Lunar Observations

Monday night I was doing some work outside and when I turned around to head inside I was struck by the brilliance of an object in the night sky. I had seen the Moon rise earlier in the evening, but this was far to the east. It was identifiable as a dot, not just a speck in the night sky. As I was now intrigued I went to grab my binoculars to see if I could see Venus.

Turns out I was wrong and it was Jupiter. But then I turned my binocular-aided eyes to the west and examined the Moon. That was then I decided to try and sketch my observations, as I had done with the Eclipse.

Unfortunately, it turns out it is far more difficult to sketch in the dark then under a still semi-sunny sky. But these are my attempts to digitise those observations. And as I sat and watched, I began to notice that some faint twinkling specks near Jupiter had also moved. After I came inside, I discovered that the movement and positions hewed close to the orbits of Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Calisto. The moving speck near the Moon I had also observed was actually the bright star Regulus. (And to be fair, it had not really moved, the Moon had moved, but I was not redrawing the Moon.)

The Moon and Regulus. The cool part is the thin ring of one of the seas that could be spotted beyond the line separating lunar day from night.

Capturing the exact shapes of the lunar "seas" was difficult in the darkness.
Capturing the exact shapes of the lunar “seas” was difficult in the darkness.

Jupiter and two of its moons. The cool thing about Jupiter is just being able to see it as a round ball in space and not a distant twinkling speck.

Jupiter and two of its moons, as they orbit the distant planet
Jupiter and two of its moons, as they orbit the distant planet

Credit for these is mine.

A Wetter Midwest

Here in Philadelphia, I think yesterday was the first day it had not rained in over a week. Not that everyday was a drenching storm, but at least showers passed through along with some downpours and definitely grey skies. But what about my old home, Chicago?

Well, FiveThirtyEight turned to a longer-term look and examined how over the century the amount of rainfall in the upper Midwest has been increasing. We are actually looking at the same places the Post looked at a few days ago. But instead of political maps, we have rainfall maps.

This one in particular is weird.

Water water everywhere
Water water everywhere

I get why they have the map, to show the geographic distribution of the rain gauges that collect the data. And those are site specific, not statewide. But did the designer have to choose area?

We know that area is a less than ideal way of allowing users to compare data points. And as I just noted, a choropleth, even at say the county level, is out of the question. But what about little squares? Or circles? Could colour have been used to encode the same data instead of size? And then we would likely have fewer overlapping triangles.

I suppose the argument is that the big triangles make a bigger visual impact. But they do so at the cost of comparable data points across the Midwest. Maybe the designer chose the area of triangles because there were too few gauges across the country. I am not sure, but for me the triangles are not quite on point.

That said, the graphics throughout the rest of the article are quite good, especially the opening scatterplots. They are not the sexiest of charts, but they clearly show a trends towards a wetter climate.

Credit for the piece goes to Ella Koeze.

Gun Control Legislation

Back in March I posted about a great graphic from the New York Times editorial board they made in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. Saturday morning, the day after Friday’s Santa Fe, Texas school shooting, I was reading the paper and found the updated graphic.

That is a whole lot of months since Sandy Hook…
That is a whole lot of months since Sandy Hook…

Yeah, almost nothing has changed. Congress passed and the president signed an omnibus spending bill that included language to improve reporting on background checks.


Now from a design standpoint, what’s nice about this graphic is its restrained use of colour. The whole piece works in black and white. Of course it helps that there is nothing to show that needs to be highlighted in the data.


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

Turning the Midwest Red

Continuing with election-y stuff, I want to share a fascinating map from the Washington Post. The article came out last week, and it is actually incredibly light in terms of data visualisation. By my count, there were only two maps. The article’s focus is on interviews with Trump voters in 2016 and how their opinions of the president have changed over the last year or so. If you want to read it, and you should as it is very well written, I will warn you that it is long. But, to the map.

I may have used an even lighter shade for 2012 counties…
I may have used an even lighter shade for 2012 counties…

What I loved about this map is how it flips the usual narrative a bit on its head. We talk about how much a candidate won a county in 2016, or even how much the vote shifted in 2016. And anecdotally we talk about “ancestral Democrats” flipping to Trump. But this map actually tries to chart that. It reveals the last time a county actually voted for a Republican presidential candidate—the darker the red, the further back in time one has to go.

Counties that vote Democratic are white, because why do we need them for this examination. Omitting them was a great design decision. Much of the country, as we know or can intuit, voted Republican in 2012 for Mitt Romney. But what about before then? You can see how the upper Midwest, along the Mississippi River, was a stronghold for Democrats with some counties going as far back as the 1980s or earlier. And then in 2016 they all flipped and that flipping was most significant there—of some additional interest to me are the counties in Maine, the Pacific Northwest, and along Lake Erie near Cleveland.

In short, this was just a brilliantly done map. And it sets the tone for the rest of the article, which is interviews with residents of those counties called out on the map.

Credit for the piece goes to Andrew Braford, Jake Crump, Jason Bernert and Matthew Callahan.

Pennsylvania Primary Night

Surprise, surprise. This morning we just take a quick little peak at some of the data visualisation from the Pennsylvania primary races yesterday. Nothing is terribly revolutionary, just well done from the Washington Post, Politico, and the New York Times.

But let’s start with my district, which was super exciting.

The only thing to write home about is how the Republican incumbent dropped out at the last moment and was replaced by this guy…
The only thing to write home about is how the Republican incumbent dropped out at the last moment and was replaced by this guy…

Moving on.

Each of the three I chose to highlight did a good job. The Post was very straightforward and presented each office with a toggle to separate the two parties. Usually, however, this was not terribly interesting because races like the Pennsylvania governor had one incumbent running unopposed.

Mango is represented by what colour?
Mango is represented by what colour?

But Politico was able to hand it differently and simply presented the Democratic race above the Republican and simply noted that the sitting governor ran unopposed. This differs from the Post, where it was not immediately clear that Tom Wolf, the governor, was running unopposed and had already won.

Clean and simple design. No non-sense here.
Clean and simple design. No non-sense here.

The Times handled it similarly and simultaneously displayed both parties, but kept Wolf’s race simple. The neat feature, however, was the display of select counties beneath the choropleth. This could be super helpful in the midterms in several months when key races will hinge upon particular counties.

The Republican primary for the PA governorship has been ugly
The Republican primary for the PA governorship has been ugly

But where the Times really shines is the race for Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. Fun fact, in Pennsylvania the governor and lieutenant governor do not run as a ticket and are voted for separately. This year’s Democratic incumbent, Mike Stack, does not get on with the governor and had a few little scandals to his name, prompting several Democrats to run against him. And the Times’ piece shows the two parties result, side-by-side.

Pennsylvania's oddest race this time 'round
Pennsylvania’s oddest race this time ’round

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

Credit for Politico’s piece goes to Politico’s graphics department.

Credit for the Times’ piece goes to Sarah Almukhtar, Wilson Andrews, Matthew Bloch, Jeremy Bowers, Tom Giratikanon, Jasmine C. Lee and Paul Murray, and Maggie Astor.

Tracking the Women Running for Office

Yesterday we talked about a static graphic from the New York Times that ran front and centre on the, well, front page. Whilst writing the piece, I recalled a piece from Politico that I have been lazily following, as in I bookmarked to write about another time. And suddenly today seemed as good as any other day.

After all, this piece also is about women running for Congress, and a bit more widely it also looks at gubernatorial races. It tracks the women candidates through the primary season. The reason I was holding off? Well, we are at the beginning of the primary season and as the Sankey diagram in the screenshot below shows, we just don’t have much data yet. And charts with “Wait, we promise we’ll have more” lack the visual impact and interest of those that are full of hundreds of data points.

Still too many unknowns. But at least these are known unknowns…
Still too many unknowns. But at least these are known unknowns…

But we should still look at it—and who knows, maybe late this summer or early autumn I will circle back to it. After all, today is primary day in Pennsylvania. (Note: Pennsylvania is a closed primary state, which means you have to belong to the political party to vote for its candidates.) So this tool is super useful looking ahead, because it also shows the slate of women running for positions.

Aside from just the number of women running, today's primaries will be fascinating because of the whole redistricting thing
Aside from just the number of women running, today’s primaries will be fascinating because of the whole redistricting thing

I really like the piece, but as I said above, I will want to circle back to it later this year to see it with more data collected.

Credit for the piece goes to Sarah Frostenson.

Women Running for Congress

If you haven’t heard by now, this year is a US Congressional midterm election year meaning that eligible American citizens will be voting for their local representative and 1/3 of the states will be selecting their senator. But perhaps because yesterday was Mother’s Day in the States, the New York Times ran a front-page, above-the-fold piece on the number of women running for Congress this year, either as incumbents or challengers.

It certainly got my attention…
It certainly got my attention…

Those of you familiar with this blog will know that I am excited basically anytime smart graphics work their way onto the front page. The map itself shows the rough location of where women candidates are running for office and a quick comparison shows there are more blue, Democratic, women than red, Republican. Nothing too special here.

Where the women are running
Where the women are running

But as I began to read the article, I became more interested in my questions that then fortunately became some of the article’s points about where these women were running in terms of competitive seats. Unfortunately the map does not contain any information about that.

Until I got to the inside page later on.

Naturally what I was interested in was on the inside page
Naturally what I was interested in was on the inside page

This graphic is the more impressive of the article’s two. As a brief inside, these types of graphics always intrigue me. What kind? The kind that do not fit neatly into a box. As part of my job, I serve as creative director, graphics designer, page designer, and production designer for the Philly Fed’s premier quarterly economics journal. Sometimes the job is having a box and filling said box with a graphic, the map on the front page is a great example. But with this graphic, that would leave too much white space at the top and so how do you design around or rather with that?

To the graphic specifically though, we get a nice little treat.

Let's come back in six months and see how this pans out
Let’s come back in six months and see how this pans out

Nothing is complicated in this one. We have three conditions, running in an open seat or running against an incumbent, an incumbent, or running for an open seat. Since this piece focuses on the difficult path to get these women into office, especially because of the challenges of facing an incumbent, that group is the highlighted one. (A less focused piece that shows all three conditions would be neat.)

Then we basically have a graphic where we count the number of icons. In this case, we could have even used little boxes as the icons are not necessary. Personally, I would have opted for something like boxes, but these icons are not too distracting. The icons are then grouped by the competitiveness of the district, the part that interested me, and at this point note that the designer makes certain each grouping is an equal ten units wide.

Visually it becomes quite clear that women should certainly expect greater representation in Congress come 2019, but with so many women running as Democrats against safe Republican incumbents, it will be difficult to see many of these women in Congress. Of course with all this talk of a wave election, if that is true, you would expect some of the seats on the right to move to the left, i.e. safe Republican become lean Republican become tossups.

Overall, this was a nice treat for a Sunday read of the paper.

Credit for the piece goes to Kate Zernike and Denise Lu.

The Short Arc of Pub Trivia Scores Bends Towards Victory

Well, at least over the last three weeks it did. In previous examples of my pub trivia team’s performance, we have had a lacklustre performance. But a few weeks we had an epic collapse. Having been in 4th place out of 10 in the penultimate round we ultimately finished in 8th out of 9—somebody left early—and 14 points out of first place. It probably didn’t help we put Beyonce down as the artist for three different songs. It probably really didn’t help that none of those artists were Beyonce. And it probably definitely didn’t help that we had no idea who those three artists were.

Then after a middling performance two weeks ago, last week we shocked even ourselves with our first victory since last autumn. Just how shocking? 19 points in that oft ill-fated music round. (It’s not really, but I’ll have to make another graphic about that.)

We were perhaps the most shocked of all that week.
We were perhaps the most shocked of all that week.

Credit for the piece is mine. Credit for the score goes to my teammates.

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.