Monthly Archives: September, 2013

Infographic: New Path to Health Insurance (Chicago Tribune)

New Path to Health Insurance

Alberto Cairo Offers His Third ‘Introduction to Infographics and Visualization’ MOOC Class – REGISTER TODAY!


[Click on image to watch Alberto Cairo’s introduction to his latest MOOC class]

Alberto Cairo has announced that he will be teaching his third ‘Introduction to Infographics and Visualization’ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), offered through the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, will begin October 6. It’ll be shorter than the two previous courses —four weeks, instead of six. Registration is free and space is limited to a few thousand people. The video above will give you an idea of what to expect.

According to Rosental Calmon Alves, the first edition was the first MOOC about journalism ever organized in the world. It was also an unexpected success: Mr. Cairo conceived it as a little experiment at first, hoping to attract just a few hundred people. He ended up with 2,000 in the first edition, and 5,000 in the second one, coming from more than 100 countries.

Mr. Cairo had also assumed that a course that focuses on how to communicate with charts, maps, and diagrams —and not so much on how to use them to analyze data— would appeal mainly to journalists and designers. This assumption was wrong. Students came from several scientific disciplines, statistics, cartography, education, business intelligence, etc. This variety of backgrounds —professional and cultural— enlivened the discussions a lot.

Here you have an excerpt from the introduction to the third edition:

“Previous experience in information graphics and visualization is not needed to take this course. With the readings, video lectures and tutorials available, participants will acquire enough skills to start producing compelling, simple infographics almost immediately. Participants can expect to spend 4-6 hours per week on the course. Although the MOOC was initially conceived with journalists and designers in mind, others are welcome as well and can benefit from the very practical skills that will be taught.”

You can also read some reviews of the previous courses: 1, 2, 3, 4. Mr. Cairo hopes that you will consider joining him, particularly if you didn’t participate on any of these courses before.


DataViz History: Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

“We know very little about Leonardo’s apprenticeship in Verroccio’s workshop, but the short account provided by Vasari confirms that it included architectural and technological design, according to a concept that was being revived on the model of Vitruvius, as reproposed by Alberti” (Pedretti 14). Having had access to Alberti’s and Vitruvius’ treatises, it is no surprise that Leonardo produced his own version of the Vitruvian man in his notebooks.

This rendering of the Vitruvian Man, completed in 1490, is fundamentally different from others in two ways: The circle and square image overlaid on top of each other to form one image. A key adjustment was made that others had not done and thus were forced to make disproportionate appendages:

“Leonardo’s famous drawings of the Vitruvian proportions of a man’s body first standing inscribed in a square and then with feet and arms outspread inscribed in a circle provides an excellent early example of the way in which his studies of proportion fuse artistic and scientific objectives. It is Leonardo, not Vitruvius, who points out that ‘If you open the legs so as to reduce the stature by one-fourteenth and open and raise your arms so that your middle fingers touch the line through the top of the head, know that the centre of the extremities of the outspread limbs will be the umbilicus, and the space between the legs will make and equilateral triangle’ (Accademia, Venice). Here he provides one of his simplest illustrations of a shifting ‘centre of magnitude’ without a corresponding change of ‘centre of normal gravity’. This remains passing through the central line from the pit of the throat through the umbilicus and pubis between the legs. Leonardo repeatedly distinguishes these two different ‘centres’ of a body, i.e., the centers of ‘magnitude’ and ‘gravity (Keele 252).”

This image provides the perfect example of Leonardo’s keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, “Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.”

Reference: Gorman, Michael John, leonardo’s vitruvian man, STS 102: “Leonardo: Science, Technology, and Art”, Stanford University, Fall 2002,

Infographic: A History of Business Intelligence

A History of Business Intelligence

Hollow: Examining the Future of Rural America (

Immerse yourself in the past and present of a McDowell County, West Virginia. Video portraits, data visualizations, photography, soundscapes, community-generated content and grassroots mapping tell the story of this typical rural American community in a way that is bound to leave a lasting impression.

Note: You may need to update your browser to Google Chrome.



Hollow: Examining the Future of Rural America

MicroStrategy “Data Science to Business Value” – Arpit Agrawal

Note: I received this blog posting in an e-mail. I generally and in principle agree with Arpit in his assessment of MicroStrategy. I thought I would share his thoughts and, if time permits, offer my thoughts in a future blog.

Best Regards,


MicroStrategy “Data Science to Business Value” by Arpit Agrawal (blogged on IT Central Station on August 14, 2013)

When a customer wants to implement BI, there are lots of options available in the market to choose from. The decision depends on various parameters such as  scale of implementation, costing and  performance. They can either go with the open source options, or they can plan towards a paid BI tool. The decision can  also be driven based on strategic factors of the company. I personally don’t believe in tool agnostic approach, I feel every customer has his own BI needs and has some specific requirements. No tool in this world can meet each one of these requirements, but in my experience MicroStrategy provides a complete product, which meets most of the customer requirements. This would be my first product review on a Business intelligence tool “MicroStrategy”

MicroStrategy is a solution provider for enterprise software platform on business intelligence. When we talk about MicroStrategy the first thought that comes into my mind is the core focus of the company, which is to deliver Business intelligence solutions, unlike other companies, which have their focus on different horizons. This, in my opinion, is the core strength of MicroStrategy as a company. Mike Saylor (CEO) gave similar insights in the MicroStrategy World conference. According to him the biggest advantage of MicroStrategy as a company is that they are the largest independently owned BI platform. There are a lot of companies in the market who acquire small firms to improve their technology and product, but MicroStrategy is not one of them. The fact that MicroStrategy has resisted the temptation to build a technology portfolio through acquisitions has become their core strength. They always believed in their core framework and everything was developed by their own team. According to the BI Survey 12, conducted by German-based Business Application Research Center (BARC), MicroStrategy has received the highest ranking in numerous KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) such as  total Performance, user Recommendation, mobile, query performance, data volumes and  big data.

MicroStrategy has a deep market penetration and is regularly used for industry level solutions in different domains such as  Retail, Healthcare, Banking, Manufacturing, Social Media etc. There are lots of key advantages of using MicroStrategy which I will elaborate verbosely.

  • Core functionality and Ease for Development – Having worked on different reporting platforms, I feel that most of the functionality is directly available out of the box in MicroStrategy. MicroStrategy platform supports distributed development so many developers can work on the project at a given time. Most of objects are reusable and their definition can be reused across other business areas. It also has extensive control on formatting of reports / dashboard. It supports as many number of databases and next generation database along with multi sourcing. The security architecture of MicroStrategy makes designing and implementation very powerful. You can have row level, object level, application level, and all different forms of security. Any developer with a fair amount of development experience in MicroStrategy would be able to list down product features and limitations. Although limitations of the tool are not much but there are functionalities which can be handled using SDK.
  • Visual Data discovery – For any BI tool, the ease-of-use is very important along with the sophisticated analytics which can be presented using the best visualization framework. As the size of data is increasing day by day, this is not going to decrease in the near future as well. It has become very important for a BI to analyze these enormous data volumes in a best representable format. Data visualization is driving demand in the business intelligence (BI) market because it’s intuitive and accessible to business users who aren’t schooled in query languages or statistical analysis. MicroStrategy has a strong stand in these areas due to large number of visualizations in their library. This separates MicroStrategy, as a tool, for visual exploration from other competitors. Features like flash widgets and interactive flash PDF export make it very versatile tool. The advance dashboards visualizations make the dashboard appealing and are best way to represent data in a more intuitive format.
  • Impromptu BI – There are customers in the market who look for Impromptu BI as a solution for their BI needs. MicroStrategy provides a solution called as visual insights which meets this purpose and is best suited for such cases. MicroStrategy Visual Insight empowers you to discover insights from your data using compelling visualizations. Users can use any of the out of the box Visualizations or they can create their own custom Visualizations using SDK. Once the base cube is developed it hardly takes 10-20 minutes to create visualizations for the analysis and this is what most business users want these days. They are the people who understand their data and want to play around with the data. Other than visual insights there are solutions developed using Object prompt where user has an option to select what they want to view in a report. This makes MicroStrategy stand out in front of other competitors.
  • Mentoring and support offering – For any business intelligence tool the level and depth of customer support is becoming increasingly critical as BI becomes more integrated into organizations’ operations. Better product support results in higher application success rates and helps to ensure customers get full value from their Investments. MicroStrategy on that note has one of the best customer support offering in the industry. This helps you to report your issues and business cases enhancements to MicroStrategy which can be taken into consideration for the subsequent release/hotfix/patch depending on your business impact. The support offering also helps in providing solutions to MicroStrategy developers and Administrators for the issues they face during the development. Striving to maximize the business benefits of a MicroStrategy one should prioritize customer support strategy. Apart from the excellent customer offering MicroStrategy hosts customer trainings events at different Geographic locations as it is important to keep decision makers across the company educated on the tool. End user training and mentoring is very important for success of any BI tool. MicroStrategy also hosts their annual user conference called as “MicroStrategy world” which consists of lot of sessions; it is also a good opportunity for individuals looking for more networking opportunities in MicroStrategy.
  • Performance and stability – MicroStrategy provides unmatched Performance and Stability on a Consolidated BI Platform
  • Social media and big data – MicroStrategy is one of the first vendors to certify integration with Amazon Redshift. MicroStrategy constantly demonstrates leadership and innovation in both major dimensions of Big Data analytics. They are one of the leading innovators in big data space. When we talk about BI, social media analytics cannot be neglected. Many market research firms rely on data from social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to get some insights. MicroStrategy’s social intelligence platform includes a number of applications that help enterprises harness the power of social networks for marketing and e-commerce.
  • MicroStrategy Mobile – Michael Saylor, who is the founder of MicroStrategy, has also written a book called “The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything” and I believe that its Saylor’s vision on the Mobile technology that has made MicroStrategy to grow on the Mobile Side. The Mobile App Platform transforms business intelligence reporting from paper or the desktop, to the mobile device.  Workers are no longer chained to their desk, or reliant on paper-based documents that are obsolete by the time they reach their target audience.  Mobile applications provide functionality that is unmatched by paper or a web browser. MicroStrategy has created some really amazing apps for IOS and Android users. They also have a program called Mobile Quick strike for 10 days where they would come up with a fully functional app. It gives customers the confidence in the overall strength of the tool. MicroStrategy’s mobile intelligence platform helps companies and organizations build, deploy, and maintain mobile apps across a range of solutions by embedding intelligence, transactions, and multimedia into apps.
  • Integration and certification with other platforms – MicroStrategy tool is certified with various reporting databases and platforms which makes it easily usable across the organizations. MicroStrategy team adds new certification and support with every release of the product.

Although every tool has some limitations, MicroStrategy is no exception. I will list down a few:

  • Sometimes it can be hard to quantify the ROI (return on investment) on software as the returns come indirectly through the better informed workers and decision makers across the company. The tool can be of limited use for some companies. MicroStrategy system still cannot be afforded by most of the companies. When they plan to buy this product they have various purchase options wherein the cost would be around some hundred dollars per user if they plan to go for a user based license or it can go as high as a million dollars for a CPU based license depending on the performance they want from their system. Although, in the past few years MicroStrategy has started modifying their services towards medium and small-sized industries, but the fact is that many of such firms do not consider them to be highly essential as its hard to quantify the ROI.This stands true for other paid tools as well and that is the reason open source tools are getting some market share these days
  • Having worked as a developer on MicroStrategy, I see Impact Analysis as a pain point area in MicroStrategy. MicroStrategy is an object-oriented tool and in this world of business, change is something which is inevitable, so in case there is a request for change and you need to find the impact of the object in MSTR, it does a recursive search and doesn’t give the list of objects in one view which makes very difficult for any developer to know the overall impact of the object inside a big project implementation. Unlike other BI tools which list down all the objects dependent on a particular object in a single view which can be exported into excel for tracking the change and validation of test cases.
  • Version control is not a strong point for MicroStrategy and I feel there is a scope of improvement in this area.
  • Development in MicroStrategy is done mostly using desktop though they have included lot of features with their latest release in web but I feel full support of web-based development is important and would improve with  the future release.
  • A pain point for some organizations these days is to find a good MicroStrategy resource. Getting a Cognos/BO/OBIEE expert from the IT market is comparatively easier than finding a good MicroStrategy resource.

These are some advantages and disadvantages of the tool. Compared to the advantages the disadvantages are some minor improvements which i feel would be taken care in future releases. I haven’t listed granular details as I wanted to keep this review at a high level for product understanding. There are lots of features which one can explore. When you do the contemplate MicroStrategy is a great product over all. To conclude you should never forget “Owning a supercomputer gives you a special feeling but the question is, Are you really using it for what it is intended to?”

Hope this review helps customers who are preparing their BI strategy. In case you need more insights, or you are planning for a BI implementation and have some questions do write to me on my e-mail. I would be more than happy to help.

Disclosure: The company I (Arpit) work for is partners with several vendors.

The review is based on my professional experience and in case you feel that any information is inaccurate please do point it out so that i can rectify the same.

Cartography: 25 Amazing Maps to Help You Make Sense of the World

Reversed Map with Southern Hemisphere at Top of Map (because position of North is arbitrary)

Maps, charts and infographics can really help bring data and information to life. Maps can make a point resonate with readers. This collection of maps aims to do just that.

Hopefully some of these maps will surprise you and you’ll learn something new. A few are important to know, some interpret and display data in a beautiful or creative way, and a few may even make you chuckle or shake your head.

1. Where Google Street View is Available

2. Countries That Do Not Use the Metric System

3. The Only 22 Countries in the World Britain Has Not Invaded (not shown: Sao Tome and Principe)

4. Map of ‘Pangea’ with Current International Borders

Pangea was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras, forming about 300 million years ago. It began to break apart around 200 million years ago. The single global ocean which surrounded Pangaea is accordingly named Panthalassa.

5. McDonald’s Across the World

6. Paid Maternal Leave Around the World

7. The Most Common Surnames in Europe by Country

8. Worldwide Driving Orientation by Country

9. Map of Time Zones in Antarctica

10. The World’s Busiest Air Routes in 2012

11. Visualizing Global Population Density

12. Flag Map of the World

13. Map of Alcohol Consumption Around the World

14. Map of Alcoholic Drink Popularity by Country

15. Map of Rivers in the Contiguous United States

16. US Map of the Highest Paid Public Employees by State

17. World Map of Earthquakes Since 1898

18. Map of Where 29,000 Rubber Duckies Made Landfall After Falling off a Cargo Ship in the Middle of the Pacific Ocean

19. Map of Countries with the Most Violations of Bribery

20. World Map of Vegetation on Earth

21. Average Age of First Sexual Intercourse by Country

22. If the World’s Population Lived in One City

23. The Number of Researchers per Million Inhabitants Around the World

24. Worldwide Map of Oil Import And Export Flows

25. The 7000 Rivers that Feed into the Mississippi River

Tableau: Ben Jones’ 7 Pioneers of Data Visualization

Ben Jones posted a great data visualization on his DataRemixed Web site. Ben is delivering a presentation today at TCC13 at 4pm called “7 Things We Can Learn from the Pioneers of Data Visualization”. The timeline and visualization below reveal the seven pioneers he will be considering. If you’re at TCC, be sure to swing by the Chesapeake 4-6 conference room to hear what they are. Suffice it to say that anyone who has ever tried to change their corner of the world by communicating data to others will make seven new friends before the session is over.

Click on the image below to see the actual interactive version on Ben’s Website.



7 Pioneers of Data Visualization

Obesity Slopegraph

Source: Jeff Clark, Neoformix, February 26, 2013

Back in February of this year, the Guardian Datablog published an interesting post called Obesity worldwide: the map of the world’s weight. It contains a map that shows with color the rates of obesity around the world.  If you click on a country (for example, I clicked randomly on Denmark), it triggers a pop-up window which gives you more detailed statistics for that country for different time frames and for both male and female (see screenshot below).

Obesity Map - Denmark

As you review the chart, several other interesting questions come to mind that could not be easily answered with the map or chart.

  1. What is the trend over time?
  2. Do these trends exist worldwide?
  3. Which countries are exceptions to the trend?
  4. Which countries have the highest or lowest rates of obesity?
  5. Are there large gender-based differences in obesity rates in various countries?

Mr. Clark has a background in science, He decided to try to build an interactive visualization that helped answer the questions above. He wanted to try to build something that explicitly highlighted some of the more interesting aspects of the data without sacrificing freeform exploration. Ultimately, he settled on using a Slopegraph which was first described by Edward Tufte and is featured on the cover of Cairo’s excellent book The Functional Art.

This first image below shows the trend for male obesity organized by continent. It’s a difficult problem to show labels for so many countries along one axis so Mr. Clark tried to alleviate it by letting the user expand or hide countries by continent group. In this case ‘North America’ is expanded to show its’ individual countries. Labels are only shown if they don’t overlap with others. The largest countries by population are placed first.


Individual country lines can be clicked on to emphasize them with color.


The third example shown below charts female values on the left against male values on the right in order to emphasize gender differences.


The interactive visualization includes a ‘stepper’ that takes the user through four different views. This helps introduce functionality gradually as well as serving to emphasize important patterns in the data.

Mr. Clark used Processing and Processing JS to build the application. The code for the dashed lines comes from J David Eisenberg.

Maps: This Clever Map Compares Chicago Before and After the Great Fire

Source: Gizmodo, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, August 27, 2013

When the proverbial cow kicked over the proverbial lantern on a Tuesday night in 1871 Chicago, it set in motion an urban transformation that would see its hodgepodge of wooden buildings replaced with the Windy City we know today. Now, thanks to the data viz wizards at Esri and the patronage of The Smithsonian, you can compare the two cities block-by-block.

The magazine’s new interactive overlays two maps: One, culled from Google Maps’ API, shows Chicago of (roughly) today. The other is a color map of the city drawn in 1868, three years before the Great Fire. Thanks to a bit of cartographic hacking from Esri, the SoCal data visualization firm, it’s easy to compare them by pulling a circle over the city. You can also swap views, and see the comparison in reverse.

It’s great fun—and it makes us hope that Esri will do the same for other great cities. Even the ones that haven’t had to start over from scratch. [The Smithsonian]

This Clever Map Compares Chicago Before and After the Great Fire

This Clever Map Compares Chicago Before and After the Great Fire

This Clever Map Compares Chicago Before and After the Great Fire


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