Hubway Data Challenge – Final

While the Hubway Data Challenge has been an opportunity to explore some of the newer capabilities in MicroStrategy 9.3, it was also an opportunity to work with a new data set and a get some practice modeling in geolocation data.  Working with other developers, and seeing some of the submissions has informed my understanding of what tools are out there and what other people are doing with commercial and open source visualization tools.  The concept of animating this data on top of a map has particular appeal is appropriate for this type of data.

This submission caught my attention, but there are a few others that have been submitted in recent days.

For me I was committed to sticking with the 10.31 deadline even though the deadline was extended.   I had no shortage of ideas, but ultimately I had to pick something to show and share.  The new network diagrams in 9.3 are clean looking and visually pleasing.  So, I picked one bike (the mayor’s) and graphed it’s usage.  I set the export option for dashboards to be .pdf (as opposed to .mht) and was able to create a portable document from the Visual Insight interface.

The .pdf file is available here.

The other thing I wanted to try with the data was something using the maps.  It took some trial and error and an angry email to Google before I realized that I didn’t in fact have to pay $10,000 for a Google maps API key.  To get the data in a format that would work for the maps, I decided to create a running sum of the trips by station over time.  There were two things I had to do within MicroStrategy to make this work:

1. Set the VLDB property to retain all of the lookup table information

2. Create a running sum metric to accumulate trip information:

Within the grid report the output had to look something like this before I could build a cube off of it:

The next step was to create a Visual Insight document using the map style.  I had tried to use the density version but my data was not disparate enough to use close up, so I used the traditional map and used bubbles to illustrate the data.  I set the geographic attribute to be the start station, and because I modeled in the lat and long as part of the attribute form (as latitude and longitude data types) Visual Insight recognized the data.  The last step was to put the start date into the page by and from there I could take advantage of the play button.

I used the Quicktime player on my laptop to record my screen and then I used iMovie to speed up the movie to condense something that took ~6 minutes in MicroStrategy to play in about 24 seconds.  This became the basis for my second submission to the Hubway Data Challenge.  I posted this on Youtube:

My overall impression with 9.3 has been favorable so far.  The cleaned up UI is pleasing, the interface is faster, and the Visual Insight enhancements not only look good, but they work pretty well too.  Having spent some time with other developers at the hack day event I realized just how many people are using R, and with the integration of R into MicroStrategy there are certainly some possibilities to consider there.  I know from past experience that the number of freely available R packages is improving, and that the corresponding library of visualization for R is growing.  This offers many possibilities for MicroStrategy development and deployment, and certainly extends the platform in ways that I am looking forward to exploring.





Hubway Data Challenge – Part 3

I’m out of my league.

I’ve seen two submissions for the data challenge already, and yah, some people are really good.  For the rest of who model data and try to create a narrative out of data on a daily basis, a very discrete data set with a very precise way of looking at it is a luxury.  Usually we work with a user population who thinks “I want a dashboard, but I don’t know what I want…can you build it for me?”  Not an issue here…the developers working on this exercise know exactly what they want to see.  The Hubway data set lends itself to being mapped, and while there are a lot of ways to do this, this submission by Russell Goldenberg is very creative.  It can be downloaded as an .app or as an .exe — or previewed (click on the picture to see it on Vimeo).

Then there’s this Neo4j graph database version by Max De Marzi.  I like how the width of the station corresponds to its traffic.

These aren’t dashboards, these are visualizations.  Appealing — yes — but very specific, and custom coded.  I have to keep that in mind, because working with business intelligence tools means that I am often trying to spice up relatively unexciting data.  But MicroStrategy 9.3 and the features added to Visual Insight (as well as the Report Services widget) means that I at least have something to work with now in terms of network maps.  The three layout options are as follows:

  1. force-directed
  2. circular
  3. linear
To put myself in a position to visualize the bike system data I created a cube that had both the bikes and the stations as attributes, as well as the basic metrics (trips, distance, duration).  With these levers to work with I came up three views of the data for bike number B00079 in the months of August 2011 and 2012:
Since dashboards tend to be a collection of visualizations that, when combined, compel the user to quickly glean some information from the data set, these network diagram might have some utility.  If I wanted to create a dashboard that allowed the user to understand what bikes have been used more heavily, the network view along with some numeric stats would be useful for devising a maintenance strategy for bikes.  The trap that I fell into when I first started playing with the network graphs was to try and put a lot of data into it all at once.  Looking at all of the starting and ending stations at once was a mess, but adding the bike attribute narrowed the data set down and brought clarity.
One of the big advantages of Visual Insight is that all of the hooks and interdependencies between data sets are taken care of.  As opposed to a report services dashboard, I don’t need to set the selectors or worry that I’ve forgotten to establish a target data set.  The tradeoff comes with customization, or the lack thereof.  I don’t have a place to drop a customer logo, and I don’t have control over many other things, like the grid formatting.
So, the question comes to this: to make a nice visualization of the Hubway data set, should I create a  dashboard or use Visual Insight?