The “Field Notebook” for Data Science


I mentioned in my previous post that I’m learning to work as an “Amateur Data Scientist”, and I’m sharing my learning here on this site. I’m formatting my entries as a series of Field Notes, in the (more or less) formal sense. I’m taking the information I have found here: and fitting that into the style for learning the discipline of Data Science.

A Field Journal, or Field Notebook, is often used in the domain of biology. While we’ll be studying biological data from time to time in our journey, the format isn’t a 1:1 fit for the domain of computer science. Even so, I’ll stretch the format a bit for us to use.

So this is how you’ll see the entries on this site:

WhatWhyHowWhat, Why, How

This type of entry will most often explain a tool or process. For instance, I’ll cover the R data processing programming language and use those headings: What it is, Why you would use it, and How it works.


A Journal entry is a narrative diary of daily operations, including the environment the scientist works in. These entries explain a practical application of Data Science, with as much as I’m allowed to reveal about the situation I’m in when I document it. I don’t use company or organization names in any case, and most often I’ll “fuzz” the data and details so that I don’t betray a confidence, but I will explain some real-world examples of how I put what I learn to good use.

speciesSpecies Accounts

This type of entry in biology is a running list of notes of observations of selected species. Although I could make some pithy comment about co-workers or other folks, I’ll resist that urge and use this type of entry to talk about the various products and technologies in a listing fashion. This is meant to change, and yet show history as well. For instance, I’ll explain the ecostructure of “Big Data” tools, or perhaps the lineage of a technology for processing statistics. I will also include references to statistics itself, showing the “families” of calculations you can use to solve various problems.


A Catalog entry in biology is a systematic and sequential list with reference numbers. In this site I’ll use this type of entry to show a list of links to various subjects, where you can find more about them, and so on.

All of these entries will be “living” – meaning I will endeavor to go back and update them as the information changes. I could use your help with that – add a comment when you find new or interesting information.

I’ll be rather regular with this blog, updating it at least once a month, and probably much more often – especially at the beginning. Comments, questions and thoughts are always welcomed.

I am Data Science, and you can too! (or, Buck is Back)



My Progression and My Passion

I’ve been working in Information Technology for about 30 years. I started here at Microsoft a few years ago working on SQL Server in the Product Team, then went into the field as a technical professional on SQL Server, and when Microsoft Azure – at the time called “Red Dog” – came out, I jumped to that very early. After that, I worked in the Microsoft Azure  Worldwide Team for one of the CTO’s.

About a year ago, I left corporate headquarters and started working with all of our products in an architect role for the Department of Defense here in the U.S. in Microsoft Consulting Services. It’s been amazing – getting my hands quite dirty in the deployment and operation of lots of different technologies. But that meant I went dark on being so…open.

And now I’m back. Back in the data profession, back on social media, and back on conferences where I can talk about what I do. I’m in an area dealing with “Data Science”. And I was a little nervous about the title of “Data Scientist” – I still don’t apply that to myself. However…

Of Telescopes and Famous (and not so famous) People

blog2Years ago, science was done by average folks. Well, perhaps not average folks, but certainly by people without a formal degree in the topic they were enthused about, and people who had jobs doing something else. These people were called “Backyard Scientists” because they were sometimes involved in astronomy, done in their backyard, at night. Later, this term changed to “Amateur Scientists”. While not formally educated and employed in their subjects, they made significant contributions here and there (documenting for the first time the process of photosynthesis, using satellites for telecommunication,  the laws of electrical induction to name but a few) and you may recognize a few of them: Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Faraday, Thomas Jefferson and a few others.


There’s been quite a bit of chatter lately about “Data Scientists” – what that means, who can claim the title, and so on. I’ve debated this topic already, so I won’t belabor that here. However, I believe that each of us inhabits a world of data, and many of us are employed in that domain of Information Technology. We carry titles such as Database Administrator, Database Developer, and Business Intelligence Professional, among others.

blog3As time and technology has progressed, the original data domains of mathematics and statistics are now colliding with the areas of Data Mining and Business Intelligence, creating a new professional – the Data Scientist. I describe this new professional as  a statistician that knows too much about programming and business or a data professional that knows too much about statistics. In any case, there is still some confusion about the title.

So I’ll sidestep the issue. Let’s all be comfortable with doing the work without a formal title. I don’t have a four-year math or stats degree – mine is in other areas. Math doesn’t come easy for me – I have to fight it to understand it well. But like you, I have a passion for the application of data to solve problems. I’ve got a lot to learn (thank goodness) and as I do, I’ll share that here, in a sort of “Field Notebook” about the topics I study. I’ll be an Amateur Data Scientist. And you can too!

He’s baaaaack….

blog4I’ve now returned to the Data area at Microsoft – or at least I will be, in a couple of weeks. I’ve started in a role on the team that deals with Advanced Analytics, which includes everything from Relational Databases to Machine Learning, the R programming language, and more. I’m excited to be back in a data-focused role again. As I learn these new ways of working with data, I invite you to join me here from time to time as I share what I learn. I’m not a statistician, machine learning expert, or even very exceptional at maths – but I plan to learn. As I do I’ll share what I find out, and how I learned it. I’d love to hear back from you as well – I think we can all learn from each other. I look forward to seeing you on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I’ll see you at conferences, web broadcasts and more.

I can’t wait to see what we learn together. Let’s get started.

Contact Info

Buck Woody’s Patented 6-hour London Tour

I used to live in England many years ago. As soon as I would finish my work on Friday, I would hop the train from East Anglia and head to London. It’s become one of my favorite cities in the world, and I know it better than I do just about anywhere else I’ve lived. So when I was asked to come and speak at “SQL In The City” by my friends at Redgate software, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to bring my family over to see this amazing place, so I bought a couple of plane tickets and we took off across the Atlantic.

From Seattle and with the connections and plane changes, we left at 0530 in the morning on Wednesday and got to England at 0600 on Thursday London time. I have a “patented 6-hour London tour” I’ve done for lots of friends, so I didn’t let our lack of sleep and food slow us down. We arrived at the Paddington train station from the express in record time, so it was still early when we arrived.

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From there we walked through Hyde Park – with a beautiful sunny day out and as early as it was we nearly had the place all to ourselves.


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We stopped by a small shop and had an “English Big Breakfast” – which is a heart-stopping level of food consisting of eggs, a rack of toast, bacon (the English kind, more like our ham steaks), sausage, baked beans, a fried tomato, potatoes and roasted mushrooms. We were hungry enough to finish that off in no time.

But a notice on a door nearby gave us pause…

2011 London Baker Street 001

It was clear professional help was needed. We rushed to a very famous address…


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Although we checked at the right place, and even at a nearby breakfast shop, we couldn’t locate the person we needed.

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Happily, we ran into him shortly thereafter and put him on the right trail.


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From there we continued our trek. I took the ladies down to Trafalgar square, the center of London for me.


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There’s a church near there called “Saint Martin’s in the Field” where Mozart once played. At lunchtime they have a concerto from London’s Academy of Music, which I used to attend all the time.

2011 London St Martin the Fields

From there we walked along the embankment of the Thames River, where you can see the London “Eye”, the bridge next to the houses of Parliament, and of course Big Ben.

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From there we visited Westminster Abbey where the Kings and Queens are crowned.


2011 London Westminster Abbey 004

the six-hour tour was over – at this point we had walked about 8 miles, so we went back to the hotel for a quick shower before meeting some friends for dinner.

2011 London Grange Hotel 001

The next day I had my speaking engagement, so the ladies rode the London Underground to see the Tower of London. After all, with the 6-hour tour done they now knew where everything was.

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I think that was Prince Charles Marjorie was hanging out with. Not really sure about that one. From there the ladies went to see Buckingham Palace, where the Queen lives.

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That night, a meeting with friends again for a “Proper Curry” and then we rested for our final day. We had a lot more to see, so we needed a few hours of sleep.

The next morning it was pouring rain – not typical London rain, but actual, real, Florida-style rain. We headed out to Covent Garden (an old marketplace), and from there to Fleet Street – London’s banking and news capitol.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of my favorite sights to see in London. We spent half a day there, and if you ever get the chance to go, set aside time. It’s just too stunning for words.

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When it came time to eat, there’s only one choice – the “Cheshire Cheese”, where every dignitary since 1667 (rebuilt after London’s great fire) has eaten. Christina got her first taste of “Pub-Grub”, a chicken and mushroom pie with peas.

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From there we hopped across the Thames to the rebuilt “Globe Theatre” near where the original Shakespeare’s theatre stood.

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From there it was a trip back across the Tower Bridge. I actually sprung for a double-decker bus ride instead of making us walk even more.


2011 London Tower of London 005 2011 London Double Decker Bus

The next morning we were up at 0500, walked a few miles back to the train station, and took off for home.

We got to see a lot in just three days. In all the years I lived there, I found that every time I visited the city of London I found another experience. And I was so thrilled I got to spend it with my family. If you ever are there when I’m working again, check with me about giving you the patented tour. Bring some sturdy walking shoes, and a lot of caffeine.


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