Teaching and doing digital history.

Asking Questions of Your Data

Now that my data is normalized and I have a good idea of what is contained in my database, it’s time to start asking questions of my data. What do I want to know? Which queries are only for me? Which would I like to embed into a web page? While they don’t seem like tough questions, it is beginning to dawn on me that my issues with PHP may be more than just a learning curve. It isn’t so much the learning of the language (although, I am struggling with that), it’s also the fact that I don’t sit down and think about what I want it to do BEFORE I start coding.

I dive right in, copy examples and start changing variables and functions without even thinking about what I want it to do, let alone what this code snippet was programmed to do. The maddening part of PHP is that it’s so personal and subjective–each coder has written into the code their own logic and language. What is mine?


Honestly, I don’t know. I do know the questions I want to ask.

  1. How many women were executed in the United States?
  2. For what crimes? (Cluster the crimes)
  3. In what states? (Cluster both the state numbers AND the crimes by state)
  4. Are there any moments in time where there were an abnormally large group of women executed?
  5. Are there any states in which more women were executed over others?
  6. What of Virginia? What happened here?
  7. What overall trends can I see?
  8. What is missing?

Some of these questions are really specific and easy to both code and show. Others are not. All of this is to say that I’m still working on figuring this out. I admit that this “paralysis by analysis” affected my productivity this week. My output wasn’t what I had been hoping. Still, this is all part of the process, right? Right?


  1. Had the same thing with other languages. Of course. Stick to it, some people think that code can be “emitted” as a sort of bodily function but it can’t. We need more people like you!

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