R, Text analytics, Visualization

Trump vs. Clinton in N-grams

Presidential election campaigns are heating up and you all know what that means.

Word clouds 🙂

I still remember visualizations summarizing Romney-Obama debates in 2012 but one thing that slightly bothered me back then was that almost everything I saw were just counting single words so even the one of the most memorable phrases in Obama’s campaign such as “Four more years” were lost.

Surely, there will be some interesting phrases candidates will use this year. How can you make sure that your analysis doesn’t miss them?

I am planning on doing a series of posts on text analytics but tokenization is an important component in text analysis so let’s start with answering this question first.

This analysis relies on two R packages.


I wrote a number of helper functions to make analysis steps easier to follow.

# Helper functions
removeStopWords <- function(string, words) {
    stopifnot(is.character(string), is.character(words))
    splt <- strsplit(string, " ", fixed = TRUE)
    vapply(splt, function(x) paste(x[!tolower(x) %in% words], collapse = " "),character(1))

countWords <- function(y) { sapply(gregexpr(" ", y), function(x) { 1+sum(x>=0) } ) }

# Find N-grams within certain edit distance to avoid multiple subsets of same phrase
setToClosestMatch<-function(text) {sapply(seq_along(names(text)),function(x){
         ll <- agrep(pattern=names(text)[x],        

# To remove an, the, is etc. after finding n-grams 
reduceToRealNGrams <- function(ngrams,n){
ngrams[countWords(removeStopWords(ngrams, append(tm::stopwords("en"),c('going','can','will'))))>=n]}

# Tokenize 2 to 4 grams 
NgramTokenizer <- function(x) NGramTokenizer(x, Weka_control(min = 2, max = 4,delimiters = " \\r\\n\\t.,;:\"()?!"))

Let’s start the analysis. I had one file for each candidate, containing transcripts for 5 speeches they gave between June 2015 and April 2016.

# Load the documents from specified folder
docs <- Corpus(DirSource("C:/Users/bberan/Downloads/Transcripts/"))
# Convert to lower case
docs <- tm_map(docs, tolower) 
# Remove common words : locations, candidates’ references to each other etc.
docs <- tm_map(docs, removeWords, c("des moines","new york","new hampshire","south carolina","united states","twin cities","san bernardino","hillary clinton","donald trump"))

This is an optional step that allows you to find phrases that differentiate presidential candidates by putting small weights on phrases used by both candidates.

# Create term document matrix with tf-idf weighting
tdm <- TermDocumentMatrix(docs, control = list(tokenize = NgramTokenizer,weighting = weightTfIdf))

m <- as.matrix(tdm)

# separate Hillary and Trump content and sort by frequency
hillary <- sort(m[,1], decreasing=TRUE)
trump <- sort(m[,2], decreasing=TRUE)

# Get top 250 most common N-grams for each candidate
hillaryTopN<-hillary[order(-nchar(names(hillary[1:250])), hillary[1:250])]
trumpTopN<-trump[order(-nchar(names(trump[1:250])), trump[1:250])]

Since we are looking for 2 to 4 grams, R will find “Make America”, “Make America great”, “Make America great again” as separate n-grams. This step consolidates all of them to Make America great again. It also gets rid of N-grams if after removal of stop words e.g. (a, and, the, or..) they become smaller than a 2-gram. For example a 3-gram like “this or that” would be dropped a part of this step. Removing stop words this late makes sure our phrase structure is not broken e.g. “to keep us safe” does not become “keep safe”.

# get rid of junk and overlapping n-grams
hillaryTopNConsolidated<- reduceToRealNGrams(unique(cbind(hillaryTopN,setToClosestMatch(hillaryTopN))[,2]),2)
trumpTopNConsolidated<- reduceToRealNGrams(unique(cbind(trumpTopN,setToClosestMatch(trumpTopN))[,2]),2)

Now that we completed the “key phrase extraction” process, we can write this data to CSV and read in Tableau to build a word cloud like this.

 N-grams frequently used by Hillary Clinton

It gives a much better idea than individual words but can we build something that gives even more context?

Of course by that I don’t mean a bar chart version of this. Despite all the criticism in the visualization community, word clouds do a decent job of conveying the information contained in a table with words and their respective counts for a number of reasons:

  • Counts in word clouds are not exact or reliable quantities. A speaker can repeat a word several times in a row trying to remember what to say next or when they are interrupted by the audience. Even if that doesn’t happen, whether someone said something 10 vs. 11 times hardly tells you anything meaningful. So when reading a word cloud, what people look for is whether things are roughly the same or vastly different. To use an analogy, for a thermometer reading, there is no reason to display the temperature to 6th decimal place if thermometer is only accurate to one decimal place. 6 decimal places give a false sense of accuracy and takes up unnecessary space. Large numbers with one decimal place is much more useful in conveying the information.
  • Applying transformations like TF-IDF can change the word count values by orders of magnitude which makes accuracy of bar chart even less useful.
  • If corpus is large enough, word frequencies follow a power law pattern. Power law distributions apply to many aspects of human systems. The best known example is economist Vilfredo Pareto’s observation  that wealth follows a “predictable imbalance”, with 20% of the population holding 80% of the wealth.The linguist George Zipf observed that word frequency also falls in a power law pattern, with a small number of high frequency words, a moderate number of common words and a very large number of low frequency words. Later Jacob Nielsen observed power law distributions also in web site page views which is why word clouds often work well highlighting the popular content on news aggregators or forums.

Maybe a good way of providing more context is finding the sentences that contains these common phrases that distinguish one candidate from another.

First I broke the text into sentences in R.

splitToSentences <- function(text) { 
  sentence_token_annotator <- Maxent_Sent_Token_Annotator(language = "en")
text <- as.String(text)
sentence.boundaries <- annotate(text, sentence_token_annotator)
sentences <- text[sentence.boundaries]

Docs[[2]] in my script holds Trump’s speeches so to get the sentences for it:


Then I wrote the results to CSV, imported the CSV into Tableau and wrote some custom SQL to do a join between sentences and n-grams using CONTAINS as join criteria.

A little formatting to give it newspaper styling and here is the final result.

 Trump, Clinton speech analysis on Tableau Public

You can click on the image to see it live on Tableau Public and download the workbook if you like. Selecting topics from the right will bring up all the sentences containing that phrase.

R, Visualization

Correspondence Analysis in Tableau with R

Correspondence analysis is an exploratory data analysis method for discovering relationships between two or more categorical variables. It is very often used for visualizing survey data since if the matrix is large enough (which could be due to large number of variables but also possible with small number of variables with high cardinality) visual inspection of tabulated data or simple statistical analysis cannot sufficiently explain its structure. Correspondence analysis can remarkably simplify representation of such data by projecting both row and column variables into lower dimensional space that can often be visualized as a scatter plot at a small loss of fidelity.

Let’s take a look at an example. Below is the data from 2014 Auto Brand Perception survey by Consumer Reports where 1578 randomly selected adults were asked what they considered exemplar attributes for different car brands. Respondents picked all that apply from among the list that consisted of : Style, Performance, Quality, Safety, Innovation, Value  and Fuel Economy.

We can convert this data into a contingency table in R and do a chi-square test which tells us that there is statistically significant association between car brands and their perceived attributes.


But often this is not sufficient since my goal is to understand how different car makers are perceived to learn how people see my brand, how I compare with the competition, how to competitively position an existing product or bring a new product in the market to fill a gap.

Let’s visualize this as a cross-tab in Tableau.

2014 Auto Brand Perception Survey Results

Even though there are only 7 choices and a single question in the survey, this table is hard to interpret.

Let’s apply correspondence analysis and see what our scatter plot looks like. Here blue dots are cars. Blue points closer to each other are more similar than points farther away. Red items (e.g. Style being hovered over in the screenshot) are the attributes. The axes themselves do not distinguish independent dimensions for discriminating categories so attributes are useful in orienting yourself when looking at the chart and help assign names to different areas of the scatter plot. If you imagine a line extending from the center of the plot towards each of the red points, the distance of blue points to the lines indicate how related they are to the particular attribute. For example for Volvo, safety is the the perception that dominates. Same can be said for Kia and Value. But Subaru is considered safe, have good quality and value while Porsche and Ferrari are mostly associated with attributes Style and Performance, roughly the same amount.

Correspondence Analysis of Brand Perception Survey

This scatter plot explains 70% of the variance in the data. While it doesn’t capture everything, it is a lot easier to consume than cross-tabulation.

The rows and columns used in computing the principal axes of the low-dimensional representation are called active points. Passive (supplementary) points/variables are projected onto the plot but not taken into account when computing the structure of the plot itself. For example if there are two new cars in the market and you want to see their relative positioning in an existing plot, you can add them as supplementary points. If there are outliers, you can also choose to make them into supplementary points not to skew the results. Supplementary variables on the other hand are typically exogenous variables e.g. the age group or education level of the survey participant. In some cases you may prefer generating multiple plots instead e.g. one per gender. You can mark a column or row as supplementary using supcol and support arguments in ca function call e.g. ca(mydata,supcol=c(1,6)) makes 1st and 6th columns in the table supplementary.

You can add more to this chart to explore more. For example, you can put price of the car or safety rating on color and see whether they align with the perceived value or safety.  For example Tesla, Ford and Fiat are all associated with value while Tesla is not a budget car. Similarly Volvo and Tesla both have a 5 star safety rating but consumers associate Volvo much more with safety than any other brand. If you have multiple years of data, you can put years on the Pages Shelf and watch how perception changed over time, whether your marketing campaigns were effective in moving it in a direction you wanted.

Correspondence analysis use cases are not limited to social sciences and consumer research. In genetics for example microarray studies use MCA to identify potential relationships between genes. Let’s pick our next example from a different domain.

If there are multiple questions in your survey, you can use Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) instead. Our data for this example contains categorical information about different organisms. Whether they fly, photosynthesize, have a spine….

Categorica attributes of different organisms

For a moment, imagine the first column doesn’t exist so you have no knowledge about what organism each row is. How easy would it be to understand if there are groups in the data based on these attributes?

Let’s apply MCA to this dataset. In this case I put the attributes in the secondary axis, hid their marks and made their labels larger. I also applied some jitter to deal with overlapping marks.

I can clearly see groups like birds, mammals, plants, fungi and shellfish. If the data wasn’t labeled, I would be able to associate them looking at the chart and by examining the common attributes of adjacent points start developing an understanding of what type of organisms they might be.

Multiple correspondence analysis applied to organisms dataset

You can download the sample workbook from HERE.

R, Visualization

Quick Tip : Overlaying curves on Tableau scatter plots with R

Tableau provides a good set of trend line, reference line and band options but sometimes you want to overlay curves based on a custom equation. Logistic regression curves, sine curves, quantile regression curves…. And want these overlay curves to be smooth…

This is very easy to do by taking advantage of the technique I shared when building Coxcomb charts and radial treemaps. If you know the equation (or know how to get to it) and it can be described in Tableau’s calculation language you can do so using a table calculation. But doing the fit dynamically involves R and when you’re passing the data to R you need to do some basic NULL handling. Here are two examples showing what the results might look like. You can see that despite very few points in my dataset and large gaps between them, the curves look very smooth.

A sine curve and logistic regression curve overlay in Tableau

The key component is the bin field created on the variable that’s on the X axis. In Tableau bins can be used to trigger densification by turning on “Show Missing Values” option on the bin. Doing so adds NULL rows into the data backing up the visualization, which you can fill with values from table calculations (including SCRIPT_ functions). In your R script, you need to remove these artificially generated NULLs, in order not to confuse the curve fitting procedure you’re applying. 

I tied the bin size to a parameter so you can try different values to make the curves coarser or smoother.

If you want to take this technique it a bit further you could use one bin for each axis which will allow you to create a grid. Then you an treat each cell like a pixel in a raster and draw shaded areas such as contours.

Below you can see two examples of this. First one estimates the bivariate kernel density of the data points in the viz on-the-fly using R on the fly and draws the contours using the secondary axes of this dual (technically quadruple) axis chart.

Displaying kernel density as overlay in Tableau

The second chart uses the same data to fit a one-class SVM (support vector machine) which is often used for outlier/novelty detection with a Gaussian radial basis function then draws the decision boundaries using the secondary axes (blue ellipse). Suspected outliers are shown in red while inliers are shown in white.

Displaying the boundaries of a one-class SVM as overlay in Tableau

You can download the sample Tableau workbook from HERE


Understanding Clustering in Tableau 10

Tableau 10.0 comes with k-means clustering as a built-in function so it is worthwhile talking about the use cases for clustering, how the algorithm works and why we chose to make it work the way it is.

K-means procedure splits the data into K segments.  Each segment has a centroid that corresponds to the mean value for the members in that segment. The objective of the algorithm is to place the centroids such that the total of the sum of distances between centroids and members in respective segments is as small as possible.

A simple example

To demonstrate, in the toy example below, algorithm finds two groups with means 49 and 130 and assigns each point to the nearest mean. For example, a data point valued 85 would belong to the cluster on the left since it is closer to 49 than it is to 130.

A bimodal distribution

We can clearly see that there are two groups by looking at the two humps in the histogram. There is no clear gap that could be treated to visually separate the data points however. K-means helps with the decision on where to split. Below is an example of what this might look like in 2 dimensions.

Two clusters

As simple as it may seem, even clustering on a single variable has many applications. For example it is commonly advised to not have more than 7 colors on a choropleth map. If you have a continuous measure and want to convert to a discrete color palette with a particular number of colors, you can achieve this via clustering. In fact, Jenks Natural Breaks method which is the common default on most mapping software is application of k-means on a single field.

But in many real life scenarios, data is much more complex than a single variable. Age, income, number of kids, average transaction amount, weight, blood pressure… can all tell you something about different ways to group your customers, patients, students…

Making sense of the results

Sometimes groupings in data make immediate sense. When clustering by income and age, one could come across a group that can be labeled as “young professionals”. Clustering feature comes with a Describe dialog that gives you summary statistics for each cluster to help with this process.

In UN’s development indicators dataset, using the Describe dialog, one can clearly see that Cluster 1, Cluster 2 and Cluster 3 correspond to Underdeveloped, Developing and Highly Developed countries respectively. By doing so we’re using k-means to compress the information that is contained in 3 columns and 180+ rows to just three labels.

Centroids for clusters in the UN development indicators dataset

Clustering can sometimes also find patterns your dataset may not be able to sufficiently explain by itself. 

For example as you’re clustering health records, you may find two distinct groups and “why?” is not immediately clear and describable with the available data, which may lead you to ask more questions and maybe later realize that difference was because one group exercised regularly while the other didn’t, or one had an immunity to a certain disease or may even indicate things like fraudulent activity/drug abuse which otherwise you may not have noticed. Given it is hard to anticipate and collect all relevant data, such hidden patterns are not uncommon in real life.

A great real life example of this is from Bank of America.  In the 90s Bank of America’s National Consumer Assets Group started exploring clustering to segment their customers. One cluster they found had a high portion of customers who either had a home equity line of credit or had a high propensity score for that product. Cluster included only 7 percent of the bank’s customers but it had more than a quarter of the customers with the highest equity propensity scores. The customers tended to be middle aged, married home owners with teenage children. 30% of them had both personal and business-oriented banking products meaning many were small business owners. They couldn’t figure out what this meant by just looking at the data. Survey of branch managers confirmed that these customers were borrowing against their home equity to fund the startup of a small business! None of the bank’s marketing material had been oriented that way. A new campaign around this idea got much better response from customers.

You will see many cases where clustering is used as a coarse summary of the structure in the data that helps move the data exploration in a direction worth exploring and being a tool for slicing the data (forcing a structure on the data) as opposed to serving an exact answer on a silver platter.  Save and Reuse section provides yet another example that underlines this point.

Back to the algorithm…

Like any procedure there are many ways to implement k-means. Typical k-means implementations use random initializations (either random seed or random partitioning) which means two things 1) Subsequent runs over the same data will return different results 2) With a single random initialization, the results will most likely be suboptimal (stuck at a local minima) because it is random guessing. Common solution for (2) is to start over thousands of times and pick the best result which increases the chances of finding a good result at the expense of long wait times.

Our goal was to deliver great results that are repeatable with good performance. This is a tough balancing act. Quality and repeatability are must haves for trusting the results while good performance encourages experimentation with different filters, levels of detail, input variables etc. which is the path to more insights.

After testing a number of initialization methods we found the sweet spot with Howard-Harris method. Howard-Harris is a hierarchical divisive method that finds the variable of highest variance and splits the data in half (at the mean of that variable) and uses the means of each half as initial centroids to find 2 clusters, in our case, using Lloyd’s algorithm.  Then it continues by splitting the cluster with highest variance (out of the first 2 clusters) using the same method to get to a 3 cluster solution and repeats this process until the desired number of clusters is reached.

Lloyd’s algorithm takes the initial centers from Howard-Harris and clusters all points around the nearest center then computes a new center for each cluster by averaging the points in the cluster. If the new center matches the center from the previous step, it returns the result, if not, assigns points to the new center (the mean) and repeats the process.

Distance between data points

In the previous sections, I used the phrases “sum of distances” and “to the nearest centroid” several times.  But how is this distance measured?

There are many ways to measure distance. Manhattan, Mahalanobis, Chebyshev, Minkowski, Euclidian…

Tableau uses squared Euclidian distance for clustering. A good example for understanding Euclidian distance is to start with the simple, 2 dimensional case; the hypotenuse of a triangle. For a right triangle where legs/catheti are 3 and 4, Euclidian distance between these two corners would be SQRT(3^2 + 4^2)=5.  This can be extended to more than 2 variables e.g. SQRT(x^2 + y^2 + z^2…).

Tableau doesn’t take the square root which makes it squared Euclidian distance. It is common to use squared Euclidian distance for k-means clustering.

But how could one compute distances with categorical fields?

Tableau uses Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) to convert categories into numeric distances before clustering so you can use both numeric and categorical fields as inputs to clustering.

Assume you have a single column with 3 categories. Shoes, Dresses and Hats. The three categories don’t contain any true measureable distance information. They are just 3 different strings. Given this is the only available information, the assumption would be that they are at equal distance from each other. If you like thinking in pictures, you can imagine them to be the 3 corners of an equilateral triangle.

Occurrence count and if there is more than 1 categorical column, co-occurrences also impact the distances. For example if you have hospital admission form data, you would likely have some people who checked both female and pregnant boxes, some female and not pregnant, and potentially some, by mistake, marked themselves as male and pregnant. Male and Pregnant would be a very rare occurrence in the database so it would be further away from other points.

Tableau currently imposes a limit of max 25 unique categories per field and a total of 1000 unique categories. So you can use a maximum of 1000/25=40 categorical columns with 25 unique categories in each in a given clustering procedure.

Note that clustering accepts categorical fields as measures since they are meant to be used as attributes of  the entities being clustered e.g. max education level attained for a person. When you use categorical fields that are finer than what’s being clustered e.g. list of products sold at a store while store is what’s being clustered ATTR([Field]) may return *  for some rows. * is treated like NULL values which means those rows will end up in the “Not Clustered” group.

Wouldn’t some measures dominate the results?

If you have a table about country statistics, you might have a column for GDP and one for birth rate. Using the distance formula above, GDP would dominate the clustering results as it is orders of magnitude greater than birth rate. To avoid this problem, Tableau automatically scales all inputs. Of course, there are many ways to do scaling. Tableau uses min-max scaling (also known as normalization) that subtracts the minimum of the column from each value then divide the result by the difference between max and min of the column. As a result of this transformation each column get transformed to a range between 0 and 1. E.g. country with highest GDP would end up having a GDP of 1, lowest would be 0. Same is done for highest/lowest birth rates hence all variables get equally weighted. Standardization (z-score) is another common method used by many software packages that does k-means however min-max scaling is generally considered to be better for clustering per Stoddard (1979), Milligan & Cooper (1988), Dillon, Mulani & Frederick (1989) and Steinley (2004)’s research comparing different scaling methods.

How is optimal number of clusters determined?

There are many ways to find the optimal number of clusters. Some such as the elbow method involve eye-balling while others rely on picking the maximum or minimum value of a metric. You can find R packages that offer 50 different metrics and when you use them realize that all disagree with each other. This is because each method makes assumptions about the shape of the data and what makes a good cluster. There is abundant literature that compare these metrics in search for the methods that are most widely applicable and give good results and performance. We started with these studies and expanded upon them by running our own tests and decided to proceed with Calinski-Harabasz index based on the combination of its performance and how well it works with k-means.

Calinski-Harabasz criterion
Between group sum of squares (SSB) is the sum of squared distances between centroids of clusters and the centroid of the entire dataset.  Larger values can be used as a sign of good separation between clusters.
Within group sum of squares (SSW) is the sum of squared distances between centroid of each cluster and the points in that cluster. Smaller values can be used as a sign of compactness and uniformity of individual clusters.

N is number of rows in the table and k is the number of clusters.
Tableau looks for the maximum value of Calinski-Harabasz index which happens when between group sum of squares is high and within group sum of squares is low.  If equation only consisted of this ratio of course, the way to maximize it would be creating as many clusters as possible. This is where the second part (right side) of the equation comes in that one can think of as sort of a penalty for splitting into more clusters. This prevents further splits from happening  unless a split is justified by enough reduction in error.
Tableau does k-means with different values of k ranging from 2 to 25 and compares each result with the previous. If current result is less than the previous, returns the previous result. Since it is looking for a local maximum, it will terminate early which means better performance and conservative estimates of cluster count.

When/why to manually set k?

It is very common to use clustering to segment data that has no visible “clumps”. Clothing manufacturers use it to slice data into Small, Medium, Large etc. clusters. Similarly it can help with product bundling decisions e.g. how many minutes, # SMS and GBs of data should be offered in a deal for “moderate users” segment?

Save and Reuse

Once you’re satisfied with the results, you can persist them by dragging the “Clusters” pill into the data pane. Resulting field can be used just like a group with rest of Tableau. You can rename/alias cluster groups even manually move items around.

Overriding results from an algorithm manually might sound weird at first but clustering is an exploratory process and it is perfectly OK to enhance results using external knowledge.
A good example of such use is the way Boston Globe divided 200 towns in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire into editorial zones. In 2003, The Boston Globe introduced geographically distinct versions of the paper with specialized content. Two days a week, readers would get local coverage for their area. The newspaper clustered towns into 4 groups based on demographic information but then applied external rules before coming up with the final result. For example, the zones needed to be geographically contiguous to optimize delivery routes and contain sufficient population to justify specialized content as well as being aligned with how the advertising deals were made which resulted in manually moving towns between groups such that it satisfies these constraints while also having similar demographics identified through clustering.

When does k-means not work well?

Like any statistical method k-means works well in some cases but not all. You can find many examples with a quick Google search showing some patterns that are very easy to detect visually but k-means doesn’t “find” them. Here are two of the typical examples used for these demonstrations.

Donut3 spirals

Why is this happening?

K-means seeks the way to dividing the data into areas where each area contains similar items that can potentially be summarized/represented by its mean, such that you can look at a cluster’s centroid and give it a meaningful name e.g. enterprise customers.

If you look at the example with two circles, and just assume for a moment that one axis is weight, the other axis is height, what do the points in outer circle have common with each other? Outer circle contains both the tallest and the shortest person as well as heaviest and lightest. The members of outer circle don’t share any common attributes. One can say the same about the 3 spirals. In neither of these cases visually detected groupings are similar.

If one is looking to discover such patterns, k-means is not the right method. Patterns like this could be seen on maps (events following along a river or a road) or in image processing  etc. and would require algorithms that are significantly slower than k-means that typically look at pairwise distances between points searching for continuity, dense areas vs. sparse areas etc. It is highly unlikely that your business data will look anything like these. If it does, it has potential for an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Spoiler: Aliens are not trying to communicate with the analysts. It is the database admin trying to be funny.

When the goal is finding groups that share similar properties, k-means often does a good job of detecting them even if the areas have very different densities as shown in the example below as long as there is sufficient data.

3 clusters with varying densities

K-means will give you convex/globular clusters since each point is assigned to the nearest centroid and if this works for your data and type of analysis  (and in a lot of cases when data is being sliced/segmented into desired number of buckets it will), it can be safely applied to enhance your data exploration experience.

I can’t emphasize the importance of the word exploration enough. First of all, when looking for clusters, you will most likely want to write calculations, apply filters, aggregate your data… to convert your e.g. transaction level data to metrics that might potentially uncover clusters such as customer’s average spending or days since last visit. This is often referred to as feature building and is the step where many analyses prematurely fail. We built our clustering user experience to be very dynamic and interactive to encourage more experimentation to increase the likelihood of relevant metrics to be distilled. Secondly, examining results of clustering (e.g. using Describe dialog) is an integral part of the analysis. Of course this can be said for any statistics or data mining method. But with clustering, given you have the ability to augment the results with your domain knowledge, such exploration means you can tackle cases where algorithm doesn’t give you a perfect answer right out of the bat. For example if you have an elongated cluster where k-means split it in half to 20-25 year-old with spending 0-5K and 20-25 year-old with spending 5-10K but you believe it makes sense for it to be single cluster that is just 20-25 year-olds regardless of spending, then you can save the cluster pill and merge the two clusters, in just 5 clicks.

And that’s a wrap. I hope you find this information on the details of the algorithm and the use case examples helpful.

Happy clustering!

R, Visualization

Time Series Clustering in Tableau using R

Clustering is a very common data mining task and has a wide variety of applications from customer segmentation to grouping of text documents. K-means clustering was one of the examples I used on my blog post introducing R integration back in Tableau 8.1. Many others in Tableau community wrote similar articles explaining how different clustering techniques can be used in Tableau via R integration.

One thing I didn’t see getting much attention was time series clustering and using hierarchical clustering algorithms. So I thought it might be good to cover both in single post.

Let’s say you have multiple time series curves (stock prices, social media activity, temperature readings…) and want to group similar curves together. Series don’t necessarily align perfectly, in fact they could be even about events that are happening at different pace.

Time series clustering in Tableau using R

There are of course many algorithms to achieve this task but R conveniently offers a package for Dynamic Time Warping. Below is what my calculated field in Tableau looks like.

Calculation for dynamic time warping in Tableau

I started by loading the dtw package, then converted my data from long table format (all time series are in the same column) to wide table format (each series is a separate column).

I then computed distance matrix using dtw as my method and applied hierarchical clustering with average linkage. This gives a tree which I then prune to get the desired number of clusters.

And finally, data is converted back into a long table before being pulled back into Tableau.

Screenshot is from Tableau 10, but don’t worry if you’re not on the Beta program. You can download Tableau 8.1 version of the workbook from HERE. Enjoy!


Going 3D with Tableau

Even though they are not the type of visuals that first come to mind when you talk about business intelligence, if your background is in science or engineering like myself at some point in your career you probably did 3D charts. And by that I don’t mean 3D bar or pie charts. I mean scatter plots, contours, mesh surfaces… where 3rd dimension adds meaningful information.

If you wanted to do these types of charts in Tableau, how would you do them?

I thought it would be good to put together a few examples starting from the simplest and moving to more advanced visualizations. Let’s start with the scatter plot below.

Four clusters in a 3D scatter plot

Achieving this takes a background image (the cube image to emphasize the feeling of depth) and 3 simple calculated fields that re-project x,y,z coordinates to x_rotated and y_rotated fields. Wikipedia has a great summary if you’re curious where these formulas come from. You can use z_rotated field to set the size of the marks to give perspective effect to also to set the sort order of the marks so you get the z-order right. You can find this chart as a Tableau Public visualization HERE if you’d like to take a closer look or use it as an example for your own 3D scatter plots.

The example above shows rotating in 2 directions (dashboard exposes one control but you can download and open the sheet to see both options) but what if you wanted to be able to rotate in 3 different directions? I saved this for my next example as incremental change makes it easier to follow.

Caffeine Molecule (click to view Tableau Public viz)

Caffeine molecule example above uses a dual axis chart. One axis draws the atoms while the other draws the bonds between them.  It still relies purely on the background image, mark size and z-order to achieve the 3D look just like the previous example but  you will notice that, this time “size” has a multiplier to account for the size of the atom in addition to the distance in 3D space to represent the relative sizes of different atoms. Another thing you’ll notice is that now that you’re using dual axis, z-order doesn’t always work well since Tableau sorts within each axis independently so in this setup atoms are always drawn above bonds but each group is sorted within themselves. You can find the Tableau public viz HERE or by clicking on any of the screenshots.

You can extend this basic idea to do many other types of 3D views. For example a contour plot like the one below and go from 2D contours on the left to perspective view with 3 extremely simple calculated fields.

Contour Plot (click to view Tableau Public viz)

Or 3D meshes that let you play with different parameters and allow you to explore results of different equations.

3D Mesh in Tableau (click to view Tableau Public viz)

To look at waves and ripples…

3D Mesh in Tableau (click to view Tableau Public viz)

Or draw filled surfaces…

Filled surface

Or doing just some viz art like downloading radio telescope data to build the album cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album in 3D in Tableau.

Joy Divison - Unknown Pleasures (click to view Tableau Public viz)

How about also drawing axis, grids and even labels and have them rotate with the visualization instead of using a static background image and just have the marks rotate?

3D scatter plot with axis in Tableau (click to view Tableau Public viz)

Since you’re custom drawing these objects, you will need to have data points for axis extents, grid cell coordinates etc. I did this using Custom SQL. You can find data used in all example workbooks HERE as well as the SQL used. But easiest way to understand how it works is exploring the visualization. Thanks to VizQL, you can simply drag the [Type] pill from color shelf to row shelf see the visualization broken into its pieces which will help you understand how lines (surfaces, grids etc.) are handled differently from points and how it is possible to turn on/off grid using a parameter.

Breakdown of components of the visualization (click to view Tableau Public viz)

Besides Custom SQL, there is very little change to go from static background image to dynamic axis. You will see there is a minor change only in the x_rotated field’s definition.

No 3D visualization post would be complete without an example that involves 3D glasses 🙂

To be honest  this post didn’t originally have one but as I was wrapping up the examples, I showed them to some co-workers. Apparently two Tableau developers (Steven Case and Jeff Booth) had put together a stereoscopic sphere example and they thought it would be a nice addition to this post and they were kind enough to share it with me.  Time to put on some anaglyph glasses…

Anaglyph Stereoscopic 3D Sphere in Tableau (click to view in Tableau Public)

In this post I tried to share some examples of how to create various types of useful 3D charts in Tableau. I hope you find it useful.


Hidden gems in Tableau 9.2

Tableau 9.2 has just been released. It is full of several exciting features like Mapbox integration and being able to move totals, new permission settings as well as new iPhone app, it is easy to miss some small but welcome improvements.

Here are a few little features that I am sure some of you will appreciate.

Filtering on discrete aggregates : Throwing that ATTR(State) or a discrete MIN(Date) on the filter shelf is not a problem anymore.

Putting more in your LOD dimensionality : Before 9.2, you wouldn’t be able to use Sets, Combined Fields and Bins as dimensionality in your LOD expressions. Now you can write that {fixed [Profit (bin)] : AVG([Sales])} calculation you always wanted 🙂

As usual, we are looking forward to your feedback on the new release!