Big Data: Visualization and Inspiration

While contemplating writing the introductions in my various classes this semester, I came across this video on Facebook. Though it is not data visualization per se, it is a lovely demonstration of what we can do with a simple binary data set combined in a myriad of ways. I have been trying to find out more information about how this was done and will update this when I do.

One of my courses, Visualization of Big Data, will be pushing me beyond my comfort level in many ways. I left undergraduate study in Computer Science in 1985 (first at the University of the District of Columbia then at the University of Maryland). When I returned to finish my undergraduate work at the University of Florida only four years later, I was too afraid to start over again in that field and decided on the quickest route to a degree and another favorite subject, Anthropology with graduate school as the next step. I chose the Social Relations program at the University of California, Irvine for various reasons, one was that they were beginning work on a new type of computer aided data analysis called Social Networking (this was 1992). I thought this would be an opportunity for me to integrate these two seemingly disparate fields. Unfortunately, I was ill prepared for graduate work at the time and the program also left me a bit disillusioned with Academia in general. I left after one year intending to find something more applied and that search lasted a very long time…

Now I am taking this class that will take computer skills, some coding skills and use statistical data as well as, I assume, an understanding of Statistics. My first and last Statistics class was in 1989 and although I have been able to teach myself to use most computer applications, I have never quite gotten the hang of spreadsheets…argh! I am, however, determined. For me this is my second chance. It is my chance to develop skills that I enjoy (puttering around on the computer) and apply them to a social policy/scientific question in order to help others understand something more deeply. Also it is a chance to stay with a problem and not walk away…

My decision to take this course is also the result of my experience at some conferences this summer. I have other posts on my Excellent Summer Adventure which will describe the conferences in more detail so I will briefly (for me) sum it up!

I received a scholarship to attend the Science Boot Camp for Librarians at the University of Georgia in Athens. This was July 6th-8th and I found myself among librarians from all over but mostly from the Southeast, and in many specialties. The speakers were renowned scientists in their fields and they all spoke of the roles of librarians, libraries and information resources in creating the narrative for researching and teaching in their various institutions. One way to create the narrative was to use scientific data and case studies. Dr. Marshall Sheppard, used charts and visualizations in his talk on climate change, emphasizing the importance of our role in helping people understand the information about climate change. I felt so fortunate to be able to attend this event and I hope to be at the next one in two years. I also met a STEM librarian from FSU who told me if I was interested in Medical and Academic librarianship that any course on Big Data is going to be useful.

After a month at home I went back to Georgia for the SAA conference and to visit my niece (I missed her on the previous trip). Two of my favorite presentations were all about digital and one was relevant to Big Data. Called Archival Records in the Age of Big Data, it was about new work at the University of Maryland on the preservation and use of Big Data with Drs Richard Marciano and Bill Underwood. The Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC)  mission is to “Be a leader in the digital curation research and education fields, and foster interdisciplinary partnerships using Big Records and archival analytics through public / industry /government partnerships.” Again, the emphasis was on Big Data, how to preserve it and how to use it.

Panama papers visuals

Slide 7, Dr Richard Marciano, (2016) SAA talk part 1. Talk description and slides available here:

Dr Marciano used the Panama Papers as an example of Big Data analysis and the importance of its management. His slide was crowded but it shows three visualizations with at least one that appears to be interactive. When I find the originals I will update this post with the links. Here Dr. Marciano used Big Data Visualization to both talk about Big Data and to create the narrative, to tell the story of why this work is important and what it can mean to society.

For me this was the clincher. Working with, preserving and visualizing Big Data is more than just playing around with tech and creating art; it has the power to influence policy and to play an increasingly important role in Knowledge Management, Knowledge Preservation and Knowledge Creation.

FYI, there is a plan for the DCIC to have a workshop: Computational Archival Science: digital records in the age of big data and there is a call for papers. This will be at the IEEE International Conference on Big Data in Washington DC in December.

If all these words don’t tell you enough about me here is a little Prezi I did for another class: About Me


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