Franklin’s Certainties

This week was tax week for my American readers—hopefully you all filed or received an extension. And with it comes to my mind the quote by that guy who did a lot of stuff in and for Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin. Nothing in life is certain, he said, but for death and taxes.

Enter Indexed, who had this great Venn diagram on Tax Day.

Also, Mickey Mouse
Also, Mickey Mouse

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

Southwest 1380

On Tuesday, Southwest Flight 1380 made an emergency landing here in Philadelphia after the Boeing 737-700’s port engine exploded. One passenger died, reportedly after being partially sucked out of the aircraft after the explosion broke a window. But the pilot managed to land the aircraft with only one engine and without any further deaths.

I wanted to take a look at some of the eventual graphics that would come out to visually explain the story. And as of Thursday, I have seen two: one from the Guardian and another from the New York Times.

The Guardian’s piece is the simpler of the two, but captures the key data. It locates the engine and the location of the window blown out by debris from the engine.

The Guardian's graphic
The Guardian’s graphic

The New York Times’ piece is a bit more complex (and accompanied elsewhere in the article by a route map). It shows the seat of the dead passenger and the approximate locations of other passengers who provided quotes detailing their experiences.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

So the first thing that struck me was the complexity of the graphic. The Times opted for a three-dimension model whereas the Guardian went with a flat, two-dimensional schematic of the aircraft. Notice, though, that the seating layout is different.

Four rows ahead of the circled window location are two seats, likely an exit row, in the Guardian’s graphic where in the Times’ piece they have a full three-seat configuration. If you check seating charts—seatguru.com was the first site that came up in the Google for me—you can see that neither configuration actually matches what the seating chart says should be the layout for a 737-700. Instead it, the Guardian’s more closely resembles the 737-800 model.

The 737-700 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-700 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-800 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-800 layout from SeatGuru.com

Nerding out on aircraft, I know. But, it is an interesting example of looking at the details in the piece. The Guardian’s piece is far closer to the layout, as least as provided by SeatGuru, and the New York Times’ is more representative of a generic narrow-body aircraft.

Personally, I prefer the Guardian in this case because of its improved accuracy at that level of detail. Though, the New York Times does offer some nice context with the passenger quotes. Unfortunately, the three-dimensional model ultimately provides just a flavour of the story, compared to the drier, but more accurate, schematic depiction of the Guardian.

Credit for the Guardian piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.

Credit for the New York Times piece goes to Anjali Singhvi, Sahil Chinoy, and Yuliya Parshina-Kottas.

New York Is Still Beating London

So two weeks ago I posted about the graphics in a BBC article about how London has surpassed New York in terms of murders, due to a spate of stabbings in the British capital. Well, somehow I missed this: an article from the Economist that rebuts that point. And it does it brilliantly.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

I think everybody who works with data knows that adage. Now, I am not using it to say that the BBC—or the numerous other media outlets that ran the story—lied. Just that it is easy to change the story based on the data, how it is presented, or which subsets of the data are selected.

The Economist’s article points out that the surpassing of New York is a short term data point, a worrying short term trend, definitely, but they then look at the data. They select two timeframes and look at them side-by-side.

It's all about what data you show, choose to highlight, and then how you show it.
It’s all about what data you show, choose to highlight, and then how you show it.

And that is what I love about this piece. It shows the long-term context of New York having a far-higher medium-term history of murder (some 28 years of data is shown). When I was growing up in the 90s, murders in New York—and to be fair almost all large American cities—was just something that was a known fact. During that time, London hovered below 200 or so, compared to the 2000+ in early 90s New York.

But then they also show the short term, which does point to a steady rise in London murders. But, the data could also show a one-time dip in the murders in New York. But they also show that the total number of deaths is still higher in New York than London, despite the three months of data.

Murder is not good. But these graphics are a good example of how selecting different time series for the same data set, and then showing which parts of the data to show. The earlier BBC piece, and my revision of it, did not show the total deaths. Nor did either piece show the longer timeline of data.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Boston Marathon Times

Yesterday was Patriots’ Day, celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine—and in my research for this post, apparently now in Connecticut as of this year and Wisconsin of all places—with the date used as that of the famous Boston Marathon. Since I live in none of those states, I know it only because to my knowledge it is the only day we get morning baseball. As the Red Sox play in the morning with the Marathon runners passing through the neighbourhood mid-game-ish.

But yesterday was some wet weather along the East Coast and whilst the Red Sox game was postponed to May—no longer a morning game—the Marathon went on. One has to wonder, however, if those conditions affected the race—they almost certainly did—because this year’s winning times were the slowest in years. Thankfully FiveThirtyEight captured it in this graphic.

Yeah, I definitely couldn't do that…
Yeah, I definitely couldn’t do that…

It makes nice use of colour to highlight the origin of the various runners and then highlights yesterday’s two winners: an American woman and a Japanese man. Those two nations have not won in a couple of years.

Overall a solid little piece that makes me sad I have to wait until 2019 for another chance at morning baseball.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Where Syria Struck with Chemical Weapons

Friday night the US, UK, and France struck targets in Syria that play a role in the chemical weapons programme of the Bashir al-Assad regime. This is despite “eliminating” his chemical weapons several years ago. And so not surprisingly the media this past weekend covered Syria and the airstrikes. This print piece from the New York Times, however, looked backwards at the history of the chemical attacks Syria has unleashed against its own people.

Note the timeline in the lower-right to provide context of when and how frequent the chemical attacks have been
Note the timeline in the lower-right to provide context of when and how frequent the chemical attacks have been

The map is straightforward and the timeline helpful. Though I would probably have added a point on the timeline highlighting the Ghouta attack of August 2013. That attack prompted the international community to pressure the Assad regime to, again, “eliminate” its chemical weapon stocks. Clearly it hid some sarin and chlorine gas has industrial uses, making it a classic dual-purpose object that is tricky to classify as a weapon. (Though using it against civilians is clearly a weaponised use of the element.)

On a side note, I wanted to point the editorial design here. The overall page is quite nice.

The whole article is well laid out
The whole article is well laid out

The map falls squarely within the middle of the article, with a nice gallery of photographs running along the top. It also features a devastating pull quote describing the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. The article fits almost entirely above not just the fold, but also another terrible line of text, in this case the title of another article: Officials Have Lost Count of How Many Thousands Have Died in Syria’s War.

Overall, this was a solid piece providing a backdrop and historical context for the news.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

Spring Has Arrived

For those of you in Philadelphia, you are probably glad for today’s (and Saturday’s) forecast: sunny and 25ºC. That means grilling, outdoor drinking, and if you fit this description from Indexed, well, mowing.

What is retiree?
What is retiree?

Thankfully I live in a city where this is no such thing as lawn. What is lawn?

Though let us not kid ourselves, temperatures fall back to my personal preference by Tuesday.

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

News Deserts

Yesterday we looked at the shrinking Denver Post. Today we have a graphic from a related story via Politico. The article explores the idea that President Trump performs better in what the article terms “news deserts”, those counties with a very low level of newspaper circulation. (The article explains the methodology in detail.) This piece we are looking at here shows how those counties performed against the circulation rate and their 2016 presidential election result.

How the news deserts performed
How the news deserts performed

Overall, the work is solid. But I probably would have done a few things differently. First, the orange overlay falls in the middle of one column of dots. Do those dots then fall inside or outside the categorisation of news desert?

Secondly, the dots. If this were perhaps a scatter plot comparing the variables of circulation rates and, perhaps, election vote results as a percent, dots would be perfect. Here, however, they create this slightly distracting pattern in the the main area of counties. When the dots are stacked neatly and apart from other columns, as they are more often on the right, the dots are fine. But in the packed space on the left, not as much.

As I was reading through the article I had a couple of questions. For example, couldn’t the lack of newspapers be reflective of the urban–rural split or the education split, both of which can be seen in the same election results. Thankfully the article does spend time going through those points as well. It is a bit lengthy of a read—with a few other perfectly fine graphics—but well worth it.

Credit for the graphics goes to Jeremy C.F. Lin.

Picking at the Bones

We have all seen the slider that lets you see a pre- and post- or before and after of, usually, the same property, building, landscape, map, &c. Well a few days ago, the Denver Post took the same form and used it to show the before and after of cuts to the staffroom in just five years.

What makes the photo so telling is that in the editorial describing the photo, the paper is successful. But the hedge fund managers of the paper continue to demand cuts to the overhead. And in the journalism environment that often leads to cuts in coverage or quality, and sometimes both. And for the leading—and only large circulation—paper of Denver, that is bad news, pardon the pun, for the community.

Staff before, staff after
Staff before, staff after

What makes the situation worse is that allegedly the cuts are due to poor business investments by the hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, in areas not at all related to the news industry.

Credit for the piece goes to the Denver Post graphics department.

Finding Yourself on the Pennsylvania Turnpike

I hope you all enjoyed your Easter holidays. Easter, wasn’t that two weekends ago you ask. Catholic/Protestant Easter, yes. This past weekend was Orthodox Easter. And since that is what my family celebrates, I was away on holiday this past weekend and only got back in town last night. But on the way out to the ancestral stomping grounds in western Pennsylvania, I realised that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission put a little bit of thought into the signage at their more modern service plazas.

The façade of the service plaza
The façade of the service plaza

The outside is basically what you expect, the symbol of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the name of the plaza. But if you look closer, the name of the plaza, in this case the Lawn plaza outside of Lawn, Pennsylvania, is set not just on a blue sign, but a cropping of a blue map of the commonwealth.

This is where I was, where were you?
This is where I was, where were you?

The yellow lines represent the Pennsylvania Turnpike and, with right being east, the Northeast Extension. The red star represents your current location along the turnpike system. Is this going to tell you how many miles until your next exit? No. I had to go inside and find out how many miles to Bedford, PA on a larger display map. But, this provides a wonderful low-fidelity display. After all, I roughly know where I am headed on the turnpike, and I know whence I came. So I can see that I am a little under half-way to my destination.

Credit for the piece goes to the designers of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Knuckle Cracking

I used to work with a designer who was an expert knuckle cracker. So when I saw this article from the Guardian last week, I was hoping that it contained some kind of an illustration. Thankfully it did.

Pop goes the bubble
Pop goes the bubble

What I like about the graphic is its simplicity. The illustration does not add a lot of extraneous details in the hands or fingers. Instead it focuses on a three-step zoom into the joint between the fingers and the hands, showing how the bones connect and just what happens.

So Happy Friday, all. Just relax, lean back, and—made you want to crack those knuckles, didn’t I ?

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.