Blogging on a hold

Its been a while since I blogged (but that often happens with blogging) and so since I last blogged, Ive been pursuing my masters at UCLA DMA. Its been a roller-coaster ride worthy of a separate blog (which I am not going to make). This blog is going to be a space for me to share out some coding visualisation sketches (like tumblr, except that I don’t want to make one). From now on there is a new form of visualtidbits, till its takes another avatar.

Blogging on a hold

Post Hackathon

Last weekend was an exciting one. I went for my first ever hackathon (don’t get me started on the name) and it was AWESOME. With all my conviction, I can say that the experience was really refreshing 🙂 Lets revisit the weekend together shall we?

After my last post, I kind of lost interest in the idea of registering for the hackathon until 3rd April when my social media accounts were swarmed with hackathon excitement. Stumbled on the hackathon page to realize that the entries were closing on 4th midnight. Without giving too much credit to my confused, lazy mood, I registered and started reading the instructions. By this time I was totally into it. All the buzz in newspaper, news channels, social media started surfacing. At this point I must admit that (for a govt initiative) I was pleasantly surprised with the website, the instructions, schedule, FAQ’s and other organization skills they showed on their website. The planning commission had twitter account and facebook pages which were surprisingly working and answering your queries all through the night (generally you only see people writing to these initiatives with no response) KUDOS to that! When you are used to associating words like chaos, lost, confused, non user-friendly with government websites and competitions, this one would make anyone smile.
Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 10.00.25 PM Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 10.04.08 PM

Briefly there were three categories under which you could participate. There was application, short films and visualisations (they meant infographics mainly). After some thinking (no brainer really), it was pretty clear that the skills I acquire, were good enough to do a visualisation. Although I wouldn’t have minded teaming up with someone to explore some D3 or processing visualizations (which could probably border the app category).

When I registered for this event, I wanted to be a part of this movement which realizes the value of information design in our system especially when it is an initiative by the government or likewise. With a little skepticism about their knowledge of the field of information design and judgement to decide winners, I was sure winning was not the right incentive for attending the hackathon. I wanted to see how sensitized people were to the advantage of visualizations and mostly just wanted to learn and have fun (after all it was my first hackathon)

Teams do come true!
Post registration, I put out a word on social media asking people from different fields to join me in a team . I know most of the times this is a bold step (teaming up with strangers) you don’t want to encourage because it might hamper your way of working, but with all the infographs I keep doing I might as well have given something crazy a shot. I mean what did I have to lose? I was anyways going for fun.Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 10.01.47 PM

So, over the next day or two I got some response to my post on Facebook. While some didn’t work out because of technicalities, one did 🙂 Few hours before the hackathon on the 6th a person named Denzil Correa (another registered hackathon participant) wrote to me. He is a phd student in Computer Science in IIIT Delhi and dedicates a lot of time doing data mining. We exchanged some words on facebook followed by a quick competition related skype conversation at night. We weren’t really sure if teaming up on spot would be allowed but it all worked out eventually. THANK GOD!!

I got to meet him next day morning at our center (IIT Delhi) post the orientation. It’s amazing how much smoother things turn out to be if you are just open to new experiences. We got to talking about teaming up, internet, hackathon lectures, the campus and soon enough we were quite comfortable with each other. The team chemistry was great and the fact that we were strangers from different fields, it was like my dream come true team. He had done all this homework on the data he wanted to play with and I was open to almost any story in the 12th Five Year Plan so we were off to a good start. It was a great team and I couldn’t have been happier for the team work we did.

Hackathon Hours
The hackathon was scheduled to be 32 hours. You can check out the agenda below:
Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 9.59.30 PM

What was reassuring was the use of google hangout to bring together the orientation for this hackathon across 10 centers. Maybe I underestimate(d) the tech savy organisation skills but the fact there was an enthusiastic young team that kept this hackathon alive on social media made a lot of sense. For most of the part, the google hangout went well albeit not so good internet condition at my centre. People could have a Q&A session on a national platform. Nothing new in the medium of using hangout, but I have to admit to see it happening for a competition in India made me proud (it’s better late than never).
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Like any other function in Indian institutes, first few hours of the hackathon had a series of important people talking, flattering and publicity stunts most of which (if not all) was not related to the hackathon. In my opinion that was a very small downside and could be ignored, sometimes you just have to do these things as formalities and it was too small an issue to get upset over or reduce my excitement about the hackathon.

The 12th Five Year Plan was divided into sectors and participants could choose any sector they wanted to work under.
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This was pretty overwhelming. The reports were giving an overview and the data was all over the place (like many Indian reports). Data in these reports definately required some cleaning and sorting. At this point I had to agree with Denzil when he said ‘we should focus on one topic otherwise the data is not going to make any sense’. We decided to focus on child mortality under the health sector. Nearing the deadline it became an infographic on maternal and child care. We had strong reasons to convince ourselves why we focussed on a small aspect and maybe at that point it is not what was expected from us, but yet again we were their to do things right and not make a pseudo winning graphic. I mean its one thing to beautify an existing jumbled report and another to create something that makes an aspect more understandable and clearer. We chose the latter

Having discussed the numbers and data Denzil got together till 6 in the evening, we began to design. I made a general flow and discussed it with him. The rest is just how it always goes. Sat together till 7 in the morning and made a submission that looks like this:


Denzil was great help as a teammate. I heard what he had in mind and tried to do justice to it in this infogrpahic. Sometimes he compromised, sometimes I; we worked like any other team members who know each other would work. After 12 hours of designing in IIT Delhi and seeing the campus sunrise, we decided to head home to get some rest and submit our entry from there (the net was a pain through most of the hackathon).

Got back to IIT Delhi at 2 pm and with everything that could possible go wrong; presentation not working, Denzil not being reachable, slow internet and god knows what not, we got through it and made that presentation to the jury 🙂 I loved it

The reaction to the infographic was positive and pleasant. People appreciated the aesthetics and probably welcomed our idea of focussing on a small topic because believe it or not we were awarded the 1st prize in the visualisation category. To get an award, when it’s not your intent is a different feeling altogether (can’t pinpoint what the feeling is  exactly). Post the award ceremony, we got to meet the young team behind the social presence of the hackathon and share our point of view with them. Great conversations, great people, great time, great volunteers and an awesome teammate, the hackathon was a moment to remember and definitely a positive result of taking risks. The thing I was happy about the most was the fact that I could take this opportunity to show what good info-graphics could mean and here is hoping that in few years from now we will move beyond just infographics to do great data visualizations for our country 🙂

I probably missed minute details about the hackathon but I can’t make this post any longer 🙂 so if you have anything in particular to talk or ask about, just leave a message.

Memory Lane
Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 9.59.09 PM Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 10.17.44 PM
hackathon_group 2013-04-07 18.22.12hack3 Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 5.44.47 PM

Photograph credits: Denzil Correa and Giriraj Singh Katoch

Post Hackathon

New Year New Beginnings

It’s been a LOOOOONG time away from blogging. When I opened my blog today, I realized that my last post was in December. No post for the year of possibilities (2013). So, to begin with let me take this opportunity to wish all the readers a HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Well, even though I haven’t been blogging, life has been pretty hectic in one way or the other. What is keeping me on my feet? It’s a bit of everything. Post Alberto’s course; I have been busy wondering about further studies (hoping to see things work out), adapting one of my works for a London based publication (a post on this later) thinking of project ideas (i have many) and trying to work towards the skills I would need to fulfill those ideas (vicious circle you see). Lastly, I have a full time job, which is getting more hectic day by day (not much to say there). What’s great is that, after 3-4 months of doing everything else besides data driven projects, I genuinely feel the urge to do a data-centric project. It’s as if the rest of the life post December has been a break from the my lovely data world and now I feel refreshed enough to do a data heavy project again.

On that note, lets discuss this opportunity here:


A friend of mine (Denny George) introduced me to this. Id like to take a moment to talk about the opportunity I can see booming here in India. In a way its exciting to see the government finally seeing some value in visual representation of data. While I am happy, I am skeptical of the quality that will be expected, submitted or rewarded post this hackathon. Nonetheless its a great opportunity to see the impact of dataviz in the mainstream industry and I think we should cut them some slack, when it comes to quality. It will get better over time (maybe decades even) with more sensitivity towards the concept of datavizualisation. You can see the hackathon here http://data.gov.in/hackathon

I am thinking of attending this hackathon and if I do, it shall be accompanied by the second post of 2013 (fingers crossed)

New Year New Beginnings

Week 6 – Indian women in a fix

The title of this post says it all. The course might be officially over, but there is so much to grasp and apply, that only practice can embed the learning now. As I wrote in my previous post, my initial struggle in finding a suitable topic really got to me. When nothing came to mind, I sought for inspiration from my surrounding. One day I sat infront of the television listening to the news, when I came across yet another case of a girl whose father was shot for warning the lecherous man who eve-teased his daughter. Then it dawned over me (just like the cliché light bulb over my head) that this could be the topic to visualize. All I had to do now was to pray that I find data specific to this project.

When I started thinking about the topic, I realized that there was a need for a bigger picture and finer details. As seen in my sketch below, there were some aspects of the topics I could consider (thankfully I found decent amount of data for it too). These aspects are listed as following:

  1. G20 country ranking
  2. Overall Population of the country
  3. Female population
  4. Crimes that are taken into consideration
  5. Sex Ratio of States
  6. Incidence of crime across the country
  7. Rape cases reported (since that’s always in the news)
  8. Age-wise distribution of the cases

Of all these little stories, I couldn’t use all of them and therefore the selection process began. Some of the decisions were my conscious choice, while others were as a result of the layout of the infographic. Either ways I realized, that since one of the limitations (or maybe not) of a print graphic is its one glance view and not step-by-step journey (as incase of an interactive piece), I cannot afford to put all the details in this one piece.

Anyways one thing led to another and the final piece looked like this:
WEEK 6 For a clearer, zoomable view please see the link here

Please Note: I couldn’t find data for number of rape cases state-wise reported in 2011. If you can provide me with that data, Il update the infograph ASAP.

The story is basically to throw some light on the topic and show that while the male-female population is growing in sync with each passing year, the cases of crime against women has jumped to quite an extent. I am not sure yet of the reason and cause behind this (politicians and the culprits have their own versions), but the data surely opens our eyes to the status of crime in this country. Doing this project surely made the facts clearer to me. Being a girl in this country, I think it was a good topic to explore, gives more context to the news I hear everyday.

There are some graphs I didn’t manage to accommodate in the final infograph.
leftover1 leftover3

With just 4 days in hand, I did the best I could. I went through a great process and I know that for me the process was a bigger achievement than the final result. Having said that, I know myself that this particular infograph can be improved a lot (especially the colours). The course has motivated me to do many topics in the future and probably after I have slept a little, I will relook at this, like my other exercises on MOOC and improve on it.

Note1 Note2NOTE-3




I guess I will write a separate post about my experience with MOOC but for now I can say that it was a great experience.

Week 6 – Indian women in a fix

Week 5 with no high five

To be honest, this 2 week project has broken my exhaustive flow. Once I got down to sleeping, I slept like crazy and managed to finish the quota of sleep I lost in the past month. By the time, I got down to thinking about the assignment it was thursday.

So, the assignment for week 5 and 6 is bound to be our final project and when I read “This time, I am giving you the freedom to do whatever you want.” on the brief by Alberto Cairo, I thought to myself oh no!. The things is that when I am given choices I cannot get my head to focus on one topic. One thing was clear though I wanted to do a visualisation specific to India. Some of the broad areas of interest were as follow:

  • Carbon or GHG emissions in Indian states over the years
  • Sanitation provisions and concerns across Indian states
  • Water borne diseases in states (hoping to get a story about the cause and conclusion)

Here is the thing. The week finished and I came to a conclusion that our country needs to document our data better. Its a pity that we dnt have a place form where we can take the data and play with it. There are so many reports and so little cohesive raw data 😦 I am saying this in the utmost agitated and frustrated tone possible. I am not suggesting that there is no data out there, but most of the times you have to write to departments or people concerned to get the raw form of data (xls files). I know this from my prior experience with my thesis project. Having said that I will take the opportunity on this post to tell you the places I dug out where you could possibly find some data about India:

The issue with the forums above is that there is no continuos documentation for a particular topic over the span of few years. Most of the topics are a documented over scattered years and it is difficult to gather any story without the criteria of continuous time. Secondly very few topics are distributed state-wise. If I want to study about a topic and its impact on India, I need some level of depth to get any story out of the data. general figures don’t say much. There is one source though that seemed promising

This looked like it had some potential with xls files, but the catch is that I need a membership, will find some time to figure out the deal behind its membership (aaaargh why can’t things be free, it’s the age of open source for god sake).

Anyway, having lost a week and no time to wait for data I decided to go ahead and just finish the assignment with any data I find and then I thought of Facebook. I thought it would be nice to see the growth of facebook and other demographics related to ‘fb’ in Indian states. Might be interesting to have a parallel angle of the number of people educated in these states during that time or the number of people who have access to computers. While I found general country facebook demographics, I couldn’t find any data I could use to tell a story. For general demographics on social media, I found this to be a good source:

The thing is that I wasnt satisfied visualising general facebook demographics. The voice in my head kept on saying ‘Now what, so what’ and my motivation was really low to even start the assignment. This is when I thought today, ok one last time lets give this data hunting a shot. Maybe I won’t get the topics I want, but maybe I can use the most cliche and boring data for India and visualise it with a twist. So, there are some sources that I think might work for my final project and I will share that with you in the next post. My 2 week project is going to reduce to a 3 day project 😦 Must stop blogging and run.

In case any of you have a portal or place in mind where we can dig out xls files of data, please do comment on this post and let me know. I will be grateful 🙂

Week 5 with no high five