Nick Brown

Hi! Welcome to my little corner of the internet, featuring side projects, blog posts, conference talks, & code. I'm particularly interested in data (visualization, data science, deep learning), new ways to interactively explore systems / ideas, and learning fun new tools.

My software development philosophy is easy to summarize - "A prototype is worth a thousand meetings..."Read more

By day, I'm VP Product for VitalSource, where I'm proud to help deliver a powerful learning platform to millions of students all over the world. You can sometimes find me speaking at events on learning science, accessibility, interactive content, open standards, machine learning and more - usually illustrating the technical details with plenty of demos.

You can find me on Twitter @uptownnickbrown, on LinkedIn, email me at nicholas.tyler.brown at gmail dot com, check out most of my projects on Github or send smoke signals in the general direction of Athens, GA, where I live with my talented wife (a professor at UGA - thus the move to Athens!), our two wonderful little kids and our dog Moose.

Wordle Challenge

November 2021
Tools used: Gross Javascript, reverse-engineering hackery
Who could've guessed I would get obsessed with Wordle? Oh yeah - everyone. Back when Wordle first got big, I reverse-engineered it and added two features: 1) play infinite random Wordles and 2) set up a challenge link for a tough word and share it to stump your friends.

Investigating Automatically Generated Questions

Tools used: SpaCy, BERT, Transformers (Huggingface), Bookshelf
Helped lead R&D around automatic question generation from textbook content. Was a published author on award-winning research paper proving our method works. Led productization effort to launch at massive scale in VitalSource Bookshelf, which has since won multiple awards for innovative use of AI in education.

Watkins or Not Watkins?

August 2017
Tools used: Python / Flask, Keras, Theano
Inspired by Silicon Valley's Not Hotdog, this simple app detects whether an uploaded image is Watkins (the Bookshelf mascot) or not, using a convolutional neural network based on VGG16. Yeah, it's overkill. And yeah, image models have come a long way since 2017!


Tools used: Python / Flask, React, AWS, MySQL Source: MetaSeek on Github
MetaSeek is a data discovery and analysis tool for genome sequencing data. Built in collaboration with Dr. Hoarfrost, we published a paper on MetaSeek in 2019.

Think outside the textbook

November 2016
Tools used: EPUB 3, Web Audio API, Firebase Realtime Database
Video of my talk at Books in Browsers '16. Lots of fun demos in this one, including three prototype chapters from a hypothetical highly interactive music textbook. This was a really fun project to build, and an even more fun talk to give.

In C

November 2016
Tools used: Web Audio API, Firebase Realtime Database, MIDI.js Source: Mind-size-bites on Github
An explorable exploration looking at a famous piece of experimental music, "In C". Including a collaborative, networked, educational concert performance.

Hebrides Overture

November 2016
Tools used: Web Audio API, Youtube API, Firebase Realtime Database, Device motion detection, PDF.js Source: Mind-size-bites on Github
An aural and visual exploration of Mendelssohn's famous overture. Make sure to try out conducting the piece (as it plays on your laptop) by waving around your phone to the beat.

Timbre - the color of sound

October 2016
Tools used: D3.js, Web Audio API Source: Mind-size-bites on Github
Timbre can perhaps best be described as the color of sound. Check out a visualization of a trumpet or flute, then sing into your microphone to see your own voice in action.


June 2016
Tools used: Node / Express, Mailgun API, Heroku Source: Link-a-Day on Github
1) Send a 💯 link (with the URL in the subject line). 2) Get an anonymous 🔥 link back via email. 3) Reply to 💬 directly with whoever sent it in. I took this offline a while ago, sorry!


March 2016
Tools used: Python, word2vec, scikit-learn, EPUB 3 Source: EPUB2Vec on Github
Using Word2Vec, analyze which paragraphs of a set of ebooks are most similar to each other. Useful for cross-linking, topic relevance and exploration. An example of an NLP project I would approach very differently in 2023 compared to 2016.

Night Falls. A Storm Rolls In...

January 2016
Tools used: Hand-crafted, boutique, framework-free HTML, CSS, SVG & JS Source: Riddler solutions on Github
Diving deep into an interesting puzzle from FiveThirtyEight with an explorable explanation. I wish more educational content worked like this.


January 2016 Tools used: Node / Express, Twitter API, ImageMagick, JP2A, AWS Source: Asciify on Github
Update August 2018 - Twitter broke this and many other bots. Thanks Twitter. A fun Twitter bot that converts @mentions into ASCII art -

The past and future of data visualization

September 2015
Blog post hosted on Medium
A deep dive into the invention of key chart types and what innovations are coming next to data visualization.

Getting into data visualization — where should I start?

August 2015
Blog post hosted on Medium Tools used: Python, R
A short post for the academic scientist, school teacher, research consultant, project manager, funemployed guy or MBA grad who wants to get into data visualization - but doesn't know where to begin.