Upgrading 'the 2015 Best and Worst Cities to Live in' Visualization

Dale Carnegie's Principle #1 is

Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.

So, rather than criticizing the visualization on this article, I want to highlight opportunities for improvement. This is my opinion and could be flat out wrong. But, I'm okay with that. I saw this article mentioned on Facebook today. I am usually drawn to datasets of rank like this, because they usually provide an easy opportunity to take that set and visualize it. (Though honestly, I have good intentions a lot of times and haven't actually created much of value ... yet!)

I annotated a couple things that stuck out to me when seeing this visualization.


I have some ideas for how this visualization could be improved, and I really hope to take a shot. This is my way of holding myself accountable. It would also provide good Tableau practice for me, since I haven't been using it as much since taking my new job.

Autosave Tableau on the Mac

Do you have ⌘S as part of your muscle memory when you're working on really important projects? I can't say that I've never had to re-do any work due to an app crashing on me, but I'm getting better.

Back when I started beta testing Tableau on the Mac last summer, it had some bugs and was crashing here and there. Then I realized I could fix it, since I wasn't using it on Windows anymore.

Enter, Keyboard Maestro(KM): one of the greatest apps on the Mac. (I love it and I don't utilize even half of its potential)

KM is a macro application that can run tasks on a time interval, fire off keyboard commands all from a basic pressing of keys, among many other things.

In my case, if I was working in Tableau (ie. If it's the active application), then I want my computer to automatically save it, every 10 minutes. And, I wanted proof that it was taking place. So, I created a macro for that. Here's what it looks like:

As you can see, it's pretty self- explanatory here. KM is literally pressing ⌘S for me to save my work.

As far as the log file goes: I use nvALT to keep all of my notes as text files. The file starts with 'qq' so it's easier to find. I can open it right now and see every timestamp on a line - pretty cool.

If you have KM or want to try it, you can download my macro here. I'd love to hear if this helps you. Let me know on Twitter @michaellynton.

Tableau 101

I held a very entry level training yesterday for some Tableau Desktop users in our organization. My ultimate desire is for people to get comfortable with it in a shorter period of time than it took myself. I mean, who wouldn't want to learn from someone a few steps ahead, rather than starting from scratch?

The challenge, is to cover the basics, without jumping to level 2 or 3 actions in Tableau. That's where I caused myself pain was by trying to do really advanced actions, but not understanding why Tableau was doing this or that.

One comment I received, as I was showing basic drag & drop visualizations of sums and timelines, was:

"... Can't I do this in Excel?"

Let that question be fuel for my fire. Yes, you can. But Tableau is so much more. Like I said, I want to help avoid pitfalls that I hit.

Anyway, here's an outline of the material I covered. I didn't want to overwhelm, but whet the appetite, and give people a foundation as they (hopefully) go back and try to do some work on their own.

Tableau Desktop 101


At your own pace

  • On-demand library
    • Be sure to watch the videos in the section 'Why is Tableau Doing That?'
  • Community Forums
  • 4 week Desktop starter kit

Future lessons

  • Calculations for beginners
  • Data blending exercises
  • Using parameters

Expanding Creative Potential at #Data14

Michael Lynton - working da-ta day.jpg

Yesterday I returned from Seattle and the Tableau Conference. I had a great week in a city that I have been eager to re-visit for the last 6 years. And I spent many hours getting trained, and hearing from masters in the space. Here are a few of my take-aways from the week.

Tableau's attention to detail was unparalleled

I noticed it the moment I walked into the convention center, with a grin on my face with the thought "It's finally here." As I walked in the doors, I immediately noticed the back side of the stairs decorated with Tableau colors for the conference. This is such a minor detail, but it really stuck out to me and showed that Tableau was serious about making the venue their own for the week.

I'm not the only one with "data crushes"

I thought I was the only one who gets nervous about meeting Tableau celebrities in real life. Well, I was mistaken. It's fun to see the conversation on Twitter and that others are just as excited (and nervous) to meet their heroes in real life.

The community is generous

I am blown away by how many people have already shared their presentations on their blogs, expanding on the content they shared in sessions. And by people who invite anyone to email them for help or feedback on a visualization. You don't get that kind of support and help from many products/software out there. I am even more confident that I made the right choice going with Tableau.

I have a lot to learn

I say this not to get down on myself. I mean it as an encouragement to myself that there is an opportunity to grow, learn, help people, and expand my skills which is always exciting. It's never fun to feel like you've maxed out your potential in anything. A couple areas that I plan to attack this next year are Table Calculations and the Extract API. I also plan on creating visualizations and posting them to Tableau Public, as a way to practice and get some feedback.

I bought a mattress at 1 a.m.

There we were, laying awake in bed at 1 a.m. just a couple of weeks ago. It was about the third night in a row that we just could not get to sleep at a decent hour. Now, we do live in Texas and it takes hours after the sun goes down to get our house down to a fair temperature. But these sleep problems were related to being uncomfortable as well as hot & stuffy.

This same day - either earlier in the day, or while my iPhone was entertaining my sleepless hours - I saw this article on Techcrunch which mentioned a new mattress company that received new funding. It sounded cool. But it didn't hit me until Mrs and I were laying there and she again mentioned that we should buy a new mattress. (Not to mention, our old mattress was passed on from family and about 15 years old. Yikes!!)

I nervously mentioned that "I read this article about a new company that manufactures and sells mattresses online." (You have to admit, that buying a mattress online which gets delivered in a box is kind of abnormal.) She immediately perked up and I pulled up the Casper website on my iPad. She was immediately sold. The thought of buying a new King mattress (at no risk) was a dream to her. I was not crazy about spending well over $1,000 for a new mattress, but this one I could get on board with, because it cost less than $1,000. Also, I get excited about 'disruptors' that are innovative and shaking things up in their respective industries.

We were this close to buying it at 1 a.m. from the comfort of the iPad, but we decided to wait until the morning to fully check this thing out. The next day, Mrs also came across Tuft & Needle which is a similar company that is also disrupting the mattress market. They sell online and also provide a hassle-free return policy. They were also very tempting, because their mattress was around $300 less, and there were some coupon codes floating around the web.

But then, I came across this post on Reddit and it sold me on Casper. You can read the thread, but basically it has a conversation with a rep from Casper who explains the differences between Casper and T&N. The major points are: * Casper uses memory foam and latex * Casper's top layer is latex, which provides for more breathability * Casper uses more dense foam

The breathability factor is what I kept coming back to. It's so easy to get hot at night and the thought of having a mattress that might provide even a bit of breathability was a big draw for us.

I ordered the mattress and it came about a week later. Naturally, they had an influx in orders so it took a couple of extra days to ship out. It arrived as expected in a box on our door step and we immediately unpacked it.

The whole unpacking was a breeze. They included a special cutter to cut away the tarp wrapping and then you pull rip another layer of plastic with your hands, as it gives out a nice "woooosh" sound and comes to life.

The mattress is firm, but not too firm. We can both move around on the bed and not disrupt the other. The morning after our first night on it, I had to drag myself out of bed because I was so comfortable. I had not felt like that in a long time!

When you need a new mattress, buy a Casper and you will sleep better - physically and financially. And when you are ready to buy, you can use this link to get $50 off!

My wife, doing the honors of unpacking the new Casper

My wife, doing the honors of unpacking the new Casper

My wife, the massage therapist

Today, Sarah is having her last day of massage therapy school. They don't call it graduation, but instead something like "day of completion". That's because there are internship hours and a final certification test that people may still need to finish. However, today is Graduation Day in my book, because Sarah has already finished all of the requirements, including 50 hours of internship massages, and an extremely hard certification test. There's no question about it, she is amazing! She is dedicated, hard working, driven, and focused. And to top it off, I am certain to quite-certain that she had the highest overall average in her entire class.

I am so proud of her, and wanted to commemorate the occasion with a special post. Congratulations, Sarah. I love you!

This is a visual I created for her to fill in a bubble every time she finished an internship massage

This is a visual I created for her to fill in a bubble every time she finished an internship massage

New backpack - Synapse 25

Just this past week, my wife and I celebrated our 7th anniversary. It was full of remiscing and talking about the future.

Of course, gifts are always involved. This year, I took a different approach though. I took a risk and told Mrs. straight up what I wanted as a gift - the Synapse 25 from Tom Bihn. I wrestled with this because I didn't want to reduce the meaningfulness of her gift giving.

She was fully on board though. As soon as I mentioned that I really wanted it, she asked me "do you want it for our anniversary?". "Yes", I somewher sheepishly replied.

Her viewpoint was that I was probably going to buy it anyway, so why not let her buy it for the anniversary, and then think of her every time I use it.

Perfect! A win-win for sure.

She proceeded to order it a couple weeks ago, but unfortunately the laptop insert was on backorder until mid-August. Dang! To save on shipping, we decided to hold the order until everything was in stock. So I knew the bag was coming, just not sure when.

Little did I know, Mrs. included a little note with her order. Now, I don't know if it played a part in the outcome, but I sure love it regardless.

I'm giving this to my husband for our anniversary (7/14) but don't want to have to pay for shipping twice... If there's any chance to ship earlier than mid-August, that would be awesome!!! Otherwise I guess I'll give him a printed picture of it... whomp whomp.

To my surprise, the bag showed up yesterday! She told me that she had a surprise for me, but I never imagined that the backpack would be here already.

To the Tom Bihn crew:

Many thanks to you all, even if my wife's note had no bearing on receiving the order early. I am über excited about my new Synapse bag and having it join me on a daily basis.

The difference between YNAB and Mint

This tweet was posted by @YNAB today, which I easily replied to. I was driving to work this morning and thought it was a great question to expand on.

I could talk all day on why I think YNAB is better than Mint. All of my arguments though, could be boiled down to a couple of things.

  1. Awareness
  2. The 4 Rules

Now, awareness is something that I like to talk about here on the blog. But really, it plays into why I think YNAB is superior. When I used Mint back before YNAB (circa 2009 - 2011), I was always behind on what I had actually spent and still had to track my budget and spending in a spreadsheet separately. Mint essentially, was on autopilot. Some people thing that having your financial software import all your transactions automatically is the superior function. Sure, this is helpful. But there is a better way. YNAB forces you to be mindful of what you spend, thus inputting all your transactions (easily via the iPhone), or you can import your bank's transaction history if you happen to forget some purchases. Even if you do the import from the bank, you still have to categorize your purchases and make a concious decision of what category they will come from. When I used Mint, purchases would go into any which category and I felt like I was always playing catch up.

The other reason that YNAB is better than Mint is the 4 Rules. They are:

  1. Give every dollar a job
  2. Save for a rainy day
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Live on last month's income

Without going into too much detail about the rules, these are the foundations of how YNAB operates. The program is built specically around these mottos and frankly - who wouldn't want to manage their money and live this way? Why would you not want to assign a job to every dollar? Don't you want to know what you spend your money on? If you're trying to get out of debt, it sure would be helpful to squeeze every last dollar you could, so that you can throw it on your debt.

If you haven't done the trial of YNAB yet, I would highly recommend it.

Our YNAB budget categories

I've wanted to post my YNAB budget categories for a while now. So finally, here they are. I cut down on a lot of them a few months ago after reading a post from Jesse. It was helpful for me to consolidate and simplify the categories, and it's always nice to give less thought to categorizing a purchase. It also makes it easier for S to use the iPhone app when on the go. Analysis paralysis is not fun! Without all of our savings goals, we only have 24 budget categories. I feel like that's pretty good, compared to where we were.

  • Bills:Mortgage
  • Bills:Fixed - this is for car insurance, jewelry insurance, life insurance, & internet because it's the same amount every month. This number also grows every month because I pay car insurance for a full year up front and get a nice discount.
  • Bills:Variable - cell phone, electricity, water, etc. I have to adjust this number monthly.
  • Bills:Tithe
  • House:Interior - self explanatory, but this would cover furniture, decor, supplies, etc
  • House:Exterior - yard equipment, tools, landscaping, repairs, etc
  • Food:Eating Out - date nights, lunches out, coffee, dessert, etc
  • Food:Groceries - anything that we buy to eat at home
  • Personal:Beautification - haircuts, make-up for S, massages
  • Personal:Clothes/Shoes
  • Personal:Running Shoes - these purchases are a bit more targeted, and it's nice to have the money separate from other clothes/shoe purchases
  • Personal:Gifts - birthdays, anniversary, etc
  • Personal:Norah - the poodle
  • Personal:Hers
  • Personal:His
  • Personal:Miscellaneous
  • Recreation:Ent/Books - Netflix, going to the movies, other fun stuff we want to do, and books
  • Recreation:Races
  • Recreation:Memberships - Crossfit, running group, yoga
  • Health:Doctor - not needed so much since we have an HSA and can pay for Doctor visits out of that
  • Health:Vitamins/Supplements
  • Car:Gas
  • Car:Repairs & Maintenance - tires, repairs, etc
  • Car:Registration & Inspection - I save monthly so the money is there when inspection and registration time roll around each year

I wasn't going to post all the Savings categories, but I thought it might be helpful to show the variety of goals. The thing that makes YNAB so great for saving money is that I don't need a separate account for each goal. I just track it right here in the category balance, and then watch it grow

  • Savings:Retirement - budgeted monthly, but the money goes straight into the Roth
  • Savings:A/C
  • Savings:New iPhone
  • Savings:Girls Weekend
  • Savings:Trip - Las Vegas
  • Savings:Trip - CIM
  • Savings:Trip - Big Sur
  • Savings:Trip - Boston 2014
  • Savings:Christmas - Don't let it sneak up on you. It's always in December
  • Savings:Bonus Parking Lot - I received a bonus, and parked the money here so it doesn't get lost in the mix. I'm not sure how it will be spent yet.