Back in the USSR

So, those of you a little bit older than me—not to date myself—probably remember the evil Reds of Soviet Russia. Some my age do as well. Younger than me, it’s probably all ancient history. And so for those of you who forget, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was, if I am to simplify, a Russian empire that featured a centralised, command and control economy and a dictatorial government. In 1991, the empire fell apart for a number of reasons and became 15 independent countries, Russia still being the largest. And a lot has happened in the twenty years between 1991 and 2011.

Twenty years being a long time, the BBC has remembered the event by creating a relatively simple piece that compares the fates of the various countries in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s breakup. One takes one drop-down list and selects a country and then another country from the other list. And in the centre one can control whether the comparison is of wealth (GDP), health (life expectancy), or leadership (no. of times the presidency has changed hands).

Comparing Russia to the Ukraine
Comparing Russia to the Ukraine

I have an issue with some of the metrics and whether they are the best suited to describe the wealth, health, and democracy of the former Soviet republics. But, I think the strength really is not so much the charts but the brief summaries for each country that try to capture the story of the past two decades.

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.

The West Bank Archipelago

This post is about an older work from Le Monde, the link to which I now forget. However, given all the talk these days about Israel and Palestine and 1967 borders, I figured it may well be advantageous to remind all that the borders likely will not be those of 1967, for the sheer fact that Israel has divided the West Bank between security zones and settlements. The end result is that the Palestinian areas of the West Bank now resemble more an archipelago nation better suited for the islands of Indonesia or the Caribbean rather than the desert of the Middle East.

This link takes you to a New York Times blog post about the land problem and includes the map, which one can see at a reduced scale down in the article.

Detail of the map
Detail of the map

Credit for the original goes to Julien Bousac of Le Monde.

Everybody Wants to Rule the (Top of the) World

To the victors go the spoils of war. Often unheralded of course is the spoil of drawing the new map. But, in and among the Himalayas, the territory of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be won decisively by any side. Look at 1947, 1965, and 1999, we still have the territory contested and different parts controlled by different countries.

The current boundaries in Kashmir
The current boundaries in Kashmir

The Economist, noting the potential flashpoint, created an interactive map to highlight the region and the situation, wherein one can view the different claims and how they overlap. Nothing particularly fancy, but it need not be to clearly communicate the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is mess of the most sovereign order.

However, the interesting bit of the story is how in India the government, which claims the entirety of the territory, censored the print-edition of the Economist wherein the conflicting claims and current lines-of-control were drawn with a sticker because the map was incorrect, to use the BBC’s word, as it showed the region divided between India, Pakistan, and China.

Note here the Pakistani claim versus the Indian claim—I shall leave you, the reader, to investigate the differences between the Chinese claim.

The Pakistani claim
The Pakistani claim
The Indian claim
The Indian claim

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.

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

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.