Pulling Gene-ies Out of Bottles

I don’t always get to share more illustrative diagrams that explain things, but that’s what we have today from the Economist. It illustrated the concept of a gene drive by which a gene modified in one chromosome then modifies the remaining chromosome to insert itself there. Consequently it stands an almost 100% chance of being passed onto the subsequent generation.

Naturally this means great things for removing, say, mosquito-born diseases from populations as the gene drives can be used to ultimately eliminate the population. But of course, should we be doing this? Regardless, we have a graphic from the Economist.

I still find them a pest…
I still find them a pest…

It makes nice use of a small mosquito icon to show how engineered mosquitos can take over the population from wild-type. The graphic does a nice job showing the generational effect with the light blue wild-type disappearing. But I wonder if more could not be said about the actual gene drive itself. Of course, it could be that they simplified the process substantially to make it accessible to the audience.

Credit for the piece goes the Economist graphics department.

The Saudi Assassination Squad

Yesterday we looked at the importance of arms deals from the US and UK to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the brutal murder and assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who sometimes wrote critically of the Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) regime. But what about the actual murder itself? What do we know?

Well at some point today, President Erdogan of Turkey will give a speech, just prior to the opening of the big Saudi conference the Saudis have branded the Davos of the Desert. In Erdogan’s speech, he is expected to reveal even more of the details of the murder as collected by Turkish intelligence services. But as this story has been unfolding, the Washington Post has been collecting the details about the alleged 15-person assassination squad.

The entire piece is worth reading. It provides great detail and walks the reader through how the story was pieced together. And relevant to my blog it makes use of some nice data visualisation and design elements, including this graphic.

A few too many coincidences in this story…
A few too many coincidences in this story…

It captures some of the arrivals and departures of six of the men identified. The graphic also notes that sometimes people will not be documented because they arrive on diplomatic flights instead of commercial flights.

As for the rest, the Post used photographic evidence to show how one of the individuals was likely a bodyguard or in the security services for MBS. Phone records and the photographic records of Turkish border control were also used. Taken together, it paints a damning portrait of the supposedly modernising MBS regime.

Of course now we can only wait to see what Erdogan has to say this morning.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron C. Davis, Aaron Williams and Jason Bernert.

My Family Shrub?

One of the main objectives of my long weekend in Boston is to research my family history. Usually when you do that kind of research you see familiar visualisation forms: trees. And in this book on a New England ancestral family, I saw trees. But the problem is history is never as neat and clean as we would prefer it to be. Or at least as I would prefer it to be. And this is the tree I discovered for my ancestor George, the guy labelled N-1.

People need to stop naming their kids the same old names. It can make my research a pain in the arse.
People need to stop naming their kids the same old names. It can make my research a pain in the arse.

Normally family trees are direct lines of descent. But here the problem is that the current research cannot clearly state who the parents are of George. He can be one of two Georges, one the son of Francis and Tabitha and the other of Timothy and Elizabeth. So instead of a single trunk, we have more of a shrub-like set of parallel branches with lots of leaves.

But what I really liked about this graphic is that, one, it appears to have been made by being typeset on a typewriter instead of some fancy design software (the book was printed in 1984). And then for the researcher like me, the author took care to remove the names of people inconsequential for this particular line of enquiry. It shows the Georges of interest, including the known cousin labelled as C-1, and their parents but omits siblings. It is a very nice touch. (And made my life easier.)

Credit for the piece goes to Henry L. Bunker.

Longest Lunar Eclipse of the Year

For those of my readers in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America, you are in for a treat tonight as you get to experience the longest lunar eclipse of the year. For those of us in North America, i.e. Canada, the United States, and Mexico, we get nothing.

So for a reminder, we turn to this nice piece from Vox that explains a lunar eclipse and why they are not as common as one might expect.

It's all about the nodes
It’s all about the nodes

The piece uses illustrations like these from Vox and supplements them with graphics from NASA. The whole piece is worth a read, especially if you enjoy space things.

Enjoy your Friday, and if you live anywhere but North America, enjoy your lunar eclipse tonight.

Credit for the piece goes to Joss Fong.

Revealing the Past Through a Heatwave

The United Kingdom has been…well, enjoying is not the right word for me, so let’s just say witnessing a heatwave. And it is having some unexpected consequences. In short, things like grass will behave differently in extreme conditions when planted on soil vs. when growing atop stone, wood, or other non-natural features. This helps identify foundations and alike for long-forgotten structures. The BBC has a nice piece looking at some work just like this discovered across the British Isles.

The house was known about, but the details are still fascinating.
The house was known about, but the details are still fascinating.

Credit for the piece goes to Paul Hancock and PH Aerial Photograph.

Rescuing a Trapped Thai Football Team

For much of the last two weeks the world has followed the drama unfolding in Thailand, where a youth football team has been trapped underground in a partially flooded cave complex. This weekend, rescuers, who had overcome a daunting challenge of simply finding them, began extracting the boys. And this graphic from the BBC shows just how challenging their extraction will be.

In particular I like this map. It illustrates both the path of the cave, but also shows how uneven the interior structure is. It does that by showing select cross sections with a person to scale. Some parts are so small and narrow that people can barely squeeze through.

I wouldn't like being in there one bit
I wouldn’t like being in there one bit

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Southwest 1380

On Tuesday, Southwest Flight 1380 made an emergency landing here in Philadelphia after the Boeing 737-700’s port engine exploded. One passenger died, reportedly after being partially sucked out of the aircraft after the explosion broke a window. But the pilot managed to land the aircraft with only one engine and without any further deaths.

I wanted to take a look at some of the eventual graphics that would come out to visually explain the story. And as of Thursday, I have seen two: one from the Guardian and another from the New York Times.

The Guardian’s piece is the simpler of the two, but captures the key data. It locates the engine and the location of the window blown out by debris from the engine.

The Guardian's graphic
The Guardian’s graphic

The New York Times’ piece is a bit more complex (and accompanied elsewhere in the article by a route map). It shows the seat of the dead passenger and the approximate locations of other passengers who provided quotes detailing their experiences.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

So the first thing that struck me was the complexity of the graphic. The Times opted for a three-dimension model whereas the Guardian went with a flat, two-dimensional schematic of the aircraft. Notice, though, that the seating layout is different.

Four rows ahead of the circled window location are two seats, likely an exit row, in the Guardian’s graphic where in the Times’ piece they have a full three-seat configuration. If you check seating charts—seatguru.com was the first site that came up in the Google for me—you can see that neither configuration actually matches what the seating chart says should be the layout for a 737-700. Instead it, the Guardian’s more closely resembles the 737-800 model.

The 737-700 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-700 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-800 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-800 layout from SeatGuru.com

Nerding out on aircraft, I know. But, it is an interesting example of looking at the details in the piece. The Guardian’s piece is far closer to the layout, as least as provided by SeatGuru, and the New York Times’ is more representative of a generic narrow-body aircraft.

Personally, I prefer the Guardian in this case because of its improved accuracy at that level of detail. Though, the New York Times does offer some nice context with the passenger quotes. Unfortunately, the three-dimensional model ultimately provides just a flavour of the story, compared to the drier, but more accurate, schematic depiction of the Guardian.

Credit for the Guardian piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.

Credit for the New York Times piece goes to Anjali Singhvi, Sahil Chinoy, and Yuliya Parshina-Kottas.

Knuckle Cracking

I used to work with a designer who was an expert knuckle cracker. So when I saw this article from the Guardian last week, I was hoping that it contained some kind of an illustration. Thankfully it did.

Pop goes the bubble
Pop goes the bubble

What I like about the graphic is its simplicity. The illustration does not add a lot of extraneous details in the hands or fingers. Instead it focuses on a three-step zoom into the joint between the fingers and the hands, showing how the bones connect and just what happens.

So Happy Friday, all. Just relax, lean back, and—made you want to crack those knuckles, didn’t I ?

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Circle This

Last week I met a friend for drinks and part of our conversation was about how on a trip to east Asia, he flew from New York and then over the North Pole. The North Pole! I then explained it was cool, but not unique. Instead aircraft typically fly between destinations via great circles. Basically, the shortest distance between two points on the Earth is a straight line, but remember the Earth is not exactly flat. Its spherical nature means that the shortest distance sometimes is what you would see as a curve on a flat map. And sometimes, those curves are shortest when plotted over the North Pole, because unlike a flat map, the east and west ends really do connect.

Lo and behold, yesterday the Economist published a piece about a new non-stop flight between London and Perth, on Australia’s southwest coast. The graphic shows the ten longest commercial flight paths. And what do you know, one of the longest is a soon-to-be flight from New York to Singapore that flies near the North Pole.

Great circles are cool.
Great circles are cool.

Of course the key to this type of diagram is the type of projection. Instead of using the Mercator-like map made popular by direction-focused maps like those of Google, here we see an orthographic presentation. It presents the Earth as if we were to see it from space, allowing us to see the fullness of the flight paths. Tellingly, those that appear to cross the middle of the map are shown as straight lines (Atlanta to Johannesburg), but those nearer the edges show the curvature of the great circles (Houston to Sydney).

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

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.