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Under Pressure: Getting into the Flow with 24hrs to prep and viz

Written by craigsdewar on .

Past readers of my blog would know that I’m a big fan of Tableau, and a big fan of the Iron Viz competition held annually at the Tableau Customer Conference. I was lucky enough to be there for 2015 contest in Las Vegas – and there was about 5000 people watching Shine come through with a kick-ass winning viz.  In Nov 2016, we will see the contest held in Austin Texas, with the 3 contestants drawn from the 3 x feeder contests held in the lead-up 6 months.

iron viz 2015

So there should be no surprise to hear I have been keeping an eye out for a blog announcing the details of the first contest.  Alas, not much of an eye i’m afraid.  Only spotted the announcement last weekend, which also happened to be right in the midst of a frenetic house buying exercise. (Trying to fend of a potential gazumping!)

Anyway, the crux of the story is that I found myself only 24hrs out from the contest closing, and I’d only barely played with a few Food data sets.

Not to worry” – I told myself – “you do your best work under pressure.  And also – don’t think of it as procrastinating – you’re just simulating the pressure you’ll be under when you get up on the big stage in Nov”  Yeah – sure……you keep on telling yourself that….

So yesterday afternoon, I set about pulling in some Food Consumption /Import/ Export/ Production/ Slaughter (yuck!) stats from the USDA (United States Department of Agrictulture Research)  to give me a whole lot of info about food commodities over the last 40 years or so.

Now, the amount of Food that China consumes vs the amount of food that Australia consumes is quite different, and doesn’t work so well in a Tableau viz.  I thought – “No Probs –  I’ll go and normalise the data by getting my hands on some population numbers to blend into my data set“.  Well, that decision cost me most of my Sunday afternoon.

What I didn’t anticipate was the that 40 years of Food data meant 40 years of geo-politics. My current population figures from the UN dealt with country names as they are now. Let me give you a brief summary of what I came up against:

  • The Soviet Union was now a whole bunch of countries

  • So was Yugoslavia, and so was Czechoslovakia.

  • East Germany and West Germany was now one Country.

  • How many people are in the EU? – Well it depends upon the year. If you are talking 1975, well then it was only a handful of countries, but if you are talking 1997 then you better take into account Greece, Portugal, Spain, Austria Finland and Sweden who joined in at various years in between.

  • 32 Counties in USDA Data had different names compared to UN population data.

All I can say is – thank the universe for Alteryx!  In a few hours, I was able to pull together the two data sources: (1.75M rows of food data; and 3M rows of population data), cleanse, prepare and join – into one SQL database table of about 1.1M rows of country data per year- all with a valid population counts (even the EU!).

Alteryx flow

So – with about 18 hours until the contest entry deadline (some of which I hoped to sleep) , I got right into the zone – and set about discovering, and vizzing the data using Tableau.  I actually had quite a bit of fun sorting out the interesting from the plain (including working out how many cups of coffee you can get from one kg of beans) – so much so , that 2am came and went before I figured I was probably not in top gear any more.

Monday was a Public holiday here in Aus – so that gave me a chance to have a sleep-in; a walk along the beach; a nice cooked breakfast, with still another few hours before the end of Sunday PST!  That gave me enough time to put together what I think is a pretty nice explore of the data; overcome some nasty bugs in Tableau Public (damn those missing labels!); put together some cool and mildly amusing story points re the more interesting questions that I found. Even got a few maps into the picture (always got to have a map!).

Hope you Enjoy, hope you vote me up, and hope to see you in Austin – from up on the Iron Viz stage that is!!!!!



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