Useful Africa

Another rather recent infographic from Le Monde’s Philippe Rekacewicz is this, called Useful Africa.

Useful Africa
Useful Africa

One of the key problems for African development is its lack of infrastructure. Here we see the proposed and under-construction projects that will hopefully raise Africa up from its current state. But the infrastructure is only as good as it is economically useful. Hence the connection between those same infrastructure projects and areas of mineral or hydrocarbon reserves.

This is an example of where a map is incredibly useful, as opposed to say a choropleth that shows which countries in Africa have the highest concentrations of oil reservers, of natural gas reserves, and of mineral reserves. The geography here is key to understanding the transport links between major population centres, ports and points of distributions, and the raw materials to be exported—if not processed and refined.

Maps Made by Hand (Or Simulations Thereof)

Le Monde is a French-language publication and so I never really bother with it, despite favourable reviews. However, they do have a small site with some content in the English language that I check from time to time. Frequently they have maps or other graphics of some interest, and this time upon visiting—done to see if they have anything on Libya given the lead taken by France and the UK—they had a few maps of the situation in North Africa.

Political Situation in North Africa and the Middle East
Political Situation in North Africa and the Middle East

By and large, nothing radical or ground-breaking in the maps. But, the designer, Philippe Rekacewicz, used a different cartographic perspective than I am at least accustomed to seeing for infographics. And then the aesthetic of the map is interesting, and quite different than what one typically sees. In a refreshingly interesting way. Now, whether he used a texture or filter in Photoshop to create the background map or whether he physically drew the map (and then overlaid the informational elements digitally), it matters little as the style works. I enjoy the idea of mixing the hand-made and data visualisation—though it needs to be well-executed.

He created a few sets of maps; each makes use of a slightly different palette. These certainly help create the visual distinction necessary between data sets. The pie charts are not particularly helpful, but they at least are kept simple: looking at only two parts of the whole. The comparison within each nation by bar charts of internet connectivity and higher-education learning works. It begins to work not so well as one tries to compare country to country. Though, the separation of the bars into ten-percentage point sub-bars begins to alleviate that issue. The main map, that highlights the political situation does a nice job of putting these countries into broader context. That is, who has oil and who has control over the key waterways in the region.

the three smaller maps
the three smaller maps

All in all, a refreshing set of maps that illustrate the fluid situation in North Africa and the Middle East.

Little Red (or blue or yellow or light-blue) Riding (neighbour-)Hoods

While not new news, if you have not heard, Canada’s minority government fell and Canada is having an election. And, as we all know, elections mean infographic insanity. Map mania. Graphs galore. You get my drift.

The Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based newspaper, printed an infographic about the 50 ridings to watch. (A riding is, for my mostly US-based readers, similar to a congressional district.) They complemented this with an online, interactive piece. They did all of this a few days ago.

the print version
the print version

I have been meaning to write about this for a few days, but am only now sitting down to write it up and an interesting thing has happened. Whereas before, I was able to click the Globe and Mail’s link to their print graphic, now I get directed to their Google map pushpin overlay. Bye-bye, print graphic.

online version
online version

And that is a shame, because, the print graphic is far better than the interactive. Yes, the pushpin can be clicked to read a small snippet of summary about the riding, however, at the same scale of print graphic, good luck finding all the pushpins. And while one can certainly zoom-in to find all the urban ridings, one loses seeing the whole and that riding’s relationship to the rest of Canada. Compare that to the print graphic where equally-sized boxes represent the ridings, and the boxes are spread out across a map of Canada in the background, showing the total apportionment of ridings to the provinces and territories. Whereas the pushpins do not. The arrangement of the boxes also has urban ridings grouped together and delineated from more rural ridings. Whereas the pushpins do not. And the boxes are not tied specifically to a point. Whereas the pushpins are. And that is most helpful, because one can only assume that the Western Arctic riding is located inside Yellowknife’s city hall. Right?

Pushpins are great for locating a specific point. Note the point of the pin. The boxes are great for eliminating the distorting effects of electoral districts in rural vs. urban settings. For comparison, look at the congressional districts in and around cities like New York and compare them to those in places like Montana.

I think the print graphic is better also because it included three charts that summarised and provided context of the 50-key ridings in the context of the whole general election across Canada. Google’s pushpin map overlay thing…does not.

Is the print graphic perfect, no. As I noted above, it does not specifically name the 50, as one can discover by clicking on the pushpins. Nor does it provide the name of the candidates or a very brief summary of the situation, as one can discover by clicking on the pushpins. But I have a better grasp of how the little piece fits into the whole from the print graphic.

Perhaps the best solution would have been to create a unique interactive piece that married the best of both designs. Scrap the Google maps bit and create a set of interactive boxes that mirror the print graphic, and so by clicking on the boxes one can access the same information in the pushpin. And then one would also have a reason to write something in the print article about checking the website for the online version that has even more information. But that is surely crazy talk.

As an additional point of comparison, the two screenshots are both roughly the same size in width—the main concern in showing all of Canada—and just note the amount of data presented in both versions.

A more interesting question, though, is why was the print graphic was removed from the site? (Or at least made so difficult to find that I could not find it.)

Credit for the print graphic image I have is to the Map Room, which is from where I first learned of the map to begin with.

Complex Nigeria

The BBC has a new feature on Nigeria, one of Africa’s most important—and most complicated—countries. And a few days ago it was supposed to hold elections. But these have been postponed, apparently on logistical problems. This piece attempts to explain the complexities of modern Nigeria across several different metrics via maps. Overall, it is very similar to a piece I mentioned that the BBC ran on South Sudan in the run up to that soon-to-be-country’s independence referendum.

Map of Nigeria by Various Metrics
Map of Nigeria by Various Metrics

Overall, the piece works for me as a means of quickly and broadly explaining the geographic breakdown of Nigeria in terms of ethnicity, politics, health, et cetera. The colours work, especially shifting between hues for the one-variable maps. The one thing that the Nigeria map adds over the Sudan map is the name of each state. However, these begin to become a bit cluttered and distracting—not to mention that in all-caps they sit at roughly the same level of the neighbouring country names despite being a touch smaller. Perhaps the maps could have been made to do more with less, and only label those states mentioned in the explanatory text. Or they could have been included but treated in a subtler fashion.

Japanese Radiation in Perspective

Japan continues to deal with damage from the earthquake and its subsequent tsunami. Yet, much of the news that seems to come out of Japan focuses on the leak of radioactive materials from the Fukushima power station. Certainly that is a story, but is it more important than the tens of thousands of people missing and presumably dead?

The New York Times printed a graphic on Saturday that details the danger from the radiation at the plant, near the plant, across Japan, and then across the rest of the world.

Radiation Graphic Reduced
Radiation Graphic Reduced

And largely, if you live in the United States, you have no reason to fear the radiation leak. In general, unless you maybe live near the plant, you have no reason to fear the radiation leak.

Overall, it communicates its message clearly and adds nice detail in the bottom third of the graphic about whatever spread of radiation there has been.

Credit for the graphic goes to Joe Burgess, Amanda Cox, Sergio Peçanha, Amy Schoenfeld and Archie Tse.

iPads on eBay

This post comes to us from eBay via cnet. Ebay does a wonderful thing, it fills in the gaps in the marketplace. If you live in, say, the Netherlands, and want something that is available only in the United States, chances are you might find somebody willing to sell it to you from the US.

Among those things that people want are iPad 2s. So here eBay has put together an infographic about their sales of iPad 2s from US sellers to foreign buyers.

sales of iPad 2s abroad
sales of iPad 2s abroad

I must admit to being a bit underwhelmed here. Maps are great and all, but here this map adds nothing to the story except that I can now identify where Poland is. It’s an island country north of Belgium. Or is that France? Wait, what is this lonely sticker-tag for the United Kingdom out in the Atlantic? The data encoded in the map is already present in the datagraphic, if you look to the bar chart of iPad shapes in the lower left quadrant.

But the bar charts do confuse me, I very rarely like using symbols of things for measuring precise numbers of things when those symbols of things represent a number of things more than just one thing. (And that is about as confused as I feel.) And then on another level, I have to strain for a moment to figure out what these three-letter identifiers are. As it just so happens, there is a standardised set of country abbreviations in both two and three letters. When I see UNK, I immediately think Unknown. And RSS makes me think of RSS feeds. Neither connects me to the United Kingdom or Russia.

In the bottom right is the breakdown of sales by model type. Here, where the treatment is simpler we see more success at clearly communicating the information. Could it be more succinct and a touch better organised, yes. But, in all, this is clear and effective. Ergo, it works.

Interestingly, cnet also posted the previous year’s infographic by eBay for sales of the first iPad.

sales of the iPad abroad
sales of iPads abroad

Very loosely (and quickly), I think it is more successful and tells more data. The data on the map, like this year’s, need not be communicated by a map, that much is true—why are the countries two shades of blue, I have no idea if that encodes data. However, the same data is also duplicated in the chart in the lower left quadrant, but here far more succinctly and far more accurately than by weird symbols of the iPad. Last year’s infographic is missing the breakdown by model type, however, instead of those six datapoints, here we have a timeline of iPad sales that, it is safe to say, references more than six datapoints.

In a sense, eBay took a step backwards in their infographics. A pity, because one imagines that if they have the sales data for time periods, they probably have other sets of data that would make for an interesting and richer piece.

Credit to the designers at eBay and cnet for posting the article.

Pie Charts v Bar Charts, Round…Some Really High Number

Not strictly a commentary on a piece or project, instead, this is a link to an interesting opinion piece about the Great Infographic Debate, i.e., most loosely and least helpfully, substance vs. style, vis-a-vis the use of pie charts and such vs. bar charts. Where does one draw the line between clear communication and, frankly, just getting somebody’s attention so that one can communicate?

From the article, an illustration of just how bar charts are significantly better than pie charts at clearly communicating data such as which is the largest data point.

The largest datapoint is obvious, but what about the order of those that follow?
The largest datapoint is obvious, but what about the order of those that follow?

Thanks to Ben for the heads up.

Counting People

The Census Bureau has been releasing state population figures over the past several weeks and one means of accessing those figures is through a small, interactive map feature. Clicking through makes for some interesting observations—although not all states are currently available. In this screenshot, one can see an interesting story. Western Pennsylvania is shrinking whereas eastern Pennsylvania is growing. And, perhaps importantly, Philadelphia has perhaps reversed its long-term trend of population decline and saw a 0-5% increase in population while its further suburbs have seen increases in the 5–25% range.

census map feature
census map feature

If one is not viewing the piece in fullscreen mode, the navigation can be a bit small, especially for small counties. And the counties over which one rolls with the mouse cannot be selected, they are purely rollover functions that display census data from 1960 and the total population as of 2010. I would have liked the ability to select a particular county and then compare it to others by rolling over neighbouring counties. The colour choice, blues and a light, brownish-beige work rather well within the overall blue motif of the site. And by restricting the palette there, one gains the ability to use an altogether different colour, here green, to indicate which counties are rolled over along with differentiating the rollover box from the remainder of the map piece.

I wonder if more could not have done with the ethnic breakdowns on the right. Certainly the overall breakdown is effective, but it appears to lack a summary of sorts. What was the overall change for the state? And on a minor note, the person symbol is downright distracting.

To get to the first state, one clicks on said state from an overall map of the United States. States are blue if they have had their data released, grey otherwise. However, once looking at a state, there is no way back to the overall map as states are chosen from a small button in the upper-right. This works just fine, we are here to look at state data, not for a geography lesson. However, that they use the map at the beginning seems incongruent with the remainder of the experience. I wonder if they could not remove the map at the start, or keep the map but make it more useful. After all, it would be interesting to see the percentage change in the states displayed—the unpublished states could remain grey.

Further below the first map is a second map.

Census map 2
Census map 2

Here, one does have access to the state population change figures. Much of the critique above remains salient here, except the light brown for population loss in the first map is here replaced by a garish and obnoxious orange. An interesting addition is the range of historical data, from the 1910 census through the 2010 census and to see how those population changes affected the apportionment of seats in Congress. Another interesting story that one can glimpse is the ‘filling-in’ of the North American continent. Population density in 1910 was high only in the Northeast, but ever since, the people have spread, concentrating along the coasts and then moving inwards towards the vast centre of the continent.

Rule, Britannia

The United Kingdom. England. Britain. All pretty much mean the same thing, right? No. But, if you do not believe me, might I recommend going to Glasgow or Edinburgh and calling a local an Englishman. It may very well be a quick education.

Colin Grey attempts to untangle the constitutional and jurisdictional mess in both a video and an accompanying chart. The video takes about five minutes and is largely correct with most of the errors I have picked up on being rather small in nature, e.g. Ireland is not the Republic of Ireland but just Ireland…not a big deal unless one wants to be enraged by minutiae.

The chart is simple and effective in delineating the structure of the UK and expands about how the UK fits into Europe.

Breaking Down the United Kingdom
Breaking Down the United Kingdom

Credit for the piece is to Colin Grey and thanks to Kim Nguyen for the tip.

Radiation…Tastes Like Metallic Tang

It is a mad, mad world out there these days and I suppose this is the point at which we all begin to run around shouting that the sky is falling. Despite all the madness in Libya, the constitutional referendum  in Egypt, the protests in Syria, the election in Haiti, and the president’s overseas trip to Brazil we still have the aftermath of the Sendai earthquake and the subsequent Pacific tsunami. The latter being particularly important because of the damage to the now infamous Fukushima Daiichi nuclear generating station in northeastern Japan.

Fukushima will likely be up there with the three other major nuclear disasters of a power station variety: the Windscale Fire in Cumbria, England; Three Mile Island outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and of course, Chernobyl in the Ukraine (then the Soviet Union). We sometimes have heard the media compare Fukushima as the next great nuclear disaster, but how bad has it really been?

This graphic by XKCD comes to me via my coworker, Brian Morgan, and it breaks down our average exposure to ionising radiation—the bad stuff—from nuclear accidents from Chernobyl to Fukushima to x-ray machines to the natural radioactivity in the soil. Yes, you are likely being irradiated as you read this post.

A cropping of a radiation dose chart
A cropping of a radiation dose chart

Radiation is bad. But we will all find better solutions to problems if we keep our fears both in proportion and in check. Fukushima is not good. But it is far, far from the end of the world.