Back At It At Stanford


David Kelley, IDEO founder and leader of Stanford’s, joined us in the Knight Garage for a chat on innovation and creativity.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve checked in here. I spent a great Christmas vacation back in Austin in December, and we’ve already been back to school at Stanford for almost five weeks. Things continue to be going well, but I am getting the feeling that time is passing quickly, and I need to get focused with the remaining time. There is so much to do here, with fellowship events and seminars around campus. Plus, the beautiful weather is so distracting! Here is a rundown of some of the things I have done this Winter quarter.

twitter_cafeI had the opportunity to visit Twitter a couple times this quarter. We went as a group to meet with the Media team, including Andrew Fitzgerald and newly appointed leader Vivian Schiller. Simon Rogers, Twitter’s data editor, also joined us. Because I am so interested in data projects, I went back to Twitter a few days later to meet again with Simon. I learned a lot about their plans for using data and working with media companies as well as the skills that students will need to work in these environments.

The courses I am taking this semester are Web Applications and Introduction to Scientific Python. The Python class is very interesting, and I now have an idea of what people mean when they say they use Python for data analysis. There are a lot of neat functions, including the ability to chart. The Web Applications course is very interesting in that it seems to be the only one of its kind in the CS department. It’s a comprehensive look at the Web development environment, starting with an introduction to HTML and CSS, then moving to Ruby and Rails and heading into JavaScript. This approach is a lot more applicable to my curriculum needs than some of the more abstract CS courses I took last quarter. The content from this class will provide the basis for the more advanced lessons I am creating. I plan to set up a meeting with the instructor Dr. John Ousterhout to get his assessment of the need for these classes in the CS department and how it might be taught in other disciplines.

sinkerI’ve had the opportunity to see some fantastic people speak here at Stanford. Internet pioneer Vint Cerf spoke to a large audience on cybersecurity issues. Mozilla’s Dan Sinker (and former Knight Fellow) and Circa’s Dave Cohn joined Knight Fellows in informal groups to discuss the goings-on of their organizations. And and IDEO founder David Kelley joined us in the Knight Garage for one of our seminars. I also had the chance to visit with Burt Herman, founder of Storify. It was good to chat with him about the future of Hacks/Hackers, which he also founded and organizes in San Francisco.

Coming up, I have some fun things in the works. I will be teaching several coding sessions to the Knight fellows during the month of February to get some feedback on the lessons I have been creating. And, I will be doing an Intro to Spreadsheets session at a Data Visualization Workshop in San Jose at the end of the month.

cerfOne of the events that fellows take part in is the presentation of our own “backstory.” It was my turn to do it this past Monday. These have been great ways to get to know more about the other fellows, but when it’s your turn, it’s a bit terrifying. We have people who have lived in exotic locales and reported from dangerous places. So, my life is a bit boring in comparison. But I hope I was able to get across my journey and career change and how happy I am to have done so. I know the idea of “loving what you do” is a bit cliche and often criticized. I’m sure that I was a cynic about such things 15 years ago. But finding meaning in my work has had a profound impact on my life. I’m a different person now, and I love that my personal and professional interests are so integrated. I wish this for everyone, but I know that is pretty unrealistic. Not everyone has the opportunity and situation that allows them to seek change.

zmiklyI’ve been working with the student team virtually this year. We meet on a Google Hangout each week. Students have been doing previews on the site and getting ready for the event. I’m excited to get back to Austin for it in March. This week, we were joined on the call by TXST faculty Jon Zmikly and Jacie Yang. Jon has attended SXSW since we started the project, first as a student and now as faculty, so students got to ask him questions and learn from his experiences. Jacie’s been a few years, and she offered some great advice and tips.

Progress on my coding project is steady, but slower than I would like. I have completed tutorials for all the introductory sessions that lead up to an Interactive Charting exercise. This is what I will be testing with the Knight Fellows. I have recently completed a Python scraping exercise. Next steps include tutorials for some of the major charting packages like D3, HighCharts, Chart.js and Google Fusion Tables and Google Map Engine Lite. I probably need to do something on GitHub. I have some of these in the works, but need to really focus on when and why someone would need to use them. I plan to finish up the tutorials with a comprehensive news application exercise, probably using Ruby on Rails, extending the exercise that I currently have for my Advanced class. After the content is nailed down, I will start working on posting to the Web, developing video tutorials and providing code repositories.

Not a small task given that I only have until June here at Stanford. Lots more to do.