Author Archives: Freddy Castro

Workshop on Intro to R-Studio

Earlier this semester I wanted to attend the intro to R and R-studio workshop but had to unfortunately miss it cause of a conflicting schedule, luckily the entire session was recorded and uploaded to Vimeo to let anyone access the workshop. The intro to R-studio was led by Connor French, a GCDI fellow, and made sure everyone knew what the program is used for. I took a math lab class as an undergrad and I have dabbled in R-studio before. But since its been three years since I have taken the class, my R skills have gradually diminished, so I was looking forward to refreshing my programing skills. I have only ever used R as a powerful calculator and a statistical analysis tool, but Connor mentioned that R can be used as a powerful data visualizer as well. On top of that it can handle mapping using Leaflet ,too, another feature I never knew R had in its belt.

Connor took time in the beginning of the seminar letting the attendees know how to get in touch with the GCDI fellows and what tools are at their disposal if they were to run into any issues, something that I need to keep reminding myself. Connor explained R, the base program, as an engine and R-studio as the dashboard in a car, an analogy that is well suited for the two programs since R-studio is where most of the work is done. I am sure at this point the people attending the workshop were feeling a bit overwhelmed with the information they have been given but Connor let them know that learning a new program language is always daunting  but not to fret since the only way to refine your skills is with practice and completing personal projects.  

At this point he dove into what made R and R-Studio the powerful computational program it is by describing all the neat and concise features it had, starting off with the “packages” which allows users to install and keep a tidy set of functions. Connor best described them as an app you would use on a phone to let the user do any set of analysis with ease. He then gave an example of what you can visualize and showed off just how much R-Studio can get done.

We then started to get our feet wet with a data set on penguins and Connor broke down what each line of code did to our data. Little by little we were manipulating our work to get down to a subset of penguins to see their flipper length, body mass, and sex. It was at this point that Connor showed us the visualization aspect of R-Studio and made a colorful chart with flipper length on the x-axis, body mass on the y-axis and it being color-coordinated by their sex.

Towards the end of the workshop Connor gives the audience a handful of resources that they can follow and communities they can join to refine their R-Studio skills. The video in its entirety can be found here. The github page with the code and examples he uses are here. And if you would like to join RUG, R User’s Group, you can click here.

Visualizing Algal Blooms in New York State

I was recently catching up with a friend that lives out in Jamaica and she mentioned that the neighborhood was named after beavers since New York was once home to a diverse ecosystem of wildlife before the settlers landed. She mentioned that Queens was once all swamp and marshes and that the word “Jamaica” derived from the word “Jameco” which is the word for beaver among the Lenape people. Hearing this brought back memories of the early settlers that I would learn about in my elementary class when I was about eight and remembered that New York was once home to wild animals that did not include rats, pigeons, squirrels, and the occasional raccoons. With this in mind, I wanted to visualize the decline of New York City’s natural wildlife. The goal I set myself is to show that pollution is one of the driving forces for the removal of these wild animals and that we should be placing the necessary resources to conserve sanctuary spaces and parks.

Not too long ago more and more residents have reported coyotes roaming around central park and even around the Bronx. These sightings were becoming so frequent that New York City’s official Parks website posted a “Living With Coyotes in New York City” blog post on their webpage. As I took off to find the appropriate data, I realized that I was dealing with too ambitious set of data points that included too many variables with missing dates which play an important role in my visualization. I then went on the search again for what else I can possibly visualize. The colder nights and the fact that the days are getting shorter made me miss summer and the lakes and beaches. This helped me settle on reports of harmful algal blooms that affect most large bodies of water, especially lakes where the water can remain stagnant for weeks on end. The dataset I downloaded contained the reports on the condition of the body of water. “S” being a suspicious bloom, “HT” meaning it contains high toxins, and “C” reporting a confirmed bloom. Adding the definitions to the abbreviations in the visualization proved to be difficult without first changing it on the source. I therefore went ahead and left it as is on the dashboard of Tableau and pressed forward.

I set off with the goal to visualize which county in New York had the greatest amount of reports of harmful algal blooms, my guess being counties in upstate since that is where all the lakes and rivers are. But as I placed my necessary pills into the correct columns and row sections, something very surprising came up. It is actually Suffolk county that came in with the most reports and Westchester coming in second. After seeing the bar graphs, it did make sense that Long Island would have the most reports seeing as they are surrounded by water all around where some leaks my seep through to the nearby lakes and reservoirs. What I wish I could do more research on however, is finding a way to standardize the data by population since I am fairly certain that some parts of Upstate are more densely populated than others. Westchester is also easily accessible by New York City residents so that may also play a role on the county placing second.

Best Viewed if you click here

Hopefully this entices people to be more careful with what they leave behind by the body of water since most residents look forward to spending their time in lakes during the hot summer days. These algal blooms, if exposed to high enough concentrations, could be detrimental to someone’s health, especially those that enjoy eating shellfish where the toxins can easily transfer between the animal and person. And with the right resources we can have the right department take the necessary steps to make sure that these algal blooms are within a reasonable count where the rest of the ecosystem faces little to no harm and pose no threat to people.

Transparency and Ethics

I remember watching the YouTube video of Cuba’s DIY inventions man years ago and Alex Gil’s quote “technological disobedience has a feminist component, or at the very least matriarchal?” resonated with me since I would frequently catch my mother fixing something in the kitchen, bathroom, or in the living room whenever my dad wasn’t around or was to tired from work to fix anything. One memory that never fails to bring a giggle is when I came home from school one day and she was kneading dough with a coke bottle. I asked why she wasn’t using the rolling pin instead, and as soon as I finished my sentence, she showed me that the handles broke off and created a crack on the pin from top to bottom. When Ernesto Oroza said that women “assume enormous responsibility for the survival of the family. They organize activities, lead by example, inspire, push. They understand the biological rhythms of the house, the interrelation of all activities, the subplots of need, and not only as a reaction to the masculine tendency to delegate responsibility” brought back memories of my own mother pulling off MacGyver-esque tactics at home.

There is also another short video documentary that shows that even though Cuba has been cut of from the rest of the world, they still find means of staying in touch with media by creating their own homemade internet by downloading movies and shows and distributing it among the residents. This hard drive also houses apps for iPhone and Androids as well that most Cubans wouldn’t have access to. The video also dives into who distributes these hard drives and even the distributors don’t fully know the supply chain, all they know is that someone brings it to them on a weekly basis. Corporations such as Amazon are probably the biggest contributors that scratch that insatiable need for instant gratification. With the option to have something delivered to you at a minimum of two days, it is hard to say no to your impulses. But again, as the “See No Evil” article by Miriam Posner mentions, it’s hard to truly track down who touches the product from manufacturing to delivery. All of this creates less than optimal working conditions for people, but it should be up to us to push for more transparency and honesty from companies to truly know who they themselves are receiving their products. After all, it is us as the consumers who have the power to no longer support businesses that use suspicious trade ethics.

Map of restaurants visited pre-lockdown and post-lockdown

As a first semester data analysis and visualization student I was eager to get started on this assignment as it would be a great way to see if everything I have read and learned from my visualization class has stuck with me. My software of choice is Tableau and below is a collection of maps of restaurants I have visited prior to lockdown and post lockdown, spanning from January 2019 to March 2020 and June 2020 to September 2020, respectively. Thanks to Yelp, Google Maps, bank statements, Venmo, and Cash App, and just the old handy-dandy method of writing down recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues, I was able to just about map all the restaurants I have visited within the last year. Writing the Excel spreadsheets with all the restaurant names, addresses, geo-coordinates, and the type of food they served was already a tedious task and took up a good bulk of time to complete.

Once the spreadsheets were completed it was off to Tableau to get my maps. Tableau is a great mapping tool since it has a somewhat easy learning curve and the drag and drop nature of the program lets you choose your variables with a click of a button. Then it is all up to the user to choose which visualization they want to proceed with. One problem I did run into however was when it was time to create the dashboard. I am not sure if it is either user error or if it is part of Tableau, but you cannot create two separate dashboards from two separate sources under the same workbook. After playing around with the settings to see if I can find a way to work around this hurdle, I decided two create two separate dashboards and call it a day. I then realized I should do the same for Excel which I did. The initial setup in my head did not go quiet as planned but I was still able to come out with four visualizations that I am proud of.

While meticulously copying and pasting the geo-coordinates of the restaurants onto the spreadsheet, I found that a few of them have either permanently shut down or relocated outside of the five boroughs. Reading all of that placed a damper on my mood. These were places I went out with friends, co-workers, family, dates, and have made solid memories sharing experiences with them at these restaurants. Immediately after, I turned to my phone and scrolled through a few photos I have taken at these places. Most of them are of the food or drinks but the few shots of me and the person I was catching up with brought back fond memories.

Although outdoor dining is a great way to bring in revenue for these businesses it can only do so much before the cold weather starts to set in. I know I have read news articles about indoor dining returning to New York sometime in October but with only a 25% seating capacity. There is going to be some tough times ahead these businesses if the bulk of the hospitality industry is still left behind. I sympathize for the workers because I am one of them and was out of work for a good chunk of spring and into the summer. If anything I suggest you go out and visit the more local stores, the ones that are family based with that mom and pop shop feel to them; I believe they are the ones that will need the most help. Only time will tell what will happen to these places but all we can do now is mitigate the spread by following the guidelines imposed by the health care professionals. Hopefully us as students can return back to in-person sessions of classes and connect with one another in spaces once again such as restaurants, parks, and large events by next year.

The biases in history and map making

Considering how easy to place your own biases when constructing maps, borders, and visualizing countries, it is still surprising to see how much we can still get wrong in today’s modern day where everyone has access to a vast well of knowledge in the palm of their hand. You would expect the use of the hundreds of satellites out in space to accurately display the earth and the individual countries but it is still up to us, not the computers or programs, to map out these places accurately with precision and careful consideration. Mayukh Sen points out how western colonialism still exists within Google’s programs even though the company itself seems to try its best to be transparent as much as possible. While these corporations may have the best interest in heart, Sen describes how these tech companies are not just enriching the lives of the natives but are so out of touch that “they can sometimes risk working off hazy assumptions ripped from colonial-era playbooks regarding this ‘new,’ ‘unexplored’ market and its people’s imagined desires without bothering to consult them.” And how “Google Earth’s capabilities falter for some of those who may need the platform, its stories must be rendered with precision, without a glib sentimentality that covers over political divisions and geographical inequalities.” Which resonates the most with me considering how we are making strides to spread the truth about the past regarding western colonization. It is still up to us to acknowledge the past and how that may influence us now in the present day.

Yarimar Bonilla and Max Hantel’s piece about “Visualizing Sovereignty: Cartographic Queries for the Digital Age” taps into the last point on how “the map is itself a function of a foundational set of codes concerning who controls visual representation and what counts as representable in the first place.” So much has been lost but also recovered in history and this reminded me of my history professor while in undergrad where he stated that history is not just archives and papers but an argument of what truly happened in the past. These people who had the tools to shape and label a countries borders, routes, cities, and states had more power than they realized and had a duty to be as accurate as possible. It may take a while until we can truly let go of those biases but I believe that with more people reading and tapping in to history and going into academia for these subjects that it is now only a matter of time before we can build a concise model of  history and cartography.

The new medium for the digital humanities

Reading just how much gate-keeping is present in the digital humanities and how much of a tug and pull is seen within scholars goes to show that all the change happening in our environment is necessary. Whether it be political, environmentally, or academically, it’s apparent that it should be a topic taken seriously in conferences; a place where every walk of life should be welcomed. When reading “The Digital Humanities Moment” I personally found it funny how the peer-to-peer reviews lead to small arguments in the margins but with all the discourse happening it only strengthened their voices, so much that it “led some authors … to cite one another’s essays and peer reviews.” I feel that this goes to show that arguments at the end of the day are still necessary and it helps people grow and tune their ideas and helps them better understand what they are either fighting for or protecting. Personally I believe that the “digital” in digital humanities truly means approaching the internet as a new medium. People are connected to the web in more ways than one at the moment, whether it’s through Facebook, Instagram, or twitter, since it gives more and more people a platform to voice their opinions. 

What truly resonated with me is Lisa Spiros’ piece “This is why we fight” where she not only acknowledges the gate-keeping but brings up wonderful arguments for how digital humanities is in essence about activism and how it can grow into a valuable community where not only scholars are welcomed but anyone that wishes to voice their concerns and how necessary it is to have it placed in academia, where the ideas can grow and be challenged. Going back to “The Digital Humanities Movement” I found surprising how Ramsey went from saying you need to know how to code to saying building makes you a digital humanist where it’s more of “moving from reading and critiquing to building and making.” Not only should you gather ideas but also make something of those topics to further challenge yourself.

The Torn Apart / Separados website helps drive the fact that DH is about activism since the map shows just where exactly government money is being allocated and to who and which company makes a profit. Coming from a first generation Mexican family living in the United States I believe that more and more people need to become aware of the true nature of ICE and how the detainees are being treated and how children are forcefully being separated from their families. If it’s one thing that truly gets to me it’s kids being placed in vulnerable settings. What better way to challenge this then to show what living conditions they are being placed in with the help of social media, where information is spread within seconds. But with this comes a great downside, people may place their biases and come off as one sided. Although it should be our responsibility to give them the facts and bring the truth forward. It’s exciting to see where the digital humanities have a place in the future and how and who partakes in it. At the moment it has a plethora of resources to get around but it needs that drive from us, scholars, and those at academic platforms to keep it moving forwards.