DIY Data Science

Data science is a special blend of statistics and programming with a focus on making complex statistical analyses more understandable and usable to users, typically through visualization. In 2012, the Harvard Business Review published the article, “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century” (Davenport, 2012), showing society’s perception of data science. While some of the excitement of 2012 has died down, data science continues on, with data scientists earning a median base salary over $100,000 (Noyes, 2016).

Here at the Scholarly Commons, we believe that having a better understanding of statistics means you are less likely to get fooled when they are deployed improperly, and will help you have a better understanding of the inner workings of data visualization and digital humanities software applications and techniques. We might not be able to make you a data scientist (though certainly please let us know if inspired by this post and you enroll in formal coursework) but we can share some resources to let you try before you buy and incorporate methods from this growing field in your own research.

As we have discussed again and again on this blog, whether you want to improve your coding, statistics, or data visualization skills, our collection has some great reads to get you started.

In particular, take a look at:

The Human Face of Big Data created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt

  • This is a great coffee table book of data visualizations and a great flip through if you are here in the space. You will learn a little bit more about the world around you and will be inspired with creative ways to communicate your ideas in your next project.

Data Points: Visualization That Means Something by Nathan Yau

  • Nathan Yau is best known for being the man behind Flowing Data, an extensive blog of data visualizations that also offers tutorials on how to create visualizations. In this book he explains the basics of statistics and visualization.

Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

LibGuides to Get You Started:

And more!

There are also a lot of resources on the web to help you:

The Open Source Data Science Masters

  • This is not an accredited masters program but rather a curated collection of suggested free and low-cost print and online resources for learning the various skills needed to become a data scientist. This list was created and is maintained by Clare Corthell of Luminant Data Science Consulting
  • This list does suggest many MOOCS from universities across the country, some even available for free

Dataquest

  • This is a project-based data science course created by Vik Paruchuri, a former Foreign Service Officer turned data scientist
  • It mostly consists of a beginner Python tutorial, though it is only one of many that are out there
  • Twenty-two quests and portfolio projects are available for free, though the two premium versions offer unlimited quests, more feedback, a Slack community, and opportunities for one-on-one tutoring

David Venturi’s Data Science Masters

  • A DIY data science course, which includes a resource list, and, perhaps most importantly, includes links to reviews of data science online courses with up to date information. If you are interested in taking an online course or participating in a MOOC this is a great place to get started

Mitch Crowe Learn Data Science the Hard Way

  • Another curated list of data science learning resources, this time based on Zed Shaw’s Learn Code the Hard Way series. This list comes from Mitch Crowe, a Canadian data science

So, is data science still sexy? Let us know what you think and what resources you have used to learn data science skills in the comments!

Works Cited:

Davenport, T. H., & Patil, D. J. (2012, October 1). Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century. Retrieved June 1, 2017, from https://hbr.org/2012/10/data-scientist-the-sexiest-job-of-the-21st-century
Noyes, K. (2016, January 21). Why “data scientist” is this year’s hottest job. Retrieved June 1, 2017, from http://www.pcworld.com/article/3025502/why-data-scientist-is-this-years-hottest-job.html

Twine Review

Twine is a tool for digital storytelling platform originally created by Baltimore-based programmer Chris Klimas back in 2009. It’s also a very straightforward turn-based game creation engine typically used for interactive fiction.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I’m a serious researcher who don’t got no time for games.” Well, games are increasingly being recognized as an important part of digital pedagogy in libraries, at least according to this awesome digital pedagogy LibGuide from University of Toronto. Plus, if you’re a researcher interested in presenting your story in a nonlinear way, letting readers explore the subject at their own pace and based on what they are interested in, this could be the digital scholarship platform for you! Twine is a very easy-to-use tool, and allows you to incorporate links to videos and diagrams as well. You can also create interactive workflows and tutorials for different subjects. It’s also a lot of fun, something I don’t often say about the tools I review for this blog.

Twine is open source and free. Currently, there are three versions of Twine maintained by different repositories.There is already a lot of documentation and tutorials available for Twine so I will not be reinventing the wheel, but rather showing some of Twine’s features and clarifying things that I found confusing. Twine 1 still exists and there are certain functions that are only possible there; however, we are going to be focusing on Twine 2, which is newer and updated.

Twine 2

An example of a story on Twine

What simple Twine games look like. You would click on a linked blue or purple text to go to the next page of the story.

The Desktop version is identical to the online version; however, stories are a lot less likely to be inadvertently deleted on the desktop version. If you want to work on stories offline, or often forget to archive, you may prefer this option.

Desktop version of Twine

 

Story editor in Twine 2, Desktop edition with all your options for each passage. Yes I named the story Desktop Version of Twine.

You start with an Untitled passage, which you can change the title and content of. Depending on the version of Twine you have set up, you write in a  text-based coding language, and connect the passages of your story using links written between brackets like [[link]] that automatically generate a new passage. There are ways to hide the destination. More advanced users can add logic-based elements such as “if” statements in order to create games.

You cannot install the desktop version on the computers in Scholarly Commons, so let’s look at the browser version. Twine will give you reminders, but it’s always important to know that if you clear your browser files while working on a Twine project, you will lose your story. However, you can archive your file as an HTML document to ensure that you can continue to access it. We recommend that you archive your files often.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to archive your stories. Step 1: Click the “Home” icon.

Twine editor with link to home menu circled

 

Click “Archive”

Arrow pointing at archive in main Twine menu

This is also where you can start or import stories.

Save Your File

Save archive file in Twine for browser

Note: You should probably  move the file from Downloads and paste it somewhere more stable, such as a flashdrive or the Cloud.

When you are ready to start writing again you can import your story file, which will have been saved as an HTML document. Also, keep in mind if you’re using a public or shared computer, Twine is based on the browser, so it will be accessible to whoever is using the browser.

And if you’re interested in interactive fiction or text-based games, there are a lot of platforms you might want to explore in addition to Twine such as: http://inform7.com/ and https://textadventures.co.uk/  and http://www.inklestudios.com/inklewriter/ 

Let us know in the comments your thoughts on Twine and similar platforms as well as the role of games and interactive fiction in research!

Finding Digital Humanities Tools in 2017

Here at the Scholarly Commons we want to make sure our patrons know what options are out there for conducting and presenting their research. The digital humanities are becoming increasingly accepted and expected. In fact, you can even play an online game about creating a digital humanities center at a university. After a year of exploring a variety of digital humanities tools, one theme has emerged throughout: taking advantage of the capabilities of new technology to truly revolutionize scholarly communications is actually a really hard thing to do.  Please don’t lose sight of this.

Finding digital humanities tools can be quite challenging. To start, many of your options will be open source tools that you need a server and IT skills to run ($500+ per machine or a cloud with slightly less or comparable cost on the long term). Even when they aren’t expensive be prepared to find yourself in the command line or having to write code, even when a tool is advertised as beginner-friendly.

Mukurtu Help Page Screen Shot

I think this has been taken down because even they aren’t kidding themselves anymore.

There is also the issue of maintenance. While free and open source projects are where young computer nerds go to make a name for themselves, not every project is going to have the paid staff or organized and dedicated community to keep the project maintained over the years. What’s more, many digital humanities tool-building projects are often initiatives from humanists who don’t know what’s possible or what they are doing, with wildly vacillating amounts of grant money available at any given time. This is exacerbated by rapid technological changes, or the fact that many projects were created without sustainability or digital preservation in mind from the get-go. And finally, for digital humanists, failure is not considered a rite of passage to the extent it is in Silicon Valley, which is part of why sometimes you find projects that no longer work still listed as viable resources.

Finding Digital Humanities Tools Part 1: DiRT and TAPoR

Yes, we have talked about DiRT here on Commons Knowledge. Although the Digital Research Tools directory is an extensive resource full of useful reviews, over time it has increasingly become a graveyard of failed digital humanities projects (and sometimes randomly switches to Spanish). DiRT directory itself  comes from Project Bamboo, “… a  humanities cyber- infrastructure  initiative  funded  by  the  Andrew  W.  Mellon Foundation between 2008 and 2012, in order to enhance arts and humanities research through the development of infrastructure and support for shared technology services” (Dombrowski, 2014).  If you are confused about what that means, it’s okay, a lot of people were too, which led to many problems.

TAPoR 3, Text Analysis Portal for Research is DiRT’s Canadian counterpart, which also contains reviews of a variety of digital humanities tools, despite keeping text analysis in the name. Like DiRT, outdated sources are listed.

Part 2: Data Journalism, digital versions of your favorite disciplines, digital pedagogy, and other related fields.

A lot of data journalism tools crossover with digital humanities; in fact, there are even joint Digital Humanities and Data Journalism conferences! You may have even noticed how The Knight Foundation is to data journalism what the Mellon Foundation is to digital humanities. However, Journalism Tools and the list version on Medium from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the Resources page from Data Driven Journalism, an initiative from the European Journalism Centre and partially funded by the Dutch government, are both good places to look for resources. As with DiRT and TAPoR, there are similar issues with staying up-to-date. Also data journalism resources tend to list more proprietary tools.

Also, be sure to check out resources for “digital” + [insert humanities/social science discipline], such as digital archeology and digital history.  And of course, another subset of digital humanities is digital pedagogy, which focuses on using technology to augment educational experiences of both  K-12 and university students. A lot of tools and techniques developed for digital pedagogy can also be used outside the classroom for research and presentation purposes. However, even digital science resources can have a lot of useful tools if you are willing to scroll past an occasional plasmid sharing platform. Just remember to be creative and try to think of other disciplines tackling similar issues to what you are trying to do in their research!

Part 3: There is a lot of out-of-date advice out there.

There are librarians who write overviews of digital humanities tools and don’t bother test to see if they still work or are still updated. I am very aware of how hard things are to use and how quickly things change, and I’m not at all talking about the people who couldn’t keep their websites and curated lists updated. Rather, I’m talking about, how the “Top Tools for Digital Humanities Research” in the January/February 2017  issue of “Computers in Libraries” mentions Sophie, an interactive eBook creator  (Herther, 2017). However, Sophie has not updated since 2011 and the link for the fully open source version goes to “Watch King Kong 2 for Free”.

Screenshot of announcement for 2010 Sophie workshop at Scholarly Commons

Looks like we all missed the Scholarly Commons Sophie workshop by only 7 years.

The fact that no one caught that error either shows either how slowly magazines edit, or that no one else bothered check. If no one seems to have created any projects with the software in the past three years it’s probably best to assume it’s no longer happening; though, the best route is to always check for yourself.

Long term solutions:

Save your work in other formats for long term storage. Take your data management and digital preservation seriously. We have resources that can help you find the best options for saving your research.

If you are serious about digital humanities you should really consider learning to code. We have a lot of resources for teaching yourself these skills here at the Scholarly Commons, as well as a wide range of workshops during the school year. As far as coding languages, HTML/CSS, Javascript, Python are probably the most widely-used tools in the digital humanities, and the most helpful. Depending on how much time you put into this, learning to code can help you troubleshoot and customize your tools, as well as allow you contribute to and help maintain the open source projects that you care about.

Works Cited:

100 tools for investigative journalists. (2016). Retrieved May 18, 2017, from https://medium.com/@Journalism2ls/75-tools-for-investigative-journalists-7df8b151db35

Center for Digital Scholarship Portal Mukurtu CMS.  (2017). Support. Retrieved May 11, 2017 from http://support.mukurtu.org/?b_id=633

DiRT Directory. (2015). Retrieved May 18, 2017 from http://dirtdirectory.org/

Digital tools for researchers. (2012, November 18). Retrieved May 31, 2017, from http://connectedresearchers.com/online-tools-for-researchers/

Dombrowski, Q. (2014). What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo? Literary and Linguistic Computing. https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqu026

Herther, N.K. (2017). Top Tools for Digital Humanities Research. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jan17/Herther–Top-Tools-for-Digital-Humanities-Research.shtml

Journalism Tools. (2016). Retrieved May 18, 2017 from http://journalismtools.io/

Lord, G., Nieves, A.D., and Simons, J. (2015). dhQuest. http://dhquest.com/

Resources Data Driven Journalism. (2017). Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://datadrivenjournalism.net/resources
TAPoR 3. (2015). Retrieved May 18, 2017 from http://tapor.ca/home

Visel, D. (2010). Upcoming Sophie Workshops. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://sophie2.org/trac/blog/upcomingsophieworkshops

Neatline 101: Getting Started

Here at Commons Knowledge we love easy-to-use interactive map creation software! We’ve compared and contrasted different tools, and talked about StoryMap JS and Shanti Interactive. The Scholarly Commons is a great place to get help on GIS projects, from ArcGIS StoryMaps and beyond. But if you want something where you can have both a map and a timeline, and if you are willing to spend money on your own server, definitely consider using Neatline.

Neatline is a plugin created by Scholar’s Lab at University of Virginia that lets you create interactive maps and timelines in Omeka exhibits. My personal favorite example is the demo site by Paul Mawyer “‘I am it and it is I’: Lovecraft in Providence” with the map tiles from Stamen Design under CC-BY 3.0 license.

Screenshot of Lovecraft Neatline exhibit

*As far as the location of Lovecraft’s most famous creation, let’s just say “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Now one caveat — Neatline requires a server. I used Reclaim Hosting which is straightforward, and which I have used for Scalar and Mukurtu. The cheapest plan available on Reclaim Hosting was $32 a year. Once I signed up for the website and domain name, I took advantage of one nice feature of Reclaim Hosting, which lets you one-click install the Omeka.org content management system (CMS). The Omeka CMS is a popular choice for digital humanities users. Other popular content management systems include Wordpress and Scalar.

One click install of Omeka through Reclaim Hosting

BUT WAIT, WHAT ABOUT OMEKA THROUGH SCHOLARLY COMMONS?

Here at the Scholarly Commons we can set up an Omeka.net site for you. You can find more information on setting up an Omeka.net site through the Scholarly Commons here. This is a great option for people who want to create a regular Omeka exhibit. However, Neatline is only available as a plugin on Omeka.org, which needs a server to host. As far as I know, there is currently no Neatline plugin for Omeka.net and I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon. On Reclaim you can install Omeka on any LAMP server. And side advice from your very forgetful blogger, write down whatever username and password you make up when you set up your Omeka site, that will save you a lot of trouble later, especially considering how many accounts you end up with when you use a server to host a site.

Okay, I’m still interested, but what do I do once I have Omeka.org installed? 

So back to the demo. I used the instructions on the documentation page on Neatline, which were good for defining a lot of the terms but not so good at explaining exactly what to do. I am focusing on the original Neatline plugin but there are other Neatline plugins like NeatlineText depending on your needs. However all plugins are installed in a similar way. You can follow the official instructions here at Installing Neatline.

But I have also provided some because the official instructions just didn’t do it for me.

So first off, download the Neatline zip file.

Go to your Control Panel, cPanel in Reclaim Hosting, and click on “File Manager.”

File Manager circled on Reclaim Hosting

Sorry this looks so goofy, Windows snipping tool free form is only for those with a steady hand.

Navigate to the the Plugins folder.

arrow points at plugins folder in file manager

Double click to open the folder. Click Upload Files.

more arrows pointing at tiny upload option in Plugins folder

If you’re using Reclaim Hosting, IGNORE THE INSTRUCTIONS DO NOT UNZIP THE ZIP FILE ON YOUR COMPUTER JUST PLOP THAT PUPPY RIGHT INTO YOUR PLUGINS FOLDER.

Upload the entire zip file

                      Plop it in!

Go back to the Plugins folder. Right click the Neatline zip file and click extract. Save extracted files in Plugins.

Extract Neatline files in File Manager

Sign into your Omeka site at [yourdomainname].[com/name/whatever]/admin if you aren’t already.

Omeka dashboard with arrows pointing at Plugins

Install Neatline for real.

Omeka Plugins page

Still confused or having trouble with setup?

Check out these tutorials as well!

Open Street Maps is great and all but what if I want to create a fancy historical map?

To create historical maps on Neatline you have two options, only one of which is included in the actual documentation for Neatline.

Officially, you are supposed to use GeoServer. GeoServer is an open source server application built in Java. Even if you have your own server, it has a lot more dependencies to run than what’s required for Omeka / Neatline.

If you want one-click Neatline installation with GeoServer and have money to spend you might want to check out AcuGIS Neatline Cloud Hosting which is recommended in the Neatline documentation and the lowest cost plan starts at $250 a year.

Unofficially, there is a tutorial for this available at Lincoln Mullen’s blog “The Backward Glance” specifically his 2015 post “How to Use Neatline with Map Warper Instead of Geoserver.”

Let us know about the ways you incorporate geospatial data in your research!  And stay tuned for Neatline 102: Creating a simple exhibit!

Works Cited:

Extending Omeka with Plugins. (2016, July 5). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://history2016.doingdh.org/week-1-wednesday/extending-omeka-with-plugins/

Installing Neatline Neatline Documentation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://docs.neatline.org/installing-neatline.html

Mawyer, Paul. (n.d.). “I am it and it is I”: Lovecraft in Providence. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://lovecraft.neatline.org/neatline-exhibits/show/lovecraft-in-providence/fullscreen

Mullen, Lincoln. (2015).  “How to Use Neatline with Map Warper Instead of Geoserver.” Retrieved May 23, 2017 from http://lincolnmullen.com/blog/how-to-use-neatline-with-map-warper-instead-of-geoserver/

Uploading Plugins to Omeka. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://community.reclaimhosting.com/t/uploading-plugins-to-omeka/195

Working with Omeka. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://community.reclaimhosting.com/t/working-with-omeka/194

Copyright Librarian Sara Benson’s YouTube Channel

Copyright Librarian Sara Benson

Guest post written by Treasa Bane

Sara Benson—lawyer, librarian, and assistant professor—is UIUC’s secret weapon. Within the Scholarly Communications and Publishing department, she provides consultations, workshops, lectures, and guides concerning copyright. As research methods and means of accessing reliable information rapidly change, copyright grows more complex. Every institution needs an intermediary between information producers and consumers to reliably and accurately educate others about the ethical use of copyrighted materials, and UIUC has one: Sara Benson.

As a library science student, I’m aware of Sara’s vital role at our university, but most other UIUC students in other disciplines may not be. Combining the worlds of copyright and librarianship results in a set of service skills applicable for all disciplines that academics can and should use. A student should not struggle through the process of building his or her ideas for a project, nor should new professors and researchers get all the way to the stage of publishing their work and not know how to negotiate a contract.

If you are an author, educator, researcher, student, or community member (Sara doesn’t close her doors to anyone not affiliated with UIUC), and you cannot find the time the attend one of Sara’s workshops or read one of her LibGuides in its entirety, but you’re overwhelmed with what you need to learn about navigating copyright, you should start with Sara’s YouTube Channel. Sara’s YouTube channel is an excellent supplement to her services and is an introduction to what she offers UIUC.

Warning: Sara’s videos might make you more interested in law-related material than expected. Sara’s videos are instructional, digestible, and engaging and conversational. While your understanding of copyright increases, you will not find yourself bored by legalese. Her first video on her YouTube channel defines copyright and the requirements in order to own it, the rights attached to it, and then how those rights are protected while also making a work available. While this particular video may be more appropriate for students and beginners, new authors might also want to review what rights apply to their work.

As someone who attended her fair use workshop, I found that her ten-minute Fair Use video manages to cover the most important aspects of Fair Use about as well as a full-length workshop. The “Do You Know Your Fair Use Rights?” video demonstrates how to weigh the four factors of fair use—for example, the more commercial a project is, the less likely it is to be in fair use, but the more educational it is, the more likely it is to be in fair use. To demonstrate transformative use, she explains the differences between parody and satire—an important and also complicated factor to determine in court cases. In the end, she summarizes her most important point that fair use is a right. Even if you ask for permission to use something and your request is declined, you can still use it if it’s sufficiently transformative—whether it’s for commercial use or you make copies or you use an entire work. Again, the nice thing about Sara’s guides are that they apply to anyone, but her fellow librarians might find this a particularly succinct resource to use or point to when advising patrons.

Her “1923-1978 and public domain” video navigates the copyright challenges brought on during this period, which entails how the copyright symbol was used, giving reasonable notice of copyright protection, and registration and renewal at the copyright office. Not only does she chart what’s in the public domain herself based on these criteria, but she directs you to cheat sheets and databases, such as the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database, and shows you how to navigate within and between them. She ends by pointing to one of her LibGuides called Copyright Reference Guide.

Ethical practice plays a huge role when you’re producing and sharing your work, whether it’s working with records, computer programs, publications, media, or chemical or biological materials. Check out Sara’s YouTube Channel—while new, she’s quickly adding videos—or reach out to Sara herself in order to build your confidence by better understanding Creative Commons licensing, international markets, university policies, orphan works, the TEACH Act, patents, registered and unregistered copyright, and more.

TiddlyWiki Review

Here at Commons Knowledge we like to talk about all of the various options out there for personal and information management tools, so today we’re talking about TiddlyWiki!

“It’s like a hypertext card index system from the future” -Jeremy Ruston, in the TiddlyWiki intro video

To summarize: this is a British, somewhat tricky to use, free and open source note taking and information management linked web wiki platform made in Javascript. TiddlyWiki is mostly used for task management. Still, if you’re looking for a way to manage all of your information and feeling particularly adventurous (and not at all into aesthetics, as TiddlyWiki is an ugly website — though CSS customization is possible) you might enjoy TiddlyWiki.

Everything in TiddlyWiki is a small piece, a tiddler —  a British word for a small fish — which you can stack, arrange, and link however you like. Tiddlers are individual units that you can incorporate into larger tiddlers through a process called “transclusion.” To have a tiddler all you need is a title. This is very similar to Scalar CMS where all content is equal, and can be linked or embedded in each other to tell both linear and nonlinear stories. However, TiddlyWiki is not as pretty and is focused more on note-taking and information management than presentation.

An example of a Tiddler

There are a lot of options for customization, as well as an active community that keeps the project alive and adds new customization options for different purposes (such as for writing a thesis). There is a WYSIWYG editor and formatting options, though you will still need to become familiar with the WikiText language in order to use more interesting formatting and customization. The WikiText language is similar to Markdown. There is also a plugin that will let you write your tiddlers in Markdown if you are more familiar and comfortable with that. You can add images and scribble all over them, as well as save links to websites with a download and some difficulty. TiddlyWiki includes search functionality and tagging, which is especially useful, as you can click on a tag you get a list of pages that have that tag. There are encryption plugins, which I have not tested, to create password-protected tiddlers and offer some basic security (though neither I nor the creators of TiddlyWiki endorse putting sensitive information on one of these sites).

You can use TiddlyWiki with TiddlySpot, Tiddly Desktop, or various browsers as well as node.js or a variety of other options for saving the program. Get started here.

Setting up where your files save so you can find them again is probably the hardest part of setting up a TiddlyWiki. It creates one HTML file that you update as you save. If you’re using Firefox and using the Firefox plugin I recommend downloading an empty wiki and copying it from your Downloads and pasting it to your G:Drive or another place where files aren’t deleted automatically. After, you can click on the cat icon and set it to automatically save your changes to your file on the Desktop.

Clicking on

Note: Don’t save things to the Desktop on Scholarly Commons computers long-term, as files are routinely erased.

Let us know in the comments if you have any other personal information management systems that need more love!

Learn Python Summer 2017

Are you sitting around thinking to yourself, golly, the bloggers at Commons Knowledge have not tried to convince me to learn Python in a few weeks, what’s going on over there? Well, no worries! We’re back with another post going over the reasons why you should learn Python. And to answer your next question no, the constant Python promotion isn’t us taking orders from some sinister serpentine society. We just really like playing with Python and coding here at the Scholarly Commons.

Why should I learn Python?

Python is a coding language with many applications for data science, bioinformatics, digital humanities, GIS, and even video games! Python is a great way to get started with coding and beef up your resume. It’s also considered one of the easier coding languages to learn and whether or not you are a student in LIS 452, we have resources here for you! And if you need help you can always email the Scholarly Commons with questions!

Where can I get started at Scholarly Commons?

We have a small section of great books aimed at new coders and those working on specific projects here in the space and online through the library catalog. Along with the classic Think Python book, some highlights include:

Python Crash Course: A Hands on Project-Based Introduction to Programming

Python Crash Course is an introductory textbook for Python, which goes over programming concepts and is full of examples and practice exercises. One unique feature of this book is that it also includes three multi-step longer projects: a game, a data visualization, and a web app, which you can follow for further practice. One nice thing is that with these instructions available you have something to base your own long term Python projects on, whether for your research or a course. Don’t forget to check out the updates to the book at at their website.

Automate Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners

Automate Boring Stuff with Python is a solid introduction to Python with lots of examples. The target audience is non-programmers who plan to stay non-programmers; the author aims to provide the minimum amount of information necessary so that users can ultimately use Python for useful tasks, such as batch organizing files. It is still a lot of information and I feel some of the visual metaphors are more confusing than helpful. Of course, having a programming background helps, despite the premise of the book.

This book can also be found online for free on this website.

Learn Python the Hard Way: A Very Simple Introduction to the Terrifyingly Beautiful World of Computers and Code

Although focused on Python 2, this is a book about teaching programming skills to newbie coders. Although the author does not specifically use this term this book is based on what is known in psychology as deliberate practice or “the hard way,” which is described in Cal Newport’s blog post “The Grandmaster in the Corner Office” (Newport, 2010).  And Learn Python the Hard Way certainly lives up to the title. Even the basic command line instructions prove difficult. But based on my own learning experiences with deliberate practice, if you follow the instructions I imagine you will have a solid understanding of Python, programming, and from what I’ve read in the book definitely some of your more techie friends’ programming jokes.

Online Resources

If the command line makes you scared or if you want to get started right away, definitely check out PythonAnywhere, which offers a basic plan that allows users to create and run Python programs in their browser. If PythonAnywhere isn’t your speed, check out this article, which lists the 45 best places to learn to code online.

Interested in joining an online Python learning group this summer?

Definitely check out, Advent of Python, an online Python co-learning group through The Digital Humanities Slack. It started Tuesday May 30 with introductions, and every week  there will be Python puzzles for you to help you develop your skills. IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO JOIN! The first check-in and puzzle solutions will be June 6. The solutions and check-ins are going to be every Tuesday, except the Fourth of July — that meeting will be on Wednesday, July 5.  There is a Slack, a Google Doc, and subreddits.

Living in Champaign-Urbana?

Be sure to check out Py-CU a Maker/Hacker group in Urbana welcome to coders with all levels of experience with the next meeting on June 3rd. And obligatory heads up, the Urbana Makerspace is pretty much located in Narnia.

Question for the comments, how did you learn to code? What websites, books and resources do you recommend for the newbie coder? 

Works Cited:

Newport, C. (2010, January 6). The Grandmaster in the Corner Office: What the Study of Chess Experts Teaches Us about Building a Remarkable Life. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from http://calnewport.com/blog/2010/01/06/the-grandmaster-in-the-corner-office-what-the-study-of-chess-experts-teaches-us-about-building-a-remarkable-life/

Writing the next great American novel, or realistically, finding the “write” tools to finish your thesis

The Scholarly Commons is a great place to write the next great American novel; in fact, I’m surprised it has not happened yet (no pressure dear patrons — we understand that you have a lot on your plates). We’re open Monday-Friday from 9-6 and enjoy a well-lit, fairly quiet, and overall ideal working space, with Espresso Royale and the Writing Center nearby. But actually getting that writing done, that’s the real challenge. Luckily, we have suggestions for tools and software you can use to keep writing and stay on track this semester!

Writing Your First Draft:

Yes, MS Word can be accessed for free for University students through the Web Store and you can set it up to better address your research needs with features like the Zotero and Mendeley plugins to incorporate your references. And don’t forget you can go to Word > File > Options > Proofing > Writing Style and select Grammar and Style and Settings to set what Spellcheck will check for so that passive voice gets underline. However, believe it or not, there are word processors, other than MS Word, that are better for organizing and creating large writing projects, such as novels, theses, or even plays!

Scrivener

Scrivener is a word processor created with novelists in mind that lets you organize your research and notes while you are writing. With an education discount, a license for Scrivener costs $38.25. Scrivener is very popular and highly recommended by two of the GAs here at Scholarly Commons (you can email Claire Berman with any questions you may have about the software at cberman2 [at] illinois.edu). To really get started, check out our online copies of Scrivener: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide and  Scrivener for Dummies!

Mellel

Unfortunately, Mellel is only available on Mac. An educational license for the software costs $29. To some extent Mellel is similar in style and price to Pages for Mac, but also shares similarities with MS Word for Mac. However, this word processor offers more options for customizing your word processing experience than Pages or MS Word. It also provides more options for outlining your work and dividing sections in a way that even MS Word Notebook version does not, which is great if you have a large written work with many sections, such as a novel or a thesis! Mellel also partners with the citation managers Bookends and Sente.

Markdown Editors like Ulysses

Ulysses is a simple and straightforward word processor for Mac, but you do have to write in Markdown without a WYSIWYG editor. It costs $44.99 for Mac and $24.99 for iOS. However, it has many great features for writers (such as built in word count writing goals for sections of a paper, and Markdown makes outlining work very easy and simple). We have discussed the value and importance of Markdown elsewhere on the blog before, specifically in our posts Digital Preservation and the Power of Markdown and Getting Started with Markdown, and of course, want to remind all of our lovely readers to consider doing their writing in Markdown. Learning Markdown can open up writing and digital publishing opportunities across the web (for example: Programming Historian tutorials are written in Markdown). Plus, writing in Markdown converts easily for simple web design without the headache of having to write in HTML.

Staying Focused:

Maybe you don’t want to buy a whole new word processor. That’s fine! Here are some tools that can help creating the “write” environment to get work done:

Freedom : costs $2.50 a month, so Freedom is not free, indeed. This is an an app that allows you to block websites and even the internet, available for Mac, Windows, iOS devices. This app also has a lock feature that will not allow you to make changes to what is blocked for a set period of time.

RescueTime : another app option. Taking a slightly different approach to the rest here, the lite version of this app helps you track how you use your time and what apps and websites you use the most so that you can have a better sense of what you are doing instead of writing. The premium version, which costs $54 a year, allows you to block distracting websites.

SelfControl: a Mac option but Open Source, with community built Linux and PC versions, and most importantly it’s free! This app allows you to block websites, based on their server, for a set period of time, in which there is basically NOTHING you can do on your computer to access these sites. So choose which sites to block and the time limit wisely.

Editing Tools:

Hemingway

Named after Ernest Hemingway, this text editor is supposed to help you adapt his style of writing, “bold and clear.” When you paste your text into the free web version, the applet gives you the text’s reading level as well as pointing out instances of awkward grammar, unnecessary or complicated words and adverbs, and sentences that are too long or too complicated.There’s a Desktop version available for $20 though I honestly don’t think it’s worth the money, though it does give another simple space on your computer to write and get feedback.

A note about Grammarly 

This is an alternative to MS Word spell check with a free version to add to your browser. As a browser add-in, it checks automatically for critical spelling and grammar mistakes (advanced ones cost a monthly fee) everywhere you write except situations where you’d really want extra spell check such as Google Docs and can be wonky with WordPress. You can always copy and paste into the Grammarly window, but at that point, you’re probably better doing spell check in MS Word. There are also only two versions of English available, American and British (take that Australia!). If you are trying to learn English and want instantaneous feedback while writing on the internet, or studying for high school standardized tests, or perhaps a frequent YouTube commenter in need of a quick check before posting, then Grammarly is for you. For most people at Scholarly Commons, this is a plugin they can skip, though I can’t speak for the paid version which is supposed to be a little bit better. If you uninstall the app they try to guilt trip you, so heads up.

SpellCheckPlus: It’s BonPatron in English! Brought to you by Nadaclair Language Technologies, this web-based text editor goes beyond MS Word’s spellcheck to help identify grammar errors and ways to make your writing sound more normal to a native (Canadian) English speaker. There is a version that costs money but if you don’t import more than the allotted 250 words of text at one time you will be fine using the free version.

Let us know what you think and any tools we may have missed! Happy writing!

And to learn more and find more great productivity tools, check out:

Personal Information Management LibGuide

Learning how to present with Michael Alley’s The Craft of Scientific Presentations

Slideshows are serious business, and bad slides can kill. Many books, including the one I will review today, discuss the role that Morton Thiokol’s poorly designed and overly complicated slides about the Challenger O-rings played in why the shuttle was allowed to launch despite its flaws. PowerPoint has become the default presentation style in a wide range of fields — regardless of whether or not that is a good idea, see the 2014 Slate article “PowerPointLess” by Rebecca Schuman.  With all that being said, in order to learn a bit more about how to present, I read The Craft of Scientific Presentations by Michael Alley, an engineering communications professor at Penn State.

To start, what did Lise Meitner, Barbara McClintock, and Rosalind Franklin have in common? According to Michael Alley, their weak science communication skills meant they were not taken as seriously even though they had great ideas and did great research… Yes, the author discusses how Niels Bohr was a very weak speaker (which only somewhat had to do with English being his third language) but it’s mostly in the context of his Nobel Prize speech or trying to talk to Winston Churchill; in other words, the kinds of opportunities that many great women in science never got… Let’s just say the decontextualized history of science factoids weaken some of the author’s arguments…

This is not to say that science communication is not important but these are some important ideas to remember:

Things presentation skills can help you with:

  • Communicating your ideas with a variety of audiences more effectively
  • Marketing your research and yourself as a researcher more effectively
  • Creating engaging presentations that people pay attention to

Things presentation skills cannot help you with:

  • Overcoming systemic inequality in academia and society at large, though speaking out about your experiences and calling out injustice when you see it can help in a very long term way
  • Not feeling nervous especially if you have an underlying anxiety disorder, though practice can potentially reduce that feeling

For any presentation:  know your topic well, be very prepared, and actually practice giving your talk more than you do anything else (such as making slides). But like any skill, the key is practice practice practice!

For the most part, this book is a great review of the common sense advice that’s easy to forget when you are standing in front of a large audience with everyone looking at you expectantly. The author also offers a lot of great critiques of the default presentations you can churn out with PowerPoint and of PowerPoint itself. PowerPoint has the advantage of being the most common type of slideshow presentation software, though alternatives exist and have been discussed in depth elsewhere on the blog and in university resources. Alley introduces the Assertion-Evidence approach in which you reach people through presenting your research as memes images with text statement overlay. Specifically, you use one sentence summaries and replace bullet points with visualizations. Also you have to keep in account Murphy’s Law, where slide color or a  standard font not being supported can throw off a presentation. Since Murphy’s Law does not disappear when you create a presentation around visuals, especially custom-made images and video, you may need more preparation time for this style of presentation.

Creating visualizations and one sentence summaries as well as practicing your speech to prepare for these things not working is a great strategy for preparing for a research talk. One interesting thing to think about is if Alley admits that less tested methods like TED (Technology-Entertainment-Design) and pecha kucha work for effective presentations, how much of the success of this method has to do with people caring and putting time into their presentation than a change in presentation style?

Overall this book was a good review of public speaking advice specifically targeted towards a science and engineering audience and hopefully will get people taking more time and thinking more about their presentations.

Presentation resources on campus:

  • For science specific, the definitely check out our new science communication certificate through the 21st Century Scientists Working Group and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. They offer a variety of workshops and opportunities for students develop their skills as science communicators. There’s also science communication workshops throughout the country over the summer.
  • If you have time join a speech or debate team (Mock Trial or parliamentary style debate in particular)  it’s the best way to learn how to speak extemporaneously, answer hostile questions on the fly, and get coaching and feedback on what you need to work on. If you’re feeling really bold, performing improv comedy can help with these skills as well.
  • If you don’t have time to be part of a debate team or you can’t say “yes and…” to joining an improv comedy troupe take advantage of opportunities to present when you can at various events around campus. For example, this year’s Pecha Kucha Night is going to be June 10th at Krannert Center and applications are due by April 30!  If this is still too much find someone, whether in your unit, the Career Center, etc. who will listen to you talk about your research. Or if you have motivation and don’t mind cringe get one of your friends to record you presenting (if you don’t want to use your phone for this check out the loanable tech at the UGL!)

And for further reading take a look at:

http://guides.library.illinois.edu/presentation/getting_started

Hope this helps, and good luck with your research presentations!

Scholarly Smackdown: Ulysses vs. Mellel

On today’s edition of Scholarly Smackdown we are looking at Mellel and Ulysses, two word processors for Mac created with novelists, playwrights, and thesis writers in mind. Both of these programs let you control and customize aspects of your documents and give you control over your word processing experience in ways that MS Word and Google Docs do not. Both also have features such as easy-to-configure automatic saving, version control, outlining, and are adaptable for languages other than English.

The Basics:

Mellel actually is probably most similar to Pages for Mac but with less default templates to work from or MS Word for Mac 2011.

Blank document in Mellel

I’m not sure what the hieroglyphs in the top left corner mean, or my general feelings about the user-friendliness of Mellel.

Mellel blue and yellow document with font tab open

A lot of options for customization!

Mellel features  a WYSIWYG editor. For example, in Mellel if you drag and drop photos into the window they appear and can be edited there. However, you can’t see the videos or other media content when dragged and dropped in Ulysses.

Yet despite lacking a WYSIWYG editor, Ulysses is much easier to use. Ulysses’ documentation is incorporated right into the app itself while Mellel forces you to scroll through its user guide (which, to its credit, is well written and accessible). Yes, as much as we praise Markdown here at Scholarly Commons, before Ulysses I felt pretty indifferent to Markdown, but now I may convert. This is a great Markdown editor for people who have never used Markdown before — it includes a plethora of instructions on how to use Markdown, shortcuts for using Markdown, and other useful features. Plus, Ulysses has lots of neat features like setting writing goals, and it lets you preview how your document will look in different formats.

HTML view of Markdown text in Ulysses and example of writing goal feature

Text in Markdown in the background, HTML version in the foreground! Easily set easy to see writing goals!

Typewriter mode allows you to focus on the sentence you are writing and encourage you to keep your writing and your story moving forward, instead of getting stuck editing the same sentence again and again. Also, typewriter mode is fun if you miss using typewriters (especially since one of the few places on campus that still had typewriters available back when I was an undergraduate has had its original building condemned and is being rebuilt).

For Your Thesis:

But I know what you really want to know: can I use this to write my thesis? Well, to get a better idea I inputted my thesis outline into the software from MS Word for Mac 2011 Notebook layout. I can see, though from playing around with the titles/headings/etc., how useful Mellel’s features would be for creating outlines for a thesis structure. It may even present said outlines even more effectively than Microsoft Notebook. Mellel, unlike Ulysses, is known for allowing users to have multiple types of footnotes/endnotes. However, when I imported my MS Word Notebook into Mellel it did not keep my endnotes or acknowledge the sections.

When I repeated this experiment, and opened my thesis outline on Ulysses, it also was clear some of the usefulness of this program. To start, it preserved my Notebook document’s structure and linked the endnotes in the HTML view which was beautiful to behold.

Levels of text with example of a linked footnote

Look at that linked endnote, absolutely gorgeous.

If you have already started writing in MS Word and have documents to convert this could be one advantage of Ulysses, though it did put all of my Notebook as one very large document instead of giving each section it’s own page. However, it converts back to MS Word with very different formatting.  With Ulysses it’s easy to create outlines and formatting. Also because it’s easy to create sheets and connect them together moving around sections is a lot easier than in MS Word, even in Notebook layout.

The Verdict:

Ulysses is the clear winner here. But Mellel has some advantages especially if you’re a Bookends or Sente power user and are really attached to having a WYSIWG editor.

Learn more here:

Link for Mellel

Link for Ulysses

And remember Scholarly Commons is a great place to work on your writing and get expert help with your research!