Busting Bunkers

There is quite a lot of talk these days about the possibility of Israel, either with or without American assistance, launching an attack on Iran to halt the further development of its nuclear programme. The trouble is that Israel may not have the weapons necessary to carry out a successful attack, but the US has quite the arsenal. And one of the most useful, for just such a task is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

The National Post created an infographic to look at the bomb and just how it might be used if the US should decide to use it.

Bomb options
Bomb options

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Faille and Richard Johnson.

Delivery Routes

Sunday in the New York Times, an article on bicycle delivery had an accompanying infographic. It detailed the dinner route of the article’s main individual. The piece is an interesting use of small multiples to provide a timeline of a route, while each new delivery maintains the old paths for reference. And from a data perspective, I found it good to acknowledge the one instant where the follower lost contact with the delivery man.

Delivery routes
Delivery routes

Fatal Passenger Train Derailment

Sunday afternoon in Burlington, Canada, a VIA passenger train—think Canada’s version of Amtrak—derailed shortly after switching tracks. The two engineers in the locomotive and their trainee died in the accident, which is still under investigation.

The National Post covered the story and included a few graphics to explain just what happened. Maps pointed out exactly where the train derailed. The graphic below details how a switch works for those unfamiliar with rail transport.

How rail switches work
How rail switches work

And lastly, a larger graphic attempts to explain what may have happened in lieu of the final accident report from the Canadian Transportation Safety Board.

How the derailment occured
How the derailment occured

Credit for the switches graphic goes to Andrew Barr and for the accident diagram credits go to Richard Johnson.

And the Award Comes From…an Old White Male. Most Likely.

So apparently last night actors, directors, and others associated with the production of films won little statues. (And then probably celebrated with fancy foods and wines.) Yes, last night was the Academy Awards. But who is this Academy that decides upon the best films and performances?

As it turns out, the demographics of the Academy do not quite mirror those of the broader country. Just over a week ago, the Los Angeles Times looked at the Academy and visualised its membership, discovering the details of which was itself a journalistic feat.

The demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

After a broad overview with pie charts and such, each branch was mapped as a choropleth to the Los Angeles area. Those members from outside the LA metropolitan area were given small squares to represent their cities.

Where the actors live
Where the actors live

As someone not at all familiar with Los Angeles and its neighbourhoods, perhaps where the members of the various branches of the Academy live is actually somewhat interesting. However, I fail to understand the value in that. More useful is the idea of breaking out a socio-economic demographic and mapping that data. And if that had been the case here we almost have a set of small multiples. These are just a bit big.

Overall, a solid body of work.

Credit for the visualisation piece goes to Doug Smith, Robert Burns, Khang Nguyen, and Anthony Pesce.

Tsunami Debris

We are coming upon the date when a year ago an earthquake and its subsequent tsunami devastated Japan. As the wave rushed over land it ripped up and destroyed whole villages. Most of the debris remained scattered across the Japanese landscape, but as the water receded some was inevitably swept back out to sea.

The International Pacific Research Center has released a model of where any floating debris—a good amount is presumed to have sank by now—may have been carried by the ocean’s currents.

Path of the tsunami debris
Path of the tsunami debris

via the BBC.

What Philadelphians Think About Philadelphia

Yo, Philly, apparently Pew did a survey on what Philadelphians think about Philadelphia. And what better way to talk about a survey than through an infographic. So thanks to the Inquirer, that is what we have.

Philadelphians on Philadelphia
Philadelphians on Philadelphia

The interesting bit is that while there is a black-and-white, presumably print version, the website broke the whole graphic into its components and made them larger for web viewing. But, if you look at this example from the segment on immigration and diversity, they ought to have left colour alone. The two segments Bad Thing and No Difference use the same colour when they clearly do not mean the same thing. The black-and-white version keeps those two as separate greys.

Survey results on immigrants and diversity
Survey results on immigrants and diversity

Credit for the piece goes to John Tierno.

The Crisis in Syria

The crisis in Syria now resembles more of a civil war. The UN General Assembly has condemned the conflict and passed a resolution calling for Bashar al-Assad to step aside along with a host of other steps to resolve the conflict. However, nothing can happen until the Security Council agrees on a measure, which is still unlikely given the previous vetoes by China and Russia.

This piece from the Guardian chronologically explains what has been happening—at least as best as can be determined in the not-so-media-friendly country. As this story focuses on dates and places, a map feels natural. The designers have added some crucial details from the backstory about the ethnic complexities of the country and denoted the larger and more important urban centres.

An overview of Syria
An overview of Syria

When one clicks on a date, coloured by what part of the story is taking place, markers with text boxes overlay the original city markers and provide the user information on what happened in that city on that date. Or, if the event is more general, the box appears outside the borders.

Syria on 9 Feb 2012
Syria on 9 Feb 2012

The interface is rather simple, but works in focusing a person in on a time. Unfortunately, since much of this story can be seen through the lens of locale, e.g. the city of Homs has borne the brunt of al-Assad’s wrath, one cannot focus in on a place and then add time. For example, clicking on the marker for Homs and then seeing a chronological list of events that occurred there would also be quite useful.

Another slight improvement would be more clearly signifying the date being viewed. It does appear in the text box, but with the visual prominence of the main navigation at the top, on a few occasions when I was going through the piece, I did forget what date I was on and had brief moments of confusion.

Adding Guided Context to Maps

Maps are cool. They show the geographic distribution of data. And that is fantastic if there is a story in said distribution. But even if there is a story, sometimes given both the scale of the map and the amount of data encoded in the map, how could you possibly expect to find the story? Which little region of the map do you search to find the interesting nuggets?

On Sunday, the New York Times published an interesting solution to that very quandary. The context is an article looking at the anger and resentment felt by some towards government assistance via the social safety net, and yet how these very same people depend upon that safety net through programmes like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, &c. The map, a choropleth, examines several different metrics that comprise government assistance, e.g. Medicaid payments as a percentage of income.

Government benefits overview
Government benefits overview

One can easily toggle through the various metrics at the scale of the entire United States. This is a rather standard feature for such maps. However, in the upper-left corner, the designers placed a ‘guide’ that provides context and stories for each metric. But, not only does the guide provide text to support the map, but it zooms in on specific areas and regions that then support the text and best exemplify the point.

Here we see the map of the whole US for Medicaid, which appears to be scattered pockets of higher percentages. Interesting perhaps, but the user likely has few ideas as to what that visualisation actually means.

Medicaid's broad overview
Medicaid's broad overview

Compare that to the guide’s view of the map, which focuses on the large cities on the East Coast.

Medicaid's eastern core context
Medicaid's eastern core context

Providing context and guiding a reader/user through the stories contained in the map, or at least those deemed interesting by the designers and editors, is an interesting solution to the problem of finding the story in maps such as these. However, by moving away from a strict visualisation of the data, the New York Times and others that try similar avenues introduce human biases in the story-telling that may otherwise be unwanted or distracting.

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy White, Robert Gebeloff, Ford Fessenden, Archie Tse and Alan McLean.

Comparing the (Display of) Results in Colorado

Mitt Romney lost badly last night. No way around that. But as I watched the results come in through various sources, I noticed two interesting design decisions that made me think; one from the Guardian (the British perspective), and the other from the New York Times.

Using only Colorado as an example, here is the map of county results by the Guardian.

Results map from the Guardian
Results map from the Guardian

Note how the map is presented in 3-D that therefore allows the use of height as another encoded variable, in this case the size of the lead. Now compare that to the map used by the New York Times.

Results map from the New York Times
Results map from the New York Times

Note how this map is flat. So much less cool, right? But try to compare the results in Denver County. When I look at the Times’ map, I see blue; Mitt Romney won. When I look at the Guardian’s map, I see…actually, I can’t. That label is in the way. And then even when I begin to interact with the map, Denver County is hidden by the height of Arapahoe County.

But what about the size of the lead? I cannot see that encoded in the New York Times map. No, one cannot. However, they added a toggle function to change the data displayed on the map—though the utility of that view can be left for another discussion.

And now to a minor point about comparing the totals.

Again, a look at the Guardian’s presentation.

Results table from the Guardian
Results table from the Guardian

And now the New York Times. Numbers are numbers and faces are faces. But look at the graphic element representing the percentage. With the Guardian, I can just barely discern that the size of the circles for Santorum and Romney are not the same. And the same goes for Gingrich and Paul. But when I look at the Times’ presentation, I see a simple bar chart that more clearly shows the relationships between the results.

Results table from the New York Times
Results table from the New York Times

So interesting design decisions lead to one view that I find far more successful in showing the data: the New York Times.

Replacing the Bay Bridge for the Long Term

Bridges are vital parts of infrastructure networks connecting two separate pieces of territory, but often they can be choke points. Damage to a bridge can result to isolation at worst and at best long, circuitous reroutes that add significant time to travel. In the San Francisco area authorities are building a new bridge to replace the current Bay Bridge. But as everyone knows, buildings and infrastructure in that area can be significantly damaged during earthquakes. And the area is waiting for the ‘Big One’ that shall come some day or another.

So how to build a new bridge for the long-term that will also survive a major earthquake? The New York Times explains it in an interactive piece accompanying an article. The interactive piece includes an animation with voiceover explaining the details of the design, with diagrams illustrating the components placed next to the video player. At the bottom, anchoring the piece (pun intended), is a photo-illustration of the new bridge’s design.

Diagram explaining the Bay Bridge replacement
Diagram explaining the Bay Bridge replacement

Credit for the piece goes to Mika Gröndahl and Xaquín G.V.