Alaskan (im)Permafrost

I woke up this morning and before breakfast I opened the door to bring in today’s edition of the New York Times. I enjoy reading the paper, or at least a few articles, over breakfast (and more often than not preparing a post for here at Coffeespoons.me). Some of the best days are when I open the door and find a giant piece of data visualisation there above the fold. Other images, for example the other day’s eclipse coverage, also strike me, but as someone who visualises data as part of his career, I particularly enjoy things like maps. (I should point out I also do editorial design, so things like this layout are even closer to the intersection of my interests.)

Lo and behold, this morning I opened the door and we had the shrinking permafrost of Alaska this morning.

Now that is basically it. I have a crop of the map at the end here, but the map was the extent of the data visualisation in the article. Indeed, other articles in today’s edition carried more interesting graphics—I took photos to hopefully circle back—but the nerd I am, I really do get a kick finding a paper like this in the morning.

The graphic itself occupies half the space above the fold and the bright cyan and magenta steal the user’s attention. Even the headlines of the other articles recede behind the Alaska maps.

White space around the maps subtly helps focus attention on the piece. To be fair, the shape of Alaska with its archipelagos and bays along with the southeast extension help to create that space. A more squarish shape, say Colorado, would not quite have the same effect.

If I had to critique anything, I might have placed the city labels, especially Fairbanks, and the state label elsewhere to enhance their legibility. But at that point, I’m really just quibbling around the edges.

Red means it's warming up
Red means it’s warming up

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy White.

Solar Eclipse Day

Today is Solar Eclipse Day.

Thankfully Vox has put together a great interactive piece to help you plan your day. This is for my viewing area in Philadelphia. We only max out at 75% of the sun, but that is still pretty fantastic.

I'm totally excited for this
I’m totally excited for this

Credit for the piece goes to Casey Miller, Ryan Mark, and Brian Resnick.

North Korea’s Missile Programme

Another week, another batch of news and posturing from North Korea. So I was delighted to see last week a post from Politico exploring the history of the North Korean missile programme with data visualisation.

Shall we play a game?
Shall we play a game?

This kind of maps are my favourite for these types of stories. So often people get locked into this idea of a Mercator or Robinson projection and lines moving right/left or east/west on a map. Instead the world is a globe and the missiles or airplanes or birds or whatever will fly in circles over the poles if it’s easier.

Credit for the piece goes to the Politico graphics department.

Labour Marches On (into Tory Housing?)

We have a nice little piece from the Economist today, a look at the electoral majority for London-area constituencies and how their housing prices may begin to draw out priced-out Labour votes from London proper.

The political impact of scarce housing supply
The political impact of scarce housing supply

What I really like from the design side is the flip of the traditional choropleth density. In other words, we normally see the dark, rich colours representing high percentages. But here, those high majority constituencies are not the ones of focus, so they get the lighest of colours. Instead, the designers point attention to those slimmest of majorities and then offer the context of average home prices.

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

A Throwback to Prior Kenyan Elections

Kenya presently waits for the results of its presidential election, one that pitted incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta against Raila Odinga, a many ran but never won candidate. Now, if you will indulge me, the Kenyan elections have interested me since December 2007, which if you recall provoked sectarian violence to break out across the country.

At the time I had just started working at my undergraduate thesis, a book using Fareed Zakaria’s Future of Freedom as the text (with a parallel narrative from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) and I wanted to use specific case studies and data to add to the point of the book. Kenya with its election result data and horrific outcome allowed me to do just that. I juxtaposed awful images of that violence with quiet text and a full-page graphic of the results. I still find it one of the stronger spreads in the book, but as we await the results in Kenya, I am hoping that a ten-year anniversary piece will not be required.

The page of data visualisation
The page of data visualisation

And yes, I have learned a lot since 2007. Including my deep-seated antipathy for pie charts.

Credit for the piece goes to a much less knowledgable me.

Gowanus, Brooklyn

This past weekend I was reading an article in the New York Times about how a diary from the 19th century may indicate a plot in Gowanus Brooklyn destined for development may contain an old slave burial ground. You may recall how this author’s hobbies include genealogy and family history—how I would love to find a 19th century diary. Then, given this interest and the article, it was fantastic to find a map in the article.

Brooklyn in black and white
Brooklyn in black and white

Suffice it to say the map held my fascination for long enough that I saved the paper to post about it today. I was curious about two things, however, one, did the graphic have a credited author—it did not in the print edition—and two, was there a neat interactive version in the online version? The online version is simply a colour version of the map.

Brooklyn, now in colour
Brooklyn, now in colour

But the colour version does one thing that really helps make the graphic complete. In the print edition, there is no clear idea what the different layers are and it did take me a moment or two to understand the overlay. But the online version calls out specifically the map of the area from two different time periods.

Maps like these are my favourite. They blend history and the present. After all the places we live have often been lived in for centuries and they bear the marks of that inhabitance.

As to the first question, credit for the piece goes to Joe Burgess.

Home Vacancies in Kensington and Chelsea

I added Chelsea to make doubly certain for my Philadelphia audience that you did not think I was referring to Philly’s Kensington. Why? Because today’s piece comes from the Guardian and refers to the neighbourhood where the Grenfell Tower caught fire and the inferno killed dozens of people.

A north–south divide
A north–south divide

This is not the most complex piece, but I really like the annotations and notes on the choropleth. They add a great amount of detail and context to a graphic that I imagine many places would be okay leave as is. I can see why the colour palette differs for the two maps, but I wonder if it could have been made to work as a unified palette.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Blue Dog Democrats

Last week I mentioned that it appeared Politico was running with articles featuring data visualisation. Just this morning I stumbled upon another article, this one about the Blue Dog Democrats. For those that do not know, Blue Dogs are basically a more conservative Democrat and were the remnants of the Democratic south. But in 2010, they got all but wiped out. This article looks at how and where they might just be coming back.

Blue Dogs were largely a faction of the party drawing from the South
Blue Dogs were largely a faction of the party drawing from the South

If this trend of data-driven and visualised content continues, the Politico could be doing some interesting work over the next year. By then we will be in a rather intense mid-term cycle and there might be some political news to coverage.

Credit for the piece goes to the Politico graphics department.

Brexit’s Impact on Irish Shipping

Today’s post is, I think, the first time I’ve featured the Politico on my blog. Politico is, I confess, a regular part of my daily media diet. But I never thought of it as a great publication for data visualisation. Maybe that is changing?

Anyway, today’s post highlights an article on how the Irish shipping/logistics industry could be affected by Brexit. To do so, they looked at data sets including destinations, port volume, and travel times. Basically, the imposition of customs controls at the Irish border will mean increased travelling times, which are not so great for time-sensitive shipments.

This screenshot if of an animated .gif showing how pre-Brexit transit was conducted through the UK to English Channel ports and then on into the continent. Post-Brexit, to maintain freedom of movement, freight would have to transit the Irish Sea and then the English Channel before arriving on the continent. The piece continues with a few other charts.

Brexit strikes again
Brexit strikes again

My only question would be, is the animation necessary? From the scale of the graphic—it is rather large—we can see an abstracted shape of the European coastlines—that is to say it’s rather angular. I wonder if a tighter cropping on the route and then subdividing the space into three different ‘options’ would have been at least as equally effective.

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

Bus Transit in Philadelphia

I have lived in Philadelphia for almost ten months now and that time can be split into two different residences. For the first, I took the El to and from Centre City. For the second, I walk to and from work. I look for living spaces near transit lines. In Chicago I took the El for eight years to get home. But to get to work, I often used the 143 express bus. Personally, I prefer trains and subways to busses—faster, dedicated right-of-way, Amtrak even has WiFi. But, busses are an integral part of a dense city’s transit network. You can cram dozens of people into one vehicle and remove several cars from the road. Here in Philadelphia, however, as the Inquirer reports, bus ridership is down over the last two years at the same time as ride-hailing apps are growing in usage.

For those interested in urban planning and transit, the article is well worth the read. But let’s look at one of the graphics for the article.

Lots of red in Centre City
Lots of red in Centre City

The map uses narrow lines for bus routes and the designer wisely chose to alternate between only two shades of a colour: high and low values of either growth (green) or decline (red). But, and this is where it might be tricky given the map, I would probably dropdown all the greys in the map to be more of an even colour. And I would ditch the heavy black lines representing borders. They draw more attention and grab the eye first, well before the movement to the green and red lines.

And the piece did a good job with the Uber time wait map comparison as well. It uses the same colour pattern and map, small multiple style, and then you can see quite clearly the loss of the entire dark purple data bin. It is a simple, but very effective graphic. My favourite kind.

Still haven't used Uber yet. Unless you count the times I'm being put into one by a friend…
Still haven’t used Uber yet. Unless you count the times I’m being put into one by a friend…

Anyway, from the data side, I would be really curious to see the breakout for trolleys versus busses—yes, folks, Philly still has several trolley lines. If only because, by looking at the map, those routes seem to be in the green and growing category. So as I complain to everyone here in Philly, Philly, build more subways (and trolleys). But, as the article shows, don’t forget about the bus network either.

Credit for the piece goes to the Inquirer graphics department.