Thursday, June 26, 2014

Earthy Distractions: The Human Touch

In a sense what we do at IDV is thematic mapping. Here, the goal is to create a thematic globe using population density data. The density data is obtained from Socio Economic Data and Application Center or SEDAC. I would like to share some of the challenges encountered in the process –

A density cube is located at every available (available in dataset) coordinate on earth. Lot of points! The height of a cube is determined by the density value at the point. With density distribution being rather skewed, I was called upon to apply a reasonable partitioning mechanism. Quantile distribution was the answer. For more information on distributions check out  Telling Truth. I have 9 buckets of different colors. The density data is almost equally distributed among 9 buckets.

The JavaScript library used to create this globe is THREE.Js. One frustrating fact about this open source library is that when latest version of the product is released, there is very little documentation on how to migrate an app running an old version, to a new one. Initially I developed this app on a rather old version of three.js, when I tried migration to the latest three.js ver67, at times my face turned black blue and red in frustration. Sigh! I like THREE js, it is fun, but there are some painful moments.

It takes a little time to load all the cubes on the globe. I probably could have done a better job with performance, but this is quick and dirty experiment done over lunch breaks, so please understand if I procrastinate improvements for now J

Well folks, this is the second of Earthly Distractions, hope you like what you see. The globe is transparent, I thought it gives an interesting visual experience. Please be patient, the visualization is bit sluggish while loading.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Visual Command Center – open visualization harnesses the most powerful, relevant data

The other day, I was thinking about some of my favorite software apps – the ones that I turn to for day-to-day work and also particularly difficult challenges. Apps like VLC for audio, video, and media files. Or ACD Canvas 15, which can open, edit, and save just about any type of graphics file from just about any graphics, CAD, presentation, or image editing application. What these and other favorite applications have in common is a simple, clean, and easy-to-master user interface, robust power to get the job done without bloat, and most of all, an open, non-proprietary approach to file formats and data connections. Visual Command Center fits right into this paradigm – easy-to-use, powerful, and an open platform.

One of the most frequent questions I get is, “How is Visual Command Center different from your competition?” Many people see that our visualization is based on a map, and assume that it’s just points on a map…a mapping platform with a few risk and asset data layers that you can turn on and off. One of the first things I point to, is that there really aren’t any other enterprise risk visualization solutions, and the ones that have some overlap with Visual Command Center are proprietary, closed systems that started life as some other solution.

Our vision for Visual Command Center is to provide the best enterprise risk visualization software solution. To accomplish this requires us to embrace a model of open visualization; we help our customers land the most powerful and relevant data available to solve challenge unique to their business, whatever the source. The data that helps them in day-to-day operations and in times of crisis comes from a variety of sources – public and private – and in many formats. Like VLC and Canvas, Visual Command Center brings all these data sources in and lets users interact them with them in a simple, but powerful user experience. In addition to the many open formats like GeoRSS, KML, Atom, and others, Visual Command Center has connectors to other systems like mass notification, GPS and safety tracking systems, access control, and others. And of course good old Excel, which makes it super-easy to bring in new data via SharePoint.

Almost every week without fail I learn something new and really cool about one of our Visual Command Center or Visual Fusion customers. Like how one of the world's leading telecommunications companies has connected their Visual Command Center deployment to river flood gauges (just one of their many connections!) to understand when their network cables or switches might be at risk due to flooding. Or how Northwest Natural Gas brought in and visualized for the whole organization gas pipeline and valve location data that had previously been siloed in an ESRI GIS application in a single department. What’s more, the teams at both of customers did this work themselves based on standard connections and our open visualization approach via the SDK and training IDV Solutions offers. It didn’t require an analyst to customize a closed, proprietary system that was never intended for robust visualization tasks.

The list of sources of data and system connections that security, supply chain, risk, and operations teams are using to help them visualize assets, risk, and contextual information is growing on a daily basis. Keep watching our Visual Command Center “Data Visualized” Web page and this blog to learn more about new ones that are coming online.