The Atom

We made it to the end of the week, everyone. And that is worth celebrating. Today’s post is for all the scientists out there and anyone who has ever been interested in the atom. You know, the little things that make up matter. xkcd put together a chronological history of several different models of the atom that attempt to explain its structure.

I have to love that 538 model.
I have to love that 538 model.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Border Arrests

We move from one manufactured crisis to another today as we look at a piece by the Economist on the number of illegal immigrants arrested at the US southern border. Lately, here in the United States we have been hearing of an invasion on our southern border. Illegal immigrants streaming across the border. Except, that is not true. In fact, illegal immigration is at or near its lowest rate in recent years.

Note how few there have been in recent years…
Note how few there have been in recent years…

The graphic does one thing really well and that is its unorthodox placement of the map. Instead of the usual orientation, here the designers chose to “tilt” the map so that the border segments roughly align with the sets of charts below them. I might have desaturated the map a little bit and cut off the gradient so Mexico does not bleed through underneath the bars, but the concept overall is really nice.

On the other hand, we have the bar charts arranged like funnels. This does allow the reader to see the slopes trending towards zero, however, it makes it incredibly difficult to see changes in smaller numbers. And without a scale on the axis, the reader has to take the bars and mentally transpose them on top of the grey bars in the bottom right corner. I wonder if a more traditional set of bar charts in small multiples could have worked better beneath the map.

Overall, however, I really do like this piece because of the way the map and the bar charts interact in their positioning.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

What’s Next, Brexit?

A no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government, that’s what.

For those not familiar with parliamentary democracies, basically a no confidence vote is held when a substantial number of members of parliament have just that, no confidence, in the government of the day. The legislative body then votes and if the government wins, the government stays in power. If the government loses, typically, though not always, a new election is held to create a distribution of seats—it’s thought—that will yield a government that can hold the confidence. (There really is not an analogy for this in the US government that I can think of.)

To be fair, nobody really expects May’s government to collapse this afternoon. The Tories and her Democratic Unionist Party (a small Northern Irish party supporting the government) do not want to hold new elections nor do they want to give the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, the chance to form his own government as much as they might despise May and her Brexit deal. So in all likelihood May survives by a dozen or so votes. On the other hand, the result yesterday was surprising in its scale, so could twenty or so of the 118 Tories who voted no vote against May? Possibly.

So then what next? Thankfully the Guardian put together two calendars showing just what happens and, crucially, in the context of how much time remains until the UK crashes out of the EU.

In case she wins, as we expect.

It still doesn't leave a lot of time to figure out what to do.
It still doesn’t leave a lot of time to figure out what to do.

If she loses, which is possible, but unlikely.

The UK would have even less time in this scenario.
The UK would have even less time in this scenario.

The key thing to note is that the election campaign would eat up most of the time left and leave the UK very little time to do anything but ask the EU for an extension.

These are two small, but really nicely done graphics.

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

The Brexit Deal Vote

Today’s (one of) the day(s). For those of you who haven’t followed Brexit, the British Parliament will vote this evening on whether to accept the deal Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the European Union…or not. And if not, well, the government now only has three—instead of the original 21—days to figure out a Plan B.

Of course this vote is only happening today because the government punted back in December when it was clear they were going to suffer a substantial loss. And back then, the BBC prepared this article about Brexit, where it was and where it was going. Funny thing is, after a month, not much has changed.

The screenshot below is of the process. As I noted above, the most critical change is that the government no longer has 21 business days to figure out what’s next. So instead of, to use the American football phrase, running out the clock, May will have to come up with something and present it to Parliament before 29 March, the day the UK leaves by statute.

How neat and orderly it must all seem…
How neat and orderly it must all seem…

I think the thing missing from the graphic is the chaos that happens if the deal is rejected. And while that may have been far from clearly the most obvious result two and a half years ago, it is now. And Parliament is scheduled to start voting around 19.00 GMT, or 14.00 EST for those of us on the East Coast or 13.00 CST for those of you in the Midwest.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The World Grows On and On

I mentioned this this time last year, but I used to make a lot of datagraphics about GDP growth. The format here has not changed and so there is nothing new to look at there. But, the content is still interesting. And the accompanying Economist article makes the point that high growth rates are not always what they seem. After all, Syria’s high growth rate is because its base is so small.

The 2019 GDP growth forecasts
The 2019 GDP growth forecasts

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

New Plans for Old Subways

The New Yorkers among my readers know about the whole planned shutdown of the L train for repairs owing to Hurricane Sandy (tangentially mentioned in the graphic I commented upon yesterday). For those of you who don’t know, basically the salt water from the storm seriously damaged the tunnels and a whole lot of work needs to be done to repair them. The plan was that a segment of the line would be shut down, to no obvious insignificance to commuters along the route, and it would reopen in a year and a half.

Then the state governor realised that might be bad optics and since he controls the agency running the New York subway system, he cancelled the shutdown so engineers can look at a different type of design.

I love pieces like this one from the New York Times. They are not crazy and wide-ranging, instead we have illustrations to compare the plans. They do a really nice job complementing the story without overwhelming it.

The proposed design
The proposed design

Plus, I’m a sucker for train and infrastructure stories.

Credit for the piece goes to Anjali Singhvi and Mika Gröndahl.

PECO Outages Five Years Ago

Christmas time is a time when people receive gifts. Well this year was no different and I received a few. One, however, was in a box stuffed with old newspaper pages. And it turns out one of said pages had a graphic on it. So let us spend today looking at this little blast from the past.

The piece looks at PECO outages, PECO being the Philadelphia region’s main electricity supplier. The article is full page and is both headed and footed with photography, the graphic in which we are interested sits centre stage in the middle of the page.

Full page design.
Full page design.

Overall the graphic is fairly compact and works well at showing the distribution of the outages, which the bar chart below the choropleth shows was historically significant. (Despite my years in Chicago, I was somehow in the area for all but the storm written about and can confirm that they were, in fact, disruptive.)

Ice storms suck.
Ice storms suck.

The choropleth works, but I question the colour scheme. The bins diverge at about 50%, which to my knowledge marks no special boundary other than “half”. If that yellow bin represented, say, the average number of outages per storm or the acceptable number of outages per storm, sure, I could buy it. Otherwise, this is really just degrees of severity along one particular axis. I would have either kept the bins all red or all blue and proceeded from a light of either to a dark of either.

I probably would have also dropped Philadelphia entirely from the map, but I can understand how it may be important to geographically anchor readers in the most populous county to orientate themselves to a story about suburbia.

Lastly, I have one data question. With power lines down during an ice storm, I would be curious to see less of the important roadways as the map depicts and other variables. What about things like average temperature during the storm? Was the more urban and built-up Delaware County less susceptible because of an urban heat bubble preventing water from freezing? Or what about trees? Does the impact in the more rural areas have anything to do with increasing numbers of trees as one heads away from the city?

Those last data questions were definitely out of scope for the graphic, but I nevertheless remain curious. But then again, this piece is almost five years old. Just a look at how some graphical forms remain in use because of their solid ability to communicate data. Long live the bar chart. Long live the choropleth.

Credit for the piece goes to the Philadelphia Inquirer graphics department.

Feathered Raptors

Well we made it to Friday. Admittedly, for many of us it was a short week.  But we can end it all the same with this piece from xkcd. It asks the question, are feathered dinosaurs scary? Back when they made the first Jurassic Park, we didn’t know how prevalent feathers were and so the dinosaurs were scaly. Now the Jurassic World films keep the dinosaurs scaly because, well, anti-science?

I think feathered raptors would be terrifying
I think feathered raptors would be terrifying

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Anak Krakatau

During my winter holiday to London the volcano Anak Krakatau erupted, sending enormous amounts of material sliding into the ocean. The displaced water had to go somewhere and travelled as a tsunami that devastated the Indonesian coastline.

Of course Anak Krakatau is one of several remnants of the much larger volcano of Krakatoa that erupted several times, perhaps most famously in 1883. Anak Krakatau specifically emerged in the late 1920s and has been building ever since until it collapsed almost two weeks ago. But by how much did it collapse?

Until just a few days ago, the skies above the volcano have not permitted detailed photography. But within the last day or so we have started to get images and the BBC put together this piece that looks at Anak Krakatau before and after.

Before on the left, after on the right
Before on the left, after on the right

It is a fairly common convention these days, the slider overtop the two images. But conceptually it shows clearly how the shape of the island has changed, in particular the new bay that has emerged. The other remarkable feature is the extension of land to the presumably east (right) of the image.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.