Basketball Tournament Locations

My apologies to those of you who are big fans of basketball. Since it is not really my sport of choice, I had no idea that March Madness started yesterday. Otherwise, I would have posted this earlier.

FiveThirtyEight analysed the locations of basketball conferences’ tournaments relative to the geographic centres of said conferences. As it turns out many conferences do not play near their centre. The article goes on to suggest cities near their conference centre.

All the locations…
All the locations…

As a geography nerd, I found the whole exercise fascinating. I only have a few peccadillos with this. I would have loved to see a follow-up map with their suggested locations plotted against the centre and the actual tournament location.

Secondly, the first three maps highlight how the tournaments are being played in New York. But in the first they label it as Brooklyn. Then the next two just use NYC. Since Brooklyn is part of New York, why use Brooklyn instead of NYC? Or instead of NYC, use Manhattan.

Again, my apologies for not realising this should have been up earlier this week. So for those of you who do participate in the bracket challenges, hopefully your brackets are still more or less intact. And best of luck with the rest of the tournament.

Credit for the piece goes to Neil Paine and Ella Koeze.

My Kingdom for a Needle

I am exhausted. I tried to stay up late enough to catch the absentee ballots from Washington County. Alas, I did not quite make it. (You better bet I will be drinking all the caffeine today.) But someone else did not quite make it through the night. Or rather, something. What was it? The New York Times election night needle.

To understand why the Times made the needle, read this really great explainer. The super short version: it tries to forecast the results of that particular election day, accounting for things like uncounted votes. On television, analysts and large interactive screens can show how, usually, urban districts are counted first then followed by slower-to-return rural areas. But for people following results solely online, those nuances might well be lost. Enter the needle.

Trust the Needle
Trust the Needle

Last night, like much of the Twitterverse I follow for politics, I had the needle open in one tab. But as the results began to come in, something odd was happening on the Times’ results page. The votes were being displayed in a precinct-by-precinct fashion in Allegheny, Washington, and Greene Counties. But Westmoreland was oddly grey. It turned out, the county elections board was not, I suppose, digitally publishing the precinct results, only county-wide.

Whilst the Needle spins…
Whilst the Needle spins…

Fun fact, the needle’s model is apparently built on precinct results. So how do you have a needle if something like 30% of the model’s required or expected data will not be available? The Times tweeted about it a few times, but ultimately pulled it down. Better to not have it and be right than have it wrong just to have it.

Needle down…
Needle down…

But that brings me to the second point about the needle. Well done to BuzzFeed’s Decision Desk HQ, who were presciently concerned about the ability of the county to get precinct level results up online. So they sent a reporter, as in a human being, to Westmoreland to get the analogue results and then upload them to BuzzFeed’s own results spreadsheet. (I never did find a BuzzFeed live results page.)

Who knows the budget difference between the New York Times’s graphics/politics desks and that of BuzzFeed’s, but the ability to put a single person in Westmoreland made the difference for BuzzFeed, whose coverage via Decision Desk HQ, made for a more compelling following because they were,  old school like, reading out results as they came in via reporters. And because there were no exit polls in the election, we had to wait for all the votes. Strangely, it almost felt like watching a UK general election where you have to wait hours for some constituencies to announce results. Though this election had a noticeable lack of Raving Monster Loony candidates.

I bring up the BuzzFeed contribution to the night because it does show how sometimes the sheer fact of placing a reporter on the ground can yield tremendous results. Come November, no, I don’t think any single media organisation can afford to put a reporter in every single US county. But I would bet the Times will be working on how to better precinct proof their needle.

Credit for the piece goes to Nate Cohn, Josh Katz, Sarah Almukhtar, and Matthew Bloch.

Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District: The Special Election

Today is Tuesday, 12 March. And that means a special election in the 18th congressional district of Pennsylvania, located in the far southwest of the state, near Pittsburgh.

Long story short, the district is uber Republican. But, the long-time Republican congressman, the avowedly pro-life type, was caught urging his mistress to abort their unborn child. Needless to say, that did not go over so well and so he resigned and now here we are with a veteran state legislator and veteran who calls himself “Trump before there was Trump” running for the Republicans and another veteran but also former federal prosecutor involved with fighting the opioid epidemic running for the Democrats.

Now about that uber Republican-ness. It is so much so that Democrats didn’t even run candidates in 2014 and 2016. And then in 2016, Trump won the district by 20 percentage points. But the polls show the Republican, Rick Saccone, with a very narrow lead within the margin of error. That in and of itself is tremendous news for Democrats in Pennsylvania. But what if Conor Lamb, the Democrat, were to actually somehow pull off a victory?

Well the Washington Post put together a great piece about how it really might not matter. Why? Because of that whole redistricting thing that I talked about. Neither Saccone nor Lamb live in the district that will replace today’s 18th.

The piece has several nice graphics showing just how much this area of the state will change and how that will impact these two candidates. But my favourite piece was actually this dot plot.

That's an enormous gap for Lamb to overcome
That’s an enormous gap for Lamb to overcome

It speaks more to today’s election than the future of the district. Everyone will undoubtedly be looking to see if Lamb can eke out a victory of Saccone this evening. But even if he loses narrowly, the Democrats can still take a glimmer of hope because of just how insurmountable the challenge was. It would require an enormous swing just to crack 50.1%.

Credit for the piece goes to Reuben Fischer-Baum and Kevin Uhrmacher.

Bitcoin Land

Sorry, I ran into some technical problems this morning so this is going up this afternoon with an added bit at the end.

I’m not really sure this piece should go onto the blog. But I like it. And this is still my blog. So what the hell.

I grew up a big fan of games like Sim City, where you could create your own universes. And in the world of infographics, you do occasionally see the isometric drawings of cities, but I find they often lack representative value. Here, in this piece from Politico Magazine, we have the Bitcoin landscape.

The different buildings represent different elements of the cryptocurrency’s ecosystem, from supporting markets, regulators, utility companies, &c. Later on in the article, the different sections are broken out and labelled and annotated. Additional elements are also brought in to explain ancillary parts of the Bitcoin landscape. All the while keeping the same style. Very well done.

Reticulating splines
Reticulating splines

This detail looks at some of the things existing outside the specific Bitcoin environment, e.g. other cryptocurrencies. And the aforementioned utility companies that provide the necessary power for the computations.

It even has a tram system…
It even has a tram system…

I kind of wish the universe was larger, though. If only for the purely selfish purpose of getting lost in the illustrations.

Since I’ve had today to think more about this, it reminded me of one of my favourite projects I got to work on from a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately for me, my illustration skills are not quite top-notch. But I did get to direct a similar project, working with a talented designer—now expert craftsman—who can in fact draw. And since it’s not often I get to show this work, why not. We used consumer survey data describing the average middle class household to, well, visualise said middle class household. It took a lot longer than I think anyone thought, so we never attempted the style again. But the designer did some great work on this.

One of my favourite projects that I oversaw as Captain Art Director (not my real title).
One of my favourite projects that I oversaw as Captain Art Director (not my real title).

Credit for the Politico piece goes to Patterson Clark and Todd Lindeman.

Credit for the Euromonitor piece goes to Benjamin Byron and myself.

The Next Generation

Last Friday my friend tweeted about the new Pew definition of what a Millennial truly is. I began thinking of a joke about how to define the next generation. Alas, the always spot on xkcd of Randall Munroe beat me to it. (Though his is far better than what I could have imagined.)

You'll get what I wanted to do…
You’ll get what I wanted to do…

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

The Russian Threat

A few days ago a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent, e.g. VX, in Salisbury, England. Over a decade ago, another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, died in London after being poisoned with polonium, a highly radioactive substance produced inside nuclear reactors, placed inside his tea. Russia’s spies are still a threat in the 21st century, at least attempting to assassinate people they choose in Western cities and capitals.

All that made me think back to an issue of the Economist I received a few weeks ago. It had a special report on the future of warfare and this map on the threat posed by Russian conventional forces.

The Russian threat
The Russian threat

It does a good job of showing that in just a conventional sense, Russia remains a dangerous threat to NATO. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are incredibly vulnerable, all but surrounded by Russia and its allies/proxies.

But as this week’s news highlights, Russia remains a threat in the unconventional space as well. (As also pointed out by the red colour sitting in the formerly Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, seized by unmarked “little green men” in 2014.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

The Wall Today

This past Sunday I had a nice treat in the New York Times. They printed a piece looking at the state of the US-Mexican border wall as it is today. And not only was it an article, but it was a full-page article.

The Wall today
The Wall today

There isn’t a lot to say about it in particular. But what I really did like was the decision by the designer to tilt the map at an angle. Normally we would see a straight east-to-west, right-to-left map, but here the axis is more southeast-to-northwest, right-to-left map. And that creates a nice space for text in the lower left area, which the designer here did in fact use for the main block of text.

Credit for the piece goes to Sarah Almukhtar.

Baseball: The Bouncier Edition

Baseball is finally back as Spring Training continues to push through March, getting us closer to Opening Day. But one lingering question from last year remains: why the increase in power and home runs? While Major League Baseball (MLB) says there has been no change to the baseball, many think otherwise.

FiveThirtyEight published a piece looking at the insides of eight baseballs, four predating the power surge, which began after the 2015 All Star Game, and three balls since in addition to a newly manufactured and unused ball.

The piece uses a few graphics to showcase the differences, including this cutaway diagram highlighting the different layers of a baseball.

What's inside a baseball?
What’s inside a baseball?

But the real gem is the X-ray photography done to examine the balls without cutting into them. Thankfully for those of us unfamiliar with x-rays, the designers provided a legend showing the clearly different core densities in the balls.

Old balls vs. new balls
Old balls vs. new balls

If you are interested in baseball, and in particular the increase in home runs, the whole article is worth the short read. And if you’re not, well, the x-ray views of baseballs are still pretty neat.

Credit for the piece goes to Rob Arthur and Tim Dix.

Italian Election Results

Europe enjoyed some significant political news yesterday. First, Angela Merkel will serve a fourth term as chancellor as the SPD members voted to allow their party to enter into a grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU/CSU party.

But the more important story is that of the Italian elections, where the centre-left under Matteo Renzi was attempting a comeback against the populist parties the 5-Star Movement and the League, the latter an anti-immigrant party. Also in the mix was Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza party won 14% of the vote and as a member of a right/centre-right bloc that won 37%.

So I chose to highlight the homepage of IL Sore 24 Ore, an Italian newspaper, that had the results displayed clearly.

Live results at the top of the home page
Live results at the top of the home page

Of course the big problem is that I can neither read nor speak Italian. So figuring out just what every label is proved to be a bit tricky. But once you figure it out, it is quite clear.  The nice blue banner for the real-time results (again with the assuming of translation) does a nice job of clearly separating itself from the rest of the page, but the tables inside are quiet and not screaming for attention. Instead the user is allowed to find his or her party of bloc of interest and then scan to the right for the bold number of seats in the respective chamber.

The results page is similarly nice, using clean and simple tables to organise the information. Using the Chamber of Deputies page as an example, the overall results appear on the left while important context via maps and specific regions appear to the right. All the while the use of simple typography and whitespace guide the user to the appropriate data set.

These are the results for the Chamber of Deputies, the equivalent to the US House or House of Commons
These are the results for the Chamber of Deputies, the equivalent to the US House or House of Commons

And lastly a screenshot of an article about the election results, none of which I can read. Here, instead of an interactive table or graphic, we have a static graphic showing the results. It certainly captures the results in this particular moment—exact seat numbers have not yet been released—but could grow stale as the day goes on. Although there very well could be a page with interactive results like this, but that I cannot find because, again, I cannot read Italian.

The centre-right bloc did well, as did the 5-Star Movement (M5S)
The centre-right bloc did well, as did the 5-Star Movement (M5S)

The design of the graphic is nice. It uses the popular half-circle arc to show who “crosses the finish line” in terms of blocs seating more than 50% of the chamber. But once again, I am most impressed by the clarity of the table and information displays through white space and typography. (Though I feel in this case white space should be more like light salmon-coloured space.)

Overall, the designers did a fantastic job of presenting the data and information, so well that a non-Italian could even figure it out.

Credit for the piece goes to the Il Sore 24 Ore graphics department.

When No Change or Growth Is the Story

For many years I would often tell people that sometimes a visualisation can be “boring”, because the data itself is boring—a lack of growth in a market, no real mergers, or even steady and consistent but unspectacular growth. Those can all be stories, even if they likely result in very monotone choropleths or straight line charts or perfect steps of bar charts.

And then there are times when the lack of growth or change, when visualised, can be very powerful. I wanted to share this piece from the New York Times with everyone because it does just that.

Starting from the Sandy Hook Massacre and moving through to Parkland
Starting from the Sandy Hook Massacre and moving through to Parkland

You really need to click through and see the scale and scope, because the designers behind this did a fantastic job of capturing that sense of lack of change in a very large and expansive piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times Editorial Board.