What We Talk About When We Talk About Structured Data (Part 2)

August 20, 2010 at 2:46 pm Leave a comment

In Part One of my attempt at bringing Structured Data from the lofty heights of rhetoric and down into the every day real world, I used America’s favorite 3 hours of intermittent action – Baseball!

I suggest a new strategy, R2: let the Wookiee win.

It was a good, illustrative example of structured data – however, it was a bit impractical. Not many people conduct baseball research using data collected by statisticians. Structured Data may still seem foreign to those not interested in mapping how badly the Red Sox will break your heart this season using metrics and regressions. So let’s get even more grounded and practical – and in doing so, we’ll also examine synoptic reporting, a term that tends to accompany structured data but is not a synonym. So let’s see how we utilize structured data on a near daily basis. Let’s all head to the kitchen!

Last Known Photo of the Inventor of the Double Down

Now – who can tell me what this is?

Desiring to eat a sweet snack following dinner, I decided chocolate chip cookies would be the best way to remedy the situation. After washing off the countertops and my hands, I ensured that the oven is precisely tuned to 375 degrees and that the trays inside are in the correct position. I placed 2.25 cups of King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, 1 teaspoon of Arm & Hammer baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt into a medium sized bowl. Following that, I beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. I added eggs (using the One At a Time technique) and stirred adequately after each addition. I then carefully and gradually beat in flour mixture in the usual fashion. After isolating 2 cups of Nestle Toll House chocolate morsels, I stir them into the mixture. Upon completion of stirring, I drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. I place the sheet into the oven to cook for no less than 9 and no more than 11 minutes. The cookies were adequately visualized through the oven door and appeared golden brown. After extraction, I placed them on wire racks to let them cool for no less than 5 and no more than 10 minutes. Consuming cookies, I found them to be moist and delicious. In the future, I will accompany the cookies with low-fat milk and possibly include nuts. The process yielded sixty cookies, out of which 4 were eaten. They were then stored in a tupperware container and await further consumption.

Correct! That is how to make cookies. To be precise, it’s a report on how cookies were made. (if you had a different answer, then I’m sorry and we have some lovely parting gifts for you)

If I were curious as to the process of making chocolate chip cookies – I could consult this. I would have to pour through all the verbiage if I wanted to know how many it yielded. I would clearly understand the process, but it would take a significant amount of time for me to read it in order to learn anything from it.

The First Step is Admitting You Have A Problem

Now – what is this?

• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 large eggs
• 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate morsels

• Oven preheated to 375° F.
• Flour, baking soda and salt combined.
• Small bowl used.
• Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract until creamy.
• Large mixer bowl used
• Eggs added – one at a time.
• Eggs beaten adequately
• Gradually beat in flour mixture.
• Morsels stirred in
• Placed onto ungreased baking sheets.
• Rounded tablespoon used
• Baked for 9 to 11 minutes
• Cookies appeared golden brown.
• Cookies placed on wire racks.

• 60 cookies

Now can you look at that and know what happened? What ingredients were used? How many cookies were produced? Despite the lack of cohesive sentences and paragraphs, can you get a narrative from that list of directions?

It’s the same process. Told in two different ways. Which one do you think is easier to see all of the elements? How long do you think it took me to create the bullet-ed version versus the large block of text? And lets get really nerdy and creative – let’s say I had a bunch of baking soda, so I wanted to find out which recipes I had used baking soda. I could comb through paragraphs looking for the word or, if all of my recipes are formatted like the other one, then I could just search in the Ingredients area for ‘baking soda.’

This is the difference between unstructured data and structured data. What are you losing by using the structured data? A few unnecessary adverbs? Some people will say that there’s no story in the recipe with the bullets – but that’s not true. If you read that one, you could follow it along just as easily.

But how would one arrive at such a format? That’s where Synoptic Reporting enters the fray. In the simplest of terms, Synoptic Reporting is any report (or form) where there is a clear demarcation between fields, with each allowing for a response in each field. For example – those forms you fill out where you type in First Name, Last Name, Date of Birth, etc. Each field is an individualized section that can only be responded to in a specific manner (your name can’t be a number, the date has to follow a particular convention).

If one were creating a form for cookie recipes – you couldn’t enter in 450 degrees in the ingredients section, nor could you say it yields 3 Teaspoons of cookies. In a synoptic report, everything is formatted to encourage (and sometimes enforce) consistent language that is appropriate for each of the specific fields it pertains to.

One of these just doesn't belong....

Synoptic reporting is not synonymous with structured data, nor are they intrinsically tied together or mutually exclusive. You can have one without the other. However, by combining the strengths of synoptic reporting (creating prompts and requirements to ensure that information is properly recorded) with the power of structured data (being able to perform better research and see individual parts of a process) – one is able create a much stronger and clearer account of what happened and what can be learned from that event.


Entry filed under: Structured Data. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

What We Talk About When We Talk About Structured Data (part 1) What We Talk About When We Talk About Structured Data (Part 3)

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