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XL2K: Z origin (floor) on column charts defaults to non-zero for certain datasets

  1. #1
    Alex Rast
    Guest

    XL2K: Z origin (floor) on column charts defaults to non-zero for certain datasets

    I've noticed an extremely frustrating, not to mention misleading, aspect of
    Excel 2K. If you have a column chart with a series whose values are all
    considerably greater than zero, the "autoscale" feature will by default cut
    off the floor of the graph at some value greater than zero. Charting
    textbooks abound with comments as to how this is a very misleading style,
    because it tends to exaggerate differences between points which might
    actually be relatively quite small. Someone who's not looking at the chart
    with a sharp eye might conclude that 2 points differed significantly when
    in fact they were pretty close.

    I was able to change the chart to zero-origin, but the process was fairly
    long and in any case it's irritating to have to do this on every chart. Is
    there a way to set options or registry settings such that it will always
    default to zero-axis for any column (or similar type) chart regardless of
    data values (the one exception, of course, being if you were plotting on a
    log scale)? I'd like to do that and solve the problem once and for all.

    In a larger context, how could Microsoft think their approach was an
    intelligent default? Given that the literature emphasizes the enormous
    risks with non-zero-origin charting, and how easy it is for such charts to
    be badly misleading, what thought process led Microsoft to do it anyway?
    It's especially bad in view of the apparent fact that trying to change this
    is pretty obscure and many people might not figure it out (or indeed even
    notice in the first place). So people might being end up misled by their
    own charts, not to mention inadvertently misleading others - or certainly
    ending up in frustration when the way their charts turn out isn't how
    they'd like them to display.

    Meanwhile, for myself it's also clear to me that in addition to Excel I
    need a heavier-duty charting package as well. I routinely need to make true
    3-D surface plots, and I'd also like to be able to plot a range of standard
    functions, do complex curve fits, do charts with real and imaginary axes,
    using various coordinate systems (e.g. cartesian, polar, hyperbolic, etc).
    and in general get the power of full mathematical analysis. However - and
    this is the key point - I need to be able to do this *without* having to
    write out or calculate equations manually. Programs like Matlab are very
    competent with mathematical calculations and graphing, but for simple
    situations the setup time makes it not worth the effort. There are times
    when I want to do that, and for these applications Matlab is a good tool,
    but for times when I need to pound out a quick chart it's just a lot of
    work. Does anybody have recommendations for good charting packages for the
    type of activities I'm describing?

    --
    Alex Rast
    ad.rast.7@nwnotlink.NOSPAM.com
    (remove d., .7, not, and .NOSPAM to reply)

  2. #2
    Jon Peltier
    Guest

    Re: Z origin (floor) on column charts defaults to non-zero for certain datasets

    Alex -

    > I've noticed an extremely frustrating, not to mention misleading, aspect
    > of
    > Excel 2K. If you have a column chart with a series whose values are all
    > considerably greater than zero, the "autoscale" feature will by default
    > cut
    > off the floor of the graph at some value greater than zero. Charting
    > textbooks abound with comments as to how this is a very misleading style,
    > because it tends to exaggerate differences between points which might
    > actually be relatively quite small. Someone who's not looking at the chart
    > with a sharp eye might conclude that 2 points differed significantly when
    > in fact they were pretty close.
    >
    > I was able to change the chart to zero-origin, but the process was fairly
    > long and in any case it's irritating to have to do this on every chart. Is


    Double click the axis, set minimum scale to 0. Select the same axis of the
    next chart, press F4. Etc.

    > there a way to set options or registry settings such that it will always
    > default to zero-axis for any column (or similar type) chart regardless of
    > data values (the one exception, of course, being if you were plotting on a
    > log scale)? I'd like to do that and solve the problem once and for all.


    You could set up a user-defined chart type, and even set it as your default
    chart type:

    http://peltiertech.com/Excel/ChartsH...stomTypes.html

    > In a larger context, how could Microsoft think their approach was an
    > intelligent default?


    How long have you been using Microsoft products? The defaults are usually
    about the worst possible choice.

    > Given that the literature emphasizes the enormous
    > risks with non-zero-origin charting, and how easy it is for such charts to
    > be badly misleading, what thought process led Microsoft to do it anyway?


    Where does the 4000-lb elephant sit? Wherever it wants.

    > It's especially bad in view of the apparent fact that trying to change
    > this
    > is pretty obscure and many people might not figure it out (or indeed even
    > notice in the first place). So people might being end up misled by their
    > own charts, not to mention inadvertently misleading others - or certainly
    > ending up in frustration when the way their charts turn out isn't how
    > they'd like them to display.
    >
    > Meanwhile, for myself it's also clear to me that in addition to Excel I
    > need a heavier-duty charting package as well. I routinely need to make
    > true
    > 3-D surface plots, and I'd also like to be able to plot a range of
    > standard
    > functions, do complex curve fits, do charts with real and imaginary axes,
    > using various coordinate systems (e.g. cartesian, polar, hyperbolic, etc).
    > and in general get the power of full mathematical analysis. However - and
    > this is the key point - I need to be able to do this *without* having to
    > write out or calculate equations manually. Programs like Matlab are very
    > competent with mathematical calculations and graphing, but for simple
    > situations the setup time makes it not worth the effort. There are times
    > when I want to do that, and for these applications Matlab is a good tool,
    > but for times when I need to pound out a quick chart it's just a lot of
    > work. Does anybody have recommendations for good charting packages for the
    > type of activities I'm describing?


    I haven't used anything besides Excel for at least 12 years (well, Minitab,
    but I hated it and pasted Minitab calculations into Excel for charting), and
    that includes some heavy duty scientific charting. I've had to do my own
    worksheet calculations, and sometimes use a simpler chart type than I might
    have planned.

    - Jon
    -------
    Jon Peltier, Microsoft Excel MVP
    Tutorials and Custom Solutions
    http://PeltierTech.com
    _______



  3. #3
    Alex Rast
    Guest

    Re: Z origin (floor) on column charts defaults to non-zero for certain datasets

    at Wed, 24 May 2006 04:19:55 GMT in
    <evEMRlufGHA.1792@TK2MSFTNGP03.phx.gbl>, jonxlmvpNO@SPAMpeltiertech.com
    (Jon Peltier) wrote :

    >Alex -
    >
    >> I've noticed an extremely frustrating, not to mention misleading,
    >> aspect of
    >> Excel 2K. If you have a column chart with a series whose values are
    >> all considerably greater than zero, the "autoscale" feature will by
    >> default cut
    >> off the floor of the graph at some value greater than zero...
    >>
    >> I was able to change the chart to zero-origin, but the process was
    >> fairly long and in any case it's irritating to have to do this on
    >> every chart. Is

    >
    >Double click the axis, set minimum scale to 0. Select the same axis of
    >the next chart, press F4. Etc.
    >
    >> there a way to set options or registry settings such that it will
    >> always default to zero-axis for any column (or similar type) chart
    >> regardless of data values (the one exception, of course, being if you
    >> were plotting on a log scale)? I'd like to do that and solve the
    >> problem once and for all.

    >
    >You could set up a user-defined chart type, and even set it as your
    >default chart type:
    >
    > http://peltiertech.com/Excel/ChartsH...stomTypes.html


    Good idea. In fact, I think I'll set up all my own chart types, with more
    rational defaults throughout.

    >> In a larger context, how could Microsoft think their approach was an
    >> intelligent default?

    >
    >How long have you been using Microsoft products? The defaults are
    >usually about the worst possible choice.


    For a LONG time...

    Yeah, oftentimes the defaults are poor choices, but that doesn't mean IMHO
    that one should adopt a resigned attitude that takes such folly as
    acceptable. Part of my reason for the long diatribe after the basic
    question is: I assume at least *somebody* at Microsoft is reading these
    posts, and there is a chance that these comments might filter back to the
    programmers.

    OTOH, if Microsoft has a "brick-wall" policy between customer service and
    the S/W devs, they are doing themselves a major disservice and probably
    somewhat reducing their market. Good product design of necessity requires
    not just company-solicited feedback but also daily feedback from customers
    using the product. Any company wishing to improve their sales should look
    at the feedback of customers in the field and ask whether changes are
    warranted in view of what people are saying.

    >> Given that the literature emphasizes the enormous
    >> risks with non-zero-origin charting, and how easy it is for such
    >> charts to be badly misleading, what thought process led Microsoft to
    >> do it anyway?

    >
    >Where does the 4000-lb elephant sit? Wherever it wants.


    However, just because you have a powerful industry position doesn't mean
    you have any need to assert this status by deliberately choosing options
    that counteract the common wisdom. Indeed, if one does such, it tends to
    suggest a lack of confidence in one's own position of strength. I don't
    really think Microsoft has anything to fear wrt to competitors sucking up
    their market any time soon.

    Enough ranting, though. I've got a workable solution in your tip and that's
    what I actually came for.

    >> Meanwhile, for myself it's also clear to me that in addition to Excel
    >> I need a heavier-duty charting package as well. ...

    >
    >I haven't used anything besides Excel for at least 12 years (well,
    >Minitab, but I hated it and pasted Minitab calculations into Excel for
    >charting), and that includes some heavy duty scientific charting. I've
    >had to do my own worksheet calculations, and sometimes use a simpler
    >chart type than I might have planned.


    I've run into enough absolute limitations to know that for certain charting
    apps Excel is never going to suffice. It isn't really designed to be a
    full-fledged scientific plotting program and you're really trying to
    stretch its capabilities to use it in that way. If, for example, you want
    to create a complex-plane plot of the Laplace transform of an electronic
    filter, it's just not an appropriate tool.

    Thanks, in any case, for the solution to the immediate problem at hand.

    --
    Alex Rast
    ad.rast.7@nwnotlink.NOSPAM.com
    (remove d., .7, not, and .NOSPAM to reply)

  4. #4
    Jon Peltier
    Guest

    Re: Z origin (floor) on column charts defaults to non-zero for certain datasets

    > Yeah, oftentimes the defaults are poor choices, but that doesn't mean IMHO
    > that one should adopt a resigned attitude that takes such folly as
    > acceptable. Part of my reason for the long diatribe after the basic
    > question is: I assume at least *somebody* at Microsoft is reading these
    > posts, and there is a chance that these comments might filter back to the
    > programmers.
    >
    > OTOH, if Microsoft has a "brick-wall" policy between customer service and
    > the S/W devs, they are doing themselves a major disservice and probably
    > somewhat reducing their market. Good product design of necessity requires
    > not just company-solicited feedback but also daily feedback from customers
    > using the product. Any company wishing to improve their sales should look
    > at the feedback of customers in the field and ask whether changes are
    > warranted in view of what people are saying.
    >

    ....
    >
    > However, just because you have a powerful industry position doesn't mean
    > you have any need to assert this status by deliberately choosing options
    > that counteract the common wisdom. Indeed, if one does such, it tends to
    > suggest a lack of confidence in one's own position of strength. I don't
    > really think Microsoft has anything to fear wrt to competitors sucking up
    > their market any time soon.


    As I posted elsewhere recently, I don't think the programmers at Microsoft
    really use their own software in day to day activities, and they don't have
    a true feel for how the users really use it and for what the users really
    need/want. They have scads of usability data and such, but I think a lot of
    that is self selected, meaning it's sent in by the people who don't know
    it's there or how to turn it off. And I sometimes have alternative
    explanations for observed trends.

    I'm basically happy providing workarounds and embellishments so people get
    what they want from the software on their boxes.

    - Jon
    -------
    Jon Peltier, Microsoft Excel MVP
    Tutorials and Custom Solutions
    http://PeltierTech.com
    _______




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