Python Part 1

This spring, I’m super excited to be part of the ChiPy mentorship program. I’ll be working with my mentor, Ulas Keles, on a project that’s having me dive into the language and to put out a finished product at the end.

My project will explore the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Online Catalog API, which offers a huge repository of historical imagery. I’m particularly intrigued by images where the location is a best guess — those with the word “probably” in the title. I want to make make a web app that allows the user to input a location (likely one they know well), and then receive an image that’s “probably” that place.

This is a snowy road in Michigan … probably

Where I’m coming from:

My background is in journalism, so what gets me excited is telling stories and engaging an audience. But I want to do that in ways that are visual, unexpected, personalized, and hopefully delightful. In the past few months, I’ve wiggled my way into competency with HTML/CSS and the barest of JavaScript. I’ve even run some Python programs on my laptop. But scrolling endlessly through lines of code trying to decipher what they do has been unsuccessful (surprise!), so I feel very lucky be part of a program that will let me ask the questions that feel dumb, and make me show show my code to others to make it better.

Two things I’ve learned these first few weeks:

Make it analog. I read once that you retain only 10 percent of what you read and see and way more of what you hear or write down. Those numbers are probably bogus, but I know my learning style requires me to take it off the keyboard. Ulas and I drew a (very simplified) map of how the internet works on a whiteboard, and as I’ve been learning Python syntax, I’ve been scribbling a notebook full. That’s been hugely helpful.

Start simple. My mentor suggested starting with the simplest task in this project: pull a search for “probably Chicago” from the LoC API, and filter through it. When you begin any project, you never know what you don’t know. But as a beginner, I’m finding that every time I run some code, my concept of what’s possible is expanded. And that makes everything a little less daunting, a whole lot more exciting.