The Stunted Growth of North Korea

This piece from the BBC is a few years old, but it provides some interesting nuggets about North Korea. Unsurprisingly it appeared on my radar because of the coverage of the Trump–Kim summit in Vietnam. The article says it is nine charts that tell you all you need to know about North Korea. Now, I do not think that is quite true, but it does contain the following graphic—I hesitate to call it a chart—that illustrates one of my favourite details.

It's just a matter of inches
It’s just a matter of inches

The two figures illustrate the average height of a person from North Korea and then South Korea. What do you see? That the North Korean is shorter. This is despite the fact that the populations were the same just a few decades ago. The impact of years of malnutrition, undernourishment, and general lack of well-being have manifested themselves in the physical reduction of size of human beings compared to their nearly identical population to the south.

Thankfully the rest of the piece contains data on things like GDP, birth rates, and life expectancy. So there are some things in there that one should know about North Korea. As much as I find the story of height interesting, I struggle to think it is one of the nine things you should really know about the state.

Credit for the piece goes to Mark Bryson, Gerry Fletcher, and Prina Shah.

Trump’s Executive Time

Tonight President Trump will give his State of the Union address, the annual speech about the president’s goals and agenda. Today I have a work meeting about management practices. So when I read this piece yesterday by Axios on Trump’s schedule (from a leak of November and December dates), I figured what better piece to highlight here on Coffeespoons.

All the orange…
All the orange…

To be fair, the concept is pretty straightforward. We have a stacked bar chart with each type of time block represented by a colour. Because the focus of the piece is the Executive Time blocks, I really think the designer did a great job summing the other types of time, e.g. travel and meetings, into one bin. And by being a lighter colour on nearly the same scale as the grey, it helps the orange Executive Time pop. Clearly Executive Time dominates the schedule, which as many analysts have been pointing out, is a departure from recent past presidents.

And, if you’re curious how the time blocks compare, elsewhere in the piece is a stacked bar chart summing all the types of time. Not surprisingly, most of his schedule is Executive Time.

Credit for the piece goes to Lazaro Gamio.

A Not so Dry January

January has ended, and with it for, apparently, a very few Britons, Dry January. The Economist looked at alcohol consumption, using a proxy of beer sales, and compared that against the number of times people searched for “Dry January” on Google.

Not so dry after all…
Not so dry after all…

What I really like about this chart is that it does not try to combine the two series into one. Instead, by keeping the series separate on different plots, the reader can clearly examine the trends in both searches and consumption.

You also run into the problem of how to overlay two different scales. By placing one line atop the other, the user might implicitly understand that as higher or better than the lower series when, one, that may not be true. Or, two, the scales are so different they prevent the direct comparison the chart would otherwise imply as possible.

Here, the designers rightly chose to separate the two plots, and then highlighted the month of January. (I also enjoy the annotation of the World Cup.) I might have gone so far as to further limit the palette and make both series the same colour, but I understand the decision to make them distinct.

But, overall, as the piece points out, drinking in Britain seems to correlate to the weather/temperature. People go out to the pubs more on warmer days than colder. But regardless of any post-holiday hangover, they still consumer beer in January.

I’ll drink to that.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Cold, Dangerous Cold

It’s cold out in Chicago. And not just the usual winter cold, but record-setting cold. And when the temperature gets that low, when you mix in a little bit of wind, it can become dangerous very quickly. In an article about the weather conditions in the Midwest, the BBC included this graphic at the end.

You don't want to be in the lower right
You don’t want to be in the lower right

Even the slightest bit of wind decreases the time one has before frostbite sets in. So wrap up and stay warm, everyone.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

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.

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.

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.

More on California’s Dry Heat

Yesterday we looked at the wildfire conditions in California. Today, we look at the Economist’s take, which brings an additional focus on the devastation of the fires themselves. However, it adds a more global perspective and looks at the worldwide decline in forest fires and both where and why that is the case.

California isn't looking too…hot. Too soon?
California isn’t looking too…hot. Too soon?

The screenshot here focuses on California and combines the heat and precipitation we looked at yesterday into a fuel-aridity index. That index’s actual meaning is simplified in the chart annotations that indicate “warmer and drier years” further along the x-axis. The y-index, by comparison, is a simpler plot of the acres burned in fires.

This piece examines more closely that link between fires and environmental conditions. But the result is the same, a warming and drying climate leaves California more vulnerable to wildfires. However, the focus of the piece, as I noted above, is actually on the global decline of wildfires.

Only 2% of wildfires are actually in North America, the bulk occur in Africa. And the piece uses a nice map to show just where those fires occur. In parallel the text explains how changing economic conditions in those areas are lessening the risk of wildfire and so we are seeing a global decline—even with climate change.

Taken with yesterday’s piece with its hyper-California focus, this provides a more global context of the problem of wildfires. It’s a good one-two read.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Dry Heat Is Only Part of California’s Problem

Wildfires continue to burn across in California. One, the Camp Fire in northern California near Chico, has already claimed 77 lives. But why has this fire been so deadly?

FiveThirtyEight explained some of the causes in an article that features a number of charts and graphics. The screenshot below features a scatter plot looking at the temperature and precipitation recorded from winter through autumn every year since 1895.

The evolving California climate
The evolving California climate

The designers did a good job of highlighting the most recent data, separating out 2000 through 2017 with the 2018 data highlighted in a third separate colour. But the really nice part of the chart is the benchmarking done to call out the historic average. Those dotted lines show how over the last nearly two decades, California’s climate has warmed. However, precipitation amounts vary. (Although they have more often tended to be below the long-term average.)

I may have included some annotation in the four quadrants to indicate things like “hotter and drier” or “cooler and wetter”, but I am not convinced they are necessary here. With more esoteric variables on the x- and y-axis they would more likely be helpful than not.

The rest of the piece makes use of a standard fare line chart and then a few maps. Overall, a solid piece to start the week.

Credit for the piece goes to Christie Aschwanden, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Maggie Koerth-Baker and Ella Koeze.

Amazon’s Selection for HQ2

Well this week Amazon finally chose not just one city for its HQ2, but two—New York and Washington. Of course Philadelphia had been angling for the site. Alas, it was not to be. So let’s work with that for this Friday post.

No Amazon in Philadelphia
No Amazon in Philadelphia

Credit for this one is mine.