Blog on…

So we’re 3 and a bit months in to this whole big, crazy blogging experiment.

I’ve still not quite figured out what this all means to me. You know – what it actually means to me as a person. To my career, to my family and to what I’m trying to do. The truth is I don’t really know what I’m trying to do, something that I was worried about initially. Surely I need a purpose, a strategy, dare I say it even a mission statement? That shit is essential isn’t it?

A few weeks ago I attended the Tableau Google Hangout, where several key bloggers (@vizwizbi, @pgilks, @dataremixed, @jeweloree, @vizbizwiz, @vizcandy ) hosted a session where they all discussed what blogging means to them, their approaches and other stuff around that subject. The key sentiment seemed to be that most of them started their blog for themselves, either as a kind of diary or repository of how they’ve accomplished BI related tasks. It seemed that they all had a fairly freestyle approach, with enjoyment being the key motivation. I expected they’d all be super serious and regimented in their blogging approach, I mean how else can they generate that brilliant content? That certainly wasn’t the vibe though. You know what – they’re just like you and I. They want people to like their stuff, they get a bit upset at the trolls and nasty people, and they all took ages to get started and build the confidence to be able to express themselves in public. And they all get a thrill when the community shows them some love for their content.

All this made me feel that hey I can succeed, and I do have something to offer. Tableau is such a big subject it’s impossible to be an expert on all areas. Pick your niche and be an expert on that, but do branch out and explore new avenues. Give your opinion, and enjoy giving credit when someone else does something superb.

I’ll be honest. I was bricking it when I decided to start this blog. It took me weeks to publish my first post, and then I sat glued to the page stats, praying for those numbers to start increasing. No-one’s gonna read this I thought. And if they do they’ll hate it. Then people did start reading it. And then I got a few Twitter followers. And then a few direct messages. And then some quite nice comments. Then some shout-outs from Tableau Zen Masters…. Hold on… What’s happening here? Then more followers….

So I posted some more, feeding off the feedback and love, growing in confidence all the time. And the hits kept coming.. Then I started getting asked to speak at conferences, and then a couple of job offers. The job offers were interesting, no interview – it was “I’ve seen your blog and I love it, you wanna come and work for me?”.

And that all fuels the fire. The more love you get back, the more enjoyable it gets. And the more enjoyable it is, the more the quality of content improves with your growing confidence. It’s kind of a non-vicious circle. Before I knew it the ideas for content came flooding into my head. I think my list is now over 100 items for future posts.

I’ve recently managed to meet up with a number of the community that I’d only interacted with online. And it felt strange. In a good way. It felt like I was interacting with a community of friends rather than a group of work colleagues. I’m staggered at the togetherness of the BI & Tableau community. To the point that when we did have a minor trolling incident, it came as a real shock to the system, such is the infrequency of encountering such attitudes. 

I’m stunned where I’ve managed to get to in 3 months. Ben Jones pinged me a message saying that if anyone had dropped out of the Google Hangout then I was in line to replace them. That was some compliment. 

I’ve been wondering how to quantify just how much I’m having fun. I guess there are a couple of moments that give me that answer.

The first was a comment one evening from my wife, who remarked “I’ve not seen you this passionate about work in 10 years”. – “Quiet love, I’m about to publish a viz of the best pinball tables!” may have been my reply, but the comment was appreciated anyway. 

And the second was the shoulder surgery that I had a few weeks ago. Now I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to, well when it comes to people slicing me open with a knife! – cos that’s what it is. So I was more than a little apprehensive about the procedure. But when it came to game time my only worry was that I wouldn’t be able to use Tableau for a few days! It really was. And to keep myself occupied in hospital I took along a copy of Dan Murray’s book. You can keep the man away from Tableau, but you can’t keep Tableau away from the man. Or something like that.

That told me I was onto something really special here and long may it continue.

Regards, Paul


Mind the gap

Good day viz fans!

Hoping you’re ok this fine morning. What’s that? How am I? Well glad you asked cos I’m annoyed. Very annoyed. You see nothing annoys me more than a bad viz and I’ve finally had enough. Here’s why.

Trekking into central London on our beautiful commuter service is a joy. Actually it’s not, it’s a colossal pain. But anyway, it gives the brainy marketeers of all sorts of companies a chance to display their wares in more elaborate and interesting ways. And that’s ok. There are hundreds of meters of blank wall to slap a fancy advert on, or let us know some cool fact or bit of info that’s going to make our day easier.

20131115_164924And there are lots. Adverts for the latest technologies and fancy holidays all of which are good enough and inoffensive, sometimes very well done. And then there’s London Underground. Now they own the damn place, so can display pretty much what they want, where they want it – you know for maximum impact. But what do we get. We get this (pictured left).

“Delays cut by 40% (Whoosh!)”

Well that’s inspirational. Really. London Underground get a load of grief for delays and such like, and there’s no doubt that a 40% improvement is something to shout about. SO SHOUT ABOUT IT! Tell me what you’ve done. Where are the biggest improvements? The Northern Line? The Jubilee Line? What time? Rush hours? What have been the benefits? Even draw me a little infographic or something. Anything more than a meaningless logo and a stupid tagline. What a wasted opportunity to really boast about the work you’ve done to the network to someone who walks past this poster 4 times every day.

And there’s more. Here’s another example.

20131114_165804This time banging on about their range of informative Twitter feeds. That’s great. Getting some up to the minute Tweets about the service would be just the ticket. Let me see – I’ll follow erm… and erm… ah.

So how much effort would it be to display what those hashtags or accounts actually are? I do quite like the graphic though I’ll give them that.

Utterly lazy and completely missing the value of the interested audience of tech-savvy people who pass by this poster hundreds of times a year. Sure I could go to the URL they’ve specified but still….

20131115_164857And here’s the final one. I don’t even think I can be bothered to comment on it as it makes my blood boil.

I often wonder how many of my fellow commuters are thinking the same thing as they walk past these non-information posters. We’ve all got a thirst for INPUT – I’m a total Johnny 5 these days, so I see things like these posters as massive wasted opportunities to put a positive message or useful information right in my face so I can’t avoid it. Years ago I would probably have been offended by that approach, now I’m annoyed that they haven’t at least tried.

Especially for an organisation that gets endless grief for performance. You’d think they’d be all over it. Clearly not.

Ah well that’s it for the rant. Have a good day everyone, and remember to use all available doors.

Regards, Paul

Data Scientist? It’s a mindset, not a name

Good day to you Tabaholics,

kirkdThere I was the other day, merrily minding my own business playing with Tableau maps when I happened to read this tweet by @KirkDBorne. Did a bit of googling and came across this link regarding whether you should call yourself a “data scientist” or not, a subject that seems to be getting a fair bit of chat at the moment.

Now I think it’s a bit strong to refer to someone as a “fool” for calling themselves a data scientist. What companies like Alteryx, DataSift & Tableau have done with their splendid applications, is allow everyone to be a data scientist. Or whatever else you want to call yourself. I call myself a Ninja – believe it or not I’m not a real one, although I do have a black one-piece. What I am is a real scientist. I’ve got an M.Sc. degree in Molecular Pathology (and toxicology) and a B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences. None of that matters, I don’t get offended when someone next to me calls themselves a data scientist.

For me being a scientist is a mindset, not a qualification. It’s the mental attitude and aptitude to take on and solve problems through a process of hypothesis and experimentation. Your weapon of choice may be a bunsen burner or a Flow Cytometer or Tableau Desktop – it doesn’t matter. What matters is the desire for knowledge and understanding, even better if you’re of the mindset that you want to share it with everyone afterwards.


The process of scientific experimentation is what has driven invention for hundreds of years. It doesn’t even matter that you don’t get the results you expect – it’s the journey that counts. William Perkin (pictured) was trying to make synthetic quinine and ended up revolutionising dye making (and making a shed load of cash in the process). He also had a pretty impressive beard as well. Wonder if he dyed it… Even some items as seemingly complex as the human pacemaker was invented by accident – Wilson Greatbatch taking that one down. Other examples of accidental discoveries include the microwave oven, Teflon and Coca Cola.

So call yourself whatever you want. Call yourself a Ninja, or a Jedi or a Yeti or a data rockstar. I don’t care. Just keep on pushing the boundaries and discovering. You should be proud of yourself for trying.

Regards, Paul