Connecting the Dots – Visualizing Paths in Tableau

I had been planning to write this post for a long time. Not only have I been asked many times how to do this in my daily consulting work, but especially during and after my hands-on training “Stretching the Boundaries with Advanced Mapping” at our Tableau Conference On Tour 2017 in Berlin earlier this year. The question is pretty simple: How can I draw paths in Tableau? Oftentimes these are some kind of movement data, e.g. refugees or flight connections. The way to do this in Tableau is actually very easy – and some of the recently introduced features made it even easier – but it’s imperative to understand how Tableau draws lines and how the data therefore needs to be structured.

The OpenFlights.org route network visualized in Tableau

The OpenFlights.org route network visualized in Tableau

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Using Coordinate Data in Degrees (DMS) Format in Tableau

Have you ever received a spatial data set that you wanted to visualize in Tableau, only to find out the coordinates looked like this: 50°07'01.9"N 8°40'20.8"E If so, or if you’re just generally interested in geographic data and Tableau, this post is for you.

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Population Lines - the Tableau Edition

Population Lines – the Tableau Edition

In 2013 Dr. James Cheshire from the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at the University College London created a data visualization that was critically acclaimed back then and saw something of a renaissance a few weeks ago when a modified version by Henrik Lindberg made its way onto the Reddit front page. I had been mesmerized by the viz from the beginning, so when it reappeared in my blog reader I decided I had to try reproducing it in Tableau.

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Annoying join behavior in QGIS

Today I stumbled across something I wouldn’t exactly consider a bug, but at least some rather unintuitive and annoying behavior in QGIS when performing table joins.

I did something very mundane: joining a Postgres table of spatial data to another Postgres table of attribute data. The normal way to do this (for me) is as follows:

  1. Open the spatial table using Layer > Add Layer > Add PostGIS Layers...
  2. Open the attribute table the same way (1 & 2 can be loaded in one go)
  3. Join the tables in the spatial table’s Properties dialog.

For that last step I decided to join the two tables (plr is the spatial table here, while mss has the attributes) using the field plr_id, which exists in both tables and only once on each side (hence a plain vanilla 1:1 join).

Add vector join dialog window in QGIS 2.8

Add vector join dialog window in QGIS 2.8

That works perfectly fine, except that somehow the order of the joined fields appears to get messed up:

QGIS attirbute table with erroneously shifted field contents

QGIS attirbute table with erroneously shifted field contents

Some research revealed that this seems to be a problem caused by identical field names in the two joined tables other than the join field itself. In my case the aforementioned plr_id was used to join the two tables, but in addition both tables also had a field gid, as can be seen in the following screenshot on the left:

Table design in pgAdmin: original table including field gid on the left, fixed table without (unnecessesary) field gid on the right

Table design in pgAdmin: original table including field gid on the left, fixed table without (unnecessesary) field gid on the right

Removing this field gid from the attribute table mss was no problem, since the 1:1 relation to the spatial data uses the key plr_id anyways. As can be seen in the screenshot above on the right, the new table mss2 is identical to mss, only without the field gid. And lo-and-behold – joining this attribute table to the spatial table plr in QGIS works flawlessly now:

QGIS attirbute table with correct field contents

QGIS attirbute table with correct field contents

This problem had already been identified in QGIS 2.0 in late 2013, and has been marked as fixed in the meantime. Removing fields with identical names in the two tables is one – admittedly rather radical way – to solve circumvent the issue. Another, more intuitive way would be to choose a meaningful table prefix in the Add vector join dialog which can be seen in the first image above. As you can see I checked the Custom field name prefix checkbox but left the field empty. I prefer this, since it keeps my field names nice and tidy, but in cases where homonymous fields exist in the two tables you will run into trouble – hence entering a prefix here would be a nice and easy fix for this issue.

Everything described above was performed on QGIS 2.8.1-Wien (64bit) on a Windows 7 machine and PostgreSQL 9.1.16 on a 64bit Ubuntu 4.6.3 server (PostGIS 1.5.3).

Wrap-up: 2015 AAG Annual Meeting in Chicago

I’m currently sitting at Chicago’s O’Hare airport waiting for my flight back home to Germany. In an attempt to both not forget too much of it too soon and at the same time to keep me awake so I can sleep well on the plane I will now try to craft a wrap-up of my AAG 2015. I’ll start with some details about the sessions I visited and will finish with a more general recap.
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