2 minutes with… Chris Love of The Information Lab

2 mins with title2

Good day Tablites! I trust I find you well this morning? And if I don’t then go and play with 8.1’s DATEPARSE function, for it will bring you great joy.

It’s that time again, where we open the brown envelopes and decide, based on size and quality of bribe, who will be the next subject of the internet’s premier interview show. And this month’s deep pockets belong to..

Chris Love (@ChrisLuv) of The Information Lab

Chris-Love-300x300Chris has appeared on the blogging and social scene relatively recently but has already made a name for himself with some great analysis and comment. He’s also a big help to us here at ninja towers. Plus he bought the beers the last time we met up. He’s recently joined the fine folks at The Information Lab as an Alteryx expert, giving this 2 minutes with a more Alteryx flavour. As a side note we also love Chris’s photography and hope to pick up some tips.

VizNinja (VN): Good morning, how are you?

CL: I’m doing good, my first few days in my new role at The Information Lab have been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest so it’s nice to take a break and chat to you.

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

CL: I’m Chris Love, an Alteryx\Tableau Consultant at The Information Lab, Tableau EMEA Partner of the Year. I’m also the current Alteryx Grand Prix Champion.

VN: People may not have heard of Alteryx, can you quickly explain what it is? and what does being the Grand Prix Champion mean?

CL: It’s hard to pigeon-hole Alteryx, it’s essentially a visual BI tool that can be used for everything quick data processes, e.g. data reshaping, through to geospatial processing like “Find Nearest” and “Point in Polygon”; it’s also got a fantastic reputation as an Analytics tool. I’ve been using it for 8 years now and I’m looking forward to showing what it can do to a wider audience through The Information Lab.

59As far as the Grand Prix goes, every year Alteryx hold an event at their conference where ten of the best Alteryx users in the world compete with each other over a series of business problems. Each problem is a timed “lap” and this year the three laps took in an end to end process which involved taking raw data, reshaping it and then doing some K-means clustering before presenting a final report via pdf.

champI can’t remember my exact time but it took under half an hour in total to do the entire process and I was lucky enough to gain enough points from my laps to come top  of the leader board. It’s a unique experience, with a few hundred people cheering you on and watching your progress on big screens, and the added pressure of being in direct competition with others, it’s hard not to go to pieces and forget everything you know. I must say though that the prize of a weekend in Las Vegas and a drive in a Lamborghini at the Las Vegas Speedway made it all worth it.

VN: How have you seen Alteryx make an impact on businesses?

CL: Alteryx empowers people. Ordinary business users are often hamstrung because the data they need either isn’t accessible to them because it needs specialists to extract it, or the data is available in Excel or online but is in the wrong format. Even solutions like Tableau, which are so easy to use, still require data to be formatted in a certain way before it can be used. Alteryx changes that by providing a simple drag and drop interface which allows users to use a plethora of tools to import, transform and analyse data, and the ability to share the results locally in any format or via the cloud.  I once presented to a team who wanted to automate a handful of reports – I was able to build out their solution in just two hours in the course of a demo – which sold it to them; the next time I met them they were batching over 10,000 reports daily.  I was blown away.

VN: How did you first become exposed to Tableau?

CL: I must admit I had heard of Tableau but it wasn’t until Alteryx added the capability to write to .tde format that I became fully aware of it. As soon downloaded a trial then I knew I had something that complimented Alteryx perfectly, so I made it my mission to get myself a copy, which I managed, and I started learning it in my spare time using resources like the Tableau community, Blogs and Tableau Public. With Alteryx to help me format data I found I was able to build Tableau dashboards quickly and easily because I didn’t need to worry about blending and formatting in Tableau itself, and the spatial elements I was able to add through Alteryx received fantastic feedback from even seasoned Tableau professionals – which only encouraged me further.

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

CL: As Spiderman was warned “With great power comes great responsibility”. BI is changing, business users are being empowered but with that comes a sense of responsibility otherwise there will be a backlash from IT. As more users get the tools to build data and analytical processes then users, and software vendors themselves, have a responsibility to ensure that the answers that come out of those processes are still meaningful and useful. If I can build a regression model without any code then does it mean I should? It depends, for example, on whether I understand what overfitting is.

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

65254_452448238166366_1734509599_nCL: I’m a keen photographer, I don’t get out as often as I should but when I do I have achieved some pleasing results – I even had some luck displaying my photos in exhibitions and have even sold photographs to America. Have a look at my site.

VN: Thanks for your time, see you soon.

CL: No problem, anytime.

That’s it for this episode. Tune in next time for more adventures in BI. Ping me @paulbanoub if you fancy participating in a future episode.

Regards, Paul

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That deaf dumb and blind kid…

makingof

#He’s a pinball wizard there has to be a twist. A pinball wizard, got such a supple wrist.. do do de do… How do you think he does it? What makes him so goood?#

Good morning all. I don’t start every post with a song but at the moment I can’t get that tune out of my head. And it’s no surprise given the subject of the post.

Peter Gilks recent viz about video games consoles got me reminiscing back to the heady days of 8-bit gaming and all those days I spent in dodgy arcades in the North-East of England. And I got thinking about all the great pinball tables I used to play, both back then and later at University. So as with most thoughts us BI folk tend to have, it gravitated into a Tableau viz!

And here it is.

pinballviz

A viz of all pinball tables where more than 1000 units were manufactured. The timeline shows release date, coloured by manufacturer. I’ve also pulled a table rating and the exact number of units produced.

So how did I do this?

1. Data

pinsearchData is obviously the key to any viz. And luckily the folks at The Internet Pinball Database have a detailed repository, easy to query and returns the results in a format that I can easily get into Excel. So step 1 was to use their search functionality andsearchresult pull out a list of all tables with >1000 units produced and copy that into Excel. Simple enough. I was hoping to locate a really detailed datasource and given the fact loads of people take their flippering very seriously it wasn’t a surprise to find this resource.

2. Viz design

Now I knew from experience that pinball had a “golden age”, was hit by the advent of video games and then made a bit of a comeback. But would that be reflected in the data? So my first view was a timeline by year, coloured by manufacturer to show the big players like Williams and Gottlieb etc.

That was simple enough to create but I wanted to give it a kind of 8-bit graphics feel, like you’d get on a table display, and that was done with a stacked bar chart, carefully choosing the colours and border around each cell. I really like the look of it, especially from a distance. Works great when using the manufacturer highlight also.

The other 2 views were self explanatory enough, highlighting the ratings and units produced. I had planned on limiting them to the top 20 tables so I didn’t have annoying scrollbars (I hate those things), but a couple of people I showed it to said they’d like to see more detail. Let me know what you think.

#Aint got no distractions. Can’t hear those buzzers and bells. Don’t see lights a flashing. Plays by sense of smell. Always gets a replay, never seen him faaalll… # Sorry – there it goes again… Be gone Daltrey!

3. Filtering

I wanted to highlight and filter according to manufacturer. Highlights look great on the timeline with all those little squares lit up like a video game, but it would also be nice to filter the whole sheet by manufacturer to tell their own story through the years and view their top / most produced tables. This was achieved by allowing the tables by manufacturer chart to double up as a dashboard filter.

I also added a filter for machine types, so you can go back the really old-school days of Electro-Mechanical tables, before they all became Solid-State.

4. Graphical Grief

I really wanted to get some more graphics into the viz, pictures of tables etc, but ran into two issues.

Firstly I did manage to find all the images on ipdb.org, but there were far too many to use as custom shapes or icons. So I figured that I’d be able to have a web page object that linked back to the image at source, displaying the table whenever it was selected by the user. That would be ace.

All I needed was the URL path for one image for each table. Now I’m sure as hell not gonna manually copy the URLs into the datasource so managed to achieve this with the help of a colleague (@GlenRobinson72) who knocked up this VBScript.

ipdbscriptIt works by taking a text file of pinball table names, and for each one it connects to ipdb.org, searches for the table, finds an image file and parses the URL, which it returns back to me. I then manually copy that into the datasource csv as a dimension. Dead easy. It doesn’t always get the best image for each table but that’s less of a concern.

Then the next step was to create a dashboard URL action, that referenced the new photo URL dimension.

And finally a web page object that dynamically changed URL destination based on what table was selected.

imageproblemThat works great. BUT – the web page object has no control over the size of the image returned. I’d wanted each image to resize into the web page object but what ended up happening was that only a tiny portion of the image was displayed with huge scrollbars. I was unable to find a workaround to this.

For example, see the image in the bottom right corner of the screenshot (left).

I did find a compromise. I removed the line in the script that stripped the “tn_” from the URL and this meant that the thumbnail image was returned. Too small to be of real use but more workable than the large image.

If anyone knows a way of getting around this then let me know. It would have been the icing on the cake for this viz. I suppose I could have downloaded the images locally, resized them manually and then used them. I wonder if Alteryx could be used to solve this problem?

5. If I’d had more time

I managed to find a data set of world’s best pinball players and their ranking points totals from 2013. That would have been good to represent, and maybe correlate with their favourite tables. The data is at http://www.ifpapinball.com/ if anyone is interested.

I also wanted to represent the World Record score for each table, but wasn’t able to find that data.

The Finished Product

I’m well pleased with this. In particular the way the colour matrix works for the timeline chart. Looks funky.

http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/PinballTables/PinballWizardry#1

And there are a surprising number of trends to infer from the data. You can see the golden age of pinball from the mid 60’s to late 70’s, when the impact of Space Invaders and Pac-Man led to a crash in table production. And then the mini-revival in the early 90’s, which is when I ploughed loads of my student grant into them. Stern are still producing tables to the present day but these are in lower numbers than 1000 so are not included in this dataset.

Looking at ratings you can see Gottlieb have by far the biggest presence at the top of the ratings chart, even though they didn’t produce individual tables in huge numbers. But they clearly have a cult following as the ratings suggest. Williams and Bally seemed to go for large numbers, consistently across the golden age, with Williams continuing into the 90’s revival. Of course none of that would have been possible without the early pioneers like Chicago Coin and Genco.

No surprise to see The Addams Family as the top produced table. That thing was everywhere. I never got on with the magnetic madness on that table although everyone else seemed to love it. I’ve called out my favourite table in an annotation. As far as I’m concerned it was directly responsible for me not getting a 1st in my undergraduate degree so has a lot to answer for.

So there it is. Hope you like it. Feedback invited as always. And don’t buy that stuff about the deaf dumb and blind kid. I’ve tried playing blindfolded….

Regards, Tommy – agh sorry!

2 minutes with… Peter Gilks of Slalom Consulting

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Good morning all, I hope I find you well.

It seems that “2 minutes with…” is proving to be quite the premier interview show on the web. We’ve been literally inundated with requests to take part. I might have to employ some additional ninjas to deal with the admin.

We’re switching continents for this episode… He’s an alien. He’s a legal alien. He’s everyone’s favourite Englishman in New York…

It’s Peter Gilks (@pgilks) of Slalom Consulting in NYC.

250px-Slalom_ConsultingFounded in 2001, Slalom Consulting are an American business and technology consulting firm and were named as one of the best 50 companies to work for by Forbes in 2013.

Here at VN we are big fans of Peter’s work, in particular his cool Tableau Public vizzes. This recent one will roll back the years for you hardened video gamers. Peter is also a vocal tweeter and has been very helpful with his feedback about this blog and other topics.

IMG_0042VizNinja (VN): Hi Peter, how are you?

Peter Gilks (PG): I’m very well thanks, despite just getting back from seeing the Chicago Bulls lose at Madison Square Garden.

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

PG: Peter Gilks, Data Visualization Consultant at Slalom Consulting, New York. Slalom are Tableau North American Alliance Partner of the Year 2013.

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

PG: I started using Tableau about 4 years ago when I was working as a customer insight analyst at Barclays. At first it was just a great a replacement for coding SQL and draw charts in Excel, but I soon realised the scope of the product and I was hooked!  Eventually the product grew within the company and we were lucky enough to get a Server which opened up the possibilities of pushing Tableau dashboards out to colleagues and customers. These days I’m spreading the love to other organisations, big and small, as a Tableau consultant at Slalom.

Tableau Public has also become something that I’m passionate about. I have my own blog which I run as a hobby and I try to do creative things with data. But I also love reading other folks blogs and get a kick out of seeing Tableau Public dashboards embedded in news sites. Where as I mostly make vizzes on fun topics, things like the recent dashboard showing fatal shootings of children in the US that was featured on NBC News really show how powerful data visualisations can be.

VN: How have you seen Tableau make an impact on businesses?

PG: There are a few big impacts I see Tableau making. One is the huge increase in efficiency for business and data analysts – which in turns leads to another that is the discovery of insights which is enabled by the ability to ask and answer questions quickly. Another major impact is the engagement with data from people who would otherwise be disengaged and making more ‘gut’ decisions. I think the aesthetics of Tableau really help draw people in, and enable them to make new discoveries and better decisions.

VN: Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

PG: The Tableau Community is really one of the best-selling points of the product. It’s such a friendly, welcoming bunch and I enjoy reading various blogs, which are quite diverse in content. I also love the way that Tableau appreciates and encourages the culture of knowledge sharing through things like the Zen Master program. And the Tableau Customer Conference of course is the highlight of the year. Your blog has also been hugely helpful (and fun).

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

PG: Specifically in relation to Tableau we should as a user community be willing to help keep the company moving in the right direction through open discussion and constructive criticism. For the BI industry in general, I think expanding the field beyond IT and involving people with other skills and views is the key to success. Lets make BI an enabler for creativity, not a barrier.

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

IMG_0438PG: I’m currently getting into home brewing – there is a dry hoppy IPA in the fermenter right now.

VN: Thanks for your time Peter, see you soon.

PG: No problem, enjoyed it.

Hope you enjoyed our latest episode of the interview show that’s taking the internet by storm. I’d recommend that NBC, BBC or Al-Jazeera get in touch quickly as our rates are going to rise.

Regards, Paul