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Toby Erkson's Blog

48 posts

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This was my production Tableau Server with 1.99TB hard drive that had only 403GB free space.  Wow, that is a poo-poo ton of usage!!  I was getting disk space warnings every morning when the automatic backup process was running.  While we are an extract-heavy environment I couldn't believe that I was actually running out of hard drive space when the biggest extract was 9GB and the majority of them were 1GB and less!  What the heck was going on?


I mentioned my situation with our Tableau tech representative and he asked if the drive was getting defragged and if cleanups were being performed.  I knew the drives on all instances were being defragged so that wasn't the issue.  Because I didn't want to lose TS (Tableau Server) history for debugging I wasn't performing cleanups.  I disliked the idea of doing a cleanup because of the information that is lost.  Archiving the files (.zip) is very inefficient and not ideal.  A db that is continuously being updated would be a better alternative.  Also, performing a cleanup with the TS stopped isn’t a good option as that, of course, would mean the TS is unable to do any reporting work.  Since it’s a production server running 24x7 any downtime is totally undesirable and will impact someone, somewhere


However, since I was gradually losing disk space I had to do something...


So I bit the bullet and ran a cleanup while the TS was running:


20 minutes later the cleanup was done and now here's what my free space looks like:


  WOW!  That was a LOT of log file and HTTP requests cleanup goin' on!!


Here's how my disk space usage looks now:


Quite an improvement, right?


An embarrassing but learning moment for me.  Performing a regular cleanup is a necessary routine the TS admin needs to perform.  How often depends on one's particular environment but once a month seems reasonable and that's what I was previously doing on our QA Server.


How to preserve the history in an efficient and easy-to-use format is a whole other subject; search the Server Admin forum for suggestions or leave a comment below on how you do it

Looking over one of my blog posts, Tableau Server licensing & hardware upgrade , I can tell I was frustrated with my lack of server knowledge, both in terms of hardware and Tableau software.  Brandyn Moody did an admirable job of stating facts and providing a friendly & helpful reply -- something that I still need to work on


As a followup, our Tableau technical account representative has been getting Tableau Server health checks from us for the last few months and showing how things are trending in our environment.  We've also upgraded our hardware to 24 total cores, moved to a two-node environment with a dedicated 100% Backgrounder worker, and just last month upgraded to 10.5.2.  Thus the server health checks have been helpful in that they show a "before and after" of our whole environment with a focus on how it affects the end user, so we can see what is doing better (or worse), how things are trending, etc.  If you don't have a technical account rep. then ask your sales rep about one and getting a Tableau Server health check if you are lacking Jedi server skills.


Not to go unmentioned, our sales rep. stays in contact with me/us to make sure support tickets are getting the appropriate response times & priority, we're aware of any training and events, and working with our Tableau technical rep. to keep me, my users, and my manager all happy and productive.  Thanks Tableau for being easy to work with


Some examples from the health check:


This unlocks the postgres database on the Tableau Server, allowing full access to all of the tables in the database and not just the views. This gives the Tableau Server administrator visibility into the database. Please note that this is not supported by Tableau.


Get the password for the postgres db

This tip comes from Zen Master Tamas Foldi and you need to use it in order to get the password for the access operation below.

To get the pgsql password use the following command on the Tableau Server you will be accessing:

tabadmin get pgsql.adminpassword

In the blurred-out text above is where you'll get the password for your db.

Access for the postgres db

This hack is VERY DANGEROUS and UNSUPPORTED by Tableau! Unless you are VERY EXPERIENCED you should only access the database tables using Tableau Desktop or other read-only tool! This is not the preferred method of gaining access to the Tableau server database. Use at your OWN risk!


1. Open a command window (DOS prompt) and go to the PostGRES binary directory for your Tableau Server …pgsql\bin directory (most installs will look like C:\Program Files (x86)\Tableau\Tableau Server\8.0\pgsql\bin). The DOS command prompt in the PostGRES binary directory:

2. Now ‘open’ the PostGRESQL command prompt by typing in this:

psql -p 8060 workgroup tblwgadmin

Please note that if you use a different port then you need to change the 8060 value to the value of the port you use.

Here’s what my result looked like:

3. Notice that you need to enter in a password.  That's why you got the password mentioned in the beginning   Enter in your password and then hit the 'Enter' key.  Note that the cursor won't move and you won't see any text to type carefully.  I recommend using copy/paste.


4. At the workgroup=# prompt you can now execute commands:

For example, enter this command to change the role of the tableau user to have READ and WRITE access:

alter user tableau superuser;

After the above command executes you’ll see “ALTER ROLE” display and then an empty prompt:

Or in the situation I had, delete a custom view from the database that was no longer needed using the DROP command:

5. That's it. When you're done close the DOS command window.  Either CTRL + c  or  \q  (backslash followed by the letter Q in lower case) will exit you from the workgroup=# prompt and put you back into the cmd prompt.


Remember, you’ll now have the ability to write to your database and delete things! This is VERY DANGEROUS and UNSUPPORTED by Tableau! Unless you are an VERY EXPERIENCED you should only access the database tables using Tableau Desktop or other read-only tool! Make sure you backup your database regularly.




*Adapted from my Tabwiki document.

I saw it today on Twitter.  Someone who I consider a key player at Tableau, a self-admitted Tableau stalker, left the company.  Just time for them to move on.  We know the drill.

Last week...or at least sometime between now and the first of the year...two other great Tableau employees I knew had left the company.  There was a hint there are some more.


I grew up during, and into the end of, the "work for one company until retirement" paradigm.  As my work life has progressed that paradigm is no longer the expected norm.  Now, thanks to social media and job-focused media like LinkedIn, if people are not looking for a job they are still getting offers.  Having worked for a few contracting agencies this happens to me -- I stay in contact with them juuuuust in case as I learned early in my career that corporate loyalty to employees is an illusion, subject to immediate dismissal at their whim.  I as well left a great company because after a time there I knew my position was a dead-end so when a previous manager reached out to me for a professional skills growth opportunity I went for it (and thus was introduced to Tableau ) so I get it.


It saddens me to see such good people leave because I'll miss them.  It's like growing up with a friend during primary school and in high school their family moves out of town.  It's like having a sibling move out of the house.  Their absence is felt in the knowledge void left behind.  You get used to having these people around and using their knowledge to help others, heck, to help yourself, too!  The loss is magnified by the deeper product and tribal knowledge that goes with them.


I wish them well.  I know that the companies that now have them have gained an excellent resource.  Just know that you are missed.



Note:  I'm not diminishing their replacements.  This has nothing to do with them.  There's no doubt Tableau will do its best to replace them with great folks who could possibly <gasp!> be even better and I do look forward in meeting and interacting with them.


-- Twitter headstones --

You know, being a relative newbie to the server side of IT can be frustrating because there are so many aspects to it and networking types of issues are my bane.  Firewall, proxy, VIPs, SSL, etc. are so different and have their own teams [at least where I work] but seem like the same thing depending on one's inexperienced viewpoint.


While testing our up-coming 2-node Tableau Server environment I was having an issue with the "pretty" VIP (Virtual IP) that my end users would use that would direct them to the Tableau Server.  Screen results from using the VIP address were very random.  Sometimes the login page would display, sometimes not.  Sometimes it would show the list of Sites, other time just a partial list.  After maybe logging in I would get some workbooks.  Clicking on one would result in a "content not found" or "page could not be accessed" types of errors.  Web page rendering performance was often terrible.  As part of the load-balancer setup I carefully followed the instructions from Add a Load Balancer, several times in fact, but still no joy   I set up a case with Tableau Support and sent them my log files and waited.


Two weeks went by and no reply.  I pinged them -- because normally they are very quick to respond -- and was told an engineer was looking over my case.  Sigh.


My manager, who is much more skilled with networking than I, asked if the F5 was pointing to both the primary server and the worker server.  I said "both".  He suggested that the F5 team point it only to the primary server since there is no need for it to point to the worker server.  So I confirmed with my contact that, yes indeed, the F5 was pointing at both (a load-balancing function) so I asked them to have the "pretty" VIP only point to the primary Tableau Server.  They made the switch within minutes and I tested that.


BOOM!  It worked!


Lesson learned for this newbie:  Make sure load-balancers, proxy redirects, etc. just point to the primary and make sure you emphasize that requirement to whomever your contact is if you aren't doing it yourself.

Image result for old age wisdom ignorance youth




A few mornings ago I was going through my Twitter feed and saw a reference to an article that looked good.  I'm not a huge believer in certifications and definitely have no secrets about that if you search the forums.  It's mostly because I've seen so many people get certified who don't have any -- or not enough -- real-life experience.  I've been in the business intelligence realm for over 20 years so I do have the experience and wisdom that comes with living it, not simply reading about it.  The author is someone I respect and could give me a look at the other side of the story so I read their opinion in their blog post.  They did a good job but I tweeted my viewpoint.  Here's part of our conversation (which Twitter absolutely SUCKS at):

For both of us a real conversation would have been nice to clarify (argue? ) our viewpoints.  I let my subconscious sit on this and decided that I really disagree with the two rebuttals (which were thought-provoking), so here's my thoughts and you're free to disagree


Experience vs. Study

Okay, why do I emphasize on-the-job experience and claim it's better than "individual practice and mastery"?  While the whole subject is good it's item #2 that makes a perfect point in this article by Chris Love, Quality Assurance: A dirty word for Data? 7 tips for getting QA right.  There is only so much one can plan for or practice in a closed environment.

Here's a real-life example

I took Tae Kwon Do years ago and in class we learned our kicks, our blocks, our punches, as well as close-in combat techniques.  We would practice and practice and become very good with them.  But practice is different from the real world so we would also have the occasional sparing match and that is where things fell apart for some students!  Actually being in a situation where you don't know exactly what your opponent is going to do is quite different.  You can anticipate but you may anticipate wrong.  You could even perform the move correctly but do it too slowly, or at the wrong location, or not with enough strength, and fail.


Fail!?  How could you fail if you can demonstrate a perfectly executed example?  Because reality is different from study, that's why.  As such, in the workplace things come up that you didn't or can't expect.  Which brings us to...


A lack of vision

Okay, so the slash in "chaos/random factor" wasn't interpreted as I expected as it's meant to basically mean two words that pretty much have the same meaning -- trunk/boot when talking about the rear luggage space in a car, wrench/spanner when talking about a mechanics tool for working with bolts, etc.  The word "chaos" seems to be defined differently between us, too.  Either way, the randomness of humans is chaos; the aspects one can't plan for, can't see coming.  When working with Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server I've had users come to me with questions that I couldn't immediately answer.  Does that mean I have a lack of vision?  No, it means I can't plan for every single eventuality.  NOBODY CAN.


As a parent -- and I've found pretty much anyone with children like parents/guardians and our under-appreciated workers, teachers!, can relate to this -- is that children are a perfect example of chaos and no amount of planning, book reading, internet searching, etc. will give one "vision" to 100% counter what issues they may create.  That is not some shallow statement, it's one that has more depth than most think.  Having been childless for decades and suddenly becoming a parent has given me this experienced knowledge.  If you have a parent then they can confirm this, usually with a reminiscing smile.  Oh, and every child is different, even among siblings, so what works for one child may not work on another.


Think of getting your first driver's license and being on the road by yourself for the first time versus how you are as a driver now -- we all have stories of some of the silly and terrible things we've seen (or done) while driving that we could never dream up or simulate.


Experiencing subject-related chaos leads to deeper knowledge

Something happens, a piece of chaos wedged in the teeth of your machine, something your "vision" was unable to foresee despite all your planning and studying of books and now you have to ask an expert and/or delve deeper into a subject than you thought was unnecessary, boring, forgot due to lack of use (which happens more than you think), or whatever.  It's the solution you get after those "I don't know but let me get back to you" moments where I believe sticky knowledge is gained.  By "sticky knowledge" I mean information that isn't quickly forgotten.  It's that, "oh, that happened to me once and I had to do this..." knowledge.  This knowledge stays with you as it's gained by the on-the-job experience and gives you extrapolated knowledge, that leap from A to C without needing step B.

For example, you can see a file on a network drive but you can't open it so you contact the folder administrator and explain your issue.  They tell you that you don't have permission to read files.  Why weren't you already given access?  Well, you are the bit of chaos that the administrator didn't know would be needing the access (very common in an enterprise environment).  You ask for the permission to be set on the network folder to allow you to read files and they grant your username the permission.  Now you can read files from the network folder.  Weeks later, a Tableau Desktop publisher tells you the Tableau Server is broken because when they refresh their new report extract on the Tableau Server the data does not come through even though they used the proper UNC (Universal Naming Convention) file path to their Excel workbook in one of the many corporate file directories.  Because of your prior experience with being unable to read data in a network drive folder you reference your sticky knowledge to surmise that the reason is because the Tableau Server doesn't have Read permissions in the folder location where the Excel file resides.  This experience has allowed you to trouble-shoot more quickly, reducing down-time from having to go to the forums and post a question or submit a ticket to Tableau Support.


Oh, by the way, this tidbit of knowledge above I just shared isn't found in the documentation so if this was a piece of a question was on a certification test your chances of getting it wrong would have greatly increased   Just sayin'...


I wrote the original post yesterday but due to delays I didn't publish it until today.  I've played around with this and came up with an improvement.



Seeing that Tableau translated TRUE to 1=1, which is further complicated by Tableau putting logic around it via the CASE statement, why bother having a CASE statement slow things down when I'm only interested in one condition of the output of the CASE statement?  The only output I care about from the CASE statement is 1 so I changed the left side of the Join Condition from TRUE to just 1:



When I looked at the SQL using the Convert to Custom SQL that second CASE statement was gone!





  ) "t0" ON


   ("RVC_TOOL_NAFTA_V"."CO_CD" = "t0"."CO_CD")

   AND ("RVC_TOOL_NAFTA_V"."ORG_CD" = "t0"."ORG_CD")




   AND (1 = "t0"."$temp0")





See that, I went from a time-consuming CASE statement to a simpler condition of (1 = "t0"."$temp0").  I canceled the custom SQL and ran the extract.  It ran almost 30 seconds faster!

A report developer (a non-IT business user) came to me regarding an issue in a workbook of theirs.  The reason isn't relevant because there was something else in the workbook that challenged me.  I saw that it used Custom SQL-- something I heavily frown upon! -- and with a JOIN filter that took some pondering to get right.  Please note that I have modified the SQL for brevity as it's the concepts we are concerned with.  The data source is an IBM DB2 database.


Here's the first part that furled my brow, highlighted in orange:

















    ,'######' as CURR_HTS


        when v1.ht_cd='######'

        then null

        else '•'







    ,trim(T3.BYR_CD) ||'-'|| trim(T3.BYR_NAME) as BUYER

from ...


Why the bulk comment (/*...*/)?  If it's not needed then don't include it as it can be added later if necessary  Get rid of it!

'XXXXXXXX' as SUPLR_NAME served no purpose, it wasn't used.  Get rid of it!

Same for '######' as CURR_HTS , get rid of it!

The CASE statement can be made into a calculated field.  Get rid of it!

TRIMming the description can be done in a calculated field or where needed.  Get rid of it!

The BUYER field can be a calculated field, too.  Get rid of it!

We need to remember that if we are not going to use Custom SQL then we need to convert it into such a form that doesn't require functions in the SELECT body.


Next came the FROM body:



    customs.rvc_tool_nafta_v V1


            ON V1.CHILD_ITEM_NO=T1.ITEM_NO

            and v1.co_cd=t1.co_cd

        left outer join customs.facilities_dim_v v2

            on v1.plnt_cd=v2.plant_cd

        left outer join customs.supplier_parent t2

            on v1.suplr_cd=trim(t2.suplr_cd)

        left outer join customs.item_loc_vendor_dim_v v3

            on v1.co_cd=v3.co_cd

            and v1.org_cd=v3.org_cd

            and v1.plnt_cd=v3.plnt_cd

            and v1.suplr_cd=v3.suplr_cd

            and v1.child_item_no=v3.item_no

            and v3.prim_alt_vndr_cd='P'

        left outer join customs.purchasing_buyer t3

            on v3.ppf_byr_cd=t3.byr_cd


        left outer join customs.udi_itc_mdl_xref t4

            on trim(V1.fg_mdl_no)=trim(t4.oem_mdl_cd)





Again with the comment!  Get rid of it!

Notice the blue line, a condition of the JOIN, and the magenta line, a condition for the entire output.


Getting started

What I did was add the necessary tables to the Tableau data source canvas and created the basic JOINs.  This got the information into Tableau so I could then work with the conditionals.  Here's what it looks like and this shows the ITEM_LOC_VENDOR_DIM_V table (technically a view but just roll with me on this, okay?) that will be LEFT JOINed to the RVC_TOOL_NAFTA_V table with that blue condition:


Taking care of the WHERE condition

Next, doing the easy part first, I created a data source Filter:

Thus the overall WHERE condition, v1.make_buy_cd='B', is now taken care of


Taking care of the JOIN condition, starting on the right side

Now the conditional part (blue text) for this LEFT JOIN:

     ...left outer join customs.item_loc_vendor_dim_v v3

            on v1.co_cd=v3.co_cd

            and v1.org_cd=v3.org_cd

            and v1.plnt_cd=v3.plnt_cd

            and v1.suplr_cd=v3.suplr_cd

            and v1.child_item_no=v3.item_no

            and v3.prim_alt_vndr_cd='P'

        left outer join customs.purchasing_buyer t3...

This was a real head-scratcher for me because I'm not familiar with creating 'custom' Join Clauses on Tableau's data source canvas, thus it took some experimenting before I got the correct results.  Here's the final solution:

See the last line?  Well, it turns out both the left and right side MUST be filled out otherwise the custom JOIN clause won't "stick", it will disappear.  If you don't see it then it's not there.  So, how do we get that?  It's very easy, just click the drop-down arrow in the last row of the Join box and select the option "Create Join Calculation..."

You'll be presented with the calculated field editor where you can create your Join Condition just as you would create a Calculated Field:

When done simply click the green OK button and it will be added.  You must have a Join Clause for the other side of the JOIN as well.  After BOTH sides of the Join Clause have been created you can then exit the Join box.

I used parenthesis simply to make sure the order of operations happens as I expect it to but they are not required.


Setting the Join Condition on the left side

Both sides of the Join Condition need an entry, a value, since there's that equal ( = ) operator between them.  Since I don't care about what's on the left side of the JOIN I just make sure it is always a Boolean TRUE.  This just fulfills the need to have something there.  If TRUE is not valid for your situation simply use (1=1).  Conversely, if you need a FALSE condition you can alternately use (1=0).


Now, on the other side of the equal condition is where I need to make sure only rows with the letter "P" for the [Prm Alt Vndr Cd] are pulled.  The result of this needs to be Boolean (TRUE or FALSE).  The equation for the JOIN condition is now completely set.


How Tableau translates it

Here is what the query looks like when I select Data >> Convert to Custom SQL.  This is only for the curious and isn't necessary to do when converting Custom SQL to the data source canvas.  I'm only focusing on the FROM body since the SELECT body is now no longer "interesting" to look at:





















    ) "t0" ON


      ("RVC_TOOL_NAFTA_V"."CO_CD" = "t0"."CO_CD")

      AND ("RVC_TOOL_NAFTA_V"."ORG_CD" = "t0"."ORG_CD")

      AND ("RVC_TOOL_NAFTA_V"."PLNT_CD" = "t0"."PLNT_CD")



      AND ((CASE WHEN (1=1) THEN 1 WHEN NOT (1=1) THEN 0 ELSE NULL END) = "t0"."$temp0")







See where $temp0 is created in the sub-SELECT body?  That is the right side of the Join Condition I created on the data source canvas.  The result set of that sub-SELECT is given the alias "t0".

Inside the ON body of the LEFT JOIN is the right side of the Join Condition I created on the data source canvas.  This is where the TRUE = [Prm Alt Vndr Cd]= 'P' Join Condition I set up on the data source canvas comes into play.  What is interesting about the translation is that Tableau converted TRUE to (1=1).


In closing

Even with the poor Custom SQL query, the extract created by this data source took slightly less time than using a proper Tableau data source canvas one.  I'm no expert by any means but my guess is that the use of Tableau-generated CASE statements in the JOINs doesn't help.  The fact that both sides of a Join Calculation are necessary is likely the culprit.  It would be nice to have the ability to have one-sided Join Calculations, thus more closely mimic what is written in the SQL query.

How my Sunday evening went

Okay, after justification and multiple approvals I finally got our Tableau Server core-license upgraded for an additional 8 cores and the additional "hardware" for it.  This means we are now a licensed 16 core environment and have 128GB RAM.  To be exact, our Tableau Servers run in a VM (Virtual Machine) environment.  I know it's just "flipping switches" for our resource increases but as far as my end users are concerned it's simply an improvement in processing power due to additional [virtual] hardware upgrades.  They're happy so I'm happy.


Right now I'm working with our architecture expert on how to turn our QA Server into a two-node environment.  Currently it is still the same 8 core, 32GB environment since it gets little usage so there's no need for the whole enchilada.  However, our PROD Server is very actively used and since we are allowed 16 cores my manager suggested we upgrade it now and after the QA Server passes inspection we can then convert our PROD Server into a two-node environment.  So yesterday (Sunday afternoon) the virtual environment folks upped my PROD Server to be 16 cores and 128GB RAM.  I then decided to adjust the processes in the Servers tab of the Tableau Server Configuration program to take advantage of the extra processing power.


I decided to give her the beans* and edited my production server as so:

After clicking the OK button I got this message:

Hmmm...well, despite the scary message I decided to start the Server and this popped up shortly...

...but the Server did come up and everything was configured as I had set it.


Cool.  However, I was admittedly nervous about how this would impact server performance so I decided to dial it down a tad.  Here's what I set up my next attempt as:

I got this warning...

...which is odd because it showed a value of nothing for the data engine even though I put 4.  I clicked the OK button and got this message:

I clicked the OK button and got this message during the Server start-up:

Yet when I went to the Server Status page after the Server booted up it appeared that everything is exactly how I set it up...

...including my tabsvc.yml file

And?  How's it runnin'?

In a word:  Fantastic!

Every day there are 65 extracts executing at 5AM Pacific Time with another 24 added at 5:30AM (much of this is for the east coast users).  These are just the hourly extracts (15/30/60 minute schedules).  There are also weekly and monthly schedules that add to the load.  Oh, and then there are subscriptions, too.  Wow, those really suffered!  I'm talking one was 9 hours late   Holy Rip Van Winkle Batman!!!

Related image

I would normally see in-process tasks waiting for over two hours during the mornings.  Now I'm seeing 8 backgrounders chugging away and the task queue is dramatically reduced.  By 7AM everything is done, no backlog like before where things wouldn't wrap-up until after 8AM.  Sweet. many backgrounders.  ~David Pires via Twitter

Yep, so, why did I do what I did?  Yeah, no freakin' clue


Considering we dropped a couple extra hundred grand into Tableau's bank account one would hope to get little support with it -- not a lot but at least some solid recommendations on how to start out as I've communicated that I am not a server guy, I'm a programmer by trade so a newb to server admin.  I understand a company needs to make money but a pitch for consultation services kinda rubbed me the wrong way after this purchase.  I initially sent a Tableau-created workbook that contained info on how our previous production environment was working (actually, over-working).  It was agreed that we definitely needed additional hardware.  Given the info in it, along with the known hardware upgrades we were planning, I was hoping I could get a recommendation of the processes that should be increased and by how much.  I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe I wasn't clear enough with my request.


Based on what little info I could find in the admin guide and from the community forums I finalized on the setup for now.  Note:  Once our architecture is done with testing in QA then our PROD Server will transform again but with two nodes instead of the current single.

  • Now that the box has more cores and RAM why not bump up the VizQL performance?
  • Extracts and Subscriptions were very crippled so definitely go for the cores/2 maximum!
  • I upped the Data Server since it "...loads extracts into memory and performs queries against them":  Extracts and Refresh Schedules and Tableau Server Processes.  Interestingly enough, from the same link is this:  "Every instance of a data engine process will always have one instance of the file store process present as well."  Not according to my setup   However, everything is running smoothly from what I can tell and I've received no complaints from my Server nor my end users.  My hope is that this helps with the user experience while on the Server.


For better or for worse, that is my semi-ignorant logic in this setup.  In my opinion Tableau's documentation is very ambiguous...or maybe too general...for setting up a Tableau Server thus I'm learning the hard way through experimentation   I hope I can make Mark Wu proud


Recommendations and comments welcomed below!




* "give it the beans" is an expression meaning "giving it all".  For example, in a car, if you "give it the beans" it means step all the way down on the gas pedal and go as fast as you can.

I attended a Cognos seminar on Wednesday because I wanted to learn more about what Cognos has to offer with its version 11 (Cognos Analytics) upgrade.  Though I am the Tableau Administrator for our company (and was originally employed as a Cognos developer, too) there is a Cognos admin and webFOCUS admin in our team and they sit next to me.  Knowing what the other products have to offer and how they differ is good to know.


Here are a few take-aways from that session that made me envy Cognos over Tableau , thus what I would like to see with Tableau:

  • Their portal has a list of recently viewed reports.  Tableau Desktop does this, why not Tableau Server?
  • Their community support page has How-To documents and short videos of new features as they are released.  Users are immediately 'trained'; no reading, no experimentation necessary.
  • Their reporting web portal is very customizable to brand it to the company.  Tableau Server is terribly weak in this aspect nor is it easy to hack.  Tableau APIs/Java scripting?  Not what I would call 'user-friendly' nor simple.  The ability to import a couple images and change a name in a simple fashion is the best we've got
  • Users create their own robust schedules (e.g. 2nd Tuesday of the month @ 1:35PM) for subscriptions, there's no need to rely upon an administrator to create it...and we already know the scheduler needs a big revamp for greater flexibility.  Information Builders product, webFocus, is this way as well.  As the Cognos product manager stated, it's all part of them moving towards self-service.

I know there is the Idea section but not everything should be subject to democracy, it should just be.  Besides, the Ideas section just isn’t effective for some intrinsic, should-already-be-there things, nor does it do a good job of getting that information "out there" (granted, there isn't an easy solution for that).


It was obvious to me that Tableau has muscled in to Cognos' territory and they are seriously working to simplify and improve their products.  It's still not a threat to Tableau at this time but for those locked into Cognos at least they will see much needed improvements and I think Cognos is finally moving in the right -- and now different for them regarding all this "self-service stuff" -- direction.  For example, they were proud of the fact that a small, new server environment will only take about 1/2 to 3/4 of a day.  Meanwhile I'm smugly thinking to myself that such an install for Tableau Server is 1/2 that time


People I'm spamming cuz I want them to see this:

Sean Boon

Tableau Community

While trouble-shooting a subscription issue with an end user o' mine they sent me the URL of their viz:

That is an URL that I had never seen before and it totally baffled me.  I tried entering in my user ID instead of theirs,, and got the generic "That page could not be accessed." error. 


So I asked the user about it and they said it probably had something to do with it being a saved custom view.  Huh.  So I went to the viz and sure enough, it was a saved view:



We use Active Directory for authentication so the custom view was saved under the AD account ID followed by the custom name.  Mystery solved and now you know how to read these different view URLs! 


Toby Erkson

Awesome Twitter post

Posted by Toby Erkson Ambassador Mar 15, 2017

Toby Erkson

Opinion:  The Zen-effect

Posted by Toby Erkson Ambassador Mar 13, 2017


An issue I personally have is what I term “the Zen-effect”.  It’s when there is someone in the forums who is actively providing great content, displaying amazing skill, and becomes a staple to the community, only to effectively disappear once they become a Zen Master.  What…huh…where…???  A Zen Master doesn’t have to come from the Tableau Community forums, just to be clear, but it’s this particular group I’m talking about.


About as transparent as an engraved rock

Not knowing exactly what’s expected of a Zen Master it’s hard to know why their participation flounders. I doubt it’s a coincidence of extra work at their job or a life change because the falling-out is often after such Tableau promotion.  While it’s true these Tableau greats have blogs or other information webs to maintain, they had them already so there should be no change there.  I can only guess there are additional requirements above and beyond their prior non-Zen status OR they reached their goal and are moving on (which is really disappointing in my opinion!).  It's particularly troubling that of all the things these people do it's the Tableau forums that get assigned the low priority and are dropped.  I've read the posts/blogs about how one becomes a Zen Master and I've heard conflicting details about whether it's a recognition or a position, meaning there are rules around it and further expectations.  We do know that the title can be taken away given the list of "Former Tableau Zen Masters" so for me that says it's more of a position than an honorary title.  Thus Tableau fails to be transparent about what happens after someone becomes a Zen Master.


Where I'm coming from

The problem is that no matter what the exit reason may be it’s the forums in the Tableau Community that lose. The loss of a master Tableau-er from the forums affects everyone in the community because there’s now a hole where their service and skill-set once was.  It could take time for someone else to come along and fill that hole.  Now, it could be argued that people who need help can perform a web search, like using Google, and come across a blog posting by a Zen and possibly get their question answered.  But that doesn't drive users to the Tableau Community forums!  I kinda thought that's what Tableau wants:  If someone has a problem then they should go to the community forums first!  If the user doesn't post a question in the Tableau forums then they lose out on the numerous rapid-response solutions possible; with version changes they could very well land on a blog post that is no longer accurate and it won't answer additional questions they have nor draw upon the knowledge of others who may have had the same or similar situation or a better solution.  There will be no real conversation or else it will be one-sided.  I read the comments in the blogs and lots of questions go unanswered   With such a vast amount of questions and answers in the forums I'd be willing to bet that, statistically, there are more questions that are answered by the forum search than through a web search that includes blog postings.  I'm NOT saying blog posts are worthless!  They are the deep-dives, the external knowledge base documents if you will, and they can contain fantastic content but in no way do they have the potential to address the many questions as the forums do.


The heart of this post

The other loss – what actually started me writing this article and the one that is hard to measure as it's something that is emotionally felt – is the loss of a comrade.  Knowing that the person will no longer be there to help you or others out; that familiar face (or avatar) will only be seen in old posts now, rarely if ever in new ones; conversations in private and tangential in threads…gone.  I for one really miss these wonderful people and our interactions



Those very few who become Zen Master and continue to help in the forums display the real Zen spirit in my mind. They are like a “Zen Master + 1”. Not only do they carry the title but continue to help where they started and where they're needed…hmm, maybe they should be given a new title like Community Zen Master?   I'm not mad or angry at those who've moved on because it does happen and naturally losing them makes me blue, however, I'm being honest when I say I'm just a little disappointed when it is due to the Zen-effect.


The staff of the Tableau Community Forums will ask for input from the Tableau Ambassadors about who we think would make a good Ambassador.  There are some basic things we look for on the Community Forums side -- that info can be found by searching the forums -- however there’s one aspect about the Ambassador that I try to be aware of:  The Supernova.


The Supernova

In astrology a supernova is the dying event of a star that results in a phenomenal and spectacular release of energy, making it one of the brightest objects around for a short period of time.  So in the forums I view someone as a supernova if they come in strong, help a lot of people and do it in a great way, and then once they get to a certain point level/title they drop off, either suddenly or fairly quickly. Typically they last only a few months but never more than a year.  It’s great to have such people but disappointing as well because they were such a great resource and now they spend little, if any, time helping out in the forums.


While we try to notice who has the potential to be an Ambassador for when selection time comes we must be wary because it is the supernova that catches our attention and thus can be deceiving – will they stay around?  Those who have kept a fairly steady pace tend to be better contenders because of their very nature of being consistent and reliable.  Think of those type of folks as the red dwarfs in the Tableau galaxy



This is why the decision-making process for Ambassadors isn’t as cut-n-dry as some think.  It's not just based upon points gained or the number of posts marked with Correct Answer.  We do not have the final decision, that belongs to the Tableau Community staff, but we help and this is a consideration among other criteria.


Someone made a blog post on their opinion about what it takes to become a worthy Tableau Desktop developer.  It was a good article and while it focused on technical ability (and not just with Tableau) it did have a section about working with others.  The author posted a link to it on Twitter and one of the replies was that it is easier to teach technical skills (a.k.a. hard skills) than human support & personal interaction skills (a.k.a. soft skills).  The author agreed, stating

Tech skills are much easier to teach but attitude has to come with and from the person.

I disagreed with this and a very short debate ensued.  One cannot have a worthy discussion on Twitter so we mutually left each other in disagreement.


Why I Disagree

One reason many people think that teaching hard skills is easier than soft skills is simply due to lack of education.  They already know the hard skill as they learned the skill themselves, either by self-study or through formal education.  However, they didn't learn soft skills.  It could be due the type of parenting they received.  It could be the cause of higher education failing them in their degree and, typically, most tech people are under the false assumption that if you have the tech skills you don't need to have strong (or any) people skills so why bother with any human conditioning education!


I would say it safe to say that it's hard to teach something you aren't familiar with, right?  So, yeah, if you're a Computer Science major, teaching someone how to publish a report is easier than teaching someone how to respond to an angry customer while it's the opposite situation for a Psychology major as they have the better education to match the teaching to the situation and to the student.


Another reason people claim that soft skills are more difficult is because you don't usually see immediate, concrete results.  Soft skills tend to have more variability, for example, what one may consider "angry" another may consider "miffed" depending on the context and who's doing the interpreting, thus they are also more subject to result interpretation i.e. answers are grey, not black and white.


Finally, teaching is not a skill everyone can do so while they will stumble with a hard skill a nebulous soft skill just looks about impossible.  I get it.  That's why I don't teach


Yes, Emphatically

What lit a flame under my **** was that the author stated in another tweet during our short debate:

well you can't exactly 'teach' someone to change their character...

I'msorrywhat?  I'm thinking a great number of psychiatrists, psychologists, & therapists would emphatically disagree.


Excluding obvious outliers (radically abused, physically/mentally deficient, etc.) humans are very adaptable creatures and changing one's character can be done, if not completely then at least swinging the pendulum the other direction.  Naturally there are people who have a disposition or innate ability for certain tasks; this is why my career took the path of computers and my sister took the path of nursing.  Admittedly my sister can handle human interactions more naturally while I sometimes have to default to prior training to help guide me.  I say "sometimes" because it was more difficult for me earlier in life but education changed that.


Character Can Change

During my high school years (primary education) my mother gently told me I was too pessimistic and that life would be a lot easier if I changed by seeing life in a more optimistic viewpoint.  It took years and life experiences but I was able to change my outlook on life.  I eventually reached a balance where my opinion is more realistic instead of pessimistic, with a leaning towards optimism.


In college I was a resident assistant in a residential life system that was in the top of its class at the time -- for those not familiar with residential life on college campuses I was a kind of assistant manager for a dormitory but the job was so much more involved, including para-counseling tasks.  A huge part of the job is interacting with fellow students so communication skills were key.  We took a personality exam and I remember on the Introvert - Extrovert scale I was deep in the Introvert region of the chart.  No surprise to me, I already knew this.  We were then taught how to communicate with the various personality types, did exercises, etc. throughout the quarter.  When we retook the exam I was in the dead-center of the Introvert - Extrovert chart.  I was balanced instead of skewed.  I had improved and people noticed it.  I changed.


Both of these personal examples highlight a character change in me and thus pushing the pendulum in the other direction.


I've had other personal moments of positive change and I've witnessed others close to me change as well.  Most of this change was imparted by a professional, taught and experienced in teaching such skills.  If one has been taught the skills they can teach others, you don't have to be a professional to do this.

    • If you're a parent like I am then you are proof of this!  I want my daughter to be an independent person, to value education, and to value diversity.  My wife and I are helping to mold her character.  Sometimes it's fast and easy, sometimes it takes repeating...multiple times...
    • If you work with others then you can teach subtly or overtly:
      • How you act in front of others, your response in emails, how you talk in person and on the phone, are the subtle examples.
      • When you talk to someone directly about an action is an overt example, like explaining to a subordinate when they respond to a customer's email it should be done as soon as possible, not waiting until the last minute of the SLA.


This Call May Be Recorded For Training Purposes

I briefly worked in a call center and they did record the calls.  A supervisor would get a random phone recording and evaluate it.  If anything wasn't right you would get pulled aside and told what was wrong and how to better handle it next time.  All done in a non-threatening manner as it is, indeed, part of one's training.  This works and people did improve.  Once people improve, get positive feedback, and continue to implement their training it then becomes habit, reflexive, action-without-thought.


These mind habits work similarly to the physical habits of those who practice martial arts/boxing/etc.  For example, when my son tries to sneak in a poke at my belly I block him without even thinking, it's a natural reaction for me.  Mental actions can act the same way, becoming without thinking.  A mental example would be when my daughter exclaims that her math is impossible and she'll never be good at it.  My old self would've rolled eyes and just tried to show her how to do the math but thanks to child therapy sessions I know to ask her questions like "what part do you find difficult?" or "why do you think you'll never be good at it?", or throw my arm over her shoulder and tell her, "I know you'll be good at it because you aced last month's test so show me where you're having difficulty and we'll figure this out together".


Simply A Lack Of Knowledge Or Information

The word "ignorance" tends to have a negative connotation, unfortunately, but it's definition is pure:  A lack of knowledge or information.  Based on my life experience it's my opinion that ignorance is in play when a person states:

  • ...the average person cannot change "who they are"
  • ...that it's more difficult to teach soft skills than hard skills.


A person will change if they are willing to.  So even with the right information, even with the right training, if they refuse to accept it then they won't change.  Duh.  That does not validate the argument that character cannot be changed.  I have some business users who still don't understand how to connect to non-db data sources even though they've read the materials and have been trained on how to make the connection.  That doesn't mean hard skills are difficult to teach because some are failing to understand.


Twitter Sucks At Conversation

Twitter, with only a measly total of 140 characters allowable, is pretty much an awful medium for online discussion.  Even a simple reply or Like can have a deep impact.  I think choosing one's words becomes critical in that medium regarding opinion.  As a friend told me, Twitter is really only good at posting headlines, and that makes sense.  So when an opinion like this comes up it's not easy for either party to discuss what they exactly mean so I'm hoping what the author stated about character is not what they meant.  However, the whole argument about soft skills being more difficult to teach than hard skills is where I am in disagreement.  Everyone has their opinions and that's fine so we're both right