Visual-Baseball Project Site Updates Continue

Updates to the Portfolio section of the VBP site continue, in an effort to reverse some lost functionality in the wake of one or more WordPress updates. The plus side of this setback is that the updates allow us to introduce a more easily maintained infrastructure with improved usability. Users can now search and scroll through content links while also accessing pages through an enhanced menu system.

Here’s an example of the new Portfolio menu:

Selecting one of the menu items will take you directly to a relevant page, now composed of a brief intro as well as an example of the visualization type, as seen here:

The lower half of each page will now have a searchable list format, with both a link and a description of the associated content. Users can also adjust the pagination settings to show the desired number of links to view at one time:

These enhancements should make it far easier to navigate the site and view the desired content. Once these are complete, I can begin to deliver new content; the 2018 game and season files will soon be upon us, and much of the content is itching for an update. In the meantime, enjoy what’s already here!

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A Better Way to Share My Work

I’m always trying to find better ways to show data, better tools to display the results, and better ways to share any insights. Over the last few years it feels like progress has been made to a much greater degree on the first two, and less on the third. There are now so many great techniques and tools available through the open source community to help accomplish many tasks. In some cases, almost too many (not that I’m complaining – I like complexity!) choices are out there for learning more about information display and actually creating some clever output. I’ve written many times about some of the valuable tools such as d3, nvd3, Orange, Protovis, Sparklines for Excel, R, and so on.

The challenge has always been in the best way to share the results of my explorations. Over the past few years, I’ve worked extensively with Omeka, an open source tool geared to museum-oriented displays using items, collections, and potentially, exhibits. Every visualization I create becomes an item, groups of similar items become collections (say, all pennant races), and then items with a similar theme from different collections can be combined to create an exhibit (or exhibition).

This is all well and good from an archival standpoint, but it sometimes falls short of being the best option for users, so I am constantly seeking other options. Omeka is also designed to house existing content created using other apps, but doesn’t have the pure flexibility of (say) HTML5 for creating interactive charts and visualizations that really rock.

Which is all a rather long-winded introduction to my latest toy, which is a menu-driven site that I hope will fill the void, enabling me to deploy more and better interactive visuals built using d3 and other tools. For now, some of the existing work I’ve created is already on board, albeit with some long overdue face lifts. Check out the Batting Explorer, a semantic filtering tool built using Simile Exhibit that lets you explore a decade’s worth of batting information using a baseball-card style layout:

..and with filters…

How about game summaries, also built using Exhibit. These summaries give you a glimpse of every game played in a season, with filters for pitchers, hits, runs, homers, and much more:

..and with filters…

Some more recent work is also available, such as the collection of more than 350 interactive pennant race charts built on d3 and nvd3:

Obviously, there’s much more to do here, as I’m in the beta version at best. Please go ahead and play with it and let me know if you have any thoughts or comments. Just follow the link to Portfolio. Thanks!

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Reworking the Analysis Lab

Less than two weeks after upgrading the SpagoBI software that powers the Visual-Baseball Analysis Lab, I’ve decided to move in a different direction. After spending many hours over the holiday weekend examining all the options, I’m electing to move forward using d3 and nvd3 as the primary tools for the future version of the lab.

Here is some rationale behind my decision:

  • SpagoBI, being a java-based platform, has a huge footprint, which means that I need to maintain a Tomcat web server with plenty of memory and storage space. Given the limited usage of the lab over the last two years, this no longer seems like a good tradeoff.
  • It takes too long for the app to launch after logging in. I could spend more time addressing this, but again this is not time well spent. I would rather have an application (or applications) that are fast and easy for site visitors.
  • Java-based platforms, including SpagoBI, Jasperserver, and Pentaho, all lean toward production-oriented reporting. This makes sense, given their corporate audiences, but is no longer the best option for what I hope to accomplish with the VBP site. I need a less rigid model with greater growth potential.
  • d3 and other javascript alternatives provide far more flexibility to create impactful visualizations using an endless variety of chart types. The java apps simply cannot compete on this front.
  • Most of my recent efforts have been created using d3 and nvd3, so it makes sense to leverage these tools even more, and to spend a higher percentage of my limited time using the most effective tools.

I will miss certain elements within Spago, and in the general BI model, such as OLAP cubes and parameterized reports. Perhaps these will reappear in some form in the future. On the flip side, I certainly won’t miss stack errors, re-booting Tomcat when the app crashes, and a few other annoyances that seem to be standard fare with Java. There are still some worthy Java apps, including Spago, but the time has come to move forward. More to come.

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