It’s Thanksgiving. Yup, that time of the year. This is just an appreciation for all the tools that I’ve consistently relied on in the first few infantile months of Infotastical. Without these services and tools, I wouldn’t be able to create these wonderful visualizations that I do on such a great platform (this website). This hopefully also gives some insight into how I keep all this running as a mini-project.
Tools for Data
The following tools are by far still those that I use most heavily. They are the tools that enable me to find the interesting data, and visualize them easily.
How I find my data
I look for datasets using two large sources, and they’ve served me well over the years.
The first of which is Google’s Dataset Search, which is relatively new this year (it just came out in September). It functions similar to Google Scholar, or other specialized search pages by Google. It crawls all major databases for open source data and returns them all with summaries in the main page. If I have a query in mind, this is the first stop in finding a cool dataset to investigate.
The second tools is Kaggle. Kaggle is officially a social media site for data scientists. There are a lot of valuable discussion pages and massive compiled datasets on Kaggle. A lot of the Google Dataset Search results also link back to Kaggle.
Tools I use to visualize
Once I have gathered the needed data and I have an idea/sketch of what I’d like to visualize, I turn to a few handy programs to process that data and to eventually create visual embeds that I incorporate into my articles.
The first of which is either Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. It allows me to process my csv or xlsx files with ease. I can make simple edits and formats that would otherwise take longer with other software.
By far, however, Tableau has helped me the most in my creation. I can easily import and tinker with all my data in tableau, and it provides me with an easy interface to create my visualizations with. They offer a student plan which is free, and I can host my tableau visualizations on the tableau public server.
Another tool that I’ve enjoyed working with:
I’ve used Plot.ly in the past, and they’ve offered a decent solution for visualizing data quick, as well as providing customizability by allowing the changing of fonts and options. However, I found plotly not as flexible as Tableau.
What this site runs on
Lately, I’ve been focusing much more on getting this blog up and running than creating a lot of content. What you see here, in this wonderful website/blog, is my handiwork over the past week or so. Without the tools that I rely on, designing and hosting this site would be a nightmare. Here are some of the tools that this site wouldn’t exist without. They deserve some appreciation before they just disappear into the background of normal operations for the coming years.
First off, let’s start with more of the technical aspects. Infotastical has always been hosted on a DigitalOcean droplet. Although their servers are not as painless to set up like other shared hosting or VPS hosting services, they provide excellent servers at the cost of shared hosting. Having a dedicated server still trumps sharing a server with a handful of other people. In the process, I’ve learnt to become a webmaster hosting my own website. If you’re looking to sign up for DigitalOcean and start your own blog or website, here’s a link that gets you a generous sign-up offer, and that helps keep this site up and running for a few more months every time somebody signs up.
This server that I create through DigitalOcean is managed by RunCloud. It’s a service that allows me to create one-click install applications on any server hooked up to its systems. It gives me the flexibility and adaptability that I need without manually tinkering with NGINX or Apache settings.
My domain is hooked up to my Cloudflare panel and my content is propagated through the web and served by Cloudflare. It keeps my site up, running and protected.
When the blog first started out, I opted to play around with the Ghost blogging platform. Not only was it easy to set up and run, everything was streamlined and it was effortless to publish new content. I used a modified version of the Saga theme for Ghost and started publishing content into a masonry-style homepage. It suited me for a few months while I was starting out and didn’t want to fiddle with other platforms.
My site currently runs off WordPress. I took time out to make a move just during the Thanksgiving holiday. I did this mainly for three reasons:
- It gets the job done (just like Ghost does)
- If there’s something I want to implement, it’s more than easy to implement those solutions into my site with relative ease through plugins.
- I can easily export and import content, and there are SEO enhancements over Ghost.
Overall, I think that it’s an excellent CMS (content management system) and gets the job done. I’m grateful that there are such open source systems and options in place for anybody to create a site or blog.