Archive | July, 2014

Revisiting Python on Windows

Three years ago I wrote a series of tutorials for setting up Python/Django on Windows.

Despite taking great pains to make it all work and then meticulously documenting the details, I abandoned that idea in favor of an Ubuntu VirtualBox soon after those posts went live. It’s a long story, but at some point you need to cut your losses and stop throwing good time after bad.

But this summer marks a return to Windows. I decided our data intern should learn Python or R, so he can experience a world beyond the proprietary stats packages they use at colleges. We decided on Python and decided that Windows is the best option; no need to add Linux to his already long list of things to pick up.

To test things out for him, I crossed my fingers and installed Enthought Canopy, a canned Python environment for data viz and analysis, hoping it would take away the pain of installing Python packages on Windows. For the most part, it did.

Canopy (which has a free version) makes it easy to get up and running quickly. If you’re getting started with Python data analysis, use it, and don’t spend hours of  your life installing all the packages yourself. That way lies madness.

That said, some of the latest and greatest Python data viz packages aren’t included in the Canopy distribution. If you want to learn those, you’ll have to install them yourself, which is where things can go awry. For example, if you’re on Windows and the package you’re installing needs a 64-bit C compiler, you have to follow these 6 simple steps to get one: http://springflex.blogspot.com/2014/02/how-to-fix-valueerror-when-trying-to.html

The Python data ecosystem is extremely compelling, but there’s still too many barriers for a beginner to jump right in, especially on Windows.

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Hack for Western Mass

Hack for Western Mass

For the second year in a row, I helped organize Hack for Western Mass, our local National Day of Civic Hacking event.

The Internet is full of people extolling the virtues of civic hacking and people criticizing civic hackers for building new things instead of connecting people to existing resources.

That’s all true, but there’s something more to hackathons—something beyond the actual projects.

It’s easy to take technology for granted and forget its purpose when you’re steeped in it every day. But technology isn’t about algorithms, frameworks, or finding the perfect text editor. It’s about meeting people where they are—wherever that is—and helping them do their best work, be their most creative, or maybe just get their stuff done faster and get on with life.

When a group of people comes together in a shared time and space to solve problems, an employee of a three-person non-profit learns about Google forms and saves hours of data entry. A community organizer changes the copy on her website for the first time. A group of kids learns that they have the power to make movies.

Say what you want about hackathons, but they’re both a catalyst of technology and a reminder of its true value.

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