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November 2009 - Posts - Tip of the Week

Tip of the Week

November 2009 - Posts

  • Searching inside TIBCO Spotfire Professional

    There are a variety of ways to search inside TIBCO Spotfire. Some are designed for the end users and some are designed for the administrator. This tip will walk you through the different types of search capabilities, and what can be done with them.

    Global Filter

    End Users can search for a variety of things using the Find capability in TIBCO Spotfire. The Find UI is available by pressing CTRL + F or going to Tools > Find.


    This find dialog is very useful in not only finding and navigating to specific pages and visualizations, but you can also use it as a shortcut for performing actions in Spotfire. This is extremely useful for users who routinely create analysis files.

    You can use the Find dialog to quickly apply marked records to tags, you can quickly perform actions available in the menubars, and you can search for specific pages and visualizations.  In addition, you can search for the visualizations not just by their name, but also by values on an axis, page title, visualization title, etc...

    For example,  ‘age’ will return all visualizations with Age using in one of the axis or in the page title, whereas ‘x:age’ will return all visualizations with Age on the x-axis, and ‘color:age’ will return all visualizations with Age on the color-axis.



    More information about the specific commands, and actions available in the Find dialog is available at:


    Searching via the Filter Panel

    The Filter Panel provides a search box to allow end users to quickly search for filters.  The most basic search is to enter a string, and filters that contain the letters in the string will be displayed, all others will be hidden.  This is useful when you have a large, multiple data table, analysis file and need to quickly find a specific filter.


    In addition, you can also use some reserved search keywords like status, with a value of ‘modified’, which will return all filters that have been modified.


    You can also use any built-in Column property.  Column properties are available via the  Edit > Column Properties dialog , in the Properties tab.



    These properties can then be searched for in the Filter Panel search box. The syntax used is to specify the name of the property followed by a colon, and then the value.

    For example,

    DistinctValueCount:4  will display all filters where the DistinctValueCount property value is 4.


    In addition, you can create Custom Properties and filter on those as well. Custom Properties are created using the New button in the Column Properties dialog.



    The property must take the format  You will set a default value, and all columns in the data table will have the default value applied. You then go into each individual column and edit the property for that column.


    One useful use case for this is to create Custom Properties to group Filters together. Using the Filter Panel, you can group Filters, but you can only put a Filter into one group.   You can create a Custom Property for each grouping of filters you wish to have. Then you can use the Filter Panel search to return each grouping when you need to access those Filters.           


    More information about the syntax and use of the Filter Panel search is available at:


    Searching in the Library


    The Library provides a robust searching mechanism, and is available in three user interfaces: the Open From Library dialog, the Library Administration Tool, and the Information Designer.

    In addition to the obvious benefits of being able to search for analysis files and information links (using keywords, descriptions, and other useful metadata), the search capability also provides useful tools for administrators.


    Using the search dialog, administrators can search for library items created by certain users, modified by certain users. You can also search for items that are dependent on or required by certain library items. This can be useful if you plan on removing or updating items. Before doing so, you can check all dependencies and required items, and then make sure they will still function.


    You can also search for items based off when they were created or modified, and you can include logical operators to check, for example, files created or modified before a certain time.


    More information about the library search capabilities is available at:


    The library search capability is available in TIBCO Spotfire version 3.0 and higher.
  • Error Bars are not just for use in studies and experiments

    Error Bars are commonly used in the Life Sciences industry and also in research studies and experiments.  However, the use of Error Bars is much wider.  Error Bars can be used in any data table to show approved ranges of values compared to actual values.

    For example, assume a sales manager in a company wants to compare the previous quarter's forecast to actual revenue for his staff.  He wants to investigate any situation where the actual revenue was more than 20% above or below the forecast.  If the forecast was within the acceptable range of tolerance, no further investigation was needed. If the revenue was more than 20% above or below, he needed to investigate why the forecast was off so much.

    So, the sales manager uses Spotfire to plot his data using a Line Chart. There are two lines displayed, one for the forecast and one for the actual of all the salespeople. Error Bars where then added to the Forecast line, with the upper value set to 20% and the lower value set to 20%.


    We can now see clearly which salespeople fell outside the acceptable range. If the line representing the actual sales numbers is not within the error bars, then we need to investigate further.



    This is automatically setup as a template, meaning, the sales manager can easily load in new data at the end of the quarter and the plot will automatically be configured with the correct error bars.  If you plan on using the 20 % in other plots in the analysis, it would make more sense to store this 20% inside a Document Property (see our tip on Global Variables).

  • Using Multiple Ranges in a Column

    One of the most requested tasks is the ability to assign multiple ranges to a column. For example, suppose you are looking at sales data and you want to look at sales between two separate ranges?  There are a couple options. You can always create a Tag column and tag the values as either in the ranges or outside the ranges.  This would require some manual effort in creating the Tag Collection and then tagging the values.

    A quicker option is to use an expression inside the axes you want to display the column in.   For example, if the name of the column we want multiple ranges on is ‘Total Amount of Purchases' and the two ranges we wanted were between $5,000 and $20,000 and then between $35,000 and $50,000, we would build the expression as shown below:

    if((20000>[Total Amount of Purchases] and [Total Amount of Purchases]>5000) or (50000>[Total Amount of Purchases] and [Total Amount of Purchases]>35000),[Total Amount of Purchases],null)

    If you add the expression above to an axis in the Expression dialog, it will add a few parenthesis and show up as it should.




    If you use an expression like above with the values hard coded, its best to hide the Filter from the Filter Panel, as it may be confusing to the end user.

    However, if you use an expression that does not have hard coded range values, rather they are calculated using built-in functions, then the ranges will be updated when the Filter is updated, so it is a good idea to keep showing the Filter.

  • All About Column From Marked

    You may have noticed when you right-click on an axis selector in Spotfire, one of the options available is “Column from Marked…” and this tip will help you understand how it can be used. This feature allows you to configure a visualization, normally a table, that controls the column used as an axis in a second visualization. An added bonus is this works in the Web Player, which provides some additional capabilities for Web Player users to define what goes on an axis of a particular visualization.

    Details Step-by-Step

    The dialog box below is displayed when you select the Column from Marked option. To get to it, right-click on any axis indicator.

    You need to identify a table and column combination which in its turn contains column names for the table which is driving the visualization – this can sound confusing without an example. So consider the Department List table shown below. It refers to the shopping deparments in a large department-style store. To simplify this example, it just has one column called Department and can take the values Electronics, Furniture, Garden, Groceries, Clothing or Toys.


    Elsewhere in the Spotfire file is a Scatter Plot (shown below) drawn from a table containing sales data for each department. This table contains the columns Electronics, Furniture, Garden, Groceries, Clothing and Toys – the values in these columns represent sales volumes for each customer.


    With the Colum from Marked dialog box configured as shown (having right-clicked on the Y-axis of the Scatter Plot to set the Column from Marked properties) the Y-axis column is now chosen by marking a row in the Department List data table. At the moment, Clothing is shown. Highlighting Furniture in the table changes the Y-axis accordingly:-


    Notice that the small square image on the Y-axis selector, highlighted in red, indicates that Column from Marked is active.

    Why Use It?

    Two of the best uses for this feature include (1) the ability to easily handle different ‘shapes’ of data, or (2), to  give Web Player users a way to modify the axes of a visualization.

    (1)    Although this example has used a simplified table with a list of all departments, this need not be the case. The department list table could have lots of other data, and it need not even be contained in a separate table. However, this use of a second table to configure a visualization means that you can handle different ‘shapes’ of data, in similar manner to a Pivot. In this case, the department list table could be considered ‘tall-skinny’ and the actual sales data driving the scatter plot is ‘short-wide’ and both can co-exist to be used when appropriate. In this use, the feature is an alternative to pivoting your data, which of course can also be done in Spotfire very easily.

    (2)    You may already know that users of the Spotfire Web Player and Spotfire Enterprise Player cannot change the axes of visualizations. The Column from Marked feature provides a way to allow such users to change axes, although in a limited way. This gives them an alternative to changing filter settings, and in this case means that there are really six scatter plots, one for each department, in one! This can also save space on-screen in files intended for Spofire Professional users.

    There are other examples of this feature in the Spotfire Data Relationships tools. The output of these tools is a data table plus a visualization which automatically has Column from Marked enabled.

    Hopefully these tips will get your imagination working, but don’t forget that the visualization which provides the column names via a marking does not have to be a table, it can be any Spotfire visualization. Also, there are more advanced expressions which can be used: these are explained in the online help.

    To see one working in  a live demo, visit this month's Analytics in Action file where we analyze food items from popular fast food restaurants.



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