Tracking This Hurricane Season

Living in Chicago, hurricane season means rather little. Perhaps at worst the city would see a major rain system moving up from Texas or the Gulf Coast. But, from all my time living on the East Coast makes hurricane season a bit more meaningful if now just as an outside observer. The Weather Channel has launched a site called the Hurricane Tracker that allows you to follow the current season’s storms.

Active Tracker
Active Tracker

While there has yet to be any major activity, there have been a few named tropical systems that are present in what is called the Active Tracker. The storms are tracked geographically, showing you the precise locations where the storm was recorded and then filling out the path between points. The data includes information on strength—hurricanes are classed on a 1–5 scale with 5 being really most unpleasant—such as windspeed and pressure—hurricanes are enormous low pressure systems. The panel on the left of the screen provides a detailed history of the storm and links the recorded data points to the corresponding geographic points on the map. Currently, the storms have all been relatively minor and short-lived; watching a major storm of some duration through the charts and the map progression could be quite fascinating.

Historical Tracker
Historical Tracker

But there is also the Historical Tracker that catalogues an impressive number of previous storms. The view first loads with an overwhelming number of storm tracks, but filters for controlling the years—which includes a interactive mini-graphic of the total number of storms for each year that when clicked filters for only that year—and for location of landfall begin to significantly bring your search or exploration into focus. I have yet to find any detailed information about specific storms, the one in this screenshot being those that made landfall in the Northeast roughly during my lifespan. (I have memories of being at the shore during Hurricane Bob with the winds and rain and warning sirens making an impression.) You cannot click to focus on a particular storm, instead, a mouseover is the only way of discovering the name of a particular track. But, that may simply be an unavailable level of data, especially with the storms from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now I just hope we can use this sort of information to help develop better forecasting and modelling to help save lives and property.

Credit for the design goes to Stamen Design.

Year of the Tornado

2011 appears to be the year of the tornado, with killer tornados roaming from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and small towns in the deep South now to Joplin, Missouri. The latter now holds the record for being the most deadly, 117 confirmed deaths, in US-recorded history.

The New York Times, in its coverage of the aftermath—and the potential for more destruction with the forecasted weather—has mapped, charted, and animated data from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to illustrate the totality of the devastation witnessed this year.

The piece makes use of a map to illustrate where tornados struck and then their subsequent track, relevant geographic data, and that matches that with known fatalities using the always popular area of a circle datapoints. I am less keen on these for their cross-comparable nature, but here, in this instance, that is less the focus than the overall number of deaths and their locations. Then we also have the dataset over time with the noted caveats that, one, only in 2011 are deaths linked to counties rather than tornados as in all years past and, two, that as our ability to detect and record tornados has increased, we have more data with which to work. In short, it is not necessarily true that 1953 had less tornados than 2011.

Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados
Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados

Given the severity of the current year, and this outbreak in particular, the New York Times also created a smaller, but by no means lesser, piece to highlight just those tornados striking the Southeast. This piece maps the tornados by touchdown, date, and time. Omitted is data on fatalities or damage. However, this piece complements the larger, broader view of the above by breaking down the 2011 year, thus far, into increments of days. This is a great complementary piece that, by being separate from the first piece, allows each to shine in its own respective area.

The Outbreak of 27 April
The Outbreak of 27 April

Credit to this second piece goes to Archie Tse, Matt Ericson, and Alan McLean.

Royal Wedding Genealogy

If you have not heard, somebody in Britain is getting married…and of course that means explorations of royal blood lines and, well, non-royal bloodlines. So the BBC put together a small piece on Kate Middleton’s ancestry. So for those of you with any interest in charting family lines, here you go. The piece has some interactive features, clicking on the folks with little cameras provides a brief bio or story and a photo—though not necessarily of the individual.

Kate Middleton Ancestry
Kate Middleton Ancestry

Credit to the BBC.

Finnish Election Results

Finland held an election that was worth watching because of the rise of a nationalist party whose name translates to True Finns. The leader of the True Finns was interviewed and at the end he reassured all watching that they “are not extremists. So you can sleep safely.” For Europe, the issue is their opposition to the bailouts of the various European economies, such as Ireland and Greece. And now that Portugal is in the midst of bailout negotiations, the True Finns could complicate matters if they manage to make it into government.

The Finnish Ministry of Justice released a small, interactive piece detailing the results. The parties are represented by acronyms, with PS for the True Finns. And here one can see that they performed third-best with about 19% of the vote. The True Finns actually beat the Centre Party, which was the leading party in the last coalition government. In short, a remarkable rise whose impact is yet unknown.

Overall Vote in Chart Form
Overall Vote in Chart Form

The interactive piece, however, is a tad confusing. While one story is certainly the improvement of the True Finns from the last election to the current one, does that need to be shown in the default view as we have here? And what I perceive to be shading or some sort of split colouration in the bars lends itself to the idea of having two separate sets of data encoded in the bar. Although I can see no such data and am thus confused.

But, fortunately, one can also change one’s views of the data, from column to bar to table. And I daresay that the table, in this instance, I find best. Not because the data could not be visualised in an interesting, compelling and comprehensible fashion, but because it was not.

Overall Vote in Table Form
Overall Vote in Table Form

Certainly, the election results provide interesting data sets. And in this case we clearly have an interesting story, the rise of the True Finns from a small, rural party of 5 seats in the Finnish parliament (200 total seats) to the third-largest party with 39 seats. Alas, this piece leads does not make it easy to tell that story—let alone the results of the election.

The Country’s Most Violent States

Do you live in a horribly violent and crime-afflicted state? Do you want to know? Well there’s a map for that.

US Peace Index Map
US Peace Index Map

From the Guardian, here we have a familiar choropleth that colours each state based on where it falls into the range from most peaceful, Maine and Vermont, to the the most violent, Louisiana and Tennessee. The map was developed using a site called chartsbin from data provided by the Global Peace Initiative.

In short, nothing fancy, but an interesting topic to visualise after the earlier world rankings. Truth be told, I think the added data in the rollover state for the US states is more meaningful than the big rank number and flag that appears in the global version.

Global Peace Index
Global Peace Index

Shutting Down Nuclear Reactors

Japan has updated the the threat level from the Fukushima Plant from five to seven. And while everyone ought to put Fukushima into context, chiefly by looking at the damage facing the rest of the country, we can also see that, broadly, things worked as expected at the power plant. They just did not build the plant to survive the 48ft-high tsunami waves and 9.0 earthquakes that happen perhaps once every thousand years. Very poor planning indeed.

This is an older, albeit by a few weeks, graphic from the New York Times explaining how a reactor is ‘shut down’ and then, failing that, what a meltdown is. And most importantly, how the meltdown of a modern reactor design is far different from that at Chernobyl.

Shutting Down a Nuclear Reactor
Shutting Down a Nuclear Reactor

Credit for the piece to Xaquín G.V., Bill Marsh, Dylan McClain, and Graham Roberts.

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.

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.

A (Multiethnic) Apple Falls Not Far From The Tree

One of my interests is genealogy/family history. While everyone is certainly more than the sum of their parts, that sum of parts is the history that led to your existence. And I find that notion fascinating.

When looking around the New York Times, I came across this interactive piece about complicated family histories. I am unaware of the exact impetus behind the project, but it probably has something to do with the unfolding US Census results and the increasing number of mixed marriages and thus genealogies. But I cannot say for certain.

Lou Diamond Phillips Genealogy
Lou Diamond Phillips Genealogy

The design of the piece is an interesting decision. Instead of a complicated and unwieldy diagram with lots of details, the designers chose to focus merely on photographs, when available, and little, coloured leaves to denote the ethnicity of each individual. This works to a degree in communicating simple ethnic ancestries, however, when one begins to have shades of light blue to distinguish between disparate ethnicities, one can begin to see a flaw in the system.

From an interactive perspective, I certainly think one of the more interesting bits is the inclusion, at least here in Lou Diamond Phillips’ tree, is the inclusion of the audio story as recounted by an individual. It brings a level of human connection that is always lost in diagrams. (Although these diagrams do have softer, curvier lines than most ergo they are more human. No?)

As someone interested in genealogy, the details are a bit light—but that was not likely the main intent of the piece. Beyond that, there are privacy issues with which to contend. But, if you wish, the New York Times does allow you to upload your own tree and even audio—to 10 megabytes. Perhaps in the future I shall upload a simple version of mine.

All in all, an interesting piece.