Is MS Pivot a New Tool or a New Paradigm

17 03 2010

Microsoft Pivot is a new data exploration\visualization tool that allows rapid interaction with enormous sets of information.  The tool’s capability is impressive, but some may say inevitable with the convergence of large data volumes, powerful databases, and web technologies.  What is just as interesting is that Pivot, and tools like it, will change how we navigate, explore and come to understand information (why data visualization is important).

Screenshots of Microsoft PivotPivot uses the metaphor of a collection.  It seems each item in the collection has attributes that can be used to filter, or to distribute (think bar chart) the items in that collection.  Collection items can also be linked to one another to rapidly navigate to similar items.  Words really do not do this justice and you should look at the Pivot Demo or Gary Flake’s TED Talk on Microsoft Pivot.  This tool moves at the speed of thought and when you follow a hunch you get a response back quickly that lets you continue without interruption.

When a user is able to work with data without their thought process being interrupted the “tool” starts to disappear.  We have all heard the cliché that a car disappears and the driver is one with the road.  This happens to users and analyst working with data as well.

This is not a complete new concept.  Corporate analyst have had Cubes and other Data Warehousing systems provide them with similar capabilities.  In general these have been expensive and developer intensive solutions.  What Pivot and tools like offer is a way to bring this to the masses.

We will all become comfortable immersing ourselves in profession and personal data.  It may be how you navigate your bank transactions or choose a school for your children.  Your employer may expect you to use this skill for your job, or at least to clean out your inbox.

Data exploration with the help of new technologies will become mainstream in ways we cannot imagine today.


Pivot Demo

TED Talk on Microsoft Pivot

Sea Dragon Showcase

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Panoramic Pictures with Windows Live and Image Composite Editor

1 01 2010

The kids and I went Geocaching yesterday.  We had a blast.  We found the location and coordinates at

The cache was at the top of a pretty steep hill near Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest (Southern Arizona).  It was a small metal tea can in a buried steel pipe.

I started taking pictures as Isabelle and Jasper were removing the cache.  I circled them from a number of angles to get enough pictures to stitch together for a panorama.  Usually you stay in one spot and spin, but I wanted multiple images of the explorers, so I actually circled them (look at the shadows to get a sense of the different angles).

I was planning on using the image stitching that came with my Canon Camera, but after googling for the software (and getting frustrated with Canon’s website) I came to a recommendation of Windows Live Photo Gallery and it’s panorama feature (see below).

Then I also found a link to a more advance version (same software engine) from Microsoft Research called Image Composition Editor(ICE).  The results were pretty much the same, but the ICE program offered a little more flexibility in determining the perspective of the panoramic(see below).

What a great way to end the year.

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Microsoft Vedea comes after Processing

4 12 2009

Microsoft Visualization Language The Vedea Project Create. See. Understand.

“Vedea is a prototype of a new experimental language for creating interactive infographics, data visualizations and computational art.”

Microsoft has noticed what the guys at MIT have been up to with Processing and is preparing to launch Vedea, which they describe as “a new visualization language.”  Just knowing Microsoft many of us may have a little skepticism… not that the tool won’t be good or exciting, but will it be open, and free?  Being a strong believer in competition this entry can only make the space better, with more minds working to improve the creation of data visualization.

On the Microsoft Research Blog there is a write up with some detail, including some code snippets.  In reviewing the code it looks like the language will offer some predefined GUI Components and Data Visualizations built in.  This could actually be very valuable including these in the core (as long as it is extensible with external libraries).  Processing today is open and there are libraries that cover these areas, but integration can be  cumbersome.

It looks like launch is planned for early 2010.

Update: 12/5/09

Here is a blog post detailing a  demo of Vedea with the data, code and an image of the data visualization it created.

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