Tag Archives: tutorial

HOW TO: Find out the ages of people using Excel

excel for journalists ebook

This post is taken from the ebook Finding Stories With Spreadsheets

“How do I calculate an age in Excel?” Marion Urban, a French journalist and student on the MA in Online Journalism in Birmingham, was preparing data for the forthcoming UK General Election.

In order to do this Marion had downloaded details on the candidates who had stood successfully in the previous election.

“It was a very young intake. But it wasn’t easy to calculate their ages.”

Indeed. You would think that calculating ages in Excel would be easy. But there is no off-the-shelf function to help you do so. Or at least, no easy-to-find function.

Instead there are a range of different approaches: some of them particularly, and unnecessarily complicated.

In this extract from Finding Stories in Spreadsheets I will outline one approach to calculating ages, which also illustrates a useful technique in using spreadsheets in stories: the ability to break down a problem into different parts. Continue reading

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Create a council ward map with Scraperwiki

Mapping council wards

With local elections looming this is a great 20-30 minute project for any journalist wanting to create an interactive Google map of council ward boundaries.

For this you will need:

Social Interest Positioning – Visualising Facebook Friends’ Likes With Data Grabbed Using Google Refine

What do my Facebook friends have in common in terms of the things they have Liked, or in terms of their music or movie preferences? (And does this say anything about me?!) Here’s a recipe for visualising that data…

After discovering via Martin Hawksey that the recent (December, 2011) 2.5 release of Google Refine allows you to import JSON and XML feeds to bootstrap a new project, I wondered whether it would be able to pull in data from the Facebook API if I was logged in to Facebook (Google Refine does run in the browser after all…)

Looking through the Facebook API documentation whilst logged in to Facebook, it’s easy enough to find exemplar links to things like your friends list (https://graph.facebook.com/me/friends?access_token=A_LONG_JUMBLE_OF_LETTERS) or the list of likes someone has made (https://graph.facebook.com/me/likes?access_token=A_LONG_JUMBLE_OF_LETTERS); replacing me with the Facebook ID of one of your friends should pull down a list of their friends, or likes, etc.

(Note that validity of the access token is time limited, so you can’t grab a copy of the access token and hope to use the same one day after day.)

Grabbing the link to your friends on Facebook is simply a case of opening a new project, choosing to get the data from a Web Address, and then pasting in the friends list URL:

Google Refine - import Facebook friends list

Click on next, and Google Refine will download the data, which you can then parse as a JSON file, and from which you can identify individual record types:

Google Refine - import Facebook friends

If you click the highlighted selection, you should see the data that will be used to create your project:

Google Refine - click to view the data

You can now click on Create Project to start working on the data – the first thing I do is tidy up the column names:

Google Refine - rename columns

We can now work some magic – such as pulling in the Likes our friends have made. To do this, we need to create the URL for each friend’s Likes using their Facebook ID, and then pull the data down. We can use Google Refine to harvest this data for us by creating a new column containing the data pulled in from a URL built around the value of each cell in another column:

Google Refine - new column from URL

The Likes URL has the form https://graph.facebook.com/me/likes?access_token=A_LONG_JUMBLE_OF_LETTERS which we’ll tinker with as follows:

Google Refine - crafting URLs for new column creation

The throttle control tells Refine how often to make each call. I set this to 500ms (that is, half a second), so it takes a few minutes to pull in my couple of hundred or so friends (I don’t use Facebook a lot;-). I’m not sure what limit the Facebook API is happy with (if you hit it too fast (i.e. set the throttle time too low), you may find the Facebook API stops returning data to you for a cooling down period…)?

Having imported the data, you should find a new column:

Google Refine - new data imported

At this point, it is possible to generate a new column from each of the records/Likes in the imported data… in theory (or maybe not..). I found this caused Refine to hang though, so instead I exprted the data using the default Templating… export format, which produces some sort of JSON output…

I then used this Python script to generate a two column data file where each row contained a (new) unique identifier for each friend and the name of one of their likes:

import simplejson,csv

writer=csv.writer(open('fbliketest.csv','wb+'),quoting=csv.QUOTE_ALL)

fn='my-fb-friends-likes.txt'

data = simplejson.load(open(fn,'r'))
id=0
for d in data['rows']:
	id=id+1
	#'interests' is the column name containing the Likes data
	interests=simplejson.loads(d['interests'])
	for i in interests['data']:
		print str(id),i['name'],i['category']
		writer.writerow([str(id),i['name'].encode('ascii','ignore')])

[I think this R script, in answer to a related @mhawksey Stack Overflow question, also does the trick: R: Building a list from matching values in a data.frame]

I could then import this data into Gephi and use it to generate a network diagram of what they commonly liked:

Sketching common likes amongst my facebook friends

Rather than returning Likes, I could equally have pulled back lists of the movies, music or books they like, their own friends lists (permissions settings allowing), etc etc, and then generated friends’ interest maps on that basis.

[See also: Getting Started With The Gephi Network Visualisation App – My Facebook Network, Part I and how to visualise Google+ networks]

PS dropping out of Google Refine and into a Python script is a bit clunky, I have to admit. What would be nice would be to be able to do something like a “create new rows with new column from column” pattern that would let you set up an iterator through the contents of each of the cells in the column you want to generate the new column from, and for each pass of the iterator: 1) duplicate the original data row to create a new row; 2) add a new column; 3) populate the cell with the contents of the current iteration state. Or something like that…

PPS Related to the PS request, there is a sort of related feature in the 2.5 release of Google Refine that lets you merge data from across rows with a common key into a newly shaped data set: Key/value Columnize. Seeing this, it got me wondering what a fusion of Google Refine and RStudio might be like (or even just R support within Google Refine?)

PPPS this could be interesting – looks like you can test to see if a friendship exists given two Facebook user IDs.

SFTW: How to grab useful political data with the They Work For You API

They Work For You

It’s been over 2 years since I stopped doing the ‘Something for the Weekend’ series. I thought I would revive it with a tutorial on They Work For You and Google Refine…

 

If you want to add political context to a spreadsheet – say you need to know what political parties a list of constituencies voted for, or the MPs for those constituencies – the They Work For You API can save you hours of fiddling – if you know how to use it. Continue reading

SFTW: How to grab useful political data with the They Work For You API

They Work For You

It’s been over 2 years since I stopped doing the ‘Something for the Weekend’ series. I thought I would revive it with a tutorial on They Work For You and Google Refine…

If you want to add political context to a spreadsheet – say you need to know what political parties a list of constituencies voted for, or the MPs for those constituencies – the They Work For You API can save you hours of fiddling – if you know how to use it.

An API is – for the purposes of journalists – a way of asking questions for reams of data. For example, you can use an API to ask “What constituency is each of these postcodes in?” or “When did these politicians enter office?” or even “Can you show me an image of these people?”

The They Work For You API will give answers to a range of UK political questions on subjects including Lords, MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland), MPs, MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), select committees, debates, written answers, statements and constituencies.

When you combine that API with Google Refine you can fill a whole spreadsheet with additional political data, allowing you to answer questions you might otherwise not be able to.

I’ve written before on how to use Google Refine to pull data into a spreadsheet from the Google Maps API and the UK Postcodes API, but this post takes things a bit further because the They Work For You API requires something called a ‘key’. This is quite common with APIs so knowing how to use them is – well – key. If you need extra help, try those tutorials first. Continue reading

How to collaborate (or crowdsource) by combining Delicious and Google Docs

RSS girl by Heather Weaver

RSS girl by HeatherWeaver on Flickr

During some training in open data I was doing recently, I ended up explaining (it’s a long story) how to pull a feed from Delicious into a Google Docs spreadsheet. I promised I would put it down online, so: here it is.

In a Google Docs spreadsheet the formula =importfeed will pull information from an RSS feed and put it into that spreadsheet. Titles, links, datestamps and other parts of the feed will each be separated into their own columns.

When combined with Delicious, this can be a useful way to collect together pages that have been bookmarked by a group of people, or any other feed that you want to analyse.

Here’s how you do it: Continue reading

Postcards from a Text Processing Excursion

It never ceases to amaze me how I lack even the most basic computer skills, but that’s one of the reasons I started this blog: to demonstrate and record my fumbling learning steps so that others maybe don’t have to spend so much time being as dazed and confused as I am most of the time…

Anyway, I spent a fair chunk of yesterday trying to find a way of getting started with grappling with CSV data text files that are just a bit too big to comfortably manage in a text editor or simple spreadsheet (so files over 50,000 or so rows, up to low millions) and that should probably be dumped into a database if that option was available, but for whatever reason, isn’t… (Not feeling comfortable with setting up and populating a database is one example…But I doubt I’ll get round to blogging my SQLite 101 for a bit yet…)

Note that the following tools are Unix tools – so they work on Linux and on a Mac, but probably not on Windows unless you install a unix tools package (such as GnuWincoreutils and sed, which look good for starters…). Another alternative would be to download the Data Journalism Developer Studio and run it either as a bootable CD/DVD, or as a virtual machine using something like VMWare or VirtualBox.

All the tools below are related to the basic mechanics of wrangling with text files, which include CSV (comma separated) and TSV (tab separated) files. Your average unix jockey will look at you with sympathetic eyes if you rave bout them, but for us mere mortals, they may make life easier for you than you ever thought possible…

[If you know of simple tricks in the style of what follows that I haven’t included here, please feel free to add them in as a comment, and I’ll maybe try to work then into a continual updating of this post…]

If you want to play along, why not check out this openurl data from EDINA (data sample; a more comprehensive set is also available if you’re feeling brave: monthly openurl data).

So let’s start at the beginning and imagine your faced with a large CSV file – 10MB, 50MB, 100MB, 200MB large – and when you try to open it in your text editor (the file’s too big for Google spreadsheets and maybe even for Google Fusion tables) the whole thing just grinds to a halt, if doesn’t actually fall over.

What to do?

To begin with, you may want to take a deep breath and find out just what sort of beast you have to contend with. You know the file size, but what else might you learn? (I’m assuming the file has a csv suffix, L2sample.csv say, so for starters we’re assuming it’s a text file…)

The wc (word count) command is a handy little tool that will give you a quick overview of how many rows there are in the file:

wc -l L2sample.csv

I get the response 101 L2sample.csv, so there are presumably 100 data rows and 1 header row.

We can learn a little more by taking the -l linecount switch off, and getting a report back on the number of words and characters in the file as well:

wc L2sample.csv

Another thing that you might consider doing is just having a look at the structure of the file, by sampling the first few rows of it and having a peek at them. The head command can help you here.

head L2sample.csv

By default, it returns the first 10 rows of the file. IF we want to change the number of rows displayed, we can use the -n switch:

head -n 4 L2sample.csv

As well as the head command, there is the tail command; this can be used to peek at the lines at the end of the file:

tail L2sample.csv
tail -n 15 L2sample.csv

When I look at the rows, I see they have the form:

logDate	logTime	encryptedUserIP	institutionResolverID	routerRedirectIdentifier ...
2011-04-04	00:00:03	kJJNjAytJ2eWV+pjbvbZTkJ19bk	715781	ukfed ...
2011-04-04	00:00:14	/DAGaS+tZQBzlje5FKsazNp2lhw	289516	wayf ...
2011-04-04	00:00:15	NJIy8xkJ6kHfW74zd8nU9HJ60Bc	569773	athens ...

So, not comma separated then; tab separated…;-)

If you were to upload a tab separated file to something like Google Fusion Tables, which I think currently only parses CSV text files for some reason, it will happily spend the time uploading the data – and then shove it into a single column.

I’m not sure if there are column splitting tools available in Fusion Tables – there weren’t last time I looked, though maybe we might expect a fuller range of import tools to appear at some point; many applications that accept text based data files allow you to specify the separator type, as for example in Google spreadsheets:

I’m personally living in hope that some sort of integration with the Google Refine data cleaning tool will appear one day…

If you want to take a sample of a large data file and put into another smaller file that you can play with or try things out with, the head (or tail) tool provides one way of doing that thanks to the magic of Unix redirection (which you might like to think of as a “pipe”, although that has a slightly different meaning in Unix land…). The words/jargon may sound confusing, and the syntax may look cryptic, but the effect is really powerful: take the output from a command and shove it into a file.

So, given a CSV file with a million rows, suppose we want to run a few tests in an application using a couple of hundred rows. This trick will help you generate the file containing the couple of hundred rows.

Here’s an example using L2sample.csv – we’ll create a file containing the first 20 rows, plus the header row:

head -n 21 L2sample.csv > subSample.csv

See the > sign? That says “take the output from the command on the left, and shove it into the file on the right”. (Note that if subSample.csv already exists, it will be overwritten, and you will lose the original.)

There’s probably a better way of doing this, but if you want to generate a CSV file (with headers) containing the last 10 rows, for example, of a file, you can use the cat command to join a file containing the headers with a file containing the last 10 rows:

head -n 1 L2sample.csv > headers.csv
tail -n 20 L2sample.csv > subSample.csv
cat headers.csv subSample.csv > subSampleWithHeaders.csv

(Note: don’t try to cat a file into itself, or Ouroboros may come calling…)

Another very powerful concept from the Unix command line is the notion of | (the pipe). This lets you take the output from one command and direct it to another command (rather than directing it into a file, as > does). So for example, if we want to extract rows 10 to 15 from a file, we can use head to grab the first 15 rows, then tail to grab the last 6 rows of those 15 rows (count them: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15):

head -n 15 L2sample.csv | tail -n 6 > middleSample.csv

Try to read in as an English phrase (the | and > are punctuation): take the the first [head] 15 rows [-n 15] of the file L2sample.csv and use them as input [|] to the tail command; take the last [tail] 6 lines [-n 6] of the input data and save them [>] as the file middleSample.csv.

If we want to add in the headers, we can use the cat command:

cat headers.csv middleSample.csv > middleSampleWithHeaders.csv

We can use a pipe to join all sorts of commands. If our file only uses a single word for each column header, we can count the number of columns (single words) by grabbing the header row and sending it to wc, which will count the words for us:

head -n 1 L2sample.csv | wc

(Take the first row of L2sample.csv and count the lines/words/characters. If there is one word per column header, the word count gives us the column count…;-)

Sometimes we just want to split a big file into a set of smaller files. The split command is our frind here, and lets us split a file into smaller files containing up to a know number of rows/lines:

split -l 15 L2sample.csv subSamples

This will generate a series of files named subSamplesaa, subSamplesab, …, each containing 15 lines (except for the last one, which may contain less…).

Note that the first file will contain the header and 14 data rows, and the other files will contain 15 data rows but no column headings. To get round this, you might want to split on a file that doesn’t contain the header. (So maybe use wc -l to find the number of rows in the original file, create a header free version of the data by using tail on one less than the number of rows in the file, then split the header free version. You might then one to use cat to put the header back in to each of the smaller files…)

A couple of other Unix text processing tools let us use a CSV file as a crude database. The grep searches a file for a particular term or text pattern (known as a regular expression, which I’m not going to cover much in this post… suffice to note for now that you can do real text processing voodoo magic with regular expressions…;-)

So for example, in out test file, I can search for rows that contain the word mendeley

grep mendeley L2sample.csv

We can also redirect the output into a file:

grep EBSCO L2sample.csv > rowsContainingEBSCO.csv

If the text file contains columns that are separated by a unique delimiter (that is, some symbol that is only ever used to separate the columns), we can use the cut command to just pull out particular columns. The cut command assumes a tab delimiter (we can specify other delimiters explicitly if we need to), so we can use it on our testfile to pull out data from the third column in our test file:

cut -f 3 L2sample.csv

We can also pull out multiple columns and save them in a file:

cut -f 1,2,14,17 L2sample.csv > columnSample.csv

If you pull out just a single column, you can sort the entries to see what different entries are included in the column using the sort command:

cut -f 40 L2sample.csv | sort

(Take column 40 of the file L2sample.csv and sort the items.)

We can also take this sorted list and identify the unique entries using the uniq command; so here are the different entries in column 40 of our test file:

cut -f 40 L2sample.csv | sort | uniq

(Take column 40 of the file L2sample.csv, sort the items, and display the unique values.)

(The uniq command appears to make comparaisons between consecutive lines, hence the nee to sort first.)

The uniq command will also count the repeat occurrence of unique entries if we ask it nicely (-c):

cut -f 40 L2sample.csv | sort | uniq -c

(Take column 40 of the file L2sample.csv, sort the items, and display the unique values along with how many times they appear in the column as a whole.)

The final command I’m going to mention here is magic search and replace operator called sed. I’m aware that this post is already over long, so I’ll maybe return to this in a later post, aside from giving you a tease of scome scarey voodoo… how to convert a tab delimited file to a comma separated file. One recipe is given by Kevin Ashley as follows:

sed 's/"/\"/g; s/^/"/; s/$/"/; s/ctrl-V<TAB>/","/g;' origFile.tsv > newFile.csv

(See also this related question on #getTheData: Converting large-ish tab separated files to CSV.)

Note: if you have a small amount of text and need to wrangle it on some way, the Text Mechanic site might have what you need…

This lecture note on Unix Tools provides a really handy cribsheet of Unix command line text wrangling tools, though the syntax does appear to work for me using some of the commands as given their (the important thing is the idea of what’s possible…).

If you’re looking for regular expression helpers (I haven’t really mentioned these at all in this post, suffice to say they’re a mechanism for doing pattern based search and replace, and which in the right hands can look like real voodoo text processing magic!), check out txt2re and Regexpal (about regexpal).

TO DO: this is a biggie – the join command will join rows from two files with common elements in specified columns. I canlt get it working properly with my test files, so I’m not blogging it just yet, but here’s a starter for 10 if you want to try… Unix join examples