European Debt Crisis Explained

The European debt crisis affects all of us. Shares fall on the exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris and London and then ripple westward to New York before finally reaching Hong Kong and Tokyo. But does anyone understand actually understand who owes whom what?

This interactive piece is yet another from the New York Times and is an online version of a print graphic that appeared in Sunday’s paper. Online, interactivity is used to focus attention on particular elements of the story, highlighting key components of the tangled debt web that anchors the whole piece. The width of the lines relate the difference between borrowers and lenders.

An Overview of the European Debt Crisis
An Overview of the European Debt Crisis

Hidden in the width of the arrows, however, is the gross lending. The lending may appear to cancel itself out, but the banks and other sources of the loans may not all be lending to each other, i.e., some big players could still take a hit if the crisis worsens.

The colours reflect the level of ‘worry’ in the country—though how worry is defined is left unstated.

Different parts of the story and potential scenarios are revealed by clicking buttons on the left-hand side of the piece. Elements of the large graphic that are not needed to tell that part of the story, though remaining pieces remain in place. This is an effective means of reminding the audience where they are situated in the overall web, but I wonder if not a slight shadow or faint trace of the web in the background could have been used instead of losing all the information entirely.

Overall, the interactive piece is quite effective in telling the story. But, because this was in the Sunday paper, the lazy afternoon paper, we also have a large-scale printed infographic that the interactive piece accompanied.

The Printed Explanation
The Printed Explanation

This has a lot more text—dreaded words—to further explain just what is happening. In my mind this adds to the story. For example, what I noted above about the net loans between two parties obscures the gross loans of both sides. This point is explicitly made about Britain and Ireland, which have enjoyed a very strong bilateral trade arrangement for a number of years. This context is added by a little text blurb crafted into the overall design of the piece.

Different scenarios are highlighted at the bottom with a reduction of the main piece creating small multiples of the diagram instead of how the interactive piece removed unnecessary elements. I think this is an equally effective means of solving that problem.

The New York Times created two separate but very much related pieces to explain a story that affects us all. The first media, the interactive piece, takes advantage of the ability to replace on the screen what is not necessary with what is necessary. Further, it allows some data that is not so relevant at first glance to be hidden. Mouse over the various lines and countries to reveal the data behind the problem for each. Do we need this information at first? No. Our first order is to try and work out the web we weaved. Well, that the bankers weaved.

That is very different than the print edition, which cannot be changed. All the content must be available at once. But, the data is made smaller because the print resolution is finer than that of a screen. Small text that might not be legible on a screen can be printed and read just fine. The printed edition also allows more space and thus more text for context. And this is okay knowing that the Sunday paper is likely to be read while relaxing with a fine cup of tea or coffee.

Credit for the piece goes to Bill Marsh.

Show Me the Money

Campaign finance is always an interesting subject during election cycles. I believe I have heard that once a congressman wins election he needs to raise $1000 per week to stand a chance of re-election in two years’ time. One need only imagine the difference in scale for presidential contests.

Or do you…

Show Me the Money
Show Me the Money

The New York Times created an interactive piece that details the financing, principally of this year’s primary campaigns, but alongside data from four years ago. Inflation hasn’t been too terrible, so the numbers are relatively comparable.

Of some note, however, is that this time around this is not an ‘open’ election. In 2008 the sitting president was term-limited and his vice president was not running so both the Republicans and Democrats were open contests for any challenger to win. In 2012, President Obama will not (likely) have to fight other Democrats for the nomination of his party and his funding can be marshalled solely against his Republican challengers. Whereas the Republican challengers need to spend considerable amounts of their funding simply to get through the primaries.

Surveying Sentiment

How do you feel about the economy?

Economic Outlook, scaled
Economic Outlook, scaled

The New York Times has posted an interesting interactive visualisation detailing the sentiment expressed by participants—defaulting to the most recent 100—answering several questions on the state of the economy. As a survey, this is—and it is framed as such—an unscientific sampling of trending opinions of only those who feel inclined to comment and are registered members of the New York Times.

What makes this more interesting is the ability to demographically filter the responses to find, for example, that the unemployed feel worse about their job status than the employed…perhaps that is not the best of examples, but, hey, it works.

One can also find the specific response tied to a marker on the field/band/spectrum of responses by mousing over and then clicking on the symbol. A little and unfortunate quirk here is that clicking on the person forces one down the page to the specific comment, but then leaves one with no easy way of returning to the broader picture short of scrolling all the way back to the top.

Less Pie for Fewer Less Fortunate Foreigners

Foreign aid is the ‘soft’ power of a country vis-a-vis the ‘hard’ power of military force. Think blankets with ‘from the USA’ during earthquake relief in Kashmir instead of Abrams tanks in Kandahar. Some also goes to building infrastructure and increasing the standard of living for those in emerging countries. If you boost the income, you boost the buying power and thus boost the total possible market size.

Scaled image of US foreign aid spending
Scaled image of US foreign aid spending

This chart, which supports this article, from the New York Times is simple but effective. Not only does it show the decreasing amount spent in terms of absolute dollars, but also as part of the overall budget. After all, one can, in theory receive a smaller (by angle) slice of pie, but if the size of the pie increases, you net more pie. And who doesn’t want more pie?

Although this is the Republican-led House of Representatives, so the pie is being made much smaller. So…

Interestingly, in Britain, where the right/centre-right Conservatives are in power (with the liberal Liberal Democrats), the government of David Cameron is also cutting spending. But there, areas like defence spending are falling under the axe. One of only two, if I recall correctly, areas not being cut is foreign aid spending. (The other is healthcare.) Furthermore, if I recall, Britain, despite its austerity drive, is actually increasing spending on foreign aid. Maybe the Brits just will have new markets for all that British engineering…

Glaciers Aren’t So Slow After All…

Antarctica is a continent way down at the southern end of the world. It is covered almost entirely by glaciers. But glaciers move, and NASA and the University of California unveiled a map looking at the speed of the glaciers’ movements. Along with it, an interesting little video showing the tributaries to the glacial flow.

Glacial Flow Map
Glacial Flow Map

from the BBC.

Tracking This Hurricane Season

Living in Chicago, hurricane season means rather little. Perhaps at worst the city would see a major rain system moving up from Texas or the Gulf Coast. But, from all my time living on the East Coast makes hurricane season a bit more meaningful if now just as an outside observer. The Weather Channel has launched a site called the Hurricane Tracker that allows you to follow the current season’s storms.

Active Tracker
Active Tracker

While there has yet to be any major activity, there have been a few named tropical systems that are present in what is called the Active Tracker. The storms are tracked geographically, showing you the precise locations where the storm was recorded and then filling out the path between points. The data includes information on strength—hurricanes are classed on a 1–5 scale with 5 being really most unpleasant—such as windspeed and pressure—hurricanes are enormous low pressure systems. The panel on the left of the screen provides a detailed history of the storm and links the recorded data points to the corresponding geographic points on the map. Currently, the storms have all been relatively minor and short-lived; watching a major storm of some duration through the charts and the map progression could be quite fascinating.

Historical Tracker
Historical Tracker

But there is also the Historical Tracker that catalogues an impressive number of previous storms. The view first loads with an overwhelming number of storm tracks, but filters for controlling the years—which includes a interactive mini-graphic of the total number of storms for each year that when clicked filters for only that year—and for location of landfall begin to significantly bring your search or exploration into focus. I have yet to find any detailed information about specific storms, the one in this screenshot being those that made landfall in the Northeast roughly during my lifespan. (I have memories of being at the shore during Hurricane Bob with the winds and rain and warning sirens making an impression.) You cannot click to focus on a particular storm, instead, a mouseover is the only way of discovering the name of a particular track. But, that may simply be an unavailable level of data, especially with the storms from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now I just hope we can use this sort of information to help develop better forecasting and modelling to help save lives and property.

Credit for the design goes to Stamen Design.

Credit Rating Distribution

A small graphic from the New York Times, this supports an article about the rarity of a credit rating of AAA in S&P 500 companies.

Distribution of Credit Ratings, per Standard and Poor's ratings.
Distribution of Credit Ratings, per Standard and Poor's ratings.

I don’t quite know about the colour, nor do I know about the efficiency of using squares to represent the units that could be used in a bar chart, but I suspect they go towards making a graphic interesting and visually compelling. Fortunately, neither actually distorts the data.

Year of the Tornado

2011 appears to be the year of the tornado, with killer tornados roaming from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and small towns in the deep South now to Joplin, Missouri. The latter now holds the record for being the most deadly, 117 confirmed deaths, in US-recorded history.

The New York Times, in its coverage of the aftermath—and the potential for more destruction with the forecasted weather—has mapped, charted, and animated data from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to illustrate the totality of the devastation witnessed this year.

The piece makes use of a map to illustrate where tornados struck and then their subsequent track, relevant geographic data, and that matches that with known fatalities using the always popular area of a circle datapoints. I am less keen on these for their cross-comparable nature, but here, in this instance, that is less the focus than the overall number of deaths and their locations. Then we also have the dataset over time with the noted caveats that, one, only in 2011 are deaths linked to counties rather than tornados as in all years past and, two, that as our ability to detect and record tornados has increased, we have more data with which to work. In short, it is not necessarily true that 1953 had less tornados than 2011.

Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados
Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados

Given the severity of the current year, and this outbreak in particular, the New York Times also created a smaller, but by no means lesser, piece to highlight just those tornados striking the Southeast. This piece maps the tornados by touchdown, date, and time. Omitted is data on fatalities or damage. However, this piece complements the larger, broader view of the above by breaking down the 2011 year, thus far, into increments of days. This is a great complementary piece that, by being separate from the first piece, allows each to shine in its own respective area.

The Outbreak of 27 April
The Outbreak of 27 April

Credit to this second piece goes to Archie Tse, Matt Ericson, and Alan McLean.

Finnish Election Results

Finland held an election that was worth watching because of the rise of a nationalist party whose name translates to True Finns. The leader of the True Finns was interviewed and at the end he reassured all watching that they “are not extremists. So you can sleep safely.” For Europe, the issue is their opposition to the bailouts of the various European economies, such as Ireland and Greece. And now that Portugal is in the midst of bailout negotiations, the True Finns could complicate matters if they manage to make it into government.

The Finnish Ministry of Justice released a small, interactive piece detailing the results. The parties are represented by acronyms, with PS for the True Finns. And here one can see that they performed third-best with about 19% of the vote. The True Finns actually beat the Centre Party, which was the leading party in the last coalition government. In short, a remarkable rise whose impact is yet unknown.

Overall Vote in Chart Form
Overall Vote in Chart Form

The interactive piece, however, is a tad confusing. While one story is certainly the improvement of the True Finns from the last election to the current one, does that need to be shown in the default view as we have here? And what I perceive to be shading or some sort of split colouration in the bars lends itself to the idea of having two separate sets of data encoded in the bar. Although I can see no such data and am thus confused.

But, fortunately, one can also change one’s views of the data, from column to bar to table. And I daresay that the table, in this instance, I find best. Not because the data could not be visualised in an interesting, compelling and comprehensible fashion, but because it was not.

Overall Vote in Table Form
Overall Vote in Table Form

Certainly, the election results provide interesting data sets. And in this case we clearly have an interesting story, the rise of the True Finns from a small, rural party of 5 seats in the Finnish parliament (200 total seats) to the third-largest party with 39 seats. Alas, this piece leads does not make it easy to tell that story—let alone the results of the election.

The Country’s Most Violent States

Do you live in a horribly violent and crime-afflicted state? Do you want to know? Well there’s a map for that.

US Peace Index Map
US Peace Index Map

From the Guardian, here we have a familiar choropleth that colours each state based on where it falls into the range from most peaceful, Maine and Vermont, to the the most violent, Louisiana and Tennessee. The map was developed using a site called chartsbin from data provided by the Global Peace Initiative.

In short, nothing fancy, but an interesting topic to visualise after the earlier world rankings. Truth be told, I think the added data in the rollover state for the US states is more meaningful than the big rank number and flag that appears in the global version.

Global Peace Index
Global Peace Index