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Nov 11, 2015

When Creativity Comes In

This is another guest post by the amazing Janet Wesner

In the early 2000s, Tatsuo Horiuchi wanted to learn something new before retiring. He decided that traditional graphics softwares offered by the likes of Adobe were too expensive. So instead, he started experimenting with Excel, at the age of 60. 

He has a few workbooks available for download if you want to try to figure out how he created these.

How Does This Relate?

The point that I’d like to make here is two-fold:

  • You’re never too old to learn, so don’t say that unless you don’t actually want to learn, and

  • Just because something isn’t designed to work in a particular way doesn’t mean you can’t make it achieve whatever purpose you have in mind.
  • The two items are related but I’ll focus on the second.

    If you consider yourself a user of only built-in functions, you will be severely limited in any software that you use. All software developers have to find a balance between servicing the average users (the group that accounts for most of the user base) and servicing the power users (the group that takes the software to the next level but only accounts for a small percentage of the user base). A lot of times, things work a certain way because that’s what appeals to most users. But if you’re trying to do something atypical, then be creative! Just because a built-in function doesn’t work the way you would like it to, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.
    I’ve heard a lot of people say about Excel that something “just can’t be done” and then stopping right there. More often than not, there is a way or a workaround. Just acknowledging that there could be a way and not cutting yourself short would make everyone so much more capable. 
    The characteristics that I love most about Slemma are that it’s easy to use and completely web-based (no installation required and extremely easy to share). But, I do work on quite a few atypical projects. And when that happens, I can still achieve the resulting visualizing that I was after. 

    Bubble Charts Hurray!

    Let’s use this basketball shot chart as a specific example. I wanted to show where an NBA player’s made shots and missed shots fell on the basketball court. The color option in the bubble charts in Slemma are currently designed to only take numerical values.
    • UNIQUE_ID: Unique identifier for each shot. This is needed because I want each shot to show as a unique bubble. I created this as a numeric row counter and imported the column as a string.
    • EVENT_TYPE: Original column identifying each shot as either a “Missed Shot” or a “Made Shot.
    • EVENT: Numeric field based on EVENT_TYPE (0 for “Missed Shot” and 1 for “Made Shot”).
    • LOC_X and LOC_Y: Original columns for coordinates on the basketball court.
    • LOC_-X and LOC_-Y: Calculated columns that reverse the original coordinates to show the court facing different directions.
    When I import this table into Slemma and drop EVENT into the color option, this is the resulting chart.
    Woot! I can definitely see the court shape and all the bubbles are showing up.
    Boo! All the bubbles are the same color.
    Alright alright, so it seems that the color groups are assigned by some kind of percentile formula maybe and all of the bubbles are falling into the bottom group. Solution? Add a dummy value to change the color groupings.
    Here’s the result of adding a dummy bubble at X=1000, Y=1000 with EVENT = -0.5.
    All that’s left to do is to adjust the axis to hide the dummy bubble (or you can change the dummy bubble’s location to be on top of another “Missed Shot” bubble) and then adjust the colors. Here’s my resulting chart.
    Not as impressive as Mr. Horiuchi by any means, but purpose achieved.

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