Where Is That Pesky Mason–Dixon Line?

It’s no big secret that genealogy and family history are two of my big interests and hobbies. Consequently, on rainy days I sometimes like to enjoy an episode or two of Who Do You Think You Are (I prefer the UK version, but the American one will do too) or Finding Your Roots. So I decided to watch one last night about Megan Mullally of Will & Grace fame. Long story short, her family has a connection to Philadelphia (only one block away from where I presently live) and so I paid a bit of attention to the map.

Now, DRM prevented me from taking a straight screenshot, so this is a photo of a screen—my apologies. But there is something to point out.

Mason and Dixon would be disappointed
Mason and Dixon would be disappointed

The borders are wrong. So I made a quick annotation pointing out the highlights as it relates to Pennsylvania.

So many mistakes…
So many mistakes…

Credit for the piece goes to the Who Do You Think You Are graphics department.

The annotations are mine, though as for their geographic accuracy, they are approximate. I mean after all, I’m using Photoshop to put lines on a photograph of a laptop screen.

Leaf Peeping

Autumn arrived this week in Philadelphia. And with the cooler weather came blustery winds blowing yellowing leaves from city trees. The yellows and reds of trees beneath blue skies makes for some great photography. But what is really going on? Thankfully, the Washington Post published an article exploring where and why the leaves change colour (or don’t).

The star of the piece is the large map of the United States that shows the dominant colours of forests.

All the colours
All the colours

Little illustrations and annotations dot the map showing how particular trees (whose leaf shapes are shown) turn particular colours. The text in the piece elaborates on that and explains what is going on with pigments in the leaves. It adds to that how weather can impact the colour change.

Later on in the piece, a select set of photos for specific locations show at a more micro-level, how and where leaf colours change.

Overall, a solid piece for those of you who enjoy leaf peeping to read before this weekend.

Credit for the piece goes to Lauren Tierney and Joe Fox.

Brexit Deal 2.0

I’ve been trying to work on a Syrian changing alliances graphic, but the Brexit news today scuppered that. Instead, we take a look at Boris’ deal, which differs from May’s in that it chucks out the notion of territorial integrity, creating a border in the Irish Sea where goods will have to be inspected. My old Brexit trilemma graphic shows the new deal’s fundamental choices.

Shifting priorities
Shifting priorities

But how does this exiting the customs union and single market work? Well, the whole of the UK is leaving the customs union, but on the single market, there Northern Ireland remains in, aligned to the EU, whereas the rest of the UK is leaving. Ports will screen for some goods to ensure compliance with UK officials ensuring EU standards.

There are still questions about how this will all shake out
There are still questions about how this will all shake out

The BBC graphic above is pretty straightforward, showing the new border as a dotted line. But the border is there. There is still quite a bit we don’t know. And most important of those questions is can Boris get his deal through Parliament? Remember, he tossed 20 MPs out of the party. And there are signals that the DUP, a conservative Northern Irish party that provides the crucial backing votes to the Tories to ensure the Tory majority (before, again, Boris kicked out 20 of his own MPs), will vote against the deal because it separates them from the rest of the UK.

Credit for the trilemma is mine.

Credit for the BBC graphic goes to the BBC graphics department.

Americans Retreat, Turks Invade, Syrians Return, Kurds Die

I did not have a lot of time to cover this story last week. So let us try to get into it a little bit today. The New York Times published this morning an article about what is next for Syria, titling the online version 4 Big Questions About Syria’s Future. So I went with four statements about what is happening today for the title of this post.

If you somehow missed it, President Trump announced that American forces were retreating from the Syrian–Turkish border because Turkey wanted to invade Syria and crush the Kurds, a minority population in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. There, in Turkey, Kurdish separatists have fought a war for autonomy if not independence from Ankara. (I am dramatically oversimplifying this.) The group that organised these attacks, which Turkey considers terrorism, has ties to the Kurds in Syria that have organised a relatively peaceful and stable region of Syria during the Syrian Civil War—no small feat. But because of those ties, and because Turkey fears an independent Kurdistan on its border, Ankara decided to invade Syria and crush the Kurds and has launched heavy and devastating airstrikes alongside a ground invasion to that end.

Of course the Syrians would like to regain control of their entire country. But they had left the Kurds in relative peace as the Syrians shifted most of their forces from the northeast to places like Homs and Aleppo where they fought the various opposition forces and then the jihadists and then ISIS. The Syrians and Kurds did occasionally skirmish, but these were often far smaller engagements than the heavier fighting in the west of the country.

But now the Syrian army and air force, weary but battle hardened, having retaken control over most of western and central Syria, can move back into northeastern Syria where the Kurds have power and re-exert control. The Kurds have asked the Syrians (and the Russians) for help repelling the Turkish invasion and both countries seem eager to oblige.

Amidst all of this, Kurds die.

But the New York Times article does a really nice job explaining all of this and it frames the answers to its questions around three maps. This screenshot is from the main one that shows the sites of Turkish airstrikes and Turkey’s desired buffer zone (though there are reports Turkish forces are pushing well past that line).

It's all a mess right now
It’s all a mess right now

The maps uses the four colours to represent the four main power blocs. The others provide additional context, especially in terms of the ethnic makeup of Syria. Overall it is a solid piece that goes a long way towards showing just how messed up things have gotten since Wednesday.

Here, the annotations help identify key battlegrounds and locations. But since being published this is already out of date, as there are reports that the Syrians alongside Russian troops have retaken the town of Manbij. Suffice it to say this is a fluid situation and by tomorrow this could all be different.

Credit for the piece goes to Anne Barnard, Anjali Singhvi, Sarah Almukhtar, Allison McCann, and Jin Wu.

Oh the Places I’ve Been

This afternoon I am off on a flight to Austin, Texas for a friend’s wedding in nearby Kyle, Texas. Two years in a row I’ve been to Texas in October. And so that felt like a good enough reason to update my counties visited map that, according to my files, I haven’t updated since 2015.

In those four years, before I moved from Chicago to Philadelphia, I explored Wisconsin for genealogy purposes. Then after said move, I have visited Las Vegas for bachelor party—now the furthest west in the United States I have ever visited. And work trips have sent me to St. Louis and Dallas, the former of which allowed me a nice train ride from St. Louis to Chicago across central Illinois. I have also done some genealogy research up in western New York bookending a bachelor party to the Finger Lakes.

I'm clearly an East Coast guy with a decent representation of the Midwest.
I’m clearly an East Coast guy with a decent representation of the Midwest.

At a state level that makes 23 states visited plus two through which I’ve travelled (Connecticut and Rhode Island). Plus I’ve visited DC. Almost halfway there to visiting half the United States.

With the wedding Saturday, I am on holiday Friday. Plus, Monday is a bank holiday and so I will be posting again from Tuesday.

Back to Being Runnerup

Another week, another Wednesday, another night of pub trivia tonight. So after several weeks of disappointing scores and placement, the last few weeks has seen us triumphantly returning to second place. And so what better way to show that than showing our rank at the end of each night.

Consistently second.
Consistently second.

More encouragingly, as the line chart shows, we’ve been becoming more competitive. Our number of points behind the first place team has been dropping. Last week, for example, we were only one point off from first place.

Credit for this is mine.

The Vaping Outbreak Spreads

And now with more deaths.

On Friday, Pennsylvania reported its first death from the vaping disease spreading across the country. So I decided I would take a moment to update the map I made a month ago charting the outbreak. Then, the CDC had tallied 450 cases. Now we are at 1080. And whereas last time New England, parts of the deep South, and the Southwest were untouched, now the disease is everywhere but New Hampshire and Alaska.

But we are starting to see a pattern in a clustering of high numbers of cases around Lake Michigan and the Upper Midwest. Though I should point out these bin breakdowns come from the CDC. They did not provide more granular data.

Now with deaths in Pennsylvania.
Now with deaths in Pennsylvania.

Credit for this piece goes to me.

The Roaming Life of Rev. Dr. Stephen Remington

As many of you are aware, one of my personal interests is in genealogy and my family history. And sometimes, data visualisation can help make sense of my research. This past weekend, I was looking through some of my notes on my great-great-great-great-grandfather, a man named Stephen Remington.

One of the outstanding questions is who was his wife, a woman named Eliza Ann. Her surname might be either Garretson or Caustin. So I used a timeline of Stephen’s residences to see if any his residences overlapped with similar surnames. It sort of did, but not until after the year he married her. So still more work is needed.

But then I decided with a few tweaks I could actually plot out where he lived, because he lived all over. His earliest years are a bit of a mystery, because his parents are both unknown and they both died during Stephen’s youth.

Ridgefield was home to a small cluster of Remingtons. Were they related?
Ridgefield was home to a small cluster of Remingtons. Were they related?

In his earlier years he was what was called a circuit rider. Before there were large, dense settlements of people, the rural and frontier people relied upon essentially travelling ministers. The ministers had a responsibility for a small (sometimes large) area. And early in Stephen’s life his circuit riding kept pushing him north up the Hudson River with occasional postings back to New York City.

Rhinebeck is the town demanding my closer attention for Eliza's sake.
Rhinebeck is the town demanding my closer attention for Eliza’s sake.

Eventually, however, he ended up preaching in Massachusetts, where he separately earned his medical doctorate from Harvard University. He practiced medicine on the side for years. Then in 1846 he converted from the Methodist church to the Baptist church. He wrote about it in a notable book/pamphlet: Reasons for Becoming a Baptist.

From then he became an itinerant pastor, never staying at a single congregation for more than five years or so. He travelled from New York to Philadelphia to Louisville for several months then back to New York.

Evidently his time in Louisville was short, possibly because of anti-slavery views.
Evidently his time in Louisville was short, possibly because of anti-slavery views.

He preached as a Baptist for twenty-plus more years before finally settling in Brooklyn, where he died at the age of 66. He lived all over the mid-Atlantic, especially the Hudson River Valley. And while he returned to places over the years, notably New York City, he appears to have never stayed in one place longer than maybe five years.

That was a lot of places for Stephen to hang his hat.
That was a lot of places for Stephen to hang his hat.

As for Eliza, she died in 1850. But I wonder if she may be related to a cluster of Garretsons that lived in Rhinebeck, which included the famous Reverend Freeborn Garretson, a circuit riding Methodist minister.

The daughter born in Hartford is my direct ancestor. She eventually married a man in New York City with the surname Miller. Then, after having a son (my next direct ancestor), she upped and moved to Wisconsin and married another man with the surname Miller, who was not related to the first. There is talk of a divorce, but no record of it. Could she have been a bigamist? That’s a story for another day.

Westerns

Next week I am heading west. And by west I mean Austin, Texas. I mean you could argue that Austin is more south than west, but if you throw a “×” in there you get South × Southwest. Anyway, the allure of the western remains strong and that reminded me of an old xkcd piece reflecting on the relative length of the western period vs. the “west” in American culture.

Still not a fan of either…
Still not a fan of either…

It’s kind of like how M*A*S*H lasted far longer than the actual Korean War.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Urban Heat Islands

Yesterday was the first day of 32º+C (90º+F) in Philadelphia in October in 78 years. Gross. But it made me remember this piece last month from NPR that looked at the correlation between extreme urban heat islands and areas of urban poverty. In addition to the narrative—well worth the read—the piece makes use of choropleths for various US cities to explore said relationship.

My neighbourhood's not bad, but thankfully I live next to a park.
My neighbourhood’s not bad, but thankfully I live next to a park.

As graphics go, these are effective. I don’t love the pure gradient from minimum to maximum, however, my bigger point is about the use of the choropleth compared to perhaps a scatter plot. In these graphics that are trying to show a correlation between impoverished districts and extreme heat, I wonder if a more technical scatterplot showing correlation would be effective.

Another approach could be to map the actual strength of the correlation. What if the designers had created a metric or value to capture the average relationship between income and heat. In that case, each neighbourhood could be mapped as how far above or below that value they are. Because here, the user is forced to mentally transpose the one map atop the other, which is not easy.

For those of you from Chicago, that city is rated as weak or no correlation to the moderately correlated Philadelphia.

I lived near the lake for eight years, and that does a great deal for mitigating temperature extremes.
I lived near the lake for eight years, and that does a great deal for mitigating temperature extremes.

Granted, that kind of scatterplot probably requires more explanation, and the user cannot quickly find their local neighbourhood, but the graphics could show the correlation more clearly that way.

Finally, it goes almost without saying that I do not love the red/green colour palette. I would have preferred a more colour-blind friendly red/blue or green/purple. Ultimately though, a clearer top label would obviate the need for any colour differentiation at all. The same colour could be used for each metric since they never directly interact.

Overall this is a strong piece and speaks to an important topic. But the graphics could be a wee bit more effective with just a few tweaks.

Credit for the piece goes to Meg Anderson and Sean McMinn.