A Macedonia by any Other Name

As someone who loves geography and maps, I have plenty of printed atlases and map books. One year, as a gift, my family gave me an early 20th century atlas. That one in particular is remarkable because of how much the world changed between 1921 and 2019—what was French West Africa is now several independent countries.

But our maps may be changing again as Greece has now formally recognised the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as North Macedonia, what most of the world simply calls Macedonia. But Greeks do not want you to confuse that Macedonia with the Macedonia (or Macedon) of Ancient Greece and Alexander the Great. The squabble over the name has prevented what will be North Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO because of Greek objections.

As the Economist recently showed, however, it might take a little while before the name Macedonia catches on with the public at large. (Note, I intended to type North Macedonia but instead went with Macedonia. I opted to leave it incorrect just to show how difficult it will be.)

What's in a name?
What’s in a name?

The plot uses my favourite small multiples to look at six countries whose names have changed. Some of you may be unfamiliar with the originals. Bechuanaland may be the most obscure, but Burma and Ceylon may be far more familiar. Of course the historian in me then wonders why the mentions of countries spiked in books. But small multiples are usually not the place to do detailed annotations to humour an audience of one.

In terms of its design, we have an effective use of colour and line. I may have dropped the thin red line for the max 100 value as it makes the piece a bit busy overall, but that might just be house style.

Of course for this graphic in particular, we will have to wait several years before we can add Macedonia/North Macedonia to the plot.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Where is the North Pole?

We have two North Poles. The most commonly known is the geographic north pole that sits at the top of the world. We also have the magnetic north pole, which is where your compass points when you are lost in the woods. But, the magnetic north pole is not static and in fact moves. (In Earth’s past, the north and the south pole have actually flipped so north is south and south is north.)

In this piece from the New York Times, we have a nice map from Jonathan Corum that shows the movement of the magnetic north pole over time. The map is a nice orthographic projection centred on the geographic north pole.

No matter where you go, there you are.
No matter where you go, there you are.

Of course the centre of the displayed map is not the north pole, as the designer cropped it to show the movement from Canada towards Siberia. What I really like is that the line is actually a series of dots. Of course we do not know if each dot is an actual measurement or an interpolation of the determined magnetic north pole, and that should be made clearer. But, I like to think that each dot is a point in the movement of the pole.

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum.

The Intersection of Geography and Politics

We made it to the end of the week, everybody. And to help celebrate, xkcd posted a little comic that contains two of my favourite subjects: geography and politics. In particular, the piece looks at the 2020 election and plate tectonics.

Break it all apart
Break it all apart

One doesn’t often hear of the Midcontinent Rift System.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

The Changing Shape of Anak Krakatau

A few weeks ago we took a look at an interactive piece from the BBC that used a slider to show before and after photos of Anak Krakatau. For those that forget, that was the volcano that exploded and created a tsunami in Indonesia, which killed over 400 people. Well, geography is always changing and so has the shape of the volcano.

The BBC published a piece about two weeks ago that looked at new details from a Finnish radar satellite. These show how the crater of the volcano has been cut off from the ocean and is now a little lake.

Maybe not the most ideal lounging lagoon
Maybe not the most ideal lounging lagoon

This piece is not really revolutionary in its design. But it does provide a nice follow-up on a story that piqued my interest.

Credit for the piece goes to ICEYE.

Chinese Urban Clusters

Yesterday the Economist posted a graphic about Chinese urban clusters, of which the Chinese government is planning to create 19 as part of a development strategy. In terms of design, though, I saw it and said, “I remember doing something like that several years ago”.

The Economist piece looks at just the geography of the Chinese clusters. It highlights three in particular it discusses within the article while providing population numbers for those clusters. Spoiler: they are large.

The Economist graphic does little else beyond labelling the cities and the highlighting of the three features clusters. But that is perfectly okay, because that was probably all the graphic was required to do. I am actually impressed that they were able to label every city on the map. As you will see, we quickly abandoned that design idea.

The Chinese government's new urban cluster plan
The Chinese government’s new urban cluster plan

So back in 2015, using 2014 data, my team worked on a series of graphics for a Euromonitor International white paper on Chinese cities. The clusters that the analysts identified, however, were just that, ones identified by researchers. Since the Chinese government had not yet created this new plan.

We added some context to our cluster map
We added some context to our cluster map

We also looked at more cities and added some vital context to the cluster map by working to identify the prospects of the various Chinese provinces. Don’t ask me what went into that metric, though, since I forget. The challenge, however, was identifying the four different tiers of Chinese city and then differentiating between the three different cluster types while overlaying that on a choropleth. Then we added a series of small multiples to show how now all provinces are alike despite having similar numbers of cities.

Credit for the Economist piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Credit for the Euromonitor piece is mine. I would gladly give a shoutout to those that worked with me on that project…but it’s been so long I forget. But I’m almost certain both Lindsey Tom and Ciana Frenze helped out, if not on that graphic, on other parts of the project.

Kilauea Eruption

As a kid, volcanoes fascinated me. The idea that the molten core of the Earth can bubble its way up to and then erupt from the cold crusty surface of the planet still fascinates me. Of course, volcanoes can also have drastic impacts on people, both at the grand scale of impacting global climate to the smaller and more personal scale of someone’s home destroyed by a lava flow.

And unfortunately for residents of Hawai’i that personal destruction is unfolding across a development called Leilani Estates. The Washington Post has a nice piece detailing the geography of the area and showing how quickly things can change.

Earth is powerful
Earth is powerful

The article uses the photo above to illustrate the distance the lava flow travelled in only a few days. It also shows how precariously sited the homes are.

Only because I am so fascinated by these kinds of stories, I hope the Post continues to expand its content with pieces like this exploring the eruption and those of other volcanoes in the area.

Credit for the piece goes to Laris Karklis and Lauren Tierney.

What Does Your Name Mean? (Country-level Edition)

Shoutout to my very good friend Jonathan Fairman for passing this one along.

Browsing the internets, I often find these little adverts saying something about “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Name” or “10 Things Your Name Says About You”. They grab my attention because, as you all know, genealogy is kind of a thing that I do and I am curious where lots of names in my family come from.

But where do countries names originate? We all probably know America comes from Amerigo Vespucci. But how about Mexico? Thankfully Quartz put together a piece exploring country name origins. And it turns out that most can be grouped into four different types. Being named after a man, like America, well you guessed it, that’s one of the four.

Tribal names are another…
Tribal names are another…

Credit for the piece goes to Thu-Huong Ha.

Arctic Sea Ice Levels Continue to Decline

You may recall how over two years ago I posted about a piece from the New York Times that explored the levels of Arctic sea ice. It showed how the winter sea ice of 2015 was the lowest level ever recorded. Well last week the Times updated that piece with new data. And instead of the static graphic we enjoyed last time around, this time the piece began with a nice animation. It really helps you see the pattern, so you should click through and check out the whole piece.

Go hit play and you'll see the trend
Go hit play and you’ll see the trend

But this isn’t just a visually top heavy piece. No, the remainder of the article continues to explore the state of Arctic sea ice through a number of other charts and maps.

Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich, Henry Fountain, and Adam Pearce.

Earthquake Early Warning

Last month, two massive earthquakes devastated Mexico. Now, if you were like me, you were captivated by the photos and videos of the quakes striking and tearing down buildings and infrastructure. But, think about it for a second, how did people know to take out their mobiles and record the tremors for posterity’s sake?

Well, the first thing you should know is that earthquakes consist of a number of different waves of energy. Some move quicker and are less damaging than the slower travelling ones. And it turns out that scientists have been able to use that speed differential to build early warning systems along and around fault lines.

The Washington Post did a really nice job of explaining how earthquake-prone California is developing just such a system to deal with its tremors. I won’t spoil all the details, you should go read the article if earthquakes are of any interest to you.

The Shake Alert system
The Shake Alert system

Credit for the piece goes to