Urban Informatics and Visualization at UC Berkeley

The fall semester begins next week at UC Berkeley. For the third year in a row, Paul Waddell and I will be teaching CP255: Urban Informatics and Visualization, and this is my first year as co-lead instructor.

This masters-level course trains students to analyze urban data, develop indicators, conduct spatial analyses, create data visualizations, and build Paris open datainteractive web maps. To do this, we use the Python programming language, open source analysis and visualization tools, and public data.

This course is designed to provide future city planners with a toolkit of technical skills for quantitative problem solving. We don’t require any prior programming experience – we teach this from the ground up – but we do expect prior knowledge of basic statistics and GIS.

Update, September 2017: I am no longer a Berkeley GSI, but Paul’s class is ongoing. Check out his fantastic teaching materials in his GitHub repo. From my experiences here, I have developed a cycle of course materials, IPython notebooks, and tutorials towards an urban data science course based on Python, available in this GitHub repo.

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Visualizing Chaos and Randomness

3-D Poincare plot of the logistic map's chaotic regime - this is time series data embedded in three dimensional state space

Download/cite the paper here!

In a previous post, I discussed chaos theory, fractals, and strange attractors – and their implications for knowledge and prediction of systems. I also briefly touched on how phase diagrams (or Poincaré plots) can help us visualize system attractors and differentiate chaotic behavior from true randomness.

In this post (adapted from this paper), I provide more detail on constructing and interpreting phase diagrams. These methods are particularly useful for discovering deterministic chaos in otherwise random-appearing time series data, as they visualize strange attractors. I’m using Python for all of these visualizations and the source code is available in this GitHub repo.

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Chaos Theory and the Logistic Map

Logistic map bifurcation diagram showing the period-doubling path to chaosUsing Python to visualize chaos, fractals, and self-similarity to better understand the limits of knowledge and prediction. Download/cite the article here and try pynamical yourself.

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with nonlinear dynamical systems. A system is just a set of interacting components that form a larger whole. Nonlinear means that due to feedback or multiplicative effects between the components, the whole becomes something greater than just adding up the individual parts. Lastly, dynamical means the system changes over time based on its current state. In the following piece (adapted from this article), I break down some of this jargon, visualize interesting characteristics of chaos, and discuss its implications for knowledge and prediction.

Chaotic systems are a simple sub-type of nonlinear dynamical systems. They may contain very few interacting parts and these may follow very simple rules, but these systems all have a very sensitive dependence on their initial conditions. Despite their deterministic simplicity, over time these systems can produce totally unpredictable and wildly divergent (aka, chaotic) behavior. Edward Lorenz, the father of chaos theory, described chaos as “when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”

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Using geopandas on Windows

projected-shapefile-gps-coordinatesThis guide was updated in June 2016 to reflect changes to the dependencies and the ability to install with Python wheels.

I recently went through the exercise of installing geopandas on Windows and getting it to run. Having learned several valuable lessons, I thought I’d share them with the world in case anyone else is trying to get this toolkit working in a Windows environment (also see this GitHub gist I put together).

It seems that pip installing geopandas works fine on Linux and Mac. However, several of its dependencies have C extensions that cause compilation failures with pip on Windows. This guide gets around that issue. For preliminaries, I have this working on Windows 7, 8, and 10. My Python environments are Anaconda, 64-bit, with both Python 2.7 and 3.5. I’m running geopandas version 0.2 with GDAL 2.0.2, Fiona 1.7.0, pyproj 1.9.5.1, and shapely 1.5.16.

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