Airtable, APIs, and thinking through a problem

“What is an API?” “It’s an application programming interface.” “…. oh, okay, … thank you…”

Sometimes the answer to a question doesn’t supply an actual answer. APIs are a good example- the name is an acronym, and the acronym uses specific terms that make sense in an industry, but might not translate to a digestible concept for the person posing the question.

“What is an API?” I had heard the term for a while, but wanted to understand more. At the same time, I was getting ready to go to Abstractions, a conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

Abstractions looked amazing! I was thrilled with the talk descriptions, the code of conduct, the transparent privacy policy, generous scholarship program, original art specific to the event, and more. Couldn’t wait for it to start! As I started looking at the schedule, I noticed something- the schedule didn’t render well on a browser. Talks were all in distinct blocks, and the blocks sometimes didn’t all fit on one row, meaning that you couldn’t see everything happening at one time on one row. Talks were also broken up by location first, not time first, so again, you couldn’t see what was happening at the same time.

Other people pointed this out as well on the conference Slack channel. The conference organizers, embedded in schedule-details for the past several months, didn’t see the difficulty people were experiencing, and in the heady, final days before an event, most likely had a few other things to do.

I wanted a conference schedule that I could sort and filter, and I wanted to be able to add keywords to talks so I could see what was on the docket for open source, art, various languages, and more.

Okay. So. 1. Excited about a conference 2. Wanted to plan my time well 3. Schedule wasn’t helping as well as it could

What to do? I had the information- but I needed it to listen to my needs. This is what an API is. In many cases it’s a tool, some form of software, but at its core an API is a series of decisions that connects information to action in a way that’s beneficial and transformative.

I can’t say enough good things about the conference organizers. They were completely fantastic- forward thinking, responsive to attendees, endlessly on-point with a thousand event-planning details, and they built something incredible in Pittsburgh. One awesome thing they did was provide the conference schedule information as a pure JSON file in addition to their formatted version of the schedule.

What is a JSON file? Another term I had heard, and even used in conversation, maybe the same way someone would talk about a vegetable even though they’ve never cooked with it. “Ah, the celeriac root! Yes, what a great…. root.”

Okay. So now we’re at: 1. Excited about a conference 2. Wanted to plan my time well 3. Schedule wasn’t helping as well as it could 4. Had a JSON file

From there my Google path was “What is JSON” ➡️“JSON visualization” (apparently not a thing/hard) ➡️“data visualization for schedules” (also apparently not a thing) ➡️lots of variations on that phrase, which mostly netted me schedules for data viz conference (which were terrible) ➡️listening to the most recent CodeNewbies podcast, which had a shoutout for Airtable ➡️Airtable ➡️“JSON and Airtable” ➡️“how to convert JSON to CSV”➡️ download CSV ➡️upload to Airtable ➡️tweak, add keyword content and “I’m new to coding” suggested talks track as a tag,➡️review ➡️share on conference Slack.

Here it is!

Here’s what you can do with it: sort by any column, search, filter, download a CSV, make your own copy and add other columns/fields (like a priority column, for example), and print. Links are active; you can make a Twitter list of speakers, check out their websites. Sort by suggested audience level, filter to only see organizer Justin’s recommendations for an “I’m new to coding” track, sort/filter by keywords.

Keywords was the feature I most wanted- I pulled them from the talk descriptions. You can see everything JavaScript, any other specific language, etc. In some ways, every talk could be tagged as “Best Practices” or “Career Development.” Same for terms like “software,” “coding,” or “tech.” With that in mind, I tried to tag for what stood out.

I shared it, people liked it and were appreciative, and the conference organizers ended up using it to plan speaker-emcee assignments. Things to figure out to do for next time- 1. Make it sync live with the JSON file the conference organizers hosted online (hmmm sounds like an API!), 2. Fix special characters.

So, API, JSON file, celeriac root.

API stands for Application Programming Interface, and it’s a series of decisions that connects information to action in a way that’s beneficial and transformative. JSON stands for JavaScript Object Notation. It’s a lightweight file that allows you to structure data in a way that can be read by web applications and/or converted to CSV for further data-wrangling. And celeriac root is a variety of celery that grows wild in the Mediterranean Basin and Northern Europe, that tastes amazing roasted, in soups, and in the French salad celerie remoulade.

And Airtable is great.

And more conferences should share their schedule information as JSON files.

Thanks Abstractions team! You put on a wonderful event, I had an amazing time and learned a lot, and THERE WERE DOGS.

Smorgasbord & order: Bloglovin to the rescue

Follow me with Bloglovin

Moment of silence for Google Reader, which was the best blog feed aggregator for a long time.

Google put that product out to pasture in 2013 and readers were left scrambling to find a comparable replacement. There were (and continue to be) many, many RSS options, from the longstanding Feedly to a sleek minimalist option called Miniflux.

I found Bloglovin after testing a few other options and have used it ever since.

Why do I prefer Bloglovin?

It’s quick- importing blogs from Google Reader took seconds.

It’s the right balance of image and content- some blog readers strip away all images and some are heavily weighted towards images. I wanted to see what images writers were choosing for their posts, but not at the expense of readability. Bloglovin’s main feed has each post’s title, synopsis, tags, and main image. Clicking on that summary will bring you to the full post.

It offers tools for engagement and privacy- you can share, like, and create collections. You can also choose to mark blogs you follow as private- I can see this feature being useful, for example, if someone was trying to have a child and following a lot of pregnancy blogs. You might not want to share that information with everyone, and by marking a blog private it doesn’t show up in your profile. Bloglovin offers integrations with Facebook and Pinterest; I have not tested these but I imagine they could be useful!

Image showing Bloglovin UI
Account portal to manage blogs: Add blogs, create groups, mark as private, and unfollow

It offers discovery- I don’t use this feature a lot but I do appreciate it- at the top of the site are general categories including Art, Technology, and Education. Clicking on one of those brings up a smorgasbord of posts relating to that topic, and you can choose to follow whatever blog looks good to you. Above that is a search bar that will search all the blogs and posts on Bloglovin using whatever term you put in. If a site isn’t on Bloglovin you can add it very easily- a feature that I really like. That feature means authors aren’t solely responsible for adding their blogs to this platform- once a blog is added, Bloglovin will pull information from that site just like any other RSS feeder, and authors can claim their blogs whenever they have time. 

Image showing Bloglovin Linux search results
Using the Bloglovin search bar for “Linux” shows me so many new sites and interesting posts!

It’s free- Not “freemium,” not subscription-based, free. No plugin or extension needed. Android and iOS apps are available and render well.

I’ve organized the blogs I follow into groups: Tech, Product, Money, Amusing, Philadelphia, and Scholarly. I can choose to read only what’s in one group, or scan through my whole feed. 

When I check Bloglovin, I scan through my main feed, open the posts that are interesting to me, share things with others, and then mark everything as read. It’s quick, comprehensive, and free; all things I like 🙂 You can check out my profile here and see what blogs I follow; maybe you’ll find something new?

GDI Woman Crush Wednesday- PHL

Quote from Laura Webb with headshot and link to GDI Philly

Last week I was GDI Philly’s Woman Crush Wednesday spotlight pick. The lovely Jen Dionisio asked me a few questions about what I do, GDI, and thoughts on tech in general. The full interview is here— I had a great time with these questions! Many thanks to GDI Philly— more information about this awesome group is below.

1. Your company and role:

1. I work in Information and Interpretive Technologies at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. My main role is all the tech purchasing for the Museum—anything from very specific software to giant touchscreen tables. No day is the same and I’m thrilled to work with a team of smart, kind individuals who love art and want to share it with as many people as possible.

2. How and why did you get involved with GDI Philly?

2. Wow, talk about a trip down memory lane! Three years ago I took my first GDI class: Intro to the Command Line. I wanted to know more about what was behind everything you see on a computer screen.  A month or two after that, I took Intro to HTML/CSS. Then, I wanted to be more involved in the group, so I signed up to volunteer as a TA. Since then, I’ve been a student and TA in many classes, including HTML/CSS 201, WordPress, SublimeText, JavaScript, Web Accessibility, Responsive Web Design, Git, jQuery, and Game Design. I went to my first tech conference because of GDI; the conference needed volunteers and Corinne Warnshuis, who had just joined Yasmine Mustafa at GDI Philly, forwarded that request to the GDI volunteer group. At my first tech conference and at a number of GDI events over the past three years, I’ve met several amazing people who continue to be in my life as inspiration, mentors, and friends.

3. Why do you think GDI Philly is important?

3. GDI Philly gives people a time and place to learn tech skills that directly correlate to more advanced job opportunities. The group also provides training in skills applicable in many fields, like negotiation and public speaking. But the most important thing about GDI is the community. No matter where you are in your career, no matter how much or how little you know, there is a place for you at GDI Philly. That’s the best part, really—that it’s an inclusive, encouraging space to learn and meet incredible people.

4. What is a project (or projects) that you’re working on that excites you and why?

4. I’m very excited to learn more about Python! I recently used Python to make my first Twitterbot: @Benjaminbotbot. It tweets out one line of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, in order, every day. The man is a bit long-winded, though; one sentence took four days and I expect many more surreal tweets to be generated.

5. Any advice for women new to the tech field?

5. Not knowing is okay, and you probably know more than you realize. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a word or acronym means. This is a good resource; I like that each definition has a picture and related terms. And again, you most likely already have a lot of valuable knowledge that can translate to tech—look for the analogies. Cooking and coding have a lot in common; if you can follow a recipe, you can follow a tutorial. If you can take what you learned from multiple recipes and change it to make your own, that’s programming.

Pink flourish GDI Philly- so what is it? GDI stands for Girl Develop It, a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. GDI Philly is the Philadelphia chapter of this organization, and information about events and classes can be found on Meetup here. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, or in one of the 53 cities with a GDI chapter, I strongly recommend looking into GDI classes and events. If you don’t see your city, don’t lose hope! Girl Develop It provides resources for those that want to start their own chapter and there’s lots of room to grow Pink flourish