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by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 54]

Macrofocus is a small Swiss company that offers visualisation solutions. City'O'Scope is the interesting demonstrator of their technology

There aren't many companies commercialising Information Visualisation technology, especially in Europe. Among them you can find innovative companies like Aidministrator (we will speak about them in a forthcoming issue), or Macrofocus that has an interesting Visualisation Tool

Macrofocus Gmbh, founded the year 2000 by Dominique Brodbeck and Luc Girardin develops and commercialises solutions and software tools for decision making and complex data set visualisation. Their web is very brief but also very clear and orbits around City'O'Scope, their technology demonstrator. You can download it for free (4.25 Mb) or you can ask for a CD-ROM

City'O'Scope is a system that allows you to interactively visualise the data gathered during the year 2000 by the Swiss Economic Research Group of UBS about the conditions of living, the earnings and the prices of 58 cities world-wide. The report, in traditional format can be found at the end of the page devoted to this purpose.

Among the data gathered you can find, for instance, the time spent going to the workplace, the number of hours worked per year, the gross income of different working categories or the working time needed to pay a determined consumer good.

CityOScope.gif (84516 bytes)

Fig. 1. General view of City'O'Scope window. You can see the three main zones, the world map, the similarity chart and the parallel coordinates chart. (Click on the image to see a zoom of it)

Macrofocus has incorporated all these data in their visualisation system. The City'O'Scope window is divided in 3 main zones (see Figure 1):

  • A dynamic world map where you can localise the cities subject of the study. The map can be distorted to "focus" in a particular area of the planet. You can click on the cities and then their associated data in the other zones is highlighted.

    COSWorld.gif (11587 bytes) COSsim.gif (6321 bytes)
    Fig. 2. Deformable world map. The surroundings of the city of Barcelona have been "focused".  (Click on the image to see a zoom of it) Fig. 3. Similarity chart. In yellow you can see the acronym of the city subject of the study.  (Click on the image to see a zoom of it)
  • A chart depicting the similarity between cities. Choosing a category among Prices, Earnings or Indices of living, the graphic reorganises itself so that similar cities are close one to the other. "Similarity" is calculated as a weighted combination of the different parameters of each category.

  • A chart in parallel coordinates of the 42 most important variables. In it, by moving two vertical sliders you can limit the values between which the lines corresponding to the different cities are drawn. This way you can select, for example, all the cities with a 3 room apartment price between 1545 $ and 1827 $ (you find only two)
COSsliders.gif (61681 bytes)
Fig. 4. Chart of the 42 most important variables of the study, in parallel coordinates. Each line joins the values corresponding to a single city. Notice the sliders that allow to refine the search of a city or set of cities that have some particular requisites by fading out those that lie outside the min and max values imposed by the sliders. (Click on the image to see a zoom of it)

The selection of a city in one chart is reflected immediately in the others. This way the system allows you to find cities that fit a complex series of requisites, just by moving the sliders corresponding to the appropriate parameters and seeing what cities are not faded out.

Although parallel coordinates were proposed by Alfred Inselberg in 1981, distortable maps are already known, and so do similarity charts, Macrofocus combines the three in an innovative, elegant and informative way, making selection and understanding easier.

Altogether, a powerful and innovative tool, although the use of parallel coordinates, very useful in an expert's hand, need some training to extract the most of them.

It's very commendable to download the demo and play with it after reading the instructions that appear clicking on the question marks (?) on the upper right corner of each area.

* In order to know more about parallel coordinates you can visit the page on the topic prepared by Christopher Jones.

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