Meet the Penguins!

makingof

 

OK here we go. Iron Viz competition time. I don’t viz that much so pleased to dust off Tableau Desktop and have a go. This competition is all about the natural world. A very interesting theme for me being a massive nature fan.

1. The Idea

I love nature. Thinking of a theme I reached back into childhood memories and for some reason I thought of long afternoons with my family at the zoo. Aside from the usual animals we always used to make a beeline for the penguins, something that still happens when I take my own family to the zoo. Everyone loves penguins!

However, I don’t think that many people know just how many different flavours of penguin there are. They live in varied locations, come in a host of different sizes and looks and not all of them live in cold countries. They do all stink though.

So I thought I’d use Penguins of the World as my subject for this viz. And here it is.

Go take a look at the viz!

 

2. Data

I got the data from a single source- https://seaworld.org/en/animal-info/animal-infobooks/penguin/

References to sited data is always good to see

Although I didn’t conduct any lengthy data validation exercise I was given some degree of confidence that the website has a detailed references section, siting the data sources. That’s always good to see and something that is mandatory in scientific papers and such like.

Now there’s tons of penguin data available out there. But I really didn’t have the time to spend days looking for that perfect data source. I also didn’t want to spend days transforming the data before I started vizzing so I settled on this one pretty quickly.  Then it was a copy and paste into Excel and I was off.

Always be on the lookout for good images to incorporate into your viz

One thing I did like was the fact that this page had some cool drawings of each penguin species. That instantly got me thinking of using them as Tableau shapes. It’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for images and drawings that can you can incorporate into your visualisations.

 

3. Viz Design

Now I’m probably not the only person in this competition to be heavily influenced by the master of these kind of visualisations, Sir Jonni of Walker. (@jonni_walker). And with that I thought I’d steal like an artist and try to emulate him.

Key design choices were to use a black background, with plenty of large images and the use of BANs (Big Assed Numbers) as callouts. Things that Jonni does all the time and that really create a visual impact. I also wanted to utilise the penguin images as a “penguin picker” to create some interactivity.

I also wanted a map to be a main feature of the viz as maps are not only informative, but visually striking, highly customisable and also act as a canvas on which to overlay images (in oceans etc.). I had a problem at first with the fact that Antarctica was one of the main locations, and that meant the bottom of the map had a straight edge, which looked ugly. This meant the map would have to meet the bottom of the viz to draw attention away from the abrupt edge.

The IUCN scale

I was pretty pleased with the highlighted IUCN status of each species. The icons looked nice and almost acted as a traffic light theme. Jonni thought they should be greyscale but I overruled him. Pfft – what does he know anyway?

In terms of Tableau content, only a couple of charts to show population, location, height and weight; but that was fine. It didn’t really need anything else.

I also wanted to include a section on famous penguins but it ended up overloading the viz and spoiling the theme. Although it did make me smile. Bonus question – can you name all of these famous penguins?

How many of these famous penguins can you name?

I also considered the use of an embedded YouTube video but decided against it.

I had fun choosing the title font, something that I think can make a huge difference to the viewer if chosen well. Regular fonts were somehow boring, and fonts with penguin characters looked too cluttered. I finally managed to settle on an Austin Powers style font, and then had the idea of alternating the colours to give that penguiny feel. I like it!

In the end I think the final result was ok. However this wasn’t one that I enjoyed. See below.

 

4. Challenges

This was my first viz in a while. I’ve spent the last 3 years knee-deep in Tableau Server and have a crazy busy job building a Tableau Centre of Excellence, supporting thousands of demanding users so I’m the first one to admit I don’t have the Tableau Desktop skills of people like Adam Crahen, Neil Richards, Pooja Gandhi et al.

The standard of skill out there in the community is crazy good. And that really was the main challenge. I found this viz a fairly stressful experience, it made me feel like a newbie all over again, simply because I’d be putting this out there against some stunning competition. I even considered not entering for a while. But hey, that’s not what the Tableau community is all about so I thought I’d have a go at it.

As mentioned earlier, I was deliberately trying to emulate Jonni’s style. Now that proved to be pretty difficult. I managed to create something reasonable, and fairly quickly, and began thinking to myself that hey this is a piece of cake, Jonni who?? But then it got harder. My ideas began to dry up and I found myself staring at an okay-ish viz but being unable to take that next step to make it better. Felt like vizzers block.

And that’s when I realised that the people who create these REALLY good vizzes have a lot of inherent natural skills and imagination that folks like me lack. So I gave Jonni a call and asked his advice. He came back with a number of suggestions, none of them earth-shattering, but much more subtle and delicate. Making the map larger, bringing highlight colours out from the penguin plumage were a couple of suggestions that made a huge difference to the impact of the viz. My point here is that the real geniuses of visual design have these thoughts occur naturally and without significant effort, folks like me have to learn them, or at least work a little harder than some others.

But hey, IronViz (and any vizzing) is all about learning. So I’m good with that.

Another challenge was that the Tableau part of this was pretty easy. That’s obviously great and what we want from our favourite application, but in terms of this viz I spent more time in image manipulation tools than in Tableau. And that really did detract from enjoyment. Come on Tableau! Make it harder for us to complete our vizzes!

 

5. Analysis & Story

So what can we take from this story? Here are some of the key observations that Tableau has allowed me to glean from the dataset.

  • All penguins live in the southern hemisphere, and some in hot countries
  • There are some seriously big populations, although some are endangered
  • They range from massive to teeny tiny
  • Main predators are Leopard Seals & Sea Lions
  • There are not one, but two penguin days in the calendar

So that’s it. I hope you enjoy the visualisation. If you do then please consider voting for me in the IronViz competition. And thanks to Jonni Walker for providing advice for this viz. Top man.

Good luck to all the other entries this year. Especially blinders like this from Ken Flerlage. – The Killing Fields – Viz / Blog.

Hmm. After all that writing I could do with a chocolate biscuit. Now which one……

Regards, Paul

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Tableau Server – all about the… Backgrounder

Hello everyone.

You may know me as a Tableau Centre of Excellence manager. That can involve a lot of paperclip pushing skills, with the real work being done by my excellent team (thx @jakesviz & The Information Lab). But I do try and get down and dirty with my lovely Tableau Server environment to keep my skills fresh. Obviously I don’t mess with it – @jakesviz gets pretty protective about his Server.

This series of posts is my attempt to shed some light on the internals of Server. Note there are many more experts in this field than me (Craig Bloodworth, Mark Jackson, Jen Vaughan, Tamas Foldi, Mike Roberts, Angie Greenhaw – to name but a few) so please do comment if anything is incorrect here. Maybe you guys could help me evolve this post?

What is the backgrounder?

The backgrounder is a process that runs as part of the Tableau Server application. As the name suggests, it handles background tasks such as refreshing extracts, running subscriptions and also processes tasks initiated from tabcmd.

Here are the backgrounder processes. The .exe file and the .war file. The WAR file is a Web Application Archive, and contains all the necessary components and resources needed for a Web Application such as Backgrounder.

On a clustered environment you’ll find these files in D:\Program Files\Tableau\Tableau Server\worker.1\bin (may vary slightly with your installation).

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Other files related to the backgrounder.

Template (.templ) files – These files TBD

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There are also a few .rb files in D:\Program Files\Tableau\Tableau Server\worker.1\tabmigrate\db\migrate.

And we also have a .properties file which contains all the config entries relevant to the backgrounder. It also has almost all of the other stuff that you’d find in the main workgroup.yml file which is odd. I’d  have expected it to be just the backgrounder config.

backprops

Here is the location of the backgrounder log files

backlogs

Here are 2 instances of backgrounder.exe running on my server (from Task Manager).

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Can I mess with it?

Backgrounder can be configured. There are several settings present in both workgroup.yml and backgrounder.properties. Workgroup.yml is the master config file, and it populates the backgrounder.properties (and other .properties files) when a ‘tabadmin configure’ is run.

I don’t know what all of these do (yet) and the only one I’ve ever edited is ‘backgrounder.extra_timeout_in_seconds‘ which sets the max time in seconds that a backgrounder session can run for. Tableau kills off the session if this threshold is reached. Useful for forcing users to optimise their extract times!

I also pay attention to the ‘backgrounder.vmopts‘ parameter, as this defines the size of the java heap space for this component. All components have a vmopts setting and I’ve had to increase them on occasion due to out of memory problems.

You may also want to change the ‘backgrounder.log.level‘ if you need more debug info, although Tableau logs are chatty enough for me.

If there’s a golden parameter in this lot that you get value from then let me know in the comments.

backgrounder.deploy.dir: D:/Program Files/Tableau/Tableau Server/data/tabsvc/backgrounder
backgrounder.external_cache.concurrency_limit: 10
backgrounder.external_cache.enabled: true
backgrounder.external_cache.num_connections: 1
backgrounder.external_native_query_cache_disable: true
backgrounder.extra_timeout_in_seconds: 1800
backgrounder.failure_threshold_for_run_prevention: -1
backgrounder.jdbc.wg.connections: 8
backgrounder.jdbc.wg.idle_connections: 4
backgrounder.log.dir: D:/Program Files/Tableau/Tableau Server/data/tabsvc/logs/backgrounder
backgrounder.log.level: info
backgrounder.native_api.log.level: info
backgrounder.out_of_date_schedule_minutes: 240
backgrounder.ping_dataengine.millis_to_wait: 5000
backgrounder.ping_dataengine.num_retries: 24
backgrounder.ping_services.num_retries: 10000000
backgrounder.ping_services.time_to_wait: 5000
backgrounder.purge_directories.directories: ""
backgrounder.querylimit: 7200
backgrounder.restart_interval_in_minutes: 480
backgrounder.restrict_serial_collections_to_site_level: true
backgrounder.search_index_verification.enabled: true
backgrounder.sheet_image_api.max_age: 240
backgrounder.sleep_interval: 10
backgrounder.sort_jobs_by_run_time_history_observable_hours: -1
backgrounder.sort_jobs_by_type_schedule_boundary_heuristics_milliSeconds: -1
backgrounder.timeout_tasks: refresh_extracts, increment_extracts, subscription_notify, single_subscription_notify
backgrounder.tomcat.threads: 4
backgrounder.urlprefix: backgrounder
backgrounder.vmopts: -XX:+UseConcMarkSweepGC -Xmx512m

Note that Tableau Support don’t like you to edit config files manually, they recommend that you use the tabadmin set commands to change any parameters. They might have to change that recommendation when we see Tableau Server on Linux.

For more about .templ, Ruby & properties files check out this from Tamas Foldi.

 

What are the problems with the backgrounder?

Here are some of the things that can be problematic with the backgrounder.

  • Single Threaded – This means the backgrounder process can only run one thread at a time, a thread being a set of executable instructions that a process can perform. The upshot of this is that your backgrounder works through a queue of tasks one-by-one.
  • Latency – Due to the single threaded nature of backgrounder, you may see delays or ‘latency’. For example, if you have one backgrounder, and 2 tasks for it to perform at 2am, then task 2 will have to wait until task 1 has finished. If task 1 takes an hour then task 2 won’t start until 3am. This can be annoying for users that expect their data to be refreshed by a certain time.
  • Resource Intensive – The backgrounder can consume a significant amount of processing power (CPU) and input / output (I/O) on your server. This is dependent on the type of task it is performing. It’s not uncommon to see a backgrounder node consuming 100% CPU.
  • Other Stuff – The backgrounder process also does other stuff on Tableau Server that isn’t concerned with extract refreshes. For example – reaping extracts, checking disk space, synching Active Directory groups, rebuilding the search index etc. Bear that in mind when building your system. In reality these tasks don’t take up too much resource but they do take some and you should be aware.

 

Isolating the backgrounders

A common configuration in a clustered environment is to dedicate one of your worker nodes to the backgrounder processes. This means you can dial up the number of backgrounders and let them do their stuff without worrying about any impact on other processes. This is one of the most common performance recommendations from Tableau support.

You can also get a lot of info out of the Postgres DB relating to backgrounder usage and performance. Nelson Davis has posted a guide to getting started here.

 

Improvements I’d like to see

Ok so here are a bunch of improvements I’d like to see to the topic of backgrounders and extract management. I know some of this will drop in upcoming releases and some of these problems have been solved with custom solutions at some customer sites.

Alerting – Tableau Server doesn’t alert (email / IM / SMS) when a task fails. This means you’ll need to set up external monitoring to detect issues. I know Tableau are on this though so expect to see it in an upcoming version. Some people in the community have also coded their own solutions to this problem but it really should be native functionality.

Control per site – We segregate our dev / test / prod user environments using sites , all on the same server. We run 8 backgrounder processes on that server, which are shared across the tasks on all sites. As an administrator I’d really like to be able to bind backgrounder processes to specific sites. For example, 2 backgrounders on each of dev & test sites, then the other 4 dedicated to the production site. That would ensure production tasks always have enough resource to be able to execute on time.

Control per process – I’d like to be able to stop / pause / mess with individual backgrounder processes easily. It is possible – see this from Toby Erkson, but it would be good to have this as part of an administrator console or something.

Control per type / size / pattern of extracts – It would be good if I could dedicate specific backgrounder processes to particular extracts based on their characteristics. In particular I’d like to allocate one backgrounder to all the extracts that take less than 1 minute to complete. Or even use this to reward users that show diligence with their extract management by dynamically prioritizing incremental refreshes or extracts that have a low failure rate.

Better metrics – I’d like to see exactly how much CPU is taken up by a particular backgrounder process or task / schedule or per project. This would be useful for chargeback.

Dynamic reprioritisation – I love all my users. But in particular the ones that take good care of their extract refreshes. I’d like Tableau to be able to dynamically increase the priority of tasks that complete quickly, are incremental and that have a low failure rate. The message being, if you want your stuff to get the best slice of available resource then help us out with best practice.65

Disable run now – We’ve had some issues with the “run now” option that allows users to kick off an extract refresh on-demand using the UI. In particular we’ve seen some trigger-happy users bring our server down by hammering on the run now option multiple times. I’d like to disable that or maybe throttle it somehow.

Better guidelines from Tableau – The documentation from Tableau isn’t great in this area.

05-05-2016 13-09-11

I have an 8 core 128GB server and  run 8 backgrounders with no capacity issues. And I know of other organisations running way more than that. According to this doc I should be running between 2-4. That would be some serious under-utilization of the server. I’d like to see some clearer recommendations, maybe taking into account the variety of use cases that I’ve seen in other big enterprise deployments.

 

OK that’s all for now. This post could have been more detailed but I figure that I’ll get some valuable inputs from the community that will help me expand it. Actually in the time I was writing this, Mike Roberts was doing the same – check his post for some excellent info.

Cheers, Paul

 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

makingof

Hi all,

OK here we go. Iron Viz competition time. My first viz in a long time, so it’s good to get back using Desktop again. The first competition this year is the Food Viz contest!

1. The Idea

So this one’s all about food. Plenty of potential ideas here but I love to deviate from the norm and go a little bit off the wall, a little bit unusual.

I got thinking about food. But then I thought what would we do if there was NO food? If we had nothing to grow. If all the crops in the world failed overnight. What would we do? That would be a pretty bad situation for sure and someone must have a backup plan. I’m in IT as you might know so I do love a good backup plan.

And it turns out there is one. The Svarlbad Global Seed Vault. Buried 130m into the Norwegian permafrost, this building looks more like a Bond villain’s hideout than a critical storage facility. Once I saw this website my mind started racing with questions and that’s a good sign that you’ve got a decent subject for a viz.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 08.36.51

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Go take a look at the viz!

 

2. Data

I got the data from 3 main sources.

The main seed stocks data

Plenty of detail in the data which gives some good potential for analysis. The main seed stats xls was pretty tricky to work with. There were a lot of nulls and gaps which I had to exclude from the dataset, and the file was pretty untidy. There were also close to a million rows in the file and that meant my pc struggled at times. All of this made manipulating the data tricker than I would have liked.

 

3. Viz Design

As with last year’s entry I thought I’d use Story Points again. This format has limitations but I think it works well for visualisations that answer multiple questions. In terms of formatting, I’ll be honest. I just didn’t have the time to mess about so I pretty much went with the same style that I used for my Evolution of the Speed Record viz last year.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.35.49

Construction stats

I also thought I’d use a lot of images with this viz. The seed vault is an impressive construction and had a load of really good quality images available for use. I found it was useful to use a text box to provide additional commentary on each slide.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.39.29

Seed vault funding

Most of the information about the seed vault made a big deal about how this was a big global project. This led me to question who was contributing and supporting the project and who was pretending to? I was pretty sure there would be a big difference in contributions, both in terms of stock and also finance.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.40.21

Embedded Wikipedia page

A technique I learned last year was embedding a contextual Wikipedia page into the viz. This provides more detail for anyone wanting to know more about the data points.  A good tip is to append “?printable=yes” to the URL to display a more cut down page, as well as using the mobile URL (thanks to David Pires for that tip). Some of the links didn’t work as there wasn’t a direct Wiki page – no big deal.

 

So there you go. An interesting story for sure and one that was pretty enjoyable to put together.

 

4. Challenges

This was my first viz in a while. I’ve spent the last year knee-deep in Tableau Server and have a crazy busy job building a Tableau Centre of Excellence, supporting thousands of demanding users.

So my biggest challenge wasn’t data, or thinking of a subject, it was my own lack of ability with Tableau Desktop. I was shocked at how rusty I’d become and even some basic tasks took way longer than they should have. On the plus side it was great to be back on the vizzing horse again! I’m now inspired to get stuck into some of the online training and boost my skills.

Another challenge was actually deciding to have a go. The standards in the Tableau Community have gone through the roof in the last year, and the level of quality out there is absolutely amazing. So for the first time ever I was nervous about even getting my entry out there.

 

5. Analysis & Story

So what can we take from this story? Here are some of the key observations that Tableau has allowed me to glean from the dataset.

  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was a decent build. Didn’t cost too much and also only took 20 months. Pretty impressive going.
  • Some unusual crops stored in the seed vault. Rice at the top, and mostly concentrated around the Triticeae tribe of crop – wheat, maize etc. Surprisingly few fruit. I like blueberries so I’d be stuffed without them for my doomsday breakfast.
  • Probably not a surprise to see India top the seed donations chart but it was curious to see several African nations amongst the top donators.
  • I was surprised to see seed donation amounts tailing off big time in recent years. I wonder if that’s down to project apathy or maybe we’ve just got all the samples we need for now?

Wanna know even more? Go check out this Interactive 360 tool.

So that’s it. I hope you enjoy the visualisation. If you do then please consider voting for me in the IronViz competition.

Regards, Paul

2 minutes with… Carl Allchin of The Information Lab

2 mins with title2

Hello folks. Time for a new 2 minutes with… I’m delighted to welcome Carl Allchin to VN towers. Carl spent 6 months with my team helping us build our Tableau service. He’s got great Tableau Desktop skills and has a natural flair for helping to train users.

Without further ado..

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

DSC_1535 (1)CA: I am Carl Allchin and I work for The Information Lab (Tableau’s Partner of the Year in EMEA for 2013) as a Tableau and Alteryx consultant and blog about Tableau on datajedininja.blogspot.com.

VN: Tell me about your org

CA: The Information Lab is a great company. Started by Tom Brown a few years ago, they are now a band of Tableau and Alteryx gurus in Europe who have partnered with those two software companies to help everyone get access to their data and make best use of it. I’ve  recently joined from Barclays where I was an internal Tableau consultant (Data Ninja) but made the jump to The Information Lab so I could work across multiple industries and support more people get the most out of their data.

VN: How do you personally use Tableau?

CA: I am a Tableau-holic. I use Tableau for my day job to help our clients out with specific challenges they are facing. I am also a Tableau trainer so I get to teach people how to get the most out of Tableau Desktop. I get a massive buzz from seeing people have the same revolutionary moment that I had two years ago when I was taught by Tom to use Tableau in a course at Barclays. I also use Tableau in the evenings to analyse basketball data to understand the game I love more and to communicate with fans worldwide about the sport.

VN: Tell me more about your fascination with Tableau and sports data.

Carl Lay-upCA: Ever since meeting Peter Gilks at Barclays and talking data visualisation and Tableau, my career (and personal life) has gone on a fantastic journey. Being focused on data visualisation and Tableau at Barclays was great but Peter and I were also basketball nuts so we started to translate our day jobs on to basketball data so we could understand more about the game than ever before. As our Tableau skills and knowledge of the game grew, we started to use one to learn more about the other. For example, I wanted to learn how to use background images in Tableau so I create my interactive shot chart (http://public.tableausoftware.com/shared/GRGB8BZB9?:display_count=no) and Peter explored visualisation techniques like his ‘Ball Code’ (http://paintbynumbersblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/how-i-built-ballcode.html).

This has led to me landing some really exciting opportunities, like being invited by Ben Jones to present at the Tableau Public session at the Tableau Conference in Seattle and talk just about basketball. That is pretty unique for a Brit to get the chance to do that in the US!

VN: What does the Tableau community mean to you and who do you learn from?

The Tableau community is simply amazing and one of the reasons why I love doing what I do. The fact that so many highly skilled, intelligent people are willing to help in any problem you come across is great. I could name so many people who I learn from but I have to give special mention to The Information Lab team (http://www.theinformationlab.co.uk/team/) as they were great to me before I even joined them, Lee Mooney for his database and analytics skills he still shares with me, Jewel Loree and Ben Jones of Tableau Public fame and all the Zens who always make time. That Viz Ninja fella is also pretty handy for some Enterprise Server tips too.

VN: So why are you a Data Jedi Ninja?

CA: At Barclays, Peter, Lee and I were the team that people came to when they wanted an ultimate approach than the traditional IT BI report so we basically hid away creating great stuff and only came out of hiding to deliver some great tools to the business before hiding away again and working on the next piece of data magic. We actually got Barclays to accept Data Ninja as our job title which was quite an achievement for a bank but as that Twitter account had already been claimed then I had to add an additional level.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

I’ve recently been on a seven week holiday to Australia to complete detox from all things data. Unfortunately, my girlfriend is did let me take my laptop so I just hope my Tableau withdrawal symptoms are not too bad.

That’s it for this one. If you ever get the chance to attend one of Carl’s training courses then do take it all in. He’s one of the best.

Cheers, Paul

 

2 minutes with… Nelson Davis of Slalom Consulting

2 mins with title2

 

Welcome back to what is now the second best BI interview series out there! Sob sob. Hey I can handle that Dan stole our idea, mainly because his Interworks interview series is so damn good!

But that doesn’t stop us bringing you some top guests. And this time it’s new Zen Master Nelson Davis of Slalom

So who are you then and what do you do?

Nelson ProfileI am Nelson Davis – a good southern gentleman born and raised in the beautiful city of Atlanta, GA. Just over a year ago I join Slalom Consulting to focus on Tableau and since then I’ve had some incredible opportunities to do amazing work. As of a few days ago I became a Solution Principal of Data Visualization for the Information Management and Analytics practice for the Atlanta office. I use Tableau in almost every aspect of my day to day work.

Tell me about your organization

Slalom is a consultant’s dream place to work. Rather than getting on a plane each week and traveling across the country, Slalom employs a local model, serving clients in each of 15 our markets (newest one is in London – and looking for amazing people). Because of this, we’re invested in long term relationships with our clients – in Atlanta this means I’ve had the opportunity to do work for the likes of Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, AT&T and Cox Communications. It also means that we get to be invested in the community – over the course of the year a group called Slalom Cares Atlanta organizes Backpack drives for school kids in need, Holiday Gift Drives, Can Food Drives, and more. And the people of Slalom are amazing themselves. It became clear to me when I first walked in the door that Slalom goes out to find the brightest people in the marketplace, puts them together to work on the most challenging projects, and gives them free reign to own the outcomes – which are often time amazing.

Last thing I’ll say is that we’re Tableau’s North American Alliance Partner of the Year for 2013, and we have an internal Tableau Community that is very collaborative and working to push the envelope in every direction when it comes to Tableau.

How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?

My path to Tableau is a bit odd. In school I studied Civil Engineering with a focus on Transportation (I like connecting things). After graduation, my wife and I did a year of mission work in Mexico, only to return home in the Spring of 2009 to near double digit unemployment. With my Master degree I landed a systems analysis internship (yay $15/hr!) and got to play with data for the first time. Many months later I landed my first Transportation Engineering job – and almost immediately realized that data was more fun. After a little over two years as an engineer in a two person office, my boss was offered another job and he parleyed a spot for me – they were looking for a transportation data analyst.

After a few months of Excel (the gateway drug of data nerds everywhere) and some cool GIS stuff in Google Earth, I was ask to find a way to create ‘dashboards’ with ‘live data’. I said sure and promptly Googled ‘what the heck is a dashboard?’ and Tableau popped up (v6.0). That afternoon I made my first dashboard, and things just kinda took off. I got really involved in the Atlanta Tableau Users Group and started raising my hand when they asked for presenters. Within a few months I was using Tableau on projects coast to coast, and traveling to support them. I started to realize the amazing potential of Tableau and how to hack it to push the limits. When I showed off Google Street View integration in a Tableau Dashboard to the TCC13 speaker selection people, I got an invite. TCC13 opened my eyes to the amazing Tableau Community and the transition over to Slalom helped me to take my Tableau work to the next level. I’ve done everything from Black Friday Analytics, to Social Media Reporting, to Online Merchandising, to Logistics Networking and much more – all in Tableau. It’s been a lot of fun.

Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

There are a number of people in the community that are putting out amazing things. Like many others I point at Joe Mako, Jonathan Drummey and Andy Kriebel as kind of the Godfathers of the community.

However, I find that the stuff the most inspiring, technical, and what I want to emulate comes from the likes of Mark Jackson, Ryan Robitaille, Ben Sullins, and Russell Christopher. These guys are the boundary pushers, extending what’s possible in Tableau with some crazy integrations, customizations and making Tableau not look like Tableau. My goal in my work is to make the tool disappear – allowing the user to focus only on the analysis.

You do tons of work with the Atlanta Tableau Users Group. What makes you so keen to help others?

I’ve presented at ATUG four or five times and will do so again in December (email me if you want to join the webex!). I think my mom, who taught for over 30 years, instilled a love of teaching in me. The best part of my job is working with clients and watching for the light bulb moments, when everything just clicks in to place and they see or understand something for the first time. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning – helping people connect the dots. This same thing is at the core of what Tableau’s all about – the belief that seeing the data visually will fundamentally change the user’s understanding.

So I guess you could say Tableau and I are kinda perfect for each other. I’m also just passionate about making complicated things simpler, putting power in to the hands of more people and spreading the word that there is a better way out there – and I think the secret is getting out.

You got the honour of being named a Zen Master this year. What does that mean to you?

Wow. Great question. Earlier this year Slalom did a professional workshop and asked about a career ‘bucket list’. One of the three things I wrote down was that one day someday I hoped I might be named a Tableau Zen Master. I never thought there was a chance it would happen this year, or if it might ever happen. It’s not something you can try to do, there’s no list of check boxes anywhere. The Tableau Community is full of bright and talented people, but you want to talk about some of the most amazing, cream of the crop people on the planet – that has long been my opinion of the Zen Masters. They put out the best work and they give of themselves relentlessly to help others in the community.

Finding out that I would become a part of this group was both amazing and terrifying, honoring and humbling, all at the same time. There were certainly moments where I thought to myself ‘but I can’t do table calcs like Joe and Jonathan, Alan’s mapping is way better than anything a can do, Kelly and Anya do such better designs than me….’ And yet I’ve come to realize that while all of that is true (and it is), there’s a place for me, and the passion that I bring, in this group. It is humbling in every way, and I believe there’s a sense of responsibility to the community and to Tableau that I will work hard to honor (though I’ve promised my wife, I’m not doing 30 for 30 ever again).

Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

Nelson Profile2I’m passionate about global missions and photography. I’ll be taking a big trip back down to Mexico at the end of March 2015 to help build a house for a family that lives in conditions that don’t really exist in our first world lives. I also (sorta) maintain a photography website – nelsondavisphotography.com – that

I enjoy sharing some fun work from the past. But I’m most passionate about my family – two young boys and my awesome supportive wife make it such that there’s never a dull moment.

Okay that’s it. Tune in next time for more guests before Dan steals them…

The Evolution of the Speed Record

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Hi all,

Oh dear – it’s that time of year again. Time for the Iron Viz competition. The first challenge this year is the Wikipedia challenge. Create a viz, any viz, so long as the data comes from Wikipedia.

1. The Idea

There are tons of data on Wikipedia. Trouble is, much of it is in a nightmare format and takes a lot of tidying up. I wasn’t cool with doing much of that this time so reasonably tidy data was a must. I also wanted something with depth, and an element of competition, danger and heroism. And I love technology so wanted that as well. All in all a tough ask.

But then I stumbled across the perfect topic – how speed records have evolved over time. Ticks all the boxes and could be a nice use of Story Points.

So that was it – “The Evolution of the Speed Record” was GO!

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The Evolution of the Speed Record!

 

2. Data

I got the data from 3 Wikipedia pages.

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An example of the land speed record data

The data has enough variety and richness to satisfy my requirements. It is also pretty consistent between pages so makes consolidation into Excel a lot easier. I did have to remove entries that referred to record attempts that were not ratified, and I also had to standardise on mph vs kph as well as distance miles vs kilometers. But with those caveats, I’d gotten me a pretty decent dataset.

It was also cool that most rows linked off to pages about the pilot and the craft used, each with some neat images for use in the viz. Plenty of room to supplement this data set should that be required. I also managed to find some clips of some of the drivers on YouTube.

 

3. Viz Design

The evolution of the record featured trials and tribulations, joy and pain, heroes and villains. So all in all this was a great opportunity to try Story Points for the first time.

axisThe overall look and feel took some arriving at and I’d like to thank Kelly & Chris for assisting with the peer review process. My original version made use of custom “speed-style” fonts to give the impression of speed, but we eventually decided that the real ethos of the whole story was the nostalgia and ‘Pathe’ News‘ style of flat capped heroes with handlebar mustaches pushing the boundaries of technology. So we switched to a style that sort of represented a 1930’s newspaper. I was really pleased with the final look and feel of it. Deciding the style really helped the story design of the charts. I tried to be as minimal as possible, removing unnecessary chart ink and distractions.

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Operation Paperclip

I wanted to give a feeling of progressing along a chronological timeline, whilst interspersing with ‘infographic’ style information pages. In particular there was a great story to tell about Germany and Operation Paperclip, that made a great infographic.

 

 

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Embedded minimal Wikipedia page

I obviously wanted to use some advanced techniques so used the individual Wikipedia pages for some of the pilots to link off to an embedded web page. A masterstroke was working out that if I added “?printable=yes” to the URL it would give me a stripped back render of the page, that almost looked like a 1930’s newspaper, fitting the theme perfectly. I was really happy with that.

 

 

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Embedded YouTube page

There’s also a page that links off to a YouTube video of the driver. I like that one, as the links are all monochromatic grainy film with appropriately stiff-upper-lipped voiceover. Excellent. I did worry a little about the ethics of including these videos as some of them show the final moments of the driver’s life. I think I’ve been respectful enough in my overall viz to justify inclusion though. I also added an old-school TV border to give a little bit more visual appeal.

So overall I was really pleased with this. A nice style, several good stories and a use of some advanced multimedia techniques.

 

4. Challenges

As mentioned this was my first use of Story Points. Unfortunately it turned out to be a frustrating experience. The feature, whilst undoubtedly useful, is in need of customisation and doesn’t provide a smooth user experience. One for the Tableau dev team to look at for sure.

Another challenge was the fact that the new Tableau Public site has sneakily been changed to https. That only becomes apparent when accessing a published viz using Chrome. Make sure your links to embedded content are https or they won’t work.

 

5. Analysis & Story

So what can we take from this story? Here are some of the key observations that Tableau has allowed me to glean from the dataset.

  • Records are dominated by only 3 nations, with France killing it in early years with their brilliant aviators.
  • It took a while for airspeed to get going, in fact land speeds were higher for a long time.
  • Germany’s poor record really didn’t tell the full story, their brilliant scientists being key to the USA’s great NASA missions in later years. Interesting how their previous misdemeanours were overlooked though…
  • Most record-breaking attempts advanced the speed slightly, with the occasional big jump.
  • The incredible Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald held an amazing 21 records.
  • Oddly, no-one seems to be bothered about records anymore, there hasn’t been a new record since 1997. Or is it too hard / dangerous now?

So that’s it. I hope you enjoy the visualisation. If you do then please consider voting for me in the IronViz competition, should this make the Elite8 twitter vote-off thing.

Regards, Paul

2 minutes with… Mark Jackson of Piedmont Healthcare

2 mins with title2

 

Ok we are back back back! And it has recently come to my attention that there is now a competing interview series. Well I guess imitation is the best form of flattery so I won’t send the elite Ninjas around just yet. Besides, it’s a great read so I’d recommend you check it out!

But we’ve got a blinding guest this month, none other than one of my absolute Tableau heroes – Mark Jackson. Without further ado…

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

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Nice hats!

My name is Mark Jackson. I go by @ugamarkj on Twitter and have a blog at http://ugamarkj.blogspot.com. I run the Tableau BI program at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, GA. My mission is to create an army of viz ninjas (Ahem! they all work for me actually – VN) and turn them loose to do awesome things with our data. So I spend most of my time educating others and modeling data sources for them to work with. I now have a team of two senior BI developers that I’m able to transition some of that work to. So I’m able to spend more time these days thinking strategically and exploring new technologies like NOSQL graph databases to help answer really complex relational or pattern based questions.

 

VN: Tell me about your org

Piedmont Healthcare is a five-hospital system. We have 400 employed medical staff members, and we have approximately 1,200 affiliate physicians with more than 100 physician practices across North Georgia. In total, we have around 10k FTEs that work for the heath system. Piedmont has some of the best medical providers in the world, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else for treatment. We had our second child at Piedmont and it was a great experience. So I’m honored to be a part of this organization and play my small part in improving the care we provide to our patients.

VN: How do you personally use Tableau?

These days I mainly use Tableau to evangelize Tableau and the science of data visualization. Tableau is the best tool on the market to help people rapidly see and understand their data. No other tool even comes close at the moment. Sure other tools can build beautiful interactive dashboards. But Tableau is leaps and bounds faster at doing it because it lets you iteratively paint with data until you arrive at an insightful view. And because you are painting with data using VizQL instead of plugging data into prescriptive dialog boxes to create specific visualizations, it is vastly more flexible and lets you be super creative. The fact that Joshua Milligan created tic-tac-toe and blackjack with artificial intelligence in Tableau proves that point. Try doing that in QlikView.

 

VN: You’ve always been one of the community interested in the IT / enterprise side of Tableau. How come?

It is because I run the BI program for large healthcare enterprise. My role exists within Financial Planning and Analysis where we have a shadow IT program. So we are responsible for a large portion of activities that would traditionally be within IT. This includes data governance, master data management, security, streamlining data movement, optimizing queries, transforming data, ensuring application up-time, troubleshooting software issues, functioning as a help desk…and the list goes on. If I don’t get the infrastructure right and instill confidence in the reliability of the system, I’m doomed. I started out at Piedmont as a customer of data analytics services in my role as Manager of Business Development and the Project Management Office for our Heart Institute. When I moved into my current role, my goal was to enable everyone to easily do the things I was able to do and bypass all the mistakes I’ve learned from along the way. To do that required setting up a sound architecture to remove a lot of the complexity required to do analytics work.

VN: What does the Tableau community mean to you and who do you learn from?

I echo what Steve Wexler recently wrote in a blog series about the Tableau community. This has to be the best software focused community on the planet. I’m tracking more than 80 blogs that post about Tableau at http://ugamarkj.tumblr.com. That is crazy and just shows how much excitement there is about this tool. The best thing about the community though is that it has managed to be dominated by people who are humble and super giving of their time. I’ve received so much help and inspiration from the community that it is impossible to name names without leaving important people out. Folks on the Tableau forum played a big role in my early development and more recently I’ve connected with a lot of people on Twitter. Many of these people I’ve met in the real world at the Tableau Conferences. They are all wonderful people that I feel privileged to know. I’m an active member of the community because the culture is amazing and I enjoying sharing what I learn with people that I consider to be my friends.

 

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

DSC_0013People that befriend me on Facebook or meet me in real life will learn that I love to talk about the things that they always tell you not to talk about: politics and religion. I love to think about things philosophically measure actions against principles. With these topics (and any topic really), it is important to stay humble and be willing to look at things from someone else’s perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed my mind on things because someone else challenged my point of view. I’m incredibly grateful for those people. My wife Leigh is one of those people that helps me think though these things (God bless her for putting up with me). I’m also a father of two kids (Ansley-4 and David-2). They keep me on my toes and are always good for a laugh.

That’s great thanks a lot Mark. And thanks for all the support with the infra related aspects of Tableau.

Ok see you next time folks – VN