How to Analyse and Make Sense of Humongous Datasets

This was the title of an invited talk I gave at MongoDB’s first public event in Germany on September 26th. MongoDB is awesome in that it is able to handle large amounts of both structured (read: relational sources) and unstructured (read: NoSQL) data. Also, the ability to integrate data from a number of disparate sources and the fast response times make it a good fit to be used together with Tableau for any kind of ad-hoc analysis task. In order to show these capabilities and also to have some fun I decided to spice up the introduction of Tableau I provided there with a little live demo of how this looks in real life. When it came to select what data to use I decided to go with movie data – a logical choice since we have the Tableau Cinema Tour coming up soon (see below). Also, one of our founding fathers here at Tableau is Prof. Pat Hanrahan, who received his first Academy Award (of three!) for the development of the RenderManĀ® Software that only made movies like Toy Story possible in the first place. Continue reading →

Why Visual Data Analysis is Great

Wow, another year has passed and so much has happened in the meantime!

During my job at the Institute for Transport Research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin I not only worked on the theoretical underpinnings and actual development and implementation of micro-scale traffic models but was obviously also involved in publicizing the results of said models and also other research work. I did this mostly with R, Shiny, PostgreSQL/PostGIS, QGIS and the occasional line of Python code sprinkled in-between. They’re all great. I love them with all my heart and enjoy every second I’m working with one of them. But I found it increasingly hard to visualize data easily and quickly while still being pretty. Sure R and ggplot allow for camera-ready plots, Shiny and Leaflet make it increasingly easy to put together interactive plots and maps. But sometimes fiddling with their settings and writing the necessary code is just not practical to get to the point quickly. Also, during the fascinating stage of exploratory data analysis (kind of the first date with your new data in the data analysis process…) I felt focusing too much on the code and other technical aspects which distracted me from what I was originally doing: exploring my data to get a better understanding. Going back to the dating analogy it’s like over-thinking what to order and what small-talk topic to bring up next and thereby losing the interest of your possible future partner instead of being focused exclusively on him/her. Not a recipe for success… Continue reading →

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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Setting up QGIS 2.8 on MacOS X 10.10 Yosemite

The wait is finally over: the new QGIS 2.8 “Wien” has finally been released for MacOS as well! Following the (kind of) tradition of my articles showing how to install QGIS 2.6 2.4, and 2.0 on MacOS, I now sat down to write a brief walkthrough for the latest version as well.

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