The Impact of Open Source Software on Data Visualisation

Data visualization is the process of displaying data/information in graphical charts, figures and bars.”(Techopedia.com)

As part of our presentation on Data Visualisation, I researched the relationship of Data Visualisation and Open Source software. For me, Data Visualisation is crucial for Digital Humanities as it allows researchers to show their research in a variety of different ways which can be seen as innovative and interactive for audiences.

In terms of e-commerce an example of digital visualisation is company Uber using digital visualisation to map the most popular destinations for people to order Ubers. Uber’s director of data visualisation Nicolas Garcia Belafonte has praised the use of software and explained why overuse that to track popular pickup and drop off points around the area.

“Personally, I’m a very big advocate for open source, so I think that open source can help the business in many other ways, and those ways are immediately more valuable than someone paying for this software.”

This brings up the notion of Open Source software and its uses. Webopedia defines open source as, “refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge, i.e., open. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community.” For many having open source software is a dealbreaker and can often be more cost effective in the long run. There is a number of open source software that allows people to include some form of data visualisation in order for progress their research,  one of these software companies is is github.com which allows users to create a variety of digital visualisation projects using spatial maps and interactive materials.

One company has expanded into open source software as well as their original brand. E-Commerce company AirBnB has put money into data visualisation by creating their own tool called SuperSet which supports 30 kinds of visualisation techniques at the moment alone. But it is expected to grow over time.  Superset itself is also easy to use and is compatible with by programming languages compared to its competitors. This is a huge step forward for AirBnB as it expands its already innovative brand ethos. It also gives other companies something to work towards in terms of creating similar types of software in the future.

Data Visualisation and Open Source software are both an emerging and viable field in Digital Humanities. I found it extremely interesting to find out about certain companies using these software techniques in order to develop their company and its research policies. I also found the idea of people using the software in e-commerce intriguing, as it is often difficult to imagine other uses for Data Visualisation outside of the scholarly world seeing as the majority of the examples that we seen in the lecture environment are usually set in the scholarly world, so it is good to see the real world applications of this kind of software.

Apps That Got Me Through First Year

During my first year of college I decided that I would try and go 100% digital for my studies as I had never done that before, I am more of a paper girl, after all. There were some positives and some negatives to the experience and I think, going into second year I will try and have a more 50/50 approach to things. Between all of this I did find three apps that really made things much easier for me and I thought that I would share them with you!

  1. Notability: This is one of the best apps I have tried in recent year as it is a great all in one tool. Primarily it is a note-taking app but it can also be used to annotate PDFs and can be synced across multiple devices using cloud software like iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive to name a few. What I like about Notability is that you can also record lectures using it so you don’t have to worry about taking  everything your lecturer says to you. YouTube channels like Life is Messy and Brilliant  has a range of tutorials to help you get the most out of Notability. I am definitely going to be using this app going forward into my college education.
  2. Trello: Trello is basically like a running todo list but you can divide your list into ‘boards’ or projects and plan out your workload accordingly. I used this a lot during my final few months of college and I needed somewhere other than my bullet journal to plan out what exactly needs to be done for each module. You are also able to track your time spent on a project with Toggl through your Trello app which helped me see how much time I was spending on each subject.
  3. Google Drive: Because my university offers us unlimited Google Drive Storage while at college, it is a lot easier for me to use Google Drive for all my coursework. This means that all my assignments all go into my Google Drive and my notes from Notability.

                                              Let me know what applications you use for college!!

The End of First Year

This time last week, I was revising for the final exam of the semester and I was procrastinating by making plans for the summer. One of those plans was to commit to posting on my site more than I had been over the past few months. And to start it off I thought it would be a good idea to give an impression of what my first year in Digital Humanities was like.

From what I have gathered from other people, Digital Humanities was much more intensive than other degrees and, to be honest, sometimes the workload got to me but I quickly realised how important time management is and the importance of the work life balance. Long-time readers of my blog will know that I am an organised person by nature, but with deadlines and such I really felt like I had to up my game and this has given me a good indication what is expected for the second year and beyond. It has also given me a chance to work on my planning skills which I will talk about during the summer.

Altogether we had approx 11 subjects completed throughout the year via semesters. This helped to split the workload and also allowed us to focus on a smaller amount of subjects at a time. Some of the subjects included: Fundamentals of Internet Computing, E-Commerce, Multimedia, Python Programming along with three separate Digital Humanities modules. The subjects gave us both a practical and a theoreticial approach to the modules which will aid us while we progress and even during Work Experience.

As some of your may know, I chose to study English as a minor subject and although it added to the workload, I was very happy with my choice as throughout the year I discovered how interconnected both fields are. This will benefit me hugely for my final year project in third year and I will be very interested to learn how projects are combining English and Digital Humanities in order to benefit others. Because, in my opinion, that is what Digital Humanities is all about.

Digital Tool Review: Dragon Dictation

Collaborative Assignment where we were asked to create a digital review of an application.

Gathering Information:

Dragon Dictation was developed nineteen years ago within the Nuance Incorporation. It can be found, along with directions for use at http://www.nuance.com. Dragon Dictation is a diverse tool with practical real world applications. Nuance Inc. considers Dragon Dictation to the be the replacement for the old fashioned dictaphone within personal, business and healthcare situations.  There are many versions of Dragon Dictate available, each with varying abilities, and subscription costs.

See Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 – Comparison of the different versions of Dragon Software. http://www.nuance.com/for-business/by-product/dragon/product-resources/edition-comparison/index.html

Dragon Medical is currently being used in conjunction with The Medical Centre in Illinois to document patient care using the dictation software. More information on this developing project can be found here.

Most reviews of Dragon Dictate are positive (see Fig. 2), while still pointing out limitations of the tool. The reviews fair and balanced, while the product information provided by the company is understandably one sided.

Fig. 2 – Dragon Software achieves a 4+ star rating on the first page of a Google search.

Installation of the tool is simple and easy. Once downloaded a YouTube tutorial video efficiently guides a user through the application. The tutorial video is available to the user through the settings tab along with other video tutorials. The tutorial function ensures smooth and successful usability.

This smooth design with a simple user interface, comes with a price tag. Dragon Dictation requires a monthly subscription of €14.99. Reviewers also suggest that when using this tool with your desktop computer, it would be worth your while to buy a decent noise canceling microphone to refine your experience. Many websites, such as http://www.software4students.co.uk, and www.nuance.co.uk market this tool as ‘ideal for students’, however this monthly subscription charge, along with the possible need to buy further hardware for best results, is prohibitive.

The majority of reviewers claim that Dragon Dictation is far superior to Siri, Google-talk and similar applications. A review from Macworld states that the software is more responsive than Siri or Mac’s own dictation software. In contrast to Apple’s own dictation abilities, Dragon users can dictate paragraphs of text, whereas Apple allows users to dictate only a few sentences at a time. The following table highlights some of the differences between similar applications (see Fig. 3 – produced by https://speechlogger.appspot.com). The main strength of Dragon Dictation, would also appear to be a weakness. Dragon Dictation is intuitive, in that it trains itself to recognise the idiosyncrasies of your voice. The application would not be as receptive or as accurate if a group was, for example, recording the minutes of a meeting. The tool could also not be shared within small offices such as a small doctor’s practice.  Each individual user would have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

Fig.3 – Dragon Dictate tools comparison table.  https://speechlogger.appspot.com/blog/dragon_comparison/

Dragon Dictate is currently on version fifteen for the pc/mac application. Dragon Anywhere for iOS is on it’s first version. As of the 2015 new product launch, Dragon are no longer providing headsets with their dictation software. Overall, users think that the new software is simple to use, but some users have experienced issues with their subscriptions. Despite the more varied ways of purchasing the software, for example, via app store or purchasing a physical copy of the software, Android users have complained about the lack of updates for Dragon Anywhere on mobile devices. The application has not been updated since October 2016. Nuance have official forums for customer support, however, these forums have not been active since October 2016 either. Dragon seems to be focusing attention on Apple devices, updating the software more regularly and providing a more stable platform.

Nuance have not made Dragon software open source. This is possibly due to the nature of the software and the competitive market that it exists in. Providing this software as open source would not be beneficial as the software they are creating exists in a very competitive area with big name competitors launching similar voice recognition products.

Dragon Dictate allows users to sync their Dragon Account with  cloud storage accounts like Evernote and Dropbox. Users can choose their preferred storage system to access their work. The documents are saved as Microsoft Word documents allowing for easy access, remotely, from any computer. Both Dropbox and Evernote have sharing capabilities making the output from Dragon Dictate a competitor to applications such as Google Docs for collaborative pieces of work.

(Fig. 4 – Linking Dragon Dictate with a personal Dropbox account)

Dragon Dictation allows users to input text vocally using a process referred to as the ‘Recognizer Process’. This process involves five steps which include:

  • Speech input
  • Background noise removal
  • Audio sampling  
  • Determines the sounds in each sample and
  • Recognition

To perform all of these steps the application requires a connection to the internet, which means that the recognition part of the process is server side and is not contained within the application itself. Some mobile devices would not have the capacity to store the files being created via dictation and would also be unable to meet the processing needs for the recognition software itself. Making it operate on a server is beneficial to all users who meet the basic requirements set by Nuance.

Recommendation for this tool is positive. It has obvious advantages for people with disabilities, small scale personal use may be prohibitively expensive. For the self-employed it could replace a dictaphone and secretary with some limitations. Unlike its competitors, Dragon Anywhere does not work outside of the application and the dictation cannot be used in tandem with other software to write emails or text messages natively in their respective apps.

Improvements could be made to the application by extending the amount of time that it remains listening if you stop talking. The current length of time is 20 seconds. This may cause issues if you pause to think of something to say or become distracted. Apple’s solution to this problem is the ‘Hey Siri’ function for iOS, and Amazon’s Alexa, is activated by saying Alexa before any command.

Within the academic arena, Dragon Dictation benefits students by allowing them to record research and preparation for essays using the dictation software. This cuts the time required for taking notes by hand and allows students to dictate notes more quickly and fluidly. It frees students from writing and records a clear spoken train of thought. A PhD student has linked dragon software with Express Scribe in order to cut transcribing her one hour focus group recordings. She found that by using both these applications together she was able to cut the time required to transcribe a one hour focus group from six hours to three hours. This is just one example that shows that using software such as this can be used to reduce the effort and time needed to record research that will be used in the future.

Within the collaborative process, working with a group of people that I had chosen to work with was effortless. At first we utilised Messenger as a communication tool, however, we soon moved to Google Docs to more fully document our process. We agreed on a hierarchy of tasks and deadlines for completion. The process ran smoothly as everyone completed their assigned tasks by the agreed deadlines. We concluded our collaborative process by meeting together to complete the review.

After choosing a Digital Tool from www.dirtdirectory.org, we all set about downloading a trial version of the application. We tested the application in different environments such as within lectures, at home in front of the TV, and for personal use sitting at a desk (See Fig. 5). While the only success we had with this version was personal use, the more expensive versions offer various options for recognising different voices and users.

(Fig. 5 – using Dragon Dictate while sitting at a study desk)

Two Weeks in One

Sorry for the lack of posting, but I was sick over the last two weeks and are only now getting back into a routine. First off, I cannot believe that it is November already?!? It only seems like yesterday I was only starting in UCC and trying to find my way around campus. But to realise that I am almost finished semester one is completely mind boggling.

Anyway, to ease back into the whole blogging game I thought it would be a good idea to give you an overview of the topics that we have been learning about in one of our Digital Humanities modules. Last Friday, we got to hear from one of the PHD students, Pedro Fernàndez Dorado, about his project involving Catalan writer Manuel de Pedrolo. Not to give too much away, Pedro’s project is based around digitally mapping the narrative of Pedrolo’s work alongside the development of the Catalan National literacy space.  During his presentation, Pedro brought up the subject of censorship as he had run into issues with Wikipedia, where he had tried to edit Pedrolo’s Wikipedia page to change the writer’s nationality from Spanish to Catalan.

Personally, I think that this idea of censorship has been around for the last few months, especially on sites like Twitter where we feel the need to almost triple check our tweet before we send it for fear it would upset someone or trigger someone. The term trigger or triggered has popped up more and more in recent months online and as the Urban Dictionary describes it, “An emotional/psychological reaction caused by something that somehow relates to an upsetting time or happening in someone’s life.” Don’t get me wrong, this is a natural response but lately I feel like the word is being overused and my worry is that somewhere along the line, it might lose its meaning and could take on another meaning, which brings me to this weeks class where we had another PHD student named Jack who began new lectures on the topic of the media and the idea of remediation. 

For those who don’t know, believe me, I didn’t until this morning, the term remediation means to transform the original media into a new media. For example turning a traditional book into an ebook or film. Naturally, this interested me as an English minor who is very protective of her beloved book collection which is constantly growing!

But as I said in my previous blog post, I have made the move to digital when it comes to my college work purely as I have discovered a number of apps that have made my college experience a lot easier. One of these apps is Notability which is one that has taken the place fo my refill pad and my A4 binder for storing handouts. If you don’t know about the app, it allows you to take down notes along with the ability to import and annotate PDFs and Lecture Slides with all the documents then stored in your iCloud. For me, this is a type of remediation that right now I can’t live without!