How Dragonflies Hunt

Today’s post is certainly smaller, but it’s always interesting to see how infographics and information design can help us better understand science and nature. This is a piece from the New York Times that illustrates how a dragonfly hunts its prey, fruit flies. Instead of flying straight at the fruit fly, the dragonfly plots a course that keeps it on the same line of sight with the fruit fly. The dragonfly often captures its prey where those two lines intersect, as show below.

How dragonflies hunt
How dragonflies hunt

What is really nice about this graphic is the dots that mark out 1/20 second intervals and allow you to plot the course of both animals with respect to each other. The annotations of course explain what is going on, for example when lines intersect by the dragonfly misses.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times.

North American Transit Map

Wrapping up this week of map-themed work, we have xkcd. He created an integrated map of North America’s subway systems from Vancouver to Chicago to Philadelphia to Washington to Mexico City.

I only wish I could take the Red Line from Belmont and transfer to the Market–Frankford near West Trenton. Because I could then take the (Frankford) El out to 69th Street and catch the 104 to West Chester.

Subways of North America
Subways of North America

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Cartograms

Continuing this week’s map theme, we have an example of a cartogram from the New York Times. This piece supplements an article about how some manufacturing companies are starting to look away from China as a place for their facilities. There are two maps, the first (not shown here) looks at economic output overall. The second (below) takes that output and accounts for population.

GDP per capita
GDP per capita

Hexagons are used instead of the more familiar squares to represent 500,000 people and the colour is the GDP per capita. The text accompanying the graphic explains how this is a measure of economic potential being (or not being) realised. But what the hexagons allow the map to do is better represent the shapes of the countries. Squares, more common in cartograms, create awkward box-like outlines of countries. That would be fine if countries were often shaped like squares, but they are not.

I am not often a fan of cartograms, but I find this one well executed and the annotations and explanatory text make what might otherwise be confusing far simpler to understand. All in all, a solid piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock and Keith Bradsher.

Choropleth Maps

Keeping with maps, they can be useful, but all too often people fall back upon them because it is a quick and easy way of displaying data for geographic entities. This graphic from the New York Times on ADHD is not terribly complex, but it uses a map effectively.

The article discusses how ADHD rates among states vary, but are still higher in the South. The map supports that argument. Consider how it would be different if every other state were darkened to a different shade of purple. There would be neither rhyme nor reason as to why the map was being used.

A map well done
A map well done

A subtle point worth noting is that only the states falling into the highest bin are labelled. Those are the states that best support the story. The remainder of the states are left unlabelled so as not to distract from the overall piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times.

Waste Water Disposal Wells

Today’s map comes from the Texas Tribune out of Austin, Texas. The map displays the location of disposal wells, i.e. the sites where the waste water from fracking and related drilling operations are dumped. Firstly, the map hints that the fracking industry is not spread equally across the state.

But secondly, the map does this through the use of hexagons that represent well density. So at a broad, state-wide view, the user sees almost a traditional choropleth. The difference is that these are not natural or political boundaries but rather data constructs designed to aggregate highly granular data points.

Well locations state-wide are aggregated into coloured hexagons
Well locations state-wide are aggregated into coloured hexagons

Even nicer, however, is that if you want to see where disposal wells are in your county or town, the map lets you do that too. Because as you zoom in ever closer, the individual wells appear within the hexagons that they colour. It’s a very solid piece of work.

Individual wells colour the hexagons, but are only visible up close
Individual wells colour the hexagons, but are only visible up close

Credit for the piece goes to Ryan Murphy.

Arming a Civil War

War is good for the arms business. So a long and bloody civil war in Syria is just what arms manufacturers want. And while arming the Syrian government is fairly easy, how do you get weapons and ammunition to the Syrian rebels? The New York Times maps the flow of arms through an almost Sankey-like diagram where the number of flights determines the width of the arrows from source to destination.

And while that would be sufficient information to warrant a map, the Times adds a further layer by showing when the flights arrived. Clearly the civil war began with a certain number of arms. But as the war has both drawn on and become bloodier, new weapons are needed and ammunition needs to be restocked. Those needs likely explain a recent surge in flights.

Map of routes used to arm Syrian opposition forces
Map of routes used to arm Syrian opposition forces

Credit for the piece goes to Sergio Peçanha.

New Data Visualisation Forms

Monday was an odd day, both 1 April and the start of baseball. I had a tough decision to make: Do I post a serious baseball-related piece or a humourous April Fool’s Day one instead? If you recall, I went for the serious baseball option. But that leaves me with Friday, where I try to post work that is a bit on the lighter side of life.

So here is EagerPies, published by EagerEyes on 1 April. It’s in the style of the EagerEyes site, a blog with posts about data visualisation. This selection is EagerPies work to improve upon Minard and the layering of data sets. But if you worry about complexity, fret not for they realised that encoding data in transparency would be a step too far.

Stacked scatter column pies
Stacked scatter column pies

Credit for the piece goes to EagerPies.

Proposed Expansion of Massachusetts Railway Network

When we talk about new rail projects, or even highway or airport expansions, we like to include maps of new routes and destinations. In that sense this map from the New York Times is not new. However, we often forget in such visualisations that we have the opportunity to add layers of information that show why these expansions are beneficial.

Proposed Massachusetts railway network expansion
Proposed Massachusetts railway network expansion

 

Here, note in particular how the proposed improvement projects link the dense corridor of urban settlements stretching from Boston through Worcester to Springfield. Additional lines connect more distant southerly cities such as Fall River to Boston. These might normally be seen as dots at ends of a line, but by showing the density of the population in these corridors, readers can understand how the proposed lines might benefit more people than just those living at the dots.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times.

All Fracked Up

Last week a new study revealed that the injection of wastewater from oil drilling and fracking may contribute to earthquakes. Put simply, the theory is that the wastewater injected into the ground lubricates fault lines. And when sufficiently lubricated, the resistance between sides of the fault vanishes and an earthquake is triggered to release the tension in the fault line.

Mother Jones used an animated .gif to explain just how the process of fracking works, specifically to show the wasterwater portion. I chose this piece because it is the first .gif that I have seen attempting to use the looping animation to convey information or a story, especially as an infographic. Make sure to click the image to go the Mother Jones’ article for the animated version.

Step 2 of the graphic
Step 2 of the graphic

Credit for the piece goes to Leanne Kroll and Brett Brownell.