Tag Archives: Digital Fellows

A shout out to the Python User Group

I just wanted to give a shout out to the Python User Group which is truly an asset for students  at the GC. The workshop is run by the Digital Fellows and the group meets every three weeks. Meetings are held on the 7th floor in the Digital Scholarship Lab, room 7414 and every meetup has a different theme followed by a wok session where participants can get help with concrete issues that they are working on. They will help you get set up with Anaconda, Jupyter Notebook, Powershell and all other kinds of mysterious sounding things that are new to people who have never written a single line of code. Better yet: they will explain to you what these programs do and how to use them.

For me, who is completely new to coding it has been a great experience to be able to attend these meetings (there’s been two so far this fall) because it’s a group that is open to everyone and all levels. The Digital Fellows are enthusiastic and patient and take their time explaining what ever questions you might have. Possessing great knowledge of coding they are able to help out with a range of issues, including projects you might be working on. They’ve helped me with assignments in addition to helping get started with understanding the concepts of coding. So, for those of you who want to learn how to code you should definitely come along. There is also pizza 🙂

Data for Mapping Workshop

This workshop provided a definition and general overview of GIS (Geographic Information Systems), presented by Javier Otero Peña and Olivia Ildefonso, two of the GC’s Digital Fellows with expertise in this area.  Their presentation was very well-organized, and they both provided examples and useful tips along the way.

GIS are tools that enables one to manipulate and represent data spatially on maps.  While these tools can be complex and are very powerful, Javier and Olivia provided an introduction on the way that maps are organized (vector or raster layers).  Vector layers contain data from files which can be in many different formats.  It is these data layers that can enrich a map by providing a spatial representation of the data in visual form (as opposed to reading a table with rows and columns).

I’ve done a few assignments using a GIS tool this past summer– and while those projects were focused on how to use the tool, there was little discussion on how one gets the data (it was already provided in the exercises).  I remember struggling when searching for data to add to my map:  how did I know which database was reliable, what format to use, how to search for the correct fields?  These were the questions I had, and I did my best to muddle through it.

I appreciated that his workshop was focused on how to search for different data sets and load them into the GIS mapping program.  The whole point of using GIS is to marry the data with the map, and I suspect that this critical step is often not touched on in GIS tutorials.

For this session, the intention was to walk the group through a mapping exercise using Carto, an open-source mapping program.  There was an unanticipated change in the software, so we were unable to open accounts and log into Carto.  No matter, as we were able to focus on the main point of the session.

Given that the subject of this workshop was to locate the data and import it into the program, we were able to focus on this (and not be distracted with creating a map at this point).  I thought that both Javier and Olivia did a great job of walking us through each step, and offering tips and strategies for saving files, naming fields, etc.  We searched for the US Census data, chose a table and then narrowed down the fields that we needed and saved the file.  Then we searched for a shapefile for the census tracks; and then “joined” the information from the table with the shapefile (using a common field, in this case ‘state’).

The slides were very clear, and Javier emailed the Powerpoint slides to us afterwards – which now serve as a mini-tutorial for us to replicate on our own.

Javier and Olivia were both knew their stuff and were very effective at tailoring their presentation to the group’s level. I thought that this was just enough for an intro to the topic, and I’m definitely interested in a follow up that delves deeper into finding and evaluating sources of data.

Data for Mapping workshop notes

This past Tuesday I attended a Digital Fellows workshop called Data for Mapping: Tips and Strategies. The workshop was presented by Digital Fellows Javier Otero Peña and Olivia Ildefonso. Highlights of this workshop were learning how to access US Census data and seeing a demo of mapping software called Carto.

Javier started the workshop encouraging us to interject with any questions we had at any time. The group maybe too enthusiastically took him up on this, and he had to walk it back in the interests of time after we spent 20+ minutes on a single slide. After that, the workshop moved along at a nice, steady clip.

There was a technical challenge, which I see as an unexpected boon. Carto changed their access permissions within the few days before the workshop, and nobody except the Digital Fellows could access it. The Digital Fellows had an existing account, so they were still able to demo for us how to use Carto. 

I think it’s for the best that we weren’t able to access Carto and set up accounts. Many workshops, including a Zotero one I went to a couple of weeks ago, bleed pretty much all their allotted time on getting software set up on each of the 10-20 attendees’ varied personal laptops. I find this incredibly painful to sit through. But in this workshop we established early on that we wouldn’t be able to individually install Carto, and so we were able to cover many more specifics on how to actually use Carto. Users who need installation help can always go to Digital Fellows office hours on their own.

Javier and Olivia shared their presentation deck with us. It is a thorough walkthrough of the steps needed to get Census data on the median age by state, and map that data in Carto. One note: in the upfront where it says the contents are for QGIS, replace that in your head with Carto. It is all about Carto. The QGIS references are accidentally in there from an older version.

I did some digging after the workshop on how to register to use Carto. Student access for Carto now requires a student developer GitHub account (which also includes free versions of other fun looking tools). GitHub says it can take from 1 hour – 5 days after applying on their site for your student developer account to be approved. I applied to have my regular GitHub account classified as a student developer account 5 hours ago using a photo of my GC ID card and haven’t heard anything yet, so I guess this really is going through some sort of vetting process. Maybe using a GC email address for verification would be faster.

This workshop was a good time, not least because Javier was extremely funny and Olivia was super helpful coming around to us to address individual questions. Five out of five stars. Would workshop again.