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?

<crickets>

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?

PHP Tango

Oh PHP. How you vex me.

Our assignment this week was to play with PHP, specifically to create a working data entry form using HTML, PHP and MySQL. I can report that, with very generous help from my Clio class, I did all of that.

My simple, but working form is here.
My simple, but functional PHP code is here.

I’m still not sure I totally understand WHY it works. I am told this is natural and to be expected. That with time and increased familiarity, my comprehension will improve. I look forward to that day. I will continue to plug away at it if you promise me you won’t judge or mock me for doing a happy dance every time I can actually make something work.

Deal?

Adventures in Programming

My third year as a PhD student began this week and I’m excited to be taking both Feminist Philosophy & Theory and Programming for Historians. (There’s something ironic and fun about reading The Second Sex in the same week that I’m learning how to create my own databases from scratch.)

As part of our assignment for Clio 3, as we’re affectionately calling our programming class, we’ll be creating technical tutorials for programminghistorian.org. There’ll be a wide variety of topics from my classmates including, creating databases, PHP, web scraping and theory modeling, among others. I’m on the hook for mapping and data visualization, so I’ll be sure to post links to those when they go up. In the meantime, I’ll be putting my development successes and failures in Sandbox.. for all to see. God help me.