Tableau: Benefits & Limitations

During the first four months of this year I was in Indiana’s IVMOOC. I was very excited to find that we were using Sci2, an open source workbench that integrates a variety of other open source data visualization tools. Sci2 was complimented with InkScape, a free alternative to Adobe’s Illustrator. I’ve still got both books from the course on my desk, a reminder that I intend to revisit the course contents on my own.

But then we touched on Tableau. The company’s one line self description is concise:

We help people see and understand their data.

Education on FOSS tools can be uneven. Tableau provides a rich learning environment. There are …

Then I landed an academic version of the software, thanks to this unusual consulting arrangement I have, and that saved me $999. I’m free to tinker with Tableau as much as I want.

The second thing I did after the California power map was a global map of NATO spending vs. Russia. And then I found a couple puzzles I don’t know how to solve.


The first number is military expenditure in millions, the second is total military headcount. I have numbers for Turkey. What isn’t Turkey visible? OK, proximity to Italy, but what about Russia? There is no excuse for that red dot to not have a proper legend. I could have done a total for NATO and placed it in the Central African Republic with a different color code, but it seems like there should be an easier way to do that.

Then I zoomed in …


Now we can see all the NATO countries and their contributions, as well as Belarus and Ukraine. There isn’t any decent way to move the red dot for Russia where it can be seen. Overall the map will be frustrating to anyone who has used Google Maps or Mapbox – it zooms in, it zooms out, it shifts focus to a double click. There is no other way to steer it, so you end up doing a drunken wobble, back and forth, changing focus point and zoom, trying to get what other packages will do with a single mouse movement.


What I like about Tableau is that, in addition to producing nice charts, graphs, and maps, it also looks great on a resume all on its own. I need to spend time on this, the same sort of time I’ve spent with Maltego and Gephi. I need to either investigate InkScape a little closer, but it was a bit clumsy, the way some Linux ports to OSX feel, or just suck it up and pay for Adobe Illustrator.


One thought on “Tableau: Benefits & Limitations

  1. Pingback: A Place Of My Own | Neal Rauhauser

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