. For scatter plots, labels can be added via a simple check box. This permits me to add hover labels, as seen below:

exploratory_chart_label

Pretty nice so far, don’t you think? But as the old commercials used to say ‘wait, there’s more’. The considerable power of R lies beneath the surface, enabling statistical testing, filtering, data manipulation, and so much more. Here’s a glimpse of just a handful of available options for working with your data:

exploratory_options

Let’s select a filter option, where we’ll reduce the data to look only at players age 30 or greater. One of the other great aspects of Exploratory is it’s exposition of R code. We can use the built in menu commands while viewing the actual R code. For experienced R users, the functions can be entered directly in a text box, and for us less experienced coders, we can learn on the fly by seeing the output.

exploratory_filter

Now we see the same scatter plot populated with players 30 and older.

Another great feature is the ability to create branches within a project. This facilitates going down multiple paths within one workspace, rather than having to retrace our steps or rerun charts each time something changes. All we need to do is click the branch button, and a new tab is created for us. Very simple and intuitive, as is virtually everything in Exploratory.

exploratory_branch

In this instance, we’ve elected to run a correlation on the chart variables in our main flow, while we create a new box plot in our branch.

exploratory_branch_chart

I’ve been very impressed thus far with Exploratory, and have barely scratched the surface. My next step will be to create some real content that can be shared in a post or via some new visualizations on the site. I love the ease of accessing my data via MySQL, and immediately having the ability to create plots, filter data, and run statistical explorations.

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ODSC: Analyzing Complex Networks Part 2

This is part two of a brief series sharing components of my presentation titled Analyzing Complex Networks Using Open Source Software at ODSC East in Boston on May 21st. The first post looked at a few examples from a Boston Red Sox players network, while this one examines a Miles Davis album and musician network. I’ll share a few examples of network analysis within the context of the Miles Davis graph.

The Miles Davis network could be described as a tripartite network, or one with three layers. Miles is at the center, and connects to each of nearly 50 recordings. Other musicians then connect to the respective recording(s) they played on, but not to one another. This approach provides a very clear look at musical phases in the career of the legendary trumpeter, without the graph being clouded by excessive detail. Here’s a view of the final network, after which we’ll look at some components of the graph.

miles_1

We see some interesting patterns in the graph, specifically in viewing the pink circles, which represent individual albums. Musicians playing on a recording can be seen adjacent to that recording, except in the case of musicians present on multiple albums. We would expect them to be positioned relative to all of the recordings they played on. A quick visual scan leads to five distinct clusters, as seen in the next screenshot.

miles_2

Now that we have identified these clusters, it would be helpful to understand their meaning and relevance to Miles career. Using the graph in interactive fashion, we can learn more about the recordings and musicians, and begin to formulate some insights. These can be confirmed by referring to album links on the web or in Wikipedia, which give context to what we are viewing. Based on these steps, here is a quick overview of the five clusters.

miles_3

A final step might be to add some verbiage using PowerPoint or Inkscape, which I’ve done below in very minimalist fashion. We could also add this to a web version using CSS attributes to position the text, although this could get tricky as we pan and zoom on the graph. We might be better off using some sort of stylized marker (color or shape) to communicate some of this information.

miles_4

There is much more that could be done, but I hope this brief example shed some light on the usefulness of network graphs, especially from a pure visual perspective.

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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:

odsc_williams

Followed by Carl Yastrzemski:

odsc_yaz

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

odsc_varitek

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.

AL_1967_5

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:

team_pivot

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:

Excel_name_range

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:

AL_1967_1

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.

AL_1967_2

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.

AL_1967_3

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.

AL_1967_4

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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