Learning to code? Working w/data? Consider learning C#

I’ve spent the last 6 years as a software developer and have spent time working with many different programming languages for different products and programs I’ve developed. These projects have ranged from data processing to web development to 3D rendering. I’ve learned that there are many different ways to do little different jobs using any number of languages.

As I’ve spent time with MBA students and Marketing folks over the last two years I’ve seen way too many people spending hours doing things in excel that would take only a few minutes using a modern programming language. I’d doing my best to advocate picking up a few more programming skills to help these poor guys out. Consider the following:

Criterion to consider when selecting a programming language.

  • How well you know the language
  • Access to an expert or mentor
  • Availability of training material
  • Availability of useful libraries
  • Ubiquitousness of the language
  • Quality of Integrated Development Environment (IDE)
    • Ease of debugging
    • Ease of building a user interface

Now, Why C#?

Considering the above options, and based on my experience, I’m a huge fan of C#. I know there are a lot of Microsoft haters out there who would disagree, but give me a moment here. There is so much good stuff about it:

Visual Studio Rocks

  • Easy to pick up - The syntax for C# semantically makes sense. It is very modern and you don’t have to mess with some of the trickier syntax you find in C++ or other (shudder…) older languages. It has automatic memory management which just leaves a lot less to worry about as you are coding stuff up! If you are looking to do some basic computing, you can pick this up pretty quick.
  • Visual Studio Rocks! – C# sits in one of the best IDE’s I’ve found, Visual Studio (You can download Visual Studio 2013 Express for free). It’s debugger is unmatched. If you are writing tricky algorithms or processing data this is a huge advantage over languages like PHP or other web languages and will really streamline your coding. Its super easy to build a UI in a Windows Form builder as well.
  • Good training material – StackOverflow (and the internet in general) is replete with tips and tutorials for fixing this and that. It pretty much usually never lets me down.
  • Library Availability - Lots and lots of good stuff. Just take a look around.

So… consider it. Download Visual Studio 2013. Start a new C# console (or windows form) project. Put some code inside of main(), do something with it.

Learning how to program increases your potential and utility as it essentially allows you as a human to harness the power of one of man’s greatest tools, the computer.

Social Sentiment? What’s that?

The Travel & Hospitality industry does a great job with their social media efforts! Their social sentiment score reflects this!

The Travel & Hospitality industry does a great job with their social media efforts! Their social sentiment reflects this!

Over the summer I worked with Adobe as a Marketing Analyst Intern with the Digital Index team. My focus was on social data and what it means to businesses and marketer. After digging through and working with this data I found a very interesting measure to be social sentiment (see my article).

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Introducing the ColorMatch App

Color Match App - Home Page

This week my youngest brother Jacob (@jacobmoncur) launched a beautiful app called ColorMatch for iOS 7 (if you haven’t upgraded yet… get on it!). It has a simple elegant design, and is a fun tool to use to extract colors and color palettes from photos.

You can learn more about ColorMatch at colormatchapp.com or @colormatchapp on twitter.

Find Crazy Colors!

For fun I snapped a few pictures around the house, and had the app match them up to some funky colors! I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the results!

Zesty Sloppy Joes          Photo Sep 28, 12 53 35 PM
Lisa’s Delicious Sloppy Joes. Truly Zesty. Now I have a color palette to go along with them!

 

Photo Sep 28, 12 45 17 PM          Photo Sep 28, 12 54 16 PM
Regal Blue. A fitting color for the intricate pattern on the front of my decomposition book!

 

Photo Sep 28, 12 45 17 PM          Photo Sep 28, 12 54 16 PM
I snapped this shot out of my front window yesterday after the storm. ColorMatch nailed it! Storm Grey!

Find Fancy Products Too!

The app also has a product recommendation engine that can recommend products from etsy.com that match your color. I gave it a whirl!

Lisa and her beautiful Irish Coffee hair

I’m thinking about getting Lisa this cool Leather Mable Leaf Barrette for Mahogany Wood Pin (like I would have been able to pick something out like that on my own) for Christmas that matches her hair color (Shhh!). She’ll probably like it!

Leather Maple Leaf Barette with Mahogany Wood Pin

 

Anyways… the app is pretty fun to play with, and if you are really into matching and colors and such it might be a handy app to have around.

If you have any recommendations or feature ideas for the app… please drop a comment. I’ll be happy to forward them to my brother Jake for future consideration!

Shark Data

After visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium this year I learned about some interesting technology researchers are using to track great white sharks along the California coast. Research have been outfitting Great White Sharks with acoustic, and PAT (pop-of an transmit) tags that keep track of position and depth of the sharks.

These tags collect location data about the sharks and allow research to see their migratory paths. As seen in the images below, these sharks migrate from Northern California to a remote location out in the pacific, know as the “Shark Cafe”. Nobody knows exactly why the sharks travel out to this location, but many suppose it might be for breeding or abundant food supply.

following-the-sharksShark Cafe

Another interesting fact that researchers found is that several of the tagged great white sharks were found to travel in and out of the San Francisco Bay. It had been suspected for many years that these sharks hung-out in the bay, but it was confirmed with this research. You may want to think twice about this the next time you are planning to go out on the bay.

I’m impressed with this creating use of information technology and geo-spatial data to learn more about the migration patterns of the the great white shark and learn how we can better protect their species. I’m excited to hear more about the aquarium’s research in the future.

How to (literally) shoot the moon!

Red Moon

A gorgeous, red, and completely unaltered moon shot (thanks to the smoke-filled August air)

If you were in or anywhere near Utah Valley last night, you would have seen a spectacular sunset, followed by a gorgeous moon-rise (turned a deep red from the smoke-filled air caused by wildfires).

Whenever the moon looks so uniquely beautiful it is tempting to take a picture, even though most camera-phone moon pictures turn out like this:

Moon-shot taken with an iPhone

Moon-shot taken with an iPhone. Not much to look at… is it?

After a couple of failed attempts at trying this, I finally discovered out a way to get a decent shot of the moon without a $100,000 camera with a telescope attached. Read on.

Fancy telescope not required

Fancy telescope not required.

First, a tripod is absolutely required.

If you don’t have a tripod or some bundle of sticks that you could fashion into a tripod with twine and duct tape (not recommended) then you are probably not going to have much luck and the photo will turn out blurry.

You will also want a camera where you can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Any normal DSLR camera should work. I’m using a Cannon Rebel XT. Set these settings as follows:

  • Aperture (or F-stop): as wide as it goes… meaning you’ll want the lowest F-stop value possible. Mine was set to f/6.3 … but depending on your lens you could go with a lower value.
  • Shutter Speed: I found that around 1 or 2 seconds was about right, but you may have play with this depending on your camera. A shutter speed too low and your photo will be under-exposed, too high, and it will be overexposed.
  • ISO: You’ll want to set your ISO to the lowest it goes… probably 100. The higher your ISO, the grainier your picture will be.

Next, set the camera on your tripod, and point your camera at the moon! The trick here, is that with such a long shutter-speed, your picture will turn out blurry unless the camera holds absolutely still. Even clicking the button on the camera can wiggle it enough that it will blur the picture. To overcome this, you’ll need to use the camera’s auto-timer (yep, the same one you use to take the big family group picture). Turn this on and snap a pic… after playing with the shutter-speed setting a bit to get it just right… as I mentioned above I found 1-2 seconds to be idea, you should have a great moon shot.

Overexposed moon shot. Make your shutter-speed faster so you don't capture so much light!

Overexposed moon shot. Make your shutter-speed faster so you don’t capture so much light!

Underexposed moon-shot. Make your shutter-speed slower to capture more light.

Underexposed moon-shot. Make your shutter-speed slower to capture more light.

Shutter speed for this red-moon shot is just right!

Shutter speed for this red-moon shot is just right!

Does Big Brother Really Have Time to Watch You?

Big Brother is Watching You

Just so you know… the government know that you are reading this post right now. And what you had for dinner. And what you plan on wearing tomorrow… not to mention the last 100,000 websites you visited. They also apparently know everyone you’ve ever called.

Over the last week the media has been a-buzz after a confidential court document was leaked which contained substantial evidence that the NSA has been collecting data from Verizon about phone calls made (including number called and call duration). It is also suspected that the NSA has been doing this for years with all cellular carriers. This has infuriated many that “big brother” is watching them, but frankly, I’m not too worried.

Google-data-center-storm-trooper

Storm-Troopers Guard Government Data Centers

With 327 Million active mobile phones in the United States (source: Wikipedia) and the average caller making 5 calls per day (source: Pew Internet), the number of calls added to this database per day could be estimated at 1.64 billion calls per day. That is a lot of information to process and manage and search through.

Why I’m Not Worried: Big Brother Doesn’t Have Time

I currently work for the Adobe Digital Index team and am helping them extract macro-trends using analytics data the company is collecting from its customers. As I’ve become more acquainted with the big job it is to analyze big data, I’ve become less worried that the government will be tracking me or anyone else. It is a HUGE job to be able to work with such volumes of data and can take a team several days or even weeks to even slice off a smaller chunk of data they’d like to start analyzing. I know that data about me is just a droplet in a sea of other data available, and as long as I am not doing things I shouldn’t be doing (thinking up evil plans, contacting terrorist organizations, etc.) this data will never be used, and likely never even looked at.

Unless you’ve given the NSA a good reason to track you, it is just too resource intensive to do so. For “big brother” to be a big brother to everyone, it is just too much of a “big bother.”

My Conclusion

If you are doing something sketchy, you may want to resort to less-detectable forms of communication such as writing a letter by hand, or talking to someone in person (preferably somewhere in the wilderness where you can’t be heard).

As long as you are going to be using digital devices (phones, PCs, whatever) data will be collected about you. It’s just going to happen. Unless you are doing something wrong, this data will just be background noise to the organizations collecting it.

My conclusion: If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

Where will we put all those New Yorkers?

“Over the next 10 years New York will be adding a million new people,”

…I heard an educator explain to a small group of children as I wandered through an exhibit in the Museum of the City of New York. “How will New York City have to change to accommodate those new people?” One child responded, “More Jobs,” another said “more food,” and a third piped in, “More apartments.” That was just the answer the teacher was looking for. She explained that for New York to accommodate so many new people in the same amount of space, new kinds of space-saving ideas and designs would have to be created!

The museum had a model using some new space-saving living-space ideas build into a 250 sq. foot “exhibit” studio apartment (designed for 1 or 2 people) which included a kitchen, a bedroom/living room and bathroom.

The kitchen featured a neat space-saving table (in orange with wheels) which fit right into some of the cabinetry. The table-top is hinged and folds out to accommodate more dinner guests. The chairs all fold-flat and were hung on the wall above.

The bedroom/living room featured a roomy couch that seats 3 or 4. A queen-size bed can then fold-out out of the wall and over the couch.

The front-room also featured a stool/ottoman that converted into several stools by pulling off the sides and connecting them to the padded tops which lined the original ottoman.

The TV was mounted to a sliding panel that slid sideways to reveal additional storage space behind.

 This apartment has more storage space than mine!

As I looked at this apartment and compared it to my 750 sq. foot apartment, it was clear the designers has put together a great concept for using apartment space more efficiently. With a little cleverness in their design, they have a sleek and uncluttered looking apartment design which in my estimates has more storage space than does my apartment which is almost 3x the size.

The design has inspired me to try and think more efficiently with my space and use some ingenuity and design to fit my stuff into less space in a more organized way. I’ll keep you posted with any great ideas I have.

 

Take Courage, Face the Code!

I remember my bus-ride from the airport very well. This was my first visit outside of the United States and I was taken back by all of the strange new differences in the beautiful country of Spain (WOW!, even the graffiti on buildings was in Spanish).

Moratalaz Madrid

At first I was pretty lost and confused as I did my best to get around and interact with the local culture and people. I had to rely on a lot of help from others to get around. Many conversations I had with natives involved me smiling, nodding my head, and pretending I knew what was going on (when I really had no clue). It wasn’t until I put real effort into understanding the language and culture (writing down words I didn’t know so I could look them up later, asking a question about what a particular phrase meant, etc.) that I was able to feel comfortable and in control.

For many, looking at a snippet of HTML (maybe in the code editor in a blog) can feel just like stepping off of a plane into a foreign country. It can look be a scary & confusing mess that can leave anyone feeling just as confused as the Madrid subway system left me.

code

Just as someone visiting a foreign country should invest in learning the local language and customs (at least the basics), I would like to encourage all who write a blog, post on social media, or even use the internet to make an effort to understand HTML code on a basic level.

By understanding the simple basics of HTML & CSS (like knowing the difference between a <div> and a <span>, or knowing how to add a 10px margin to an <img>), we become much more powerful and effective players in the digital world. Rather than relying on our “techie” friends to help us remove that “extra space” (and interrupting our flow) we can empower ourselves to solve issues and problems by ourselves, and improve our competency and power as digital content creators and consumers.

A Secret Power for Data Visualization

Many organizations have a continuous data stream they gather to monitor their health. Often this data is updating frequently enough that an investment in creating a dashboard that allows the company to easily digest that data is important.

charts

To create this dashboard analysts or other data curators will often use excel (and the data import feature) to create a dashboard using VBA, but I would like to suggest another effective method:

HTML Javascript Charting Library

Move Your Mouse to Update the Chart

Using this method will you can create a slick (and dynamic) data dashboard with many advantages:

  • View-able in any web browser (including your tablet or smartphone)
  • Easily distributable (as simple as sending a link through email)
  • Instant update (since it is a webpage, you only need to update the code in one location)

These advantages do come with a few hitches:

  • The Learning Curve (Learning javascript isn’t too tricky, but it can take some time).
  • No direct access to the underlying data (like you’d have in excel). Charts are read-only.
  • Javascript charting libraries are typically less capable than excel (but do the job 99% of the time).

Rather than go into a full tutorial about how to create and implement these chart libraries I’ll just provide a few resources anyone can use to get started. Here are some examples of some great javascript chart libraries.

  • Google Charts - Look great. Fairly simple to implement.
  • JqPlot - Not the pretties charts, but a lot of flexible options.
  • gRaphaël -Look awesome… I haven’t tried any implementations yet.
  • d3js - Awesome charts… but complicated to use. (Above chart is implemented w/ d3js).

These tools can be extremely powerful and helpful for building easily accessible and easy-to-consume data dashboards.