The Memo

So last week the House of Representatives published a highly controversial memo by Representative Devin Nunes. Why controversial? Because it is apparently missing dozens of pages of additional facts, data, and context. But what the memo does contain are connections between people and things. And this Friday piece from the Washington Post does a good job of trying to explain those connections.

It's just missing a lot of other details…
It’s just missing a lot of other details…

Credit for the piece goes to Darla Cameron, Julie Vitkovskaya, Reuben Fischer-Baum, Ann Gerhart, and Kevin Uhrmacher.

The World Grows On (Part III)

A few days ago I posted about the front cover graphic for the New York Times that used a choropleth to explore 2017 economic growth. Well, this morning whilst looking for something else, I came across the online version of the story. And I thought it would be neat to compare the two.

A very nice graphic
A very nice graphic

Again, nothing too crazy going on here. But the most immediately obvious change is the colour palette. Instead of using that green set, here we get a deep, rich blue that fades to light very nicely. More importantly, that light tan or beige colour contrasts far better against the blue than the green in the print version.

The other big change is to the small multiple set at the bottom. Here they have the space to run all twelve datasets horizontally. In the earlier piece, they were stacked six by two. It worked really well, but this works better. Here it is far easier to compare the height of each bar to the height of bars for other countries.

Credit for the piece goes to Karl Russell.

State of the Union Data

Well there was a lot to poke and prod at in last night’s State of the Union. So over the next couple of days I will be looking at some of the data. I wanted to start with something I could look at over breakfast—unemployment rate data.

President Trump claimed unemployment rates are at the lowest rate in…I forget how many years he claimed. But in a while. And he is correct. But, as this chart shows, he entered office with unemployment rates very near those record lows. A few tenths of a percentage point lower and voila, all-time low. What the data shows is that the bulk of the fall in the unemployment rate actually came under the watch of the Obama administration. The rate peaked at the end of the Great Recession at 10% before falling all the way down to 4.8%, which is about the natural unemployment rate that is somewhere between 4.5% and 5%, what you would expect in a healthy economy.

The unemployment rate
The unemployment rate

Data is from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, chart is mine.

All Your Base Are Belong to Internets

Over the weekend news broke that since November, plans for military bases around the world were available to anyone and everyone on the internets. How? Why?

Well, it turns out that soldiers using wearable tech to track their rides or cycling routes had forgotten to disable that feature whilst on military installations. And so when the company collecting the data published a global heatmap of activities, well, this happened.

You can even make out the perimeter of the former British airfield.
You can even make out the perimeter of the former British airfield.

This is not one of the worst offenders, because this is the site of what was formerly Camps Leatherneck and Bastion, the American and British, respectively, military bases in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. But we all know those bases exist and where they are. But, what is interesting and perhaps worrying for military planners is that sites like this do not show up on publicly available sites like Google Maps, for example. Take the same heatmap and look at it on satellite view and you get…a whole lot of nothing.

A view of the two military bases from well before they were constructed.
A view of the two military bases from well before they were constructed.

The problem is that when this technology is applied to places like, say, Syria. Given the civil war there, it is far more likely that users of wearable tech belong to or are working with one of the western military forces operating in the country. After all, the rest of the country is dark. So what is this set of rectangles and a grid-like pattern?

A bunch of rectangles and squares. It looks like a built up area, if not base.
A bunch of rectangles and squares. It looks like a built up area, if not base.

Well, by looking at the satellite photography, it is clearly a field situated between two small hamlets.

Nothing to see…I just run very straight routes through the middle of Syrian fields…
Nothing to see…I just run very straight routes through the middle of Syrian fields…

Most likely it is an American base. Could be Russian, though. But now we know where it is and have a rough understanding of its layout. You can see why military planners are concerned.

And it all owes to the ubiquity of tracking data on wearables, mobiles, vehicles, &c. And as we continue to generate data and want to see it visualised, are there or should there be boundaries? Alas, not a conversation for this blog to solve, but a conversation we should all continue to have.

Credit for the piece goes to the Strava design team.

The World Grows On (Part II)

Earlier this month I wrote-up a piece from the Economist that looked at 2018 GDP growth globally. I admitted then—and still do now—that it was an oddly sentimental piece given the frequency with which I made graphics just like that in my designer days of youth and yore. Today, we have the redux, a piece from the New York Times. Again, nothing fancy here. As you will see, we are talking about a choropleth map and bar charts in small multiple format. But why am I highlighting it? Front page news.

Choropleth on the front page? More please.
Choropleth on the front page? More please.

I just like seeing this kind of simple, but effective data visualisation work on the front page of a leading newspaper.

Lots of green on that map
Lots of green on that map

I personally would have used a slightly different palette to give a bit more hint to the few negative growth countries in the world—here’s lookin’ at you, Venezuela—but overall it works. And the break points in the bin seem a bit arbitrary unless they were chosen to specifically highlight the called-out countries.

Then on the inside we get another small but effective graphic.

Page 4
Page 4

It doesn’t consume the whole page, but sits quietly but importantly at the top of the article.

The world's leading economies, on their own
The world’s leading economies, on their own

There the small multiples show the year-on-year change—nothing fancy—for the world’s leading economies. A one-colour print, it works well. But, I particularly enjoy the bit with China. Look at how the extreme growth before the Great Recession is handled, just breaking out of the container. Because it isn’t important to read growth as 13.27% (or whatever it was), just that it was extremely high. You could almost say, off the charts.

Overall, it was just a fun read for a Sunday morning.

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

Remapping the 2016 Election

Today’s post clearly fits within the storyline of mapping, redistricting, and gerrymandering over the last week or so, but the work is a bit older. (Side note, the previously highlighted Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District, well it is in the news for a different story, its congressman just announced he would not be standing for reelection because of a sexual harassment case.)

We have the work of xkcd presenting the 2016 election results, but by mapping out the votes (approximately) in terms of 250,000 voters. It does a good job of showing you just where the population of the United States is concentrated (and vice versa).

I am somewhere within that enormous cluster of stick people in the lower-upper-middle right of the map…
I am somewhere within that enormous cluster of stick people in the lower-upper-middle right of the map…

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Gerrymandering Again

The last two weeks we twice looked at gerrymandering as it in particular impacted Pennsylvania, notorious for its extreme gerrymandered districts. And now that the state will have to redraw districts to be less partisan, will Pennsylvania usher in a series of court orders from other state supreme courts, or even the federal Supreme Court, to create less partisan maps?

To that specific question, we do not know. But as we get ever closer to the 2020 Census that will lead to new maps in 2021, you can bet we will discuss gerrymandering as a country. Maybe to jumpstart that dialogue, we have a fantastic work by FiveThirtyEight, the Gerrymandering Project.

Since we focus on the data visualisation side of things, I want to draw your attention to the Atlas of Redistricting. This interactive piece features a map of House districts, by default the current map plan. The user can then toggle between different scenarios to see how those scenarios would adjust the Congressional map.

The setup today
The setup today

If, like me, you live in an area with lots of people in a small space, you might need to see Pennsylvania or New Jersey in detail. And by clicking on the state you can quickly see how the scenarios redraw districts and the probabilities of parties winning those seats. And at the bottom of the map is the set of all House seats colour-coded by the same chance of winning.

But what I really love about this piece is the separate article that goes into the different scenarios and walks the user through them, how they work, how they don’t work, and how difficult they would be to implement. It’s not exactly a quick read, but well worth it, especially with the map open in a separate tab/window.

Overall, a solid set of work from FiveThirtyEight diving deep into gerrymandering.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron Bycoffe, Ella Koeze, David Wasserman and Julia Wolfe.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Followup

Remember how last week I wrote about gerrymandering in Pennsylvania? It was as the State Supreme Court was about to hear a case involving the partisan redistricting in 2011, widely perceived as one of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering in the nation. Well yesterday afternoon the State Supreme Court ruled that yes, Virginia, Pennsylvania was egregiously gerrymandered and the court ordered the state government to redraw the maps ahead of the 2018 midterms.

One of the worst offenders is the state’s 7th district. And if we go back a few years in time, the Washington Post had a nice piece that showed the (d)evolution of said district into the weird abstract art it is today.

The changing shape of Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District
The changing shape of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.

Cloudy in Europe

During my travels in Europe, I enjoyed very little sunshine. It did not rain often, but the skies were overcast in both Scandinavia and London. Turns out that at least in January, after my trip, Europe was covered in an inordinate amount of sunshine. The Guardian covered the story, with a graphic showing just how little sunshine has been seen in northern Europe.

Cloudy north of the Mediterranean
Cloudy north of the Mediterranean

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.