One of the most frequent questions I get is, "What software do you use to visualize data?" A lot of people are excited to play with their data, but don't know how to go about doing it or even start. Here are the tools I use or have used and resources that I own or found helpful for data visualization â€“ starting with organizing the data, to graphs and charts, and lastly, animation and interaction.
Organizing the Data
by sleepy sparrow
Data are hardly ever in the format that you need them to be in. Maybe you got a comma-delimited file and you need it to be in XML; or you got an Excel spreadsheet that needs to go into a MySQL database; or the data are stuck on hundreds of HTML pages and you need to get it all together in one place. Data organization isn't incredibly fun, but it's worth getting to know these tools/languages. The last thing you want is to be restricted by data format.
PHP was the first scripting language I learned that was well-suited for the Web, so I'm pretty comfortable with it. I oftentimes use PHP to get CSV files into some XML format. The function
fgetcsv() does just fine. It's also a good hook into a MySQL database or calling API methods.
Most computer science types - at least the ones I've worked with - scoff at PHP and opt for Python mostly because Python code is often better structured (as a requirement) and has cooler server-side functions. My favorite Python toy is Beautiful Soup, which is an HTML/XML parser. What does that mean? Beautiful Soup is excellent for screen scraping.
When I have a lot of data - like on the magnitude of the tends to hundreds of thousands - I use PHP or Python to stick it in a MySQL database. MySQL lets me subset on the data on pretty much any way I please.
Ah, good old R. It's what statisticians use, and pretty much nobody else. Everyone else has it installed on their computer, but haven't gotten around to learning it. I use R for analysis. Sometimes though, I use it to extract useful subsets from a dataset if the conditions are more complex than those I'd use with MySQL and then export them as CSV files.
We all know this one. I use Excel from time to time when my dataset is small or if I'm in a point-and-click mood. Continue Reading