Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Episode Guide

Interested in a specific topic or guest? Check out the guide for a list of all our episodes!

Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

In the 4th episode of the “Data in the Sandbox” mini-series, Susan shows Maddie how to use data and something called “spatial analysis” to help Maddie win the game she’s playing on her phone!





Maddie Johannsen - @MaddieJ, LinkedIn, Twitter

Susan Sivek - @SusanCS, LinkedIn, Twitter





Episode Transcription

MADDIE: 00:00

Welcome to the fourth episode of Data [in the] Sandbox. I'm Maddie Johannsen and today my friend Susan will show me how I could use data and something called spatial analysis to help me win this awesome game I'm playing on my phone. It's super cool, and I'm so glad she taught me all about it because not only am I going to crush the leaderboard on this game, but now I'm super interested in spatial analytics. Who knew? I bet you'll be interested in it too. Let's get started. [music]

SUSAN: 00:34

Hey Maddie, you look kind of upset. What's wrong?

MADDIE: 00:37

Well, I've been working on trying to beat this one level on this phone game I'm playing. I have to go to all these places around town and collect magic coins that appear but my parents won't drive me around town to play anymore.

SUSAN: 00:49

Oh, bummer.

MADDIE: 00:50

Yeah. I mean, if we're already out somewhere, they said we can drive to one other place if it's 10 minutes away from where we are. So I guess we can drive 10 minutes from the grocery store to a good place to get coins in the game if we already go to the grocery store.

SUSAN: 01:04

Oh, okay. Gotcha. So you have a 10-minute driving limit on the places you can pick to go. Yeah, that could be challenging.

MADDIE: 01:12

Right? It is. I mean, I thought I would just draw a circle on the map around the places we go a lot, then figure out where I can go in the game. And so I got a paper map out of the car and started looking at it. But some places we go, 10 minutes mean that we can get really far away to certain spots. And other places, we can't get very far at all, because there's a lot of traffic or whatever.

SUSAN: 01:32

Yeah. Yeah, I can see how that'd be really tricky with just a paper map and the map in the game. Well, I think I can help you with this problem with some data.

MADDIE: 01:43

Oh, yes, please. I really want to get past this level. If I only had a treasure map, a map that showed me where all the good stuff was. And then I could decide every time we go out which game place we could go to.

SUSAN: 01:55

Well, we can make a treasure map.

MADDIE: 01:58


SUSAN: 01:59

We sure can.

MADDIE: 02:00

Well, tell me about that because I need to get all the treasure.

SUSAN: 02:04

All right. Well, let's do it. So this is a special kind of data analytics. It's called spatial analytics. Spatial is kind of a weird word but think of it like space. We're going to do analysis using information about how things are in space.

MADDIE: 02:21

Outer space?

SUSAN: 02:24

I mean, I guess it could be, but really I just mean any kind of space. Like the space in your room, the space outside your house, the space in your neighborhood. Or even really big, the space of a city. Because we live in these spaces and we have to do things like moving around in these spaces. So maps, they help us do that. You have kind of a mental map of your house in your head. You know how far it is from the living room to the kitchen, and you know how to get there. So when we get to neighborhoods and cities, sometimes it's hard for us to keep track of all that space and all the ways to get around in our heads. So we use paper maps and phone maps and GPS to help us figure that out.

MADDIE: 03:06

Yeah, especially the phone map.

SUSAN: 03:08

Definitely. That's so easy for us all. Now, your mental map of how far it is from your living room to your kitchen at home, that works out fine. But when you have to do things with your brain like figuring out which is the best game place to get the most coins in a 10-minute drive from the grocery store, well, that's when spatial analytics is really helpful.

MADDIE: 03:28

That sounds fancy. I don't see how we're getting a treasure map yet though.

SUSAN: 03:32

Yeah, well, we're getting there. I know you want those coins, but hang on for just a moment. So you're on the right track by trying to look at the places that you usually visit on the map and drawing that circle around them. But with analytic software on the computer, we can make that super easy. We can just give the software a list of places you go often like the grocery store and maybe the library and the park, and then we tell the software to put all those places on the map.

MADDIE: 03:58

Cool. But I already know where those places are.

SUSAN: 04:00

Yeah, sure, but here's the next step. We take the locations that you want to visit in your game to get coins, and we put them on the map too, then we tell our fancy data analytic software, "Show me which of the game places is within a 10-minute drive of the grocery store, the library and so on." And the software figures out which game places those are and basically tells you which ones you can get to with a 10-minute drive.

MADDIE: 04:26

Awesome. Yeah, that sounds like it would make it much easier to know which game places would actually work that my parents will actually drive me to.

SUSAN: 04:32

Yeah, absolutely. Now, here are a couple of other ways to approach this. First, if you wanted to be a little sneaky, you could also take the same collection of your usual places that you go and the game places, but then instead of using that 10-minute drive limit, let's make it a mile limit. What if we only went at most three miles to get to a game place after we went to the grocery store? That sounds totally reasonable. So then you can see, okay, how many game places are included in that three miles.

MADDIE: 05:07

It might take 12 or 14 minutes to get to that place, but it's only three miles away.

SUSAN: 05:11

Exactly. So you see how we make this work. And if you could manage to include more of the game places that way, you could try to get your parents to change your limit to the three miles instead of the 10 minutes. It's kind of sneaky, but it might get you more chances to go to places in the game and get more coins.

MADDIE: 05:31

I like the way you think.

SUSAN: 05:33

It's just all spatial analytics. It's pretty cool, huh? Now, here's another possibility. Have you heard of a heat map?

MADDIE: 05:42

A map that's warm?

SUSAN: 05:46

No, not quite. This is actually a map that shows how many of a thing are in a certain area, and the color on the map changes to show where there's more or fewer of something. So say you can talk your parents into going on a little trip into a different part of town just so you can play the game and get coins.

MADDIE: 06:07

That would be great, but which part of town should we go to? Which area has the most chances to play?

SUSAN: 06:12

That's where your heat map is going to be super helpful. So you can make a map that shows your city and has the game places mapped onto it. The areas that have the most chances to play are going to show up with the darkest color. So maybe a dark gold because there's lots of places to play and lots of coins. And then the areas with less chances, those are going to be kind of a lighter yellow.

MADDIE: 06:35

It's kind of like when you do a color by numbers or paint by numbers thing where you fill in the areas that have different numbers with different colors.

SUSAN: 06:42

Yeah, exactly. Except here the numbers are actual data, the number of game places where you can go play, and that number tells you which color should show up in that part of the map.

MADDIE: 06:53

I would love to have that map. We'd go right to the gold places first and I'd just collect up all the coins. All for me.

SUSAN: 07:01

Yeah, that's awesome. And then you can figure out where you want to go first. So if you get one chance for your parents to drive you out somewhere, you go first to the darker gold places on the map and you get all the money. And then if you get another chance, you pick the next place with the next highest number of game places to play. So that heat map shows you which areas are going to be worth your time and effort. And it might even make it more likely that your parents will drive you out there.

MADDIE: 07:28

So basically, I will use spatial analytics to get my parents to help me play my game.

SUSAN: 07:35


MADDIE: 07:35

That sounds super fancy.

SUSAN: 07:37

It is. You are going to be incredibly wealthy in no time, at least in video game coins.

MADDIE: 07:44

Awesome. It really is a treasure map.

SUSAN: 07:46

Yeah. See, I told you it was possible. Now that's not the only reason to map data, to want to see how that information looks when you think about it in terms of places or distances.

MADDIE: 07:57

Yeah, it seems useful. What else would you use a map for? With data.

SUSAN: 08:02

Yeah. Well, making maps with data, it's helpful for a lot of different things. Maybe we want to see which part of town has the most kids in order to plan for where we should build a new school, a map would help us see that. And maps don't have to be of big, huge areas like a whole city. We could even make a map of the inside of a grocery store and see where people spend the most time on a normal day. Maybe we want to put the sale products there, or we want to decorate that part of the store to make it nicer so then they'll spend even more time there and put more stuff in their cart to buy.

MADDIE: 08:35

But couldn't you just write down numbers like 10 people went to the milk section in the grocery store and 20 people shopped in the fruits and vegetable section?

SUSAN: 08:43

Yeah, we could do that. The numbers that you just said, 10 people or 20 people, those are data. And we could just look at them in a table or a spreadsheet, but often it's so much easier to see those data on an actual map or a picture. Our brains just have an easier time taking in information that way instead of just staring at a list of numbers. So maps are one kind of what we call data visualization. So that's where we make lots of numbers into something visual, something that we can see that expresses data in a picture instead of just a bunch of numbers.

MADDIE: 09:17

That sounds neat. I don't usually think about numbers becoming pictures, but if it helps me get more coins and win this game, that's pretty cool.

SUSAN: 09:24

Yeah, exactly. And think about this. Someday, you could use data and predictions and spatial analytics and data visualization, all this neat stuff, to get actual money. Real-world money.

MADDIE: 09:40

So not just fake coins?

SUSAN: 09:41


MADDIE: 09:42

Like an actual job.

SUSAN: 09:44

Yeah, like a real grown-up job where you get to find all kinds of information, do some math or some fancy computer stuff to it. Maybe make some predictions with it. Make a visualization. And you can make some actual coins with a paycheck, and a pretty nice paycheck too.

MADDIE: 10:01

What kind of job would that be?

SUSAN: 10:02

Well, let's talk about that in our next episode. We have come a long way now from thinking that ice cream sales cause shark attacks. Now you're going all professional with your data knowledge.

MADDIE: 10:13

Yeah, I guess that was kind of silly. Could we make a map of ice cream sales, like which ice cream flavors are most popular in different places?

SUSAN: 10:20

Yeah, sure, we totally could. Look at you and your spatial analytics. So are you ready for the next step, actually getting a job?

MADDIE: 10:29

Well, my parents would probably like that, and I can buy all of the ice cream flavors.

SUSAN: 10:34


MADDIE: 10:37

Thanks for listening to Data [in the] Sandbox. This miniseries was written by Susan Currie Sivek and our theme music is by Andy Uttley. If you know a K-12 educator or student or are one yourself, we're excited to offer a new learning and certification program designed for kids and young adults. To sign up or learn more, visit That's Catch you next time. [music]


This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ) and @TreyW.
Special thanks to @SusanCS for writing this episode, @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @jeho for our album artwork.