Escaping—or Not—from the Oakland Fire

A few weeks back a fire raged through a communal, creative warehouse in Oakland. The fire claimed the lives of over thirty people. But why? We have the New York Times behind this piece which attempts to explain just what happened that night through a nice mixture of diagrammatic illustrations and photography.

This is one reason why we try to clearly signal fire exits
This is one reason why we try to clearly signal fire exits

Credit for the piece goes to Ford Fessenden and Anjali Singhvi.

The US as an Energy Exporter

Several days ago OPEC, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, announced a cut in production to raise the price of oil. This was big news because Saudi Arabia and others had kept the price low in an attempt to undercut the nascent American shale oil and gas industry. Well…that didn’t work.

In this article from Bloomberg, you can see how the United States could be positioned to become an energy superpower. But, they also lay out the various snags and pitfalls that could dim that outlook. This map from the article details the destinations thus far of America’s natural gas, in liquefied state.

Where US liquefied natural gas (LNG) has been sent
Where US liquefied natural gas (LNG) has been sent

Credit for the piece goes the Bloomberg graphics department.

Daylight Savings Time

You clearly didn’t miss this story from two weeks ago, because we all had to change our clocks. But, you might not have thought much about it. Which is fine, because I think there was an election or something a day or two later. Or was I dreaming/nightmaring?

Thankfully Andy Woodruff did think about it and he put together a really nice piece about how the changes to time affect the amount of perceived sunlight. I say perceived because obviously the same amount of sunlight falls upon the Earth, but it’s whether we can see it from underneath the covers or hidden behind our office computer monitors.

His interactive piece lets you examine scenarios based on your preferred inputs. For example, as someone who goes to work a bit later in the morning—I have to write this blog sometime, right?—I would prefer the sun to be up later into the evening. And based on my selections, that means that I should consider the argument for always using Daylight Savings Time.

Making DST year-long would make for sunlit evenings throughout the year
Making DST year-long would make for sunlit evenings throughout the year

Whereas if I valued a sunrise with daylight, I might prefer to abolish Daylight Savings Time.

Abolishing DST would mean for me more days of sunlight in the morning
Abolishing DST would mean for me more days of sunlight in the morning

Credit for the piece goes to Andy Woodruff.

Climate Change

So this is the last Friday before the election next Tuesday. Normally I reserve Fridays for less serious topics. And often xkcd does a great job covering that for me. But because of the election, I want today’s to be a bit more serious. Thankfully, we still have xkcd for that.

Recent temperature history
Recent temperature history

The screenshot above gets to the point. But the whole piece is worth a scroll-through and so it goes at the end. Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Earth's global average temperature
Earth’s global average temperature

Moving on Mosul

If you didn’t already know, the Iraqi Army and Kurdish forces are moving on Mosul, a city in northern Iraq overrun by ISIS back in 2014. The New York Times has illustrated a satellite image of the Mosul area to show how the forces are progressing in their assault on the city.

All the smoke
All the smoke

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

New Neighbours

Among the many, many stories that broke during my month-long radio silence, I got fairly excited about the discovery of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. And not just any planet, but a likely rocky planet within the star’s habitable zone. Put that all together and there is the possibility that the planet could host life as we know it. How can that not be exciting? Thankfully the Guardian put together a graphic to support an article detailing the discovery.

Our newest neighbour
Our newest neighbour

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

China’s Straddling Bus

Apologies for the lack of posts the last two days. I visited Wisconsin to trace some of the courthouse records of the Spellacys. And while I will try to return to them later next week, today we go to China.

During my recent holidays, the media made much ado about a new straddling bus in China. Except that it’s not that new. And now it might not be real or at least really viable. I recalled this graphic from 2012 via the Guardian and decided it would be relevant to try and explain how the bus should work.

How the straddling bus works
How the straddling bus works

Credit for the piece goes to Graphic News.

In Putin’s Russia Steroids Dope You

I mean really, given the rampant and pervasive nature of the Russian state-aided doping programme, how could I not use the Russian reversal? Yesterday WADA, the international anti-doping agency, released its findings on Russian doping at the Olympics. And, suffice it to say, the report is rather damning. The BBC published this graphic in an article to help demonstrate the scheme.

How it all worked
How it all worked

Unlike the evidence of doping, I find the graphic itself lacking. More could have been done to create more consistent type. Text justification ranges (pun intended) from left to right, without any clear system. Why do some stages, e.g. four, align to the right and then others, e.g. seven, align to the left?

Also, I believe more could have been done with the illustrations, in particular the bottles labelled A and B, to better differentiate between a clean sample and a contaminated sample. Why, for instance, does Step 1 include both an A and a B when it mentions only one sample?

In short, the story certainly warrants explanatory graphics, especially as to how the sealed lids were removed, but this piece is not the solution (pun also intended).

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Septa’s Silverliner Service Shutdown

Two weeks ago Philadelphia regional rail commuters, a large group to which I belonged for a number of years, experienced a week from hell. On 2 July a yard inspector for Septa, the Philadelphia region’s transit agency, discovered a Silverliner V railcar tilting. For those not familiar with Septa, the Silverliner Vs have been in service for only three years and have been long touted as the future of the Philadelphia commuter rail service. After inspection Septa discovered the tilting railcar suffered from a fatigue crack on the equaliser beam, specifically where it was welded to connect to the wheel bearings. The beam forms part of the truck, which is what connects the railcar to the rails, and any failure at speed could have resulted in an accident, possibly a derailment. The transit agency then quickly inspected the remainder of its fleet of 120 Silverliner Vs. It found the same fatigue crack in a total of 115 cars. By 4 July, Septa pulled all 120 Silverliner Vs from service.

The equaliser beam connects the wheels to the passenger car
The equaliser beam connects the wheels to the passenger car

So what happened? At this point, we do not know. Septa continues tests to discover just what happened and just what can be done to repair the cars. Because, with a fleet of approximately 400 cars, the Silverliner Vs represent 1/3 of the fleet. And with fewer seats and fewer trains, commuters attempting to ride into the city, particularly from nearer-in suburbs, find trains bypassing stations because they quickly reach capacity.

The additional passenger railcars from other regional transit agencies will make little difference
The additional passenger railcars from other regional transit agencies will make little difference

Consequently, Septa has instituted a reduced service—a modification of the Saturday service—with additional service on subways and other high-speed lines. Additionally, Septa has agreed to lease additional trainsets, i.e. locomotives with passenger cars, from other regional transit agencies: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit), and the Maryland Area Regional Commuter Train Service (MARC).