Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Exploring Data Visualization

I spent this quarter looking at various ways to make data analysis more complex, going past pie charts and bar graphs, but also more accessible to the average user, by presenting and organizing it in a more visually intuitive way. The two main data sets I used for this exploration are: 1) A personal, mid-size data set. Every day in 2015, I rated how I felt about that day from 0-100 (though my numbers ended up being 40-70). 2) A very large set of survey answers collected from 15,000+ high school students across the nation, including questions on health, video games and television, online behavior, and bullying. Using these two data sets, I examined the usefulness of 5 different, freely accessible data analysis services: Plotly Free, Tableau Public, Google Sheets/Charts, Datacopia, and IBM Watson.

Plotly Free (3/10)

Ease of Use: Convoluted (2/10)
Learning Curve: Intuitive (7/10) when graphing, Steep (4/10) when navigating around the site
Visuals: Decent (7/10)
Customization and Versatility: Decent (6/10)
Privacy: Allows 2 private projects before requiring public publishing (4/10)
Key Features and Recommended Usage: Accessible and editable online, open-source, programmer APIs, inexpensive pro version

Plotly seems like a good all-purpose candidate in theory—and, to be fair, some friends have had good experiences with Plotly. However, I spent most of my time with Plotly waiting on endless loading screens, wondering if something was loading or not when I clicked something, and attempting to figure out the mechanics and layout of things. About the privacy score: while I don't mind having a limit on private projects in the free version of a service, I don't appreciate having pop-ups when I exceed the limit, imploring me to upgrade to Plotly Pro. When I was actually organizing data, I found Plotly to be almost pleasant. But if my experience of frustration would be similar to anyone else's, I
cannot recommend using Plotly.

Tableau Public (9/10)

Ease of Use: Smooth (9/10)
Learning Curve: Somewhat difficult (5/10)
Visuals: Excellent (9/10)
Customization and Versatility: Good (8/10)
Privacy: All projects are saved to a public account (6/10)
Key Features and Recommended Usage: Program/application, box-and-whisker plots (I cannot express how much I love Tableau's box-and-whisker plots)

I spent most of my time with Tableau Public, and if you really want to explore a variety of analysis perspectives, Tableau is good for the job; it offers many chart types in a selection box that are choosable once the data is in. Because Tableau won't just analyze data on its own, only graph, you need to know what you want and what you're doing with the data. The interface is drag-and-drop into a multitude of work areas, which means it's easy to look at, but some of it gets lost in "what does this do?" It is all explained in Tableau's comprehensive how-to videos, but many casual users won't have the time to watch them all.

You can find the rest of the charts that I created with Tableau here.

Google Sheets/Charts (7/10)

Ease of Use: Smooth (9/10)
Learning Curve: Simple (9/10)
Visuals: Basic (5/10)
Customization and Versatility: Basic (5/10)
Privacy: Depends on your opinion of Google. For me, Trusted (8/10)
Key Features and Recommended Usage: Online cloud access, live data, easily shared

The chart and graph maker in Google Sheets is basic but definitely intuitive to use. Most everyone I know has had some experience with it; simply put your data into a spreadsheet, select it, and hit Graph. The little widget that comes up also offers some likely graphs that you might want. I find that Google Sheets gets the job done, but is very limited in aesthetic customization.

Datacopia (6/10)

Ease of Use: Simple (8/10)
Learning Curve: Simple (10/10)
Visuals: Basic, Colorful (6/10)
Customization and Versatility: None (1/10)
Privacy: Private (10/10)
Key Features and Recommended Usage: Simple

Datacopia is even easier to use than Google Sheets, a feat I find impressive in itself. However, it sacrifices customization for that ease. Once you upload your data, Datacopia generates a large (and I mean large. 100 or so) set of premade charts and you can pick one. The graphics are appealing, but if what you want isn't on there, you're out of luck. I generally would not recommend this for all but the simplest projects. One good note is that it promises that the data you upload does not leave your computer—completely private, if that's a must-have for you.

Watson IBM (7/10)

Ease of Use: Decent (6/10)
Learning Curve: Difficult (5/10)
Visuals: Decent, lacking in customization (6/10)
Customization and Versatility: Fair (5/10)
Privacy: Private Cloud Account (9/10)
Key Features and Recommended Usage: Handles big data well, business-oriented analytics, offered data insights

Watson IBM Data Analytics looks like a fantastic service for those doing heavy lifting with their data. It offers a variety of chart types. The best thing about Watson is probably its Exploration—an AI screens your data and suggests questions that might be answered by correlations it finds. Watson can detect gaps in your data—missing information that may compromise the quality. It can also take the correlations it finds and attempt to detect the why: which factors affect each other. Combined, it makes a powerful tool. However, I found it lacking in aesthetic customization, being unable to change the individual color, only pick from preset palettes. For casual users, it may also be hard to navigate the interface.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A tutorial for the iOS GarageBand app.  Video created to showcase Garageband's functions and how they can be used for educational purposes.

I used QuickTime to create this video.  I was able to connect the iPad mini to the Mac computer and record the screen using QuickTime.  I eventually used Windows Movie Maker for the finishing touches.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Instagrok Tutorial

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could look up information and not have to read through tons of different sites? Well then Instagrok is the thing for you. Instagrok is a website application that pulls content into a visual graphic.  
Watch my demo video on youtube
Step 1: To get started go to...
Step 2: Create an account (optional but recommended)
Step 3: Create your first Grok
Step 4: Refine it and explore the information
  1. This is what happens after you search a topic. Different items show up depending on your search. This one has to do with John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry.  
Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.54.31 AM.png

B) Each time you press one of the topics more appear that stem off of that one topic

Gives you valid information
Gives you information from different places
Has reading level filter

Gives valid information
Gives you information from different places
Has reading level filter
Gives you a list of all different sites
Gives a lot of info but doesn’t tie content together

Gathers information and puts it into one thing
Organized to give you more information at once
Allows you to make and annotate notes
Visually more pleasing

Friday, February 26, 2016

PowerPoint Photo Editing Tools

by Lauren F

When presenting to large groups of people you need to spice your slides up. With the new photo editing tools people can add fun new filters to photos and make mosaic collages. You can simply just drag and drop photos into a slide and make the edits right in the slides. Its a powerful and easy way to improve your photo editing skills without having to use paint. Watch the tutorial Lauren prepared with PowerPoint, Mix and iMovie and then explore the Photo tools to see what you can create.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

On Using Teamup

Teamup is a free-to-use calendar schedule service that I found myself really liking. Its unique features make it stand out from other services like Google Calendar, iCalendar, and phone calendars. First, it requires no account- instead, the user keeps a link (it's a little long to remember, but it can easily be shortened with a service like bit.ly). For recovery, the calendar's creator can optionally input an email. The free version allows you to keep 10 subcalendars, color-coded categories in which events are put.

I think where Teamup really shines is its sharing system. The calendar's "administrator" can create multiple access links with different permissions. Here are all the different options:

On top of these options, you can apply these to either a whole calendar or just subcalendars. For each category, Teamup generates a new link that gives the person a different access level. You can then share these different links to different people, giving people exactly the access type you want.

After playing with Teamup for some time, here are some things that I liked and disliked about what Teamup can offer:

PRO: Browser based, iOS app
CON: Limited Android support; must be accessed from mobile browser
PRO: Still in development; new features on the way
CON: Still in development; not fully featured with importing and exporting other calendar types
PRO: Support for complex recurring events (biweekly, one-time adjustments, etc.)
CON: Free version only keeps 1 year of calendar history
PRO: Link and sharing system doesn't require everyone to make accounts
CON: Have to keep links around somewhere to keep using calendar
PRO: Free to use!
CON: Plus and Premium plans, for more features, are costly
PRO: Highly customizable visually and technically
PRO: Support team; I received an email back within 2 days

I think Teamup has lots of potential for different situations. For example, a teacher might keep this calendar around, put each of their classes on a subcalendar, and then give their classes access to the plan via a shared link. Event planners might use the scheduling view to see what happens when and who is where. Or a busy and forgetful student like me might keep it around, just to remember where he's supposed to be! I highly recommend Teamup as an all-purpose group scheduler.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Do Ink Green Screen Tutorial

There has been many new additions to Rockets a Help Desk this year, one of which is a new green screen. To go along with the green screen, we searched for some new software to accompany the wall. In this post, read about how RHD made this new addition, as well as how we are using the Do Ink green screen app to make projects.

Our Green Screen:
Since September, Rockets Help Desk has been wanting to add a green screen wall to our space in the library. We sectioned off a part of the wall next to the white board and brought in green paint to paint the wall. It only took one class period, a little spackle, two coats of paint and voila! Rockets Help Desk now has a green screen!

Utilizing the Green Screen:
To work in collaboration with our new green screen, we decided to try out the Do Ink Green Screen app. This app costs $2.99 and allows you to input a video or image in the place of the green screen and record over it. Also, with the purchase of the Do Ink Animation and Drawing App, you can create little animations that can fly around on your video.

Maneuvering the Do Ink App:
When you open the app for the first time, there is a tutorial video that shows you all the different things you can do and how to include them in your project. While helpful, to fully understand the app and how it works, it is best to start playing around with it. Below I have included an annotated screenshot that includes the basics on how to get started.

App in Action:
With a green screen, the possibilities are endless. You can transport yourself to distant lands, make yourself a part of an already existing video, and transform the space around you into a fancy office building, a volcano- whatever you like.

In the video below, I’ll show you how I transformed our space in the library into a news studio.