Book-Video Reviews

Strata Conference 2011: Complete Video Compilation Review

The big data Strata conference in February of 2011 was a three day event covering everything a data scientist needs to go from zero to data hero. I’m reviewing the Strata videos as part of the O’Reilly blogger review program. The full video series covers those three days composed of 78 sessions, with so much information it’s taken me about half a year to write up a review. If you could clear your calendar you could easily spend a solid week just watching the content (which I didn’t have the ability nor desire to do, hence the long wait). It’s enough information overload when you’re just attending a three day event and only going to one session at a time. My mind often goes numb after the first two hours with all the information, and by the end of a two day conference I want to jump out the nearest window. The Strata video collection is a much more enjoyable way to take in the content.

Watching the Videos

There is an very large amount of information in the video collection. What I did was to identify the sessions which I felt would be most interesting for me. This entailed starting from the end middle, with topics like, Mining the Tar Sands of Big Data, and then I worked my way back to the start with the Data Bootcamp sessions. This gave me a more practical overview of the value of big data now and for the future, giving me motivation to learn the basics of data collection and interpretation in the bootcamp sessions. I like the Executive Summit sessions because it gives me a feeling for how the top managers might perceive the value of big data, which would naturally be different than my perspective. I’m still going over all the information in the videos, but I now know what big data means for the present and the future. The bootcamp sessions get you up and running with open source data tools based around Python and R. You can download these while watching the videos and follow along with their presentations.

Why Big Data Matters

How was Osama bin Laden found? Big data analysis helped pinpoint his location (according to Frontline). Big data analysis will replace individual intelligence gathering as a tool to pinpoint terrorist activity, troop movements, flood danger, probably even tsunami disasters, famines etc. Big data analysis holds huge potential for both good and evil, and is how we will predict the future trends with increasing accuracy, and the Strata videos will help you get your head around how to do it.

Why is Strata relevant? Big data is the commodity of the now, and of the foreseeable predictable future. Big data means being able to collect, digest, and interpret large data sets to find something useful. Useful could imply building a data consulting startup, data mining social networks, understanding from an executive position how big data can be used to improve your existing company. It will be an essential component in many businesses as we venture further into a future defined by data collection. Data market places will no doubt evolve where people can buy or license the use of big data sets, and probably big data use wars will ensue instead of patent disputes to dominate the intellectual property legal landscape of tomorrow. Strata covers all of the background topics necessary to make sense of the data future. There are talks on the ethics and privacy with big data, how startups use big data, how large corporations benefit, and what can be expected of a data scientist as a profession in the future. There’s also little nuggets of how to lie with big data and hide things you don’t want people to realize when visualize data with curves and diagrams. I find this essential to being a savvy consumer of news and political poles, and it will only get more and more relevant. Who wants to be a data journalist?

Does Strata Deliver?

So, does Strata deliver? Yes. The videos are well-done, sound is clear and the speakers are quite good. All the critical information is there to get up and running on the big data subject. If you know nothing about big data the Strata videos will get you up to speed. If you are looking to understand the potential impact of big data on future business Strata delivers. If you already are a data scientist you’ll probably find the bootcamp sessions redundant, but will no doubt find a lot of good info on the current state of the industry in the executive sessions. I may look back in five years and remark on how watching the Strata videos was a defining point in my career. However, remember that this is a really big set of videos, almost more of library than a conference. You’ll probably feel overwhelmed when you first look at the topic list, but skim over the topics and just start where it looks interesting. This is a video collection where you watch specific parts a few hours at a time, and not try to just crunch through all information in one night (or even in just one week), in fact, in may take you nearly a year.

Buy the Strata Conference 2011: Complete Video Compilation on O’

Review: Scott & Neil’s Designing Web Interfaces Master Class

Scott & Neil’s Designing Web Interfaces Master Class

The Designing Web Interfaces Master Class by Bill Scott and Theresa Neil is, well, a class about designing web interfaces, discussing the common interaction design elements of successful web pages, and also those dreaded annoying/confusing design elements that designers sometimes use. Watching the class has put a lot of these design elements into perspective for me, and given me a much better grasp of the big picture of interaction design and program interfaces. Overall, the Master Class is worth a look. I’m at a point where I’m interested in learning and absorbing a lot of information about user experience and interaction design, so this is a nice overview of the entire concept of user interface.

When you have these types of talks, it’s important for structure to exist. The class is presented as a class, meaning a lecture format. This is ok, but I think for a video it’s much better when you have more involvement from the class. With this human interaction during the video, the viewer will become more immersed in the topic. You have a pdf copy of the class, which allows you to quickly go through the content, refresh your memory on what was said, it’s nice complement to have with the video.

What I Took Away

The Master Class gives you a technical and philosophical overview of user interface and interaction design. It’s not to show you how to code interfaces, but from a global design perspective, what user interactions exist on different web pages, what works, what’s confusing and difficult for users, etc. This is for people who are designing programs or web apps and want to understand what elements of user interaction are good for the user and what should be avoided for your project. I can imagine coming back to this video over the next year to rewatch certain parts like I do with the Vincent Laforet CreativeLive HDSLR workshop. Now that I know about camera sliders and the basics of getting a move production together I have a whole new appreciation for film, and due to the Master Class, also for interaction design.

Some of the main points I took away are that user interaction means patterns, and anti-patterns, what works within the context of a design interaction problem and what has been used and what works and what doesn’t. So, you can expect to know and understand how to apply different user interaction design principles to solve user interaction problems. Once you get through the video you’ll start to look at webpages with an eye to user interaction design (incase you hadn’t before). You’ll likely start to get pissed off at poor design and prais elegant interaction design on webpages and software you use. You’ll see the user interaction concept from a global perspective.

In Summary

The video is for sure more philosophical and conceptual than practical. If you want to know how to code this or that slider interaction in PHP or iOS, this isn’t the video you’re looking for, that’s another subject. That’s how to implement the design, this video is focused on developing a strategy, and it’s important to mention that it doesn’t matter how well you can code something if you don’t have a strategy for creating a useful product for you users. Many user interaction problems are not new, and it’s important to see what problems have been solved. It’s about removing barriers to common workflows.