Cincy TUG Shenanigans with the #DataFam + Michelle Frayman has our Viz of the Week

Adam Mico
14 min readJan 18, 2020

A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the viz making process, #datafam member interviews, Viz of the Week & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).

This week I discuss my#datafam experience and I chat with Michelle Frayman (@maf2k) as she submitted a noteworthy design with tons of insight for #IronQuest & #projecthealthviz!

Adam’s IRL Introduction to the #datafam

Kevin Flerlage (@flerlagekev) and I have been chatting for a bit and I was just expecting to meet up with him and everyone else at the 2020 Tableau Conference, but right after the 2019 conference he said we should meet up before then. I considered him a friend and knew he would have my back if I ventured outdoors, so I was excited to meet him at some point before the conference and likely around a TUG. A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that there would be a TUG in Cincinnati on 1/13 featuring Sarah Bartlett (@sarahlovesdata) and (later) Mark Bradbourne (@MarkBradbourne). I looked at my work calendar and thought… what the hell… why not? Mark and Sarah are both awesome people and I considered Sarah a friend too.

Usually when I get involved in events with people, anxiety boils over and I become warm, ill and weird — I’m the guy who sits in the back corner even if 2/3rds of the room is empty. Meeting people IRL is almost ALWAYS an awkward experience — holding a conversation is nearly impossible and I get bored & disoriented real quick and want to venture back to the keyboard in my cave.

Knowing I was going to meet them… the opposite feeling of excitement and embracing ‘Yes’ poured over me. The elation grew further when I learned Zak Geis (@ZaksViz) and Ann Cutrell (@annlcutrell) would join us. I didn’t know Spencer Baucke (@JSBaucke), Dinsuhki ‘Dee’ De Livera (@deeVisable), Jeffrey Shaffer (@HighVizAbility) or Jim Dehner (@MarketAnalytic5) too much except for their incredible work and great reputations, but thought this would be an amazing opportunity to meet people and determine if #data20 was right for me. A couple days before travelling, Kevin and Dee opted to take a 1/2 day off of work before the TUG and show us around Cincy — I was super stoked! The day before Jeffrey invited me to dinner when he learned I was coming into town — hardly knowing me and the great respect I have for his work, I was blown away by the gesture. Once I settled into Cincinnati, it was decided we’d hang out at Jeffrey’s house and enjoy the Green Bay Packer playoff game — as a Packer fan … wow, is this even happening?!?! I still very much feared that the Mico hermit crab would somehow venture back in his shell.

Right before the game, we grabbed a busload of sensational Indian food and brought it to meet up with Kevin, Dee, Ethan Hahn (@EthanHahnEH), Hunter (Dee’s boyfriend) and Jeffrey’s incredible family with Sarah Bartlett popping in later. It was a Packer house and the game was incredible. Jeffrey is just an awesome guy who is humble, considerate and a lot of fun (and shared ton of amazing viz artifacts). Ethan is a trip (& probably the personality that resembles mine the most) — he had so many funny quips. Seeing Kevin in the flesh was quite surreal, but he was so welcoming and jovial… the atmosphere was perfect to have a great time. Jeffrey’s wife was also a Wisconsinite and had an amazing Norwegian (Wi)Sconnie accent she could put on — and their kids were a blast. Dee and Hunter were just a delightful/incandescent couple. Sarah showed up, it was even was more surreal — she brought London TUG pins and jet lag, but couldn’t have been more was friendly and cool. We all talked, drank and had some of the most disagreeable food combinations, but the merriment continued as the game developed favorably.

Packer party at Jeffrey’s house — this may not be my best photo, but so much fun was had! Two people you may not recognize are Hunter (Dee’s boyfriend and Tableau newbie on the right) and Ethan (2nd from right — he works with Jeffrey, Kevin and Dee)

After a couple tasty beverages in and a full stomach of disparate dishes of spicy Indian food, ice cream and Insomnia Cookies, we played the whip cream game (allegedly a TikTok thing). The point is to put the whip cream on the back of your hand, smack it to your arm and grab it all in your mouth. We went outside on the porch to play (for obvious reasons) — my 1st attempt was not great — to the amusement of Jeffrey’s kid, the plop of sweet faux cream literally jumped 10 feet above me and stuck to the side of his house. None of us were having much luck, but finally… the coordination came to me and was able to successfully complete the challenge multiple times (as evidenced here). I was playing it very nonchalant, but it was a wicked proud moment because my neck doesn’t really move. The game was over and we called it a night. Fortunately my ( Mico crab) shell was left behind.

The next day, if jet lag didn’t overtake Sarah, we decided to visit the Cincinnati Museum. (1) She had the lag, but the kind you could not sleep, so she was up for museum-ing. The museum was certainly worth a couple-hour visit, we saw the last stop of the Apollo 11 exhibit with wonderful artifacts of the alleged moon landing.

Last stop for the Apollo 11 exhibit before it’s sealed up in the Smithsonian
Umi the mummy

There was a mishmash of exhibits including a randomly placed mummy.

An interesting employee at the dinosaur exhibit [dino pictured below] shared his recollection of travel stories through Europe, Egypt and a few dashes of dinosaur facts. We finished up on the streets of old Cincinnati (2) before I introduced Sarah to the glory that is Kay’s Cooking (seen below in this week’s unappetizing Binge Bite). We chit-chatted and somehow worked up an appetite watching Kay’s Cooking. At 12:30 PM, a cheerful Dee picked us up to begin our food & booze circuit of Cincinnati.

T-Rex which was 55% complete
1st Stop at our TUG pre-game

We began our quest at this Gothic church turned restaurant/brewery. They had a great variety of healthy hops and salacious sandwiches & sides. We went in on the pints and some bold & warms pretzels with gooey beer cheese and in a short bit… Kevin, Spencer and Zak popped in to get our graze on. A beer or two later (by this point, time is relative to beers swallowed), Ann Cutrell (she is such a cool down-to-earth person) appeared and we were about to bounce to our next pre-game event.

Some great buildings, brick streets, murals & street art in Cincinnati

We took an adventurous walk in and around Over-the-Rhine regaled by Dee’s delightful walking tour and Zak drolly chimed in with an alternate tour with suspect history (3). We then headed off to a Mexican restaurant to devour chips and margaritas. Party-starter Dee was really the provocateur of vices as she was adamant we finish this pitcher — since I didn’t have any real responsibilities that day… I was tasked to not leave a drop and not one drip was spared that afternoon. (4) Dee’s exuberance for sharing the joy of pre-dark drinking spurred me to pitch a Tableau-related video-cast called, ‘Day-Drinking with Dee’. After that, we absolutely had to have ice cream, so we stopped over to Graeter’s Ice Cream (Cincinnati’s famous ice cream joint) to wash down the food and coat our tummies with the delicious sweet coating of cream [see picture below].

Gorging at Graeters (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t sniffing Kevin’s scalp)

After an epic pre-game, there was the actual ‘game’ that was the TUG. Kevin, Zak and I lugged up a ton of water and there was a surprise appearance by my favorite data storyteller and #IronViz co-champion, Joshua Smith

Joshua Smith made a surprise appearance at the Cincinnati TUG

— he’s a very kind, humble and full of dry wit! After a catch of much-needed breath… Zak, Ann and I snagged front row seats to the event in University of Cincinnati’s state-of-the-art large lecture hall.

Cincinnati TUG Event from 1/13

Jeffrey announced the business and formally introduced Kevin and Dee as part of the leadership team. Next up was Sarah’s presentation — mind you, she had jet-lag, dealt with me for multiple hours (not nearly as easy as it sounds), had a marathon pre-game, but somehow delivered a perfectly inspirational presentation on her story, #IronQuest + Tableau community’s involvement with #IronQuest — she impressed me greatly! Mark Bradbourne then shared a thought-provoking presentation on data storytelling using Pixar as his muse (don’t sue him). (5) The next event was the Viz Games.

Dee started to host, Sarah had the 1st go while Kevin took Spencer Baucke and I with our partners (I was randomly partnered with Hunter) & we were rushed out of the auditorium (so we couldn’t cheat off of Sarah‘s efforts).

When Kevin asked me to be involved, I had a very vague understanding of what it encompassed and that type of thing is generally not in my wheelhouse, but I would honored to take part and would make due. But when he introduced the rules, I knew I was toast (even though I was no longer toasted at that point).

Before his explanation and based on my very vague understanding, I assumed that I would get 15 minutes, have to explain a single sheet chart, get to see the sheet layout, say what type of chart was needed & plop it on a dashboard. I learned I had 10 minutes, had to recreate a dashboard of four charts and couldn’t specify charts. Kevin saw my face turn an unique shade of off-white and at that point, Spencer’s was too. He saw my anxiety peak and offered me an out, but I knew this was definitely not something that would go well — yet knew it could be fun and a great test for myself.

I went up right away, saw the dashboard on a sheet of paper and my brain froze harder than Graeter’s ice cream. When you can’t maneuver the pills — there’s a great disconnect — some people can see and explain in their mind’s eye — I really can’t. The 1st sheet was a filled map — instead of saying — put the ‘States’ in the marks, I said, ‘move latitude and longitude up there until you get a map’ and somehow it worked (later, according to Jeffrey, it was the ‘best line ever’, lol). Of course something was missing when I told him to color by ‘Sales’ without the ‘States’ dimension — this went on for five minutes until someone said you need ‘States’ (more lulz). The next couple of sheets weren’t perfect, but we did manage to get one of our dual axes charts up. Someone said ‘1 minute’ and I knew I was wrecked, but hey… everyone was having fun including me. Then ‘TIME’ was called and I couldn’t help but chuckle. When Spencer and I changed hands, Jeffrey expressed to me, ‘that was awesome’. Since I had my ‘go’, I got to witness Spencer and his teammate try — they ran into a little bit of trouble too, but certainly made it farther than we did. Once the reveal came and they shared Sarah’s result … Wonder Woman and her partner had a nearly perfect dashboard and blew away anything Spencer and I did.

Even though I took the Big L (sorry Hunter, this was completely on me) and something like that is usually a nightmare situation in front of over a 100 people in a large venue — it added to my experience because I realized it’s completely okay to get out of your comfort zone and fail sometimes — it happens. All you can do is enjoy the experience and learn from it — there was no dampening of the mood at all — post-TUG shenanigans were next!

At the ‘After TUG’, we had some incredible pizza and more beverages + I had the opportunity to talk more with Zak, Spencer and connect with Bruce Henry (TUG leadership team), Matthew Clements (TUG leadership team) and many others before we said our good-byes.

Hanging out waiting for the delicious pizza (Hunter was working feverishly on his laptop)
Closing down the pizza pub

I’m a guy who usually needs the personal space of a living room and told everyone in advance that I’m good with handshakes and fist bumps because I’m definitely not a hugger — these people were so great, it felt like they were lifelong friends — by the end of the night, I was hugging everyone.

If you have high functioning autism or Asperger’s like me, an introvert, severe social anxiety or whatnot — there’s absolutely no reason to be afraid — you are with family. Nobody here wants to see you fail; they genuinely care for you and about you. I don’t like most people IRL and deal with them as little as possible. With all of the people I mentioned above, you really don’t want to say good-bye and close-out a visit. I really understand the appeal of this community and the Tableau conference — you get to learn and commiserate with people you respect, admire, genuinely like and enjoy immensely. Take it from a failure who ended up winning with an unforgettable venture in Cincinnati. If you see me in the wild or at #data20, know that the personal space will not be there — I know I’m with family — bring it in & give me a damn hug.

Viz of the Week

Michelle Frayman — Jail Not Care

Adam Mico (AM): When you decided on the design of Jail Not Care, you indicated that you did some research and have six data sources. How long did you spend on research and did your approach change as a result of your research?

Michelle Frayman (MF): Fortunately some of the data was provided by Lindsay Betzendahl(@ZenDollData) in the #ProjectHealthViz post and Sarah Bartlett provided additional links for #IronQuest. After reviewing the data I searched for info graphics to help me think about my design. I found the one linked below that inspired the top design. The data provided did not include historical population data so I did a Google search to see if I could find some. Fortunately there are plenty of public data sources available on this so it did not take too long. Discussing the topic with my husband led to the insight that de-institutionalization had a huge impact on how people with mental health are treated and how they end up in prison. I think I only spent a few hours on research total as there was so much information easily available once I had identified my focus.

AM: What was the most surprising data bit uncovered in your research?

MF: The unintended consequences of de-institutionalization follow up by budget cuts that helped lead to an increase in prison population. The effort grew out of the civil rights movement after a series of scandals due to lack of oversight in psychiatric care. The reduction in funding for community services compounded by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 left many people with severe mental illness in large underfunded facilities or ending up in jail.

AM: As far as the design is concerned, this is an incredible well-considered design? What was your design process and how did it evolve?

MF: I started out doing some basic charts with the original data sets to see what might work. I stuck with those bar charts and the heat map in the middle of the visualization but I wanted more context and ties to the story I was developing. I found the info graphic incredibly compelling and decided to start off my viz with that style. The jitter bubbles were the last element I added. I felt it was important to show incarceration rates broken out by race and state as there is so much variation it can get lost when rolled up together as it was in the heat map. Both elements serve their purposes and highlight the data in different ways.

AM: There are two design elements that are ‘next level’ eye-catching — the area chart melding with the hex map and the heatmap/marginal histograms. When in the design process were you able to determine this would be a part of the design and had you done that approach with either/both before?

MF: I usually like to start by playing with the data and seeing what story emerges. After digging into the data I test different chart options to see what works with the data. I try not to lock in on a particular design until I have a good sense of how the story and data visualization options work together, then I start playing with the larger dashboard design. I tend to build as I go layering in each piece like a puzzle.

I decided pretty early on to focus the beginning on the area chart. There was so much blank space there it seemed like a good spot to add the hex map and I thought it was valuable to highlight the differences in incarceration by state early on in addition to the rise in population. I used hex maps in one of my first #MakeoverMondays last year. I really like how they look but they are not always applicable to the data. I prefer area charts to line charts as I don’t care for so much empty space with line charts. That is probably not best practice but my preference.

I have also used heat maps and marginal histograms before. One of my favorite examples was my #MakeoverMonday Game of Thrones viz.

Music Morsel

The Afghan Whigs are my favorite band from Cincinnati & let’s face it… it’s a Cincy week on this blog. I was hooked on this grunge-tinged alt-rock track back in 1992 and it still holds up.

Binge Bite

Kay’s Cooking 1 (old) and Kay’s Cooking 2 (new) are definitely guilty pleasure YouTube channels. The food Kay makes is some of the most frightening dishes and techniques I have ever seen and can’t determine whether she and her son are trolling us or trying to cook — either way it’s a thumbs up!


1. I loved Cincinnati — it has it’s own flavor and parts of it felt like Manhattan. The one complaint is that there are so many things closed on Monday. The 1st two choices to visit were the Cincinnati Art Museum & the Cincinnati Sign Museum, but they were both closed.

2. The museum employee made it a point when we asked its location that it was an exhibit of the old streets of Cincinnati. I thought it was curious, but Sarah thought it was to make sure we didn’t get disappointed when we did not actually go back in time.

3. We even had front row seats to a glass-breaking demonstration in the park!

4. Maybe not the most flattering photo…

Not a margarita drop or drip was spared

5. If you ever have the opportunity to watch Sarah or Mark speak in person, do yourself a favor and do so. They are pro speakers and amazing people to meet up with afterward.



Adam Mico

Data Visualization and Enablement Leader | Data Leadership Collaborative Advisory Board Member | Tableau Visionary + Ambassador | Views are my own