NBC Olympics’ [Doh!]nut Chart

Take a moment and look at the NBC Olympics‘ page (screenshot below). What do you see? What impressions do you get from what you see? What questions pop into your head about what you see? What conclusions can you make from what you see?

NBC Olympics Doughnut Chart

For me, I see a classic mistake. I see an unnecessary, misleading visualization. I see… a doughnut chart. Doh!

What bugs me about this visualization is that everything I need to walk away with some insight is written out in the middle of each doughnut, or circle. Let’s have a little exercise, shall we?

Which country has the most total medals? Norway has 11 total medals.

How does the next country compare? Canada has 9 total medals.

How many of each medal has each country earned? Norway has 4 gold medals and 3 silver medals and Canada has earned the same. In fact, where Norway beats Canada in the race for total medals is in bronze medals, where it picked up 4 while Canada has only earned 2.

Ok, I’m satisfied with the information I’ve received. The data in the center of each doughnut helped answered my questions about the top 2 countries with the most medals, the total medal gap between the two countries, and what is causing the gap.

If this is the information I need, then why am I presented with the surrounding doughnut chart? Is it because it looks cool? Is it because doughnuts are undeniably tasty? Let’s think about what happens when we remove the data in the center of each doughnut.

Without the data in the center of each chart, I have 3 big, distracting doughnuts with gold, silver, and bronze slices. Canada’s gold and silver slices are bigger than Norway’s. Conclusion, Canada has more gold and silver medals than Norway, obviously making Canada a better performer than Norway. Then why is Canada in 2nd place?

Doughnut charts offer a good look at how proportions factor into a total distribution. In this case, Canada is actually doing better than Norway in the proportion of gold and silver medals it has earned. But who really cares about this fact? This is the Olympics, for crying out loud, where total medals are what counts, not the proportion of medals a country has earned.

To give the NBC Olympics’ page some credit, they allow the user to view the data through a stacked bar chart, which is how I’d prefer to view the data. Not only do I get a clear sense of the total medals, I also have a proportional view of the gold, silver, and bronze medal counts for each country. All that anxiety about doughnuts just to get what I was looking for one mouse scroll below…

NBC Olympics Stacked Bar

Thanks for reading and I hope you all noticed the ridiculous McDonald’s ad on each side of the page, which tries to equate eating a chicken mcnugget to biting down on an Olympic gold medal. All I can say is that I hope those mcnuggets taste better than that lousy 3-toned doughnut…

Snow[board] Schema

I started skiing at a young age. Growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley region, my Dad took me and my 3 older siblings to ski the Catskill Mountains a few times each year. I took lessons on the “bunny slope” my first year, where I learned the “pizza, french fries” technique. Soon enough, I was skiing Green Circle (beginner) trails with my siblings. This is where I learned the value of commit or quit. When you fall, you can either give up and slide down the rest of the way, or you can get back up and try it again. When I did fall, I remember hating everything about skiing. I was a slow, impatient learner, but my Dad stayed right there with me. If he hadn’t picked up my skis, poles, goggles, etc. every time I had a “yard sale” (my fall caused my equipment to scatter across the mountain), I probably would’ve never returned to the cold, snowy mountains that I now love.

My Dad helped me improve to the point where I could comfortably ski Blue Square (intermediate) trails. He injured his knee around this time and that took a big bite out of his time spent on the mountain. But, by then I was old enough to join my middle school’s ski club. Most of my friends in ski club were proficiently skiing Black Diamond (advanced) trails. Sure, I could hang with them, but having two separate skis strapped to each foot and two separate poles for each hand felt unnatural and excessive. I was an intermediate skier at best.

Around the age of 12, I became obsessed with extreme sports thanks to the rise of the X Games. Anything I watched on TV, I wanted to try at home. I was heavy into rollerblading,  mountain biking, and skateboarding during the summer. It came as no surprise when, during the winter of 1999, I convinced my Dad to rent me a snowboard despite the fact that most of my close friends still skied. My Dad is a firm believer in taking lessons to learn something new or improve in what we already know, so I spent my first day on the bunny slope with this rad dude who taught me the concept of heel-sliding, toe-sliding, weight distribution, maintaining my center of gravity, and other snowboarding essentials. I don’t know whether it was the idea of another extreme sport or the fact that being strapped onto the same board just felt more natural to me, but I was hooked.

With my friend Phil, who had been snowboarding for a year or so already, we taught the rest of our friends how to snowboard. Not surprisingly, we all picked it up very quick. We were all athletic with young bones that could handle the constant wipe-outs. No joke, you will not be able to feel your bum for a good day or two after learning to snowboard. The first few days, we all felt so cool snow-plowing down the mountain. By the end of the season we were hitting tabletop kickers with grabs and spins, always pushing each other to try new tricks.

Long story short, I’m still snowboarding. There are so many things to love about it. I love the feeling of being on top of a mountain, of cold wind and snow whipping across my face, of conquering mother nature and any condition she may throw at me. It’s a very liberating experience and it’s something that I work hard at each time I’m on the mountain because I never want to plateau. I’ve been snowboarding for 15 years now and have never felt bored with the sport.

Alright, now for the data-related part of this post. When I’ve done something for so long, the data geek inside me starts nagging my mind with questions like “How fast did I go?” and “How many miles did I ride today?” Questions like these have remained a mystery up until I had a conversation with my friend Mike 4 years ago. Mike’s eyes lit up when both ‘skiing’ and ‘iPhone apps’ came into the same sentence. Mike said to me, “Dave, have you heard of Ski Tracks?!?” Given his seemingly over-enthusiasm on the subject, I probably replied with some smart-ass comment like, “Yes, Mike. The lines your skis leave in the snow… duh.” Little did I know Mike’s app recommendation would add a whole new dynamic to my riding experience…

Take last weekend for example. My group of friends from Massachusetts booked a house in NH in order to ski Gunstock Mountain Resort for our annual winter sports extravaganza. (To be honest, the trip mostly involves a bit of skiing and a bunch of eating, drinking, hardcore puzzling, and general merrymaking) One of the fun parts of this trip is that I’d never been to Gunstock before. Much like any normally functioning human being, I try to learn as much as I can from past experiences in order to make my life a bit easier. This type of learning can be highly subjective, however, and it’s nice to incorporate a bit of hard data to my process of learning and reflection. I obviously took Mike’s app recommendation and promptly downloaded the app Ski Tracks on my iPhone.

Ski Tracks allows me to do a couple of things I’d otherwise have a hard time figuring out. When I ski, I usually get to the mountain, take a look at a trail map, figure out a couple fun slopes to ride, then go have fun. By the end of the day, I can never remember exactly where I skied throughout the course of the day. With Ski Tracks, I simply turn the app on, put my iPhone back in my pocket, and go skiing for the day. Business as usual. At the end of the day, the Ski Tracks app uses a GPS tracker through the location services function on the iPhone which tracks each run count, the time of each run, the max speed and ski vertical of each run, and the lift I skied to for my next run.


Another great feature is that it uses GPS to track my longitude and latitude at all times, as you see here:


Ski Tracks is then able to overlay this data on a satellite image map to create a really neat birds eye view of my day!


One of the very helpful features of this app, if I want to get up close and personal with my data outside of the confines of my iPhone screen, is the ability to export this data as a .KML file. This type of file allows me to open the data in a desktop application like Google Earth, where I have a lot more interactivity with the landscape.


Back in the app, another feature provides a time series view tracking my altitude and speed throughout the day. See how I plateaued in altitude and speed around noon? Yeah, I forgot to turn the app off while eating lunch at the Panorama Pub…


And now for the dashboard view…


As you can see, the dashboard view of the app provides a wide variety of helpful info about my day. Max and average speed help me bomb down at least one of my rides during the day. So far, my max speed has been clocked in at 54.2 mph at Stratton Mountain in Vermont. To be fair, the max slope I hit at Stratton is a 34 degree slope, compared to the 19 degree slope I hit at Gunstock. There are few things in this world I love more than snowboarding down a very steep slope.

One of the great things about the ski distance is that the app recognizes when I’m skiing, 11.4 miles, and when I’m sitting on the lift, 8.5 miles. It also tells me the number of runs I’ve done, not to mention the total time I spent skiing during the day.

Ski vertical and max altitude are both great measures to help me compare how steep one mountain is compared to another. It eliminates the wonder of, “I think Stratton is way higher than Gunstock?” In fact, according to my Ski Tracks app, Stratton is about 1600ft taller than Gunstock!

At the end of the day, however, it is all about the experience. I can collect as much data as I possibly could about my day, but nothing will beat the feeling of racing down a snow capped mountain with nothing but my snowboard’s edge keeping me up. I encourage all my readers to try skiing or snowboarding. And for those who want a bit more out of their day, download Ski Tracks and add some data to your ride! And hey, you can even take a picture to document the conditions.


Feasting in Phoenix

Welcome to 2014! I love the idea of a ‘new year’. It gives me a means to start over; to leave my troubles in the past; to look forward to new beginnings; to create resolutions; to feel recharged and continue working hard to achieve my goals. A new year also gives me an opportunity to honor old traditions while finding new ways to make them fun and exciting each year. As a child, I spent each new year with my parents and siblings, watching the ball drop on TV and counting down with all the freezing people in Times Square from the comfort of my home. As a ‘tween’, I spent each new year with my parents and maybe even had a friend over for the night, while my older siblings were out at parties. As a teenager, I started going to parties. And now, in my twenties, the plan has typically been to spend the new year in Florida with my parents, siblings and their kids. Everything’s full circle, right?

To ring in 2014, my wife and I managed to escape the cold New England weather and head some place warm – Phoenix, AZ.  Definitely not my first pick of places to spend the new year, but my brother and sister-in-law live there and I’m an easy sell when it comes to them. Not only would we be going to a killer New Years Eve party, but we’d be feasting at all their favorite restaurants. My wife and I are big into dining out, cooking at home, and pretty much anything else related to the creation and consumption of food. Needless to say, we were very excited about the prospect of a Phoenix vacation/culinary adventure.

Upon our arrival on December 31st, my brother picked us up from the airport. We took a 10am flight out of Boston and arrived in Phoenix around 2pm, which means we skipped lunch! What to do? Oh yeah, the west coast has something we don’t… In-N-Out Burger!!! The perfect guilty pleasure to satisfy our serious hunger. Now, as much as I love In-N-Out, I always get stared at like a crazy person when I say, “I like 5 Guys more… In-N-Out tastes like a glorified McDonald’s burger.” Yes, 5 Guys does not make “animal style” burgers, but I think they taste more like a hot-off-the-grill backyard burger than a hot-off-the-production-line fast food burger. It was a good thing I only ordered a double-double animal style with well-done fries and a Coke because later that night, we feasted on some Federal Pizza pizzas before heading out to the new years party at Hotel Valley Ho.

Now, to be honest, after this point the vacation was pretty much a blur and that’s exactly how I like my vacations to be, but I did manage to document every place I had a meal. The idea was that after I returned home, I’d feel more alive than ever knowing I’d eaten all that delicious food and lived to blog about it. So, after I recovered from my food coma, I compiled it all into a spreadsheet and flowed the data through Tableau. The idea was to create a ‘food map’ that detailed and ranked all the places I had a meal at.

Click on the viz below and you’ll be able to vicariously experience my culinary adventure. I only wish Tableau would add in a way to smell the data… maybe in version 10!


Now for the hail of bullets:

  • My favorite restaurant in Phoenix is FnB. Everything from the food to the service to the atmosphere was great.
  • My favorite meal in Phoenix was at Central Bistro, where I had chicken and waffles, along with tons of other delicious sides.
  • I think I ranked Postino very high because I really enjoy dinners that consist of many small meals, similar to tapas, so the 7 different types of bruschetta really hit the spot
  • Cibo had a fantastic outdoor space to eat, with a raging fire and a very cool jazz trio. Great Italian  food!
  • The brunch I had at The Breakfast Club narrowly missed making it to my favorite meal of the trip. Huevos con masa are to die for.
  • And my last point has to be the movie experience I had at the AMC Dine-In Theatres. This place was ridiculous! Reclining leather couches with food and drink service at the push of a button. And I thought 3D IMAX was cool…

Thanks for reading!

Credit to Ben Jones at DataRemixed. I was thinking about using wms for my Tableau mapping, but I thought I’d try Ben’s neat trick to dynamically display a Google  map satellite image through dashboard actions - http://dataremixed.com/2013/06/how-to-embed-a-google-map-in-tableau/


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