Thursday, May 5, 2011

Look at the four series of data below.

I II III IV
x y   x y   x y   x y
10 8.04   10 9.14   10 7.46   8 6.58
8 6.95   8 8.14   8 6.77   8 5.76
13 7.58   13 8.74   13 12.74   8 7.71
9 8.81   9 8.77   9 7.11   8 8.84
11 8.33   11 9.26   11 7.81   8 8.47
14 9.96   14 8.1   14 8.84   8 7.04
6 7.24   6 6.13   6 6.08   8 5.25
4 4.26   4 3.1   4 5.39   19 12.5
12 10.84   12 9.13   12 8.15   8 5.59
7 4.82   7 7.26   7 6.42   8 7.91
5 5.68   5 4.74   5 5.72   8 6.89

Is there a pattern to the data in each series? How do the series relate to one another? It’s difficult to answer these questions looking only at the raw data.

However, if we display the data as 4 scatter graphs on the same page (Figure 1a), we can quickly see the pattern in each series and we can use that pattern to predict the next value in the series. We can also see outliers in series III and IV and ask questions about why those outliers occur.

[Figure 1a]

Figure 1a is a good representation of the data because it allows us to understand the data quickly and easily and because it answers questions and sparks follow-up questions about the data.

As a software developer, I spend a lot of time writing software to maintain data. There are many tools and training to help us store, update data and retrieve data. But few people talk about the best way to present data in a meaningful way.

Professor Edward Tufte of Yale University is one person who is doing research in this area and writing about it. Tufte studied graphical representations of data to find out what makes an excellent visualization and what problems occur in data visualization. He has written several books on the topic, describing guidelines to follow and common traps to avoid. In my opinion, his best book on this subject is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (ISBN 0961392142).

This series will review Dr. Tufte ‘s research, ideas and conclusions on Data Visualization.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll explore excellent charts created throughout history and identify what makes them so excellent; graphs that lack integrity and serve to mislead the viewer; and some guidelines that Dr. Tufte suggests for improving data visualization.

This is an ongoing series discussing the research of Dr. Edward Tufte on Data Visualization.

Thursday, May 5, 2011 4:31:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Kalamazoo X conference isn’t like other conferences. Although it is targeted at technical people and the audience is filled with software developers, the content presented is typically not technical. Instead, sessions highlight soft skills, such as team building and education.

Another major difference between Kalamazoo X and other conferences is the session format: The length of each presentation is limited to 30 minutes – much shorter than the 60-90 minute presentations seen at most technical conferences. This serves to keep the audience focused. It’s rare to see any audience member get up out of his or her chair and walk out of a session, partly because they will miss a significant part of it and partly because the session is always close to the end.

The final major difference is that Kalamazoo X offers only one track. This provides all attendees the same shared experience, that they can discuss and compare afterwards. One never has to choose or feel he is missing something.

This year’s conference took place last Saturday at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and featured something for everyone. Nine speakers delivered ten presentations and the day ended with a panel discussion on Interviewing. A fishbowl exercise during lunch got the crowd excited. 5 chairs were placed in the middle of the room and a topic was thrown out. The ground rules of the fish bowl were: You must be seated in one of the chairs in order to ask a question; and one chair must always be empty. Attendees entered and exited the fishbowl area frequently and the conversation grew excited as ideas fired back and forth.

Kalamazoo X is the brainchild of Michael Eaton, who envisioned a conference that fill gaps he saw in the education of software developers. Technical information is readily available to technical people from a variety of venues, but soft skill training is much more rare and this lack of training often shows up in the lack of soft skills displayed by the developer community.

Kalamazoo X is now in its third year. I have attended all three – including the one last Saturday. I have spoken at two of them. Each time, the success was evident – The room was full, the content was excellent, and the atmosphere was electric. I’ve learned about leadership from Jim Holmes, about Community from Mike Wood and Brian Prince, about self-promotion from Jeff Blankenburg, and about life from Leon Gersing.

Photos from 2011 Kalamazoo X

Photos from 2010 Kalamazoo X

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 3:20:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011 3:48:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Saturday, April 30, 2011

Below are slides from the Data Visualization talk I delivered at the Kalamazoo X conference today

Saturday, April 30, 2011 3:34:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011 3:45:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Thursday, April 21, 2011

I do a lot of technical presentations and those presentations often contain code demos. As a general rule, I favor creating my code demos in advance over typing them in during my presentation. If a demo involves more than a few seconds typing, no one wants to sit and watch the presenter type (or, worse, debug code that he mistyped).

Often I'll have a number of related demos in the same project or the same class. Each demo will be a little more complex or show off a slightly different feature than the prior demo.

In the past, I've added code and commented it out, then commented / uncommented during  the presentation. Here is a sample of this technique.

Unfortunately, this method is error-prone. It’s too easy to accidentally uncomment or comment the wrong line or too many lines, causing errors that you will need to debug quickly and with the pressure of an audience staring at you.

But I've found a different simple technique that works very well for Console application demos. I prompt the user to enter a number - then capture the user's input and run the method corresponding with that number. The Console.ReadLine method allows me to capture the user's input and a switch statement allows me to easily translate a number entered into the appropriate method call. A few Console.WriteLine statements clarify what the numbers mean. Below is an example.

This technique allows you to prepare all of your demos in advance, so you don’t need to change anything during your presentation. I like the fact that the technique does not excessively complicate the code you are presenting. Simply focus on the code in one individual case statement at a time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011 1:20:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One thing I really enjoy is speaking at conferences and user groups. I learn a lot and I get a chance to interact with other developers around the country, and I get a rush when I can pull off a really good presentation. Unfortunately, traveling can be expensive and I need to limit my talks to what can fit in my budget.

One thing Telerik enjoys is supporting the developer community. They have great products and presentations at user groups and conferences are a good way to let people know about those products. Unfortunately, Telerik does not employ an army of professional presenters to cover all the events they’d like.

Telerik recently solved both those problems by forming the Telerik Insiders Program. The program consists of people in the community – like me – who enjoy speaking at developer events. The deal is that Telerik will sponsor our trip to a conference or user group and all we need to do in exchange is give away a bundle of their software. This is a great deal for me because I’ve been a fan of their products for a long time and because I love giving away stuff that someone else paid for.

Telerik has recruited a number of outstanding speakers to this program, including John Petersen, Lee Brandt, and Malcolm Sheridan.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 1:04:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011 2:45:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I recently added a few dates to my speaking schedule. Here is the most up-to-date information.

 Date Event Location Topic Apr 13 Ann Arbor .Net User Group ann arbor, MI Real World Lessons with Windows Workflow Foundation More Info Apr 21 Greater Lansing .Net User Group East Lansing, MI Real World Lessons with Windows Workflow Foundation More Info Apr 26 Findlay Area .Net User Group Findlay, OH Real World Lessons with Windows Workflow Foundation More Info May 14 Chicago Code Camp Grayslake, IL How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love jQuery More Info May 17 Northwest Ohio .Net User Group Toledo, OH Real World Lessons with Windows Workflow Foundation More Info June 3-4 Codestock Knoxville, TN Using the Database features of Visual Studio More Info June 3-4 Codestock Knoxville, TN An Introduction to Object Oriented Programming More Info Jun 29 West Michigan .Net User Group Grand Rapids, MI Real World Lessons with Windows Workflow Foundation More Info

I’m still waiting to hear from DevLink and MadExpo, so this list may grow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 3:20:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011 5:19:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)