Technology Today

Technology changes and changes rapidly. The United States led the way with cabled phone networks. Now, countries in Africa are skipping landlines and moving straight to mobile phones. The New York Times has an piece on the changes in technology and accompanies that piece with small multiples of choropleth maps that showcase different technologies and their prevalence.

Mobile Phone Subscriptions
Mobile Phone Subscriptions

What is interesting about these maps is that the Times eschewed the conventional Mercator or Robinson map projections and went with a slightly more unusual layout. But, a layout that saves some space by its contortion of the world’s oceans. Was their reason spatial or something more about maintaining consistent area? I would be curious to see the piece in print to see if it needed to fit a narrow column.

All in all, an interesting set of maps.

Campaign Ad Spends

I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s beginning to look a lot like campaign season. At least from what I read on the internet. Because, according to this interactive piece by the Washington Post, there has been little local campaign spending on ads in the Chicago television market.

Mad Spending
Mad Spending

By clicking on the left, you are able to see the spending amounts and spending places of ads by both personal campaigns and interest groups. For national ad campaigns, there is a small outline of the continental US in the bottom left.

Above the map you have some facts about the spending and spending over time and a curious bit about whether the ads are positive or negative. Already if you move from the beginning to now, you can watch the positive ad number slip.

Maps of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is preparing for elections at the end of the month. For decades since independence from Belgium, the country has been beset by insurrection and civil war. Eastern portions of the country are all lawless and beyond the control of the government in the capital Kinshasa. Yet, DR Congo, which is almost the size of all of Western Europe, holds vast mineral and energy reserves.

Much like with the independence of South Sudan, the BBC has released a small interactive piece detailing DR Congo through maps. While not as extensive and lacking in visualising anything about the warfare and bloodshed, the piece is useful to gain a brief insight into the complexities of the country and the sheer scale of its problems. But that is not wholly surprising as the title of the piece is Failed State: Can DR Congo Recover?.

Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo
Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo

363 Days

We are now just under 365 days away from Election Day 2012. Without a doubt, I shall have many politically-themed graphics coming. People just have to start making them. But for now, the Economist kicked it off Monday—when it was 365 days—with a motion graphic piece that outlines some of the polling numbers and challenges to the Republicans vying for power and President Obama determined to keep it.

365 days until Election Day 2012
365 days until Election Day 2012

Certain types of the chart are very much not helpful in determining the actual numerical comparisons. But, with the voiceover keeping our attention and explaining what is going on with the charts, it is as always interesting to experience a story told in charts and graphs for nearly three minutes. And about a story with real significance.

Humanity’s Not So Finest Hours

Humanity is amazing. We have great emotional power for love, sympathy, compassion, &c. We have great intellectual power; we have/are mastering mathematics and science to explore the depths of this ocean and the surfaces of planets not our own.

Yet with these great powers comes a great responsibility. And as we continue to reflect upon the milestone of reaching a population of 7 billion men and women, Bill Marsh at the New York Times, along with Micah Cohen, Matthew Ericson, and Kevin Quealy, reflected Sunday on humanity’s ability to let this responsibility slip from time to time and how at those times the human population of Earth fell.

Timeline of Humanity's Atrocities
Timeline of Humanity's Atrocities

The data comes from a book by Matthew White called “The Great Big Book of Horrible Things” that details the worst 100 cases of man killing fellow man. (Although, according to Marsh the account is humourous, though I have never read it.) At the top are no particular surprises: World War II, World War I, and Genghis Khan. The reigns of Chairman Mao, Stalin, and the Kims of North Korea. But a look further down the list, further down the timeline reveals in all its tarnished glory the history of humanity when we not quite so amazing.

Can a Republican Win the White House?

It’s Election Day. Well, not really. But, Nate Silver and the New York Times have come together to release an election simulator, if you will, focused on the chances that a Republican will win the White House.

Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election
Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election

You play with a few different variables to control the outcome: GDP growth and President Obama’s approval rating. These then are computed along with a few other things (I assume) and, like magic, you get to see your Republican pick’s changes of winning the election.

Keep in mind that these are just possible candidates, not necessarily likely candidates. John Huntsman, after all, is polling in the single digits in some of the early primary states. So while the moderate, centre-right, former ambassador to China, ex-governor of Utah looks almost unbeatable in several scenarios, I think most would agree that the Republican base will not vote for him.

But it is scenarios like that of Huntsman that are worth reminding us that perhaps the current party political system we have in the United States does not yield the best candidates for public office, nor the most broadly electable.

Troop Levels in Iraq

A few days ago, President Obama announced that all but perhaps 150 US troops in Iraq would be home before 1 Jan 2012. While the mission may have been accomplished over 8 years ago, we are finally seeing an end to the Iraq War.

Both the BBC and the New York Times created charts to show the strength of US forces in Iraq since the start of the war up until the end—the New York Times also compares these to troop levels in Afghanistan where we have a new ‘surge’ of troops.

The two are slightly different. The first from the New York Times is an interactive piece that allows you to mouse over each bar and access the actual number of troops present in Iraq that month. The bars are spaced tightly together with only the necessary gap to break apart years and provide the vertical scale.

New York Times chart
New York Times chart

The BBC piece is a static image with no interaction. I do not care for the clustering of years, it breaks the visual rhythm of the piece and interrupts the story. I think in the design of the piece that the New York Times has the better and more effective chart. However, where the BBC truly succeeds is in offering bits of explanation for changes in the chart.

BBC chart
BBC chart

One might think that the war lasted several years with periods of great battles and great troop losses because the  number of soldiers stays roughly at 140 thousand. But the text lets us know otherwise. The first is obvious, the war begins. But it progresses to things like the declaring of mission accomplished, the surge, and when US troops left Iraqi cities.

These are not difficult pieces of analysis, nor do they require much investigatory journalism, but they provide the context that allows the chart to tell the story in its numbers.

Oh Great Gatsby

Income inequality basically means that the wealth of a country, in this case, is unevenly distributed with most of it falling in the hands of a very few people or families. Think the era of, as the title alludes to, Gatsby and the 1920s before the Crash.

Broadly speaking, a middle class requires a more dilute concentration of wealth, and as this graphic from the New York Times shows, we are seeing—Great Recession aside—the growing wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country. Look at, for example, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when the highest income bracket had its marginal tax rate in the 70% range. The top 1% owned only about 10% of the wealth. Just before the subprime crisis hit, that number was just under 25%.

Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%
Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%

What’s In a Name?

Gadhafi is dead. Sorry, I meant Kadhafi. Again, apologies, Qadaffy.

For so many years we have tried to spell the now deceased dictators name. It’s been in Saturday Night Live (sadly I cannot find a clip online). It’s been in the West Wing. So how can it be done?

The problem is that his name is in Arabic, which uses a different alphabet and so for the English-speaking world, transliterators must assign Latin alphabet characters to try and replicate the sounds in his name, some of which are unique to Arabic. Ever notice how the holy text of Islam is spelled often Koran or Quran? Just take that same problem and extend it further into a guy’s name.

This graphic, from Wikipedia, shows how the different parts of his name can be transliterated. And very quickly one can see why nobody really knows how to spell the name.

How to spell "the guy's" name.
How to spell "the guy's" name.

The next graphic is from Breaking Copy and depicts the most common ways of spelling the man’s name. The design of the piece is certainly more about entertainment than conveying a learning. But, it goes to illustrate the variance by major respected news organisations, all of whom are reporting on the man’s death. Credit for the piece goes to Daryl Lang.

Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue
Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue

And as a retrospective, news of his death and the liberation of Libya made me think back to my own graphic about some of the very first airstrikes in post from back in March.

Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March
Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March

But, anyway, he’s dead now. So the question is what name does he use on his headstone…

Show Me the Money

Campaign finance is always an interesting subject during election cycles. I believe I have heard that once a congressman wins election he needs to raise $1000 per week to stand a chance of re-election in two years’ time. One need only imagine the difference in scale for presidential contests.

Or do you…

Show Me the Money
Show Me the Money

The New York Times created an interactive piece that details the financing, principally of this year’s primary campaigns, but alongside data from four years ago. Inflation hasn’t been too terrible, so the numbers are relatively comparable.

Of some note, however, is that this time around this is not an ‘open’ election. In 2008 the sitting president was term-limited and his vice president was not running so both the Republicans and Democrats were open contests for any challenger to win. In 2012, President Obama will not (likely) have to fight other Democrats for the nomination of his party and his funding can be marshalled solely against his Republican challengers. Whereas the Republican challengers need to spend considerable amounts of their funding simply to get through the primaries.