Monthly Archives: January, 2014

Blurred Lines: A Tale of Two Dashboard (Contests)


This is an important read for anyone who works in the data visualization profession. I ask you to be reflective as you read this. I use myself as an example of what not to do.

For the past two years (2013 and 2014), I have submitted an entry into the MicroStrategy World Dashboard Contest. In both years, I was named one of the winners of this competition. I have written about my work and about the competition on this blog. But I did not tell the whole story. I did not mention that my entries were reproductions of the original ideas and designs of other people. I took liberties that, at the time, seemed innocent. As an academic pursuit, I attempted to recreate these originals using a different tool set (in these two cases, MicroStrategy Report Services and the Visualization SDK) to see if it could be done. I spent time trying to develop methods to allow me to recreate the original visualizations almost exactly as their authors had idealize and developed them. I meant no harm, but what I did was wrong.

There are lines and sometimes we cross them. There are lines and sometimes we don’t see them. There are lines that are bold and there are lines that are blurry. The line that I crossed appears bold in retrospect but was blurred at the time. I had spent a considerable amount of time developing these visualizations. It is quite possible that I spent more time trying to recreate the original than the author spent developing the original.

I know now that this does not matter.

I took the ideas and content and submitted it as my own. I am sorry for this and I have learned a great deal as a result. I now want to use this discussion as an example for others.

2013 MicroStrategy Dashboard Contest

My entry in the 2013 Dashboard Contest was a Student Performance Dashboard, which was based on portions of the top three entries in Stephen Few’s Dashboard Design Contest that was held in late 2012. The majority of my dashboard was based on the original design of the first place winner, Jason Lockwood, who had developed his dashboard in Photoshop.

At work, several of us were talking about Jason’s winning entry and how you could probably develop it fairly easily in Tableau, but probably not so easily in MicroStrategy. Being a strong proponent of MicroStrategy, I argued that I could develop that exact dashboard using MicroStrategy’s Report Services and their Visualization SDK. My co-workers challenged me to try it and I began my mission. Unexpectedly, MicroStrategy soon announced their 2013 Dashboard Contest and I thought this would provide me additional motivation by developing the dashboard for their contest.

Back to Stephen’s contest. Back in August of 2012, Stephen Few, data visualization evangelist and author of the seminal book, Information Dashboard Design, announced a contest to design a dashboard following best practices and principles. The contest required participants to design the dashboard using student performance and assessment data that Stephen provided. Any graphic design tool (e.g., Photoshop, InDesign and Excel) or BI tool could be used to create the dashboard.

The winners were announced in October of that year. There were 91 entries. The contest focused more on innovative dashboard design principles rather than the use of BI tools. The winners and the tool they used are:

1st Place:           Jason Lockwood     Photoshop
2nd Place:          Shamik Sharma      Excel 2010
3rd Place:          Joey Cherdarchuk   Excel 2010

To the best of my knowledge (and Stephen’s), none of the 91 participants in the contest used MicroStrategy to create their dashboard. A few of the participants did use Tableau and SAS. This fact alone made me want to create an innovative dashboard to demonstrate the capabilities of MicroStrategy.

Below are examples of the first, second and third place winners entries.

Jason’s entry (first place)

Jason - First Place

Shamik’s entry (second place)

Shamik - Second Place

Joey’s entry (third place)

Joey - Third Place

Below is a screenshot of my entry developed using MicroStrategy and Stephen’s sample data.

Michael - MicroStrategy Version 2013

As you can see by comparing my dashboard to Jason’s. I tried to follow Jason’s entry very closely since my goal was to reproduce his entry as close as possible using MicroStrategy.

I have emphasized the word “reproduce” because in my goal to prove the capabilities and functionalities of MicroStrategy, I now realize, in retrospect, that I crossed a line in using Jason’s original idea, design and work to create my dashboard. Now, if I was doing this in my basement for my own edification and learning, that probably would have been o.k. since it was not being viewed by a public audience. However, when I entered the dashboard in MicroStrategy’s contest, albeit developed using my own skills in MicroStrategy, I was presenting someone else’s original ideas and design work without their permission. This, I now understand, was wrong.

I have had several e-mail conversations with Professor Alberto Cairo about this. Alberto is considered by many (including me) to be one of the industry’s leading experts on infographics and a person I respect and view as a mentor. I was seeing grey areas in what I had done where Alberto was correctly seeing things more in black and white.

Below are some of Alberto’s thoughts on what I did and some analogies he made. I have included his comments completely in quotes to indicate these are his thoughts and have not been modified by me at all.

“There are not really clear-cut rules about plagiarism in visualization in infographics, which is a shame. It’s an area in which a lot of thinking and writing needs to be done.

But when doing ethical reasoning you can always use analogies. When in doubt, imagine that your graphic is a news article or a research paper. Would it be appropriate if anyone took what you wrote and then just make it interactive without getting permission from the author (you) first? Would it be enough to mention you in a description of what was done? It wouldn’t. Quoting a few lines from someone (in between quotation marks) is fine. Copying and pasting paragraph after paragraph is not, if it’s not without proper permission.

In visualization, things get really tricky sometimes. For instance, if someone creates a simple bar graph based on ten data points, do I need to get permission to create a similar graph? Probably not if a) the graphic form is so common, b) I can have access to the underlying data. But when you copy an entire layout, or an unusual graphic form, then things become problematic. Again, going back to my analogy before, it’d be equal to copying an article, a newspaper story, or a blog post. Even if you mention the source, it’s not something you can do without asking for permission. It would be a clear case of plagiarism, and it could even get you into legal trouble.”

Now, I take full responsibility for what I did and apologize to Jason, Shamik, and Joey. I do need to say, my primary purpose was to create recreate cool dashboards or infographics I had seen, in my tool of choice which is MicroStrategy. The key thing I was trying to do was show clients and business partners that I could create the same thing they see in Tableau and Qlikview using the MicroStrategy platform.

 To continue with Alberto’s thoughts on this, I again include an exact quote of what he said.

“I understand it, but copying the layout, the structure, the content, and even the headline and intro copy (on top of everything else) is not the only issue, but also submitting the results to contests with no permission from the original authors, and without mentioning them.

Again, analogy: Imagine that I take one of the wonderful posts you have written about historical visualizations –some of them are indeed great,– and I reproduce it with no permission from you, but I casually attribute it to you once: “Hey, I’ve just found this great post in Michael’s website; I’m building on top of it, adding some pictures, and making it interactive.” You’d certainly feel uncomfortable if I didn’t contact you first. And you’ll probably get really upset if, besides that, I get a writing award thanks to that post (without mentioning you,) to which I just added a few visual elements, and interaction.”

Alberto is correct. I would be upset too.

2014 MicroStrategy Dashboard Contest

My entry in the 2014 Dashboard Contest was An Exploration of Tax Data. It was based on an original idea, text and design by Jim Uden, one of my classmates in Professor Cairo’s MOOC course on Data Visualization and Infographics.

I really liked the An Exploration of Tax Data visualization created by Jim. I liked it so much in fact, that I wanted to make a working example for our development team at work using MicroStrategy. I create a lot of dashboard “templates” for our development team in MicroStrategy, which is our enterprise standard BI tool.

So, using Jim’s data, text and format exactly, I created a dashboard in MicroStrategy with some tweaks to it.

Below is a screenshot of Jim’s original work.

Jim - Taxation

Below is my version created using MicroStrategy Report Services and their Visualization SDK.

Michael - MicroStrategy Version 2014

I used horizontal stacked bar charts instead so that the viewer can visually see how social security and income tax rate add up to the total and explains visually why the countries are ordered the way they are on the dashboard. I also separated out $100K and $300K percentages into separate visuals.

In addition, I added the flags of the countries.

Now, you don’t see any numbers on the data points in this dashboard. The reason you don’t see them is because they appear when you mouse over a bar where you then see the country, category and the percent value as a tooltip.

However, by using Jim’s data, text and design exactly from his original, and without getting his permission first, I again crossed the line. I have emphasized the word “exactly” because in my goal to prove the capabilities and functionalities of MicroStrategy, I now realize again in retrospect, that I crossed a line in using Jim’s original idea, data, text, design and work to create my dashboard.

I also discussed this with Alberto and his comments were,

“If this were just a class project for the MOOC, you should have asked for permission from Jim Uden, but I don’t consider it a huge ethical problem. After all, when you submitted it to the forums, you mentioned that it was an interactive version of Jim’s project, and you thanked him publicly in your message. You didn’t let him know about this directly, by contacting him (which is, again, the appropriate thing to do,) but you were transparent when you credited “Jim Uden” for the original idea. The true ethical problem arises when you didn’t do the same in your post about the exercise in your blog, and when you submitted it to a contest.”

I again take full responsibility for what I did and apologize to Jim.

I approached Professor Cairo again with another question: What are the ground rules for the use of another person’s materials. For instance, a lot of blogs (including mine) will post an infographic they have seen in a magazine or on a site like and discuss it. Are we plagiarizing if we cite the author, magazine, etc.?

Professor Cairo responded,

“As for (this) point, there’s something called “fair use” in US copyright legislation. It’s quite fuzzy and controversial, but it basically says that if you reproduce a piece of art just to comment on it or to review it (not to build on it or to change it, not to get profit from it, etc.), you are fine. Academics and bloggers do this all the time. However, some media organizations are known for having asked bloggers to withdraw images of graphics in the past. They have the right to do so, although I think that it’s a bit silly.”

In Summary

I feel this was an important topic for me to discuss and clear my conscience. I would not be honest if I did not say this was very difficult and embarrassing to write. Professor Cairo reminded me it takes courage to do this. Maybe so, but I don’t feel very courageous at the moment.

Next year, if MicroStrategy has another Dashboard contest, I plan to create the entire thing from scratch. Data, text, design, colors, fonts, etc. It will be from my vision only. However, over the next year, I think this is an important topic to discuss in our data visualization community with social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. growing in use every day. At what point have we crossed the line? Or are they blurred lines?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this and opinions. I may not like what I will hear, but I will hear and reflect on what you have to say.

Thank you for reading this very long post. I hope you see the value in it as much as I do.

Best Regards,


Michael Saylor’s MicroStrategy World 2014 Keynote Presentation

Click on image to watch presentationClick on image to watch presentation

Infographic: The Oxford Comma (or Let’s Eat Mom!)

Editors of any sort are murky characters. The can take our scary sentences such as,

Let’s eat Mom!

which implies we are ready to eat Mom and make it more civilized with a mere comma.

Let’s eat, Mom!


Here is another example:

  • My heart beats true for the red, white and blue.
  • My heart beats true for the red, white, and blue.

No doubt you were able to answer right away, depending what you learned in school. But the real answer is: it depends.

The comma before the “and” in the second sentence is known as the serial or Oxford comma. In certain circles, debate can get quite spirited as to whether or not that comma is needed. In her book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” author Lynn Truss writes, “There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

Why do some insist that the serial comma must be included for clarity, while others think it does nothing but clutter up text with unnecessary punctuation? How can such a little squiggle cause such an uproar?

The following infographic details where the battle lines have been drawn. Which side are you on?

Kristin Marino,, Feb 6, 2013,

For a complete list of sources, please view the Infographic below. Click on the image to enlarge.

The Oxford Comma

PRIME: MicroStrategy Announces Release of Cloud Based, In-Memory Analytics Service, Running at Multi-Terabyte Scale

MicroStrategy Cloud’s New Parallel Relational In-Memory Engine (PRIME) Provides High Performance On Big Data Allowing Companies to Build High-Scale, Easy-to-Use Information Driven Apps

Las Vegas, NV, January 28, 2014 – MicroStrategy® Incorporated (Nasdaq: MSTR), a leading worldwide provider of enterprise software platforms, today announced the availability of its new Parallel Relational In-Memory Engine (PRIME) option for the MicroStrategy Cloud™ at its annual user conference, MicroStrategy World 2014, in Las Vegas. MicroStrategy PRIME™ is a massively scalable, cloud-based, in-memory analytics service designed to deliver extremely high performance for complex analytical applications that have the largest data sets and highest user concurrency. Facebook has successfully built high value information-driven applications with the technology that powers MicroStrategy PRIME.

“Rising data volumes are fueling demand for compelling, easy-to-use analytical applications with the power to revolutionize existing business processes for thousands or tens of thousands of employees, customers, or partners,” said Michael Saylor, CEO, MicroStrategy Incorporated. “MicroStrategy PRIME has been built from the ground up to support the engineering challenges associated with development of these powerful new information-driven apps. This innovative service will allow organizations to derive maximum value from their information by making their Big Data assets actionable.”

Most organizations struggle to harness the value of the information in their Big Data stores due to poor performance. Big Data technologies can store large amounts of information, but distributing that information in an interactive manner to thousands of users with existing commercially available technologies is a huge challenge, often resulting in risky, multi-year projects. MicroStrategy PRIME breaks new ground by tightly coupling a state-of-the art visualization and dashboarding engine with an innovative massively parallel in-memory data store. This architecture allows companies to build highly interactive applications that deliver responses to hundreds of thousands of users in a fraction of the time and cost of other approaches. MicroStrategy PRIME acts as a performance accelerator, opening up the data in databases to a much larger user population, driving new demand for information.

MicroStrategy PRIME combines:

  • Massively parallel, distributed, in-memory architecture for extreme scale. MicroStrategy PRIME is built on an in-memory, highly distributed, massively parallel architecture, designed to run on cost effective commodity hardware. Complex analytics problems can be partitioned across hundreds of CPU cores and nodes to achieve unprecedented performance. MicroStrategy has worked closely with leading hardware vendors to take full advantage of today’s multi-core, high memory servers.
  • Tightly integrated dashboard engine for beautiful, easy-to-use applications. MicroStrategy PRIME includes a state-of-the-art dashboard and data exploration engine, built on the MicroStrategy Analytics Platform™. The visualization engine includes hundreds of optimizations designed specifically for the in-memory data store. This engine enables customers to build complete, immersive applications that deliver high-speed response.
  • Cloud-based delivery for rapid deployment. MicroStrategy PRIME is available as a service on MicroStrategy Cloud, MicroStrategy’s world-class Cloud Analytics platform. MicroStrategy Cloud offers a complete service, including the infrastructure, people and processes to enable customers to quickly and easily develop and deploy high-scale, information-driven applications.

About MicroStrategy Incorporated

Founded in 1989, MicroStrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR) is a leading worldwide provider of enterprise software platforms. The Company’s mission is to provide the most flexible, powerful, scalable and user-friendly platforms for analytics, mobile, identity and loyalty, offered either on premises or in the cloud.

The MicroStrategy Analytics Platform™ enables leading organizations to analyze vast amounts of data and distribute actionable business insight throughout the enterprise. Our analytics platform delivers reports and dashboards, and enables users to conduct ad hoc analysis and share their insights anywhere, anytime. MicroStrategy Mobile™ lets organizations rapidly build information-rich applications that combine multimedia, transactions, analytics, and custom workflows. The MicroStrategy Identity Platform™ (branded as MicroStrategy Usher™) provides organizations the ability to develop a secure mobile app for identity and credentials. The MicroStrategy Loyalty Platform™ (branded as MicroStrategy Alert) is a next-generation, mobile customer loyalty and engagement solution. To learn more about MicroStrategy, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

MicroStrategy, MicroStrategy Analytics Platform, MicroStrategy Mobile, MicroStrategy Identity Platform, MicroStrategy Loyalty Platform, MicroStrategy Usher, MicroStrategy Cloud and MicroStrategy PRIME are either trademarks or registered trademarks of MicroStrategy Incorporated in the United States and certain other countries. Other product and company names mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

Infographic: Small Denomination Coins Retired

Source: Small denomination coins retired | Marco Giannini | La Repubblica –

Retired World Coins

Infographic: Occupation Preoccupations

Working a 9-to-5 (or more) is something that most of us can relate to. Every day is either good, bad or ugly! But regardless of whatever the work day has in store for us, we seem to always let our minds get ahead of us. Our minds often ramble on about the most random things. Unfortunately, this means that our minds are not engaged in our work. That’s okay though.

We do not need to be 100% “on” at work everyday. It is O.K. to think about yesterday’s lunch or wonder about who the new person is in the office.

Also another major concern in the work place; realizing that you work too much! Sure you have bills to pay! We all do. But don’t stress about it. You got it covered. Don’t be that work-a-holic that stays late and comes in first every single day.

While at work, think about the fact that you are great at work and that you also have a life to live. Be good to yourself!

Occupation Preoccupations

Infographic: Austin Sucks. Don’t Think of Moving There!


I have a confession to make.

I love Austin, Texas.

So, I know you are saying “So What?” Well, I am a Texas A&M University Aggie. We are quietly taught to hate all things associated with ut – The University of Texas at Austin. However, my wife had business every month in Austin while I was working and studying at TAMU. I would take the opportunity to go with her for her two-day trips each month and explore. One of my favorite places was the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. I loved to walk through the exhibits there.

I also liked Marc Katz’s delicatessen, a West Sixth Street institution. I missed good deli food in College Station and I was able to get my fix here every month. unfortunately, the deli closed several years ago after being in business for 31 years.

With those fond memories in mind, I am sharing an infographic from the Austin Business Journal from an article by staff writer Chad Swiatecki.

So, if you are thinking of moving to Austin, don’t expect a welcome mat. I suggest you try Portland instead.

Best Regards,


Russel, a graphic designer, admits humor was the basis of her new “Austin Sucks” infographic that’s been making the rounds on social networks around Austin— scroll down the page to see the image. The 26-year-old got the inspiration for the image last week when a graphic from Complete Web Resources laying out reasons why Austin was an attractive destination made the rounds online.

“When I posted that I got a lot of responses from friends telling me to stop trying to get people to move here,” she said. “That got me thinking and I love Austin, but I thought this was a funny way to have a take on it.”

Four hours later Russel had her finished product that lists lack of public transportation, extreme heat and overzealous dog owners as drawbacks of living in Austin, while also reminding that “Dallas and Houston are amazing… you should move there.” The 2-by-3-foot print is available for sale on her Etsy store, along with other images she’s created.

Not that she needs the money, with a season of design work lined up for a high-level political campaign and recent work for Friends of Auditorium Shores and the Flatwater Foundation following her stint working for Livestrong.

She’s also forthcoming about the inevitable question about her Austin roots, or lack thereof since she’s a Colorado Springs, Colo. native who moved to Austin four years ago after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“I hoped people would like it and respond to it even thought I’m not sure I have a right to complain about other people moving here,” she said. “I thought it was a unique approach on Austin, which I do think is an amazing place to live.”

Austin Sucks

Infographic Showcase: The Work of Miguel Ángel Fernández (Diario AS)

Source: Visual Loop, Portfolio of the Week – Miguel Ángel Fernandez, January 19, 2014,


Miguel Ángel FernándezI am starting this year by showcasing the amazing infographic work of Miguel Ángel Fernández, infographic designer at the Spanish daily newspaper Diario AS.

This illustrator and graphic designer from Madrid studied at “Escuela Superior de Dibujo Profesional” of Madrid, where he soon stood out for the good quality of his illustrations.

His perseverance and dedication opened doors to important animation studios, getting to be a part of the Cartoon Network creative team, where he became established as a professional drawing designer.

He was hired when he was very young by “Diario As”, the company where he currently works.

Miguel Ángel has been creating spectacular graphic designs for this newspaper for more than 13 years. These graphics stand out for their visual impact and a very unusual and clear way to explain the information.and collaborates with the European University of Madrid giving seminars on journalistic infography.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Best Regards,


Jabulani | Diario AS

Jabulani, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

F1 Boxes | Diario AS

F1 Boxes, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

Two colossus in Beijing | Diario AS

Two colossus in Beijing, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

Mini Cooper | Diario AS

Mini Cooper, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

Titanic | Diario AS

Titanic, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

High-tech uniforms | Diario AS

High-tech uniforms, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

Atletico de Madrid’s uniforms | Diario AS

Atletico de Madrid's uniforms, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

Spanish soccer team uniforms | Diario AS

Spanish soccer team uniforms, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS)

Johnny Weissmuller | Diario AS

Johnny Weissmuller, Infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández  | Diario AS)

Rafael Nadal’s 2014 calendar | Diario AS

Rafael Nadal's 2014 calendar, infographic by Miguel Ángel Fernández | Diario AS

(image: Miguel Ángel Fernández |  Diario AS)

You can keep up with Miguel’s work on his NewsPageDesigner’s page.

Infographic: Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes To Live By


In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here is a collection of several of the famous quotes from the inspirational leader. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Best Regards,


MLK Quotes

Infographic: Where in the World are the Best Schools and the Happiest Kids?


Source: Jake Levy, BuzzFeed Data Analyst, January 15, 2014

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s triennial international survey compared test scores from 65 countries. Happiness was ranked based on the percentage of students who agreed or disagreed with the statement “I feel happy at school.” Test scores were ranked based on the combined individual rankings of the students’ math, reading, and science scores.



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