Adventures at the Spring 2017 Library Hackathon

This year I participated in an event called HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities, which was organized by the University Library. This interdisciplinary hackathon brought together participants and judges from a variety of fields.

This event is different than your average campus hackathon. For one, it’s about expanding humanities knowledge. In this event, teams of undergraduate and graduate students — typically affiliated with the iSchool in some way — spend a few weeks working on data-driven projects related to humanities research topics. This year, in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we looked at data about a variety of facets of university life provided by the University Archives.

This was a good experience. We got firsthand experience working with data; though my teammates and I struggled with OpenRefine and so we ended up coding data by hand. I now way too much about the majors that are available at UIUC and how many majors have only come into existence in the last thirty years. It is always cool to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

The other big challenge we had was not everyone on the team had experience with design, and trying to convince folks not to fall into certain traps was tricky.

For an idea of how our group functioned, I outlined how we were feeling during the various checkpoints across the process.

Opening:

We had grand plans and great dreams and all kinds of data to work with. How young and naive we were.

Midpoint Check:

Laura was working on the Python script and sent a well-timed email about what was and wasn’t possible to get done in the time we were given. I find public speaking challenging so that was not my favorite workshop. I would say it went alright.

Final:

We prevailed and presented something that worked in public. Laura wrote a great Python script and cleaned up a lot of the data. You can even find it here. One day in the near future it will be in IDEALS as well where you can already check out projects from our fellow humanities hackers.

Key takeaways:

  • Choose your teammates wisely; try to pick a team of folks you’ve worked with in advance. Working with a mix of new and not-so-new people in a short time frame is hard.
  • Talk to your potential client base! This was definitely something we should have done more of.
  • Go to workshops and ask for help. I wish we had asked for more help.
  • Practicing your presentation in advance as well as usability testing is key. Yes, using the actual Usability Lab at Scholarly Commons is ideal but at the very least take time to make sure the instructions for using what you created are accurate. It’s amazing what steps you will leave off when you have used an app more than twice. Similarly make sure that you can run your program and another program at the same time because if you can’t chances are it means you might crash someone’s browser when they use it.

Overall, if you get a chance to participate in a library hackathon, go for it, it’s a great way to do a cool project and get more experience working with data!

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/

HackCulture Applications Due September 25

HackCulture

Remember to submit your application for HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities on September 25, by 11:59 PM. HackCulture is a humanities focused hackathon, where interdisciplinary teams will produce data-driven digital humanities projects, with a prize of $1000. To read more on on HackCulture, see this Commons Knowledge post, or head to the HackCulture official website. To apply, head to the HackCulture application.

Happy hacking, Illinois!

HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities

HackCulture

We live in a data-filled world. Over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day—everything from election polls to Pokémon Go collects and uses big data—and the number of data collecting services around the world only grows. Working with and understanding data is a valuable skill for many students and scholars, from art historians to engineers. That’s why this fall the library is hosting HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities, for students from across disciplines to work together on data-driven projects.

Participants will work in interdisciplinary teams of four to create projects that relate to the Champaign-Urbana community. We hope the final results will be creative, useful, and engaging, but their final form is up to each student group! HackCulture will give participants the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, and showcase their projects to the public. Plus, the members of the winning teach will each earn $1,000. (And they said studying the humanities would never make you money!)

HackCulture will officially start with a Kickoff event on October 1st, from 3:00-5:00 in room 210 in the Illini Union. Groups will have three weeks to work before they present their final projects to the judges on October 22nd, from 3:00-5:00 in room 210.

Students interested in participating who want to build-up their technical chops before the event can attend a Humanities Data Programming Workshop on September 28-29th. This two-day Humanities Data Programming Workshop is meant for the true beginner, and will teach programming skills for working with humanities and social science research data. Sign-ups for the workshops are located at the https://my.library.illinois.edu/data-programming.

For more detailed information about the contest, judging, eligibility, and the application itself, head to the HackCulture homepage. If you have any questions about HackCulture, you can write an email to hackculture@library.illinois.edu, or leave a comment below.

Otherwise, happy hacking, Illini!