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.

Undersea Mining

Today’s piece isn’t strictly about data visualisation. Instead it’s a nice article from the BBC that explores the nascent industry of undersea mining. What caught my interest was the story of Soviet submarine K-129, which sank mysteriously in the middle of the Pacific. But that isn’t even half the story, so if you are interested go and read the article for that bit.

But that sinking may have created the beginning of the undersea mining industry. And so as I read on, I found a nice mixture of text, photography, and graphics explaining processes and such. This screenshot is a comparison of the size of an undersea mining zone compared to a land-based copper mine.

An undersea mine vs. a surface mine
An undersea mine vs. a surface mine

Some of the graphics could use some polish and finesse, but I do appreciate the effort that goes into creating pieces like this. You will note that four different people had to work together to get the piece online. But if this is perhaps the future of BBC content, this is a great start.

Credit for the piece goes to David Shukman, Ben Milne, Zoe Barthlomew, and Finlo Rohrer.

US Olympic Performance

I don’t know if you heard, but the Winter Olympics just concluded. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the Winter Olympics, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t keep my eye on some of the stories coming out of the coverage. One that I liked was this piece from FiveThirtyEight.

US performance was lagging at this point
US performance was lagging at this point

It was about halfway through the Olympics and the US was not doing terribly well. The chart does a great job of showing how various countries were performing, or over- or under-performing, their expected total medal winnings. It did this through a filled bar chart with a bar-specific benchmark line. It was a nice combination of a couple of different techniques to incorporate not just the usual above or below the trend, but also the actual amounts.

Credit for the piece goes to Gus Wezerek.

Changes to Immigration Enforcement

Almost two weeks ago I read a piece in City Lab that used three maps to look at the changes to immigration enforcement in the first year of the Trump administration. I was taken by this final map in particular.

Some geographic patterns do emerge…
Some geographic patterns do emerge…

While the map does have some large areas of N/A, it still does show some interesting geographic patterns. I think New York showcases it the best. Counties that are less involved in enforcement operations are in the southern part, near New York City. But then you can begin to get a clear sense of what is “upstate” by that break roughly parallel to both the Connecticut and Pennsylvania northern borders.

To a lesser extent you can see the same pattern play out in Pennsylvania. While far more white—as in no change on the map—the counties of orange—more involvement—are located in the interior and western counties. That is perhaps somewhat in the same space as Pennsyltucky.

Immigration is clearly an engaging topic these days, and I found this map interesting not because of its design, but because of the geographic stories it tells.

Credit for the piece goes to Victoria Beckley.

The 2017–18 Flu Season

Last week I covered the Pennsylvania congressional district map changes quite a bit. Consequently I was not able to share a few good pieces of work. Let’s hope nothing goes terribly wrong this week and maybe we can catch up.

From last Friday we have this nice piece from FiveThirtyEight looking at the spread of influenza this season.

Red is definitely bad
Red is definitely bad

The duller blues and greens give way to a bright red from south to north. Very quickly you can see how from, basically, Christmas on, the flu has been storming across the United States. It looks as if your best bets are to head to either Maine or Montana. Maybe DC, it’s too small to tell, but I kind of doubt that.

As you all know, I am a fan of small multiples and so I love this kind of work. To play Devil’s advocate, however, I wonder if an interactive piece that featured one large map could have worked better? Could the ability to select the week and then the state yield information on how the flu has spread across each state? I am always curious what other other forms and options were under consideration before they chose this path.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

It’s Friday, Can I Drink Yet?

Happy Friday, everyone. We made it through to week’s end. And you know what that means. It’s time for a drink. Thanks to one of my best mates for sharing this comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

He shared it with the comment: “I now understand your love of gin.”

Funny but true
Funny but true

Credit for the piece goes to Zach Weinersmith.