for the win

We have a professional development budget here at Big Lake Data. As such, I recently completed a graduate course in data mining at Stanford University. The best part of the course was competing as a team with two other working-professionals on a predictive modeling contest sponsored by Kaggle. We programmed everything in R. And for a guy like me, who hacked my way into R, collaborating with a couple of wicked-smart computer scientists was a revelation.

We won. You can read the hoary details of how we did it from the Kaggle winners’ blog. No cash prize, but substantial bragging rights awarded . . . and claimed.

Predictive modeling? Other types of analytics? Yes, we can help you with that. Get in touch.

Unknown Pleasures

Sometimes beauty is inherent. Sometimes it’s familiar. And sometimes it’s both.


For me, John Cheshire’s visualization of the world’s population is both. First, there’s an elegance and economy by which the data is encoded. Then, there’s the striking similarity between his map and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures iconic album cover, which featured a plot of pulsar radio signals.


If you’re a fan of British post-punk rock and Edward Tufte – you’ll probably find Cheshire’s work beautiful in both ways. Heck, you can even order a print of his world map and hang it on the wall right next to your stacks of vinyl.

(As a bonus for R users, Ryan Brideau has a neat post on how he reverse-engineered the visualization and applied it to New Brunswick.)

A used park is a safe park

Edgar Mendez of Milwaukee’s Neighborhood News Service has a nice story up about the Urban Ecology Center‘s role in creating safe environments where city kids to play and explore nature. As mentioned in the article, my prior analysis of crime data supports the anecdotal evidence that parks where UEC has started or expanded its programming have indeed become much safer.

And –as a personal aside– let me also say that these parks are no doubt much more enjoyable because of the Urban Ecology Center. This past Winter, my family and I got to ski through the industrial heart of Milwaukee at Three Bridges Park thanks to equipment we checked-out from the UEC. It’s quite something to ski past the 100-year-old FALK manufacturing company and take in a spectacular view of downtown . . . all the while hoping that you have not disturbed newly planted native species!

breathing city

Joey Cherdarchuk at DarkHorse Analytics created this visualization of home and work population patterns in Manhattan.


His blog post on the viz development is a fun read and familiar for those of us who have been down similar roads.

See, it is super easy and takes almost no time at all to create something like this, as long as your definitions of “super easy” and “no time” are flexible enough to include difficult and time-consuming.

So true.

Building non-profit capacity

Milwaukee’s IMPACT Planning Council has a new blog post about a recent web map training I led with Virginia Carlson.

Two weeks after the training, attendees returned for a discussion and the opportunity to share maps. Several of the group members had successfully created a map, and most people came back with questions. The group spent the second meeting discussing the maps that had been created by attendees, sharing frustrations, exploring solutions and celebrating successes. Virginia and Matt went through step-by-step solutions to problems brought up by participants.

With rise of open source software and open data, today’s non-profits have new ways to effectively analyze and present their spatial data. Having a lean budget is no longer a reason for not doing this well.

By sponsoring these type of skill-building trainings, IMPACT Planning Council is shaking things up in Wisconsin’s non-profit community. They’ve identified a need and are enthusiastically moving to build this type of capacity in our community.


High Traffic

Wow. The Milwaukee Ages web map has really been making the rounds – it surpassed 28,000 views this week.

We’re pleased to help improve the world’s impression of Milwaukee. This little city by the big lake really is quite beautiful.

Want do drive traffic to your organization’s website? Let Big Lake Data build an awesome web map for you.

Vizual Statistix

Seth Kadish, blogging at Vizual Statistix, has a great data visualization comparing the orientation and congruity of various U.S. metropolitan street grids.

The plots reveal some stark trends. Most of the counties considered do conform to a grid pattern. This is particularly pronounced with Chicago, even though much of Cook County is suburban. Denver, Jacksonville, Houston, and Washington, D.C., also have dominant grid patterns that are oriented in the cardinal directions. … Downtown Boston has some gridded streets, but the suburban grids are differently aligned, dampening the expression of a single grid on the rose diagram. Finally, the minimal geographic extents of the grids in Charlotte and Honolulu are completely overwhelmed by the winding roads of the suburbs, resulting in plots that show only slight favoritism for certain street orientations.


And then he does the same for some European metros:



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